فصل 10

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فصل 10

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 37 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

این فصل را می‌توانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

فایل صوتی

دانلود فایل صوتی

متن انگلیسی فصل

10

The thing that sucks about life-or-death situations is how boring they can be. I waited in Dad’s shop for three hours. I didn’t have to show up at five a.m., but I’d be damned if I was going to let Jin Chu show up before I did. I leaned a chair against the back wall of the shop, right next to the air shelter where I’d snuck my first cigarette. I remember I damn near puked from all the smoke that built up but hey, when you’re a rebellious teen and you think you’re making a statement, it’s worth it. “Take that, Daddy!” God, I was such a dipshit. I checked the clock on the wall every ten seconds as eight a.m. approached. I fiddled with a handheld blowtorch to pass the time. Dad used it to shrink seals onto pipe fittings. It wasn’t “welding,” but you had to do it in a fireproof room, so he offered it as one of his services. I kept my finger by the ignition trigger. It wasn’t a gun (there were no guns in Artemis) but it could hurt someone if they came too close. I wanted to be ready for anything. The far door opened at 8:00 on the dot. Jin Chu stepped through gingerly. He hunched his shoulders and darted his gaze around like a frightened gazelle. He spotted me in the corner and waved awkwardly. “Uh…hi.” “You’re punctual,” I said. “Thanks.” He stepped forward. “Sure, I–” “Stay over there,” I said. “I’m not feeling super-trusting today.” “Yeah okay, okay.” He took a breath and let it out unevenly. “Look, I’m really sorry. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. I just thought I could make a few bucks, you know? Like a finder’s fee?”

I tossed the blowtorch from one hand to the other. Just to make sure he saw it. “For what? What the hell is going on around here?” “For telling Trond and O Palلcio about ZAFO. In separate, confidential transactions, of course.” “I see.” I scowled at the weaselly little shit. “And then you made more money by selling out Trond to O Palلcio when their harvesters blew up?” “Well, yeah. But it’s not like that was going to stay secret. Once he took over the oxygen contract they woulda worked it out.” “How did they find out I did the sabotage?” He looked at his feet. I groaned. “You are such an asshole!” “It’s not my fault! They offered me so much money!” “How did you even know I did it?” “Trond told me. He gets chatty when he’s drunk.” He frowned. “He was a cool guy. I didn’t think anyone would get hurt, I just–” “You just thought you’d stir up a billionaire and a mob syndicate and nothing would happen? Fuck you.” He fidgeted for a few seconds. “So…do you have the ZAFO sample? The case from my hotel room?” “Yes. Not here, but it’s safe.” “Thank God.” He loosened up a bit. “Where is it?” “First tell me what ZAFO is.” He winced. “It’s kind of secret.” “We’re past secrets now.” He looked truly pained. “It’s just…it cost a lot of money to make that sample. We had to launch a dedicated satellite with a centrifuge to grow it in low-Earth orbit. I’ll be super-duper fired if I go home without it.” “Fuck your job. People got murdered! Tell me why!” He let out a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry. I didn’t want any of this to happen.” “Apologize to Lene Landvik,” I said. “She’s the crippled teenager who’s now an orphan.” Tears formed in his eyes. “No…I have to apologize to you too.”

The door opened again. Lefty stepped in. His right arm still hung in a sling. His left arm, however, held a knife that could gut me like a trout. I shook all over. I wasn’t sure if it was terror or rage. “You son of a bitch!” “I’m so sorry,” Jin Chu sobbed. “They were gonna kill me. This was the only way I got to live.” I clicked the trigger and the blowtorch flamed to life. I held it out at arm’s length toward the approaching Lefty. “Which part of your face you want crème brûléed, asshole?” “You make it hard, I make it hurt,” said Lefty. He had a thick accent. “This can be quick. Doesn’t have to hurt.” Jin Chu covered his face and cried. “And I’m going to get fired too!” “Goddammit!” I yelled to him. “Will you stop whining about your problems during my murder?!” I grabbed a pipe from the workbench. There was something weird about being on the moon fighting for your life with a stick and some fire. Lefty knew if he lunged I could block with the pipe and give him a face full of blowtorch. What he didn’t know was that I had a more complicated plan. I swung the pipe with all my strength at a wall-mounted valve. The resounding metal-on-metal clank was followed by the scream of high-pressure air. The valve shot across the room and smacked into the far wall. While Lefty paused to consider why the hell I’d done that, I leapt to the ceiling (not hard here–the average person can jump three meters straight up). At the top of my arc, I blasted a fire sensor with the blowtorch. Red lights blinked and the fire alarm blared throughout the room. The door slammed shut behind Jin Chu. He jerked around in shock. As soon as I hit the ground, I bounded into the air shelter and slammed the door behind me. Lefty was hot on my heels, but he didn’t catch up in time. I spun the crank to seal myself in. Then I jammed the pipe into the crank spokes and held on to the other end. Lefty tried to turn the crank from the other side, but he couldn’t overcome my leverage advantage. He glared at me through the air shelter’s small round window. I flipped him off. I could see Jin Chu clawing at the door, trying to get out. Of course it was no use. It was a fireproof room’s door–solid metal and clamped shut with a mechanical interlock that could only be opened from the outside.

The foggy airflow from the broken valve slowed and petered out. Dad’s wall valves connected to gas cylinders that he refilled every month. Lefty stormed to the workbench and grabbed a long, steel rod. He came back to my shelter, breathing heavily. I got ready for a life-or-death game of circular tug-owar. He panted and wheezed as he stuck the rod into the handle. He pushed hard, but I was able to hold firm. By all rights, he should have won–he was bigger, stronger, and had better leverage. But I had one thing he didn’t: oxygen. The gas that had just filled the room? Neon. Dad had wall-mounted neon valves because he used it so much when welding aluminum. The fire system had sealed the air vents, so the workshop was full of inert gas. You don’t notice neon when you breathe it. It just feels like normal air. And the human body has no way to detect a lack of oxygen. You just plug along until you pass out. Lefty fell to his hands and knees. He shook a bit, then collapsed to the floor. Jin Chu lasted a little longer. He hadn’t exerted himself as much. But he succumbed a few seconds later. Let’s meet so I can protect you. Did he really think I’d fall for that? I pulled out Harpreet’s Gizmo and dialed Rudy’s number. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. Either I could call him or the fire brigade volunteers would when they arrived. May as well get a jump on it. – Artemis didn’t have a police station. Just Rudy’s office in Armstrong Bubble. Its holding cell was nothing more than a repurposed air shelter. In fact, it was Dad who’d installed it. Air shelters don’t have locks, of course. That would massively defeat the purpose. So Rudy’s “cell” had a metal chain with a padlock around the crank. Crude, but effective. The usual occupants of the cell were drunks or people who needed to cool off after a fistfight. But today it held Lefty. The rest of the room wasn’t much larger than the apartment I’d grown up in. If Rudy had been born a few thousand years earlier, he would have made a good Spartan. Jin Chu and I sat handcuffed to metal chairs.

“This is some bullshit,” I said. “You poor, innocent thing,” said Rudy without looking up from his computer. Jin rattled his handcuffs. “Hey, I actually am innocent! I shouldn’t be here.” “Are you fucking kidding?!” I said. “You tried to kill me!” “That’s not true!” Jin pointed to Lefty’s cell. “He tried to kill you. I just set up the meet. If I hadn’t he would have killed me on the spot!” “Chickenshit!” “I value my life more than yours. Sue me. We wouldn’t be in this mess if you hadn’t been so blatantly obvious with your sabotage!” “Fuck you!” Rudy pulled a squirt bottle from his desk and sprayed us both. “Hush,” he said. Jin winced “Now, that’s just unprofessional!” “Quit bitching,” I said, shaking the water off my face. “You may be used to taking shots in the face, but I’m not,” he said. Okay, that was a good one. “Go fuck yourself,” I said. The door opened and Administrator Ngugi stepped in. Because why the hell not? Rudy glanced over. “Hmm. You.” “Constable,” Ngugi said. She looked over to me. “Jasmine. How are you, dear?” I showed her my handcuffs. “Is that necessary, Constable?” “Is it necessary for you to be here?” Rudy asked. I could have sworn the temperature dropped ten degrees. “You’ll have to excuse the constable,” Ngugi said to me. “We don’t see eye-toeye on everything.” “If you’d stop coddling criminals like Jazz, we’d get along better.” She waved her hand as if shooing a bug. “Every city needs an underbelly. It’s best to let the petty criminals do their thing and focus on bigger issues.” I grinned. “You heard the lady. And I’m the pettiest of them all. So lemme go.” Rudy shook his head. “The administrator’s authority over me is questionable at best. I work directly for KSC. And you’re going nowhere.” Ngugi walked over to the air shelter and peeked through the window. “So this is our murderer?”

“Yes,” said Rudy. “And if you hadn’t spent the last decade hampering my attempts to drive out organized crime, those murders wouldn’t have happened.” “We’ve been through this, Constable. Artemis wouldn’t exist without syndicate money. Idealism doesn’t put Gunk on people’s plates.” She turned to face Rudy. “Did the suspect have anything to say?” “He refuses to answer questions. He wouldn’t even tell me his name–but according to his Gizmo, his name is Marcelo Alvarez and he’s a freelance accounting consultant.’” “I see. How sure are you that this is the man?” Rudy turned his computer to face Ngugi. The screen showed medical lab results. “Doc Roussel dropped by earlier and got a blood sample from him. She says it matches the blood found at the crime scene. Also, the wound on his arm is consistent with the knife Irina Vetrov had in her hand.” “The blood DNA matched?” Ngugi said. “Roussel doesn’t have a crime lab. She compared blood type and enzyme concentrations–they matched. If we want a DNA comparison we’ll have to send samples to Earth. It’ll take at least two weeks.” “That won’t be necessary,” Ngugi said. “We only need enough evidence to warrant a trial, not to convict him.” “Hey!” Jin Chu interjected. “Excuse me! I demand to be released!” Rudy squirted him with the bottle. “Who is this man?” Ngugi asked. “Jin Chu from Hong Kong,” Rudy said. “Couldn’t find any record of where he works and he isn’t forthcoming about it. He set a trap so Alvarez could kill Bashara, but claims he did it under duress. Alvarez was going to kill him if he didn’t.” “We can hardly blame him for that,” she said. “Finally! Someone with common sense!” Jin said. “Deport him to China,” said Ngugi. “Wait, what?” Jin said. “You can’t do that!” “Of course I can,” she said. “You were complicit in a plot to murder someone. Coerced or not, you’re not welcome here.” He opened his mouth to protest again and Rudy pointed the squirt bottle at him. He thought better of it.

Ngugi sighed and shook her head. “This is troubling. Very troubling. You and I…we’re not friends. But neither of us wants murder in our city.” “On that, at least, we agree.” “And this is new.” She clasped her hands behind her back. “We’ve had murders before, but it’s always been a jealous lover, an angry spouse, or a drunken brawl. This was professional. I don’t like it.” “Was your gentle hand with petty crime worth it?” Rudy asked. “That’s not fair.” She shook off the gloom. “One thing at a time. There’s a meatship launching today for the Gordon cycler. I want Mr. Jin on it. Deport to Hong Kong with no legal complaints. Hang on to Mr. Alvarez for now. We need to collate the evidence for the courts in…where’s he going?” “Landvik was Norwegian and Vetrov was Russian.” “I see,” said Ngugi. If you commit a serious crime, Artemis deports you to the victim’s country. Let their nation exact revenge on you for it. It’s only fair. But Lefty–I guess I should call him Alvarez–had killed people from two different countries. Now what? “I’d like you to let me pick this one,” Rudy said. “Why?” Rudy looked to the cell. “If he cooperates I’ll send him to Norway. If not, he’ll go to Russia. Where would you rather be tried for murder?” “Excellent strategy. I see you’re a little Machiavellian yourself.” “That’s not–” Rudy began. “You should release Jasmine, though, don’t you think?” she said. Rudy was taken aback. “Certainly not. She’s a smuggler and a saboteur.” “Allegedly,” I said. “Why do you care so much about Jazz?” he asked. “Sanchez Aluminum is a Brazilian company. Do you want to deport her to Brazil? She’d be lucky to last a day there before O Palلcio killed her. Does she deserve to die?” “Of course not,” Rudy said. “I recommend Deportation Without Complaint to Saudi Arabia.” “Declined,” Ngugi said. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “She’s clearly guilty. What is your fixation with this girl?”

“Girl?” I said. “I’m twenty-six!” “She’s one of us,” Ngugi said. “She grew up here. That means she gets more leeway.” “Bullshit,” Rudy snapped. I’d never heard him swear before. “There’s something you’re not telling me. What is it?” Ngugi smiled. “I’m not deporting her, Constable. How long would you like to keep her handcuffed here?” Rudy thought it over, then pulled a key from his pocket and unlatched my handcuffs. I rubbed my wrists. “Thanks, Administrator.” “Stay safe, dear.” She walked out of the office. Rudy glared as she left, then he shot me a look. “You’re not safe. You’re better off confessing to your part in this and getting deported to Saudi Arabia. It’s easier to hide out there than here.” “You’re better off eating shit,” I said. “O Palلcio won’t give up just because I caught their fixer. You can be sure they’ll send another one on the next meatship.” “First of all: duh,” I said. “Second off: I caught him, not you. And finally… how’d he track my Gizmo?” Rudy frowned. “That does bother me.” “I’ll be on my way. If you need to reach me, you know the identity I’m using.” He’d confiscated my Harpreet Gizmo when he arrested me. I picked it up off his desk. “You’ve had plenty of opportunities to kill me and haven’t done it.” “Thanks for the vote of trust. You should stay around me for your own safety.” It was tempting. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know what my next move would be, but it would definitely be something I couldn’t do with Rudy watching. “I’m better on my own, thanks.” I turned to Jin Chu. “What’s ZAFO?” “Suck a dick!” “Get out,” Rudy said to me. “Come back if you want protection.” “Fine, fine,” I said.

Hartnell’s had its usual crowd of quiet, borderline alcoholics. I knew each of them

by face, if not name. There were no strangers that day, and none of the regulars even glanced my way. Business as usual at my watering hole. Billy poured me a pint of my usual grog. “Aren’t you on the run or somefin’?” I wiggled my hand. “Kind of.” Was Alvarez the only thug O Palلcio had in town? Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, how many people would you assign to your lunar mafia money-laundering operation? At least I knew one thing: They couldn’t have sent anyone new. Not yet. It takes weeks to get here from Earth. “Is it wise to come ‘round your favorite pub then?” “Nope. It’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. And that’s a field of intense competition.” He threw a towel over his shoulder. “Then why?” I swigged my beer. “Because I made a deal.” Billy looked past me to the entrance and widened his eyes. “Cor! There’s a face I haven’t seen in an age!” Dale walked up to his old stool next to mine and sat down. He grinned from ear to ear. “A pint of your worst, Billy.” “On the house for ya!” Billy said. He filled a pint for Dale. “How’s me favorite arse bandit?” “Can’t complain. Still do, though.” “Har!” He slid the pint to Dale. “I’ll leave you two hatebirds alone.” Dale sipped his beer and smirked at me. “I wasn’t sure if you’d show.” “Deal’s a deal,” I said. “But if someone shows up to kill me I might need to leave early.” “Yeah, about that. What’s going on? Rumor has it you’re tangled up in the murders.” “Rumor’s right.” I drained my glass and tapped it twice on the bar. Billy slid me another–he’d poured it in advance. “I was the next intended victim.” “Rudy caught the murderer, right? The news sites say it’s some Portuguese guy?” “Brazilian,” I said. “Doesn’t matter. They’ll just send another one after me. I’ve got a short break at best.” “Shit, Jazz. Is there anything I can do?” I stared him in the eyes. “We’re not friends, Dale. Don’t worry about me.”

He sighed. “We could be. In time, maybe?” “I don’t see it happening.” “Well, I’ve got one evening a week to change your mind.” He smiled at me. Smug little fucker. “So why’d you do the harvester job?” “Trond was going to pay me a big pile of money.” “Yeah, but…” He looked pensive. “I mean, it’s not your style. It was risky–and you’re really smart. You don’t take risks unless you have to. You’re not desperate for cash or anything, so far as I know. I mean, yeah, you’re poor. But you’re stable. Do you owe loan sharks or something?” “No.” “Gambling debt?” he asked. “No. Stop it.” “Come on, Jazz.” He leaned in. “What’s the deal? This doesn’t make sense to me.” “Doesn’t have to make sense to you.” I checked my Gizmo. “We have three hours and fifty-two minutes left until midnight, by the way. Then it won’t be evening’ anymore.” “Then I’m just going to spend three hours and fifty-two minutes asking the same question.” Pain in my ass…I sighed. “I need 416,922 slugs.” “That’s…a very specific number. Why do you need it?” “Because fuck you, that’s why.” “Jazz–” “No!” I snapped. “That’s all you’re getting.” Awkward silence. “How’s Tyler?” I asked. “Is he…I don’t know. Is he happy?” “Yeah, he’s happy,” said Dale. “We have our ups and downs like any couple, but we work at it. Lately he’s frustrated with the Electricians’ Guild.” I snickered. “He’s always hated those fuckers. Is he still non-guild?” “Oh, of course. He’ll never join. He’s a very good electrician. Why would he go out of his way to get paid less?” “Are they squeezing him?” I asked. One of the downsides of having almost no laws: monopolies and pressure tactics.

Dale seesawed his hand. “A little. Some rumormongering and deliberate price undercutting. Nothing he can’t handle.” “If they go too far let me know,” I said. “What would you do?” “Dunno. But I don’t want anyone fucking with him.” Dale held up his glass. “Then I pity anyone who fucks with him.” I clinked my glass against his and we both took a sip. “Keep him happy,” I said. “I’ll sure as hell try.” My Harpreet Gizmo buzzed. I pulled it out to take a look. It was a message from Svoboda: “This ZAFO shit is amazing. Meet me at my lab.” “Just a sec,” I said to Dale. I typed out a response. “What did you find out?” “It’d take too long to type. Besides, I want to show you what it can do.” “Hmm,” I said. “Problem?” Dale asked. “A friend wants to meet. But last time I met someone it was an ambush.” “Need backup?” I shook my head and typed on my Gizmo. “Honey, I know what you’re after, but I’m too tired for sex right now.” “What are you talking about?” Svoboda responded. “Oh, I see. You’re being weird to find out if I’m being coerced. No, Jazz, I’m not setting you up.” “Just being cautious. I have an obligation at the moment. Meet at your lab tomorrow morning?” “Sounds good. Oh and if I am being coerced in the future, I’ll work the word dolphin’ into the conversation. Okay?” “Copy,” I responded. I put the Gizmo back in my pocket. Dale pursed his lips. “Jazz…how bad is it?” “Well, people want to kill me, so…pretty bad.” “Who are these people? Why do they want you dead?” I wiped dew off my beer glass. “They’re a Brazilian crime syndicate called O Palلcio. They own Sanchez Aluminum and they know I did the Sanchez harvester sabotage.” “Shit,” Dale said. “You need a place to hide out?” “I’m good,” I said. Then, after a few seconds, I added, “But if I need help I’ll

remember your offer.” He smiled. “Well, that’s a start, anyway.” “Shut up and drink your beer.” I emptied my glass. “You’re two pints behind.” “Oh, I see how it is.” He gestured to Billy. “Barkeep! Some little girl thinks she can outdrink me. We’ll need six pints–three for the gay and three for the goy.” – I awoke in my hidey-hole sore, groggy, and hungover. Probably hadn’t been a good idea to get wasted in the middle of all this shit, but as I’ve established, I make poor life choices. I spent a few minutes praying for death, then I drank as much water as I could stomach and emerged from the compartment like a slug. I ate some dry Gunk for breakfast (you taste it less that way) and wandered off to the public bathhouse on Bean Up 16. I spent the rest of the morning there soaking in a tub. Then it was off to a middle-class clothing store on Bean Up 18. I’d been wearing my jumpsuit for three straight days. It could almost stand up on its own at this point. Finally I was sort of human again. I walked along the narrow corridors of Armstrong until I reached the ESA lab’s main entrance. A few scientists wandered the halls on the way to work. Svoboda opened the door before I even had a chance to knock. “Jazz! Wait’ll you see–whoa, you look like shit.” “Thanks.” He produced a package of mints and poured a few into my hand. “No time to mock your alcoholism. I gotta show you this ZAFO shit. Come on!” He led me through the entryway and into his lab. The whole place looked different. He’d dedicated the main table to ZAFO analysis and shoved everything else to the walls to make room. Various pieces of equipment (most of it a mystery to me) covered the table. He bounced from one foot to another. “This is so awesome!” “Okay, okay,” I said. “What’s got you in such a tizzy?” He sat on a stool and cracked his knuckles. “First thing I did was visual examination.”

“You looked at it,” I said. “You can just say I looked at it.’” “By all accounts it’s a normal, single-mode fiber-optic line. The jacket, buffer, and cladding are all routine. The core fiber is eight microns across–totally normal. But I figured there’d be something special about the core, so I cut up some samples and–” “You cut it up?” I said. “I didn’t say you could cut it up!” “Yeah, I don’t care.” He tapped one of the devices on the lab table. “I used this baby to check the core’s index of refraction. That’s a pretty important stat for fiber optic.” I picked up a five-centimeter snippet of ZAFO from the table. “And you found something weird?” “Nope,” he said. “It’s 1.458. A little higher than fiber optics usually are, but only by a tiny bit.” I sighed. “Svoboda, can you skip over the ways it’s normal and just tell me what you found?” “All right, all right.” He reached over to a handheld device and picked it up. “This baby is how I cracked the mystery.” “I know you want me to ask what that is, but honestly I don’t–” “It’s an optical loss test set! OLTS for short. It tells you how much attenuation a fiber-optic cable has. Attenuation is the amount of light that gets lost to heat during transmission.” “I know what attenuation is,” I said. But it really didn’t matter. Once Svoboda got going there was no stopping him. I’ve never known anyone who loved his work as much as that guy. He set the OLTS back on the table. “Now, a typical attenuation for a high-end cable is around 0.4 decibels per kilometer. Guess what ZAFO’s attenuation is.” “No.” “Go on. Guess.” “Just tell me.” “It’s zero. Fucking. Zero!” He formed a circle with his arms. “Zeeeroooo!” I sat on the stool next to him. “So…no light gets lost in transmission? At all?” “Right! Well, at least, as far as I can tell. The precision of my OLTS is 0.001 decibels per kilometer.” I looked at the ZAFO snippet in my hands. “It has to have some attenuation,

though, right? I mean, it can’t actually be zero.” He shrugged. “Superconductors have zero resistance to electrical current. Why can’t there be a material with zero resistance to light?” “ZAFO…” I rolled the word around in my mouth. “Zero-attenuation fiber optic?” “Oh!” He smacked his forehead. “Of course!” “What’s it made of?” He spun to a wall-mounted machine. “That’s where my spectrometer came in!” He stroked it gently. “I call her Nora.” “And what did Nora have to say?” “The core’s mostly glass. No big surprise there, most fiber-optic cores are. But there were also trace amounts of tantalum, lithium, and germanium.” “Why are they in there?” “Hell if I know.” I rubbed my eyes. “Okay, so why is it so exciting? You can use less energy to transmit data?” “Oh, it’s way more awesome than that,” he said. “Normal fiber-optic lines can only be fifteen kilometers long. After that, the signal’s just too weak to continue. So you need repeaters. They read the signal and retransmit it. But repeaters cost money, they have to be powered, and they’re complicated. Oh, and they slow down the transmission too.” “So with ZAFO you don’t need repeaters.” “Right!” he said. “Earth has huge data cables. They run across entire continents, under the oceans, all over the world. Just think of how much simpler it would be without all those repeaters mucking shit up. Oh! And it would have very few transmission errors. That means more bandwidth. This shit is fantastic!” “Great. But is it worth killing over?” “Well…” he said. “I suppose every telecom company will want to upgrade. How much do you think the entire planet Earth’s communication network is worth? Because that’s roughly how much money ZAFO is going to make its owners. Yeah. That’s probably murderin’ money.” I pinched my chin. The more I thought about it the less I liked it. Then, the pieces all fell into place. “Oh! Goddammit!” “Whoa,” said Svoboda. “Who shit in your Rice Krispies?”

“This isn’t about aluminum at all!” I stood from the stool. “Thanks, Svobo. I owe you one.” “What?” he said. “What do you mean it’s not about aluminum? Then what’s it about?” But I already had a head of steam going. “Stay strange, Svobo. I’ll be in touch.” – The administrator’s office used to be in Armstrong Bubble because that was the only bubble. But once Armstrong became all loud noises and machinery, she relocated. Nowadays she worked out of a small, one-room office on Conrad Up 19. Yup, you heard me. The administrator of Artemis–the most important and powerful person on the moon, who could literally have any location rent-free– chose to work in the bluest of blue-collar areas. If I were Ngugi, I’d have a huge office overlooking the Aldrin Arcade. And it would have a wet bar and leather chairs and other cool powerful-people stuff. And a personal assistant. A beefy yet gentle guy who called me “boss” all the time. Yeah. Ngugi didn’t have any of that. She didn’t even have a secretary. Just a sign on her office door that read ADMINISTRATOR FIDELIS NGUGI. To be fair, it’s not like she was president of the United States. She was, effectively, the mayor of a small town. I pressed the doorbell and heard a simple buzz emanate from the room beyond. “Come in,” came Ngugi’s voice. I opened the door. Her office was even less fancy than I’d expected. Spartan, even. A few shelves with family photos jutted out of raw aluminum walls. Her sheet-metal desk looked like something from the 1950s. She did at least have a proper office chair–her one concession to personal comfort. When I’m seventy years old I’ll probably want a nice chair too. She typed away on a laptop. The older generations still preferred them to Gizmos or speech-interface devices. She somehow carried grace and aplomb even while hunched over at her desk. She wore casual clothes and, as always, her traditional dhuku headscarf. She finished typing a sentence, then smiled at me. “Jasmine! Wonderful to see you, dear. Please, have a seat.”

“Yea-thank-yes. I’ll…sit.” I settled into one of the two empty chairs facing her desk. She clasped her hands and leaned forward. “I’ve been so worried about you, dear. What can I do to help?” “I have a question about economics.” She raised her eyebrows. “Economics? Well, I do have some knowledge in that area.” Understatement of the century. This woman had transformed Kenya into the center of the global space industry. She deserved a Nobel Prize. Two, really. One for Economics and another for Peace. “What do you know about Earth’s telecom industry?” I asked. “That’s a broad topic, dear. Can you be more specific?” “What’s it worth, you think? Like, what kind of revenues do they pull down?” She laughed. “I could only hazard a guess. But the entire global industry? Somewhere in the five-to-six-trillion-dollar-per-year range.” “Holy shit! Er…pardon my language, ma’am.” “Not a problem, Jasmine. You’ve always been colorful.” “How do they make so much?” “They have a huge customer base. Every phone line, every internet connection, every TV cable subscription…they all create revenue for the industry–either directly from the customer or indirectly through advertising.” I looked down at the floor. I had to take a moment. “Jasmine?” “Sorry. Kind of tired–well, to be honest, I’m hungover.” She smiled. “You’re young. You’ll recover soon, I’m sure.” “Let’s say someone invented a better mousetrap,” I said. “A really awesome fiber-optic cable. One that reduced costs, increased bandwidth, and improved reliability.” She leaned back in her chair. “If the price point were comparable to existing cables, it would be a huge boon. And the manufacturer of that product would be swimming in money, of course.” “Yeah,” I said. “And let’s say the prototype of this new fiber optic was created in a specially made satellite in low-Earth orbit. One with a centrifuge aboard. What would that tell you?”

She looked puzzled. “This is a very odd discussion, Jasmine. What’s going on?” I drummed my fingers on my leg. “See, to me that means it can’t be created in Earth’s gravity. It’s the only reason to make a custom satellite.” She nodded. “That sounds reasonable. I take it something like this is in the works?” I pressed on. “But the satellite has a centrifuge. So they do need some force. It’s just that Earth’s gravity is too high. But what if the moon’s gravity were low enough for whatever process they’re using?” “This is an oddly specific hypothetical, dear.” “Humor me.” She put her hand on her chin. “Then obviously they could manufacture it here.” “So, in your expert opinion, where’s a better place to manufacture this imaginary product: low-Earth orbit or Artemis?” “Artemis,” she said. “No question. We have skilled workers, an industrial base, a transport infrastructure, and shipping to and from Earth.” “Yeah.” I nodded. “That’s kind of what I thought.” “This sounds very promising, Jasmine. Have you been offered a chance to invest? Is that why you’re here? If this invention is real, it’s definitely worth putting money into.” I wiped my brow. Conrad Up 19 was always a comfortable 22 degrees Celsius, but I was sweating nonetheless. I looked her in the eyes. “You know what’s strange? You didn’t mention radio or satellites.” She cocked her head. “I’m sorry, dear. What?” “When you talked about the telecom industry. You mentioned internet, phone, and TV. But you didn’t bring up radio or satellites.” “Those are certainly parts of it as well.” “Yeah,” I said. “But you didn’t mention them. In fact, you only talked about the parts of the industry that rely on fiber optics.” She shrugged. “Well, we’re talking about fiber optics, so that’s only natural.” “Except I hadn’t brought up fiber optics yet.” “You must have.” I shook my head. “I’ve got a very good memory.” She narrowed her eyes slightly.

I pulled a knife from my boot holster and held it at the ready. “How did O Palلcio find my Gizmo?” She pulled a gun from under the desk. “Because I told them where it was.”

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