Laughter
By Queenie Z

A seedy motel on the outskirts of Mars Capita was the last place Isaac ever expected to find himself "living" in - and yet, here he was, a fugitive on the run, groaning as the Martian sunrise hit his face. He shifted in the creaky twin-sized bed, irritated that his long-awaited good night's rest had been so rudely interrupted. Apparently, he thought, even the goddamn sun didn't want anything pleasant to happen to him.

Story of my life. He opened his eyes, grimaced, then pulled himself out of bed, his back aching and his limbs still sore from his run on the Sprawl. Then, with a long, pitiful sigh, he stood. If he wasn't going to get to sleep in, he figured, then at least he should go wash his face in some nasty, foul-smelling Martian tap water.

Isaac didn't notice it when he first walked up to the mirror over the sink - only after he had vigorously rubbed the sleep from his eyes did he see a giant penis drawn on his forehead in permanent marker.

"The hell...?" He scowled before trying to rub the crude graffiti off with his bare hand. Only one person could have done this, he thought.

"Rise and shine, Isaac! I brought breakfast - "

The moment Ellie announced her arrival, the cranky engineer turned to her, giving her a look that would make most others cower. But not Ellie - she simply dropped her bag of groceries on the floor and began to laugh hysterically.

"Ellie," he said sternly, pointing to the drawing on his forehead, "what the hell is this?"

The hysterical pilot eventually calmed herself down, somewhat. "Well, Isaac," she said between bouts of giggles, "it looks like a penis. You know, the dangly bit you keep in your pants."

"I know that! Christ, is this your idea of a joke!"

"Actually, it is." Ellie walked forward, placing a firm finger on Isaac's forehead. "And you were supposed to laugh."

He scoffed. "Sorry, but I don't really feel like laughing. Almost dying about a million times kind of does that."

"And that's exactly why you need to laugh!"

Isaac's scowl immediately gave way to a look of dumb surprise. ...Was this Ellie's way of trying to make him feel better?

"It's over, Isaac. We can't go around being tense and scared forever." Ellie grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him around. "Now I want you to go look in the mirror again and laugh. Go on."

Feeling a little guilty for exploding at her, Isaac did as he was told. He looked at the drawing in the mirror again. He had to admit... it was kind of funny. He chuckled. Then, when he heard his friend's laughter start up again, he couldn't help but laugh even harder, until the two were nearly in tears.

That was when Isaac realized that this was the first time in three years that he'd ever laughed. Now he couldn't tell whether the water forming in his eyes was from his laughter or his relief.

He flopped back down on the bed, coming off of his high. Ellie grinned and crossed her arms.

"There, now doesn't that feel better?"

"...Yeah." He looked up at the ceiling, dazed, yet genuinely happy. "Yeah, it does." He turned his head towards the window - now, all of the sudden, the Martian sunrise seemed friendly and warm, like an old friend coming to visit.