Orion Galatea considers death an old friend.
Thrice, he has relaxed into the sweet embrace of oblivion.
Thrice, the galaxy has torn him from his restful slumber.
His first death was back at 212-B. The station where he grew up. The system, Ander’s Reach, it’s called, was abandoned by Solgov after the colony was declared “non-viable” by the bureaucrats back home.
Now, usually, Solgov is meant to send a series of transport vessels to pick up the colonists in the half-settled system.
Orion found out later that some political party was voted out, some other group of chooms paid their way into office, and a bunch of the expensive commitments from the previous government were “lost”, to deliver on the new party’s cost-cutting promises.
That “mistake” resulted in around twenty thousand humans getting stuck in a system with no rocky planets. No recurring supply deliveries, and no hope.
All the unlucky colonists were left with was a couple prefab mining platforms out in the large asteroid belts of the system, a couple in-system ships that were barely more than fusion tugs with refinery/lathe constructs built into them, and the spiteful will to live, so that one day, they might be able to get back to human space and make those murderers in well-tailored suits pay. That spiteful dream is what drove them, and still drives many denizens of the system.
Orion was 12, when his parents died in the starvation riots. When his family was torn apart. He didn’t know what happened to his parents, but he did know that the nutrient recycler worked fine that week.
Orion, and his 8-year-old sister, Lily, were left to fend for themselves. Luckily, they were able to make money just fine, crawling through maintenance tunnels and hull voids for the adults, fixing life support systems and electrical failures.
Child labour was a necessity on the belts of Ander’s Reach, after the population dropped.
The people of Ander’s Reach began to exalt the idea and importance of personal life support, after the last of the oxygen reclaimers fell into disrepair and the only source of good air became entirely reliant on the electrolytically separated ice asteroids that the miners supplied.
It became an ideology, a religion, of sorts.
You wore your gas mask at all times. When the time came to eat, or drink, you said a prayer, or mumbled a jinx, or simply took a deep breath, and removed the gas mask.
You can always tell an Ander’s Reach colonist, because they never take off their gas mask. And when they do, there’s a creeping phobia in their eyes. A kind of agoraphobia, gripping them.
As the years went by, the situation in Ander’s Reach went from hopeless to merely desperate.
The first of the farmhabs were built. Using the last of the supplies from the initial settlement and a truly heroic effort from the colonists, the first of the large, gently spinning stations turned hard-won water, carefully stored human waste and diligently mined asteroid regolith into a hydroponics system.
Food, from naught but starlight and cold stone.
The slow march back to sustainability had begun.
The population of the system had dropped, now down to the low thousands. But the hunger riots were over. Order was taking hold. The people had built from blood and spite and hope and love a place where the asteroids and the light of Ander’s star was all they needed to survive. The people by this time were a community like few others. A social circle, tight-knit around shared trauma and values.
At 17, Orion was working as an asteroid miner when a gas pocket depressurized and sent several tons of dirty snowball careening toward him. The impact caused catastrophic injury; Orion’s right arm was pounded into paste, and at the best estimate of the Ander’s Reach doctors, 20% of his shoulder had been pinched as well. That was the first time Orion died.
The doctors on the station gave him drugs for the shock, and defibrillated him when his heart stopped.
Lily stayed by his side the entire time.
When he came to, as he recovered slowly in the medical centre that had up until recently been used as a butcher’s shop, Orion realised that the only way he was going to get a new arm, the only way he was going to be able to support Lily, was finding work in the core worlds.
With a heavy heart, Orion said goodbye to his friends, his community, his found family. Lily refused to be left behind. She swore she would sneak onto any ship Orion tried to board, if he tried to leave her behind.
Transports, mostly traders, had started occasionally stopping by the system after it had begun to produce valuable goods. Orion paid for passage in platinum bars, the recently agreed system currency, and proceeded back into human space. It was there Orion found work (and a corporate sponsored prosthetic) as an explorer for Nanotracen. It was there that his new career began. It was there Lily started working, and eventually got a scholarship at New-Gibson university, studying programming, with a minor in robotics.
Orion’s future had, at last, begun.