By Richard Paolinelli
© 2020 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
“I mark a bittersweet anniversary today in a way that none of us could have ever anticipated. Who could have known that 15 years ago, when mankind first ventured out of the solar system, we had started a countdown on our very existence. How could I have known then that I was commanding a mission, not to the stars, but toward Armageddon instead.”
– from the journal of General Duncan Sinclair, January 13, 2125, the tenth year of the Kustani siege of Earth
A high-pitched buzz pierced the silence of General Duncan Sinclair’s office. His dark, chiseled features, which had led many to describe him as roguishly handsome, scrunched into a scowl that he aimed directly at the intruding intercom.
Setting down his stylus, the same pen he’d carried with him on his ill-fated mission beyond the solar system, Sinclair closed his journal and pushed it aside. With a sense of foreboding, he activated the intercom’s receiver.
“Sinclair here, go ahead Westbrook.”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir,” the apologetic voice of Sinclair’s aide began without any surprise at his superior’s clairvoyance, “but you said you wanted to be informed if we heard anything from Mars.”
Mars Base had been silent for over three days now, having gone quiet without so much as an explanation or a “mayday”. The sense of foreboding increasing in leaps and bounds, Sinclair steeled himself for his aide’s next words.
“Sensors show six patrol fighters Earth bound. We’ve confirmed they’re part of the Mars Base detachment. We haven’t been able to establish radio contact,” the aide paused uncomfortably. “It looks like they’ve taken a lot of damage.”
As we had feared and much more, Sinclair thought bitterly to himself. Even Lieutenant Westbrook, who always found a way to put a positive spin on any situation, was struck silent. Mars Base was the keystone in Earth’s defense, if it had fallen to the enemy then the demise of humanity was all but sealed.
“Dispatch a fighter wing to escort them in and inform me when they arrive,” Sinclair said, somehow managing to keep an undertone of defeat from creeping into his voice.
“Colonel Rogers has already done so,” Westbrook paused, this time even more uncomfortably. “In fact, he recommended that we increase our alert status before he left,” Westbrook added a quick, but quiet “sir” waiting for the impending thunderstorm to strike him down.
But the storm never broke, much to his relief. Even though both men knew that it was against standing orders for either Sinclair, as the commanding officer of Moon Base, or Rogers, as the base’s Wing Commander, to lead a mission like this, Rogers would know how important the information the Mars’ pilots carried was. He would undoubtedly have a logical explanation for his personally seeing to it that they made it back safely.
“I see,” Sinclair said quietly. “Very well then, have the Colonel’s relief put us on DEFCON Two and tell the Colonel to report to my office along with the Mars’ pilots immediately upon their arrival, Sinclair out.”
Sinclair snapped off the intercom before Westbrook could get out a “Yes, sir!” and contemplated his journal. He’d begun writing the thing on his twentieth birthday for reasons he’d long since forgotten. At the end of every day for twenty-four years he’d logged in every event, good or bad, that had left a mark upon his life. As he placed the leather-bound volume in its designated slot in his desk, Sinclair couldn’t help but wonder how many more events were left to be included in the journal and if anyone would survive long enough to ever read them.
Colonel Ken Rogers led four of the six pilots into Sinclair’s office, the other two had been wounded fighting their way off of Mars and were getting treated in Med Bay. Rogers had known his old friend and commanding officer had been under a great strain lately, they all had to some extent over the last ten years, but seeing the dark circles under his eyes and the weariness in Sinclair’s face shook Rogers. It looked like Sinclair had aged another decade since he’d last seen him at the morning briefing. The report he was delivering wasn’t going to improve things either.
The pilots gave a brief, but devastating account of Mars Base’s fate: The complete destruction of the military and civilian populations, buildings and nearly every piece of equipment on the planet. Only a small number of the smaller fighter ships had gotten away, none of the evac shuttles had cleared the ground before being destroyed, and had joined up with the last two battle cruisers left in Earth Fleet in full retreat from Mars. With communications jammed, the fleet was trying to slow down the enemy’s procession toward Earth, sparing only the six fighters to warn Earth Defense Command. The Fleet Commander, an old friend of Sinclair’s, had sent a private message with the flight leader, who ended his report by handing Sinclair the disk containing the message.
Sinclair took the disk, somberly dismissing the pilots. Rogers stayed behind, waiting for the door to close behind the last man out before addressing his friend. He knew how much Sinclair blamed himself for the current situation and no matter how much he disagreed with Sinclair’s assigning that blame to himself, he could certainly understand why he did so.
Sinclair had commanded the mission that had dropped the beacon out in deep space, inviting any and all species of the galaxy to drop by Earth and say hello. The theory at the time had been that any species advanced enough to attain deep space flight would be inclined toward peaceful contact. So the theory said. But instead of a benevolent race, Earth was being called on by the Kustani and if any race could be said to be evil incarnate then it would be the Kustani.
A dozen years ago the Kustani had made first contact with an Earth exploration ship, with tragic results. The Earth ship had been completely destroyed, all hands aboard lost, and the two species had been at war ever since. For the last ten years the Kustani had encircled the solar system, gradually contracting the ring, much like a giant fishing net, into an ever-tightening circle around the inner planets.
Earth, still in its interstellar flight infancy, didn’t have the resources to break the siege. All Defense Command could do was to slow down the Kustani and hope for a miracle. That hope, along with most of Earth’s resources, were fast running out.
“I checked with plotting before I came here,” Rogers began. “The Kustani stopped their
advance just a few million klicks on the other side of lunar orbit.”
Standard operating procedure for the Kustani, a race of beings with humanoid-like bodies with gourd-like heads the color of pumpkins and eyes of milky gray that reminded Sinclair of his worst childhood nightmares, keep the pressure on the defenders and watch base by base crumble and fall. Tighten the circle, increase the pressure on the defenders, sit back and wait for the next line of defense to collapse.
Now all that stood between the Kustani and the Earth itself was the Moon, a base staffed with a few thousand soldiers, and what few ships remained of Earth Fleet. Barely enough to hold off the Kustani for long should they decide for one last push, Rogers thought bitterly.
“We aren’t going to win this time, are we, Duncan?”
It wasn’t a question. There were no hysterics, not from Ken Rogers. A simple statement of fact and try as he might, it wasn’t in Sinclair to repeat the same drivel spooned out by the War Ministry’s Press Department. Keep up the fight, hold off the Kustani until a peace accord can be reached, or intervention from another race forces the Kustani to go away or some other such damn nonsense.
“No,” Sinclair said, sitting back in his chair with a heavy sigh. “No we’re not, old friend. It seems that all we may have left to us now is to die well.”
To die well. God, what a horrible epitaph for a planet. How many other planets left behind in the Kustani wake had nothing more to be remembered by than we died well.
Silence slammed into the room leaving two men, friends for over three decades, unable to find the words to pierce it, and bring some sort of comfort to the other. At length, Sinclair fell back upon duty to break the oppressive silence.
“Tell Westbrook to have my shuttle ready to go on Pad Two in half an hour. I’ll want you to pilot it, so get yourself something to eat and meet me there. Inform Commander Johansen that he’ll have command until we return.”
“Yes, sir.” Rogers turned to leave but stopped short when the intercom buzzed for attention. The damned thing hadn’t been the bearer of good news lately and neither man was expecting that trend to end anytime soon. Sinclair shot a quick glance at Rogers before snapping open the comm.
“Yes, what is it?”
“General Sinclair? I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, sir.”
“Not a problem Doctor Iacola, I was preparing to leave for Earth Base. What I can do for you?”
“Well you see General,” the Doctor began, obviously struggling to find the right words. “It seems there’s been an oversight in Medical Records…and I’m afraid that you’re a few weeks overdue sir.”
Distracted and impatient to get underway, Sinclair snapped out a reply, “Overdue? Overdue for what, Doctor?”
There was a long, uncomfortable pause on the other end of the comm. Sinclair still couldn’t figure out the purpose of this conversation but Rogers had and, knowing Sinclair’s reaction when he found out, suddenly found Sinclair’s map of Moon Base utterly captivating.
“VR-Med, Sir.” The Doctor’s tone said he too knew what Sinclair’s reaction would be
and he wasn’t looking forward to it either.
“Doctor, I’m due to meet the President in four hours,” Sinclair began sharply. “I don’t think he’d appreciate being held up while I visit VR-Med. You’ll have to reschedule for later.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, Sir.”
“I beg your pardon, Doctor,” Sinclair’s voice had turned ice cold and razor sharp.
Rogers had to give the doctor credit, he stood his ground where most men would have turn and fled as far from the General as possible.
“Regulations Sir, especially since you are going off base. If something should happen to you we would lose a sample and as you know we are in desperate need of as many diverse samples as we can get.”
“We’ll just have to chance it then,” Sinclair reached to snap off the ’com but the Doctor’s reply brought him up short.
“I needn’t remind the General that regulations give me the authority to have Security escort you to VR-Med.”
“Blackmail Doctor, was that a required course at University?” Sinclair shot back. “I see then. I’ll be there shortly, Sinclair out,” Sinclair cut off the ’com before the doctor could reply.
“My apologies Colonel, it appears we’ll be leaving in ninety minutes instead of thirty, please make the necessary arrangements.”
“Yes, sir,” Rogers replied, trailing out of the office behind his commanding officer. The two men’s footfalls echoed eerily in the empty grayish-white corridor. At length, Rogers realized that his friend was muttering under his breath, but the words were impossible to make out. Acutely aware of Sinclair’s mood, Rogers braved a question.
“Was there something else, sir?”
Sinclair stopped short, causing Rogers to veer sharply to the right to avoid a collision.
“As a matter of fact, Colonel there is. You can report to VR-Med and I’ll go get the shuttle ready. What do you say?”
I knew I shouldn’t have said anything, Rogers thought. Fortunately, Sinclair spared him from coming up with a safe answer.
“Never mind, Ken,” Sinclair began with a wave of his hand. “I know I have to do this. I just don’t have to like it. Damn Kustani. It wasn’t bad enough they’ve set out to annihilate our world, they had to resort to biogenetic warfare as well.”
It was one of the Kustani’s first shots in the war. Somehow they had introduced the human race to a fast acting, highly contagious virus. How or when they had done it was still a mystery, but its effects were undeniably devastating.
Within six months every human being on every colony and every base, even on Earth itself, was infected. The males were the carriers but the disease’s real target was the females of the human species. It was the perfect attack, one the Kustani had used many times before from what little they knew of their foe. Kill off the females of a species and you kill that species’ ability to reproduce. Eventually, through attrition, that species dies off.
No cure had ever been found, but six months after the disease had claimed its first fatality a stop-gap had been introduced. To prevent total disaster, it had been decided to put as many women into cold sleep as possible. The priority had been women still young and able enough to bear children.
Two million women had been placed into cold storage, an impressive number by anyone’s standard, until it was measured against the nearly five billion women that had been alive before the Kustani had arrived.
With a fraction of the women in suspended animation and the rest dead or dying, it was left to a little less than four billion men to hold off the Kustani. At the death rate of the time, Earth had little time left before all of the men would be dead.
By harvesting and storing eggs from the women prior to cold sleep and from those who hadn’t yet perished, Earth’s scientists had used cloning to keep Earth supplied with male soldiers to defend her. While the scientists had stored as many eggs as they could, they needed sperm from natural-born males, sperm from cloned males produced one clone per egg, while the natural-born sperm was able to produce six.
Thus was born the VR-med labs. With only a little over a million natural-born men still alive, each was required to visit VR-Med for sperm extraction on a regular basis. The scientists who created VR-Med had managed to kill two birds with one stone. Knowing that some form a sex life, even a computer-generated one, would be healthier for the men, they created a virtual reality program so sophisticated, that the men would believe they were really having sex with their spouse, or any mate of their choice.
Sinclair was realistic enough to accept the necessity of VR-Med, but he was still old fashioned enough to deeply dislike it. Sinclair and Rogers quickly made their way to the base’s medical section and entered the VR bay.
The bay held six stainless steel chambers, each with its own array of indicator panels and monitors surrounding the entrance hatch. Four of the chambers were in use, the fifth’s hatch was open and was being serviced by a pair of technicians while Doctor Iacola stood in front of the sixth’s main control panel.
Another technician was engrossed in watching the virtual orgy in progress on the third chamber’s monitor and failed to notice Sinclair’s arrival. Only after the monitor faded to black, indicating that the occupant inside was finished and was about to exit, did the technician turn away from the screen.
“General, sir!,” the man exclaimed, startled.
“Enjoying the view?” Sinclair tilted his head, indicating the now blank monitor.
“Well, uh, no not really, sir,” the man stammered as the occupants of the four chambers exited behind him. “But I have to make sure the monitors are working for the recordings.”
“You record what goes on inside these things?” Sinclair’s voice was colder than the vacuum outside of the base. Rogers winced in sympathy as the young man struggled to find a way out of the General’s wrath.
Fortunately for him, one of the men behind him came to his rescue.
“Yes, Sir,” he said, putting on the black and gray uniform that identified him as a pilot, the white block lettering above the heart identifying him as Lieutenant Baker. “We pretty much all do. Sometimes we even trade programs and the guys record themselves with the other guy’s girl.”
“And none of you have any problem watching your wives and girlfriends with other men?” a surprised Sinclair asked.
“No sir,” one of the other men, a sergeant, replied. “It’s no big deal, it’s just a computer program. It isn’t like we’re really cheating on them or anything like that.”
“I see,” Sinclair replied dubiously with a shake of his head. “Very well then. But if I were you gentlemen, when we bring those women out of cold sleep, I’d make damn sure none of those recordings ever saw the light of day again.”
“Aye, sir,” all the men sheepishly replied in unison.
“Alright, get out of here before I start feeling like a 17th Century Puritan. Dismissed,” Sinclair said, turning back to the technician.
“I trust my wife isn’t part of the library and there aren’t any ‘recordings’ lying around that I need to be concerned about?”
“No, sir,” the man squeaked.
“Very well, I think you have a short circuit on the other side of the base that requires your immediate attention,” Sinclair said.
“Yes, Sir,” the technician said, scurrying past the General and quickly followed the four soldiers out into the corridor.
“What the hell are you smiling at,” Sinclair said, turning just in time to catch the grin on Rogers’ face before his old friend could remove it.
“I was just thinking,” Rogers jibed, without missing a beat, “that perhaps a change of pace was just what the General needs.”
Stone cold silence and Sinclair’s infamous scowl was all the reply Rogers received.
“Right,” Rogers said, moving toward the corridor. “I think I’ve got a shuttle to preflight.”
“Do tell,” Sinclair replied dryly, allowing only a ghost of a smile to pass across his face when peals of laughter from his friend made their way from the corridor and back into the bay.
“Ah, General, there you are,” Iacola said, only now realizing Sinclair had entered the bay. “Everything is set up to your specifications, you may begin whenever you are ready.”
Sinclair strode over to the hatch and grasped the handle to enter.
“But before you go in,” Iacola added. “I have that report regarding the cloning program that you asked for earlier. We have enough material to produce about three dozen of the new super-clone species in less than a week’s time, but it would completely drain all of our resources to do so. We would not be able to make any more clones of any kind after that.”
“And if we don’t make the super-clones how much longer can we produce normal clones,” Sinclair asked.
“About six months, sir,” Iacola replied dourly. “Either way, we’re running out of material and time. We have more than enough sperm supply, but we only had so many eggs left to work with and we have no way to replenish the supply and continue producing the clones we need.”
“I thought as much,” Sinclair said. “Thank you Doctor, I’ll let you know when, and if, we’ll proceed with the super-clone program. For now, let’s get this over with so I can get to Earth.”
Sinclair pulled open the hatch, stepped into the chamber and closed the hatch behind him.
Within moments the sterile, empty bay before him transformed itself into a virtual-reality replica of his mountain home down on Earth, the way it was before the Kustani had arrived in the solar system. Brilliant sunlight poured down from clear, deep-blue skies to reflect off the blue lake and the thick forest of trees between it and the Sinclair house above. Changing out of his uniform, Sinclair slipped into his favorite robe and walked outside onto the deck to breathe in the clean air and take in the scenery below.
“Duncan,” a voice called out from behind him, as a pair of arms wrapped themselves around his chest and warm lips nuzzled his neck. “It’s been too long.”
Even before he turned he knew what he would see: His wife Tonia, a woman almost as tall as he with creamy mocha skin and warm brown eyes that matched the color of her hair. Standing there before him, dressed in a robe that matched his, he could almost imagine that the last ten years were nothing but a bad nightmare.
While his senses were fooled into thinking that this was reality, his mind knew all too well that none of this was real and he could never fully lose himself in this computer-generated fantasy. Never once had he addressed the illusion by his wife’s name and no matter how many times the computer prompted he never told it that he loved her.
To him it would be a betrayal to his wife, trapped on Earth inside a cold sleep chamber from which she might never emerge, and he just couldn’t do that to her no matter the justification. So he would talk to “her” for a brief time, set aside that it was a device built to harvest sperm, camouflaged as his wife, he was making love too and get back to work.
“You look tired,” it said, massaging his shoulders. He could feel fingers kneading sore muscles, smell the jasmine that was her favorite scent.
“It’s been a bad day,” he replied. “It’ll probably get worse.”
“Why?,” it asked, pressing her simulated body against his in a way that was almost the same as Tonia would.
“The war isn’t going well,” he replied. “I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever win.”
“If the alternative is losing and that is not an acceptable option,” she said, drawing closer. “Then perhaps you need to find an answer in between the two.”
They made love then, not in the frenetic way the soldiers had, but with passion as Sinclair forced himself to go with the program and suspend reality long enough to complete the procedure. But that last comment stuck in the back of head and just as they finished a thought born of pure desperation laced through his brain.
“It’s not about us winning anymore,” he whispered. “It’s about not letting them win.”
“What?” she said, puzzled.
“Thank you,” was Sinclair’s reply, followed by a quick kiss. “Computer, end simulation.”
The faux Tonia, house and Earth quickly faded away. Sinclair ducked into the bay’s shower for less than a minute, donned his uniform and exited VR-Med so fast that Iacola never knew he’d left.
* * * * *
The trip to Earth had been swift and silent, save for Sinclair’s pounding of the passenger’s comm panel’s console keys. He’d steamed into the shuttle bay, bounded up the ramp and into the shuttle, barked out to Rogers to get going and no interruptions before settling in front of the console.
He didn’t say a word after that and was out of the shuttle fifteen seconds after Rogers had settled the craft down on the landing pad in front of the President’s office in San Francisco. Rogers was hard pressed to keep up as Sinclair stormed his way through the crowded corridors.
There seemed to be an electric charge surrounding the General and everyone in his path saw it and quickly got out of his way. Rogers didn’t know what had happened back on Moon Base, but whatever it was, it had created a different General Sinclair. One that had some purpose in mind and, whatever it was, had every intention of seeing it through. Rogers hadn’t seen his friend like this since before the Kustani.
Arriving at the President’s conference room, Sinclair didn’t hesitate, plowing right past a loudly-protesting aide the General barreled past the close doors and into the room filled with the President and his top advisors.
“General Sinclair,” said a surprised President Takahashi, “you’re early.”
“Yes, sir,” Sinclair replied, walking over to the podium directly across from the President’s chair and displacing a lieutenant who had been delivering a war update.
“Dismissed,” he snapped, hooking a thumb at the door he’d left open behind him.
“Sinclair,” barked General Blaine, the commander of Earth defense and one of the President’s cabinet members. “What the devil do you think you’re doing. We need that war update…”
Sinclair, keeping eye contact with Takahashi, interrupted his commanding officer.
“No, sir,” Sinclair began, “we don’t. The war’s over.”
“What the hell are you talking about Sinclair?” Blaine demanded. “Unless the Kustani just magically disappeared, we’re in a fight for our lives.”
“We were, General,” Sinclair said, still looking at Takahashi. “And we lost.”
The entire room erupted in protest with demands for Sinclair’s arrest being drowned out only by the shouts for his head. Amid the storm there were three islands of calm.
Rogers stood in stunned disbelief, sure that his friend had finally snapped under the pressure, unable to speak a word of protest much less support while Sinclair held his position across from the President without speaking another word in his defense. Takahashi, who had a reputation for calm that made Budha look like a raving lunatic, held Sinclair’s gaze for a full minute while ignoring the protests. Only when he slowly raised his hand for quiet did the room finally settle down.
“I assume, General,” Takahashi began, “that you have not taken leave of your senses?”
“Then perhaps you would share the reasons behind your view of our situation?”
“Certainly. We know that ten years ago the Kustani arrived in our solar system. We know they are a race of marauders that have conquered other planets and systems the same way they are attacking us and that no other race has attempted to make contact with us,” Sinclair paused long enough to upload the information he’d been working on in the shuttle.
“As you all can see,” he continued. “Even at our most liberal estimates, with no assaults against the Kustani, we have about six months of ships, supplies and manpower left to us and then there will be nothing standing in between Earth and the Kustani. In short gentlemen, we’re out of gas and there’s no cavalry coming over the hill at the last minute to save us. The war is over. We lost.”
Total silence and he’d expected little else. There was no arguing with the facts and the facts were very bleak indeed.
“We already know the Kustani won’t accept our surrender or any peace overtures,” Blaine said. “So what do you suggest? Just sit back and let them run us over?”
“No, sir,” Sinclair replied. “I said we lost the war, I didn’t say anything about letting the Kustani win it.”
“I must confess to being a little slow in my advanced years,” Takahashi said mildly. “But if we’ve lost the war, how do you propose not letting the Kustani win?”
“I’m sure you’re all aware of the concept of the scorched earth policy,” Sinclair replied. “What I propose is more along the lines of a scorched solar system. If we have to die, then we take those bastards with us.”
Rogers slipped out of the conference room unnoticed. He’d seen enough of the data while on the shuttle to discern what his friend had in mind and he knew there was no other way. But the other men inside that room would cling to one wild hope of victory and would never believe that Sinclair’s plan was the only option they had left.
Sinclair would never order a man, much less a good friend, to do what Rogers had in mind, but Rogers knew it was the last push Sinclair would need to get his plan approved. So Rogers quietly made his decision and slipped away. He headed down to the cold sleep chambers buried deep below the surface, making his way to the tube where his wife Julia slept.
Placing his hand on the cold, stainless steel tube, Rogers took one last look at his wife, said a soft goodbye and made his way to the fighter bay.
Within twenty minutes of leaving the conference room, Ken Rogers was in the cockpit of a fighter, hurtling toward the Kustani armada now positioned five million miles from the moon.
* * * * *
It had taken less time than he’d thought it would for the President and his advisors to begin to seriously consider what he was saying. The plan itself was audacious in its simplicity, but frightening in that their situation could have become so dire that it could be conceived and even be considered as the only viable option left.
Sinclair had bluntly walked them through it. Using Iacola’s super-clones all of Earth’s defensive resources would be thrown at the Kustani in one massive juggernaut.
Four squadrons of attack fighters would engage the Kustani ships in combat. Every combat-able soldier, led by Sinclair and the super-clones, would attempt to board as many of the Kustani’s main battle vessels as they could and lead an assault from within. The pilots of the transport shuttles, after dropping off the invaders, would then turn Kamikaze and fly their ships into whichever Kustani ships hadn’t yet been boarded in an attempt to damage or destroy as many ships as they could.
A fifth squadron would feint an attack on a Kustani ship before breaking away in an attempt to flee the solar system and head for the Kustani’s home system.
“Why there?” Blaine had asked at that point.
“Because they are going to be carrying half of our little surprise for the Kustani,” Sinclair replied. “Iacola’s staff has been working on a new weapon, but they were only able to produce eight of them. They are missiles, armed with what I can only describe as a devil’s brew of anti-matter and a few other bits of destructive nastiness that will trigger any type of star into an immediate super nova. I’ve already ordered four missiles to be loaded onto a platform and placed in orbit over the dark side of Mercury. Squadron Five will carry the other four.
“If our all-out assault on the Kustani fails and we can’t commandeer enough of their ships to use against them,” Sinclair continued, swallowing past a dry throat, “then the order to fire the missiles into our Sun will be given. The shock wave from our Sun going nova will wipe out the Kustani before they even know what we’ve done.”
No one in the room spoke, there wasn’t anything any of them could say as they all came to the same realization that Sinclair had been coming to for the last few weeks.
“Upon their arrival in the enemy’s home system, Five will fire their missiles into the Kustani’s home star from a safe distance,” Sinclair said. “If they see our Sun go, then they’ll continue on, looking for any world where they can set down and live out whatever lives they have left to them.”
“What kind of a life can a dozen or so men lead under those circumstances?” asked an advisor whose name Sinclair couldn’t recall.
“We’ve always had an anti-virus that would keep the women alive,” Sinclair said. “But they’d never be able to have children. So, we’ll have the squadron made up of twenty married men and send along a support shuttle with the capsules of the men’s wives and as much survival gear and supplies as we can pack into it. If they find a place, they set down, revive the women and enjoy whatever time they have together for however long it lasts.
“At the very least, we’ll have prevented the Kustani from ever doing this to another race of beings somewhere else. It’s not much of a legacy, but as far as I can see, it’s the only one we’ve got other than being just another victim of the Kustani.”
It was a bitter pill to swallow and it wasn’t going down easy.
“Surely there’s something else we can do beside mass suicide?” the aide seated to the right of the President asked.
Sinclair opened his mouth to try to convince them that this was the only way when the door burst open and an out-of-breath corporal flew into the room.
“General Sinclair,” the man gasped out. “You’re wanted in CIC. Colonel Rogers has stolen an attack fighter and is flying toward the Kustani. He isn’t answering hails.”
Stunned, Sinclair looked to empty spot where Rogers usually stood during these meetings. He’d never seen Ken walk out, but with a sudden dread, he knew exactly what his friend was doing and why as well. As he followed Blaine, Takahashi and the rest of the cabinet out the door, Sinclair cursed fate for bringing the Kustani down upon them and placing his friend in a position where he’d need to sacrifice himself in this way.
He saved the worst of his curse for himself, for becoming the man who was about to let his friend sacrifice himself without at least trying to talk him out of it.
* * * * *
By the time Sinclair entered CIC, Blaine was roaring into a mike at the fighter rapidly approaching the Kustani blockade. Judging from the shade of dark red Blaine’s face was turning, Ken wasn’t answering. Sinclair calmly walked up behind a communications officer and asked for a position update.
“He’s about three minutes from the nearest Kustani ship,” the man replied. “They’ve launched a small intercept group at him, contact in two minutes.”
Blaine tossed away the mike in frustration and vented some of his anger toward Rogers at Sinclair.
“Get him back here Sinclair!,” he shouted.
“Son, mind if I borrow your gear for a minute,” Sinclair asked the comm officer, who quickly handed Sinclair his headset.
“Ken,” Sinclair said into the mike after donning the gear. “What are you doing?”
“I figured out what you had in mind and it seemed that you could use a little help,” came the reply after a few seconds had passed. Blaine’s face turned another shade darker, but he held his tongue.
“That I could,” Sinclair said, ignoring Blaine. “But I had planned on having you lead an assault team.”
“Figured as much,” Rogers replied. “But I’m a pilot, not a ground pounder. Besides, I’m guessing there’s still some debate over your plan, folks down there not willing to see the forest for the trees and all that.”
“You could say that,” Sinclair whispered.
“So I’m thinking you need a little demonstration to get the green light to get the job done right?”
“Yeah, that’s about right.”
“He blew right through them,” came an outcry from a tracking monitor behind him. “He never engaged their intercept! General Blaine, he has a clear path at one of their ships!”
Sinclair forced himself to look on as the blip representing Rogers’ ship bore down on a Kustani battle cruiser. More intercepts were launched, but it was clear for all to see that they wouldn’t be in time to stop Rogers.
“Is he insane,” Blaine exclaimed. “He can’t do any damage attacking a cruiser with one fighter!”
“Fighter bay,” Sinclair said, switching to another channel on his headset. “What is the payload of Colonel Rogers’ fighter?”
“Standard weapons plus one thermonuclear missile,” came the quick reply.
“That won’t do him any good,” Blaine said. “We’ve fired nukes at them before with no effect.”
“He isn’t going to fire anything at them General,” Sinclair said softly, switching back to Rogers’ frequency.
“One minute to intercept,” intoned the com officer.
“Ken,” Sinclair said.
He couldn’t say good luck, it wouldn’t crawl past the lump in his throat. Rogers listened to the silence for a few seconds, smiled and sent one last message back to Earth.
“Understood, Duncan,” he said. “Give’em hell, pal.”
Less than a minute later, with every weapon on board the fighter armed, Rogers powered his ship straight into the engines of the Kustani cruiser that had led the assault on Mars. At first it appeared that the huge engines of the cruiser had swallowed the fighter whole. But within moments a chain reaction of shudders shook the vessel until it suddenly exploded, taking a
smaller support ship and several Kustani fighters with it.
Sinclair watched the two blips intersect then wink out. Once the reports of the destruction of the Kustani ships came in, CIC erupted in cheers. He couldn’t blame the men for cheering, there’d been precious few victories in the past decade, he just couldn’t bring himself to join them. Instead, he handed the headset back to the officer and walked over to the President who, along with Sinclair and Blaine, were the only ones not celebrating.
Sinclair stood silent in front of the two men, there was nothing else to say after all, and waited. Takahashi waited as well, until the cheering had died down.
“General Blaine,” Takahashi began. “You will take command of Moon Base and evacuate all non-essential personnel. Once Dr. Iacola and his staff have finished their work and the assault is launched, you will evacuate everyone else back here.
“General Sinclair, you have command of all Earth defense forces. Get everything you need and launch when ready. You have full and final authority with one exception. I will give the order to fire those missiles when, and if, the time comes. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Sinclair said, with Blaine following suit a second later.
“Proceed gentlemen,” Takahashi said. “And may whatever gods there are have mercy on us all.”
In the week following Rogers’ death, Sinclair drove himself and his command. Every man able to pilot a fighter or a shuttle was briefed on his part of the mission. Anyone else left, save those needed to keep things running on Earth, was going through a crash course on hand-to-hand combat and would makeup the assault force that would attempt to board Kustani ships.
By the end of the week, one hundred and twenty-six fighter craft had pilots. Twenty-six of them would make up Squadron Five with two support shuttles, one for the cold-sleep capsules and the other loaded with survival gear, would join the little task force scheduled to launch, as Sinclair glanced at his watch, in less than a day. The remaining one hundred fighters and the seventy-two shuttles would link up with Earth Fleet’s seven heavy cruisers and three dozen support ships and launch what could be the final defense of Earth. With less than a day left, and having done all he could on Earth, Sinclair found himself back on Moon Base and heading for Iacola’s lab.
“Here you go Doctor,” Sinclair said, slipping a data disk from his jacket pocket and handing it to Iacola.
“Ah, excellent,” Iacola replied as he took the disk. “I’ll download it into the training program in a few minutes.”
“What’s their status?” Sinclair asked while looking over the rows of tubes, each holding one of Iacola’s super-clones. Sinclair counted over 200 tubes.
“They’re just awaiting their final programming and your message to them,” Iacola replied. “They should be out of the tubes and ready to go in three hours.”
“Good,” Sinclair said. “As soon as the last one walks out of the lab I want you and your staff to join General Blaine. He’ll be waiting on the last shuttle out of here for Earth.”
“Of course, sir,” Iacola said. “General, if you don’t mind, what did you say to them?”
Sinclair paused for a moment, looking at the disk in Iacola’s hand before answering.
“I told them everything,” he said. “I told them what they are, why they were created, what they’re being asked to do and why. I figured it was the least I could do. I never was one for asking a man, natural-born or cloned, to die without telling him why.”
“I understand,” Iacola said. “Is there any chance we might survive this?”
“There’s always a chance,” Sinclair said. “We might be able to pull out a miracle tomorrow, who knows. The only thing I do know is that we’ll go down fighting and either way they won’t win. We’ll give it our best shot Doctor, and we’ll see what fate has in store for us.”
Sinclair turned away to leave, but before he reached the corridor Iacola’s voice stopped him.
“Good luck tomorrow General,” Iacola said. “I’ll see you back on Earth.”
Sinclair looked back long enough to nod his head and left without another word. He spent the rest of the day prowling around the base, making sure everything was ready, watching as two hundred and thirteen super-clones boarded shuttles to wait for launch and saw off Blaine, Iacola and the rest of the non-essential staff on the last flight back to Earth.
Finally, with eight hours to go before launch, Sinclair ordered everyone to get some rest. Setting a final briefing for ninety minutes before launch, Sinclair headed for his quarters to try to get a few hours of sleep.
He resisted the temptation to go to VR-Med and say a last goodbye to Tonia’s VR ghost. Like Rogers, he had visited her cold-sleep capsule before leaving Earth. He’d said goodbye then and took some solace that at least, if the assault was a complete failure, she’d never feel any pain as the end came. Instead he found himself in his bunk, starring at the ceiling and trying to force himself to sleep. He was still trying when the alarm sounded, telling him two hours remained until launch.
* * * * *
Sinclair stood on a gangway above the main shuttle bay, cameras sent his image to monitors stationed in every shuttle bay across the base. Men were gathered around the fighters and shuttles, making any last minutes preparations needed for the launch. As Sinclair appeared in the main bay, work around the base halted as the men waited to hear what he had to say.
Sinclair thought of all of the men in the fighters and the shuttles, wondering what must be going through their minds right now. He didn’t wonder about the super-clones though.
They were built for muscle, programmed to do one job and one job only. Fight the Kustani. They had super-strength, agility and speed because those were the qualities Iacola had focused their growth on. Their brains were strictly for absorbing battle data and creating battle-tactics for their bodies to carry out. Because of this genetic-pushing, they had a life-expectancy of one year. Sinclair didn’t expect any of them to live long enough to see the end of the day. Of course, he wasn’t expecting humanity as a whole to fare any better.
He thought of saying something inspirational, something profound, something to equal the stirring message Takahashi had delivered an hour ago near the end of the final attack briefing. In the end, he settled for simplicity.
“We have a job to do today gentlemen,” he said. “Let’s get it done.”
Striding down the gangway, Sinclair crossed the bay and entered the first shuttle lined up for launch. Sealing the hatch behind him, Sinclair spared a quick glance at the thirty super-clones jammed into the shuttle before slipping into the co-pilot’s seat.”
“General,” said the major seated in the pilot’s chair. “We’re ready to go when you are.”
Sinclair waited for the signal that all ships had been boarded, the bays were clear and ready for launch before giving the order to go. The shuttle hurtled out of the bay and headed for the rendezvous point. In less than an hour, he estimated, the final battle would be joined.
He was off by only eight minutes. Surprisingly, the Kustani never picked up on the small fleet of shuttles as they made for their targeted enemy ships. Sinclair expected the shuttle to come under fire as it made its’ run for what was believed to be the Kustani flagship. But the Kustani seemed to have been focused on the main element of the attack and didn’t notice, or just didn’t care about, the unarmed shuttles and let them approach unmolested. Earth’s battle cruisers and the fighters had already engaged and were giving as good as they were taking, but they were starting off with a five-to-one disadvantage in ships to the Kustani. Even taking out two ships for every Earth ship lost would result in over sixty Kustani ships free and clear to attack a defenseless Earth.
Squadron Five had broken away without a scratch, the Kustani choosing to not trouble themselves with a small group of ships they felt were fleeing for deep space. Sinclair doubted the Kustani would ever believe what the squadron’s mission was even if he broadcast it to them.
As the shuttle flew into an open docking port, Sinclair took some comfort in knowing that, at the very least, that much of the plan was going to succeed. The pilot dropped the shuttle on the deck and the clones leapt out. Sinclair paused long enough to wish the pilot luck before joining them outside.
The shuttle lifted off and away from the deck and headed toward its final part of the attack. Whichever ships hadn’t been boarded would be struck Kamikaze-style by the shuttles after they had unloaded their assault teams. Each shuttle would duplicate Rogers’ run into the engines and detonate a nuclear device. Sinclair was hoping to knock out at least twenty enemy ships this way.
“Alright people,” Sinclair barked out. “It seems we’ve caught these bastards by surprise. You have your assignments. Let’s get going before they figure out where we are and what we’re up to.”
One of the clones, who’d been programmed with as much of the layout of the ship as military intelligence had been able to piece together over ten years, took the point and led the team into the bowels of the ship. They swiftly made their way through dimly lit corridors without meeting any resistance, heading for what was believed to be the command deck of the ship. Sinclair grew more and more uneasy with each minute that passed without the team meeting any resistance. At length the strike team burst through a hatchway that was marked in their layout as the ship’s command deck. Sinclair was hard pressed to tell which group was more surprised at his team’s entrance. His assault team that the intelligence proved to be accurate, or the half-dozen Kustani positioned around the deck.
Fortunately the clones had been enhanced with lightning-quick reflexes and reacted before the Kustani. Within seconds of walking onto the deck, Sinclair found himself standing in the center of the deck as his team removed the six dead Kustani.
They looked even uglier dead than they do alive, Sinclair thought to himself as we watched the last of the Kustani dragged off the deck.
“That seemed a bit too easy gentlemen,” Sinclair said. “Somebody hack into the command computer and confirm that this is the command deck, I want two of you on the nav controls and weapons, two more stationed on every hatch and the rest of you start sweeping out from this deck and find out where all of the Kustani are.”
Sinclair waited, listening to the sounds of his team trying to gain control of the enemy ship while trying to figure out why the Kustani hadn’t yet responded to the invaders. When the answer came, he could hardly believe it was true.
“Sir,” cried out the clone accessing the ship’s computer. “You need to see this.”
Sinclair crossed the deck to where the clone had linked a compad to the Kustani mainframe and was quickly downloading and translating every file he could find.
“What is it?” Sinclair asked.
“Look here,” the clone replied, pointing to the small screen. “It’s a complete roster for the Kustani.”
“No Sir, for the entire fleet.”
Sinclair did the math in his head.
“My god,” he exclaimed. “That’s less than fifty per ship! We estimated thousands per vessel based on their size. We always thought they had us easily outnumbered.”
“Yes sir,, and I think I know why there are so few of them,” the clone quickly switched to another file. “Here is a recent census of their planet they just received. There aren’t many more back on their home world than there are out here.”
Another screen popped up as the clone continued gleaning vital information from the Kustani computer.
“This is a detailed accounting of a long-term breeding program they’ve been working on for decades with every species they’ve encountered. Their species can longer reproduce and it is dying off.”
Sinclair was stunned.
“They’re not scavenging for natural resources,” he said. “They’re looking for a species compatible enough to save themselves.”
“Yes sir, and the human species is exactly what they need and only the females, not the males.”
“So they infected the women, forced us to put them in hibernation and tried to outlast us…,” Sinclair’s voice trailed off as a sudden thought occurred to him. “Does that mean…?”
“Yes sir,” the clone replied. “As soon as they had defeated us, they were going to revive the women and give them the antidote before using them for breeding. They have it synthesized already and I’ve downloaded everything into this computer.”
Sinclair clapped the man on the shoulder.
“Excellent. Get that information out to all of our assault teams and try to get a message off to Earth Command too. Then I want you to get a shuttle, a fighter, anything that can fly back to Earth, load everything on it and send it home as soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir,” the clone snapped off a quick salute before dashing off the deck to carry out Sinclair’s orders.
Sinclair turned to the two clones at the nav console.
“You two have that thing figured out yet?”
“Aye, sir,” replied one. “We can get underway on your command.”
“Weapons are online, sir,” said the other.
“Very well,” Sinclair said. “Target enemy capital ships that don’t have boarding parties first, then hit anything else in range as we go. Set course for the heaviest fighting, max speed and fire at will.”
“Aye, sir,” the two said in unison.
For the first time in ten years, as his latest, and possibly final, command rocketed forward, Sinclair began to believe that they might just win yet.
* * * * *
Takahashi watched the battle from CIC, there were very few reports trickling back to Earth, but they could track the progress of every ship. When he saw the ship Sinclair had boarded begin to move toward the other Kustani ships he smiled slightly.
The man must be descended from samurai, Takahashi thought and said another prayer to his ancestors, one had actually been a samurai, for any scrap of divine intervention they could muster up.
There was no telling how many ships each side had lost, was losing or were even still capable of fighting. All Sinclair could do was keep firing at anything firing at him and hope that enough of the other assault teams had managed to commandeer their targets as well.
As it was, his ship had taken a fierce pounding and they’d exhausted every weapon on board. He had no way of knowing how much longer the ship would stay together.
Noticing a cluster of eight Kustani cruisers that had formed a tight circle around each other, Sinclair ordered his navigator to head straight for the ships and overload the engines the moment they were in the middle of them.
If they were going to die out here, Sinclair decided, then they were going to take as many of the Kustani with them as was possible.
“Did the ship get away,” Sinclair asked the clone who’d found the crucial information.
“It’s got everything on board sir, but we can’t launch it.”
“Why the hell not?,” Sinclair roared.
“None of us were programmed to pilot fighters, sir.”
“He’s flying this bucket just fine,” Sinclair snapped, pointing at the clone stationed at the nav console.
“Yes sir, because he was programmed to fly a Kustani ship. He’d never be able to fly an Earth fighter.”
“Then send it back on autopilot.”
“We can’t do that either sir. The flight computer is damaged and requires a pilot to fly it. Sir, you are the only person on this ship who can fly it back to Earth.”
“I’m not leaving my command, mister.”
“You have to sir,” the clone said. “You have to take back the antidote.”
“What about all of you,” Sinclair said. “I’m supposed to run away and leave you all behind to die.”
“Yes, sir,” the clone replied, standing in front of Sinclair. “You ordered that we be given the choice to fight in this battle. We chose to do what we were programmed for, to try to save Earth. Now, we choose to die to do that. You’ve blamed yourself for the Kustani for all of these years and you chose to come out here as a way to punish yourself. Now, you have to choose to live and take back humanity’s only chance to survive.”
“Four minutes to impact,” the nav clone said softly. “You need to get moving sir. We’ll finish up things here.”
Without a word, the clone standing next to him clamped on to Sinclair’s arm and hauled his protesting commander off the deck and led him down the corridors toward the waiting fighter.
They’d nearly made it to launch bay when they ran into the last dozen Kustani left alive on the ship. Before either side had a chance to react, the clone back-handed Sinclair against the wall. Stunned, Sinclair slipped to the floor, but remained conscious enough to see the clone pull out a grenade.
“Stay alive, sir,” the clone said as he pulled the pin and dashed down the corridor. The grenade exploded as the clone hurled himself into the pack of Kustani. Sinclair was far enough away to avoid being injured in the blast, but was still wobbly from the clone’s blow.
Forcing himself to his feet he continued on toward the launch bay, trying to ignore the carnage underfoot. There wasn’t enough of anything left to say thank you to in the corridor.
Sinclair staggered toward the fighter and was barely able to pull himself into the cockpit. A quick check to make sure the antidote and data packs were on board and Sinclair launched the fighter out of the bay. Just as he thought he was going to be well clear of any trouble the shock wave from the ship he’d just left slamming into the eight Kustani ships caught up to him.
The fighter was tossed into a violent tumble and Sinclair’s head struck the cockpit, sending him tumbling into a black void darker than deep space. After registering the pilot’s loss of consciousness, the auto pilot, which was working just fine after all, took over and settled the tumbling craft into stable flight, then set a course for Earth well away from the fighting.
* * * * *
Sinclair awoke to a shroud of gray fog which gradually formed itself into the visage of the President, standing over him with a worried look. Slowly the background behind Takahashi came into focus, the medical equipment stacked against the wall and the sunlight streaming in through the window told Sinclair that he was lying in a hospital bed on Earth.
“Well now, I see you’ve decided to rejoin us after all,” a smile spread across his face. “You had us worried for awhile, my friend.”
Sinclair tried to answer, but all that came out was a dry rasp. Takahashi reached for a glass on the table next to the bed and helped Sinclair sip some water.
Thank you,” his voice was still raspy, but at least he could form understandable words. “How long have I been here?”
“Ten days, General,” this came from a doctor standing at Takahashi’s left. A younger man wearing a green smock leaned across the bed bearing the typical stern look of a physician. “The President is correct, you gave us quite a scare. And don’t expect to leap out of this bed anytime soon, either. I want you to be ready for a nice, slow recovery.”
“Ten days!,” Sinclair ignored the doctor and looked back at the President, just now realizing that his being alive on Earth meant the self-destruct order had never been issued. “What happened?”
“If you mean why are we all still here,” Takahashi began, “then the answer is because the mission was a complete success. Squadron Five broke out as planned and proceeded to the Kustani Home world without meeting resistance.”
Sinclair was shocked by that piece of information. He had felt sure that the Kustani, even short-handed as he now knew they were, would have better defended their home planet. His surprise must have shown on his face.
“Yes, I was surprised too. The Squadron Leader suspected a trap however and fired the missiles as planned,” Takahashi paused, troubled by his next words. “I’ve seen the recordings of the strike. Their sun ripped itself apart, nothing in that system survived.
“We didn’t learn until it was too late that there weren’t any defenses in place. The Kustani never believed for one moment that anyone would be able to strike their home system with such devastation as we did. I believe it was this along with the destruction of their flagship, and I trust you will tell us how you accomplished that miracle in short order, that broke their spirit and forced their surrender.”
“They surrendered? It’s over?,” Sinclair said, after he finished telling them about the assault on the flagship, unable to keep the disbelief out of his voice. It just didn’t seem possible after all of these years at war, to finally be at peace and to have survived to see it.
“Yes the conflict is over, but there is still much more to do. We have a planet and a civilization to rebuild and I intend to rely upon you heavily, once you’ve had time to recover enough to satisfy the good doctor here,” Takahashi nodded toward the doctor, who was fidgeting with one of the medical readouts above Sinclair’s bed. “Squadron Five made contact with other races after destroying the Kustani Home world and were bringing help in our cause. They understand our reluctance to entertain new visitors, given our recent experiences, but they stand ready to begin relations with us when we are ready to invite them to visit us.
“I want you at my side when we do open relations with these races. I have come to rely upon your counsel and I believe I will need it even more in the days to come. But first I have someone here who very much wants to see you. Doctor, if you would?”
Sinclair was still digesting the news of Earth’s seemingly miraculous victory and missed the look exchanged by the two men. He did notice that wicked little gleam in the President’s eyes that he’d seen during the meeting on Earth One, but before he could wonder what the President was up to now, the door behind Takahashi opened and all thoughts fled Sinclair’s brain.
“General Duncan Sinclair,” Takahashi began, stepping aside with a sweeping gesture of his left arm toward a figure standing in the door, “allow me the pleasure to re-introduce you to Mrs. General Duncan Sinclair.”
Suddenly she was standing there and there was nothing else in the universe. Just him and her, alive and well and in his arms again. As she stepped up to his bedside, he reached up and took her head in trembling hands.
“Hey, long time no see,” she quipped, her voice trembling as much as his hands.
Sinclair couldn’t find his voice, all he could do was look at her, drinking in the fact that she was alive, real, not a hologram, but real flesh and bone. Realizing only just then that for the last decade the better part of himself had been missing and only now could he appreciate how much he had been missing. She was alive again and now he could start living again too. He drew her closer and buried his head in the nape of her neck and suddenly, the smell of her, the feel of her, was too much.
“Oh, my god,” he whispered, feeling the tears flowing and not caring who saw, “I’ve missed you.”
“Shhh. I know my love,” she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks too.
Takahashi and the Doctor withdrew to a far corner, giving the couple as much privacy as possible. After a few moments Sinclair pulled back to look at her again, shifting in bed to sit up. This movement drew protests from both her and the doctor, which he ignored along with a quick stab of pain in his ribs.
“General, you need to rest, the injuries you’ve suffered require a long time to heal,” the doctor began, but Sinclair merely waived the man away.
Tonia’s eyes were slightly bloodshot and there were dark circles around them, her skin was pale and she looked a little thinner than he remembered, all normal symptoms of a person recently awaken from prolonged cold sleep. Despite all of that she couldn’t possibly look any better and he told her so.
“I look terrible and you know it,” she replied, dabbing at the tears on both of their cheeks. “You always said you would never age well,” she teased, “you weren’t kidding were you.”
“It hasn’t been the age, baby,” he retorted, “it has been the mileage.”
Sinclair took notice of a small packet attached to the belt of her jumpsuit. A small tube ran from the packet up the suit, along the suit’s left sleeve, and to a point just below the crook of her arm where it plugged into a catheter, pumping a very familiar looking blue liquid into her bloodstream. Sinclair shot a questioning look at Takahashi.
“The anti-toxin you brought back was all we had hoped and more,” Takahashi answered, stepping back to Sinclair’s bedside, “as you can see for yourself. There is no sign of the virus in any of the women we’ve awaken so far.”
“I don’t have an exact number, we’ve begun with unmarried women and those married women whose husbands are still alive,” Takahashi paused, as if considering how much to say. “In fact, I’ve been asked to make a decision concerning the women still in cold sleep whose husbands and fiancées perished in the conflict.
“This is one of those rare times where I am not forced to make a quick decision,” Takahashi continued. “I wanted your counsel in this matter before deciding, so I had intended to wait until you’d had time to rest and recover, but perhaps now is as good a time as any.”
“You know me sir, I never can keep my opinion to myself,” Sinclair quipped. “Go ahead and ask.”
“I’ve been informed that we have enough DNA samples, as well as enough mental and psychological data on every deceased soldier,” Takahashi began, “and we have improved our cloning technology to the point, I am told, that we could secretly extract an egg from each woman after she is cured and quickly clone a duplicate of each man with such accuracy that none of the women would ever know that her husband was dead.
“There are many who think we should replace each man this way and let them live their lives out with neither one knowing the truth. It would require a great effort on our parts and a great blanket of secrecy from the ones who know the truth. The decision has been left to me it seems, and I’ll be frank with you my friend, I’m afraid it’s the hardest decision I’ll ever make.”
Sinclair was silent, looking past his restored wife and out the window at the park beyond. Suddenly, he was back on the Kustani ship, with a clone warrior who sacrificed his life so that Earth could survive. He’d known the truth of his existence and chose to give up his life, even though he couldn’t have known if it was to be in vain.
It was up to the survivors to decide what kind of Earth he’d sacrificed for and Sinclair knew that a lie was a poor way to honor that sacrifice. Knowing that everyone in the room would object, Sinclair stood up, albeit slowly, and weathered the storm of protests and pain that followed. He felt obligated to be on his feet for what was to come, he owed it to all of the men who had fallen over the past ten years in general, and to one man in particular.
“We tell them the truth, Mr. President,” he said, turning to face Takahashi. “We wake them up and tell them their husbands and fiancées died defending our world. Then we tell them they have a choice. They can have their husbands and boyfriends back, as clones fully aware of their origins and live their lives together that way, or they can choose to use the surviving genetic material to have their dead husband’s child. Either way, they know the truth and they make the choice, as is their right. It’s the only way, otherwise we dishonor the memory of those men.”
Takahashi held perfectly still, considering Sinclair’s words. Then he turned slightly to Tonia and smiled.
“I want you to take very good care of this man, dear lady,” Takahashi said before turning back to Sinclair and placing a hand on his right shoulder. “We will do exactly as you say. I can’t think of any better way to honor those men than to give those closest to them the right to make that choice. In the meantime, I want you to go home and regain your strength. When you’re ready I’ll want you and your valuable counsel ready to help rebuild our world.”
“There’s one more thing, sir.”
“Anything you want, just please get back into bed before your wife and the doctor throw me out of here and tie you down,” Takahashi helped Sinclair back to the bed. “Now, what would you ask of me?”
“When they bring Ken Rogers’ wife out of cold sleep, I want to be there. I want to be the one who tells her,” a pause, “everything.”
“Of course,” Takahashi soothed. “I will see to everything personally. They’ve earned it and so have you.”
…and so it was, on the eve of Earth’s entering into the Interstellar Alliance, that President Fumi Takahashi presented the first ever Terra Peace Award to General Duncan Sinclair. Sinclair in turn accepted the award in the name of all the men, both natural born and cloned, who had died during the Kustani War and gave it to Julia Rogers, seven months pregnant with the child of the late Colonel Kenneth Rogers.
– from A History of the Earth-Kustani Conflict