Saul had noticed the first signs early. He had been careful about his nutrients for a long time, but for the last few months he just hadn’t cared to keep track. The company charged for paper and pens (pencils were outlawed for obvious reasons), and the company nutrition app made you pay to keep a subscription open. He thought it would be fine to just count the months between vitamins. Saul had gotten behind though. Now there was a tooth lying in his wash basin and his razor burns were bleeding.

When his forklift had been destroyed he had been saving to buy a pillow at the company store. The insurance, that he was required to purchase only from the company, had not covered acts of god which was what they determined an asteroid strike counted as. Saul had made an official request to have the case reviewed by a human representative but was still queued in the mid-hundred-thousands. He had submitted several verified data sets about how the asteroid storm was predicted accurately and had arrived on schedule. They were deemed unreputable sources. The security video he had acquired showing how his shift leader ordered Saul to continue operations after three formal protests was also deemed inadmissible. Jace, his shift leader, was also his insurance agent and the one required to post any relevant astrological dangers. By protesting the claim’s denial, Saul had spent the last few credits he had saved for vitamins. Now he was only eating the roach loaves you were allotted before each shift.

If it weren’t for the hand-me-down spacesuit, Saul might be out of a job altogether. The new mining robots did not require oxygen (purchasable with credits at the company store at a great discount for employees), water (one quart provided for free, additional quarts available for purchase with scrip at the company store), or vitamin C (available in thirty forms and fun colors at the company store while supplies last). Machines did not need sleep or require regular breaks. The only reason he was cheaper was the fact that any moon dust in his crack didn’t make him break down suddenly. The trade zines said that new gaskets would fix that issue soon.

The man dressed. He only had the one jumpsuit for work and the one for sleeping. Both were sweat-stained and turned from white to yellow. The one for sleeping was at least dry. He couldn’t afford house slippers but his sole pair of work socks with the holes around the heel got the job done. The holes gave him something to push off of at least. The smooth polished metal floors offered no traction for employees to walk on. Management was issued socks with grippy rubber on the underside.

Saul made his way through the station slowly. The gravity was less than home but higher than a shuttle. Stepping too fast or hard could send you flying or falling easily. After several years, he had developed his “space legs” which is to say something between a high-stepping walk and crawling along the walls with his arms. In the brief glimpses of the outside, he could see the spindly arms of the station. Like a great gray insect climbing over the surface of the asteroid trying to blend in with its surroundings. Towers, orbs, and domes scattered over the mining crater. When this deposit dried up, the whole complex would walk to the next crater.

He didn’t see anyone as he half-walked and half-climbed through the station. It was between shifts. Employees were encouraged to keep the halls clear unless absolutely necessary. There were possible bonuses offered for being as productive as possible and that included using your downtime to sleep or complete company schooling. As Saul only got four hours off between ten-hour shifts, he usually slept. He knew that the only way to move up was to complete micro-credentials that you could purchase from the company store. Not that he knew anyone directly who had ever gained a promotion from doing this. It was what the advertisements said was the only way to move up in the company. They were plastered over every surface that could not be televised which also showed constant commercials for other services, products, and “opportunities” available to miners at the company store.

The only upgrade he had ever purchased was his private room. It was a subscription service that let him close his own door and control the lights. Atmosphere privileges, furniture, and bathroom facilities were an additional fee. He thought about how he could have afforded a vitamin if he hadn’t wasted so much on the private room. He had gotten the smallest one he could. Only about four feet long and three feet tall. It wasn’t even the coffin rooms they showed in the ads. This room was large enough that he could close his hatch and sleep at an angle half sitting. His work clothes made an okay pillow and blanket. He had got the room because he planned on moving up to management. The bunkrooms never turned off the lights to save time between shifts. Then there was the screaming. Other miners would wail in their sleep. Especially the ones nearing retirement. Their bodies twisted in pain from the punishment of opportunity.

Saul had been told this was his best chance of getting out of the ghetto. He thought back to life planetside. Sure, the gravity was nice, and the regular food, and the a full-size bed, but he would never make anything of himself there. He watched his parents grow old and die at jobs they hated. Jobs they chose to work at instead of talking to him or seeing him. He had taken a job as soon as he could just to get out of the pod. Now he was questioning if he would ever afford to have children of his own. It was cheaper to volunteer at the nursery instead of having his own. He could just use an hour or two of his downtime to go see other peoples’ kids. When he got caught up of course. He was just a few credits short of trying for the shift leader micro-credential. Then he could start getting a one-eight raise in company scrip an hour. Then, he could save up one and one-quarter extra scrip per shift! He would be on his way to the good life in no time.

At the company store, Saul stared at an orange in the vending machine. It was bruised and a light green fuzz had started to grow on the rind. It was only eight scrips. It was on sale from ten since it was starting to rot. He moved down to the vitamin section. They were much cheaper. Just five scrips for one pill or three for fourteen. He had two left to his name. There was a baggy of freeze-dried orange slices for two. He plugged his last two slips of scrip into the machine. The robotic arm shot to life. It whizzed around its glass enclosure on rails. The metal fingers grabbed the package, zoomed around to the deposit box, and dropped it just to the side of the box. The slices of freeze-dried orange slices were trapped between the glass window and the deposit box.

Saul slammed his head against the glass. An alarm sounded. “Violence is forbidden under the employee manual. Section…” Saul was able to recite the passage without looking it up. He knew what the manual said. Expressing anger toward company equipment was treated the same as assaulting a member of the company. He was given only a warning. He would be deducted a small amount of scrip for the next shift. Only two hours of his life to make up for punching the vending machine wall.

He fell to his knees. He tried to reach inside the machine for the plastic package. The shape of the slot and box was made to be just too wrong for his arm to fit inside. Small spikes cut into his sleeves as he tried to force his hand at the angle needed to get the nutrients he needed to stop his teeth from falling out. Clumps of hair fell away with his effort. The robotic hand flew down to the deposit flap and began snapping at his hand. Blood sprayed the glass inside the vending machine wall. He took his hand out and held it.

A booming voice said, “Vandalism is against company policy. Stealing is against company policy.”

“It’s mine! I paid for it. Your stupid machine dropped it inside. I only want what’s mine. What I worked for!”

The robotic hand flipped him off from inside the vending machine.

The voice said, “Complaints must be made in person at the company offices on Mars. Tickets for passage can be bought at the employee travel kiosk for fifty scrips. Thank you.”

The robotic vending machine hand that was too faulty to drop the plastic package into the deposit box easily grabbed the discarded dried orange slices and placed them back where they had been in the machine. Then it cleaned the blood off the glass with a tiny spray nozzle and cloth wipe attachment.

The voice said, “Blood detected. Contaminants are employee responsibility. Your account will be charged ten scrips for proper disposal.”

Saul watched his wallet balance fall to negative ten. Then a charge for a low balance of thirty scrips was added on. Then a convenience charge for “overdraw protection” added another ten scrips. He was fifty scrips in the red now for his two-scrip snack. The man collapsed against the glass wall.

“Employees are encouraged to take purchases back to their designated resting locations. The company store is not a proper resting location. A charge will be made to your account for loitering if you do not move now.”

Defeated, Saul began to leave. His thoughts were blank. So many competing feelings of pain, betrayal, anger, and loss should have moved him to tears. He should have been going feral. Attacking everything and everyone between him and the CEO. Burning the company to the ground would have been too good for the intent his heart was growing. But he just turned to leave the vending machine room. An empty space where his feelings should have been.


Looking back, Saul saw the package of freeze dried orange slices sitting in the deposit box. A human arm was swatting away the robotic hand from behind the glass. They were bruised and bleeding from where the hand had attacked them. Saul was filled with a warmth in his chest that blotted out the darkness he had been cultivating. Without a word, he rushed to the package and scooped it up. The robotic hand tried to take them back but he was too quick.

In his room that night, Saul sucked on the orange slices. He was too afraid to try chewing them. The sugar stung his cavities if he was not careful. The ceiling above him flashed his negative balance statement. Saul did not care. In this moment he was content to enjoy the only human kindness he had been given in months. He savored it one slice at a time.

Daniel J. Pool is a librarian, film maker, and writer from the Southern Midwest. Their work has appeared in Farther Stars Than These, The Fringe Magazine, and Tavern Tall Tales. Co-creator of the Double Issue Podcast.