Author: Rick Tobin

“Know the right people and get your right place.” Ted Aaronson’s huge fingers straightened wrinkles in an undersized, blue t-shirt irritating his neck. “The right people get the best.” Aaronson twisted his powerful, athletic frame, popping noisy vertebrae in the crowded space station’s quarters.

“Is that what got you onboard? You’re not representing science.” Mirco Matteucci directed his focus to his computer pad, finishing reports about hull temperature effects from recent CMEs.

“Huh, I’m doing my part, punk. They aren’t sending weenie whackers off to Mars. Only the fit go. That’s my job here, testing vigor every day; ensuring how superior breeds maintain strength for a long haul. Maybe some of you will fly ships and build colony bases, but you won’t last long on the surface. Only advanced genetics will survive. And speaking of survival, I’m hungry as hell. What’s gizmo got in his fridge to munch?”

“Don’t, Aaronson. Devi worked on his tardigrade project for months. He keeps samples in there. Look at the label. See, it says ‘Warning, Biological Hazard.’ I sure as hell wouldn’t open that looking for eats.”

“No, and you’ll stay shriveled up—the slug you’ve always been. I’ve seen Jew boy hiding food away. He’s not fooling me. As far as how I got my ticket…it’s people…my people. My old man is the CEO of the country’s biggest mining company. The first Martian settlers get land grants, just like the Spanish elite in Mexico. I’m set for taking the mineral-rich Meridiani Plain. We’ll strip the crap out of it, making billions. I’ll come back as a fricking king. That’s the right people in the right place. Hmm, this looks good. A bunch of kosher bologna sliced up, but who cares there’s no bread? I need protein, baby!”

Mirco watched, horrified, as Aaronson swallowed a handful of meat slices in one huge gulp. “You idiot! That’s not deli meat. Devi’s been dissecting giant tardigrades from outside Section 5. That’s why he’s here. He predicted those things we released in space would live, thrive, and evolve into larger species as they fed on the bacterium we discovered living on the space station’s outer surface. Didn’t you read anything about our mission?”

Aaronson struggled with the last bite before answering. “Why should I? You’re an MIT whiz kid. I’m a top athlete at UCLA. What’s he? Some farm kid at a teacher’s college in Minnesota. He just doesn’t know he doesn’t belong at this elevation. I do. You do. His work means nothing. No Mars for his kind.”

Aaronson bent over, grabbing his stomach while holding his throat. Mirco watched the football star rush through the hatch door to the vacuum toilets. Devi Levine floated in a half-hour later.

“What the hell! Mirco, what did you do?” The color left Devi’s normally tanned face as he stretched his arms out to close his empty refrigerator door. The sample bio-wrapper remained suspended above it.

“Not me, bud. That ass Aaronson thought it was lunch meat. He ate it. I think he’s sorry. He’s got the runs.”

“No…no…oh God!” Levine pointed at the single view window behind Mirco. It permitted a panorama of Section 5’s rotating solar array. Along one panel crawled a large bloated shape wearing a shredded blue t-shirt over its eight fat, stubby legs, red hair, and bulging blue eyes. It stared back at them.

“What should I do?” Levine whispered, terrified at the grisly transmutation.

“Do?” Mirco whispered back. “Report that Aaronson got his rightful place in space.”