Today's Reading

On the rare occasions Rosalyn picked up, she'd just say, "Soon" and "I miss you" and "No, don't tell Dad I say hi." 'Because I don't.'

Her ankle bumped something hard floating in the water. The extreme heat and time had all but liquefied the victims, but this thing bobbing in the muck was noticeably intact. Rosalyn squinted down at the small, blue tube in the pool of grayish red and crouched, fishing it out and wiping away the staining fluids.

There was a painful flash in her brain, a feeling like the sun searing across her eyes, and an even worse nagging sense that she knew what she was looking at. Sure, the small canister resembled any number of lab substances she had worked with in her previous life, but this bothered her. Her memory had gotten worse, alarmingly worse, since the drinking started. 'Maybe that was the point', she had thought in the midst of yet another hangover at Merchantia HQ.

Rosalyn stood and studied the tube, then reluctantly raked her eyes across the covered floor of the cargo hold. Together, she and Owen had put together an audio report of everything they found aboard the science vessel, a record that would later be used for company purposes and the inevitable charges against the rogue captain. The forensics team had already been through, though their stay was brief; this would all be settled out of court, the families hushed up with fuck-you money from Merchantia. Outer space lab work was, naturally, dangerous, and the NDAs they had signed were biblical in length. The murders wouldn't make a blip in the Tokyo Bliss Station or Earth headlines. A small article would be put out in the company newsletter. Just an outlying incident. Nothing to panic over.

During the walk-through, she and Owen had noted that the killer had emptied the cargo hold completely, dragging out the storage and supply crates and piling them in the hall, then sealing his poor murdered crewmates inside. The spare crates had been used to barricade the door, which was nonsense, since the magnetic seal was more than capable of keeping lifeless bodies inside.

She thought again of those heaped boxes. The captain had been alone on the ship with his deeds until the ship neared Tokyo Bliss Station and he could safely jettison in an emergency pod. What must he have felt, left in the cold, dark silence, with nothing but his dead crew and his crimes for company? Even the onboard AI Servitor, a kind of helper robot, had been deactivated and tossed into the hold, as if even lifeless, mechanical eyes were too cruelly accusing.

The boxes. Why push them up against the doors that way? The crew were all certainly dead, but maybe, Rosalyn thought, just maybe, the captain was still afraid and wanted to make sure whatever was in the cargo lock didn't get out. Perhaps he hadn't barricaded them in out of guilt, but 'fear'.

The memory nagging at her before arrived, blistering in its clarity—she was back on Earth, in Montreal, at the lab with Angela while she introduced Rosalyn to all the newest xenosamples they were working with. Angela, direct and precise as usual, held up tube after tube, explaining to Rosalyn just what the substances inside might do for their project.

There was a little crayon smudge on Angela's white sleeve, the only hint of sloppiness on an otherwise immaculate person. She had kids, five, but she was always on time, always staying late. Once or twice, Rosalyn caught her on the VIT during lunch, giving her kids long- distance story time. 'Busy the bee goes, "Buzz, buzz, buzz!" Dizzy the dog goes, "Woof, woof, woof!"...'

"This is from Callisto," she remembered Angela saying, a blue- tinted, clean tube pinched between gloved thumb and forefinger. "And frankly, I have no idea what it does. Not for long, though. We'll get on it tomorrow. Just...be so, so careful, Roz, like I said: We really don't know what any of this is yet."

Rosalyn heard Owen's vacuum start up again, and it startled her.

She dropped the tube, watching it sink slowly into the human muck at her feet. It couldn't be the same kind of sample cylinder, and those were all so similar looking anyway. Montreal was at least five hundred 'million' miles away. And then "Sexy Sadie" twanged through the hold again. It rang longer this time, and she heard more of the words. 'Kind of an odd choice for a wife's ringtone', she thought. Now Rosalyn saw a sheen of sweat on Owen's face as he raced to answer the call. He hurled her an apologetic look, but Rosalyn suddenly felt only sympathy.

Owen's ringtone was stuck in her head. She could recall the lyrics perfectly after so many hours on the job with him. She didn't remember the song being so condescending to the woman; maybe the Late Nodes' grittier take on the words brought out the darker vibe.

Rosalyn looked at where the tube had disappeared. A little cylinder of secrets. She glanced back at Owen then, wondering just what his strange secret might be. He seemed so happy, so bubbly, but weren't those smile lines carved awfully deep? Why did his face look taut now, as if he might at any moment break into tears? The raw truth of a human body could be hideous, and the mind? Uglier still.

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