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After so much earnest old-guy proximity, it felt good to be heading for the Hatchery - my next stop for two reasons. One, I wanted to check out the pre-flight hatchling database and, two, the little major wanted to check out the supervisor.

The Hatchery filled the entire sixth and seventh levels - insemination vats, hatching pods, pre-hatch education, post-hatch training. Block after block of little Mirran hatchlings and hatchling trainers. Pretty much the same as any hatchery complex on Mirra, except for the post-insemination genetic manipulation. The genetic wizardry that transformed Mirran hatchlings into human look-alikes. Couldn’t have a first contact mission go belly-up because the ambassadors were ugly. We needed to impress our gods. And impress them we would.

Especially if we all looked like the divine Debora, Hatchling Archive Supervisor and love of the little major’s life.

I sauntered in super-cool, thumbs hooked in belt-loops and leaning back like a limbo dancer walking up a steep hill.

Deborah was slinking toward the drinks machine at the far end of the corridor. She moved like a cat moves in its dreams. She swung, she sashayed, she flowed as seamless as her one-piece sheer-satin costume.

I draped myself tastefully against the Mirra-Mat, pressing the first button I found.

"Hi," I said, shifting my voice down an octave.

"Hello, yourself," she purred.

"Goin’ anywhere fun tonight?"

"Depends who’s asking."

"I’m asking."

"Then I am."

I took a sip of nondescript liquid while I tried to work out if I had a date or not. It’s difficult to act cool and desperate at the same time but I think I nailed it. Debora turned and slunk back down the corridor to her office, her long black hair flicking from side to side.

I followed, mesmerized.

You could fit ten of my filing rooms in Hatchling archives and still have room to put on a small band. It was vast. Every Mirran who’d ever had anything to do with the project had their details filed there - their pod history, genetics, the lot.

"I’m looking for everything you’ve got on Christine Took."

"You’re always looking for everything I’ve got."

"You’ve got such a lot."

"That’s why I keep it locked."

We too were locked, locked in a verbal dance that neither could disengage from. The music played, we danced, the little major jitterbugged.

But I found the link I’d been looking for. Tracked down the pre-flight history of Carlos, Christine and John. All of them hatched on Mirra, all of them assigned to the flight as adults, all of them retrofitted into human form. And one of them had a pod-brother on board.

To be hatched at the same time, to be educated at the same pod school, to live in the same pod dorm - that made you close. As close as any genetic brother. Or Brothers.

I wondered how Len had reacted to the news of his pod-sister’s death?

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