Jerome counted twelve infants, pressing their little pink snouts against the green tinted glass of the incubator. They were identical. “Damn. I guess I’m their father.” He grunted.
The incubator made a beeping noise. A nurse stepped over. “What are you doing here?”
Jerome backed away. She was big. “I was told to come here.”
“Really?” The nurse stared down at him.
Jerome stood on tiptoe. He knew he was too damn short.
The incubator beeped again. The nurse checked a monitor and adjusted a dial.
Jerome frowned. “How come there’re so many?”
“They’re dudodenuplets,” she replied, examining a label on the glass, “twelve Preemies according to the code. A multiple birth coming from a single, fertilized ovum.” She frowned at Jerome. “I thought you said they told you to come here?” She waved a finger at him. “This is a restricted area. Do you have a pass?”
“Uh, no. No. But, I’m the father-at least I think I am.”
He stared at the incubator. “Are they girls or boys?”
“Does it matter?” The nurse twisted a lever on the incubator. “It’s getting too warm. It has to be just right.”
“So damn small.” Jerome narrowed his eyes. “Are they midgets?”
“Are you?” She lifted an eyebrow.
Jerome glared at her and pounded his chest. “No, I’m compact and strong.”
One infant opened its mouth and wailed. Jerome flinched. “Hell. They look more like miniature people than infants.” He rubbed his chin.
“Infants are miniature people.” The nurse checked a digital meter on the incubator and recorded it.
“Well, whatever. They…” Jerome shook his head. “They remind me of cute pups in my lab.”
Jerome nodded. “Rat pups. I do research. I’m a psychologist, a professor. He stared at the incubator. “They’re odd looking.”
The nurse frowned. “Hey! You said they’re your children. They come from you. They’re perfect.”
“Yeah, but I’m…bigger.” He moved closer to the incubator. “Hell. I shouldn’t have screwed her. She’s small too. But she came on strong, real strong.” He looked down. “I guess I was lonely.”
“Hmm. Where is she? The mother?”
“I don’t know. She called and said I should come and wait until she got here. She’s an MD or something.” Jerome laughed. “I didn’t pay much attention when we were….you know. I mean, I don’t get that many chances. I’m not exactly a hunk. I guess she’s busy. I’m adjunct faculty. Lots of free time.” He shrugged and peered into the incubator. “Damn. So many of them!”
“I told you. It’s because the zygote, I mean the fertilized egg…“
“I know what a zygote is.”
“…divided into three and then each of them divided twice.”
“That’s not normal. I mean, twelve babies.”
“Your wife must have taken the special fertility medication. The Project keeps coming out with fancy new drugs. It’s a new world—multiple births, spaceships-it’s too much. So, what drug did your wife take?”
“Wife? You serious? I’m not married. Not now. I had one marriage-don’t need another. It didn’t work out. It was….” He coughed. “I met Keisha in a bar near the university. I was alone, had a few drinks, maybe too many. Like I said, she came on strong and she was hot, petite, but what a bod and pretty blue eyes. And I was taller than her. I screwed her right away. I mean I was horny and she was willing… Hell. Now I’m screwed. Kids—I didn’t expect that. Not that I don’t like kids. I mean I didn’t use protection, I assumed she—hell, they’re so many and so small. I mean, I’m not huge but… Are they okay? You sure this is the right batch?”
“You don’t have any idea what goes on here, do you?” The nurse glanced at a clipboard.
“Hey, nurse, the one on the right is wiggling funny. Is it sick? Hey is it a boy?” He tapped on the glass. “It’s a little bigger than the others.”
“No, no. It’s just—molting I think.” She checked a monitor.
“Probably from the drugs.”
“That new skin looks slimy… no, it’s shiny, silvery. Pretty.”
The nurse snorted. “It’s for the Project.”
“The project? What project?”
“You don’t know anything!” She started. “Hey, what’s that noise?”
Jerome fumbled in his pocket. “My cell. It’s the blues played on an alto sax.”
“Figures. Blues, huh? Turn it off. No cell phones allowed in here. It’s restricted. You know, I really think you need to leave.” She shoved Jerome and he almost fell over. “Guards!”
“No, no. I told you—I’m the father.”
The nurse folded her arms. “Prove it.”
“I don’t know how. I mean, they’re so tiny and they don’t look like me. Well, maybe the big one.” He shook his head.
The nurse poked him. “You say you’re the father and you talk like that? They’re special, Preemies.”
A uniformed officer barged in. The nurse stood at attention and saluted.
“Hey Keish.” Jerome squinted. “Fancy uniform. Stripes too.”
“In here it’s Commander, mister.”
“Oh. So now you’re all formal. You were different with your clothes off.”
“Blood sample please.” The Commander jerked her thumb towards Jerome. “Roll up your sleeve.”
“Do it. Now.”
“I don’t get it.” Jerome bit his lip.
“We need a fresh blood sample from you, sir, fresh DNA.” She turned. “Nurse.”
The nurse held a sharp syringe as she stepped over to Jerome. “Your arm.”
“Huh?” Jerome fidgeted but let the nurse roll up his sleeve. He was confused.
“You’re scrawny. No muscle.” The nurse jabbed at his arm.
“Hey, easy. That hurts.”
“Wimp. It’s for the Preemies,” she growled as she stuck in the needle.
Jerome winced as the nurse yanked it out.
Going to the incubator, the Commander stared through the glass, examining the Preemies. Her eyes were bright blue as she turned to the nurse. “They’re perfect.”
“Perfect? But they’re tiny.” Jerome shook his head. “And the biggest one’s molting. It’s all shiny and silvery.”
“Molting? Perfect! That’s exactly what we were hoping for.” She beamed.
“The Project. That’s the protective epidermis-a spacesuit only organic.” The Commander grunted.
“What the hell.” Jerome stared. “Hey, nurse, I thought you said they were Preemies?”
The nurse nodded. “Yes. Premiere Bioengineered Spacers—Preemies.”
The Commander grinned. “Sized perfectly for long interstellar flights.”
“You wanted to get pregnant!”
“Of course. And I did—thanks to you and with the help of drugs.” Taking off her cap, the Commander scratched her head. “You didn’t think it was your good looks, did you, mister?”
Jerome sighed. His chin quivered.
“Oh damn. You stupid little man. You thought it was love at first sight, didn’t you?”
“Maybe.” Jerome paused. “Why me?”
“You’re little. Besides, we needed an outsider’s genes for hybrid vigor—preferably one with a brain. That’s why I went to the university bar to get laid. You made it so easy. As if you hadn’t had a woman in years.”
The Commander’s voice was brittle. “Right size but I’m not too sure about your brain.”
“You’re dismissed.” The Commander waved her hand.
“You can’t dismiss me. I’m the father.” Jerome thumped his chest and went to the incubator.
The Commander sneered. “We don’t need you anymore, just the blood sample for DNA so we can make more Preemies.”
Jerome tapped the glass of the incubator. The biggest Preemie looked up. Jerome winked. “Hey, it winked back.” Jerome winked again. The Preemie winked back again. Jerome turned to the nurse. “He winked just like me. That’s my boy.” He grinned. “I really am a father.”
The nurse scowled. “Maybe. A minute ago you said they didn’t even look like infants.”
The Commander interrupted. “They’re not your family. They’re government property. They’ll be launched next month.”
“But Keish, they’re our kids. And they’re so tiny, delicate.”
“Tiny but tough and smart. The big one’s the captain.”
“The captain? There’s a spaceship? Is it miniature too?”
“Of course. Saves on fuel.”
“But, Keish they’re my blood. My first daughters or sons or whatever.”
“You’re so naïve.” The Commander shook her head.”They’re neutered. Don’t need sex or pregnancies on an interstellar space flight.”
“Interstellar flight. My kids.” Jerome’s voice was quiet. “My kids.” Jerome tapped the glass again. The big Preemie winked.
“Stop that! Time for you to leave.” The Commander whistled and two armed guards came over.
“Hey!” Jerome struggled as they lifted him off the ground and carried him out. “My kids, my kids!” He flailed his legs but it was futile.
“Civilians!” The Commander snorted.
Going to the incubator, the nurse peeked in. “Wow. The big one does look like him though.”
Keisha smiled. “Wait ‘til you see the first officer.