Deadflower Refinery

“Isn’t this just something?” she asked with enthusiasm. She clasped her hands together in front of her heart. Her eyes sparkled in that excited way of hers and I nearly ceded, but caught myself. One of these days those eyes would get me to blindly agree to something foolhardy. Maybe today. But not yet.

I looked the house up and down from the foot of the driveway. The white garage door and the two sheer-curtained square windows above it made me think of a slyly grinning cat from a childhood storybook. It wasn’t an image that conjured a feeling of home. “It is something,” I said, laying on the sarcasm a bit too thickly, like cake with too much frosting, and leaving my mouth with a similar distaste.

She frowned slightly, but took it as a challenge to change my mind, as usual. “But Chester, everything is still in place! The schools, and the lovely little shops. It’s even fully furnished. And all the offices around here are hiring, of course. You won’t have to go to that…that awful place anymore.”

I wished she wouldn’t call it that. “It’s a cycle, Miriam. If it weren’t for the refinery, neighborhoods like this would never have opened up.” Not to us. The implication was clear enough.

The asteroid mining boom was kicked off by the discovery of a new class of crystals called deadflowers for their withered-petal shape and dark coloring. They were a miracle mineral, upending industries from quantum computing to medical devices to transportation, but the damnedest thing was that they could only be processed under precise conditions: conditions that just happened to include Earth’s atmospheric composition and surface gravity.

People who were already rich—such as the former inhabitants of this upscale suburban neighborhood—were leaving Earth in droves, flocking to the asteroids to get even richer. It meant Miriam and I could afford to buy one of their abandoned homes on the cheap. But the engine of the whole asteroid mining economy was the deadflower refinery. And it would be decades before we would have any idea whether this new machine we’d built was more problem or solution.

“Besides,” I said, “who’s to say that the schools and shops and businesses stay? They’ll probably pack up and go, too. It’s just a matter of time.” I sighed. “C’mon, let’s go home. I like our home.”

Miriam smiled, but a sadness lingered in her eyes. “I like our home, too. It’s just fun to dream. Let’s go.” And then her eyes brightened again. “Besides, there’s an even better place I want to show you on the way!”

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