Author: Stephen C. Curro

Phobos had just set when I exited Mark’s airlock and stepped into the little antechamber that served as a mud room. I popped my EVA helmet off and kicked the door open into the living room.
“Where is it?!” I shouted. I raised my particle gun and scanned the lavish room. Everything from the intricate rugs to the paintings on the wall to the elaborate furniture screamed sophistication. Or, knowing Mark, the desire to be sophisticated.
Mark’s eyes peered from behind the posh sofa, like one of those ancient Kilroy Was Here pictures. “Truce?” he offered with a nervous chuckle.
I answered by firing an energy bolt into his crystal imagizer. The entertainment system shattered, sending sparks jumping like scared insects.
Mark’s jaw slack as if I had struck him. “Quill, are you crazy?! That thing cost two-thousand—”
“I don’t give a damn!” I aimed my pistol at his balding head. “Where. Is. It?”
Mark’s hands eased upward, putting up a smile that was trying hard to look convincing. He was wearing a white bathrobe, as if I’d caught him at the spa. “It’s not here, if that’s what you mean.”
I’d have believed anyone else, but Mark had burned me before, and I wasn’t about to graduate to the “shame on me” part of that old adage. I fired another blast, burning a hole through a posh armchair.
“Really?” Mark whined. “I imported that all the way from Earth!”
“How about I import you to Hell?”
“Well, technically that would be an export—”
Mark’s balding head reflected the light of another beam I shot at the wall. He whimpered and ducked down like a prairie dog. “Okay! You’re upset, but consider this…everything is replaceable with enough money, right? You’re going back to Earth, and what you got ain’t readily available off-world. I know a buyer on Enceladus—”
“Shut up!” My anger burned like a hot tar on my skin. I stomped to the sofa and seized the collar of that stupid bathrobe. “You don’t buy new family,” I snarled. “Now tell me, or I’ll blow you out your airlock.”
Mark sniggered. “You wouldn’t.”
I hoisted him over the sofa and dragged him into the mudroom. Mark’s bravado vanished and he flailed like a crab on its back. “Wait! Jesus Christ, wait!”
Trembling as if he’d been exposed to the Martian chill, he pointed to a gaudy marbled vase on a stand. I let him go and picked up the vase. Doing so released a switch that opened a compartment in the floor.
I dropped the vase and ignored Mark’s groan when it shattered. I stooped over the compartment, my heart pounding. The pod was there, an ugly metal pill one meter by one meter across. Green lights danced on the cover, indicating its cargo was secure.
I hefted the heavy pod in one arm. Once more I aimed my pistol at Mark. “If I ever whiff your scent again, you’ll wish I blew your airlock today.”
Mark cowered in the corner as I went into the airlock. I put my helmet on and cycled out. Once I’d cycled into my clunky rover, I took off my EVA suit. Eagerly I opened the pod and a burst of steam wafted into the rover.
When it cleared, I smiled, and felt my eyes grow moist. “Hey, honey,” I said. “You okay?”
Trudy, my eighteen-month-old miniature poodle, lazily opened her eyes. I gently stroked her black, velvet fur, relief flooding my limbs. She looked at me and, still half asleep from the pod hibernation, wagged her stubby little tail.