Oxygen Leaks

Alasdair Stuart

image of Alasdair Stuart

Alasdair Stuart is a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, writer and voice actor. He co-owns the Escape Artists podcasts and hosts their weekly horror fiction show, PseudoPod. He is an Audioverse Award winner, a multiple Hugo Award and BFA finalist, writes the multiple-award nominated weekly pop culture newsletter, The Full Lid, blogs at www.alasdairstuart.com, streams on Twitch, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.

The Point

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2024 original fiction by Alasdair Stuart (a 5 minutes read)
photo of Alasdair Stuart. image credit: DALL-E Image Generator
image credit: DALL-E Image Generator

“You ever wonder what the point of them is?"

Thighs feeling like they'd been tenderized, Dove Sullivan leaned against an observation window older than they were. Traviss City was so far beneath and above them Dove could see the curvature of the station. They watched as a fire truck sprinted headlong towards a small fire in an apartment complex backyard. It was doing so, from Dove's point of view, vertically. To Dove's left, a thirty-foot-long gargoyle in the shape of an astronaut leaned out over the city, a gleaming mirrored sphere held in both its outstretched hands. The same design disappeared around the horizon line of the Sunstrut.

“Of the...stairs?”


Pix insisted everyone call them Pix. Five feet three of good intentions and precisely no impulse control unless she had a camera in her hand. Hair buzzed to a single flamboyant strip, sweat gleaming on her polished skull. Grin a mile wide.

“Yeah...” Dove grunted slightly as they pushed themselves upright. “Yeah, honestly, I'm wondering about the stairs. And the two days of hiking up them. I'm wondering about them...” On cue, a maintenance elevator glided past. “Quite a lot. Actually. Dove.”

Pix winced. “Periods. Always with the periods when you're cross.”

“Feel a bit too...sore...to be cross, Pix.”

“I’m sorry, buddy. That last thirty flights or so was a bit of a doozy huh.”

“The elevator was...right there...Pix. I mean it was right. there.”

Pix squeezed her friend’s shoulder. “I know. It just, isn't the same.”


The observation deck was a perfect circle, the rough size of a football field. There were couches every ten metres. Dove had rarely loved anything more.

“You didn't like the halfway house?”

Dove leant against one of the couches and chugged a just-this-side-of-unhealthy amount of water. “I...loved the halfway house. I found the halfway house, remember? I told you about Mt Snowden.”

“That would have been a hell of a job.” Pix leaned against the back wall and smiled. “Months snowed in. Just you and whichever mysterious travellers came past or needed rescue.” The expression faded. “Not quite the same when it's a bunk bed and a food printer.”

“I've been up Mount Snowden, Pix. It's closer to that than you think.”

Pix grinned. “Do we have any Welsh cakes left?”

“No. We'll print some more. At the gift shop. By the elevator.”

Pix raised a thumb and then closed her eyes, looking concerned.

“You are having fun, right?”

Dove leaned back against the bench. “I have climbed 200 flights of stairs past perfectly good elevators. Last night I ate 3D printed pizza. My right ankle has filed a formal letter of complaint, and my best friend is just starting to feel guilty which tells me? There’s a lecture coming.”

“You didn't answer my question.”

“What's the lecture, Pix?”

This was the other thing Pix did. Knew things. She pushed upright, wincing and Dove laughed. Pix stuck her tongue out. ‘There was this photographer called Margaret Bourke-White. First female combat photographer. First photographer to get a cover on Life.”

“What's Life?”

“A magazine.”

“What's a magazine?”

“What you give your best friend when they're being deliberately obtuse, and you want to distract them.”

Dove stuck their tongue out. Pix continued.

“Bourke-White took these amazing photos. Just INCREDIBLE. In fact, my tattoo!” Pix pulled her sleeve up, turned and pointed at her right bicep. On it a woman in a thick set of overalls, with a leather cap, old fashioned goggles and a hair mask welded something to a piece of metal. Pix had had the tattoo artist draw it as though it was being placed in her skin. They’d done a great job, the scar from where a real surgical plate had been installed was barely visible.

“That's what that's from?”

“YEAH! The photos are incredible, D! Full of life and GRIT and-”

“That's why we needed to take the stairs.” Dove smiled. “The grit.”

Pix crossed her hands over her heart. “You GET it. You always get it.”

“So what are we here for? That's the journey. What's the shot?”

“Which one? Yours or mine?”

Dove blinked. “What?”

Pix finally, visibly a little shaky still, sat down. Dove joined her. Pix rolled a tablet out and handed it to Dove. A massive art deco gargoyle dominated the image, with a cityscape beneath it, the roofs covered in snow. A woman, dressed in trousers and a thick jacket, stood up out of a hatch in the gargoyle's back, balancing a camera on it.

“Margaret Bourke-White. Taking photos of New York in 1934. Photographed by Oscar Graubner.”

“I’ve never heard of Graubner.”

“Exactly my point.” Pix loved this ‘crack the case’ moment more than anything. Dove loved to watch her reach it. “I love this image, I've loved it my whole life. But about three weeks ago I finally realized…how could Margaret take the photo if she was in it? Hence, her assistant, Oscar Gaubner.”

Yep, Pix had them. Dove leaned forward, ignoring their throbbing ankle.

“Art is a team sport, D. Every player deserves to be honoured and seen. I want to honour Margaret AND Oscar. So I’m going to take the photo Margaret’s taking and you’re going to take the photo Oscar’s taking as the dawn hits. Isn’t that fun?!”

Dove smiled. “You’re amazing. And I know you, you’ve got a buyer lined up, right?”

Pix grinned. “The city council are going to hang copies in the lobby of every SunStrut. You're going to be fully compensated. Payment. Royalties.”

Dove felt their heartrate spike and the words, when they came, were cautious and arrived from far away. “That…I could pay off the loans.”

“Me too.”

“Pix, I-th-”

An alarm sounded.

“Oh shit! The sun's coming up!” Dove bounded to their feet. Instantly regretted it. Winced. Kept going to her backpack.

“Okay, okay, got your camera?”


“You’re the best!” She knelt, typed a key code into a recessed lock in the floor. “This is me. You're the next one over, code is 1072A. Don't forget the safety harness, okay?”

“Will you?”

Pix smiled. “Depends on the angle.”


“I’ll behave.”

“...Do we need oxygen?”

“Nah, goggle though.”

Another alarm.

“90 seconds, Dove.” Pix's grin looked like it could split her head in half.

“Let’s go make some art.”

Dove Sullivan sat back against the broad metal frame of an astronaut statue larger than their first car. Beneath them and above them, Traviss City bustled into life. Two miles away, light climbed the next Sunstrut along. Dove's breath misted. They could stay out here forever.


Dove looked across at Pix. She'd, somehow, dressed to look like Bourke-White. Hunched the same way, intense the same way. An artist at her art.


Dove took their photos, a dozen just to be sure. Pix finally leant back from her camera, looked around. Their twin whoops of joy flew out into the vast air, chasing the dawn across to it’s next station stop.

Riding down in the elevator, one third asleep on a couch made by God themselves, Dove opened her eyes.

“You got the shot right?”

“I think so.” Pix's head was on Dove's shoulder.

“What if you didn’t?”

“We can go again. Besides, the art is in the attempt.”

“...That's the point.”

Pix punched her in the shoulder.

“That’s the Point!”