New Short Story: “The Great Oxygen Race”

I am excited that the awesome magazine Hilobrow has published my short story “The Great Oxygen Race.” It’s about a group of drunk asteroid miners on Ceres, the largest planetoid in the asteroid belt, and an extremely large explosion. This is the first in a series of stories I’m writing about Bachelor City, a cosmopolitan port town on Ceres, which is a thinly-veiled analog of San Francisco. In fact, I based this story on an incident involving large wheelbarrows full of gunpowder that supposedly took place in San Francisco during the mid-19th century, when the city was mostly tents and burned down fairly often.

Here’s the first few paragraphs:

Sam woke up feeling like something horrific had lodged in his sinuses, which he gradually realized was a smell. Shit? Vomit? Biomass? Then he realized: The tent reeked of outer space.

“Sam! Nez! It’s drinking time! I got a fistful of nickel and we’re gonna party!”

It was Grinder, who had emerged from his suit for the first time in three weeks. The patched, crumpled Sutter RE-2 lay in a pile at his feet, its barely-functioning life support tubes leaking a broth of processed waste. Grinning, the miner beat his narrow, bacteria-scored chest, then punched the air and whooped.

Sam moaned inside his bedroll and turned to face the semi-permeable roof of their small tent. Overhead, light the color of recycled urine streamed through asteroid dust and across the distant surface of Ceres, where the lit domes of Bachelor City looked like splotches of macroscopic infection. The ground beneath his bedroll groaned slightly as the jets kicked in, keeping their raft from tumbling in its orbit around the planetoid. Lashed together out of junk rocks, belts, cables, and rebar, the raft was roughly 300 yards square, its upper and lower surfaces blistered with the tents of miners too poor to rent even a container in the City.

The three of them had set up camp near the edge of the structure, giving Sam a good view of the slum’s slum: A fringe of cheap emergency bubbles, intended for short-term life support, tethered to the rock with rope. People got them free from the government and cocooned inside when they’d gone ore-crazy. It wasn’t uncommon to see one pop, disgorging its pathetic contents in a matter of seconds.

Grinder grabbed the mouth of Sam’s bedroll and shook it.

“Sammy! I’ve got enough nickel here to buy us a ride down to Bachelor City and into any bar you want, all day! Let’s go!”

“Fuck you, fucking alcoholic bastard. We just got in from dust trawling a couple of hours ago.”

Sam rolled away from Grinder and found himself hemmed in by their tentmate Nez, her face split with a smile. Next to her missing front teeth, a single fang made of nickel glittered like madness. She punched his arm, using the force of the blow to uncurl into a standing position. “Not fuck YOU — fuck YEAH! Free booze is always fuck yeah!”

Read the rest of the story at Hilobrow!

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