"Sir, phage signature detected on transport 2234 RRS," said the petty officer manning sensors.
"Shoot it down," ordered Captain Howell with a sigh.
"Sir?" asked sensors. "There's three thousand people aboard."
"Shoot it down, no crippling it, no driving it back to Earth," Howell said, his voice thick. "Blast it to atoms. That's an order."
Everyone on the bridge winced as the main deck guns vibrated the battleship. Brilliant energy bursts lit the bridge. Then, just above the blue horizon of Earth, there was a flash. That was all. Three thousand more humans dead.
Captain Howell wanted a drink. He didn't dare, even though his weapon's officer now had his head down on the gunner console. He understood how everyone felt. Today they weren't heroes from Mars, evacuating the last survivors of the Phage-ravaged Earth. Today they were butchers. No phage were allowed off planet. Not a one. Not a single spec of Phage DNA.
The Captain thought he and his crew all understood the stakes. If the phage made it to Mars, mankind's last home, then that would be it for humanity. They could show no quarter on this mission. Watching his sensors officer zoom in on the smoking wreckage of the heavy transport as it burned up in the upper atmosphere though, his stomach twisted at what they'd done. And would have to keep doing until command rotated them off Earth blockage duty.
"Sergeant McKennis," the Captain said to the marine at the door. "Please relieve petty officer Jen of his sidearm before he shoots himself with it."
"I'm ok sir," came the response.
"You don't look it Jen," Howell said, sitting down in his command chair.
"No offense, but the same can be said about you sir."
On a normal day, that would have been court-martial worthy in Howell's book. Now, he just brought up a news feed into his vision from Mars.
"I give the orders to shoot Jen," Howell said, scanning for updates on the refugee crisis at home. Praying for no more phage infection scares. "It's my will that kills those people. You're just the tool which presses the button for me. Think of it that way and you'll get through this."
Sensors operator Amelia stood up suddenly. As she did, so too did Howell's systems operator, engineering officer, and so on. He closed the news feed to stare at the bridge crew all standing up and looking at him. "What?" he demanded.
Amelia stepped forward. "We're all guilty sir. Don't think you can take it all on yourself or spare us our bloody hands."
"You're all too damned good for this crap post," Captain Howell said. Then he pulled out his flask and held it up to them. "For Mars then."
"For Mars!" his crew saluted. Howell took a shot from the flask and put it back.
"Now back to your posts!" he ordered. "No phage will get by us today!"