First Engineering Job

It’s never that the drive short circuits,
never my fault. I’ve checked the wiring,
pile the connections, soldered and resoldered
loose ends; red connects to red, black connects
to black, and the green can go
up the captain’s nose. The jump drive jumps
whenever I say but it can’t do anything
if it’s covered in sickly sticky peppermint stain.

“Smuggling is an honorable and profitable
profession,” the professors said. “Be an engineer
and you won’t have to face heavily armed
and armored thugbeasts trying to tear your face
off to sell it at the outposts,” said Dad. “You’ll be going
places,” said Mom. But these idiots
just waste away sucking themselves stupid
on peppermints cooked to sugar high, sludging

the runoff down the vents. I lost two
cleaners last week when the thrusters
fired and fried them, stuck in white and red
impossibility. But we’re Between, the nowhere
for trade, where smugglers stop to hide.
It could be weeks before a freighter passes
close enough to jump; stars taunting me
through the windows, little check engine lights
reminding me that I thought this job was
sweet. Little did I know.

—John Reinhart