فصل 12

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فصل 12

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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12

CLOSED FOR PRIVATE EVENT read the sign. “You didn’t have to do that, Billy,” I said. “Nonsense, luv,” he said. “You said you needed a meeting space, so this is it.” I closed the door to Hartnell’s behind me and sat at my usual spot. “But you’re losing revenue.” He laughed. “Believe me, luv, I’ve made far more from you than I’ll lose by being closed for an hour in the morning.” “Well, thanks.” I tapped the counter. “As long as I’m here…” He poured me a pint and slid it over. “Heya,” said Dale from the doorway. “You wanted to see me?” “Yeah,” I said. I took a swig of my beer. “But I don’t want to tell the same story over and over. So have a seat until everyone gets here.” “Seriously?” he groused. “I’ve got better shit to do than–” “Beer’s on me.” “A pint of your finest, Billy!” He hopped onto his seat. “Reconstituted garbage it is,” said Billy. Lene Landvik hobbled in on her crutches. Yes, she was sixteen and Hartnell’s was a bar, but there’s no drinking age in Artemis. It’s another one of those vague rules that’s enforced with punching. If Billy sold teenagers the occasional beer it was no big deal. But if he strayed too far down the age bracket he’d get a visit from angry parents. She sat at a nearby table and leaned her crutches against a chair. “How are you doing, kiddo?” I asked.

“Better,” she said. “Not cheerful or anything. But better.” “Step by step.” I raised my glass to her. “Keep at it.” “Thanks,” she said. “I don’t know how to bring this up but–did Dad pay you? Or did he…not get a chance?” Oh man, come on. I’d planned to approach Lene about it eventually, but not until she’d had time to mourn. “Well…no. He didn’t. But don’t worry about it.” “How much did he owe you?” “Lene, let’s talk about this later–” “How much?” Well, shit. I guess the conversation was going to happen right then. “A million slugs.” “Holy shit!” said Dale. “A million slugs?!” I ignored him. “But I don’t have any way to prove it, you’ve got no reason to take my word.” “Your word’s good enough,” she said. “Dad always said you were the most honest businessman he’d ever worked with. I’ll transfer the money today.” “No,” I said. “I didn’t deliver. The job was to stop Sanchez’s oxygen production. If you want, you can pay me after I do that. But you know this isn’t about money now, right?” “I know. But a deal’s a deal.” “Billy!” said Dale. “All my drinks are on Jazz from now on! She’s a millionaire!” “Right now I’m a thousandaire at best,” I said. “Buy your own drinks.” Dale and I had another couple of beers and Lene fiddled with her Gizmo. It would be a long time before her life had normalcy, but at least for the moment she got to be a teenage girl glued to her phone. Bob Lewis showed up at exactly ten a.m. “Bob,” I said. “Jazz,” he said. “Beer?” “No.” He sat across from Lene at her table and said nothing further. Marines know how to wait.

Svoboda came in next, carrying a box of electronics. He waved and started setting up. The damn fool had brought a digital projector and roll-up screen. He connected his Gizmo and, as usual with technology, it didn’t work. Unfazed, he twiddled settings. Happy as a pig in shit. One person had yet to arrive. I stared at the door, getting more and more nervous as the minutes ticked by. “What time is it?” I asked the room in general. Lene checked her wristwatch. “Ten thirteen a.m….and there’s currently a halfEarth, by the way. It’s waxing.” “Good to know,” I said. Finally, the door opened and the last guest stepped in. He scanned the bar until his eyes landed on me. I slid my beer glass away. I never drank in front of him. “Hi, Mr. Bashara,” said Lene. Dad walked over to her and took her hand. “Miss Landvik. I was so sorry to hear about your father. I wept when I heard.” “Thanks,” she said. “It’s been hard. But I’m getting better.” Bob stood. “Ammar. Good to see you.” “And you. How’s that rover hatch holding up?” “Perfectly. Hasn’t leaked at all.” “Glad to hear it.” Billy threw a towel over his shoulder. “Good morning, Ammar. Fancy some juice? I’ve got a few powder flavors back here. Grape is the most popular.” “Do you have cranberry?” Dad asked. “I do indeed!” Billy pulled out a pint glass and reconstituted some cranberry juice. Dale raised his glass. “Mr. Bashara.” Dad gave him a cold stare. “Dale.” “I forget,” said Dale, “do you hate me because I’m gay or because I’m Jewish?” “I hate you because you broke my daughter’s heart.” “Fair.” Dale polished off his beer. Dad sat next to me. “So a Muslim walks into a bar…” I said. He didn’t laugh. “I’m here because you said you needed me. If you’re just

having a drinking party I’d rather go back to the imam’s.” “I’m not–” “Mr. Bashara?” Svoboda popped his head between us. “Hi, we haven’t met. I’m Martin Svoboda. I’m a friend of Jazz’s.” Dad shook his hand. “One of those friends with benefits’?” “Ugh.” I rolled my eyes. “I don’t do that, Dad. This may shock you, but I haven’t had sex with anyone in this whole room.” “Well, it’s a small room.” “Burn!” Svoboda said. “Anyway, I just wanted to say you did a great job raising Jazz.” “You think so?” Dad said. “All right,” I said. “Let’s get started.” I walked toward the white screen. Svoboda got it to work, of course. He always got shit to work. I took a breath. “A lot’s been going on and some of you have questions. Like Bob, who wants to know who did an unlicensed EVA to blow shit up. And Dad, who wants to know why I’ve made him hide out at the imam’s house for the last week. Settle in, I’m going to tell you everything I know….” So I told them the whole sordid tale. All about the Queensland Glass fire, how Trond hired me, how the job went wrong, and how it connected to the murders. That led to O Palلcio, Lefty, and Jin Chu. I told them about Sanchez Aluminum’s oxygen contract and Trond’s plan to take it over. I turned the floor over to Svoboda to explain ZAFO and how it worked. Then I finished up by telling the sea of shocked faces that dozens of mobsters were on their way to Artemis. When I stopped talking, a general silence fell across the room. Dale spoke first. “I think we can all agree this is pretty fucked up. But a couple dozen mobsters can’t just take over Artemis. I mean, we’ve had bar fights bigger than that.” “This isn’t a gangster movie,” I said. “They’re not going to waltz in and start bashing skulls. They’ll just guard Sanchez Aluminum to make sure they keep the oxygen-for-power contract. We have a short window of opportunity before they get here.” “I assume whatever you’ve concocted will be illegal,” Dad said. “Very.”

He stood from his stool. “Then I won’t participate.” “Dad, this is my only chance to stay alive.” “Nonsense. We can go back to Earth. My brother in Tabuk could take us in–” “No, Dad.” I shook my head. “No running away. Saudi Arabia’s your old neighborhood but it’s not mine. There’s nothing for me there but gravity sickness. Artemis is my home. I’m not leaving and I’m sure as hell not letting mobsters take over.” He sat back down. He gave me a mean look, but didn’t leave. That was something, at least. “Tell them about the plan!” Svoboda said. “I have all the visual aids ready!” “All right, all right. Bring up the schematics.” He tapped his Gizmo a few times and the projector showed architectural plans. The text in the title box read SANCHEZ ALUMINUM SMELTER BUBBLE– METALLURGICAL ANALYSIS. I pointed to the screen. “The smelter bubble is much smaller than a municipal bubble. It’s only thirty meters across. But it still has the same double-hull construction as any other bubble. Wherever there are humans, KSC requires double hulls.” I walked in front of the screen and pointed to features as I spoke. “Over here is the control room. It’s got a big window overlooking the facility, so I’ll have to be sneaky.” “Is the control room its own air compartment?” Dad asked. “No, it shares air with the rest of the facility. They have to access the main floor so often they didn’t want an air-seal door in their way–that’s my assumption, anyway. They have an air shelter in the control room if anything goes wrong. And if the train is docked they can just go in there too.” “Okay,” Dad said. I continued. “The grinders are outside and the grit comes in through this compression airlock. Then it moves downstairs to the lower level. The sorter centrifuge separates the anorthite out from the other minerals. Then it’s sintered into anodes. From there it goes back upstairs into the smelter.” I tapped a large rectangle in the middle of the schematics. “This is where the magic happens. The smelter reduces anorthite into its base elements by using an assload of electricity.” “FFC Cambridge Process,” said Svoboda. “It’s awesome! The anode is dipped

in a calcium chloride salt bath, then electrolysis literally yanks atoms out! Oh, and the carbon cathodes get eroded so they have to constantly re-sinter them from the carbon they recover off the CO2 by-product. They use some of the resulting powdered aluminum to make rocket fuel, but the rest–” “Calm yourself,” I said. “Anyway, I’m going to break in there and make the smelter smelt itself to death.” “You can’t spell smelt’ without melt’!” Svoboda added. “How will you do it?” Dale asked. “I’ll crank up power to the heater,” I said. “The bath is normally nine hundred degrees Celsius, but if I can get it to fourteen hundred, the steel containment vessel will melt. Then the superheated salt bath will escape and destroy everything in the bubble.” Dad scowled. “What good will this petty vandalism do?” “First off, Dad, it’s not petty vandalism. It’s extreme vandalism. Second off: With their smelter destroyed, Sanchez won’t be able to make oxygen, and the contract with the city will be up for grabs. That’s where Lene comes in.” Lene fidgeted as everyone turned toward her. “Uh, yeah. Dad had–er…I have enough oxygen to last Artemis a year. I’ll offer to take over the contract as soon as Sanchez is in breach.” “And Ngugi will rubber-stamp it,” I said. “She wants O Palلcio out of Artemis as much as we do.” Bob snorted. “Why should I get involved in this?” “Dammit, Bob,” I said. “I don’t want to spend time on the will you or won’t you help me’ part. If you don’t understand why we have to do this, go stand in the corner until you do.” “You’re such an asshole,” said Bob. “Hey!” Dad shot Bob a look that made the burly marine draw back. “He’s right, Dad. I am an asshole. But Artemis needs an asshole right now and I got drafted.” I walked to the middle of the room. “This moment–this moment right now–is where we decide what kind of city Artemis is going to be. We can either act now, or let our home degenerate into syndicate rule for generations. This isn’t some theoretical scenario. They burned down a business. They murdered two people. There’s a huge amount of money in play–they’re not going to stop.

“This isn’t a new thing. New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Moscow, Rome, Mexico City–they all went through hell to control their mob infestations. And those are the success stories. Big chunks of South America are still under cartel control. Let’s not do that. Let’s take care of the cancer before it can spread.” I looked each person in the eyes. “I’m not asking you to do this for me. I’m asking you to do it for Artemis. We can’t let O Palلcio take over. This is our one chance. They’re bringing an army to town. Once those enforcers are here, we’ll never be able to shut down Sanchez’s oxygen flow. It’ll be guarded better than Fort Knox.” I paused briefly just in case anyone wanted to argue that point. No one did. “Look, we’ve got a lot of planning to do so let’s cut the bullshit. Bob: You’re a marine. You spent half your life protecting the United States. Now Artemis is your home and it’s in danger. Will you protect it?” That hit him where it counted. I could see it in his face. I walked over to my father. “Dad, do it because this is the only way to save your daughter’s life.” He pursed his lips. “Sleazy tactic, Jasmine.” I turned to Dale. “Do I even need to explain why you have to do it?” Dale dodged the question by gesturing to Billy for another beer. “You’re not a complete asshole, Jazz. I assume you have a plan to keep the workers from getting hurt?” Bob raised his hand. “And how will you get into the bubble? Even without mailorder goons on the way, Sanchez has tight security.” “And what about the safety systems?” Svoboda asked. “I looked over the schematics your Earth buddy sent. The smelter has three redundant temperaturecontrol systems and a fail-safe copper melt plug.” “And why do you need me at all?” Dad asked. “All right, all right.” I put out my hands. “I can answer all of that. But first I need to know: Are we done with the convincing part? Are we all on board?” The room fell silent. Even Billy stopped his morning prep to see how it played out. “I’m not convinced you’re right,” Bob said. “But I can’t risk Artemis having the future you described. And they killed two of our people. I’m in.” Dad nodded. “In.” “You know I’m in,” said Svoboda. “I love a good caper!”

“Me too,” said Lene. “I mean…the being in part. I’m undecided on capers.” “This buys me off,” Dale said. “Done with the guilt about Tyler. No more of that shit.” I frowned. “I can’t just stop being mad.” “No, but you can stop wallowing in it. And you can talk to me like a normal human being.” He swigged his beer without breaking eye contact. “That’s my price.” “Fine,” I said. I wasn’t sure how I’d accomplish that, but for the sake of the city I had to swallow my pride.

Bob used his towering form and military bearing to clear a path through the Port of Entry. Dad and I followed behind, pushing a cartful of welding supplies. I spotted Trigger in his parking space. I hadn’t had opportunity to use him lately. I didn’t have time for deliveries during all the chaos my life had become. I missed the little guy. Maybe I’d drive him around just for the hell of it when this was all over. Bob led us to one corner of the huge chamber. He’d set up temporary walls. We went around them and into the ad-hoc workroom. “I hope this’ll do,” said Bob. He gestured to the detached air shelter in the center of the room. “It’s the biggest one I could find.” The cylindrical pressure vessel had a single manual hatch and four air tanks. On the back, there was a battery system to power internal fans and a chemical CO2absorption system. Over the main hatch a sign read MAX CAPACITY: 4 PERSONS. MAX DURATION: 72 HOURS. “Where did you get it?” Dad asked warily. “My house. It’s my own family emergency shelter.” “Shit,” I said. “You didn’t have to do that, Bob.” “I knew Ammar wouldn’t want me stealing one. Besides, you’ll buy me a new one.” “Apparently I will.” Dammit. That’d set me back a few thousand slugs for sure. Dad inspected the shelter with his experienced eye. He walked a lap around it, looking every detail up and down. “This will do.” “All right. I’ll leave you to it,” said Bob. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Bob walked around the temporary wall and out of the room. That left me and Dad staring at each other. I picked up a welding mask from the cart. “Just like old times, huh? Been a while since we did a project together.” “Nine years.” He threw a jumpsuit at me. “Wear the safety gear. All of it.” “Oh, come on. The suit’s hot as hell and–” He cut me off with a look. It’s like I was sixteen again. I grudgingly climbed into the jumpsuit and started sweating immediately. Ugh. “How are we doing this?” I asked. He reached into the cart and hefted out a stack of aluminum sheets. “We’ll cut the hole in the back. We’ll have to move the tanks and batteries but that won’t be a problem.” I put the welding mask on. “And then what? How do we make a connection point?” He leaned the panels against the vessel. “We’re going to weld these around the new hole to make a skirt.” I picked one of the panels up. I spotted the manufacturer’s logo stamped in the corner. “Now, that is ironic. This is from Sanchez Aluminum.” “They make quality material,” Dad said. “Landvik Aluminum will make quality material too.” I put the panel down. “Will a corner weld hold against a vacuum?” He took out a Sharpie and uncapped it. “We won’t have a corner. We’ll soften the panels with unfocused torches and bend them over the curvature of the pressure vessel. We’ll assemble them into a cylinder.” He looked up at me. “And how many panels will that take?” Always a goddamned quiz. “Well,” I said, “we shouldn’t bend five-millimeter stock more than a fiftycentimeter-radius turn. I’m guessing about six to make the full arc.” “Six would work,” he said. “We’ll use eight to be safe. Now, hand me the tape measure.” I did as he asked. He carefully measured and marked points on the shelter. “So when’s the lecture coming?” I asked. “You’re an adult. It’s not my place to lecture you on anything.” “But you’ll continue the passive-aggressive barbs, right? I wouldn’t want to miss

out on those.” He stood up. “I’ve never pretended to approve of your choices, Jasmine. I have no obligation to. But I don’t try to control you either. Not since you moved out. Your life is your own.” “Yay me,” I said. “This is a terrible situation you’ve landed in,” he said. “I’m choosing the lesser of two evils by helping you. I’ve never broken the law before in my life.” I winced and looked at my feet. “I really am sorry to drag you into this.” “What’s done is done,” he said. “Now, put your mask on and hand me a cutting head.” I put my mask on and gave him the desired tool from the cart. He fixed the head and checked it twice. Then he meticulously checked the gas-mixture valves. Then he rechecked the cutting head. “What’s up, Dad? You’re slow as snot today.” “Just being thorough.” “Are you kidding? I’ve seen you fire up a torch with one hand and set mixture levels with the other at the same time. Why are you–” Oh. I stopped talking. This wasn’t a normal job. Tomorrow, his daughter’s life would rely on the quality of these welds. It slowly dawned on me that, to him, this was the most critical project he’d ever done. He would accept nothing short of his absolute best. And if that meant taking all day, so be it. I stood back and let him work. After more fastidious double checks, he got started. I assisted and did what I was told. We may have our friction, but when it came to welding he was the master and I was the apprentice. Very few people get a chance to quantify how much their father loves them. But I did. The job should have taken forty-five minutes, but Dad spent three and a half hours on it. My father loves me 366 percent more than he loves anything else. Good to know. – I sat on the edge of Svoboda’s bed and watched him set up. He’d really gone all out. In addition to the normal monitor on his desk, he’d mounted four other monitors to the wall.

He typed on the keyboard and magically brought each monitor to life. “A little overboard, don’t you think?” I said. He continued typing. “Two cameras on your EVA suit, two on Dale’s, and I need a screen for diagnostics. That’s five screens.” “Could have been windows on the same screen, though, right?” “Pfft. Philistine.” I flopped back onto the bed and sighed. “On a scale from one to invade Russia in winter,’ how stupid is this plan?” “Risky as all hell, but I don’t see what else you can do. Besides”–he turned to me with a grin–“you have your own personal Svoboda. How can you lose?” I snickered. “But have I covered every angle?” He shrugged. “No such thing. But for what it’s worth, you got everything I can think of.” “That means a lot,” I said. “You’re pretty thorough.” “Well, there is one thing,” he said. “Shit. What?” “Well, it’s half of a thing.” He turned back to his computer and brought up the Sanchez bubble schematics. “The methane tanks bother me.” “How so?” I walked over and hovered behind him. My hair dangled on his face a little, but he didn’t seem to mind. “There’s thousands of liters of liquid methane here.” “Why do they need methane?” “The rocket fuel they manufacture is about one percent methane. It’s needed as a combustion regulator. They import it from Earth in big-ass tanks.” “Okay, what’s your concern?” “It’s flammable. Like…super-duper flammable.” He pointed to a different part of the schematic. “And there’s a huge staging tank of pure oxygen over here.” “And then I’m going to add a bunch of molten steel to the room,” I said. “What could go wrong?” “Right, that’s my concern,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be a problem. By the time the smelter melts, there won’t be anyone around.” “Yeah,” I said. “And if the tanks do leak and explode that’s great. Even more damage!”

“I guess,” he said, clearly not convinced. “It just bugs me, you know? It’s not part of the plan. I don’t like things that don’t match a plan.” “If that’s the worst thing you can think of, I’m in good shape.” “Guess so,” he said. I stretched my back. “I wonder if I’ll sleep tonight.” “You crashing here?” “Eh…” I said. “Ngugi isn’t going to sell me out again. Have I mentioned she’s a bitch?” “It’s come up.” “Anyway, now no one can track me down by my Gizmo. So I can pay for a hotel. I’ll probably be up late fretting, anyway. I wouldn’t want to keep you awake.” “Okay,” he said. Was there a hint of disappointment in his voice? I put my hands on his shoulders. Not sure why, but I did. “Thanks for always being in my corner. It means a lot to me.” “Sure.” He craned his neck around to look up at me. “I’ll always be there for you, Jazz.” We looked at each other for a moment. “Hey, did you try out the condom yet?” he asked. “Goddammit, Svoboda!” I said. “What? I’m waiting for feedback here.” I threw my hands up and walked away. – The huge door to the freight airlock lumbered open and revealed the desolate lunar landscape beyond. Dale checked a reading on the rover’s control panel. “Pressure is good, air mix A-okay, CO2 absorption on automatic.” I looked over the screens in front of my seat. “Batteries at one hundred percent, wheel motor diagnostics are green, comms are five-by-five.” He grabbed the control stick. “Port of Entry Airlock, request permission to disembark.” “Granted,” came Bob’s voice over the intercom. “Take good care of my rover, Shapiro.”

“Will do.” “Try not to screw it up, Bashara,” Bob said. “Bite me,” I said. Dale slapped the Mute button and shot me a look. “You know what, Jazz? We’re breaking every guild rule in the book. If we get caught, Bob and I will both get kicked out. Forever. We’re risking our livelihood here. Can you be a little more fucking considerate?!” I unmuted the mike. “Uh…thanks, Bob. For…all this.” “Copy,” came the clipped reply. Dale piloted the rover out of the airlock and onto the regolith. I expected things to get bumpy but the suspension was very smooth. That, plus the area just outside had been flattened and smoothed over by years of frequent use. Bob’s rover was, simply put, the best rover on the moon. This was no dune buggy with awkward seats for EVA-suited passengers. It was fully pressurized and had a spacious interior with supplies and power enough to last for days. Both of our EVA suits were stored neatly in racks along the walls. The rover even had a partitioned airlock in the rear, meaning the cabin never had to lose pressure, even if someone went outside. Dale looked straight ahead while he drove. He refused to even cast me a sideways glance. “You know what?” I said. “It’s the EVA Guild that’s a threat to your livelihood, not me. Maybe protectionist bullshit isn’t the best policy.” “You’re probably right. We should let everyone play with the airlocks. I’m sure we can trust untrained people not to annihilate the city with the press of a button.” “Oh, please. The guild could have members operate the airlocks and let people manage their EVAs themselves. They’re just greedy fucks running a labor cartel. Pimps went out of style a long time ago, you know.” He snickered despite himself. “I’ve missed our political arguments.” “Me too.” I checked the time. We had a fairly tight schedule to keep. So far, so good. We turned southeast and headed toward the Berm a kilometer away. Not a long drive, but it would have been a very long walk, especially dragging the modified air shelter with us. The shelter clanked against the roof as we entered the rougher terrain. We both

looked up at the source of the noise, then at each other. “It’s strapped down tight, right?” he asked. “You were there when we secured it,” I said. Clang. I winced. “If it falls off, we pick it up, I guess. It would cost us time we don’t have, but we could hustle.” “And hope it didn’t break.” “No way it breaks,” I said. “Dad did the welds. They’ll last until the sun goes cold.” “Yeah, about that,” he said, “will you be able to handle the next set of welds?” “Yes.” “And what if you can’t?” “I’ll die,” I said. “So I’m fairly motivated to get it right.” He turned left slightly. “Hang on. We’re crossing over the pipe.” The air pipeline that carried freshly minted oxygen from the smelter to Armstrong Bubble lay along the ground. On Earth, no one would be insane enough to ship pressurized oxygen gas through a pipeline. But on the lunar surface, there’s nothing to burn. Also, on Earth, they usually bury pipelines to protect the system from weather, animals, and idiot humans. We don’t do that here. Why would we? We don’t have weather or animals and all the idiot humans are mostly confined to the city. Dale managed the controls as the front end of the rover bucked up and down, then the rear did the same. “Is that really safe?” I asked. “Driving over a high-pressure line like that?” He adjusted one of the wheel motor controls. “That pipe’s walls are eight centimeters thick. We couldn’t hurt it if we tried.” “I have welding equipment. I could hurt it.” “You’re a pedantic little shit, you know that?” “Yeah.” I looked through the roof porthole. Earth hung in the sky–a half-Earth, just like Lene’s watch had said. We’d strayed far enough from the city that the terrain became wholly natural. Dale navigated us around a boulder. “Tyler says hi.”

“Give him my best.” “He really does care about–” “Don’t.” My Gizmo rang. I put it in a dashboard slot and it connected to the rover’s audio system. Of course the rover had an audio system. Bob traveled in style. “Yo.” “Yo, Jazz,” came Svoboda’s voice. “Where you guys at now? I don’t have a camera feed.” “Still en route. The suit cams are offline. Is Dad there?” “Yup, right next to me. Say hi, Ammar!” “Hello, Jasmine,” said Dad. “Your friend is…interesting.” “You get used to him,” I said. “Say hi to Dale.” “No.” Dale snorted. “Call me when you’re suited up,” said Svoboda. “Will do. Later.” I hung up. Dale shook his head. “Man, your dad really hates me. And it’s not about Tyler either. He hated me before all that.” “Not for the reasons you think,” I said. “I still remember when I told him you were gay. I thought he’d be pissed off, but he was relieved. He actually smiled.” “Huh?” Dale said. “Once he found out you weren’t nailing me, he warmed up to you a lot. But then, you know, then came the whole stealing-my-boyfriend thing.” “Right.” We crested a small rise and saw the flatlands ahead of us. The Berm stood a hundred meters away. Just beyond it would be the reactor complex and Sanchez’s bubble. “Fifteen minutes till we get there,” Dale said, apparently reading my thoughts. “Nervous?” “Shitting myself.” “Good,” he said. “I know you think you’re flawless on EVAs, but remember you flunked that test.” “Thanks for the pep talk.” “I’m just saying a little humility’s good on an EVA.”

I stared out the side window. “Believe me, this past week has been humiliating enough.”

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