Image remix by A. Lionel — Images by Pineapple_Studio and stetsik


by Judy Helfrich

I never done it. I never killed my old man. But that’s not what I told the judge, so they sentenced me here to the Lagrange-1 penal space station. Used to be they sent criminals to Australia; now they don’t even want us on the planet.

We can’t contact no one; that’s part of the punishment. We’re on our own up here. We could blow ourselves up and Earth wouldn’t pay us no nevermind. They’re getting theirs, though. Asteroid’s gonna hit Earth but good. She’s coal black and comin’ in through the sun’s glare on a wonky orbit, so they didn’t see her until she was knocking on their back door. Now they can’t do shit.

I stare out the observation window. Man, but that mother’s gonna come close enough to almost give this hellhole of a space station a kiss. I done the math and them numbers unfolded in my head quicker than I could ask the computer. They got me here in engineering ’cause I’m nuts for numbers. In school they gave me the IQ test twice, ’cause they couldn’t believe someone like me could be smart. Judge said, ‘Stacey, you could’ve done something real good with them smarts, but you blew it.’ Judge never had a crackhead for a ma, though. Judge never had to jack podcabs to pay the rent. Judge never had to kill his old man.

Not that I done it.

I never done it ’cause I only ever wanted to do something good. I had these crazy ideas rattling around in my head, like dark matter is made up of every path we never took, and once we go the speed of light, time will stop, the past will catch up, and we’ll see all them lost possibilities. I never done it ’cause I wanted to go to one of them fancy schools instead of jail. Do the math and prove my theories, like they done in the movies. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Like they’d take someone like me. That’s what they said.

I should’ve done it. I should’ve killed the old man.

When they found out I was smart, I guess they thought they better test my kid sister. I didn’t need no test telling me Mari was off the charts. She was crazy smart, maybe more crazy than smart, but that’s how it goes. She’d drag roadkill home just so she could cut ’em up. She was that desperate to know how them animals worked.

After they stuck me here, Mari sent me holograms, real regular like. And for a while she done good.

Then her crazy came back.

Stacey, them voices is scaring me.

I stare at the asteroid. Mari’s crazy always came back. Every time the old man battered her. Every time he put her on the streets. And when she

Stacey, I keep thinkin’ on what I done.

When we was kids I tried to get her some help, but we didn’t have no insurance, and the doctors turned us away.

Stacey, help me.

I couldn’t holo her back, ’cause that’s part of the punishment.

Stacey, I can’t live like this. I’m so sorry.

Mari said them last words real soft like, but they hit me harder than my old man’s fists ever did.

I hacked the comm system, then navigation. Screamed at Earth day and night, begging for them to help her. Said I was gonna ram this space station right up their ass unless they let me talk to her. They was all set to blow us to hell.

Until the asteroid showed up. Now it’s their turn to beg.

The asteroid does this slow roll, but it’s really the space station spinning. Just like my guts.

When Mari got pregnant, the old man thought he could beat it out of her. He was right.

Later I found her bent over him. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck because she was

Why you lookin’ at me like that, Stacey? It’s just a dog got hit by a car, poor thing.

Mari done it.

Slit the old man from taint to teeth while he was passed out drunk. Guts laid out all over the place, labelled real neat like.

I took the rap ’cause it should’ve been me that done it. ‘Cause Mari was gonna cure cancer. ‘Cause I only ever wanted to do something good.

The comm system squawks again. Stacey, please help us.

Earth sent word to me last week. They only send word when somebody dies. That’s part of the punishment.

I scream at Earth to go to hell. No one ever helped me. Or Mari.

She jumped from a bridge. That’s what they said. They was real sorry. That’s what they said. You’re our last hope, Stacey.

That’s what they said.

I pound the comm panel so the pain lashing through my guts goes to my fists instead. I got so much hate. For this prison full of killers like the old man. For myself. For Earth.

But Earth’s gotta have another kid like Mari, statistics-wise. I know it ’cause I done the math.

I go ahead and let them numbers run free in my head. Mass and orbits and trajectories unfold like magic, just like they always done. I punch them into the computer and we accelerate.

The asteroid fills the window. It’s battered and full of craters, but it’ll go on for a few more million years. Just on a different path is all. I can make out screams coming from behind the barricaded door.

Before it hits, I think of all them lost possibilities. On what me and Mari would’ve done in some other timeline. How if we got a push in another direction, it might have been enough to change our trajectories. Mari would’ve done something great; I know that in my gut. Me, maybe I would’ve proved a couple theories. Maybe not. But I like to think so.

‘Cause I only ever wanted to do something good.