The fuel truck technician gave me hell for cutting him short and demanded that I report the change in my lift-off weight, “or else!”

I wasn’t gonna report a damned thing. I had hauling to do, money to make and, if all went well, even more money to make.

I hurried my way through lift-off by telling ground control I was behind schedule, so I could happily announce to orbital control that I was ahead of schedule and put off going to full burn until they weren’t watching anymore. It was a slow ride out of the Terran system, but I didn’t have to waste fuel to dock with the schooner. At that pace, he could just sidle up and lock on.

“You sure as hell take your time,” snapped the skipper as soon as the airlock opened.

“It’s called looking innocent,” I said. “What do you got?”

He slapped a wad of Martian pounds in my palm and whistled back through the airlock. A woman emerged from the other side, her amber hair cropped down to her skull, with a pair of daughters no older than twelve under one arm and a pair of even younger sons under the other. They were scrawny and bag-less. Couldn’t weigh close to a thousand kilograms. The mother smiled at me and I motioned to the ladder next to the airlock. It led to a small compartment where they’d be spending the rest of their journey to Venus.

“Easy enough,” I said.

“Sure thing,” the skipper said with a gap-toothed grin. He stepped back into the airlock and before I could spit, shoved a man twice my size onboard and slammed the hatch.

“You sonofabitch!” I shouted, but he couldn’t hear me. A second later I heard the bolts withdraw and felt the gentle nudge of the schooner shoving off.

“It’s gorgeous,” I heard the man say behind me.

I turned and saw his nose pressed against a window smaller than his face. He weighed more than his whole family, I just knew it, and judging by his arms and awe of the view, I figured him a miner. All that mass and… his huge chest heaved with excitement, taking in gluttonous gulps of air. My air.

“Let me guess, you’ve spent your whole life beneath the Lunar surface,” I said, fishing around in a toolbox.

“You don’t know how lucky you are. To have the stars, I mean. We spent all of our savings to buy passage off the Moon. Starved ourselves so we could make the weight. Is it true that the cities on Venus are in the clouds?”

He turned, blue eyes flashing the color of Earth’s sky. I braced myself against the bulkhead and swung a monkey wrench. It caught him in the temple.

“Sorry, buddy, but your friend lied to you about how much I could take.”

I slammed the hatch over the smuggling compartment closed before the missus and the kiddies could come check on papa. Pushing him into the airlock was no problem in zero gravity. Better to take care of him that way than let the big guy overtake me, I thought. Or worse: get caught. They were weighing everything these days. Under a thousand kilograms discrepancy is easily passed off, and after skimping on the fuel there shouldn’t be a problem. With the miner gone, there wouldn’t be.

But with the light of the schooner’s engines fading, I could see the millions of stars as I watched his body whip out into space. The same million I saw every goddamned day and night. Day and night: words defined by worlds and meaningless in the space between. It was best he didn’t have to see where his family was really going, the people I’d have to sell them to to really make a profit off the trip. It’d be better if he had his stars. I hardly ever saw them anymore.

John Eric Vona is a graduate of Florida State University’s undergraduate creative writing program where he studied with fiction writers like Charles Henley, Mark Winegardner, and Elizabeth Stuckey-French. His work has been featured in Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 365 Tomorrows. He lives in Tampa with his gorgeous wife, Mary.

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Every Day Fiction

  • This has much in common with Tom Godwin’s The Cold Equations and with part of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (Olivia Presteign “…had been transporting refugees for cash, only to murder them all by throwing them out into space”).

  • In these days of mass human trafficking, this is a chilling ‘future-shock’ indeed.

    Great job.

  • Kim


  • I felt the writing was very smooth, and content vivid, but what earned five stars from me was the ending. It all fit very well, and while the attack was a mote unexpected, the ultimate plan was completely unforeseen.

    Good job!

  • A very honest story. Excellent ending.

  • ajcap

    Well. Just punch me in the face and get it over with.

    Spot on voice. I’m going to hate this guy all day, but loved the writing.

    “Day and night: words defined by worlds and meaningless in the space between.” Favourite line.

    It’s a story like this that makes me think about what is going on in the world; more than reading the actual news.

  • Enjoyed! good work!

  • Gritty, realistic, depressing. A sci-fi mirror that echoes our own international human trafficking problems.

    Nicely done Mr. Vona. Four strong stars….

  • Rob

    Well written, but a very sad story.

  • kim

    Well written and tight. I don’t think this comments on human trafficking as much as it spotlights society’s current preoccupation with profit at any cost.

  • Nicely Done! There’s a lot of world building here in very few words. Great Job!

  • Excellent and gripping. Throws light on the world’s long history of using disadvantaged people for one’s own advantage – slavery.

    “I could see the millions of stars as I watched his body whip out into space.”
    “I hardly ever saw them anymore.”
    Are not contradictions. It’s a good use of the variable meaning of the word “see.” (He became too hardened to “see” the stars.)

    I also admire the conjoined “to to” – “the people I’d have to sell them to to really make a profit off the trip.” It’s the way we really speak, the second “to” pronounced a bit differently, shorter. A less confident writer might have formalized it to the “written language.”

    Very impressive writing.

  • fishlovesca

    Good work.

  • Brutal but compelling and believable. A nastily terrific job!

  • Lindsay

    Heartbreaking story, which translates into “very well written.” Pitch perfect.

  • Eli Katz

    Rich detail. In a few sentences and paragraphs, a whole galaxy and its dysfunctions are vividly described. Very efficient writing. Excellent job!

  • vondrakker

    Good One !!!!!
    Good starter hook.
    Good body !!
    Nicely twisted finishing hook.
    Well done John
    Five glorious bright stars………..

  • RSG, you mean something like “the people to whom I’d have to sell them to make a real profit off the trip”?

  • P.M.Lawrence – No, I mean the people who have arranged to have the innocent unsuspecting captured as slaves will profit at the painful expense of the captured slave. I didn’t realize my wording was obscure. I apologize for all obscurity.

  • I meant, is that the sort of thing you had in mind as an example of formalising the written language?

  • Kathryn

    Really had me thinking all the way through and all day too.

  • Lisa Marie

    Great Job Eric! “… Two Men looked out from Iron Bars, One saw the Mud and the Other, the Stars…”

  • I don’t really get SCIFI because so much knowledge is assumed. Although undoubtedly this is a human situation which could take place with regard to illegal immigration in many countries in the world. I think the MC is a bit cruel in chucking the father into space, but I see his point later- it’s either him or them.
    well done.

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