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The Alphabet Gang

By Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 6

"What!"

Federation Space Commander Khory winced. Even through the distortions of a sub-space communicator going through several planetary relays back to Earth, the fury in the woman's voice was obvious. He hadn't known Commissioner Sleer long, but her reputation preceded her. Unsuccessful subordinates of hers had a nasty habit of disappearing.

"It was beyond our control, Commissioner," he said, keeping his voice steady. Show no fear, isn't that what the old-time animal trainers advised?

"Yes, of course," the sarcasm in the silken purr was even more frightening, "After all, your opponents were outnumbered, surrounded, helpless against a superior force. I can see where that might cause a problem for you." He wondered if he would be allowed to die in the line of duty, or if he would be listed as a deserter. Bleakly, he imagined his family as slaves, bound over to some swine on the Outer Worlds, as was the fate of all immediate relatives of 'deserters'.

"The resistance was much stronger than we were led to expect. Eight of my men were killed, playing the waiting game you ordered.The others responded according to their training..."

"Training! I gave you specific instructions. Were they not clear to you, Commander?"

"Yes. They were," he replied reluctantly.

"Repeat them. I wish to see where I might possibly have led you to consider this debacle an acceptable military exercise."

Obediently, he said, "We were to keep Blake's base under remote surveillance, making no move until our agents in place had reported that the terrorist Kerr Avon and his crew had arrived. But, Commissioner," he said, interrupting himself, "the blockade had definitely identified their ship. Once they were shot down, there was a need for urgency."

"Yes. Survivors of a space wreck are so dangerous."

"Desperate men are dangerous, Commissioner."

"So is failure. Continue."

His heart sank. "Blake, Avon, and Avon's crew were to be brought in alive for interrogation and trial. But they are dead, Commissioner, and no longer a threat to the Federation; surely that's the important thing? The reward is just as great..."

"Not my reward!" Sleer's voice slashed. "I had plans, great plans, which your cowardice and stupidity have ruined! What a waste. Orac is lost, the Star Drive is lost, even..." She paused for a long moment. "There is perhaps one thing."

"Yes, Commissioner?" The officer had little hope, but perhaps if he could salvage something from this shambles he would live long enough to warn his family to flee.

"I should like a small personal memento. As I will not have him, I wish something to remember him by," the Commissioner sounded odd, almost dreamy. Her voice sharpened. "You do have a qualified medic among your surviving men, I trust?"

"Yes." He didn't think much of the man, but technically he was qualified.

"Good. Then have your medic collect my souvenir. I want a live sperm sample from..."

The Space Commander never heard the end of her astonishing request, as a previously overlooked rebel of Blake's leaned around a pillar and shot at the ranking officer. The shot missed Khory, but blasted the communications device into slag. The rebel was killed immediately, of course, but that left Khory with a problem.

Not too difficult to solve, though. Counting Blake, and the males of Avon's crew, there were only four possible candidates. "Medic Scarnol. You heard the Commissioner."

The medic stepped forward, taking off his helmet as he did so. "Which one?" he asked, a bit pale at the prospect.

"All four. Blake, Avon, Tarrant and Restal." He frowned. "Doubt if she wants the petty thief, but who can tell what she wants. Best to cover all bases."

The medic hesitated, looking down at the floor, from one still face to another. He swallowed, prominent adam's apple bobbing. "Sir?"

"Do it. Don't go squeamish on me now, trooper."

"I'm just a conscript," the medic protested. "They told me I'd get better pay if I took the aid course. It didn't cover this!"

"How complicated can it be? Take a tissue sample from the testicles, man. Use your instruments, avoid contaminating the samples and get them in stasis as soon as possible," he spoke briskly to cover his own feelings. Scarnol was right, mutilating corpses was not part of a trooper's job description.

Scarnol did the job. He was shaky when he finished, hands trembling as he labeled the vials and set them in his medical pack, tucked amidst bandage packages. "Done, sir," he reported, sitting back on his haunches to wipe his sweaty brow.

Another shot. This one was luckier for the rebel side, taking Scarnol full in the chest as he crouched beside the pack.

"No!" Khory yelled, whirling to kill the rebel sniper. There were more of them. Damn Blake. He must have had more troops than their agents knew. The shots were continuous, now. No chance of collecting rewards on dead rebels. Not much chance of staying live troopers. He snatched the medical pack, slinging the strap over his shoulder, and led his men out of the gauntlet.

There must have been something to his theory that men with nothing to lose made better fighters, Khory mused. Else how would he and five of his men have made it back to their ship? The whole planet was up in arms. Blake's rebels were everywhere. Fortunately, few of them knew exactly what had happened to their leader. Yet. He had a feeling a dead Blake would be even more of a romantic hero to his people, inspiring even more mayhem throughout the Federation.

Sleer must have felt some of that romance herself, although he would never have suspected that side of her. He had little time for speculation as they were short-handed after the massacre, and he was forced to take a position on the flight deck.

Once they'd given sign and countersign and cleared the blockade he gave the order to set course for Earth and left the flight deck without further comment. What was there to say? His men knew the situation as well as he did.

He took the pack containing the samples to the medical unit, intending to place them in a small stasis box. He opened the pack gingerly, well aware that what slim hope he had resided on its contents. "Oh, no." Somewhere along the mad dash to safety, the vials had become uncapped and fallen over. The sterile solution covering the tissue had spilled, soaking into the fabric of the pack, presumably along with the majority of whatever sperm Scarnol's clumsy technique had gathered. If Scarnol hadn't already been dead, Khory would have killed him for his incompetence. He capped the tubes and placed the nearly empty vials within the stasis. As he carefully transferred the last one, he noticed another reason to curse Scarnol. The vials were labeled A, B, C, and D. No names.

What did that moron think he was doing, conducting a science academy exercise? Sleer was going to adore this final bit of news. Khory went to his quarters, took his unofficial sub-space communicator out of hiding, and transmitted a private code to his brother. His family would have their chance. He wiped his brow and tried to think what to say to Sleer.

"Apology accepted," Sleer said, stepping over Khory's corpse. He had courage, so she had granted him a quick death. She rubbed her hand over the small stasis box, her eyes wide and soft. "I do hope I haven't gone to all this trouble for nothing."

"You must understand, Commissioner. There is nothing I could do about it... nothing anyone could do about it," the woman in the medical smock hastened to add. "It is simply a fact of nature. The most motile sperm, the ones that were at the top of the vials, were lost. Generally, these are the male producing sperm. There were high odds against any viable sperm being found after the poor handling these specimens received. Taken post mortem ..."

"Yes, yes, I know the circumstances," Sleer waved away the woman's excuses. "I understand that there will be no choice of gender, but at least you ought to be able to test for genotype and tell me the identities of the donors."

"There was very little material to work with, and much of the genetic material had been distorted. It is fairly common among the crew of poorly shielded freighters. Solar radiations, and other spatial hazards..." She stopped her lecturing when she noted Sleer's eyes narrow as the Commissioner's limited patience ran out. "To obtain one healthy child, we had to resort to multiple fertilizations. Out of thirty-seven attempts, only four acceptable embryos resulted; one from each donor, fortunately."

"Thirty-seven? You used my entire store of ova? Years of annoying and embarrassing procedures all spent in a single experiment?"

"It was necessary. Despite our best efforts, the remaining sperm were deteriorating rapidly. There was no time..."

"True. I was unavailable for consultation." Sleer nodded. "Very well. I accept that you used your best judgment at the time. But why can't you tell me now!"

The woman nervously clasped her hands. "Later, it might be possible to take a few cells from the children for genetic comparison. Provided the donors were registered in the gene banks..."

"Three of them were Alphas, of well-established stock with impeccable pedigrees. They will have been listed from birth. The fourth man would not have been in anyone's blue book, but he had certain unique talents."

"Then you might permit even his child to live?"

Sleer frowned. "Is that why you have not determined the parentage? Do you think I will slaughter my own babies because the father was not the one I would have chosen?" She smiled. "Yes, of course, that is exactly what you thought. It was noble of you, to protect your innocent charges. But ill-advised. I want these children. All of them. I am disappointed that there will be no son to remind me of his father, but it is just as well. I might see the father too strongly in his son. My daughters will be mine alone. Still, I wish to know who the fathers were. For my own personal satisfaction."

The woman nodded. "The embryos are currently in In Vitro cylinders. It would be safest to permit them to develop undisturbed. There is a small chance that interrupting the developmental sequence, even briefly, could deform the child. Our science in this area is not as advanced as the clone-masters, or even the Auron system. We cannot accelerate the growth, nor implant information in the forming brain, as they can."

"As they could, " Sleer said, musing. "Past tense." She gestured around the laboratory. " Sobering, isn't it, to realize that your betters are no more? Makes one contemplate the frailty of life, how easily it is lost... particularly if one fails."

The woman swallowed. "The children are healthy. There is every reason to expect successful decantation in another eight months."

"There had better be." Sleer swept out in a froth of black lace and feathers, leaving the doctors and scientists to wipe their brows and give thanks for her departure.


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