Author: Brian C. Mahon

It takes Zax only one external sponson rotation after crawling out the sleep sack to yell, “Du’! This is complete crap!” Jackass throws a wrench at Viewscreen One, which, lucky us, I put a shield over.

“’Ey man, cut the gorbaj! We use that! I get it, dig? But we can’t cut orbit ‘til we got enough coin, and we can’t get enough coin ‘til we been here long enough to earn it.”

Zax turns red, then kinda purple, cheeks turning almost as purple as his hair. He tries to shove a cut-fingered glove in my face. Maybe if auto-grav worked, I’d take him seriously, but it’s hard to take a dang ol’ serious when rotating three-sixty.

“No! That’s not the problem! We’re stuck with this cut-rate planet’s bull eccentricity so’s we can’t work planet-side but half the time! We gotta wait out in this floating hovel ‘til the company slings us back on intercept, and while we waitin’, Novabus rate hikes coverage so we gotta stay out here even longer!”

I shrug. Novabus Insurance did hit all us exo-miners with a three percent increase. He ain’t wrong either about waiting. JupiCorp never sends pushers out on time, and we always at the pusher’s mercy to catch “Herbie” (HR 5183s if so inclined) on its return path to the survivable zone.

“I donno what to tell ya. Remember Hansen Jo Hanson? Man didn’t pay his insurance. Man didn’t pay to maintain his boosters, never upgraded control instruments when Skyward Tech pushed new software, never did a dang ol’ that cost him more ‘an he saw fit. Then what happened?” I push my bandana up so he can catch me staring.

“Well, yeah, things went bad for him.”

“Bad? C’mon Zax! Mans blew up! Booster flamed up his b-hole an’ sent him cartwheelin’ off the ionosphere! Bet Novabus heard all about that! Bet that’s why all us got tagged! You remember if Nova paid for it?”

“Naw an’ hell naw! Nova didn’t pay a dim!”

“That’s ‘cause he din’t get upgrades! That’s the model there, Z,” I says, tapping the side of my dome. “Insurance knows. Planned colony builders pay Jupi and the rest o’ the excavators for material close to the world sites, Jupi pushes money to Skyward and other manufactorums, businesses follow colonist money, and Novabus and their ilk keep an eye on ‘em all to figure who to leech money from ‘for safety’. ‘Oh, no update? Check page seven eighty-two of your re-entry supplement. See? That’s a hard no on payout.’ I mean, we just pit stops for the money train. Earnin’s never stay in hand long enough to look at, and we get just enough overhead to keep from gettin’ too ornery.”

“Yeah! Exactly! Meanwhile we gotta stay on scrap planets like Herbie just to get enough to get out!”

“Meantime, we make more money for Jupi, to give to Skyward, to give to Nova.”

Zax rolls his eyes. “Its such phage work.”

Knowing he’ll chew on this until he’s asleep again, I pull the bandana over my eyes. Can’t and won’t disagree with him. Life hanging out in a half-broke twenty-foot tube waiting on someone paid less than us isn’t exactly my childhood dream.

Viewscreen Two shows anti-grav’s on its fifth reboot, and Zax’s looks like he’s working the pre-start sequence to sobbing over the situation again. He’ll figure it out. Took me a couple orbits, but I learned, sometimes it’s just better to float on by. Soon as I hear the sniffle, I mutter, “’ey man. Welcome to the circle of life.”