فصل 04

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فصل 04

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The next morning, I woke up naked in a plush, comfortable bed. No, there wasn’t anyone with me. Get your mind out of the gutter. I just wanted to get a taste of what life would be like once I got that million slugs. I stretched out my arms and arched my back. What a fantastic night’s sleep! Unlike my shitty coffin, this room had excellent noise insulation. No neighbors waking me up with screaming arguments or loud sex. No booming hallway conversations bleeding in. No drunk idiots stumbling into walls. And the bed! I could lie across it width-wise and still fit! Plus the sheets and blankets were softer than velvet. The bedding felt better against my skin than my own pajamas. The room cost 2,000 a night. When I got my payday from Trond, I’d get a bed like this in my beautiful noise-proof apartment. I checked my Gizmo. Eleven in the morning?! Wow, I really slept! I slid out of the warm sheets and walked over to the bathroom–the private bathroom. No robe, no dudes checking me out in the hall, just me and my bladder headed to take care of business in peace. I went through my morning ritual, including an extra-long shower. Private shower–another thing for my list of future amenities. Water’s expensive in Artemis, but it’s not like we throw it away. It’s a closed system, so what you really pay for is water purification. The hotel room had a graywater-reuse shower. The first twenty liters were fresh water (that lasted about three minutes). After that, it reheated your used water and gave it back to you. You could be in there as long as you wanted and you’d only use twenty liters. Important note: Do not pee in a graywater-reuse shower.

I threw on an insanely comfortable terrycloth robe and wrapped my hair in a towel-turban. Time to work on the next step of my evil plan. This time I didn’t need to do any research. I just needed to brainstorm. I lay back on the Bed Jazz Never Wanted to Leave and let my mind wander. The problem: How would I get out of the city? Airlocks won’t obey commands from non­EVA Guild members. There’s a good reason for that. The last thing you want is some untrained dipshit playing around with airlock controls. A misused airlock is a fast and efficient way to kill everyone in a bubble. So, to use an airlock control panel, you have to wave your Gizmo over it. It verifies that you’re part of the guild. It’s a simple idiot-proofing scheme that’s very effective. But no idiot-proofing can overcome a determined idiot. There’s a flaw in the system. For safety reasons, airlocks don’t have security on their outer doors. If you’re in a leaky EVA suit and scrambling to safety, the last thing you want to see is “VERIFYING AUTHORIZATION….” I just needed someone to operate the controls from the outside. Someone…or something. – I left the hotel room because the front desk called to say I had to check out or they’d charge me for another night. Then I drove Trigger to Armstrong Down 4. Or, as the locals called it, Little Hungary. The Hungarians owned all the metalworking shops. Just like the Vietnamese owned Life Support and Saudis owned welding. I pulled up next to the workshop of Dad’s colleague Zsَka Strَbl, who was apparently named during a severe vowel famine. She was a pressure-vessel specialist. When Dad got a contract to install an air shelter, he usually bought one from Zsَka. She made high-quality product and Dad’s all about quality. I parked Trigger and rapped on the door. Zsَka slid it open a crack, peeked out with one eye, and spoke with a thick accent. “You want what?” I pointed to myself. “It’s me, Mrs. Strَbl. Jazz Bashara.” “You are daughter of Ammar Bashara,” she said. “He good man. You were nice little girl. Now you are bad.” “Okay…look, I want to talk to you about something–”

“You are unmarried and have sex with many men.” “Yes, I’m quite the harlot.” Her son, Isvan, had banged more dudes than I ever had. I resisted the urge to tell her. “I just need to borrow something for a couple of days. I’m willing to pay you a thousand slugs for it.” She opened the door a little wider. “Borrow what?” “Your HIB.” Zsَka had been around for the construction of both Bean and Shepard Bubbles. Bubble construction is a hell of a job (pays well too). She and dozens of other metalworkers had made the slightly curved triangles that stacked on a frame to form the hull. The EVA masters assembled the pieces and added enough rivets to make a shitty, leaky pressure seal. Then Life Support kept the bubble fed with enough air to counteract the leaks while welders made the real seals from inside. Dad made good money off those jobs, I remember. Ethical metalworkers like Zsَka regularly inspect their work. But how do you look at the outside of the hull without being a trained, licensed EVA master? With a hull-inspection bot. “HIB” for short. They’re really just R/C cars with claws instead of wheels. The outer hulls of Artemis are covered in handles to ensure access for maintenance. HIBs use those handles to get wherever they want. Seems inefficient, eh? Well, it’s the only way to climb up the side of a bubble. The aluminum isn’t magnetic, suction cups and propellers don’t work in a vacuum, and a rocket engine would be stupidly expensive. “Why you want HIB?” she asked. I’d worked out a lie in advance. “The Shepard relief valve is leaking. Dad was the one who installed it. He wants me to check the weld site.” Keeping Artemis at constant pressure is tricky. If people use more power than usual, the city becomes slightly over-pressurized. Why? The power becomes heat, which increases the air temperature, and that makes the pressure go up. Normally, Life Support pulls air out of the system to compensate. But what if that doesn’t work? So as a fail-safe, the city has relief valves in every bubble. If the pressure gets too high, they’ll open and let air out until it’s back to normal. “Your father never makes bad weld. Must be other problem.” “I know that and you know that, but we have to rule it out.”

She thought it over. “How long you need?” “Just a couple of days.” “One thousand slugs?” I pulled out my Gizmo. “Yeah. And I’ll pay in advance.” “You wait.” She slid the door closed. After a minute, Zsَka opened the door again and handed me a case. I checked inside to make sure everything was there. The mechanical bug was thirty centimeters long. Its four movement claws were folded into their stow position and the tool arm formed a “7” shape along the top of the robot. That arm had a high-definition camera on the end and basic clamping and grabbing actuators. Perfect for poking at things and recording the results– exactly what you need when remotely inspecting a hull. And also what I needed for my nefarious plan. She handed me the remote–a sleek little device with knobs and joysticks surrounding a video screen. “You know how to use?” “I read the manual online.” She frowned. “You break, you pay for fix.” “This is just between you and me, right?” I hovered my finger over my Gizmo screen. “The Welding Guild’s always looking for excuses to shit-talk Dad–I don’t want to give them ammo.” “Ammar is good man. Good welder. I will not tell.” “So we have a deal?” She pulled out her Gizmo. “Yes.” I fired off the funds transfer and she accepted. “You bring back. Two days.” She returned to her shop and closed the door. Yeah, she was grumpy and thought I was a bimbo. But you know what? I wish everyone was like her. No chitchat, no bullshit, no pretense of friendship. Just goods and services exchanged for money. The perfect business partner.

I did a little shopping in Bean Bubble. It was more expensive than I like, but I needed specialty clothing. Artemis has a small Muslim population (including my dad), so there are a few stores that cater to them. I found a long tan dress with

simple colors and a stylish embroidered pattern. It was suitable for even the most conservative Muslim gal. I also bought a dark-green niqab. I considered brown or black, but the dark green counterpointed the tan dress for an earthy ensemble. Just ‘cause I was planning a heist, that didn’t mean I couldn’t look good doing it. Okay, you can stop pretending you know what a niqab is. It’s a traditional Islamic headwear that covers the lower face. Combined with a hijab (head cloth) to cover my hair, only my eyes were visible. Great way to wear a mask without arousing suspicion. Next, I had to get a new Gizmo. I couldn’t use my own–that would leave a digital trail of all the illegal shit I was about to do. I could just see Rudy reviewing my Gizmo’s logs and building a case. No thanks. Life’s a pain in the ass when you have a cop constantly on your ass. I needed a false identity. Lucky for me it’s easy to set up a false identity here. Mainly because nobody cares who you are. Things here are set up to prevent identity theft, not aliases. If you tried to steal a real person’s identity you’d fail miserably. As soon as your victim found out they’d report it and Rudy would use your Gizmo to track you down. Where would you run? Outside? Hope you can hold your breath. I went online and converted a few hundred slugs into euros. Then I used those euros to buy slugs from KSC under the name Nuha Nejem. It only took ten minutes of internet activity. It would have been even faster if I were on Earth, but we have that four-second ping time from here. I stopped at home and dropped off my Gizmo. Time to become Nuha Nejem. I went to the Artemis Hyatt, a small hotel on Bean Up 6 with little flair but reasonable prices. They saw a lot of business from ordinary people taking a oncein-a-lifetime vacation. I’d only been there once before, on a date with a tourist. The room was pleasant enough, but I’m not the best judge. I only got a good look at the ceiling. The whole hotel was one long hallway. The “front desk” was a closet-size kiosk with a single employee. I didn’t recognize him, which was good. It meant he wouldn’t recognize me. “I greet,” I said with a thick Arabic accent. Between that and my traditional clothes, everything about me screamed tourist. “Welcome to the Artemis Hyatt!” he said. “Needing Gizmo.” He was used to broken-English conversations. “Gizmo? You need a Gizmo?”

“Gizmo.” I nodded. “Needing.” I could see his thought process. He could try to figure out which reservation I was under, but as a Saudi woman, it would be under my husband’s name. That would take a lot of pantomime and miscommunication to work out. Easier just to set up the Gizmo for me. It’s not like it cost the hotel anything. “Name?” he said. I didn’t want to be too eager. I looked at him with confusion. He patted himself on the chest. “Norton. Norton Spinelli.” Then he pointed to me. “Name?” “Ah,” I said. I patted my own chest. “Nuha Nejem.” He typed away on his computer. Yes, there was an account for Nuha Nejem, and no one had linked a Gizmo to it. It all made sense. He pulled a weathered Gizmo from under the counter. It was an older model with the words PROPERTY OF ARTEMIS HYATT stenciled on the back. With a few keystrokes, he got everything set up. Then he handed me the Gizmo and said, “Welcome to Artemis!” “I thank,” I said with a smile. “I thank many. Moon is much excitement!” I had a fake identity. Time for Phase Two. I brought up the map app on my new Gizmo and pretended to navigate with it. Obviously, I didn’t need a map to get around Artemis, but it was all part of my tourist act. I wandered inefficiently across town to the Port of Entry. I carried a big purse, of course. What tourist woman would be without one? Now for the tricky part. Everyone knew me at the port. I was there every day and my sparkling personality was hard to forget. That’s not ideal when you’re trying to sneak around. But today I wasn’t Jazz Bashara. I was Nuha Nejem, Saudi tourist. I headed to the waiting area next to the train airlock and joined a crowd of tourists. All the seats were taken and dozens more people stood around. Several families had obnoxious kids bouncing off the walls. In this case, “bouncing off the walls” is not just a figure of speech. The overstimulated kids were literally bouncing off the walls. Lunar gravity is the worst thing to ever happen to parents. “This is so cool!” said a dumb blonde to her trust-fund boyfriend. “We’re about to take the moonorail!” Ugh. Only tourists called it that. It’s not even a monorail! It runs on parallel tracks, just like trains on Earth. By the way, we also hate it when people call us “Loonies” or when they call

Artemis the “City in Space.” We’re not in space–we’re on the moon. I mean, technically we’re “in space” but so is London. I digress. The train finally arrived. I pretended to be enthralled by its approach like everyone else. It was just a single car, not the long-ass trains Earthers are used to. It slowed to a crawl next to the docking port and inched forward until it connected. After a click and a kachunk, the round entry hatch opened up to reveal the conductor. Shit! It was Raj! He wasn’t supposed to be there! He must have switched shifts with someone. Raj and I grew up together. We went to the same schools. We were teenagers together. We weren’t close friends or anything, but we saw each other every day for most of our lives. My dress and hijab might not be enough of a disguise. He stepped through the aperture and adjusted his uniform–a silly, nineteenthcentury-style, navy-blue outfit with brass buttons and a conductor’s cap. Giddy folks returning from the Apollo 11 site exited the train. Many of them carried souvenirs from the Visitor Center: lunar modules carved from local rocks, Apollo 11 mission patches, and so on. Once everyone de-trained, Raj called out in a clear, loud voice, “This is the 2:34 p.m. traaaain to Apollo Eleeeeeven! All aboooooard!” He held out a vintagelooking brass ticket shredder. Of course, there were no paper tickets to shred. It was just decoration surrounding a payment pad. I closed the niqab a little tighter and walked with a hunch. Maybe if I changed my body language I wouldn’t be as recognizable. Passengers filed past Raj, waved their Gizmos over the shredder, and walked through an antechamber into the train. He made sure there was only one person in the antechamber at a time. He was sneaky about it, mostly by standing in people’s way. It was easier than explaining, “If there’s a pressure failure, the antechamber door will close. The city will be safe but you’ll die.” When my turn came, I looked down to avoid eye contact. My Gizmo beeped and popped up a text blurb: CITY OF ARTEMIS: 75 TRAIN FARE. Raj didn’t notice me. I breathed a sigh of relief and stepped into the train.

The seats had all been taken and I was ready to stand for the whole trip, but a tall black guy saw me and stood up. He said something in French and pointed to his seat. A true gentleman! I bowed to him and sat down. I rested my purse in my lap. Once the last passenger boarded, Raj followed and sealed both antechamber doors along the way. He walked to the front of the train and spoke over the intercom. “Welcome to the Lunar Express! This is the 2:34 p.m. service to the Apollo 11 Visitor Center. Our scheduled arrival time is 3:17 p.m. Please keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times!” A snicker rippled through the passengers. It was a stupid-ass joke, but comedic gold to the tourists. The train set off. It was utterly smooth. No rocking, no shaking, nothing like that. It ran on an electric motor (obviously) and the tracks never had to deal with the warping effects of weather. Plus, there wasn’t much weight on them, compared to Earth tracks. Each row of seats had a porthole window. Passengers eagerly took turns looking at the drab, rocky landscape. Why did it excite them so much? It’s a bunch of gray rocks. Who gives a shit? A frumpy Midwestern woman giggled at her window and turned to me. “Isn’t it amazing?! We’re on the moon!” “Ma’alesh, ana ma’aref Englizy,” I said with a shrug. She turned to another passenger. “Isn’t it amazing?! We’re on the moon!” Nothing like a language barrier to make people leave you alone. I brought up an Arabic gossip webzine on my Gizmo. I just wanted an excuse to keep my head down. Fortunately, Raj was manning the controls and facing away. By the time we arrived, I had learned all about the latest scandal in the Saudi royal family. The crown prince had cheated on his wives. Two of them had filed for divorce under the Islamic law of Khula, but the other two were standing by him. I was halfway through reading the queen’s quote on the situation when the train came to a stop. The familiar sounds of the docking procedure clanged through the car and Raj shouted “End of the liiine!” He walked to the door and opened it. “Apollo 11 Visitor Center! Have an excellent stay!” We all crowded out of the train and found ourselves in a gift shop. Some folks

stopped there, but most of us continued forward to the Viewing Hall. That entire side of the center was floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the landing site. A well-manicured docent greeted the crowd as we approached the glass. I averted my eyes. Yet another person I knew. Goddamn, it’s annoying to commit crimes in a small town. Gunter Eichel had emigrated to Artemis ten years earlier with his stepsister, Ilsa. They came because they were ostracized in Germany for being a couple. Yes, really. That’s why they emigrated. We don’t care what people do, sex-wise, as long as everyone’s a consenting adult. (Though some folks stretch the definition of “adult.”) Anyway, he and I weren’t friends or anything. My disguise would be fine. He waited for people to conglomerate, then launched into his presentation. “Welcome to Tranquility Base. Come on up to the glass, there’s plenty of room for everyone.” We moved forward and lined up against the giant windows. The lander sat where it had been for the last century, alongside experimental packages that the old-time astronauts had laid out. “You may notice the Viewing Hall windows follow a weird path,” Gunter said. “Why not just a half-circle or a straight line? Well, we have a rule that nothing is allowed within ten meters of any part of an Apollo landing site. The definition of any part’ includes the lander, equipment, tools, the commemorative plaque, and even the footprints left behind by the astronauts. The Viewing Hall is built so that each window is just over ten meters from the nearest part of the site. Feel free to wander along the hall to get a look from different angles.” Some of the tourists had already walked along the serpentine wall. But with Gunter’s suggestion, several more began the trek. “If you’re nervous about a pane of glass separating you from the vacuum of space, don’t be. These windows are twenty-three centimeters thick to protect you from the radiation. That has a side effect of making them the strongest part of the Visitor Center’s hull. And, I’m proud to point out, the glass was manufactured right here on the moon. A small amount of regolith dust was added to darken it. Otherwise the sunlight from outside would be blinding.” He gestured to the landing site. “The Eagle, named after the national bird of the United States, landed July twentieth, 1969. What you see here is the Eagle’s Descent Stage. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the Ascent Stage back into lunar orbit at the end of their mission.”

The tourists pressed against the windows, entranced at what they saw. I took a long look myself. Hey, I’m not made of stone. I love my city and its history. The Eagle is a big part of that. “Every Apollo mission planted an American flag,” Gunter said. “So where is it? Well, when the Ascent Stage lifted off, the exhaust knocked the poor flag over. Then, the dust that had been kicked up covered it. If you look closely on the ground, just to the left of the Eagle, you can see a small patch of white. That’s the only bit of the flag still visible.” The crowd murmured as people pointed out the white bit to one another. “For later missions, they figured out to put the flags farther away.” A small chuckle came from the crowd. “Interesting side note: All the other flags have been exposed to unfiltered sunlight during lunar days for over a hundred years. They’ve been bleached completely white now. But Tranquility Base’s flag is under a thin layer of regolith. So it probably still looks like it did back in 1969. Of course, no one is allowed to enter or modify the landing site to take a look.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “We hope you enjoy the history and beauty of Tranquility Base. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me.” Behind the crowd, Bob Lewis and two other EVA masters stood next to a doorway labeled EVA PREPARATION AREA. Gunter gestured to the trio. “We offer curated EVAs to those who are interested. It’s an amazing experience and allows you to look at the site from angles the Viewing Hall can’t provide.” Usually, Dale would be there among his peers, but today was a Saturday. He was devoutly Jewish and off at Artemis’s only synagogue, Congregation Beth Chalutzim. A small crowd gathered around the EVA masters while the remaining (poorer) people stayed at the windows. I shuffled along with the EVA gang, trying to stay toward the middle. I didn’t want to get too close to Bob. The masters divided us into three groups of eight. I ended up with Bob. Goddammit. Each master took their group aside and explained the basics of how things were going to work. I stood in the back of my group and averted my eyes. “Okay, listen up,” Bob said. “I will be in a full EVA suit while you will be in what we call hamster balls.’ You are not allowed to bring anything sharp with you,

because you would puncture your ball and die. There will be no horseplay. You will walk, not run. You will not bounce around or ram each other.” He shot a withering glare to a couple of teens in the group. “There is a one-meter-high fence around the landing site to protect it from you. The fence delineates the ten-meter boundary beyond which no one may pass. Do not attempt to get past the fence. If you do, I will terminate the EVA and you will be deported to Earth.” He paused a moment to let that sink in. “While outside, you will follow my instructions immediately and without question. You will stay within sight of me at all times. You may explore in any direction you choose, but if I radio that you are too far away for my comfort, you will return to me. Are there any questions?” One small Asian man raised his hand. “Um, yes, the docent mentioned there’s radiation out there? How dangerous is it?” Bob answered the question with practiced ease. “The EVA will last approximately two hours. In that time, you will receive less than one hundred microsieverts of radiation–about the same dosage you get from a set of dental Xrays.” “Then why is the Visitor Center shielded?” asked Nervous Guy. “All structures on the moon, including the Visitor Center, are shielded for the benefit of the people who live and work here. It’s fine to be exposed once in a while but not all the time.” “And what about you? You go outside all the time, right?” Bob nodded. “I do. But each EVA master only does two tours per week, to keep their exposure to a minimum. Anything else?” Nervous Guy looked down. If he had any further questions, he was too intimidated to ask. Bob held out his payment panel. “The price for this EVA is one thousand, five hundred slugs each.” The tourists ran their Gizmos over it one at a time. I wedged myself in the middle of the pack and paid along with them. I frowned at my Gizmo as it reported my dwindling account balance. This get-rich-quick scheme was costing me a lot of money! Bob led us to the antechamber. As the most senior EVA master present, he got to take his group out first. Deflated hamster balls hung on racks throughout the room. Next to each one

was a hard-shelled backpack. The far wall had a large hatch and associated control panel. Beyond it was an airlock large enough to fit an entire tour group. Bob pulled one of the backpacks off the wall. “This is a scurry pack. You’ll have it on your back during the EVA. This is your life support system. It adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide as needed. It keeps the air at the correct pressure and temperature.” He turned the scurry pack sideways to reveal a headset Velcroed to the side. “You’ll have this headset on during the EVA. It’s an open channel. All nine of us will be on it. Also, your scurry pack will report any problems to me if they arise.” Nervous Guy raised his hand. “How do we operate it?” “You don’t,” said Bob. “It’s completely automated. Don’t screw with it.” I listened with fake fascination. Of course I knew all about scurry packs. Hell, as part of my training, I’d been given several deliberately broken packs and told to identify the problems. I got every one of them right too. Bob pointed to a line of lockers. “Put your personal items and anything else you don’t want to carry in those lockers there. Keep your Gizmos with you.” The excitement level jumped a notch. The tourists were all smiles and giddy conversation. I went to the locker nearest me and waved my Gizmo. It clicked open. Now it was initialized to my Gizmo, so only I’d be able to open it again later. Elegant design–even Nervous Guy was able to work it out without extra questions. I put my purse in the locker, then cast my eyes askance to see if anyone was watching me. No one was. I pulled the HIB out of my purse and set it on the floor next to the locker bank. I couldn’t get it completely out of sight, but at least it was partially occluded. I slipped the remote control into a holster I had strapped to my inner thigh. From there, we all donned scurry packs under Bob’s watchful eye. Then, one by one, he sealed us each into our hamster balls. There were some stumbles and falls along the way, but most people adapted to the balls well. It’s not that hard. Bob pulled his own EVA suit out of a locker and put it on in three minutes. Damn, he was fast. The fastest I ever got into mine was nine. We all lined up behind him, some more gracefully than others. He waved his Gizmo over the airlock controls and the inner hatch popped open. He ushered us into the airlock. I got in first and rolled to the corner. I faced the wall, pulled the remote out

from under my dress, and activated the HIB. It came to life in the prep room and fired up its camera. I could now see everything from the HIB’s vantage point as well as my own. Bob was paying attention to the tourists, which meant he was facing away from the HIB. The tourists had their eyes locked on the outer door–the last barrier between them and an exciting experience on the moon. Also, hamster balls are pretty dark when you’re inside. They’re made to shield the occupant from harsh sunlight. So this was my chance. I had the HIB scamper forward on its adorable little claws. It darted into the airlock beside the second-to-last tourist’s hamster ball. Then it hid in the corner. Bob sealed the inner door and got to work on the outer door cranks. Nothing fancy for outer airlock doors–just manual valves. Why not a sleek computer system? Because valves don’t crash or reboot. This is not something we take chances with. The air hissed out of the room and our hamster balls became more rigid. Bob continually checked his readouts to make sure all eight of us had solid seals. Once the airlock was in vacuum, he addressed us over the radio. “All right. Opening the outer door now. The tour area’s been cleared of any sharp rocks. But if you see something that could possibly puncture your ball, don’t mess with it. Just tell me.” He opened the outer door, and the gray, lifeless landscape lay beyond. The tourists oohed and aahed. Then they all tried to talk at the same time on the open channel. “Keep chatter to a minimum,” Bob said. “If you want to talk to a specific person, call them with your Gizmo. The shared channel is for tour-related instructions and questions.” He stepped outside and gestured for us to follow. I rolled out onto the moon with everyone else. The scratchy lunar regolith crunched under my ball. The flexible polymer skin blocked most of the incoming sunlight. But that meant it all became heat. The inner layers of polymer were good insulators, but not perfect. Within seconds of stepping into the sunlight, I could feel the warmth in my air. The scurry pack fired up one of its fans, sucked in the warm air, and blew it out cold.

Just like harvesters, hamster balls have to deal with the pain in the ass that is heat rejection. But you can’t encase a person in wax. So what did the scurry pack do with all that heat? Dump it into a big block of ice. Yup. Good old frozen water. A couple of liters of it. Water is one of the best heat absorbers in all of chemistry. And melting the ice takes even more energy. That was really the limiter to how long a hamster ball excursion could be: how long that block of ice would last. It worked out to be two hours. Bob closed the outer door once we were all through and led us toward the landing site. I’d left my little HIB buddy (I decided his name was Hibby) in the airlock on purpose. It was a short walk around the arc of the Visitor Center. I joined everyone else right up against the fence. Remember when I told Jin Chu the view was just as good from the Visitor Center? I lied. It’s way cooler from outside. You really feel like you’re there. Well, I mean, you are there. But you know what I mean. I took a moment to admire Neil and Buzz’s old stomping grounds. It really was a sight. That was my history right there. Then it was back to work. The tourists fanned out to examine the site from different angles. Some of them waved to the Visitor Center windows, though we couldn’t see in. From our side the windows were mirrors. It’s a hell of a lot lighter outside than in. I faced away from Bob as if I were admiring the lunar desolation. I pulled out the remote and fired up the HIB again. You might be wondering how a simple remote-control unit could send radio waves capable of penetrating an Artemis hull. It’s hard to broadcast through two six-centimeter aluminum sheets and a meter of ground-up rock. Pretty simple, actually. Like everything else in town, it sent data through the wireless communications network. The city had receivers and repeaters atop every bubble, even the Visitor Center. Wouldn’t want to leave the EVA masters mute, right? There’s no more powerful tool for safety than communication. So Hibby’s controller could talk to him without any problems. The airlock was in vacuum–the default state of all airlocks. Right now, the next tour group was getting prepped by their EVA master. I had a short window of opportunity. I had Hibby crawl to the outer door. The screen highlighted areas that he could

grab to climb. Fantastic AI assist. All I had to do was tell him where to go and he worked out the rest. He grabbed pipes, valve handles, and other protuberances to climb up the door. I had him anchor himself against a reenforcement rib and grab the hatch handle. He needed two claws to get enough force to turn the handle, but it worked. After three full handle revolutions, the door was ajar. I had him drop to the ground. He automatically spun as he fell and landed on his claws. Man, he was fun to play with! I made a mental note to buy one after I was rich. Like a cat sneaking into a room, Hibby nudged the airlock door open and slipped through. Then he closed the door behind him. I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching. Most tourists were up against the fence and Bob just scanned the scene. No one was breaking rules or in danger, so he was content. I had Hibby push the door closed, climb up it, and reseal the hatch. From there, I told him to get to the apex of the Visitor Center dome. A perfect place to stay out of sight. He climbed merrily up the side, finding a convoluted but effective path of handles and grips he could reach. It took him two minutes to reach the top. I put him in power-save mode and re-holstered the remote. I looked back to the dome of the Visitor Center and couldn’t even see the apex from the ground. Perfect. Phase Two complete. I spent the rest of the tour checking out the Eagle. It’s amazing to think people actually landed here in that thing. You couldn’t get me to do that for a million slugs. Well, okay. I’d do it for a million slugs. But I’d be nervous about it.

Dear Kelvin, Sean fucked up. I love the man and he makes me howl in bed. But my God he can be stupid sometimes. He got ahold of some pot–bought it off a tourist. We needed a place to party. Problem is, around here, if you smoke you’ll set off fire alarms. So where would we go? I had the perfect solution: Dad’s new shop! Dad’s expanding the business right now. He leased a second location. He’s bringing in new equipment, interviewing welders to staff it, the whole nine yards. It’s not up and running yet–half the equipment hasn’t even arrived. So it’s just this big, mostly empty room that I know the lock code to. And hey, smoking in a fire-rated workshop is the responsible thing to do! Protecting the city from fire and all that. So I offered it up. We had a party. Nothing big. Just a few of Sean’s friends and me. We got good and stoned. Then Sean and the guys started playing with the equipment. I should have stopped them, but everyone was laughing and having a good time. I didn’t want to break the mood, you know? Anyway, turns out Dad had filled the acetylene tanks that day. So while Sean and his idiot friends sword-fought with the torch handles, the gasfeed lines were actually live. Someone must have rolled a knob or something, because when they clashed the metal on metal it made a spark. The whole room caught fire, the alarms went off, and it automatically sealed itself off. We were trapped in there and we barely got to the air shelter in time. We all crammed in and waited for the fire brigade. Long story short: No one got hurt, but the room was trashed. Rudy (the nosy Mountie asshole) wanted to have me deported, but the fire destroyed all the pot, so he had no evidence of illegal flammables. Dad was PISSED OFF. He yelled at me like never before–went on and on about how much money he’d sunk into that location and how it went up in flames because of me. And that just got me mad, because, you know, I could have died. The least he could do is ask if I’m okay, right? We really got into it. He said I had to stop seeing Sean. As if he got a say in my love life! And then he went off on that same tired shit he always slings about me wasting my potential. I am so fucking sick of the word “potential.” I’m sick of hearing it from Dad, from teachers, and every goddamn “adult” I meet. I told him he had no say in who I date! He kept banging on about how I could “make a difference” with a mind like mine, Sean’s a waste of my time, blah, blah, blah. It’s my life, I’ll do what I want with it!

I grabbed some of my things and got the hell out of there. I’m staying with Sean for now. So much nicer than Dad’s place. Sean’s only twenty-three and his place has its own bedroom and bathroom. He doesn’t work his ass off just to barely survive like everyone wants me to do. He’s a bookie and he covers all his own bets. He’s saving up to buy a table at the Starlite Casino. It’s in Aldrin Bubble! I’ll find a job and stock up enough money until I can afford my own place. Or maybe not. Sean and I might just keep living together. Dear Jazz, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had a falling-out with your father. I know you’re mad, but please consider reconciling with him, even if you don’t want to live in his home. There’s nothing more important than family. In other news, I got a job at KSC! I’m just an assistant loadmaster and I weigh cargo pods all day, but it’s a start! After a provisional period, they say they’ll train me in payload balancing. It’s very important that a payload be properly secured and balanced or the launch could fail. If I work my way up to loadmaster, I’ll be able to afford trade school for my sisters. Then, once they are all trained in skills, the four of us will be able to support our parents. Mom and Dad will finally be able to retire. It’s a long way off, but my sisters and I are working hard to make it happen. Dear Kelvin, Sorry for the slow reply. These past two weeks have been pretty hectic. Sean and I got in a fight but then made up (I’ll spare you the details, it’s all cool now). Congrats on the job! Some Saudi guys dropped by the other day and told me they’d set me up as a welding apprentice if I wanted. There are at least five master welders in town who want me in their shop. The Hungarian machinists also dropped by. They figured welding and machining are similar in that they both involve metal. I don’t follow their logic. Anyway, they think I’d be good at that. After that, the word got out that I’m available or something. A bunch of tradesmen have contacted me. Plumbers, electricians, glassworkers, you name it. I’m suddenly the belle of the ball. Yes, I have a reputation for being good at whatever I set my mind to, but this is ridiculous. I smell Dad. This has his fingerprints all over it. He’s got influence with the craftsmen in town. Either he directly asked them to talk to me, or they’re just doing it because employing Ammar Bashara’s daughter would mean a strong business relationship with him. I turned them all down. I don’t hate Dad or anything. I’m just trying to make my own way, you know? Also, to be blunt: Those professions are a lot of

hard work. I got a job as a porter. It’s just a temporary gig to have some spending money. Sean pays the rent, but I don’t want to rely on him for everything, you know? Anyway, I like it because I can work as much or as little as I want. There’s no structure or boss or anything. I get paid per pickup or delivery. In other news, Sean is banging other women. We never declared exclusivity. I moved in because I had nowhere else to go. So I guess that’s a weird situation, but it’s okay. We worked out some rules. The main one is: Neither of us can bring anyone back to Sean’s place. Go bang somewhere else. For me it’s largely academic. I’m not interested in juggling men. One’s plenty. No, I don’t like it. But Sean was very up front about all this from day one, so I can’t complain. We’ll just see how it goes.

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