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Helmut, Deep in the Rock

by Luc Reid

Even in the middle of a war, Helmut didn't want to lose his job, because he wasn't very smart. If they didn't want him on this asteroid, maybe nobody else would want to hire him either, and then what? Maybe they'd put him in space and laugh at him when he couldn't breathe, like those boys did when they stuck him in the airlock for a long minute when he was little. He didn't want that again.

Still, Helmut barely could make himself go in. He didn't know anything about this kind of work. He'd never done it before. But he did what he was told, which was how he'd always kept a job so far. He got to the end of the rock tunnel, opened the door, and went in.

The room was full of children.

In the distance, some missiles must have been hitting the asteroid, because the whole place shook and boomed. Little showers of dust came down from the ceiling. Some of the children screamed. Helmut wanted to hold his hands over his ears, but he thought the kids might call him scared, so he didn't.

"Where's my dad?" shrieked a boy who was only about as tall as Helmut's knee.

"We're all going to die! Everybody's going to die!" wailed a girl.

The wail echoed off the rock walls. They were hidden in one of the deep storerooms, as far from the surface and from the fighting as they could be. The children looked up at Helmut, waiting.

A little dreadlocked girl came up and tugged at the knee of Helmut's atsuit. "You say, 'nobody's going to die.'"

Helmut didn't understand, so he kept quiet.

"We're not really going to die, right?"

Another explosion shook the room. Helmut kept thinking he could hear atmosphere breach klaxons off in the distance, but it was just imaginary. The children watched him.

"Maybe," Helmut said. "If the air goes out, then we'd probably all die then. I hope it doesn't."

The dreadlocked girl teared up, but she nodded. "I hope so too," she said. Then she latched onto his leg like she was trying to keep from being pulled out into space, and the children all clustered around, wrapping their arms around Helmut and each other.

Another thundering, louder now. The lights went out. But the children were holding onto Helmut, even while most of them were crying.

"This isn't so bad," Helmut said, wonderingly, and the kids clung to him harder.

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