Three cutters lay off the bow, laser cannon centered on Larry's ship.
"The quarantine will be six months," said the agent on Larry's display. "You will jettison your fuel tank—we will provide power. We are authorized to use deadly force." The agent waited, his lips tight, as though afraid Larry would actually resist. Probably he was.
Larry sighed. "Ravi, separate the fuel tank." Ravi did, looking daggers at the screen.
"Can you send us a lab test, or something?" Monica asked. "Just so we can know—"
"It won't affect the quarantine," the agent warned. "But I'll send it, with supplies."
Six months. Six more months without Patsy, without room to stand up straight, without fresh air. Six months with Clarissa, the pilot, a flirt who wouldn't take a wedding ring for an answer. Larry tried not to daydream of going to her cabin—that would mess up his life in a hurry. Flying your father-in-law's ship makes adultery a bit more risky. He swore he'd find her another job, no matter how many lies he had to tell, before the next trip. If he made it that far.
The pictures from Mars were terrifying. The virus killed about half its victims—if they stayed in bed. But they didn't. They fled from hallucinations into the paths of factory robots, reacted to sudden claustrophobia by opening airlocks, turned on friends with welding lasers.
If Larry's crew was lucky, they'd have six months of boredom.
He left the others on the bridge and floated at a porthole, staring at the tiny disk of Earth, as though projecting himself there by sheer will.
When he came to himself, he returned to the bridge to compose a letter, explaining to Patsy why they wouldn't be doing Paris that year.
On the bridge, he heard hissing from a crack in the hull, and saw a spray of blood from the bodies of Monica and Ravi drifting toward it. A wisp of smoke wafted from the silencer of Clarissa's gun. She gave him a warm smile, and said, "Now we can be alone."
Copyright © 2001 William Saxton
William Saxton's science fiction and fantasy have been published in Curiozine (under a previous pen name) and Gateway S-F. He teaches computer
science at a college in Virginia.
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