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Episode 8 | Missionary To Mars

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Eustis had often imagined what his first trip into space might be like. He had envisioned watching the world shrink into a tiny blue marble. He had expected to be awestruck by the vastness of it all and anticipated sharing the moment with someone important, even special. He did not expect to be immediately shoved into a cold lonely spaceship closet to spend his first hours in a real-life spacecraft in the dark. Enzo hid him in a lockup cabinet for spare EVA suits on the engineering deck.

He had felt the engine’s vibration and the growing inertia as the Scuttle pulled away from the docking port. Not knowing how long he would be hidden, he unclasped the only EVA suit from its hanger, folded it, and used it as a cushion, doing his best to get comfortable stuffed in the floor of the closet. 

He must have fallen asleep because the moments preceding the sound of footsteps were lost to memory, but he was alert now. He held his breath, hoping the footfalls were Enzo’s. 

A rummaging sound issued from nearby. In the dark of the closet, Eustis imagined the big man, Rudwick, ripping the lockup hatch off its hinges and pulling him out of the closet by the hair. His vision of the scene changed immediately, when he heard the voice. 

“Comm app.” It was Captain Marianna’s voice, a sweet blend of confidence and competence. “Enzo,” she said. “Where is that nine-pin coupling unit?” A pause followed, presumably as Enzo responded. “I’m already in engineering. Just tell me where it is.” Another pause followed. “That’s stupid. Why would I wait for you to come down here? I’m already here. Just tell me where—” She sounded irritated now. “No, just—“ 

The sound of footsteps falling fast translated through the metal body of the ship. Someone was running. The sound changed as another voice came into audible range.

“It’s in that drawer,” Enzo said, his voice muffled by the hatch door. Eustis leaned toward the hatch door and pressed his ear against it to hear better. 

“What’s wrong with you kid?” Marianna said. “You ran all the way down here to point at that drawer. Why didn’t you just tell me—”

Under the weight of Eustis’ leaning, the hatch door budged ever so slightly. He had forgotten Enzo had left it unlatched to avoid suffocating its contents. The conversation on the other side of the door stopped abruptly. Eustis’ breath caught in his throat, and his heart was racing. 

“Probably just one of Rudwick’s cats,” Enzo said. His voice sounded nervous. Marianna didn’t respond. Three quick footfalls neared the hatch. Eustis leaned back as the hatch swung wide. A greenish light poured in. It took Eustis’s eyes a moment to adjust. When they did, he was both pleased and horrified. 

He was pleased to be able to come out of the cramped closet and to receive a gust of relatively fresher air, although it smelled of fusion fuel. Most of all, he was pleased to see the gentle contours of Marianna’s face once more, but he was horrified because the look on that perfect face was one of bitter, murderous rage. 

“Now, listen,” Eustis heard words coming out of his own mouth before he intended to. “I can explain. I’ll fix the transponder. Then I just need to get to Musk City. I have an important mission there, and then I’ll be on my way. You’ll never have to see me again.” 

“It was my idea,” Enzo said. 

“PA,” Marianna said with a tight hand gesture. “Rudwick, engineering deck. Now!” She paused but then thought to add. “Bring Tiny.” 

Enzo was chattering at breakneck speed, but Eustis closed his mouth and held eye contact with the Captain. She did not break her icy stare. Over the sound of Enzo’s prattle, bigger, louder footsteps echoed through the ship. A softer padding Eustis couldn’t quite place accompanied the sound. 

Rudwick slid down the ladder and landed with his heavy boots on the decking. He was shirtless and carrying a plasma rifle. Without his shirt, the place where his mechanical arm met flesh was exposed. 

“Down here, boy,” Rudwick barked as he glanced upward. A blur of fur and teeth leaped down into the engineering compartment. It was a cat, but it must have been a genetically modified breed because it was as tall as Rudwick’s hip. 

“What be this cad doing aboard the Scuttle?” Rudwick asked. “Be he a castaway?” 

“No,” Enzo chirped. “I brought him on board. We need someone to fix—”

“Shut it, kid,” Marianna said in a grave, controlling voice. She had no need of shouting, for her calm was as frightening as the void outside the ship. 

“It wasn’t Enzo’s fault,” Eustis said. His hands were in the air, but he had not yet stepped out of the lockup. “I take full responsibility.” 

Marianna kicked the hatch, sending it swinging into a closed position. 

“We be in good conscious, blasting a bolt through his chest and committing his body to the dark.” 

“The word is conscience, you old goiter bag,” Enzo said. “There’s no need to kill him.” 

“I agree with Enzo,” Eustis said through the hatch door. 

“Shut up,” Marianna and Rudwick said in unison. 

“He’s right, you know,” Marianna said. “We are within our rights to space him.”

“No,” Enzo said. “Not according to GovCorp solitime law, chapter seventeen, section nine, clause four. A stowaway is defined as a human person who acquires passage without the consent of crew.” 

“Blast your memory voodoo, boy,” Rudwick said. “You hardly be crew. You be barely out of diapers.” 

“I don’t care about solitime law. He’s on my ship without my permission. That makes him a stowaway.” 

“He can fix our transponder,” Enzo said. 

“I can,” Eustis added through the door. 

“Shut up!”

“But killing a stranger,” Marianna said. “Too many unknowns. He could be the chief imperial officer’s son for all we know.” 

“That be bosh,” Rudwick said. 

“But my point is that we don’t know what we’re dealing with here.” 

“Dealing with a man needs a killing.” Rudwick was adamant, but Marianna ignored him. 

“Isn’t he in some kind of trouble?” Marianna asked. 

“I’m sure it’s no big deal,” Enzo said. “We’ve all had our scrapes.” 

“Maybe there be a reward for the scurvy cad,” Rudwick wondered aloud. 

“Enzo. Check.” Marianna said, kicking the lockup hatch. It swung open once again. “Slug. Full name. Now!” 

“I’d rather not,” Eustis said. Rudwick stepped forward and pointed his plasma riffle at Eustis’ head. His big cat hissed as he took the ominous stance. 

“Give the name or I take off your face,” Rudwick said. He touched the barrel to the tip of Eustis’ nose. 

“Eustis Wade Grimes.” 

“Residence,” Marianna commanded. 

“329 Hopper Street, Houston City, Earth,” Eustis said. “At least that was my place until this morning.” 

Enzo was gesturing to a display that he hadn’t made available to the others. 

“Weird,” Enzo said. “No reward posted. But his remains are earmarked for reclamation. But he’s obviously not dead yet.”

“Check the colonial notary for—” Marianna started, but Enzo cut across her words. 

“Already did. Nothing,” Enzo said. 

“Me thinks Euticus be mighty quiet,” Rudwick grumbled. “Spill it, you traitorous nave.” 

“I uh—well—I got a call,” Eustis said. “From the Office of Dissidence Management.” 

“No!” Marianna said, raising her voice now. 

“Say it be a lie,” Rudwick growled. “Kid, you invited a shunt aboard. You’ve doomed us all.” 

“I didn’t know!” Enzo said. “I just thought he was in normal trouble. I didn’t know he was a—a—you know.” 

“We drop his body in the cold of black and burn on as if nothing askew took we on,” Rudwick said. “No one be the wiser.” Despite Rudwick’s words, Marianna did not break her icy stare. 

“We could turn him in,” Enzo said. Eustis shot a glance at the kid. “Could claim he came aboard without us knowing.” Again Marianna didn’t look away. Her knowing stare was unflinching. 

“Listen,” Eustis tried. “I’m really sorry. I should have—”

“Who’s assigned to your case, dissident?” Marianna said as if she were asking for the date of his funeral. 

“It’s all a misunderstanding,” Eustis attempted. Once again, he found Rudwick’s barrel in his face. 

“Who’s your hunter?” 

“Admiral Strafe,” Eustis said, letting his head bow low. 

The compartment fell silent. Even Tiny, the giant cat, noticed the change in mood. Enzo leaned against the bulkhead and slid down to the deck. Rudwick stood his post, ready to eviscerate Eustis. Marianna continued to stare at him. No one said anything for a long time. 

“Ok,” Marianna said after a long, excruciating pause. “Rudwick, we need him alive for now, but he needs to look unwelcome in case Strafe catches us with him.”

“That I can do, me hearty,” Rudwick said with a smile. “I never did hear such welcome words.” 

“So, he’s in?” Enzo said excitedly.

“Nope,” Marianna said. “We’re still headed to Aldrin City. We’ll drop him there and burn hard.”

“But Mayor Skurg will—” Enzo tried. 

“I don’t want to hear it, kid,” Marianna said. “Now to your quarters. I don’t want you to see this.” Enzo grumbled as he followed her toward the ladder and started to climb. 

Before she disappeared into the upper deck opening, she peered down at him and said, “You realize you’ve put your black mark on all of us, right? You know they’ll kill us all?” Eustis nodded reluctantly. “Ok, Rudwick, do your thing but, don’t mangle his face too bad. May need it for facial recognition when that death dealer catches us. Anything else goes, but make it quick. We’re going to burn hard out of here in fifteen minutes. Enzo, you’re with me.” 

Enzo followed the captain out of the engineering compartment as Eustis’ attention turned toward the giant man standing over him. Rudwick smiled and began. 

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