Io

The small freighter fell out of FTL after what felt like only a heartbeat to the two-man crew.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” said Gilderson. Technically he was a pilot, but the onboard AIs did all of the real flying. This left him with a lot of down time, which suited him fine. Under the neon blue lights of the guidance system he crushed Martian fungal spores into powder using a rocks glass and a one inch bolt from who-knows-where as a mortar and pestle. It made a scraping clink-clink-clickitty as he worked.

“We’re here?” asked Borta. He’d never left Capital Station at Sun-Earth L2 before. FTL was a new experience, and he still didn’t quite believe it was already over.

“We’re here.” Gilderson dumped the spore powder onto rolling paper on top of the control panel.

“What are you, a fucking parrot? Where is here?”

The pilot took his time licking the paper, winding it tight, putting it to his lips, and lighting the end with an old. He never took his eyes off Borta, though, as he pulled hot sweetness to the depths of his lungs. He could feel the smoke swirling in his chest as he held it in, and finally pressed the button to lower the hard-shields as he exhaled.

The tungsten-carbon fiber panels slid aside to reveal…nothing. A black sky like an infinite hole.

Gilderson preemptively waved his hands to Borta’s congealing protests, coughing happily before regaining his breath. “Let me turn the ship around. We’re in orbit, we’re just facing outward.” He slid his fingers across greasy screens until the soft adjuster jets kicked in. A dirty orb the color of burnt pizza crust rose before them. Gilderson took another drag. “Welcome to Io.”

“Io? Io?” Borta’s voice always cracked when he raised his voice. A fitting trait for a criminal of his reputation. His eyes were as big as his appetite, but he would always be a small timer. “I could have easily laid low on Mars; I know people there. And Ceres would have taken half the fuel. Look,” he shrieked as he pointed to the fuel readout, “now we have to land in order to leave again. Callisto or Ganymede would have been the same distance without the volcanoes or the tidal flexing or the sulfur smell like a racoon that followed a bag of dog shit into an incinerator.”

Gilderson threw his head back and laughed heartily, sinking low in his chair and kicking his feet up and down. “You’re right,” he coughed between chuckling fits, “you’re right. Especially about the smell.” He wiped his eyes and took another drag. “But that’s why they won’t come here looking for you.” He giggled softly again, mumbling to himself. “Go get ready to land; wait in the airlock. Be off this ship before I’m refueled.”

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