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“Hey Nate,” Marco said from their gunner seat, hands tapping lazily at the trigger of the autocannons. “You heard the news yet?”

 

“You ever heard of the phrase ‘no news is good news,’ Marco? Because I don’t want to hear it.” Nate exclaims as they walked around the pilot seat, checking the internal hull for any issues before walking out of sight.

 

“Spoilsport... “ Marco said quietly, disgruntled. “What about you, Tyler? You heard the news?”

 

“If you mean the never-ending boxing match between Empire and Kingdom, yes, I know Marco,” I said, trying not to roll my eyes. “But you never had any interest in politics in the first place. What changed?”

 

Marco began to explain with an excited but nervous tone “Well, last night, both Kingdom and Empire accused each other of starting the war. Can you believe that?”

 

“Yes. And I can believe the fact that we may die with you not watching our surroundings. Get back to work.” I said, carefully navigating the asteroid field with nothing but small asteroids for days.

 

“Sure Boss.”

 

I looked out into the starless night, feeling extremely perplexed at our situation. For one, the week had been dull. We were hauling asteroids lower than usual and barely able to pay up the loans for the Starmole. At every turn, all we managed to haul back from the asteroid belt was Bastium.

 

It never used to be like this, but that is the life of a miner… And all we can do now is to work harder in the belt.

 

“Hey Nate, can you see if we can go any faster? I want to take us deeper into the belt much quicker,” I said, holding back a deep sigh.

 

“Um… sure Boss, I’d see what I can do,” They said before sounds of running were heard throughout the ship, cursing as they set about their work. A sharp increase in speed was registered on the speedometer as the crude mining ship groaned under stress that it had never been under before.

 

“Perfect!” I shouted down to Nate, impressed at what they did in such a short time. “No problem boss. Just wondering, though, what made you think about going deeper into the field this time? You know it ain’t safe right?” Nate shouts up, his voice shaky.

 

“Nate, we have a loan to pay!” I shouted back, weaving through the dense belt. “Besides, I've got a feeling we’re onto something this time!”

An hour passes and I stare back out the window, keeping my eyes on the slowly diminishing fuel supply. “We can make this… we can make this...” I murmured to myself. More and more scrap floated pass our ship as we proceed onwards into the denser part of the belt. Rumours of pirate activity flood my mind but I knew that it’s unavoidable in the face of debt.

 

“Hey boss, look to your right,” Marco yelled, their voice filled with hope as he guided the turret’s floodlight. “Right there, by that large asteroid."

 

"Looks like… Xhalium…” Nate said while peering out of a window.

 

I turned the ship towards the asteroid and slowed down so we were right above it. "Nate, follow me and prepare to haul the asteroid in. Marco, keep watching in case we get any… unwanted guests."

 

Getting the ship into position was the easy part. With Nate giving me instructions, the asteroid was tractor beamed in record time. The hard part came when it was time to open the asteroid up, using our picks to chip away at the surface and slowly revealing more and more of the raw Xhalium ore.

 

We were nearly done removing the remaining Valkite when Nate asked, “Hey boss, don’t you find it odd?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Why was Xhalium exposed on the outside of an asteroid? Usually, we’d need to break one to know what’s inside.”

 

“Maybe it collided with something and the Valkite broke apart.”

“I don’t know… I just can’t place my hand on it…”

Without warning, the sound of gunfire broke the conversation, fracturing the hull in multiple places. From where we stood, we could see lasers flying below the Starmole, missing the ship by a wide margin. Nate and I looked at each other, words escaped us before we ran to our posts, stuffing the Xhalium ore into a modular crate on our way.

 

I reached the cockpit to find bullet holes peppered all over, rendering navigational and transponder equipment useless. Outside, the once quiet vacuum was now filled with a number of red ships, all buzzing in a lazy circle around the Starmole.

“Where the hell were the two of you?” Marco yelled as I tried to get the ship moving to no avail. “I’ve been trying to get those damn pirates off of us for a whole minute now.”

 

“Then why didn’t you tell us to come up before we get into this mess?”

 

“I did!”

 

“Guys... Generator just died…” Nate yelled up to us, their voice shaky. Just as he said that, our ship plunged into total darkness, leaving us helpless at the mercy of the pirates. I looked around, wondering whether I could’ve gotten me and my crew out of this situation in the first place...

 

Standing there, watching the pirates leave their vessel and approaching the Starmole, I closed my eyes, wondering if I’d get a chance to return to this life again…

 

Only to open them to see the night light up in plasma fire.

 

The Lancer slowly came into view, enveloping the cockpit window as it fired on the retreating pirates, obliterating their ships and making ribbons out of them. Soldiers emerged from the ship, spreading out and trading fire against their poorly equipped adversaries. Within minutes, the battle was over, leaving only debris behind.

 

“Captain of the Starmole?” A text was broadcasted. “This is Captain Kenetor of the Kingdom Ship Tranquility. I believe you are in need of some assistance…”

 

---

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About the author

Zearth

Bio: "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream." -Edgar Allen Poe.

"Let's suppose that you were able every night to dream any dream that you wanted to dream. And that you could, for example, have the power within one night to dream 75 years of time. Or any length of time you wanted to have. And you would, naturally as you began on this adventure of dreams, you would fulfill all your wishes. You would have every kind of pleasure you could conceive. And after several nights of 75 years of total pleasure each, you would say "Well, that was pretty great." But now let's have a surprise. Let's have a dream which isn't under control. Where something is gonna happen to me that I don't know what it's going to be. And you would dig that and come out of that and say "Wow, that was a close shave, wasn't it?" And then you would get more and more adventurous, and you would make further and further out gambles as to what you would dream. And finally, you would dream ... where you are now. You would dream the dream of living the life that you are actually living today." -Alan Watts

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