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Episode 9 | Missionary To Mars

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“Cap,” Rudwick grumbled into the communicator app. “This guy be no fun to beat. He don’t fight back, but he don’t cower either.” Eustis took a much-needed breather while Rudwick waited for a response. “Aye, aye Cap’n” 

The trickle of blood tickled his burning nose. His cheekbones felt like they had taken a pounding from a jackhammer. His ears were still ringing from the most recent impact. He ran his tongue along the range of his teeth. Only one in the back was missing. He spat a mouthful of pooling crimson on the deck and dragged his sleeve across his cracked lips. Eustis had never taken such a beating, was still on his feet, but he wouldn’t be much longer if the enormous man kept it up. 

“Captain says, times be up,” Rudwick moaned. His giant cat Tiny was sniffing the dubious, crimson stains Eustis had splattered all over the engine room. “Follow me.” 

“Where are we going?” Eustis question. 

“Upper deck, course,” Rudwick said as he reached for the ladder leading up to the next deck. The vinegar had gone out of his voice, and he was as friendly as if they had just completed a successful business deal. “You’ll be needing to buckle in. We be getting heavy in five minutes.” 

“Getting heavy?” Eustis asked as he reached for the ladder and prepared to follow Rudwick up. Tiny briskly leaped up the rungs of the ladder before him. 

We’re getting heavy means we’re going to hit the throttle,” Enzo said. Eustis glanced up to discover Enzo was peering down through the deck hatch. 

“Ah,” Rudwick said. “The runt be spying on our fist cuffs.” 

“You look like you got sucked through a fusion drive shunt and hit every thrust blade on the way out,” Enzo said as Eustis climbed onto the second deck. Rudwick laughed proudly at the kid’s description.

“I don’t know what that means,” Eustis said, trying to smile. “But today has turned out much better than I expected.” Enzo and Rudwick looked at each other with furrowed brows. 

“You’re super weird,” Enzo said. 

“Thanks.” Eustis felt rising nausea threaten from within. He reached for the railing to keep from listing too hard one way or another. He felt dizzy, was seeing double, and hurt all over.

“Eutychus here uttered nary a whimper for the duration of the abuse,” Rudwick said. “But stood ground and stared me down, smiling as I laid the whoop on his cold bones. It be mighty unsettling to be stared at while I thrashed him about the face and body.” 

“I’ll try to do better next time,” Eustis said. He leaned over and was sick all over the deck. 

“This stowaway be a mysterious bloke,” Rudwick said. “But any man remains standing under Old Rudwick’s hammer hand earns me undying respect for sure. It’ll be a shame when Cap’n orders me kill him. But orders is orders.” Without another word, the big man, vicious assailant as he had been, walked away whistling an upbeat tune. He climbed the next ladder toward another upper deck and disappeared. Tiny followed Rudwick up. 

“Well, welcome to the Scuttle,” Enzo said now that they were alone. 

“Thanks,” Eustis said, finding it challenging to stay upright. 

“You look like you might pass out or die,” Enzo said. “It’s hard to tell the difference when you’re all covered in blood like that.” Enzo stood staring at him as if he wanted to see which one it was. “Well, anyway. Let’s find you a place. A couple of minutes until our burn. Better have you in a crash seat before we light the candle.” 

Enzo trotted down the corridor much quicker than Eustis could follow. Presently his left leg was only responding to about half his commands, so dragging it while gripping the railing was his only option. 

Enzo turned and faced a rusted and warped hatch. He pulled at the lever three times before he got it loose. The hatch creaked as if it hadn’t been opened in years. Enzo disappeared inside, and Eustis did his best to waddle after him. 

“Ship was built for a crew of twenty,” Enzo said as he spoke from a dark compartment. Some pile of odds and ins tumbled to the deck. In the dim spill of illumination from the corridor, the room was absolutely stacked with discarded and unwanted items. “It’s just been us three since I came aboard.” Enzo paused near a stack of crates as tall as he was. Instead of moving them, he just shoved them over. He shouldered the remaining pile out of the way. 

“This will be your room, at least until they kill you,” Enzo said. He pointed in each direction respectively. “Crash seat. Bed. Lockup for your bag and personal items.” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “Lavatory’s down the corridor.” Eustis surveyed the dark room. The compartment was a horror scene strewn with discarded equipment and spools of frayed wire. Jagged metal jutted out at a dozen places. Numerous trip hazards threatened every step. The tiny window that looked out into the heavens beyond was cracked. Eerie shadows cast by the light from the corridor painted the room in a sinister contrast.

“Are there lights?” Eustis asked. 

“They would have come on when we entered. So, no, I guess not,” Enzo said. “I mean, it’s a bit of a fixer-upper. You don’t have any room to complain. Seriously, dude, you were about a half inch from gettin’ spaced. If you don’t like it, you can just—”

“Enzo,” Eustis said. “Come here.” 

“What?” Enzo said. “No. I don’t want to be your crutch.” 

“Please,” Eustis said gently. He reached his hand toward the kid. Enzo blinked. Glanced at the open hatch. After a moment of contemplation, he closed the gap, albeit reluctantly. Eustis knelt to one knee, wincing as the pain shot down his leg. At face level with the kid, he put out both arms and wrapped them around Enzo. 

“What the?” Enzo said as the strange stowaway hugged him. Eustis let Enzo loose, reached for his shoulders, and looked him in the eyes. 

“Enzo Gatti,” Eustis said with slow and deliberate intention. “Thank you so much. I’m so deeply grateful for your generosity. You took a risk on me, and I am so thankful. You are more courageous than many grown men I know. I’m tremendously impressed with you. You’re helping accomplish things more important than you know. Sometime soon, I’d like to talk some more, but—” Eustis coughed and spat more blood. “But right now, I think I need to lie down.” 

Enzo stepped back, eyeing him. Eustis rose to his feet with great pain. Enzo moved backward three paces. He looked like he would say something but then closed his mouth and left the compartment without saying anything. 

Eustis worked his way into the bed and strapped himself in as well as he could. The growing sensation of weightful pressure gripped him as the sound of the engines ramped. Sleep befriended him before he had endured another minute of the heaviness. 

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