“It’s always ‘just once more’ with you! Not this time! We’re leaving now!”
Though McDonnell had always been athletic and wiry, her husband Korwin was simply stronger than her, and, taking advantage of this, he grabbed her around the waist and bodily dragged her from the cargo ship’s controls as she flailed ineffectively against him. Dumping her in the corner, he turned back and started spooling up the engines to leave orbit.
She didn’t stay down for long, jumping up and dashing back to him to try to pull him away. “We need this fuel and we need it now! We won’t make it home otherwise!”
He didn’t even bother to look at her, keeping his eyes on the instrument readouts. “We have just enough to get to Barvent, and even if we’re short, we’ve enough liquid larmentine for the auxes to make that last bit. This has got to stop!”
“We don’t have any other choice. What do we do once we get to Barvent?” She saw him twitch, trying not to rise to her bait. They’d had this argument many times before, and he knew all the reasons why they continued to run the ship as they did. “Larmentine costs too much and we can’t carry enough to go anywhere. We’ll be dead in the void.”
Taking a deep breath to steel himself, he turned to her and replied in a calm voice, “We do what we should have done two years ago: discard the scoops and the fusion engines, and refit the auxes to mains.”
“We can’t afford that!” she spat back.
He wasn’t fazed. “You know we can. We’ve had enough credits for it for a while now. This is just cheaper and easier. Just like the way you run this ship.” He reached over and thumbed the collar of her thick jacket. “You can’t even spend a mote of fuel to heat this tub. Always icy, and everyone bundles up like it’s Wintersday. Cheap and easy is just your way.”
Ignoring the thinly-veiled insult, McDonnell whirled away and paced across the room. “It is not. This is the only way we can keep this business up. Have you thought this through at all?” She spun back to him. “The larmentine’s going to obliterate our profit. Do you really think that the crew is going to stand for earning millicreds?”
“Do you think they prefer hiding in their cabins every time a police cruiser passes through the same system? Have you seen the way Riley cringes every time he touches the accelerator?” Korwin strode across the room and grabbed her by the shoulders, to force her to look at him. “Fusion scooping is illegal! We need to get rid of ours, and now!”
She jerked herself out of his grasp and turned toward the small porthole to gaze at the star far below, its roiling orange surface clear despite the UV and light shields over the glass.“Why? Why does it have to be illegal? What harm is it to take a bit of it? We’d use not even a trillionth of the fuel that sun out there has. It’s got power to spare.”
Korwin came up to look out at it with her. “Don’t look at me. That’s science stuff. All I know is that it is. We’ve got to stop. We’re risking all of us every time we do this.”
McDonnell set her fists on her his and sighed. “All right! All right! Look, once more to get us all home. Not just to Barvent. Then we take some shore leave to refit the ship.” Glancing up at him, she could tell that he doubted her sincerity, believing that she’d conveniently forget the plan once they got home. She took his hand and squeezed it. “I promise. Compromise?”
He searched her eyes before replying, “Yeah. Okay.”
Biting her lip, she glanced down at her boots. “You keep me honest. Keep my ship safe.” A self-mocking smile lit her eyes. “Well, you try, at least, when you can get through my stubborn pig-head.” She punched him lightly on the chest.
“It’s our ship, love. We do it together.” Korwin pulled her into a brief hug and pecked the top of her head.
Stepping back, McDonnell straightened her jacket. “Okay. Let’s get this done.” Turning to the console, she set the engines back to orbit-idle, then moved to the fuel controls. “Powering up the scoop.”
“I’ll start the scan.”
Korwin turned to the science station but stopped as his wife interrupted him. “No. That’ll take hours. We don’t have the time, sitting here exposed. Just a quick grab and we’ll be off.”
He hesitated a moment, ready to launch into another argument, then relented and started for the door. “All right. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll just hop down to help Ashton prep the engines for the last leg.” Stopping at the threshold, he pounded the jamb twice and spun back to McDonnell. “While the ship’s in for refit, I’m taking you to that resort at Entellit. Lots of sunshine. No more cold space. Got it?”
She grinned at him. “Yeah. Korwin?”
“I love you.”
With a tender smile, he nodded and disappeared into the corridor.