by Andrew Neil Gray
Everyone who prospects in the asteroid belt knows the score: Physics is in charge, with
money a close second. You have mass, you have propellant, your engine's got a specific impulse.
You do the math that Newton and Einstein gave us and that's it. There are no loopholes. No
matter how hard you wish there were.
Physics and hubris stranded me in a slow orbit around a grey-black fragment of comet.
Physics and money did something far worse to Sal Guinto.
I found out about Sal on the Mathematical Certainty forums. Toni sent me the link along
with her daily message. "Maybe you should have looked at this bunch of losers before making
your career choice, asshat. Instead of drooling all over Mellie Rao."
"I love you too," I messaged back.
I'd told Toni about Mellie one night back home in the bloc. We were outside on the
plastic chairs at smoker's corner. Everyone else was in the rec room gaming or gossiping or
lifting weights. I remember smelling the ocean. The faint tang of tobacco and weed from the jar
full of butts at my feet.
"A big score," I said. I'd just received my exam marks from MIT Online and I was lit up,
spinning tales about my glorious future. "Even bigger than Mellie Rao's platinum strike."
I'd pretty much memorized the top hundred most valuable asteroid finds page on
Wikipedia. There's a picture of Mellie up top, dripping in jewelry. She doesn't just own an
island: she's got an island chain. And her investors? They're richer than God.
"Uh huh." Toni held her cherry fingernails up in the dim patio lights. Examined them
carefully. She shot me a familiar look: You're full of crap and we both know it.
I kept on going anyway, talking about how I'd come back and shower everyone in the
block with wealth, 'cause I'm that kind of guy. A man who'd never forget where he came from.
And her: She'd never want for anything again.
I actually said that. "Never want for anything." Like I was in some old movie. No wonder
she kicked my chair when I leaned back. Laughed her ass off at my flailing arms as I went down.
After I watched Toni's message I had a look at a local copy of the Certainty forums. The
site made a fetish of those of us who are lost and lonely out in the dark. It sucked me in. All that
gloom and regret.
I read about prospectors, explorers, even an idiot who stole a ship and took it for what he
thought was going to be a short joyride. They all shared the same basic situation: doomed by
physics but still around for a while to talk about it. Certainty was full of them--the videos they
sent, their tearful ramblings, their diaries. All the things they did as they waited to die.