Final frontier, my ass. It’s just concentric rings of exploitation.

The first ring of exploitation reached the moon. The Lunarites were poor enough to be desperate enough to leave Earth to live in a lava tube sealed up just tight enough that the air seeped out slow instead of in a rush. It was a hard life and a slow death. They filled their time with oxygen deprivation and mining for water—not water to drink, mind you, but to turn into fuel for rich men’s rockets.

The second ring of exploitation made it to Mars and Venus. Mars is still all mines and miners hoping that maybe their great-great-great grandkids will get to live on a terraformed planet. I guess that’s better than Venus, where the miners huddle against the crushing pressure in bubbles and can’t so much as dream of terraforming, not even for their distant descendants.

I’m in the third ring.

The Sol System Minor Planet Homestead Act of 2240 let any schmuck like me get an asteroid to call their own, provided they engage in “extractive activity thereon,” according to the law. My space rock has a number, but I’ve named it Ava after my mama. Ava’s cold, hard, stingy, and not the least bit nurturing. I guess you could say the name fits. I landed on Ava with a metaphorical ax in one hand—the newest self-contained mining rig in the cargo hold of the transport ship—and a dream in my head.

Dreams die in a vacuum, and there’s nothing here but a little bit of rock and a whole lot of vacuum. My habitat’s only barely big enough for me to lay down, stand up again, and take two and a half steps in one direction. When I have to be awake I spend my time wearing out bits on my mining rig. I’ve probably got enough bits to last me until the next trade ship gets here. I probably even have enough dehydrated rations to last, but I don’t know if I’ve got enough water.

So I sit here on a space rock and wait to die. I sleep as much as I can. When I’m awake I slowly break apart Ava, the only thing I’ve ever owned. I sell those tiny bits at a discount to rich people back on Earth, and in return they send me overpriced water and dehydrated food. I dream of Earth, you know. I dream of air and sun and food I don’t have to rehydrate. Most of all, I dream of people. I’d even go back to the debtor colony if I could. At least there were people there with me, even if the food wasn’t any better than it is here on Ava.

I use to think that Earth was just the center of these rings of exploitation, the origin of the waves rippling out through space and time to keep people like me in our place. I wanted to outrun those rings of oppression to be free, or at least freer, so I homesteaded on Ava and started boring pieces of her out. Now that I’ve been here longer than I can count, I sill think that I was right. Earth is the center of the oppression. That don’t mean I don’t want to go back there, though.

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