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Episode 10 | Missionary To Mars

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“Captain,” Enzo said. “Take a look at this.” 

“Did you bring another stowaway aboard?” Marianna said.

Enzo didn’t respond to her sarcasm. She stepped over a crate and peered above the back of his chair. The bridge was packed with old gear, broken equipment, and rusted paraphernalia of an inglorious past. Enzo gestured in Marianna’s direction, giving her access to his cortex display’s readout. He pointed at the hovering data. “It’s some kind of intermittent signal. It’s in close proximity too.” 

“How close,” Marianna asked. 

“Too close to get a parallax reading,” Enzo said as he swiped to another screen. 

“Admiral Strafe?” 

“Nope,” Enzo responded. “No GovCorp tag. Plus, it’s coming in irregular bursts. A few minutes at a time. It’s not lightwave, either. It’s an old band spectrum. Radio frequency.” 

“Who uses radio anymore?” Marianna asked. Enzo didn’t respond. “Bring it up. Let’s hear it.” 

“Can’t,” he said. “It’s not broadcasting currently. I can set it to record the next transmission so we can analyze.” 

“Do it.” 

“Aye, Cap.” He made the requisite hand gestures, nodded, and swiped away the screen. “By the way, we’re approaching our insertion burn increase for lunar orbit. Still want to hit Aldrin City, or—” Enzo didn’t finish the thought, as the subject of the stowaway was still raw. 

The captain stepped across the bridge, maneuvering around various piles of unsorted tech. She slapped the wall lockup, and a small hatch door swung open. She retrieved a liquid pouch. Enzo eyed her as she pierced the seal and took a long drink. 

“Starting early?” Enzo asked. 

“You have a problem with this?” She glared. He put his hands up defensively. She spun and looked out the large bay window. She drained the liquid pouch in its entirety. “How long can we put a hold on the insertion burn?” 

“We’re stable,” Enzo said. “Long as you want, but with Strafe on our tail—”

“Yeah, I know,” Marianna said. She tossed the crumpled liquid pouch at the discard receptacle and missed. She didn’t move to pick up the garbage. What was the point? “I get it, you know,” Marianna said. “You’ve got a memory like a computer. You’re a smart kid.”

“I’m sensing a but coming,” Enzo said. 

But,” she emphasized, “no matter how perfect, memory isn’t a replacement for experience,” Marianna said. 

“You made the wrong choice. He can fix the comm. You were three bottles in, and that always makes you cowardly.”

“Shut up, kid,” Marianna barked. “Just for once in your life, listen to me.” She pushed her hair out of her face. “You’re just a kid, and you don’t understand—”

“Better to be a sober kid than a bitter, blind boozer,” Enzo said. 

“Get off my bridge!” Marianna growled. 

“Oh, there’s that nerve I was reaching for,” Enzo said. 

“Now!”

“Fine!” 

Enzo glared as he rose. He moved toward the command deck exit without taking his eyes off her. One hand on the ladder, he paused. He stared at the deck for a second, looking as if he would say something. After a moment’s hesitation, he crawled down the ladder silently. 

Once he was down deck, Marianna cursed and kicked a stack of crates. They tumbled, but the aggression didn’t satisfy. 

“Comm app,” she grunted. A beep indicated that the line was open. “Stowaway, report to the command deck.” She waited for a long few seconds, but there was no response. She tried again, “Fair-dodger, come up to the command deck.” She waited again, but there was no response. “What’s wrong with this thing?” She slammed her fist down on the control panel, but it didn’t seem to fix anything. 

A piercing beep sounded from the terminal Enzo had vacated, but the kid wasn’t there to receive it. Marianna moved to the kiosk and unlocked it with a swipe. The close proximity signal was transmitting again. She gestured to open the signal readout. It was an audio file. She played it. Her rage metastasized when she heard the sound bite. “That rotten hornswoggler!” 

She was in a full run. She slid down the ladder and descended three decks in less than a minute. She heard his voice as she approached Eustis’ compartment. She attacked the door with an aggression she usually reserved for emergencies, and this situation fit the need. 

She burst into his quarters, and briefly marked that Eustis was sitting in front of a cobbled pile of tech. Wires snaked between varied pieces of active communication gear. A signal indicator blinked as an audio readout bounced. A long antenna was propped up against the bulkhead with a fat strand of braided wire running to his makeshift transmission rack. Eustis was holding a microphone to his mouth and had just stopped speaking when Captain Marianna entered the compartment. 

She crossed the room in two quick steps, ripped the microphone out of his hand, threw a well-practiced right hook, caught him across the jaw, and sent him sprawling to the deck. She then turned her rage to Eustis’ ad hoc radio transmitter. She gripped the wire to the antenna and cracked it like a whip. The rack of gear went tumbling. 

“No!” Eustis shouted. He was on his feet in a second. She unholstered her pistol and released the safety. With it pointed at his face, she used her other hand to rip his equipment apart. The blinking lights went out, and the equipment died with a crash. When each piece of tech was air-gapped, she spun on him. His hands were in the air. 

“You intolerable gobermouch!” she shouted. “What were you transmitting?” He didn’t answer. She stepped forward and leveled her barrel at his forehead. “Who were you talking to?” 

“Anyone who will listen,” Eustis said. 

“What?” She screeched. “Are you insane? We’ve got Admiral Strafe on our tail, and you decide to step up to an open mic night?”

“That’s exactly why it’s so important I do this,” he said, gesturing to the broken equipment. “I may not have much time left. Believe me. I wouldn’t do this unless it was important.” 

“Do what?” she shouted. “What are you broadcasting?”

With his hands in the air, he said, “Captain, I can see I’ve upset you. I will tell you anything you want to know, but I’d like us just to take a moment to de-escalate.” He pointed to the gun in her hand. 

“De-escalate?” She said, looking at him with her head cocked sideways. Her voice was calm but deadly. “I’m going to ask you once more, and if you don’t tell me, I’m going to paint the bulkhead with your brains. What were you transmitting?” 

“I’m a believer,” Eustis said.

“Believer,” Marianna said. “What’s that? Is that your dissident faction?” 

“No,” Eustis said. “I’m part of an ancient belief group. I may be the only one left in the Sol System. I can’t let the message die with me. I know I’ve put you in great danger, but this is so much more important than—” He would have continued, but she lowered her gun and stepped back. She leaned against the hatchway and stared at the floor. Her face went pale white. 

“You’re a religionist,” she said. “A religionist on my ship. This is—” Her voice grew quiet, but she continued to talk to herself in rapid terms. Eustis could not quite hear what she was saying as she paced back and forth. 

“PA,” she blurted suddenly. “All hands muster, stowaway’s quarters.” It took only a minute for the entire crew, which included Rudwick, Enzo, and four cats, to be huddled around the entrance of Eustis’ compartment. 

“This insane mud dweller was just transmitting his religionism on broadwave.”

“Religionism,” Rudwick said with a face that looked as if he might wretch.

“From our ship!” Enzo shouted. 

“I know it sounds odd, but I didn’t—” Eustis started, but Marianna cut across his words. 

“Shut up, stowaway.” She turned to the kid. “Enzo, prep for a long-range burn. Get us something in the belt.”

“I really need to get to Musk City. I have an important message I need to give to Mars.” Eustis interjected. Rudwick stepped over, put his huge hand over Eustis’ face, and shoved him backward. He tumbled over a pile of scattered gear. 

“We’re not going to Aldrin City?” Enzo asked. 

“Every GovCorp ship in signal range knows where we are now. They know whatever this dissident criminal has been broadcasting. They know that his contraverbs were being transmitted from this ship. Which means we’re tagged. Whatever this rube was being hunted for, now we are too.” 

“We bear the black mark,” Rudwick said. 

“Enzo,” Marianna shouted. 

“Right,” Enzo said. “Long-range burn. I’m on it.” He rushed away. 

“Rudwick, secure the prisoner and make sure he has nothing he can transmit with. If he tries to leave this deck, kill him.”

“Aye, Cap,” Rudwick said with a smile. “Do you wish me just kill him now, and we be done with it?”

“No,” Marianna said. “Without Aldrin City, we still have a broken transponder. Once we’re on our way, we’ll put him to use.” 

“Then we will kill him?” Rudwick said. 

“We’ll see,” Marianna said. “But not until after he fixes the transponder.”

“Unless he leaves the deck?” Rudwick said. 

“Yes,” Marianna said. “If he leaves the deck, then you kill him.” 

“But won’t he have to leave the deck to fix the transponder?”

“Rudwick!” Marianna shouted. “Get to work!” 

“Aye, Cap.”

 

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