Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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Mars's Gift

by Jonathan J. Schlosser


The lift-cart came through the door, covered in blood, as Adam pulled his mask into place. The mask hissed as it connected to the collar of his white med suit. A small fan kicked in under his chin, blowing air and oxygen up toward his mouth. Even without the fan, his lips felt dry. He licked them once, bit the lower one, and strode forward.

"Come on, boy. We haven't got all day." James Ferrier, also clad head-to-toe in a protective suit, elbowed his way past and took the lift-cart from two exhausted nurses, who turned and exited through the same door. The shuttle Chicago had docked not two hours ago, and that meant at least forty Marines to offload. Granted, most were just corpses by this point, but bodies still had to be moved.

Adam Sternson scowled and lunged forward, grabbing the other edge of the cart and swinging it into position. Claws came up from the floor to hold it in place, and the anti-grav units shut off. "Same as the rest?"

"Of course." Ferrier tapped the Marine's chest, which barely rose and fell. "Stop the bleeding. I'll get the machine ready. He doesn't look like he'll make it more than a half-hour."

Adam swallowed as he began swabbing blood off the dying man with a rag. He looked like he'd crash landed, rather than returned from Mars on a shuttle in perfect working condition. Blood streaked his arms and legs and soaked through his olive drab fatigues where the jacket covered his chest. Adam pulled the jacket away, then the shirt below it. Blood oozed from multiple sores, dark red patches that looked almost like bullet holes. Adam knew them to be far more deadly.

He toggled his headset mic with his tongue "Christina, you'd better get in here. And bring plenty of bandages. This guy's bad."

"On my way." The reply came back with a short burst of static.

Next to Adam, Ferrier tugged a mess of tubes and pumps into place. He began flipping switches, cursing occasionally as if the machine could hear him. Adam watched as the older man finally got the power on, and a light panel flashed green. Ferrier spun on his heel, a thin hose in each hand. "Ready?"

"Christina's bringing more bandages. There's no way I can stop the bleeding without them."

"Well, try, boy." Ferrier dropped the hoses and stomped over. He grabbed the rag from Adam's hand and pressed it against a sore in the center of the Marine's chest. Blood squirted up around the edges. "See, like this. Apply pressure."

"But the bandages are almost here." Adam shrugged. "You can't honestly think I can make a difference like that."

"You can never tell."

"But I--"

"Look, do what I say or I'll send you back to the surface before you know what hit you. They won't like that, will they? You signed up to work under me, and I expect you to follow orders no matter what useless information they fed you in those classes. Now apply pressure to this wound, or I'll find someone who will." He turned and stalked back to the machine.

Adam growled a curse under his breath and pressed the rag down hard. Too hard. The Marine's glassy eyes pinched and he moaned.

"Careful, now." Christian Vaughn slid up next to Adam, her fist full of gray bandages. "Still need these?"

"You better believe it." Adam tossed the rag aside and unsealed one of the bandages. The sticky filament on the underside clung to the fingers of his suit He pressed it down on the Marine's chest and grabbed another.

"How far along is he?" Christina leaned in, helping to hold back the man's uniform.

"Hard to tell, but I'd guess thirty-six to forty hours. Pretty developed."

"I'll say. I can't believe he's still breathing."

"Me either." Adam pulled the rest of the man's uniform off and stuck the next bandage to his leg, just above the knee. Sores trailed down, six of them along the entire leg. "Can you get his arms?"

It took two more minutes to finish bandaging him, and when they were done the Marine looked little better. He still hadn't said a word or tried to move. Adam shuddered. But at least the man wouldn't bleed anymore, and they could run the transfusion. As bad as it looked, it wasn't too late.

"Out of the way. Christina, hold this." Ferrier stepped between them, jamming a tube into Christina's hand. "When I tell you, that one goes in his leg."

"Yes, sir."

"You remember where, right?"

"Below the knee, right into the muscle tissue."

Ferrier smiled grimly beneath his mask. "Perfect." He still held a tube in his own hand, connected as Christina's was to the array of pumps and computer screens behind him. A six-inch needle stuck out from the end of the tube, glinting under the lights. Ferrier bent over, ran the needle along the top of the Marine's forearm for a moment, and then flicked his wrist to jab it through the skin. "Now."

Christina repeated the jabbing motion--though a bit less fluidly--and her needle sunk out of sight into the Marine's leg. The man grunted, but didn't move.

"Excellent. Sternson, get over here and insert this needle. Christina, stand back so I can see." Ferrier stepped back to the machine. Two large bags hung from the underside, one filled to the brim with blood and the other completely empty. Two more tubes extended from the machine and ended in similar needles--syringes. Ferrier pulled them from their slots with both hands.

Christina retreated two steps, though Adam was pretty sure Ferrier could have seen anyway. Not that seeing changed much. If the blood transfusion didn't work, the man would be dead whether they watched or not.

Adam crossed the room in two steps and took the needle and attached tube that Ferrier held out. The injection shaft for the needle sat before him, with the blood-filled bag hanging beneath it. A thin metal door closed the shaft off, to keep the blood inside from becoming contaminated. Adam had done this a thousand times at the University, practiced it in his head a million more. He could still feel his palms sweating. Real life was vastly different.

"All right, do it, boy." Ferrier reached out and pushed a pair of yellow buttons over his head. The shaft's door flicked open, and Adam plunged the needle downward.

And missed.

Not entirely, but by enough that the needle didn't slide down and pierce the thick skin of the bag, letting blood flow upward and into the shaft. The needle's point instead struck the side of the shaft and bounced harmlessly away. Adam stumbled forward; the needle slipped from his grasp.

Ferrier cursed loud enough to be heard without the headset and lunged past Adam. His own needle seemed to have made it on the first try. He grabbed the tube as it swung before Adam's face, whirled around, and shoved the needle through. The transfusion machine chimed once and hummed to full power.

Adam stepped back, his cheeks burning, and watched as red liquid filled the tube and was pumped into the Marine's circulatory system. The opposite tube filled as well, draining away the infected blood and filling the empty bag. They would run it through the airlock later, push it off in the direction of the sun. It wouldn't burn up for years, but it wouldn't spread, either.

Ferrier grabbed Adam's arm and spun him around, his fingers like vice clamps. "You can't even do that right? Surely they taught you how. A machine this important, you had to have learned about it." His thin lips pulled back over teeth stained from years of coffee and cigarettes.

"Sorry, I just...I just missed is all." Adam studied the metal decking of the emergency room. "It won't happen again."

"It won't happen because you won't be here. I'm sending you back. I've had enough."

Adam looked up, feeling his guts pull into a knot. "Sir, please, I need this."

"And I need to know you can do your job. This might be about education for you, but these are real people. If you can't save them, you shouldn't be here."

"I can do it. I swear I can."

Ferrier looked away, his eyes flashing. He stared at the wall for a moment, then turned back. He pulled Adam close until their masks almost touched. "Fine, one more chance. Any more mistakes, and you're gone. I never wanted college kids anyway." He let go of Adam, slammed a fist into the door controls, and stepped out even before the door had fully opened.

####

"Let's get a drink. You look like you need it." Outside the ER, and out of their med suits, Christina smiled up at Adam. "Sound good?"

"Sounds perfect." Adam tried to keep his tone cheerful, but failed miserably.

They walked to the cafeteria. Christina picked a table near the main viewport, where they could see Earth hanging like a blue and green jewel miles below them. Adam grabbed them both a cup of coffee. They couldn't drink alcohol while on duty, but the coffee would help nonetheless. He slid into the seat across from Christina and watched her as she watched the planet.

Christina was slim and pretty, with dark hair that fell to her shoulders and curled up at the ends. Her blue eyes mirrored Earth's oceans, and the slight smile that played across her lips showed just how much she loved being in space. Even working with death every day, Adam was amazed at how she kept her spirits up. She was the same age as him, but already a year out of University and into military life. Her position here was secure, as a nurse, unlike his own.

He took a drink, burning his tongue, and when he looked back up Christina's eyes were on him. "He didn't mean it, you know. He's just a grouchy old man who likes to yell when things don't go perfectly."

Adam felt his cheeks heat up again at the memory. "You think so?"

"Definitely. He knows you need this training to graduate. He wouldn't take that from you unless you did something horrible. And, whether you think so or not, you're good enough to avoid that kind of mistake."

"Thanks." Adam sighed. "Was he like this when you started here?"

Christina shrugged and sipped her drink. "I didn't work under him. I was over in Outgoing, giving examinations to Marines before they left. They were all smiles then, all proud to be serving and excited to be going."

"Not like now."

"Not at all." Christina set her drink down. "Some people say the scientists are happy, even though the exploration teams are dying. They say the fact that Mars can cause this disease means there has to be life there. At lease bacteria or something. I'm no expert, but they sound like they know what they're talking about."

"And they keep sending teams, one after the other."

"I know. And we keep watching them come back."

Adam ran a finger across the surface of the table. "At least we have the transfusion machine now. Remember when it started, and we didn't even know it was a blood disease? The first shuttle was just corpses, nothing but dead bodies covered in blood. One man still alive, I think, and the whole world watched as he died on television."

"I remember." Christina spoke so softly that Adam almost couldn't hear her. "Still, we can save the ones that make it here. It spreads somewhat quickly, but a few always seem to live. If they can get this far, they're alright.

Adam took another drink, larger this time. "Can you imagine if it breaks the quarantine?"

"And gets to the surface?" Christina shook her head. "That would be horrible. This machine is still experimental. They couldn't construct them on Earth fast enough to save everyone."

"Or to save half." Adam looked out the viewport, imagining the panic the world would find itself in. The disease spread on the air--thus the med suits they had to use when dealing with the incoming Marines. Some of the military would no doubt survive a planet-wide epidemic, but none of the civilian population. "I think we should call it off."

"The exploration program?"

"Yes. We have a base on the moon. Isn't that enough?"

"You know it's not, Adam. The way the population has been growing, they say the moon base will be full to capacity in twenty years. We have to branch out." She grinned. "There have always been setbacks to exploration, Adam. When the Europeans found the Americas, their men wanted to turn back. They were sick and starving. But they pushed on, and look what happened."

"So you think we can beat this?"

"I think we are beating this. We can save people now. Doc Ferrier says the next shuttle out is going with a med team and a transfusion machine. They could be able to stay for as long as their food holds out. Maybe long enough to find a way to prevent the disease altogether. Survival is what the human race does best, Adam. This is just one more bump in the road."

Adam shook his head, but returned her grin. "I guess you have a point there."

Christina smirked. "I am pretty smart."

Pretty is right, Adam thought. And smart as well. He took a quick drink to prevent the words from reaching his lips. Christina had just gotten divorced on Earth less than three months ago. As much as he wanted to, jumping all over her now was just liable to get him slapped. "So what do we do?"

"The same thing we've been doing: saving lives. Eventually someone will come up with a cure, or the plague will die out, or we'll be able to avoid it. We just have to keep going, keep working, until we get there."

They finished their coffee and watched the Earth spin.

####

"Two of them, both advanced. We can save one for sure, possibly both."

"They're both being brought in at once?" Adam snapped his mask into place.

Christina nodded as they stepped into the emergency room. "We need to speed this up as much as possible or the second guy won't even have a chance. I'll bandage him off to the side while you and Doc Ferrier work on the woman. She's doing a bit worse."

"Good luck."

"Thanks."

"Cut the chatter." Ferrier was already in the room. He thrust a handful of bandages in Adam's direction. "Wouldn't want you to forget these again. This is going to be bad."

Adam grunted his thanks and took the bandages.

The Marines showed up less than a minute later, on a pair of lift-carts. Christina took the man and pulled him out of the way immediately; Ferrier tugged the woman into position while Adam began dressing her wounds. The sores covered her upper body; her entire jacket was crimson and soaking. Adam hesitated for a moment, then pulled it and her shirt off and tossed them aside. He started slapping bandages on as fast as he could get them ready.

"She's lost too much." Ferrier's words could have been directed at anyone as he growled them out.

"Blood, sir?"

"Yes, boy. You do know she's bleeding, right? Hurry, get that bandage on."

"Can she make it long enough?"

"I don't know." Ferrier started prepping the transfusion machine; lights flickered to life and the dull hum of standby mode filled the room.

The woman's left side looked like nothing but an enormous rash, jagged and bubbling. Adam felt sick. He kept working despite his rolling stomach, trying to hold down the coffee. The time for being sick would come later.

The man screamed. Adam jumped and spun, dropping the rest of his bandages on the deck. The male Marine hung over the edge of the lift-cart, one hand clutching the side and the other flailing away at Christina's face. She tried to hold him and avoid getting hit at the same time, and he could see the man's blood smeared all over her visor.

"Get him under control!" Ferrier yelled, dropping the tubes and running forward. He grabbed the Marine and forced him back onto the bed; the Marine screamed away as if Ferrier were tearing off his skin.

Adam lurched forward after Ferrier, the woman forgotten, and tried to seize the man's arm. His hands caught and then slipped off, and he stumbled forward. He tried again, and this time grabbed the limb just beneath the elbow. He could feel sores press against his palm. He wrenched the man's arm around and pinned it to his side.

"Me...time for..." The Marine's words sounded forced out, as if they took all of his energy.

"Soon," Adam said, gritting his teeth. "You're next, I promise you."

"T-too late."

"No, you're doing fine. Just fine. I just need you to calm down now, before you hurt someone else."

"Dying...I--" The Marine coughed, a sick sound deep in his lungs. "Dying." He relaxed, lying back on the lift-cart. His muscles went limp; his chest still rose and fell in time, albeit shallowly.

"What happened?" Ferrier straightened up, releasing the man.

"I don't know." Christina shook her head. "He just freaked out. I've never seen them do that before. They're always so weak."

Adam touched her arm. "Are you all right?"

"I think so."

"Good." Ferrier hurried back to the woman and jabbed the needles into her arm and leg. "Sternson, we have to get her hooked up right now. She's going to die any minute."

Adam scrambled across the room and grabbed the tube as Ferrier held it out. He poised it over the injection shaft. This time he wouldn't miss.

"Ready?" Ferrier reached up and slapped the yellow buttons above him. "Now!"

Adam drove the needle downward and felt it slam hard into solid metal. It bounced out of his hand and swung away, but he grabbed it again before it got out of his reach. He cursed; how could he have missed? He'd had the needle in position. Ferrier began swearing too, but as Adam leaned over, the words seemed to fade away.

The metal protection door hadn't opened.

"It's shut! It's still shut!" Adam tapped the shaft with his finger. "Hit the button again."

Ferrier did just that, slamming his hand against the wall hard enough for the sound to echo around the small room. Nothing happened. Ferrier hit the button a third time, and the shaft popped open.

Adam had the needle in the bag before he even knew what he was doing. The machine chimed and roared; life-giving blood pumped up the tubes and into the woman, pushing the poison out of her body.

Over the headset radio, Adam heard someone crying.

He turned slowly, his heart plummeting into his gut. Christina stood over the second Marine, her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook with each sob. She dropped one hand to the Marine's chest, and Adam could see that it was no longer moving.

"Get her out of here," Ferrier said quietly.

Adam led Christina to the door, an arm around her waist, and out into the contamination room beyond. He took his own suit off, and then helped her with hers. She stopped crying, eyes red, but didn't say a word.

The suits had to be washed, sprayed down with all manner of chemicals to make sure the disease, the plague, was gone. Adam picked up his and Christina's and carried them over to a large bin with a biohazard sign painted on its face. He dumped both suits in and pressed the button next to it.

Just before the bin sucked both suits down to the cleaning level, Adam thought he saw a small tear in the collar of Christina's, near where her mask connected with her collar. He leaned in for a better look, but the suits were gone before he could tell. He shook the notion off; probably just his imagination. Had to be.

Had to be.

"Take me home," Christina said.

####

Adam dropped Christina off at her apartment. She didn't offer to let him come in, and he didn't ask. She looked like all she wanted was to go to sleep for a month, maybe more. He told her to call if she needed anything, and tried to smile as she closed the door.

He made his way down to Ferrier's apartment, via two lifts and a short passageway. He stopped outside the door, his hand raised to knock, and waited. He'd come knowing that he wanted to plead his case, ask for another chance, do whatever it took. But now the thought of approaching Ferrier on off hours frightened him more than he cared to admit, even to himself.

The door swung open. Ferrier stood in front of it, a drink in one hand and a scowl on his face. "You just going to stand there all day, boy, or were you thinking about knocking?"

Adam stepped back, his eyes darting to the peephole in the center of the door. "Uh, sorry. I just wanted to talk to you."

"So I gathered."

The air felt as stiff as ice. "Can I come in?"

"This is going to take that long, is it?" Ferrier stepped aside and waved a hand toward the half-lit apartment. "Come on."

The apartment was about twice the size of Adam's, but with half the furnishings. The dim lighting came from the fact that Ferrier only owned two lamps, one of which was lit. A large, cushioned chair sat against the wall, with a book face-down and open next to it. An old book, still in paper bindings; the cover read The Stand. A bottle of liquor sat next to the book, opened.

Ferrier made no apologies about the lack of seating and remained standing himself. "Well?"

Adam ran a hand through his hair to wipe the sweat from his forehead. "I just wanted to apologize, sir. For screwing up."

"I thought we talked about that, boy. You've got one more strike left. An apology now isn't going to change that."

Adam frowned. "I meant today. When I didn't get the needle in."

"Because the shaft didn't open?" Ferrier snorted. "That one doesn't count, though I wish it did."

"What?"

Ferrier scooped up his bottle, walked into the kitchen attached to the sitting room, and replenished his drink. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the counter. "You're too young, boy. If I could send you and all your kind back to Earth on the next shuttle, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Hell, I'd have done it a long time ago. But the government won't let me, so I'm stuck. That's the way of the world, I guess."

"I'm sorry you think that, sir. I'm trying to do my best."

"But that's not good enough!" Ferrier straightened, then slouched down again. "You're not the problem, not really. It's the whole system. All these brat kids coming out of the Universities and thinking they're ready for the real world when they don't have a clue how it really works. And they're letting people die because of it."

"You mean the Marine today? That was a tragedy, but--"

Ferrier waved a hand. "Not the Marine, boy. I didn't know him."

Adam clasped his hands behind his back. "I'm afraid I don't understand, then, sir."

"Of course you don't." Ferrier's glare could have shot holes through the station's hull. He reached a hand into the front pocket of his pants and pulled out his wallet, then flipped it open on the counter before him. "You want to see?"

"Sir?"

"Get over here."

Adam walked over, like a soldier on a minefield, wishing he'd never come. He stopped a step or two from the counter, and waited.

Ferrier jabbed a finger down at the open wallet; an old photograph, on paper, lay beneath the layer of plastic. "Her, boy. She died under one of you upstart doctors. Said he was doing all he could to save her, said the damage wasn't bad. Said he could keep her alive." Ferrier looked up, pinning a glare to Adam's face. "But he was a damn liar."

Adam took a step back, raising his hands. He glanced down at the picture; James Patrick and Bethany Anne Ferrier, proclaimed a line of elegant white script. Both smiling and in their Sunday best. "I'm sorry, sir, I really am. But that wasn't me. I wasn't there."

"No, but it was someone exactly like you. I'm just trying to keep that from happening to more people."

Adam shook his head. "Keeping me from graduation won't bring your wife back."

Ferrier clenched both fists, then stood up straight. "I think you should leave."

"I didn't mean any disrespect, sir." Adam retreated as he spoke, backing toward the door.

Ferrier stood stock still. "Out."

Adam didn't argue.

####

He woke up late. He had the day off, and he needed the sleep. He lay in bed and stared at the ceiling for a good half an hour, thinking about what Ferrier had said. If the man was serious--and he'd sounded like it, that was for sure--Adam knew he'd never graduate. Probably not even finish his whole shift at the station before he got shipped back to the surface. He finally dragged himself out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and called Christina.

She answered on the third ring, and it sounded like he'd woken her. "Yeah?"

"Hey, it's Adam. You all right?"

"I've been better, but I'm doing okay."

"Any interest in some breakfast?"

"You do know it's a quarter to two, right?"

He snorted. "Morning is whenever you wake up."

Christina laughed. "Point taken. And that sounds great. Did you have anywhere in mind?"

"Very funny. So I'll see you in a few?"

"Let me get dressed, then meet you there."

"It's a date." He liked the way the words sounded, rolling off his tongue, even if she would never agree with what he meant. Probably never even realize what he'd been saying. He dropped the phone back into its cradle and the charging light came on, blinking red in the darkness.

He took his time getting ready, knowing he could have been out the door in two minutes if that's when she'd wanted to meet. He walked to the cafeteria, the only place on the orbital station that served food. She hadn't shown up yet, so he grabbed a cup of coffee and waited at the same table they'd used the previous night.

She arrived ten minutes later. She'd pulled her hair back and was wearing a dark red jacket over a white shirt. It was simple, but Adam thought it looked great. He waved her over and gave her a wry grin. "Glad you made it."

"You'd better be." She smirked and slid into her chair, holding a coffee and two muffins. Processed blueberry, it looked like. She tossed one to him and took a bite of her own. "You hear the news this morning?"

Adam frowned. "No. What's the deal?"

"I guess the plague is getting worse. Killing faster. The incubation period on that last shuttle, the Chicago, appears to have been twenty-six hours, according to the logs. That's when it got bad, and spread. The few Marines we saved were all that made it. Just about wiped them out to a man."

Adam chewed as he thought, then swallowed. The blueberry tasted like a sugary paste, but it wasn't bad. "What about the next shuttle?"

"Not in range yet. We won't be able to contact them for at least a week. Doc Ferrier called me just after you did, though, and wanted to discuss it. He's afraid they'll all be dead by the time we get to them." Christina reached down and massaged her forearm with her fingers. "He says we need to get a transfusion machine on the next run or it won't even be worth sending them out."

"Do we have two?"

"No; we'd have to send this one. Another would be shipped up to us."

"Risky."

"I know, but it's all we can do." She rubbed her arm again, then met Adam's eyes. "Ferrier also said they'd need someone to go along. A medical technician. Someone who could run the machine."

Adam's eyes widened. "You're not actually considering that, are you?"

Christina leaned forward. "I don't really have a choice. Ferrier is too old; they won't clear him for space flight. You're too young, and not officially a doctor yet. I'm the only other person alive with practical experience."

"Surely someone on the surface knows how to run that thing. I mean, they designed it."

"Yes, but they've never used it on a subject with the disease before. And they'd have to go through months of training to be allowed on the shuttle." She closed her eyes. "By the time that happened, hundreds of Marines would be dead. No, Adam, it has to be me."

Adam took a slow, careful drink of his coffee. "What's wrong with your arm?"

"Huh?"

"Your arm; you keep touching it. Are you feeling all right?"

Christina glanced away, toward the long counter running through the center of the room. "Yeah, it's just a bit sore. It's nothing. I must have slept on it wrong."

Adam tipped his head to the side. "You sure?"

"Of course." Christina stood up. "I hate to run, but I have some paperwork to get done if I'm going to apply for this transfer. I just wanted to tell you, you know, in person." She smiled down at him. "I'll still be around for a few weeks, but I thought you should be the first to know."

Adam felt a flush rising in his cheeks, and he looked at the table. "Thanks."

"No problem. I'll see you tomorrow, okay? Bright and early."

"Bright and early." He watched her as she walked away. It could have been the lighting, but he though he saw a dark red splotch on the back of her neck.

####

He spent the night studying. He'd put his books away when he'd come to the station, thinking he wouldn't need them anymore, but Ferrier's threat of one strike couldn't be taken lightly. The information on the page glared up at him, thick and foreboding, but he tackled it the same way he had as an excited first-year at the University. He was going to learn, and he wasn't going to make another mistake. Not ever. Ferrier could hate young doctors all he wanted, but Adam knew he couldn't be sent away as long as he didn't mess up again.

As long as he was perfect, his career wasn't in jeopardy.

He passed out that night, with the lights still on, his face on the open page of a textbook. He dreamed about the Marine in the emergency room, the one who'd died. The Marine tore Christina's helmet off and threw it across the room, laughing as the disease pored out of him and into her mouth while she screamed; it looked like black smoke. Then some unseen airlock vented, and they were all sucked into space. He woke up, covered in sweat, the textbook page a wrinkled mess beneath his cheek.

When he finally got back to sleep, it was undisturbed.

####

Ferrier called him before his alarm went off. "Get down here. Now." The line went dead.

Adam pulled his uniform on and ran for the emergency room, his mind reeling. Something was wrong. All he could think of was the blotch on Christina's neck, and the way she kept rubbing her arm like it was sore. He broke into the contamination room, threw his med suit on, and stormed into the ER.

She lay on a lift-cart, already pulled into position and hooked in the claw. Ferrier stood over her, wiping blood from her neck and arms with a cloth; he clutched a handful of bandages. A few were already plastered to Christina's skin, which had taken on a pallid hue. Adam swallowed hard and walked over.

Ferrier looked up. "She's got it, boy. Called me this morning and could hardly talk. I don't know how she got it, but she did."

Adam felt as if the deck was reeling beneath his feet. "The Marine. He ripped her suit. I wasn't sure at the time, but that must have been it."

"And you didn't say anything?"

"I didn't know. I...I hoped it wasn't true. I didn't want it to be."

Ferrier lay a hand on Adam's shoulder, and Adam flinched. But the doctor's touch was reassuring, not violent. "Don't worry. We can still save her. Thank God we can still save her."

Adam felt himself nodding, but could hardly concentrate on the movement as he stared at Christina's still form. "I know. Let's do it."

They finished with the bandages quickly, working together. The sores had spread to Christina's upper body--mainly her neck and scalp. They also covered her arms, where she'd probably touched the other infected skin in the day the disease had spread through her body. The look of her made Adam's stomach churn more than ever, and he cursed himself for the scars he knew she'd have. If only he'd said something.

Adam inserted the needles while Ferrier powered up the transfusion machine. He flinched when the metal punctured the skin, but shoved both needles all the way home. He would take no chances, not with Christina. He turned and nodded to Ferrier when he had them in place, and the older man handed him the needle for the blood bag.

"Ready, boy?"

"Yeah." His voice cracked, but he didn't care.

"All right." Ferrier reached up, his expression a grim mask behind the faceplate, and punched the yellow buttons over his head. "Now!"

Adam raised the needle, but could tell something was wrong. Ice tore through his gut like a whirlwind. The protection door was still closed. He looked up frantically at Ferrier, eyes wild.

Ferrier cursed, shoved his own needle home, and hit the buttons repeatedly. Nothing. He smashed them so hard Adam thought they would break, but nothing happened. The machine hummed along, quiet, waiting.

Adam slapped the side of the shaft, willing the door to open. "It's stuck, Doc. It's stuck." He turned and looked back at Christina. If anything, she looked even paler than before. Blood oozed from under the bandages and ran down her face.

"Give me that!" Ferrier snatched the needle from Adam's hand. He jammed it down into the shaft, twisting, trying to pry the door open. Metal scraped on metal with a high-pitched screech, and Ferrier swore again. He thrust the needle back into Adam's hand and ran to the machine's central unit. "Check the wires! Are they all connected?"

Adam grabbed the bag full of blood--healthy, perfect blood--and pushed it to the side. A tangle of wires ran out from the bottom of the shaft and disappeared into the metal arm that held the unit in place. "There are too many! I can't tell where they're supposed to go!"

"It worked two days ago, so just check the posts. There should be ten, all with wires attached. See if any have come undone."

"Okay, got it." Adam counted once, lost track, and counted again. Ten. All with wires. He looked up, feeling his heart thudding against the inside of his chest. "It looks fine!"

Ferrier scowled. "Then it should work." He punched the yellow buttons again, with no result. "We need a technician, and we need one now."

Adam stood up and stepped to Christina's side. She was shaking, and her flesh looked like wax paper. A line of spit ran down from the corner of her mouth. "There's not time. She dying." His eyes burned.

"I know." Ferrier's voice was quiet.

"So do something! If you're such a damned good doctor, save her!" Adam spun around, and froze.

Ferrier had taken off his mask and gloves, and rolled his right sleeve up to the elbow. He held the needle against his forearm, pressing a dimple into his flesh. He looked at Adam with something between sorrow and resignation, his features flat.

Adam raised a hand; it shook in front of his face. "What are you doing?"

"The only thing I can, Adam." Ferrier smiled, faintly. "She needs blood, or she'll die. I have blood."

"No." Adam shook his head. "You can't. There's no way to get more blood into your body."

Ferrier nodded. "I'll die. I know."

"Then why...?"

"They need her; she is the only one who can run the transfusion machine on the next shuttle. You'll have time to fix it before then, but if she's dead it won't do any good. If I die...well, let's just say I have been waiting to see my wife for a long time."

"There has to be another way." Even as he said it, Adam felt his arm drop to his side. Christina's breaths came far apart, and so shallow he could hardly see them.

"There isn't, not in time." Ferrier met his eyes. "Look, take good care of her. Get her on that ship. The Mars expeditions have to continue; Earth can't hold us all anymore. I am trusting you with her fate."

Adam blinked, and his vision blurred. "I will. I promise."

"Good, boy. Very good." Ferrier raised the needle, closed his eyes, and shoved it into his forearm. The machine kicked in behind him, and Ferrier cried out. He raised his arm, clawing at the skin. His flesh sunk in around the needle as blood was sucked into the tubes and pumped toward Christina's waiting body. He fell back, then jerked his opposite hand around under him and pinned it there. He arched his back in pain; Christina moaned and drew in a ragged breath. Adam held her hand, and couldn't watch.

James Patrick Ferrier never opened his eyes again.

THE END


© 2008 Jonathan J. Schlosser

Bio: Jonathan J. Schlosser has been writing horror, fantasy, and science fiction for the past year, in which time he has published 26 stories. He is currently working on two novels and is putting together an anthology called Candlelight. He lives in Grand Rapids (Michigan, U.S.A.). For more information and access to his stories and novels, visit his website at Jonathan J. Schlosser (The Official Website).

E-mail: Jonathan J. Schlosser

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