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"I'm not having second thoughts, Alex. I think I'd describe them as first thoughts. More accurate that way."
"Okay, Marta, then don't go having first thoughts on me. Not now, please. We're too close to launch, and that means you can't back out. Not now."
"What? You rewrote my contract? If I remember correctly, it specifically states I can drop out at any time. Right up until...you know."
"But you're the most experienced doctor in the bunch...and the best gene juggler we have. I...need you."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, but my contract-"
"Will you forget the contract for a minute? What about the crew...the mission?"
"The devil with the mission, Alex. Oh, it's a grand idea, and it may even have some purpose to it...maybe, but I'm having a hard time finding it right now. It's the crew...they're the only reason I'm still here, otherwise I'd have been gone the first time I realized what I was actually doing."
"Well, I'm glad to hear you're still thinking about the crew."
"I imagine some might say it's my mother instinct at work."
Mother instinct? You?
"This instinct, whatever it is, is going to keep you in the flight?"
"It has...up until now."
"Wonderful. How about I buy you dinner? We can suck up some sweet yummy to finish it off. They have real fruits and stuff here."
"Why not? Besides, we should do it now or we won't be able to. Can't eat for thirty-six hours before going into stasis. That reminds me of a phrase I heard a long time ago...or maybe I read it. I don't remember which. It went something like, 'The condemned ate a hearty-'"
"That an order, ma'am?"
"Good. 'Into the valley of death rode-'"
The two of them, dressed in the bright yellow and rich brown uniform reserved for members of the Finder Flights, turned into a passage marked "OBS DK & OFF LOUNGE." A yellow bar below the sign warned, "High rad levels inside lounge shield-tags are available at the bar."
Working asteroid Medevac required an unflinching will to survive, coupled with the nerve to stare death in the infinite depth of its eyes-and a dedication tough to find anywhere in the SESC. Although she didn't look it, Dr. Marta Lavan had all that and much more. She'd served out there among the Belt mines for five years before signing up for the Finder mission and earned the Distinguished Service Stripe to prove it.
Anyone seeing those bright red bars stroked across her shoulder boards knew immediately that she was no virgin to the rigors of space, yet she had one weakness she couldn't shake. Moving scenes, like the one displayed in the huge ports lining the planet side of the lounge, caused her to respond with a severe reaction that demanded the entire contents of her stomach be expelled instantly and violently without regard to where she was, or in whose company.
Lead Officer Alexandra Guzman-Pax, well aware of the doctor's vertigo, took no offense when her junior officer charged in ahead of her. Lavan kept her eyes on the neutral gray carpet like a fastidious housemaid looking for lint. She wobbled a little as she went, and secured a chair with its back to half a Jupiter slowly turning in three directions at once-four if you counted the imperceptible lateral drift of the station.
JS9 was set in a polar orbit that revolved axially once in the Jovian year. The axial drift kept the station out of the shadow of the planet. The drift was so slow it had no effect on Lavan's churning gut, but the axis of the station was pointed directly at the planet's center and the rotation of JS9 caused the planet to tumble in slow motion. That movement, combined with the natural revolution of Jupiter about its axis and the orbital swing of the station shot straight into Lavan's vomit center.
Pax enjoyed the vista. There were times when she would sit in the lounge for hours, transfixed, fascinated with the beauty of it all. She slid out a chair and turned it so she could sit looking straight at the panorama and mused for a moment on how, from the station, Jupiter was always half planet, half ghost. The side in shadow glowed dully from its own energy, flashes of lightning giving it the look of deeply dark brown velvet with tiny diamonds sparkling on it. At JS9's tremendous distance from the planet the entire thing and most of its moons were visible, particularly the larger ones, which added greatly to Lavan's problem. Lavan, on the other side of the table, kept her eyes fixed firmly on the non-reflective surfaces of the bar.
The lighting in the lounge was diffused and cast almost no shadows on Lavan's girlish features. Pax could not help noticing that Lavan's turned-up nose was still not quite a nose; like a small child's it appeared to be developing into one but wasn't quite there. She had deeply dimpled cheeks, lightly dusted with soft freckles, and large eyes of watery blue, dotted loosely with purple flecks. Here and there a silver strand peeked from beneath her short-cropped golden red hair, doing little to lessen the baby-girl effect.
"Well, Marta, tomorrow we do it," Pax said, motioning to a waiter who had expertly ignored their entrance.
"Huh? Oh...right...tomorrow," Lavan said, while she traced little looping patterns with an unpainted fingernail on the glossy black table top.
She never uses cosmetics...adds to that just-out-of-puberty look. One of these days I'm going to have to talk to her about that. How does she ever get anyone to take her seriously-or to bed, for heaven's sake?
"Okay, what's troubling you, Marta?"
"Nothing...and everything. I'm thinking about what we're getting ready to do. How wonderfully exciting it all is...and how dreadfully permanent. You know, just sorting through things one last time...before you pull the trigger."
Copyright © 2006 J. Richard Jacobs