“It's an EVA,” Clod complained, “and I have twice as much training at them as you do.”
“I'm more than qualified,” Paul shot back. “And... I need to do this myself. I'm responsible for Martin and Alisa.”
“You're not,” she said reflexively.
“I don't believe you believe that,” Paul said. “And even if you did, it certainly wouldn't be enough to convince me. Let me do this. It's an EVA, not rocket science- which I largely defer to you- or brain surgery, which you largely defer to me. Any one of us could do the EVA. But I want to. Need to, even, for my own sanity- which has not been quite as hardy as I would have originally thought.”
She sighed. “Okay.”
She suited up, and helped him carry Martin and Alisa into the air lock. Then she sealed him on the other side of it.
Paul braced himself against the side of the Perseus. “You're sure about the orbit?” he asked over the comms.
“Dude,” Levy said. “I'm pretty sure I believe in ghosts and being haunted- plus I'm easily the most neurotic person on this ship. I quintiple checked my figures. They'll get their orbital Viking funeral. Just push towards the planet. Plus, we're in a mostly stable orbit ourselves; I doubt you could shove hard enough to reach escape velocity from here.”
Paul gently pushed Martin away from the ship. He started to list away. Paul's heart started to beat faster, and he worried that the corpse was going to keep floating away from the planet's surface. He contemplated chasing it with his thrusters.
“That's fine,” Levy said, tracing his fingers across a tablet. “I just modeled the trajectory. Perfect, even.” Paul tried to recreate the arc with Alisa's body. To the naked eye they looked like they'd pass right by the planet, but staring at them Paul could tell there was a slight angle to their trajectory.
They watched the bodies in silence for a moment.
Paul felt he had to say something, so he keyed his comms and took a breath. “They were our friends, and our colleagues, and we'll miss them, and know that the universe is poorer for their loss.” He lingered outside the door, and watched as they drifted further from the ship.
Clod wanted to go out and get him, but remembered enough about being a lifeguard as a teenager that she talked herself out of it- and hoped she could likewise talk Paul down. “I know that look,” Clod said over the comms. “I've seen it in combat. When a soldier's seen too much. And they lose their will to keep fighting. I've heard that people on carriers just walk off the edge, but on land, it's just in the eyes. They switch off. And it's never long before they catch a bullet, or step on a mine.”
“But this isn't the same, Paul. The world isn't any worse a place than it was when we started this journey. Sometimes that means innocent, wonderful people die needlessly. But they wouldn't want you to heap another tragedy on the pile.”
He sighed. “It just... it seems right, doesn't it? Me going with them... it would be fitting. And a better end than I deserve.”
“At some point did you knowingly have unprotected sex with a werewolf?”
“Not knowingly,” he said with half a grin.
“Weird time for humor, but that's my point. You didn't have real reason to think you were putting us at risk. Hell, when you found out about it, you cut out your wrists to try and protect us- wrote a warning on the wall in your own blood.”
“Seemed melodramatic to me,” Levy said with a smile.
“We're out here, exploring the unknown. And oddly enough, a big chunk of the unknown tracked us down from our own back yard. But it's more than a stretch to say you're responsible. Alisa's dead, and Martin, too. But they died being astronauts- scaling a mountain people have said for centuries and maybe millenia was unscalable. And I would bet you the nastiest sex act imaginable that even if you'd told them they weren't going to make it back home, they would have still got on that rocket. I know I would have. We're all crazy people- endangering the hell out of ourselves for a thrill that I can hardly even begin to understand in myself, let alone articulate in any intelligible way.”
“And you're missing the bigger issue. We shouldn't have to make that return trip alone. What if I have a medical emergency? What if Rica does, and it's something I can't quite handle? I get that this angsty guilt is a big part of who you are. But this isn't about you.”
“I know,” he said. “But I wanted to give you the option.”
“To send you through the Martian atmosphere to burn up?”
“I'm pretty sure I've got this wolf thing under control. But what if the myths aren't total bunk. What if the closer we get to the Lunar Station, the batshit crazier I get, until I can't control it? The hormonal explanation's a great hypothesis- but it's certainly not the only possibility, and definitely not proven. ”
“But that's an if,” Clod said. “And if that happens, and if you run through our tranqs and we still can't pacify you, I will shoot you myself with the Bradbury.”
“Okay,” Paul said, “you can stop trying to sell me on living. Really, you had me at 'nastiest sex act.'”
“Me, too,” Levy said.
“Ugh,” Clod said. “I changed my mind. Both of you should burn up in the atmosphere. Preferably before you ask the question that is now almost certainly on your feeble minds.”
“Actually,” Rica said, “the look on your face when you said nastiest- I think you had something very specific in your head. And even I want to know... for purely scientific reasons, obviously.”
“Seriously, at what point did the Perseus become a frat house?” Clod muttered.
“I think,” Rica said, “we're just happy to have the distraction.” Clod saw that she was staring out at the sun rising along the edge of Mars, casting the bodies of their crewmates in sharp relief.
Clod sighed. “If I tell you, can you promise not to perv too much?”
“Nope,” said Levy.
“At least he's honest,” Paul said over the comms. “My inclination was to lie.”
“Screw you guys, then,” Clod said.
Paul opened the airlock and stepped inside. Then he sealed the outer airlock, and opened the interior one. Clod helped him take his helmet off.
“In their defense, I was halfway through composing an elaborate bending of the truth myself. If only I could lie faster...” but Rica's amusement melted away. She looked to Levy, who purposefully avoided her gaze. “It's time, Levy. You need to tell them,” she said. He tried giving her his saddest puppy dog look. “Or I will.”