Find it here!
An 8,000 word short story (approximately 50 pages in paper).
When you’re an Ecological Engineer on the Moon, you get used to the mess, and especially to “that smell”. But one night, Scott Wayne discovers “that smell” is a threat to the city of Tycho Under – and worse, to his favorite bar! Can a bunch of neighborhood barflies save the city? Or will bureaucracy win out?
“The Night We Flushed the Old Town” is a tall tale of life on the Moon. Scott wouldn’t lie to you… would he?
This story, first published in Therefore I Am – Digital Science Fiction Anthology 2, was my first professional sale (though not pro-qualifying for SFWA or Writers of the Future, since Digital Science Fiction is not yet a qualified market). This is one of my Old Town Tales: a series of stories all set in the same universe and revolving around the Old Town Tavern, the best bar on Luna! The Old Town is located in the Corporation of Tycho Under, one of many underground cities on the Moon. (It is loosely inspired by that other Old Town – very loosely…)
Like many of my stories, this one started with a character who lives and works in Tycho Under, sitting down and telling me his story. These are ordinary characters living ordinary lives and working ordinary jobs – but their lives and jobs just happen to take place in space. (I call this subgenre “Blue Collar Space”.) In these stories, I usually don’t know what the story is, just what the character does for a living; and then I let him or her tell me what their work is like until eventually I find the story.
(Note: Yes, I know how crazy that sounds, my characters talking to me. Just pretend it’s real, OK? This is a lie we writers tell ourselves to explain the different places in our brains where ideas come from. Some writers speak of muses, some speak of messages from outside themselves; and some, like me, speak of the characters having minds of their own. We know that it’s all really inside our heads; but making up believable lies is just what we do, ya know? We don’t just tell these lies to our readers, we tell them to ourselves.)
In this case, I was looking for an aspect of Lunar life to explore; and I settled on waste treatment. Why? I dunno, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. So I sat down with Scott Wayne, and he started to talk to me…
No, we can’t do anything about “that smell”. I knew you’d ask—everybody does. But you haven’t thought it through. Take a barstool and I’ll explain.
And no, I’m no candy-ass for calling it “that smell”. You heard me down in City Engineering: I don’t exactly watch my language. But here in the Old Town, I try to be more circumspect. If you want to keep drinking in the best bar on Luna, you’ll do the same. Eliza—she’s the former drill sergeant behind the bar—kindly asked us in Eco Services to be a bit euphemistic when we talk about our work. She’d rather we not ruin any appetites. So, we talk about “that smell” and “liquid waste” and “sludge”, not… well, you know.
That’s almost verbatim what I wrote down on that first day. I can’t tell exactly where it came from (though it bears a tiny resemblance to a certain incident that involved me, a doctor, a flu shot, and a fainting friend in the ladies’ room); but with those two paragraphs I knew who Scott Wayne was. Then I let him tell me his story (with a lot of help from Wikipedia and other web searching), educating me on waste disposal and the contents and uses of… sludge. Eventually I learned some key facts, and I realized the threat to the bar and the city.
As Gaelic Storm sings:
And even if you saw it yourself, you wouldn’t believe it.
Oh, I wouldn’t trust a person like me if I were you.
Sure I wasn’t there, I swear I have an alibi.
I heard it from a man who knows a fellow who says it’s true…
This one is a bit of a tall tale. Of course it is: it’s told in the Old Town!