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.