What should have been the start of a life with lots of money, a prestigious job, and adventures in space, quickly turned sour as the promised job got downsized while Ethan was in route to Ore 5. Now there, he doesn’t even have enough money for the return ticket to Earth.
Stuck in the outskirts of the housing for the miners, he quickly finds that his usual standards are impossible to uphold. A new coworker opens up a new world to him, and in this world, the center of gravity is a big tattooed strip club owner named Ryder.
On the outside, Ryder is a player—promiscuous and superficial. And he has no problem throwing a punch if patrons get too frisky with his dancers. But he has hidden a side of himself since he came to Ore 5.
Both Ethan and Ryder see themselves differently from what others see. One is a body-conscious, chubby accountant—the other is a sex-symbol who has become the center of attention of every gay man on the planet—even a few straight ones who want to prove they are man enough to win the challenge.
They have one thing in common, but will their differences keep them too far apart?
This isn’t fucking happening.
Two years in cryo-sleep, and there he was almost flat broke and on his ass in front of the building where he should have worked for the next five years. Ethan had worked so hard to get there—worked harder than any of his peers for the opportunity to earn some of the best money out there.
The huge building in South-Hub was the one he’d dreamed of working in. But instead of being shown the sixteenth floor, a woman met him in reception to let him know that the corporation had downsized while looking for new ores. He was fired before his first day on the job.
He looked up at the impressive building, which appeared almost alive from all the vegetation growing on it. Vertical botanic—the answer to oxygenize the hubs.
For good measure, Ethan kicked the heavy stone flowerpot again, this time hard enough to stub two toes. He bit back the scream of frustration and pain, manned up, and made his way to the shuttle with his bag.
He looked at the keycard they’d given him. Hub-Seventeen. Just his luck—one of the highest numbers of the outer ring. The corporation hadn’t even shown him the courtesy of housing him in the Hub he should have lived in if the Culture hadn’t been downsized. He’d be living with the miners. Roughnecks. Or Worms, as they were called on that planet.
According to the shuttle plan, he had just missed the shuttle that would take him to his new accommodation. The next wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes, so he plopped down on a bench and squeezed the bridge of his nose. He hoped the cryo-fog would lift soon. In an attempt to force it to lift quicker, he pulled out the map of the Culture to get a feel for the layout.
The one he was in was huge—the biggest of the seven Cultures on Ore 5’s surface. Each was a big city of sorts made up of domes. Each dome was called a Hub, and this Culture had fifty-three Hubs laid out in a beautifully symmetric pattern of circles. At least fifty-three if he didn’t count the three oblong domes at the bottom of the pattern. These were Bay-One, Bay-Two, and a private Control-Hub used only by the Corporation. The outer ring consisted of four big hubs, North, East, West, and South-Hub, where he was currently waiting for a shuttle. Between each of those were six smaller hubs, twenty-four in total, which were the housing for Worms. A shuttle track connected the hubs, and it was the only means of transportation between them.
There were two inner rings—one of which was housing for the white-collar employees and their families. The ring Ethan should have lived in. Four big Hubs and thirteen smaller spread out on the ring between them. Between that ring and the Center-Hub, or C-Hub as it was called, three almost isolated hubs functioned as the Water-Filtration-Hub and Recycling-Hubs. Everything was reusable, and each Culture was almost self-sufficient. They still got meat from Earth. Cryo-meat.
Ethan had laughed at the concept the first time he heard about it. But putting a cow in cryo-sleep to send it on a two-year journey to a frontier mining planet kept the meat fresh. Same with chickens. He wondered if they had managed to develop cryo for fish during the two years he had been in route.
The planet was only good for one thing—mining for Sectanium. It was a mineral unlike anything found on Earth—light as aluminum, strong as titanium, and transparent if processed correctly. All domes were made of it to keep the poisonous atmosphere of the dead planet out. And the alien life forms, Scyphoes—little fluttering things that resembled Earth’s jellyfish. They were even as poisonous as some of those.
They were the only things that scared Ethan about Ore 5, because his O-negative blood type meant he would be in serious trouble if he got stung. Upon arrival, he’d been given three syringes with an antidote to have on his person at all times, plus a medical bracelet.
For a second, he wondered how the Scyphoes could survive both outside the domes in the toxic air, and inside where the air was breathable for humans.
The fog in his brain didn’t lift as much as hoped from studying the layout, but enough for him to notice that he sat in a lush park with trees, shrubs, and grass. A vine of some sort lived on the enclosure he sat in, but why there would be an enclosure, he didn’t know. There wasn’t exactly a lot of wind in the domes. Almost every building had vegetation on the sides—not completely covering them, but it gave a vibrant feel to the world. Everything was clean, the air was clear, and it smelled wonderful.
The beauty of the place didn’t take away the hollow feeling of seeing his year-long dream fall to pieces, though. How could it happen? He had signed the contract to work on this mining planet as an accountant specialized in inventory and system optimizations. He had always been good at keeping track of things and keeping order. He’d ranked fifth out of six hundred thirty students at graduation. Anything less than fifty and you could kiss space and the boatload of money to be made there goodbye. Fat good it did him. Twenty-seven years old, not counting the past two he’d spent sleeping, top of the class, a contract with a fine print, and a bailout settlement just big enough for a return ticket. He’d end up back on Earth penniless and with all the best jobs occupied by the second-best graduates. And they’d have four years’ worth of experience he missed from traveling and time spent in cryo-sleep.