Sci-fi short story (or maybe opening chapter of a novel?) which was read in the late '90s, but could have been written long before that.

The plot involved a ship crewed by four men, two of whom being typical tough guys in charge, who abuse the other two, including regularly raping them. The protagonist is regularly abused, but seems to be quietly intentional about his position, scheming and playful. The protagonist reminded me of the protagonist in Alfred Bester's Tiger! Tiger!; amoral and ambitious. The lowest in the hierarchy is a good-natured fat man who is terribly abused throughout.

At some point, the protagonist kills the two tough guys and approaches the fat man, seemingly to rescue him - but he kills him and uses his carcass as a makeshift spaceship to fly to wherever he's going.

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    Hi, welcome to the site. In roughly which year did you read this story? Also, did you read it in an anthology, a magazine, or online? Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 13:53
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    uhhh...good question. I would have read this in the late 90s, but it could have been written long before that. I remember the protagonist reminded me of Bester's Tiger! Tiger! protagonist, amoral and ambitious Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 14:14

1 Answer 1


This is the first story , called "In the Box" from the collection of three stories called "Jack Glass" by Adam Roberts.

The antihero, Jac, is sent to a prison asteroid with six other prisoners. They are dumped on the asteroid with no resources at all except a box. It contains the absolute minimal material needed to survive on the asteroid. The prisoners, if they work together, can hollow out and pressurise a cave. Maybe. Or maybe they will die anyway. Those imprisoning them don't care. If the prisoners die it's no loss. If they manage to establish the start of a habitat on the asteroid, then they have done dangerous work, for free. Escape is impossible - they do not have enough equipment to build a spacecraft.

We are regularly told that they were given absolutely the minimal resources needed.

If they - or some of them - were still alive, then the Gongsi would recover them. ... Land a touch-up team, put in some windows, tow it into a more advantageous orbit, and sell it. ... And the prisoners? Released, ...

But first you had to survive the sentence. And that meant you had to turn a tiny pocket of air filling a declivity no larger than a room, near the surface of a frozen asteroid, into an environment that could support seven human beings for a decade and more.

But their captors have forgotten to consider that their bodies are also resources. The ruthless protagonist kills them all, and escapes by using their bodies as extra resources. The fat man is called Gordius.

"It's alright, Gordius," he called back, ..., "I'm ready for you now". ...

Afterwards, he brought the drills out of the tunnel and back into the main cavity. ...

He worked carefully, methodically, cutting open Gordius's corpse with as few and as small incisions as he could manage. He removed a great quantity of the innards. The skull came out once he had severed the spine and optical nerves, and felt his way around the cavity with his slippery fingers and long nails.

He packs the body with ice and the air scrubber (needed to breathe) and cannibalised bits from the other bodies. It is, to say the least, rather gory.

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    oh man! Thank you! I will most defintely try to pay that forward somehow, because that is like a huge relief from that nagging question in the back of my mind! ...and look at that...published in 2012, even though I would have sworn from memory that I read that before I had kids in 2001. Goes to show you..... Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 14:50
  • Did he use Gordius's corpse as a spaceship or a spacesuit? The latter seems more fitting. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 14:24
  • It was as a space suit. It was big enough for him to fit inside, along with other equipment. He, err, fashioned some equipment bags our of other bodies to bring with him, if I recall correctly. I suppose he did not need to travel that far - I forget how he propelled it.
    – user23087
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 16:11

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