Imogen had shed. The disease was native to Anaxagoras and wiped out the first two settlements completely, but in the decades since then there hadn’t been a single case. It had been a simple matter of changing the airlock procedures to include a quick burst of UV light—not much different from a tanning bed. It was easy enough to prevent, but somehow she’d caught it. The whole settlement had caught it.

She listened to the chaos crescendo and fall quiet over the last five days from behind the locked hatch of her habitat. She thought she’d been spared the disease’s wrath, but it must have gotten in through a leaky seal, because now she was infected, too.

She woke up this morning stuck to her bed.

Shed is a simple disease to self-diagnose. The layers of her skin were emulsifying into a syrupy slough of fatty oils and blood. They came away in gooey strands as she made her way carefully through the residential block.

She passed lumpy piles of bone and hair and organs like melted popsicles dropped on an asphalt driveway in July. Some of the piles had too many pieces—lovers in a last embrace here, a mother and two children over there. This one must be old Mr. Hatcher, because the messy jumble beside it could only be Sirius; she hadn’t known dogs could get shed.

There was still a ship in the hangar—an old passenger transport called There’s No Place Like Home. Imogen’s parents had flown on it when they emigrated to Anaxagoras before she was born. It hadn’t left the atmosphere in years, but it was the only ship available; the others looked like they were intentionally scuttled in their stalls.

Quarantine protocols be damned. She could get to Procyon in a day. They had state-of-the-art medical facilities there. They’d be able to cure her. They had to.

Imogen made her way to the cockpit, leaving a runny trail behind her like a slug, and forced most of the potential outcomes out of her mind. The ship started up just fine.

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