A Bad Way to Go

“Goddammit, Darian! Let. Me. In. That’s an order!” She pounded on the plexiglass partition, leaving a sticky palm-shaped residue like strawberry preserves.

Ensign Darian Harn knew that he was safe on this side of the airlock, but he took two steps back anyway, bracing himself against the back of the flight chair.

“I can’t do that, ma’am,” he said with an unwelcome waver in his voice. He swallowed. “Quarantine protocol says—”

“Don’t you dare recite protocol to me. I was writing those policies when you were still learning how to wipe your own ass.” Captain Trina Suh rubbed at the blood streaks trickling from her eyes, and when her hands fell away they left a racoon mask of red swirls. She was hunched over, and her back heaved as her breathing became more labored.

“Ma’am, if I open the lock, the whole flight cabin will be exposed.”

“You mean you’ll be exposed. It’s just you and me, you coward, and you don’t know how to land the ship! Let me in before I pass out so I can get us planetside. Otherwise everyone on board—the cryopods, the rest of the crew, even you—everyone will burn up on reentry.”

Darian got very quiet. “What if we don’t land?” adding too late, “ma’am.”

The captain sagged in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

He approached the partition again. “If we fly by, we can request a containment crew to recover the pods. But they’ll only come if the contaminant is contained.” He knew he was right. If quarantine failed at the airlock, they’d consider the entire ship a risk and give it a gravitic shove into the sun. Too big a risk to let it drift.

“A containment crew?” Her dark eyes bulged. “We can land now! As long as this ship is space worthy and under my command, we’re not asking civilians to—” She coughed and hacked, and bits of something dark and solid stuck to the glass.

Darian spoke over her sputtering. “The ship will automatically give that authority to Commander Pagliani after you… I believe she is prepared to make the request.”

Captain Suh looked up at the ensign through sweat-plastered hair and spoke in a growl. “At this velocity you and the rest of the crew will starve waiting for a rescue ship to catch up. It’s a bad way to go.” She pulled herself up and leaned against the control panel. “A bad way…” she said again, and then set off the exterior explosive bolts.

She spaced herself. Probably better to get it over with. She was wrong about quarantine overrides, but she had been the captain for a reason.

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