art by Jonathan Westbrook
by James Beamon
After two days of space travel, I briefly considered suicide. It seemed the only way to save myself from Kael's crappy rations. The crappiest kind, the white pouches with token descriptions like "MEAT" and "VEGETABLE" stamped across the front in bold, black letters.
"Almost there," Kael said as he looked out into space from the driver's seat. I could hear the excitement in my brother's voice, see it in his eyes that danced as if the pinprick stars and sweeping darkness he saw now was unlike any other patch of infinite space.
I was excited too--about landing and getting a real meal. But Kael was showing all his trademarks signs. This "business" venture he had begged me to see was going to be another one of his get-rich-quick schemes I'd have to say no to. And he would take it like I peed in his bathwater and not speak to me again for another eight months.
I'd let him down easy, and definitely after the meal... my treat. I'd spring for something he couldn't easily afford like beef or ranthin.
"Wait till you see it, brother," Kael said in high spirits like there was no way I wouldn't invest.
"Should be interesting," I said. He was like this every time, like he was victim to some fairy magic that erased the parade of no's that marched before. God bless him.
"We better eat before we land," he said. He reached into a compartment on his armrest and tossed me a "MEAT" before digging one out for himself.
An image of my merciful death by jumping out of the airlock flashed behind my eyes. I tossed "MEAT" back to him.
"We can eat when we land. You pick the restaurant. My treat."
Kael laughed. The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. They were experienced veterans of the things that happened when Kael laughed at words which weren't funny.
"There's no food where we're going," he said.
I looked at his hands, fumbling with "MEAT".
"What do you mean, no food?"
"Like I said, Clym. It's an untapped market. Trust me, you'll thank me when you see." He put the pouch up to his mouth and squished.
Suicidal thoughts turned to fratricide. "Thank you? For what, helping me revisit our childhood, where every meal came from these damn packets?"
The reason I had worked so hard was to never have to go back to famine rations again. That crud was for miners and terraformers and a universe full of the huddled poor.
Kael smiled as if there was consolation to be found in his teeth. "I'm telling you..."
"You haven't told me nil," I said. "Where the hell are we going? Out with it."
"See for yourself," Kael said, his eyes wide as he looked out the window.
A marbled planet grew as we approached. It was instantly recognizable, even without seeing the egregious amounts of space junk cluttering its orbit.
"Earth?! This is your business idea?!"