Author: Angela Acosta

Juru steadied the nozzle skyward, working his way up the curvature of the inner dome. It was tricky work sealing in the pleasant mixture of breathable air for the new inhabitants. The locals christened their new home Stoda, short for Standard Dry Air, to remind themselves of the aqueous globe that once housed the entire human species. Colonists had to pay per cubic meter to keep the vacuum and reaper out. They came for the location, an exoplanet in a system desirable for its rich minerals and asteroid mining. As Juru finished up the nitrogen refill, he watched another ship decouple from orbit. The exoplanet had air aplenty, but the moment the ships docked he’d have to funnel all the preexisting O2 into their greedy underbellies.

He admired the view of glimmering star-studded ships far from the ragtag bunch of inflatable tents and haphazard collection of stores and essential services in the new colony. Rappelling down was easier than ascending in the oxygen depleted air as he let the nearly spent nozzles careen around him. The air smelled funny, even to a ship born man. The local vegetation grew languidly, as if tired of the artificial gasses. Juru checked daily to ensure that the percentages were perfect, but autochthonous life could never be fooled.

The next shift, he made quick work of sucking out the allocated atmosphere shipment for another star liner and signed the paperwork. For the next part of his plan, he’d brought along extra tubing to reroute the air back into Stoda while putting the artificially produced air into the rocket. What did it matter, he thought, since the human cargo would be sleeping for most of the voyage anyway? That first job made him fidgety, but he grew bolder and continued giving the ships all the artificial air intended for Stoda once they had sucked her lungs dry. Nobody complained or raised questions. What harm were a few extra pipes? A month later he had his answer. The sunflowers his wife had planted in their small communal plot had grown tall, proudly pointing towards the star around which they orbited. Soon the miners would leave the system and they would have a solitary existence. Juru held a few fallen petals in his hand, content that in their borrowed bodies and rented time, they would not be sold the very atmosphere.