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Tina Gower is the winner of the 2013 Writers of the Future $5,000 Gold Prize, as well as the 2013
Daphne du Maurier Award for Best Mystery/Suspense. This is her fourth appearance in
Galaxy’s Edge.

 CALMING THE TEMPEST

by
Tina Gower

True, Lily had been absent-minded lately. She’d misplaced her com-tablet. She’d thought she left her microscope on her desk in the office, but found it in the lab the next morning. She even did the whole accidental swap of the milk and her mold samples, barely stopping herself before taking a swig.

But she’d never leave research samples in disarray. That was too far-fetched to believe. Her slides were lined in neat two-inch rows. She slid the fungi section out sample by sample. It was subtle, but she always organized the samples by domain, then kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. The pathogenic fungi section, particularly the pucciniales order, had been alphabetized.

She held up one slide to the artificial night-light. A thumbprint, larger than her own, hovered like a ghost, smack in the center.

Mamăe?” Mateo’s voice croaked through the intercom from his bedroom. “Where’d you go?”

“I’m right here, filho,” Lily called. She set the mystery aside for another time. Mateo needed her. Lately, his needs came before work.

Had it really been two weeks since Mateo had first collapsed? She forced an easy smile and deliberately appeared calm when she entered the room. Sure, it was difficult to ignore the flickering machines and the vibrations sent to her tablet on her hip—his half-hour updates. An hour ago the specialist teleconferenced the latest results. The lead on a similar case in the penal colonies came back a bust. The assigned doctor recorded it as space sickness, possibly meningitis. Dr. Adal didn’t trust the report and vowed to research the case further, but Lily didn’t want to chase a remote possibility. She wanted to find an answer now.

She ran the tests again. After all, she was Lucky Lily. Even though she hated the nickname and implication that she didn’t work hard for what she earned. Every time a door closed three more opened for her. Rejected from the top school for biochemistry? She got into the second-best school, and within a year of attending, it became the number-one. Collide with a stranger at a station stop, dropping her tablet and destroying the device? The stranger turned out to be the funding behind the Sargasso Exploration Initiative and within days she got her team on the Basilisk a bid for a second official attempt to break the Sargasso Grid Barrier. Then she got pregnant and it looked like she’d miss her huge opportunity, only to land a better position at the Mars Space Station as Lead Biologist. And the Basilisk met a tragic end. It turned her childhood friend, Victor, the sole survivor, into a complete mental mess. Maybe she was lucky, but not the people around her.

Her tablet vibrated, a soft hum against the tense silence.

“What is that, Mamăe?” Mateo’s eyes opened to slits, focused on her fingers scrolling through the results.

“It’s nothing, filho.

And it was a whole-lot-of-nothing.

Meningitis test. Negative.

CT. Normal.

Full body MRI and PET. No mass detected.

Viral load. Normal.

A stream of negative and normal all down the row, until she hit kidney function, which was elevated. He was entering the beginning stages of organ failure.

She placed a request to speak with the specialist again to see what could be done. Although, the doctor had warned her this was coming. She crawled next to Mateo on the bed and curled next to him. She’d never wanted a test to come back with something, anything, but now she begged for it. Please let him have something that they could identify and then they’d have a disease to treat.

To keep her mind off the medical stuff she sent a security report to Avery.

I think someone’s been going through my lab samples from the Mars surface.

Avery: Matty entertaining himself?

Lily dug her fingernails into the screen and bit down on her lower lip hard. Idiot. Mateo was awake for only a few hours a day and usually only minutes at a time. He hadn’t left his bed all week. And if he did, he knew the rules about not messing with the samples.

No. I don’t think, so. I’d like someone to come down and take a look.

Avery: Sure thing, Lil. I’ll send a guy in a few hours. We’ve got an important shipment coming through the station right now.

She didn’t want to wait a few hours and her name was Lily not Lil. Someone had broken into her lab and there were only thirty or so staff on the space station. If Mars eased up their regulations on unapproved species she could have set up on the surface. They would have taken a breach or possible contamination seriously. Avery treated her like an afterthought. They were a science station, a cargo hold, a pit stop, not a military base. But they could still be a little more professional.

If Mateo got better … she stopped herself. She stiffened with guilt over her mistake. Of course he’d get better. It wasn’t an “if,” it was a “when”—When he got better she’d start the process again to get her lab transferred to the surface. She rubbed small circles on her son’s back. “I love you, filho. You’re going to get better. Maybe tomorrow.”

She almost believed herself.

Mateo floated off back into dreamland, but Lily stared at the ceiling, preparing for another sleepless night.

***

Lily snatched the nutri-biscuit and ripped at the packaging. The corn-plastic crinkled loudly. “Mateo, you have to eat. This will help your body fight this bug.”

“No, Mamăe! Marcus says not to eat that. He says it will make me sicker!”

Lily squeezed her eyes shut, breathing deeply, willing her patience to step forward. “I’ve told you that your invisible friend doesn’t know what will make you better. He’s not a doctor.”

“He’s not invisible! He is real.”

“Is he a doctor?”

Mateo broke eye contact and suddenly became very interested in the fold of his sheets. His face flamed with anger, his lips pressed in a line.

“It’s called a hallucination …” How did she explain it to an eight-year-old? At first she missed the early signs of the disease because she’d thought having invisible friends and vivid daydreams was part of childhood.

“He’s real,” Mateo mumbled under his breath.

Lily let out a heavy sigh and propped her butt on the edge of his bed. “Well, according to Marcus, what can you have?”

Mateo’s brows furrowed, stubbornly holding on to his irritation. “Broth,” he bit out. “Rice or fruit if it’s from Earth or Mars. Nothing from Ceres.”

Lily made the order. “Ceres doesn’t grow fruit trees. The penal colony is limited on what they can grow. Remember how we talked about the solar and gravity limitations in the ag domes?”

She tapped through the food selections for items Mateo might try. She had thought she’d never have to deal with food pickiness. Mateo was always good about trying anything. “What about carrots? Fresh from Mars this morning.” Well, as fresh as flash-frozen-carted-through-space could get.

No answer. He’d fallen asleep again. Lily eased him back into a more comfortable position and watched his chest rise and fall. She unwrapped the nutri-biscuit, but couldn’t bring herself to eat it. The taste reminded her of cardboard, metal and plastic with vanilla flavoring. Mateo used to eat several a day, and being one of the only few on this floating box who could stomach them, he had a lifetime supply. She held the bar between her fingers while she stewed.

It was the silence she hated. The moments where the what-ifs crept in. She’d called down to the Mars surface again. No cases reported. On the space station, Mateo was the only one showing symptoms. There were around thirty inhabitants on the station and they’d not taken many precautions at first, so she’d have expected at least one other illness, if not her own.

A zing of anxiety shot through her. If she were to get sick, she wouldn’t be able to care for Mateo. She brought the protein biscuit to her lips, paused, remembered Mateo insisting it would make him sicker, then tossed it on the counter to test. Nobody else who’d eaten them had shown symptoms. Yet.

Might as well not take any chances.

The room chimed, alerting her that someone was requesting access. She scanned her tablet to see and a “maintenance” symbol appeared, but no picture of who had been sent. Not exactly protocol, but not unheard of in the small station, where things were a bit more lax.

She tucked a can of sanitization spray into her pocket, keeping her fingers touching the seam where it hid, and clicked “allow.”

The door opened. The man stood in the entry for a minute, observing the room with a slow scan of his gaze, and tilted his head as if he were used to smaller spaces. He flicked his eyes to Mateo’s room before landing on Lily. “You had a break-in?”

Lily nodded. Unable to speak for a minute, she didn’t recognize the man. And on a station where there were only thirty or so staff, that raised her awareness to be cautious. Some of the men circulated to the surface for some duties and he might be new to the rotation. However, he had a badge, an ID number clearly printed, and his name reflected off the holographic display as “M. Jones.”

She swallowed. “Yes. My files were out of order. I left them as I found them.” She motioned to the rack where she kept her bio-samples from the surface.

He scratched at his close-cropped hair, scanning the rows of samples. “Any particular ones?”

Lily pulled out the tray of fungi in question.

He pulled out several granola bars from his pocket, setting them on the counter, and produced a pair of latex gloves from a sealed bag. “You have an impressive collection of rust, Mrs. Silva.”

Her lips twitched at his correct fungus identification, layman as it was. “Just the ones we can grow on Mars. Unfortunately, most are banned now for obvious reasons of wreaking havoc on the crops, hence my lab being on the space station. I monitor the samples they send me from here.”

“Could someone have opened the cases and exposed the station?”

“No, they’re sealed tight. It would have compromised the sample and obvious signs of tampering would be evident.”

“So they just reorganized?” He held up the sample with the thumbprint. He frowned as if he saw something he didn’t like.

“Are you saying this is unimportant? Someone—unauthorized—entered my lab. My quarters are attached. My son—”

“Mrs. Silva,” the man held a hand out to calm her. “I take the break-in very seriously.”

“Do you—” Lily pressed her lips together, keeping her frustration in check. It would do her no good to argue further. The man had convinced her he was sincere in his concern, but Avery had sent some new guy. Obviously he didn’t feel it was important enough to come himself.

The man placed the sample in a plastic bag and set it in his pocket. “I’m going to run this through the data systems. In the meantime don’t open this door for anyone until I get back.”

Lily crossed her arms at the sudden seriousness of the man’s tone of voice.

“For anyone,” he reiterated and backed away from her to the entry.

She slammed her flat hand against the wall when he left. Damn him. Damn people who ordered her around. She wasn’t some staff member, she didn’t have an army rank, she was her own boss. She could leave her own quarters if she wished.

She felt the feather-light brush against her hand. “I heard yelling.”

Lily looked down into the widened amber eyes of her son. She squeezed her eyes shut and massaged her forehead. “You’re not supposed to be walking around, Mateo.” She sighed, patted his hand, noting the improved color. “It was just a maintenance worker. He’s gone now.” She absently checked his numbers; they’d improved slightly. She tamped down the relief, not wanting to hope.

“Oh.” The little boy’s faced scrunched up in confusion. “I didn’t mean him. I meant the ones in my dream. They say to stay away.”

If it wasn’t imaginary friends, it was imaginary aliens. She wondered for a moment if she’d followed Brandon and forced him to be more of a participant in their son’s life, if she’d be dealing with this now. It was a brief, very brief, moment of guilt and she dashed it away just as quickly. That asshole Brandon didn’t do much beyond the first few unsatisfying moments of conception and sending money when he docked from expeditions. Weren’t scientists supposed to be stable nerdy types who made wonderful partners? Brandon’s charming personality and addiction to danger should have been her first clue he’d make a horrible husband.

Thankfully she’d avoided that and Brandon was more than willing to adhere to her idea of how they should proceed after the accidental pregnancy.

“Marcus brought more granola bars!” Mateo snatched the bars the man had left from the counter.

“No, those are the service worker’s. Don’t touch.”

She gently pulled them from his grip. Mateo’s face reddened and scrunched into the horrifying mask of a child about to succumb to the fits of a tantrum. Always, when he was sick he’d regress. Her normally easygoing child was replaced with a stubborn, emotional hellion.

She sent a note to Avery. I think your worker left his granola bars on my counter. I’d like to get them out of sight before Mateo eats them.

The worker? I’m sorry, it must be Mateo’s granola stash or he took some from the kitchens and didn’t tell you. I’ve been tied up on another emergency. We’ll get someone down there soon.

A chill started from her neck, ran down her spine, and settled in her gut. She set the controls on the room to monitor and turned on every camera, set the alarm on her door. Nobody would enter without setting off every bell and whistle in this corridor. She hoped to be back before Mateo’s nurse came on duty in fifteen minutes.

“Mommy is going to run an errand. Do not leave the room, Mateo, do you hear me?”

The little boy nodded solemnly, the seriousness of her tone jerking him out of his would-be fit. He flipped a tablet onto his lap. She heard the soft sounds of a cartoon in progress. Good boy.

First she checked the security office and didn’t see the man who’d been in her room. The other officers gave her a passing glance.

Avery pushed aside his sandwich. “Can I help you, Lil?”

A number of smart replies came to mind, for one that lunch was less important than her security concern, but instead she narrowed her eyes and said, “It’s Lily.”

He brushed his hands on his pants, a half-grin on his face while he glanced at the younger officer in the room. “Anderson, go run a check on Lily’s room. And stick around until she gets back. The kid will get scared if he wakes up and she’s not there.”

She moved sideways for Anderson to slide by.

Avery turned his full focus on her. “Yesterday it was a sound in the air ducts. Day before that, a loose grate in the hallway. And a dozen other complaints just in the last week. I know you’ve been keyed up lately …”

“Someone was in my room about ten minutes ago. He said he was from Maintenance and I didn’t recognize him.”

Avery dismissed her concern with a wave and bit into his sandwich. “They get new people rotating in all the time,” he said around the hunk of food in his mouth. “This is a station orbiting Mars. We’re not a place for frequent stopovers and our crew is small. It would be difficult for an unauthorized person to sneak on board.”

“Difficult, but not impossible. Can you at least check into it? His badge read ‘M. Jones.’ That shouldn’t be too hard to look up.”

He blew out an exasperated breath. “Sure, Lil—Lily.” He stretched out her name to make a point. “Look,”—his tone softened—“I can tell we’re rubbing each other wrong right now. And you coming in while I’m in the middle of lunch, makes it look like I didn’t take your concerns seriously, but I do. We’re all worried about Mateo. We got clearance for another doctor from the surface to come up and take a look. Nobody’s going to stop until we figure this out.”

Lily nodded. As much as Avery’s personality grated her, he was concerned about Mateo as much as anyone else. “I should get back.”

“I’ll have that name check for you in a few.”

She doubted it, but left without stating her skepticism.

The worker had said he was going to run a data check on the thumbprint. The only system capable of scanning prints was located in the security room, but Avery didn’t have the slide on his desk or seem to be aware of the order. Where else on the station was there an open computer? One hidden in a place where nobody from the station would disturb the man’s work?

She jogged down the corridor until she came to a T, and on a hunch she headed toward the storage unit. On the way she peeked into the maintenance quarters and didn’t see the man who’d been in her room. Lily glanced at her tablet, checking the security controls on her room. Nothing. And the camera positioned in Mateo’s room showed him back in bed sleeping.

The storage section hummed. This area of the station boasted the largest square footage, but little manpower. Cargo units were lined along the walls and middle of the room. A maze of plastic boxes, rejected shipments yet to be returned to their home. Mars enforced strict regulations on what items could enter its borders. As a small but independently run entity, they flexed what little power they had, especially against Earth’s continued attempts to open the borders and allow more aggressive colonization. Bottom line: Mars’ developing ecosystem couldn’t handle the increase in population. It currently housed a number of ag domes run by various science interest groups. A scientist’s heaven.

Lily moved along the aisles, creeping forward with careful steps. The faint hiss of the air pressure gauge and the steady vibration from the gravity ring were her only company. The computer station was empty. It hovered in the corner, pulled from the wall where someone had forgotten to put it back, but the screen was black, indicating it hadn’t been used recently. Her mystery man wasn’t here. Lily backed away from the cargo, retracing her steps to the nearest entry.

She was nearly to the door when she saw a wrapper trapped in the vent. She bent, inspecting the foil packaging. Granola bar.

She shivered, and not because the environmental controls had been set too low. She twisted, backing against the wall. Every hair follicle on her body tingled with that someone’s-behind-you feeling. This time she made her rounds along the passageway with a different eye for detail. The unlatched panel exposing the air conditioner ducts, the whiff of recently warmed bean and cheese burrito (Mateo’s staple dinner), and the off-kilter, oversized freight container in one of the walkways.

Lily stepped away from the freight and fumbled in her pocket for the sanitization spray. She needed a better defense.

She held it with both hands pointed at the container. “Come out. Hands where I can see them.” In a zing of anxiety she realized she should have called security, but if Avery wouldn’t take her real break-in seriously, then he wouldn’t come running on a hunch.

There was a cough in the container, a short throat-clearing sound. “All right. I’m coming out. I don’t have any weapons.”

“I’m supposed to believe that?”

The freight door squeaked and the cropped mousy brown hair of the man who’d been in her room a few moments ago crawled out. When he was clear of the opening, he stayed on his knees and held up his hands.

“What would a maintenance worker be doing in a freight container?”

“I’m legit—” he said. Lily could see the sweat dotted around his forehead and mouth.

“Right.”

“You can look me up, but I’d rather you not, because it will alert the wrong people that I’m still on board.”

“That doesn’t sound legit at all.” Lily readjusted her spray and tugged on her tablet.

“I’d rather you not do that.” The man motioned to his side. Lily snapped her hands back to the spray. “Whoa! Hey, I’m not armed. I told you the truth. I’ve got a little cut on my side. My patch is coming off.”

Lily lowered the spray. “Keep your hands up. I’ll look at the patch.” She gave him a level look. “I’m a fourth-degree black belt.”

“I won’t hurt you.”

His gaze was so sincere she believed him. The way he spoke slowly and quietly, the way he held himself. He didn’t show any signs of danger.

The guy remained still, a small smile hung on his lips. Lily lifted his shirt, revealing the clear, pocked silicone patch over a three-inch wound just below his left rib. “It looks a little red. Did you get some antibiotic on it?”

“Right after it happened, but not when it reopened. I jammed the patch back in place. I didn’t get a chance before you found me.”

Lily gently pulled the patch off and the man was good on his word. He didn’t budge. “This reopen while you were in my room?”

“Right after.”

“Being a burglar has its disadvantages.” She applied the antibiotic cream and slapped on a new patch.

“I wasn’t the one who broke into your room, but I’ll find out who did.”

Lily grabbed her tablet, hesitating over the call button. The guy’s smooth talking had convinced her to trust him, even for a moment longer while she got some answers.

“What does the ‘M’ stand for? Marcus?”

“I didn’t enter the room. I was crawling through the vents when I heard your kid calling out. He’d seen me going by the panel in his room. It’s right above his bed. I was cleaning out the ducts. The robot broke down and we had to send someone to do it by hand. We had a few conversations. I was curious when I’d heard he was sick.”

“You gave him medical advice.”

His expression became more solemn. “How’s he doing?”

“Same.”

“How frequent are his blackouts?”

“I’m not going to talk about him with you.” Lily kept the sanitization spray close. “Tell me what you were doing in my room and why you’re hiding here. I’m calling Avery in five minutes.” Lily didn’t mention she wasn’t about to turn him over until she found out why he told her son to stay away from food from Ceres and if it was connected to his numbers improving. She didn’t like coincidences, but first she wanted to know if he was a threat.

His shoulders dropped. “I came on the station two weeks ago from the belt. They had an opening in Maintenance and I took it.” He lowered his eyelids long and slow. Something about what he was saying wasn’t right.

“Two weeks ago.” There was one memorable dock from a few weeks back. A ship that limped in from Ceres carrying a paroled prisoner. “What day?”

He paused, his fingers absently going to the cut on his side. “The reason I ask about Mateo is because where I came from we had a similar outbreak. I think I can help.” He motioned behind him and Lily gave a small chin jerk, letting him know she was willing to listen.

He reached behind him and pulled out a plastic-wrapped cornhusk. “It’s from Ceres. Rust infection as far as I can tell, unlike any I can identify.” He handed it over. “But you can. If I’m right, the answer to Mateo’s illness is right there.”

Lily secured the husk under her jacket. He had to know that a sure way to get her to listen was to promise her son’s returned health. “How do I know you aren’t trying to get rid of me?”

“I don’t need to get rid of you. My time is limited either way. I’d like to help Mateo before the time’s up.”

Lily reserved her concern. He could be playing on her sympathy, but she had to see if what he was claiming was true. “If what you tell me is a lie, any of it, if this sample is just some average pucciniales, then no duct on this station will hide you.”

“I swear on my sister’s life.” And the intense look he shot her made her stumble as she turned to run from the cargo hold.

***

Dr. Adal shook her head in disbelief. So far the conversation had consisted mostly of brow-raising and hesitant optimism.

“A fungal infection would explain why we had trouble pinning down the diagnosis.”

“Exactly.” Lily lined up the samples on her lab counter. “It was in the nutri-biscuit from Ceres. I put in a recall order. I’ve already got a culture responding to an amphotericin mixture. It’s stopped the reproduction and is killing the fungus.”

“We can’t give it to Mateo, not until—”

Lily slammed the door to her freezer unit. “We don’t have time for a full trial. I have a sick kid in my home now!”

“Lily—”

“Don’t ‘Lily’ me!” Her body shook, and she took a deep breath to rein in her temper. “I have reason to believe that the outbreak was caused by contamination in the food supply on Ceres. We’ll need to alert the trade commission on Earth.”

“I’ve done that, but we don’t want to cause a panic.”

“You want me to conduct a clinical trial first? Fine. Call up the penal colony. I’m betting that outbreak you mentioned yesterday will have a few subjects who’ll volunteer.”

“I didn’t get an update on that lead. But we did receive word—”

“Great. Tell them I’ve got a prototype ready to go.”

“The penal colony is under quarantine. Complete pandemic. We don’t have any word on survivors. Chances are there are none.”

Lily stopped then. Dr. Adal couldn’t have smacked her across the face any more than with those words. Lily dropped onto the lab stool. “How long?”

Dr. Adal’s gaze dropped. “There’s some evidence that some of the victims had been suffering for months, others only a few days. It seems to affect each person differently. There is a drug on the underground market that seems to have cropped up with similar effects, not as severe though.”

“Who’d take this willingly? Mateo is a kid. His body mass and immune system …” Lily’s cheeks prickled with the lack of blood, her pulse hammered in the vein of her neck. Mateo was just a little guy. He didn’t stand a chance. She had to do something.

“There’s no way to know if we can develop a working cure in time.”

Mamăe?

Lily shot up from her seat. “I have to go.” She didn’t wait for the doctor to respond; she flipped off the telecom.

Mateo sat up in his bed, the side of his face heavy with red creases and his hair standing straight up on one side.

Lily swallowed hard. “Are you hungry? I have some broth.” She tested the liquid she’d set aside in anticipation of him waking. It had cooled, meaning more time had passed since she’d met Marcus this morning.

“They don’t want me to stay away anymore.” Mateo’s eyes were glassy and unfocused. “They said I have to come. Mamăe, I have to go.”

Her door chimed. Lily checked her tablet. Avery. She released the locks on her door.

“I need you to describe the Maintenance worker to me. I ran a check. M. Jones is scheduled to return to the Mars surface, but he hasn’t checked in.”

Lily hesitated. “Don’t you have video surveillance?”

“We don’t have enough storage to keep video from all areas of the station. What do you remember about him?”

Marcus had told her the truth about the fungus. What if it were true that he was also in danger if he were found? She needed to contact him again to be sure. She needed more information about the fungus, how it spread, what other symptoms to expect. The more she could gather the faster and more efficiently she could help Mateo and any others.

She scratched her forehead, attempting what she hoped was a thoughtful expression. “I don’t really recall. I remember he was average height, medium brown hair. It could have been light blond.” She shrugged as if that was all she could recall.

“So he’s average height, and has the same color hair as the majority of the people on the station.” Avery gripped the lab counter. “Can you give me anything else to go off of?”

She glared. “I don’t know, Ave, maybe if you’d asked me after it happened I’d have remembered more.”

He blew out a breath. “Okay, that’s fair. I almost deserved that. You call me right away if you find this guy. It looks like he’s an ex-con, possibly dangerous. If you see him, send an alert on your tablet directly to me.”

“I will.” She smiled, forcing herself to relax and appear as though she’d forgiven him.

He left. She gathered her samples to start another test, twirling around to just barely miss Mateo at her heel. She let out a squeak.

“Marcus is in trouble.” The rings around his eyes made them appear as huge as sand dollars. “You have to help him.”

“Honey, those are hallucinations. The people talking to you are not real.”

“Marcus is real. He needs help.” He grabbed her arm and pulled her to his room.

She looked around, half expecting the man to pop out of a corner. The room was empty. She sighed. “Why don’t you get some rest, I’m working on a medicine—”

A rustle from above cut her off. “Keep looking at Mateo.” Marcus’ voice whispered through the vent. “Don’t look up. Pretend to be talking to the kid.”

“Don’t hurt him. Whatever you want, I’ll—”

“—The thumbprint was Avery’s.”

“I—what?”

“I don’t think you’re in danger. The rust you have in your lab isn’t the same rust that’s growing on Ceres. I have reason to believe he’s working for the people who are after me.”

“And who is that?” She fussed with Mateo’s pirate jammies, willing her fists to unclench. “Never mind, you’re a thug, of course you have people after you.”

“I didn’t commit any crime. Well,”—she detected humor laced in his voice—“at least not the one I was sent to prison for. It was a deal. My brother-in-law owed a large sum of money to the local mob. The mob boss’s son had committed a minor crime they wanted me to confess to and serve his time. It was a clean deal. They just didn’t expect for me to get out so soon; they think I ratted them out.”

“Did you?”

“No …” There was a creak and light tapping sound, as though he were adjusting his position. “I hacked the penal colony’s system and tacked on work hours to get released sooner.”

“Right.” Lily resisted the temptation to scowl; she was looking right at Mateo who stood still as a deer listening to the conversation between them. “And the prisons are always full of innocent people.”

He chuckled. “Not on Ceres. As far as I could tell.”

“How am I supposed to believe you?” Although she did. Damn him.

“You don’t need to. I just need your help to make sure a shuttle is docked in the loading bay. I have to get back to my sister. They’ve already found me here and on Mars. You’ve already got the word out about the rust. I need to go back to her.” His voice changed to pleading, and from the sound of stifled desperation and loathing he didn’t do it often.

Lily had just gotten a glimpse of hope that Mateo would get better. Now Marcus was implying that Avery worked for the mob in some way. Did he really expect that she and Mateo would be safe if they stayed here? Did he really expect her to risk her own career if she were caught helping him?

Mamăe, you’re hurting me.” Mateo whimpered.

She released her tight grip on her son’s arms and pulled him into a hug. “It’s okay, filho. I’m sorry.” She scooped him into his bed, his body going limp. She ran the back of her hand down his face when his eyes rolled back in his head, another attack coming on. She swallowed the lump in her throat from keeping the tears held at bay. When Mateo’s spasms slowed, she kissed his forehead.

All at once the choice was clear. Marcus offered hope of a cure. She’d get him a goddamn shuttle.

“One hour.” She shot a gaze to the vent and caught his nod before he crawled away.

***

Lily wrapped her son with the grey wool blanket her mother had given her, tucking the ends with care. She’d rolled him like this as a baby when he’d wake in the night, fussing and hungry, but he didn’t fuss or squirm now. She only had a small window of time. She didn’t have to fake the blotchy skin, the bags under her eyes, or sticky tracks where her tears had streaked her face.

She’d hefted her son in both arms, cradling his body close to hers as the small bag of luggage she’d packed in haste rolled behind them. She kept her head down through the silent gasp of disbelief. She averted her eyes when the close-knit staff stopped their work to watch her walk by. Their expressions of grief and sorrow and pity because of her small lie were too much to bear.

It was Amil, the chemist she worked closely with on projects for the surface, who broke the ranks and rushed to her side. “When?” The older man rested a shaky hand on the blanket that covered Mateo’s face.

Her chin wobbled. She couldn’t do it, she couldn’t lie to the degree she’d planned. “Not yet.” Her voice cracked with emotion. “But soon. I want to take him to my mother in Brazil.” The tears came freely, following the familiar trail along her cheeks. “She’s never met him.” And, god, she should have taken him sooner. That was not a lie. After her son had gotten sick she realized how pointless her job had become. It was not what she’d imagined when she’d signed on.

“I’ll call down to the surface,”—Amil backed away, not looking her in the eye this time—“make the arrangements for the project, let them know you’ll be gone.”

“Thank you.” Lily set Mateo into the shuttle next to the bag of medical supplies that would last them the trip.

Amil peeked into the hatch. “We heard about the fungus. There was nothing that could be done?” The blinking eyes of the crew gathered behind him; it seemed Amil was serving as their voice. Nobody was sure of what to say to the woman who was about to lose her child. And she would if they didn’t let her go soon. She was doing a terrible job of creating a distraction.

She drew the group away from the shuttle, pretending concern for the paperwork. A service worker rushed to her side, grabbing the tablet. “I’ll take care of this for you.”

“Then, I …” Lily fumbled for her luggage and another man swooped in and took it from her. She caught the handle as the luggage was lifted away, clutching it hard, not letting it go. Inside were the medical supplies she needed for Mateo.

“Ma’am?” the man angled his face and she recognized Marcus at once. Fake ID tags, but his service uniform helped him blend into the crowd gathering.

Not wanting to draw attention to him, she released her hold. “I’m sorry. I’m a little distraught.”

Marcus faded into the shuttle with her luggage. She turned to the group. “I don’t know what to say. I, uh …” she stuttered over her real inability to come up with a sufficient and believable good-bye and allowing for Marcus to hide himself in the shuttle before they took off.

Those whom she’d been friendly with over the year reached in for hugs. Others stood a distance away, their expressions hollow.

“I should go.” Her muscles felt thick as though she were walking through mud. The stress of the past weeks had caught up to her. At least she didn’t have to fake that. The hatch closed with a hiss.

“This was not the plan,” Marcus whispered from the corner near Mateo’s makeshift bed. “You only had to make sure the shuttle was in place. I would have done the rest.”

“And how did you expect to fly it out of here? How would you have convinced the dock control to open the doors?”

“I’d have hacked my way in. I got out of Ceres; this would have been a cakewalk.”

She spun to the controls, typing in the flight plan. “And leave me here with Avery. I don’t think you thought through what a risk you put me in.” She finished with the computer. “I don’t want to be here anyway. I should have left a long time ago.”

“You were not at risk. He was only looking for the rust—”

“You mean the rust that is pumping through my son as we speak?”

“He was looking for something he could make into a drug, not the contaminated nutri-biscuits or the infection.” Marcus gently unwrapped the wool blanket from Mateo’s face. “What did you give him?”

“I put him in an induced coma.” She snapped from the control panel and slid next to her son, untangling his wrist from the blanket, and injected another drug into his IV. “What’s going on? The doors should be opening?”

The shuttle buzzed and a voice came in through the speaker. “Lily, I need to inspect the shuttle. Security measure.”

Avery. “Shit.”

Marcus removed a panel from under the bed and folded himself inside, draping the wool blanket over the opening when he couldn’t get the panel back in place.

Lily flung the hatch open. “Avery, are you serious. My son is dying.”

His lips pressed together in a line. He kept his voice low, so no one would overhear. “I saw the security videos of you in the cargo hold. Lily, this is a dangerous man.”

“One I hope you find soon, but it has nothing to do with me.”

“Then let me in. Don’t make this hard. Everyone is watching.”

“Exactly. You should have been paying closer attention. What were you doing in my room?”

He glared. “I can enter the room of any resident—”

“Shove it. If you don’t let me go right here and now, I’ll report you for an investigation.” She was going to anyway, but he didn’t need to know. She had him and he could do nothing. She had it all set up. As soon as she was scheduled to be far enough away from the station the investigation message would be sent. Avery was on borrowed time.

“You’ll regret this. You don’t know who you’re messing with.” He stepped away from the hatch. “I hope you arrive on Earth safely, Mrs. Silva.”

She locked the hatch back into place and the bay doors slid open.

***

“They won’t talk to me anymore.” Mateo frowned, kicking the blanket from his legs. “I’m hot.” He rolled to his side away from Lily and Marcus. “Leave me alone.”

“At least he’s feeling better.” Marcus pulled the blanket over her son when his even breathing had indicated he’d fallen back asleep.

Lily shook her head, rechecking the flight information. “We’re headed the wrong direction.”

“My sister lives near Jupiter. I let you enter the coordinates for Earth to throw them off. I’ve made contact with a Nikki Dark; she works with the Space Patrol. I think we can help them get the rust situation under control. What about Avery?”

“He’s not going to be a problem anymore. In fact, he’s probably being arrested as we speak.” She’d also found other evidence that pointed to Avery being in contact with the mob to seal the deal. She rubbed her forehead. “I’m not good at this.” Then she laughed. “Oh my god. It’s finally happened.”

Marcus shot her a look. “What?”

“My son hates me, I’m running from the mob, I don’t know if I have a job anymore, and my travel mate is a convicted felon who I probably shouldn’t have trusted. I think my luck may have finally run out.”

She crossed her arms and stared at the corner of the shuttle, nowhere to go. She’d really gotten herself into a fine situation.

Mateo stirred in his sleep, turning so she could see his oval face and pixie features, his brown hair a twisted mess. The color of his skin had been restored, no signs of infection in his system; her treatment had worked. She’d found a means to ward off a possible epidemic. And she had information that could potentially bring down a drug ring. She’d probably have her pick of jobs anywhere she wanted.

Marcus tipped an eyebrow at her, noticing her change in posture.

“Damn.” Her grin spread wide. “I’m still freakin’ Lucky Lily.”

Original (First) Publication
Copyright © 2015 by Tina Gower

 

THEIR MAJESTIES' BUCKETEERS
by L. Neil Smith


A classic closed-room mystery with a murder most foul....and most alien....

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
A Little Song, A Little Dance,
A Little Apocalypse
Down Your Pants

by Robert T. Jeschonek

Counterfactual

by Gardner Dozois
Curtain Call
by Sandra M. Odell

Special Economics
by Maureen McHugh
Game Not Over
by Ron Friedman

“All You Zombies—”
by Robert A. Heinlein

The Book of Alexander
by Zaslow Crane
Nothing Ever Happens
in Rock City

by Jack McDevitt
In Secrets, Absolution
(Sargasso)

by Andrea G. Stewart
Calming the Tempest
(Sargasso)

by Tina Gower

INTERVIEW
Michael and Peter Spierig
(Directors of Predestination)
by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
Melodies of the Heart (Part 1)
by Michael Flynn

COLUMNS
From the Heart's Basement
by Barry Malzberg
Science Column
by Greg Benford

Book Reviews
by Paul Cook

 

 

 


 

 

 

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Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2015. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.