Author : Roger Dale Trexler
The hydraulic door hissed open as I looked out the porthole. I could see Alpha Centauri, still a generation or two away, in the distance. I sighed.
Behind me, Brandon 8 cleared his throat to get my attention.
“Another one?” I asked, nodding toward the pneumatic stretcher he pushed into the room.
“Yes,” he replied. “Third one this month.”
I sighed again and walked over to the stretcher. I pulled the sheet back. Tabitha 3, the number clearly tattooed on her left shoulder, lay there, dead. “Cause of death?” I asked.
“Suicide,” Brandon 8 replied solemnly. “Same as the others.”
I nodded, then walked back to the porthole and looked out. We had left a dying Earth almost two centuries ago. We had killed the planet with our arrogance, poisoning the water and the air.
Ten thousand people boarded the ship back then. We had no faster than light drive, and we knew that it would take generations to get to the habitable planet we had discovered around Alpha Centauri.
It was to be a new home, a new beginning for the human race.
We were barely outside the solar system when the plague struck. Virtually overnight, nine thousand people died. The thousand that were left fought to cure the disease—and they did, after nine hundred and thirty-seven more deaths.
Only sixty-three people remained.
Not nearly enough people to operate the two-mile long spaceship.
I pulled the sheet back over Tabitha 3’s head. So beautiful, I thought. As beautiful as the original.
“Jettison the body,” I said.
Brandon 8 nodded. “Sir?”
“I….I don’t mean to pry, but you haven’t left your quarters in a week.”
I dropped my head. “There’s nothing out there for me,” I said. “I’m an alpha, remember?”
Brandon 8 said nothing. I could sense him nodding his head. He understood, as I did, that the cloning process was a precarious thing at best. Degradation of the genetic process forced us to be careful. I was alpha clone of one of the original sixty-three survivors. Brandon 8 was a clone of a clone. Second generation clones weren’t as smart; and, recently, they had developed emotional problems as well.
I turned to him. “Eject the body into space.” I walked over to the body and touched her arm. I shuddered. “Tell Tabitha Prime I would like to see her, please?”
“Yes sir,” replied Brandon 8. He slid out the door without another word.
I walked back to the porthole.
Ten minutes later, my door hissed open. I turned and looked at her. She smiled and I felt a shudder run through me again. I had just seen that face dead on a stretcher a few minutes earlier.
“You called?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yes.”
She walked to me. So beautiful, I thought. “We’ll need to produce a couple of betas to replace….” My voice trailed off.
“Damn,” she said. “Another one?”
I nodded again.
A tear formed in her eye. “I can’t get over it,” she said. “No matter how hard I try, it’s like losing a child.”
“It is,” I agreed.
I reached out and touched her face. We kissed. We made love in my bed, but there would be no child from our union. All alphas were sterile. The cloning process was imperfect in that sense, too. Gavin Prime said he was working to fix that, but his experiments were unsuccessful so far.
Afterward, Tabitha Prime left me there.
I lay there and stared out the porthole.