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Episode 3 | Missionary To Mars

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As Eustis stepped out of the shipwright’s shop a notification pinged in his cortex display. An unknown caller was trying to contact him. He gulped hard, thinking of the events earlier that day. He gestured to decline the call. It went straight to vid message. He motioned to play the video as it was being recorded. The head of a skinny, sunken-eyed man appeared on Eustis’ display. His nasal voice was upbeat and matter-of-fact. 

“Eustis Wade Grimes, this is Chief Logistics General Manager HEXA—A.I. Assistant to the Admiral in the office of Dissidence Management. I’m legally required to notify you that you are registered on GovCorp’s dangerous dissident database. A formal manhunt has been initiated. You will be terminated on capture. As a convenience, we will turn your remains over to reclamation at no extra cost. If you wish to save GovCorp subscribers the expense of hunting you down, you can turn yourself in at the nearest GovCorp facility. If you attempt to evade capture, your case officer will apprehend you at his earliest available opening. Admiral Kynig Strafe has been assigned to your case and will ensure your capture and termination if you choose not to turn yourself in. Your last known whereabouts are recorded as, let’s see.” There was a brief pause as HEXA’s eyes darted to the data. “Ah, there you are. Earth’s Best Shipwright and Parts, Houston City. Your assigned case officer is on his way.”

HEXA lowered his voice as a sycophantic pleasure was present in his words. “On a personal note, I’ve worked for Admiral Strafe for years. He wants you to run. It isn’t any fun if you turn yourself in.” HEXA’s voice returned to upbeat businesslike. “Ok, that does it for us at the Office of Dissidence Management. Have yourself a wonderful day.” 

The message clicked to black and Eustis remembered to breathe for the first time in three minutes. Admiral Strafe? He knew of Strafe by reputation. Who didn’t? Eustis gripped the handle of his duffle bag so hard his knuckles went white. 

He looked around. Standing a few paces off were Rudwick, Enzo, and Captain Marianna. They were having a heated discussion outside the door of Earth’s Best Shipwright and Parts. Under normal circumstances, Eustis would not have interrupted an ongoing conversation, especially one that was proceeding with such vehement urgency, but these were not normal circumstances. 

“Let’s get off this rock,” Captain Marianna was saying to the others. “We’ll try that shipwright in Aldrin City, Moon. The sooner we’re out from under this heavy G, the better.” She lifted the bottle to her lips and eased her nerves with the warm liquid. 

“Bezos City be better a choice,” Rudwick said. “Could go to Flub’s Craft Parts. It only be a short flight over to Europa.” 

“Flubs? ” Enzo said. “The only thing you’re going to get at Flubs Parts is a blood disease. Plus, Europa is 657.65 million kilometers away at this point in the orbital.” The big man bristled as if each of the kid’s words were little daggers driving deep into his skin. “Have you been listening? Without the transponder, we won’t be able to land at GovCorp-regulated ports.” The kid turned to Captain Marianna. “But, Cap, we can’t make an appearance in Aldrin City either. We don’t want a repeat of last time we were there, do we? We wouldn’t survive a second run in with Mayor Skurg.” 

“Maybe, maybe no,” Rudwick said. 

“What are you talking about, you brainless loaf?” Enzo said. “I’m relaying unassailable facts here.” 

“Maybe it be a truth, brat,” Rudwick said. “But you need to learn manners, and I be the one to teach ‘em to you.” He lifted his metallic fist in the air and looked as if he were going to strike. 

“Hey, there,” Eustis said, ducking his hand and giving an awkward wave as he stepped forward. “Remember me from like four minutes ago?” 

The conversation stopped, and all eyes looked at him. They were not pleased to be interrupted. “So, I’m going to cut to the chase. I need a ride. And from the sound of it, you guys need some help with a busted transponder,” he said. “I see a kind of providence here. You see, I believe in—actually, I better save that part for another time. My point is—If you need that, and I need a ride—I was thinking—I mean—after all—”

“Get to the point, mister,” Enzo said. “You can do it. One word after the other. Before you know it, you’ve arrived at some punctuation, and everyone has a clue what you’re asking.”

“Sorry,” Eustis said. “I worked for Comm Interplanetary for five years. I can fix your transponder.” Eustis pointed to the device with frayed wires in Captain Marianna’s hand. “Looks like a Galaxy Four AIS transcendence unit. If I could just take a look.” He reached for it, but she pulled back quickly. Rudwick put a metal hand in his chest and pressed painfully against his sternum. 

“Why are you sweating so much?” Enzo asked. 

“He do bear a mighty sheen,” Rudwick agreed. 

“Are you sick or something?” Marianna asked. “Your hands are shaking.” 

“Oh, no,” Enzo said, covering his mouth. “He’s got the sickness, and I was talking to him unprotected!” 

“I don’t have a sickness,” Eustis said as Enzo gaged. “The truth is, I have a very important mission. You see, I’m a planter—” 

“Looks more like you’re a runner,” Marianna said. “Anyone in such a hurry to get off earth has trouble screaming up their tailpipe. You in trouble?” 

“No,” Eustis said but then backpedaled. “Well, yes, but that’s not why I’m trying to get off Earth.” He paused and ran his fingers through his hair. “I mean, it’s not, but it is why I’m in such a hurry. I have a very important mission, and if the trouble catches up with me, it’s all for nothing. I really need to get off this rock, like, right away. That’s why I’m sweating. My hands are shaking because my only other plan was to enlist with that fat security brigade recruiter back there, but I just learned that won’t work. You guys are my only option, and time is running out.” 

“What kind of trouble be to your taste?” Rudwick asked. 

“I’d rather tell you about why my mission is so important,” Eustis said. “I need to get to Musk City, Mars. I plan to plant some very important ideas—” Marianna put her hand in the air. 

“Look, guy,” she said. “I’m sorry, but we have our own kind of trouble. We don’t need to pile yours on top. Come on, boys.” Rudwick followed her as she left. Eustis closed his eyes, dropped his duffle bag, and put his hands over his face. 

“Are you going to cry?” Enzo said. Eustis opened his eyes and looked past the fingers that covered his face. The kid had stayed behind, letting the others go. “Do you want to stay here and cry about it, or do you want some help?” 

“You can help me?” Eustis said. 

Enzo didn’t answer but continued with his own line of thought. “Sorry about the captain,” he said. “She’s all business, no heart. Or, all heart, no business. I’m not sure which, really, because, in this case, she’s making the wrong decision. That’s probably a no-business situation. Anyway, we need our transponder fixed, and we can’t get a repair manual to do it. Ever since GovCorp blocked the right-to-fix charter, we’ve been falling apart without knowing how to tape the thing back together. So we’re stuck. If you know how to do it, we should take the risk.”

“Yes, yes,” Eustis leaped. “I can do it. I really appreciate—” Eustis started. 

“Do you have a wrist chip?” Enzo interrupted. 

“No, we don’t really use them on Earth because—” Eustis paused when Enzo put one finger in the air. With his other hand, he gestured to open his comm app. 

“Hey, Captain,” Enzo said through his internal communicator. “I’m going to hit the toy shop. I’ll meet you guys back at the ship.” Enzo smiled after a brief pause. “Of course, I play with toys all the time. You didn’t know?” He gestured to end the call and returned his attention to Eustis. 

“I don’t play with toys. I’m 13, by the way,” Enzo said. 

“Ok,” Eustis said. 

“And since you’re 29, that means you were only 16 when mom had me. You are a single dad, widowed at 20, grandma died, and you just got custody of me, which is why you know nothing about me. Got it?” 

“What?” Eustis said. 

“Repeat it,” Enzo said. 

“Uh—” Eustis mumbled. “You’re my kid. Grandma died, and what was the other thing?” 

“Sheesh,” Enzo said. “Normal-person memory freaks me out. How do you people get by with a brain like a drain? Grandma died, and you got custody. You’ve got it, right?”

“Yeah,” Eustis said. “I have it, but I’m not really comfortable lying.” 

“Come on,” Enzo said. “We don’t want to miss the transport elevator. It’d be twelve hours before another comes, and judging by the layer of perspiration on your forehead, I’m guessing you won’t make it that long.” 

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