Author: Rick Tobin

Sanders’ trembling hand hovered over an ejection hatch separating him from interstellar vacuum. He paused, chest heaving, fighting his ending as if a stealthy gorilla was reaching through cage bars, catching him staring too closely.

“Always heard suicides happened on port side. I thought docs didn’t go for that–some oath thing.”

Sanders pulled back swiftly from a woman’s voice. He was the only surviving crew member. Evil spread through air ducts–a chimera virus destroying internal organs of a starship’s complement. He hid inside a secure drug bunker after angry victims turned against him for failing to stop their carnage. Sanders, a cursed shaman, represented false medical gods withholding salvation.

“Disease–it’s consuming me. I’m the last. Hallucinations are a final punishment.”

April Davers kicked his shin hard enough to wind Sanders. His right hand struck the wall, nearly activating the operation switch. April pushed him away to prevent their expulsion.

“Real enough, idiot! You think you could save them? This crap spread everywhere in our solar system, from inside Mercury to minefields on Pluto. It’s a wonder we got outside the Oort before it hit. Ever wonder who carried it past security? Secret credits brought rich losers escaping onboard. Lucky me, I have value. I maintain ventilation systems. That’s where I hid while mobs tore themselves apart. I watched friends get shredded by stragglers. Where were you, Doc?”

“After attacks in sick bay, I hunkered down in a storage cavity just for emergency medical supplies–bolted from inside. When screams quit, bulkhead pounding stopped, I came out to their remains. God, how I failed them!” He paused to collect himself. “Just two of us immune? Ironic–you twenty something and I’m dried up. Pointless me staying. We’d have a few years to chat and then you’d have to toss me out this chute.” His head drooped. There was no joy meeting another survivor. They might still succumb to the ‘Blood Beast,’ as it was christened on Jupiter.

“Hold on, gray head. You still have some miles. Two women on deck five made it. You’re the only man. You’ll have to do.” April pressed her hand against Sander’s bicep, raising her eyebrows in surprise, finding he was fit for an oldster.

“According to your name tag, April, that shaggy red hair might contain a volcano under your jumpsuit, but I’m spent. Hell, I’ve got shoes older than you. Besides, I’m a throwback about morals. I’m not about to play out Lot and his daughters with you three. We had over twelve hundred onboard, ensuring a healthy variety of gene matches during this voyage. If we make Proxima Centauri b, with just us four procreating, this ship would land with inbred drooling imbeciles.”

“Maybe. You’re the science whiz. What about that freezer with frozen sperm and eggs for restarting, in case of crew irradiation? You could use those, right? They’re virus free.”

“Huh. A smarty. Long shot, but the others?” He thought about the chances of artificial fertilization saving humanity. Might work. The ship’s automated tutors could train new crews for generations.

“We talked it over, but we needed a man. You’ve still got some skills.” She looked down at his crotch while pushing a sneer. “Even if your plumbing is rusty. Give it a try for NJ-1. You ever wonder about the ship’s name?”

“No. Maybe for New Jersey…the one on Earth and on Mars. Why?”

“Figures. You being a faith guy and still missed it. This is the Promised Land, pal: New Jerusalem. Time to go wander in the wilderness.” April pulled him toward the cryolab.