فصل 05کتاب: آرتمیس / فصل 5
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The next morning, I lay in my coffin and screwed around with the HIB remote. Hibby came to life right when I told him to. His charge was at 92 percent. No solar panels for my little Hibby, unfortunately. Why would the designers put those in? HIBs are supposed to be used a couple of hours at a time, then come back inside. I had him climb down the arc of the Visitor Center dome to just above the train airlock. Then, I had to wait. I dicked around on my Gizmo for a bit, mostly reading the Arabic gossip site. The queen actually sided with the wives against her own son! Can you believe that?! You know you’re a fuckup when your own mother tells you so. Finally, the first train of tourists arrived at the Visitor Center. Hibby climbed down off the dome and onto the train car itself. The train ran perfectly on time. After ten minutes it departed for Artemis with my little stowaway aboard. HIBs have a nice battery life, but they sure as hell can’t walk forty kilometers across lunar terrain. So Hibby was riding back to town in style. Nothing but the best for my little buddy! I killed more time on my favorite gossip site while I waited for the train to get back to Artemis. Oh my God! I could not believe the shit the prince’s second wife was saying about him in the press. That’s just mean! Still, I can empathize with any woman who’s been cheated on. I’ve been that woman. And honey, it sucks. The train made it back to town and I had Hibby scamper onto Aldrin Bubble. Things got easy from there. Now I was using Hibby to do exactly what he was designed to do.
He crawled along the outer hull of Aldrin, then across the top of the Aldrin Conrad Connector tunnel, and then onto Conrad. I had him take up position at the apex of Conrad. Then it was back to low-power mode for Hibby and back to trashy royal family gossip for me. ATTENTION: YOU ARE ENTERING ALDRIN PARK. THE PARK IS NOT PROTECTED BY A DOUBLE HULL. IF YOU HEAR THE BREACH ALERT IMMEDIATELY GET TO THE NEAREST AIR SHELTER. AIR SHELTERS ARE DENOTED WITH BLUE FLAGS AND CAN BE FOUND THROUGHOUT THE PARK. ADMISSION: NON-RESIDENTS - 750 RESIDENTS–FREE I waved my Gizmo across the reader and the booth door opened. Free entry for me, of course. Who says there’s no such thing as an Artemisian citizen? I stepped into the booth and waited for the outer door to seal. Once it did, the inner door opened, letting me into the park. I stepped into the sunlight. Yes, sunlight. Aldrin Park occupies the top four floors of the bubble. Instead of the everything-proof walls found around the rest of the city, this area was protected by enormous panes of glass–the same kind the Apollo 11 Visitor Center used. Proudly manufactured right here on the moon. It was three p.m. Nairobi time (and therefore three p.m. Artemis time), but physically it was lunar “morning.” The sun hovered at the horizon and cast its light onto the park. The glass protected park-goers from the harsh radiation and UV that would otherwise have roasted us alive. I still had time before my meeting with Svoboda. I took a walk. The park’s design was simple and elegant. The circular grounds met with glass walls. The terrain was mostly flat with a few artificial hills here and there, all covered in grass. Real, honest-to-God grass. That was no small achievement. I moseyed along the perimeter, looking out at the moon. I’ve never seen the appeal of lunar landscape. It’s just…nothing. I guess people like that? Some sort of Zen shit? Not me, though. To me, the most beautiful thing out there was the rest of Artemis.
The city shined in the sunlight like a bunch of metallic boobs. What? I’m not a poet. They look like boobs. To the west, Conrad Bubble dominated the view. It might be grungy and impoverished on the inside, but the outside was just as pretty as its sisters. Southwest, the smaller Armstrong Bubble sat like a spider in the middle of a web. Farther along that line, Shepard Bubble sat there full of richfucks. I didn’t think it was possible for a half-sphere to look arrogant, but it did. Bean Bubble sat between Conrad and Shepard, both symbolically and geographically. It’d be my future home if all this scheming worked out. It was farthest from me. I looked to the north. The Sea of Tranquility stretched out as far as I could see. Gray hills and jagged boulders dotted the terrain all the way to the horizon. I wish I could say it was all magnificent desolation and crap like that, but it’s not. The land around Artemis is crisscrossed with tire tracks and utterly denuded of rocks. We have a lot of masonry here. Guess where people get the rocks. I walked to the center of the park, toward the Ladies. Real trees would have been too much to arrange. But the park featured a very realistic sculpture of a cinnamon tree. Two statues stood beneath it. One was Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the moon. The other was Artemis, the Greek goddess our fair city was named after. The two women stood frozen in laughter, Chang’e’s hand on Artemis’s forearm. They seemed to be in the middle of some friendly girl talk. Locals knew them as the Ladies. I walked up and leaned against the “tree.” I looked up to the half Earth in the sky. “No smoking in the park,” said a raspy old voice. The groundskeeper was at least eighty years old. He’d been a fixture since the park opened. “Do you see a cigarette in my hand?” I said. “I caught you once before.” “That was ten years ago.” He pointed to his eyes and then to me. “Watching you.” “Let me ask you something,” I said. “Who moves all the way to the moon just to mow lawns?” “I like plants. And my joints hurt. The gravity here’s easy on my arthritis.” He looked up at Earth. “Once the wife died, I didn’t have much reason to stay there.” “Hell of a trip for an old man,” I said.
“I used to travel a lot for work,” he said. “I don’t mind.” Svoboda showed up exactly on time, as usual. He carried a bag over his shoulder and smiled. He pointed to me and the goddess statues. “Hey, look at that! Three hot moon babes hanging out!” I rolled my eyes. “Svoboda, someday I’ll teach you how to talk to women.” He waved to the groundskeeper. “Hey, I know you. You’re Mike, right?” “Nope,” said the groundskeeper. He shot me a look. “I’ll leave you and your john alone. No sex on the grass.” “Try not to age to death on the way home, gramps,” I said. He waved over his shoulder as he walked away. “Did you finish it?” I asked Svoboda. “Yup, got it right here!” He handed the bag over to me. I peeked inside. “Thanks.” “Did you get a chance to test that condom yet?” “It’s been twenty-four hours. What kind of sex life do you think I have?” “Whatever, I don’t know. Just asking.” He scanned the park. “I don’t come here often enough. It’s a nice place to relax.” “If you like flying debris, yeah.” The park was infamous for this. If you’re from Earth, no matter how much you mentally prepare yourself, you always throw too hard. Your friend ten meters away–the intended receiver–will watch a ball sail over their head to the other side of the park. And don’t get me started on Frisbees. Between the low gravity and low air pressure they’re a complete mystery to tourists. “I like it,” Svoboda said. “It’s the only natural’ place in town. I miss open spaces.” “Plenty of open space outside to look at,” I said. “And you can hang out with friends in a bar more easily than a park.” His face lit up. “We’re friends?” “Sure.” “Cool! I don’t have many of those. You’re my only friend with boobs.” “You really need to work on how you talk to women.” “Yeah, okay. Sorry.” I wasn’t mad. It barely registered. I was too busy obsessing about my plans.
This was it. All the pieces were in place. I had the welding equipment, the custom electronics, and the HIB was ready. My breathing got short and my heart nearly beat right out of my chest. My little caper wasn’t theoretical anymore. I was actually going to do this.
That night, I repaired the leaky valve in my EVA suit. And I gave the whole suit a thorough inspection. Then I gave it another one. I’d never admit it to Bob, but he was dead right about my shoddy inspection work before the test. It was my problem to make sure my suit wouldn’t kill me. And this time I made damn sure everything was in perfect working order. I got some sleep, but not much. I’m not a brave person and I never claimed to be. This was it. The rest of my life hinged on how well I did. I awoke at four a.m. Then I was too antsy to wait any longer. I walked to the Port of Entry, collected Trigger and my EVA suit, and drove through the corridors of the sleeping city to Conrad Airlock. No one was there this time of morning. I dropped off my EVA gear and the big sack of equipment for my heist, stowing it all in the antechamber so it wouldn’t be visible to anyone walking by. I drove the now-empty Trigger back to his parking space at the port. Tip: If you’re going to commit a major crime, don’t leave your car at the crime scene while you do it. I walked back to Conrad Airlock and closed myself into the antechamber. I just had to hope no one walked in on me or I’d have some ‘splainin’ to do. I used duct tape to cover all identifying marks on my EVA gear. Serial numbers, license number, the big patch reading J. BASHARA on the front…that sort of thing. Then I brought Hibby back online. He perked right up. Under my instruction, Hibby crawled down the arc of Conrad’s hull to the airlock. He turned the crank to open the outer door. Then he dropped to the ground, nosed his way in, and shut the door behind him. He turned the crank again, sealing the door, then came over to the inner door. I watched my little buddy through the round porthole window as he grabbed the manual valves to let air from Artemis into the airlock. A quick hiss, then the airlock had equalized with the city. Hibby turned the inner door’s crank and opened it up.
I stepped into the airlock and patted him on the head. “Good boy.” I powered him down and stowed him in a locker in the antechamber, along with his remote. Well. There it was. An airlock all ready for use and the control panel was none the wiser. I flipped off the control panel just to assert dominance. It didn’t seem impressed. I suited up. I timed myself, of course. It’s an EVA master thing. I took eleven minutes. Damn. How did Bob do it in three? The guy was a freakin’ prodigy. I fired up the suit’s systems. Everything came online just as it should. I ran a pressure test. As instructed, the suit over-pressurized a little and monitored its status. This was the best way to check for leaks. No problems. I stepped into the airlock, sealed the inner door, and started the cycle. Once it was done, I opened the outer door. Good morning, Moon! It’s not dangerous to do a solo EVA, in and of itself. EVA masters do it all the time. But I was doing an EVA in secret. No one even knew I’d be out there. If I had a problem, no one would think to look for me. There’d just be a very attractive dead body out on the surface for however long it took someone to notice. I made sure my microphone was off, but left the receiver on to the public EVA channel. If someone else ventured outside I’d damn well want to know about it. My two oxygen tanks had sixteen hours of oxygen total. And I’d brought six more tanks with eight hours each. Way more than I’d need (I hoped), but I was playing it safe. Well…I can’t quite say “playing it safe” when I’m on an EVA and planning to fire up a welding torch on a moving rock harvester. But you know what I mean. My CO2-removal system reported green status, which was good, because I don’t like dying. In the old days, astronauts needed expendable filters to collect CO2. Modern suits sort the CO2 molecules out through some complicated use of membranes and the vacuum outside. I don’t know the details, but it works as long as the suit has power. I checked my suit readouts again and made sure all the values were in the safe range. Never count on your suit’s alarms to warn you. They’re well designed, but they’re the last resort. Safety begins with the operator. I took a deep breath, hoisted the duffel over one shoulder, and got to walking. –
First I had to walk all the way around the city. Conrad’s airlock faced north, and Sanchez Aluminum’s smelter was south. That took me a good twenty minutes. Then it took me two hours to get to the smelter-reactor complex a kilometer away. It was disconcerting to see Artemis recede into the distance. Hey, look, it’s the only place for humans to survive on this whole rock. Wave goodbye! I finally made it to the base of what we call the Berm. When they designed Artemis, someone said, “What if there’s an explosion at the reactor? It’s, like, a thousand meters from town? That’d be bad, right?” A bunch of nerds furrowed their brows and pondered this. Then one of them said, “Well…we could put a bunch of dirt in the way?” They gave him a promotion and a parade. I embellished the details there, but you get my point. The Berm protects the city from the reactors in the event of an explosion. Though the hulls would probably do that just fine. It’s all about redundant safety. Interestingly, we don’t need protection from radiation. If the reactors ever melt down it won’t matter. The city is shielded all to hell. I sat down and rested at the base of the Berm. I’d had a long walk and needed a rest. I turned my head inside the helmet, bit a nipple (try not to get excited), and sucked some water out. The suit’s temperature systems also chilled the water. Hey, I spent a lot of money on that suit. It was quality gear when it wasn’t malfunctioning and ruining my guild exam. I gave a mighty grunt and started climbing. Five meters at a 45-degree angle. It might not seem like much, especially in lunar gravity. But when you’re wearing a hundred kilograms of EVA suit and hauling another fifty of equipment, believe me, it’s work. I wheezed, gasped, and swore my way up the Berm. I think I invented some new profanities, I’m not sure. Is “fusumitch” a word? I finally made it to the top and surveyed the lands beyond. The reactors lived in irregular-shaped buildings. Dozens of pipes led away to hundreds of shiny thermal panels lying on the ground. Reactors on Earth dump heat into lakes or rivers. We’re a bit dry here on the moon, so we dump our heat via infrared light emitted into space. It’s century-old technology, but we haven’t come up with anything better. The smelting facility sat two hundred meters from the reactors. It was a mini bubble thirty meters across, with a hopper on one side. The hopper ground rocks
into a coarse grit and put it in sealed cylindrical containers. The containers were sealed into pipes, which forced them into the facility with air pressure. Like an old-school pneumatic tube system from the 1950s. If you’re going to have a bunch of air pumps and vacuum-management systems in your facility anyway, you may as well take advantage of them. The train airlock stood on the other side of the bubble. The train tracks leading to it diverged into two lines. One ran to the airlock, the other to the unmanned silo car that transported rocket fuel to the port. I dropped a couple of meters down the Berm and found a position where I could lie back and watch the scene. I had no idea what kind of schedule the harvesters had, so I would just have to wait. And wait. And fucking wait. If you’re curious, there were exactly fifty-seven rocks within reach. I sorted them from smallest to largest, then changed my mind and sorted them from most spherical to least spherical. Then I tried making a regolith castle, but it ended up being more of a lump. Regolith particles are barbed and they stick together well, but there’s only so much you can do with EVA gloves. I could just about manage little half-spheres of dirt. I made a scale model of Artemis. All told, I waited four hours. Four. Goddamn. Hours. Finally, I caught a glint of sunlight on the horizon. A harvester returning to port! Thank God. I stood and prepared the duffel for travel again. (I’d alphabetized my equipment out of boredom, first in English, then in Arabic.) I hopped down the Berm. The harvester and I converged on the smelter from different directions. I got there first. I crept around the bubble to stay out of sight of the harvester’s cameras. No real reason to do that–it’s not like anyone would be watching the feeds. I continued along the bubble wall until I got sight of the harvester. There it was, in all its giant shiny glory. The harvester backed up to the hopper, latched into place, and slowly raised the front of its basin. Thousands of kilograms of ore tumbled into the hopper. A brief cloud of dust accompanied the avalanche but almost immediately disappeared. No air to keep it afloat.
Having taken a good dump, the basin returned to level and the harvester sat idle. Mechanical arms reached out to attach the charging cable and coolant lines. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to recharge, but I wasted no time. “One million slugs,” I said. I climbed up the side of the harvester and threw my gear into the basin. Then I dropped into the basin myself. Easy enough. I expected a long wait during the recharge, but it only took five minutes. I have to hand it to Toyota, they know how to make rapid-recharge batteries. The harvester lurched forward and just like that, we were on our way. My plan was working! I giggled like a little girl. Hey, I’m a girl, so I’m allowed. And besides, no one was watching. I pulled an aluminum stock rod from the duffel, climbed to the top of the harvester, and held it out like a sword. “Onward, mighty steed!” Onward we went. The harvester headed southwest toward the Moltke Foothills at the breakneck speed of five kilometers per hour. I watched the smelter bubble and reactors disappear in the distance and grew uneasy again. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t the farthest I’d been from the Shire or anything. The train to the Visitor Center is over forty kilometers. But this was the farthest I’d ever been from safety. The landscape grew rocky and jagged as we entered the foothills. The harvester didn’t even slow down. It might not have been fast but damn, it had torque. We hit the first of many boulders and I almost flew out of the basin. I barely kept all my gear inside. Harvesters are not luxury cars. How did the rocks even stay put on the trip back? The harvesters must’ve been a little more cautious on their way home. Still, the bumpy ride was better than walking. That incline would have killed me. Finally, we leveled off and things got smooth again. I pushed the duffel off of me and climbed back to the top. We’d made it to the collection zone. The wide, flat plain had been denuded of rocks over years of harvesting. Good. Finally some smooth sailing. The cleared area was roughly a circle. I spotted three other harvesters at the clearing’s edge, scooping rocks into their basins. My harvester rumbled to the edge and dropped its scoop. I tossed my gear out of the basin and hopped after it. At this point there was no way to avoid nav cameras. I just had to hope some Sanchez employee hadn’t randomly decided to bring up the feeds to impress his girlfriend.
I collected the gear and dragged it under the harvester with me. The first step was to attach myself and my gear to the undercarriage. Harvesters don’t stay still for long and I didn’t want to scurry after it. I upended the duffel to prep my equipment. First was the tarp. It was heavy, fiber-reinforced plastic with grommets in the corners so you could tie it down. I laced nylon rope through the grommets and affixed it to some jack-points on the hull. Now I had a hammock. I crawled into my new secret lair and pulled my welding equipment up with me. The harvester lurched forward. I guess it had loaded some rocks into its basin and decided to move forward for another bite. I had no warning because, hey, no sound. A minor inconvenience–I hadn’t loaded the spare oxygen tanks into my hammock yet. I looked over to the spare tanks. Okay. Not the end of the world. I could come back later to– A huge boulder, destabilized by the fresh hole at its base, tipped forward onto the tanks. A pathetic fart of air escaped from underneath, briefly kicking up dust. Then there was nothing. And that was the end of my reserve air tanks. “Oh, come on!” I yelled. I took a moment to calculate how fucked I was. I checked my arm readout. Six hours of oxygen left in the main supply. Two more hours in the emergency reserve. I had another tank for welding. I could attach it to my suit’s universal valve, but that would defeat the purpose of the whole trip. I needed that oxygen for my nefarious plans. So, eight hours of breathable air. Was this still doable? Artemis was three kilometers away. The trip had a lot of rough terrain but it was also downhill. Call it two hours. My original plan had been to wait until night (clock-night I mean, not actual lunar night) and then sneak in when everyone was asleep. But I didn’t have enough air to wait that long. I’d have to enter in the middle of the day. New plan: the ISRO airlock. It led into Space Agency Row in Armstrong Bubble. There’d be a few confused nerds and someone might say “um…” but I’d just keep walking. With the sun visor down, no one would see my face. And, unlike the Conrad airlock, it wouldn’t be littered with EVA masters. Okay, problem sorta solved. That meant I had six hours before I had to leave the collection area. Ninety minutes per harvester. Time to hustle.
I got as comfortable as I could in my hammock and assembled the welding gear. I laid the acetylene and oxygen tanks between my legs to keep them stable. On the harvester’s undercarriage, I eyeballed ten centimeters from the coolant valve and scratched a three-centimeter circle there with a screwdriver. That’s where I had to cut. I flipped down my helmet’s sun visor. I’d duct taped a welding lens shade to the middle. I cranked the acetylene valve, set the torch mixture to ignition mode, sparked it, and– …it didn’t start. Um. I tried again. Nothing. Not even sparks. I checked the acetylene tank. No flow problems. What the hell? I flipped up the visor and inspected the sparker. Dad taught me to use a flint sparker because an electric one is “another thing to break.” It was just a piece of flint and steel grooves attached to a springy handle. Nothing complicated about it. This was thousand-year-old technology we’re talking about here. Why wasn’t it working? Oh. Right. When flint strikes steel, it knocks microscopic flecks of metal into the air. The metal burns because of some complicated crap related to surface area and oxidization rates. Basically, it rusts so fast that the reaction heat makes fire. Fun fact: Oxidizing requires oxygen. Flint and steel won’t work in a vacuum. All right. No need to panic. A welding flame is just acetylene and oxygen on fire. I adjusted the valves and set the mixture to be a trickle of acetylene amongst a torrent of oxygen. Then I scraped the sparker right in front of the nozzle. Sparks! Boy did they ever fly! That oxygen made the metal flecks go apeshit. But I’d got too far. There wasn’t enough acetylene to ignite the flame itself. I added a bit more to the mix and tried again. This time, the shower of sparks managed to light a sputtering, inconsistent flame. I spun the valves back to a normal mix and the flame settled into a familiar, stable shape. I breathed a sigh of relief and flipped my visor down. I held the torch steady despite the clunky EVA suit. Pain in the ass. But at least I didn’t have to deal with molten metal. This was a cut, not a join. When you cut, you aren’t melting metal.
You actually turn it into an oxidized gas. Yeah, it’s that hot. The actual cutting was a lot easier than I expected. It took less than a minute. The little three-centimeter circle of steel plopped down on my chest, followed by a blob of molten wax. The wax bubbled and re-hardened almost instantly. My positioning was perfect. I’d cut into the wax reservoir without nicking the coolant lines nearby. I didn’t care about the health of the coolant system, but I didn’t want the harvester to call home about a coolant leak. The small daub of wax that fell on me wouldn’t be enough loss to worry the harvester. At least, I hoped not. I pulled a pressure valve from my duffel. I’d bought six of them from Tranquility Bay Hardware the day before (one per harvester and two spares). Standard pressure connector on one side, three centimeters raw pipe on the other. I jammed the connector into the hole. I’d done well on my cut–it was a snug fit. I fired up the torch again (with the same oxygen-crazy ignition mix as last time) and grabbed a rod of stock aluminum. I needed a strong, airtight seal around the valve. I’d done a million valve installations with Dad as a kid. But never in an EVA suit. And unlike the cut, this time I was melting stock metal to make a seal. If I screwed up, a blob of molten metal would fall on me and bore a hole straight through my suit. Holes in EVA suits are bad. I got as far to the side as I could–if I screwed up, maybe the Aluminum Droplet of Doom would miss me. I got to work and watched the aluminum puddle grow. The droplet trembled along the weld site, then finally seeped upward into the crack above it. My heartbeat returned to somewhere near normal. Thank God for surface tension and capillary action. I was careful, and took my time. I worked around the valve slowly, trying to keep my body from being directly underneath. Finally, I finished the deed. I’d installed a pressure valve into the wax reservoir. Now it was time for the dastardly part of my plan. I attached the line from my welding oxygen tank to the valve and cranked the flow to full. Sure, the reservoir was full of wax, but there were gaps. And believe me, when you blow fifty atmospheres of air into a pressure vessel, it finds the gaps. Once the tank equalized with the compartment, I very carefully closed the valve and disconnected the tank line. I slid out from under the harvester. I watched it for a second to make sure the
damn thing wasn’t about to move. I don’t like making the same mistake twice. The scoop crunched forward, grabbed a few hundred rocks, and dropped them in the basin. It reached down for another bite. Okay, I had time to climb aboard. I hopped on the nearby wheel and hoisted myself onto the frame. I reached the breaker box and opened the little door. Inside, it was just like Trond’s harvester’s breaker box, with the same four lines connecting to it. Not a surprise–they were the same model. Still, I unclenched a little upon seeing it. Harvesters have breakers all over to stave off electrical problems, but the last line of defense is the main breaker. All power runs through it. It’s the “fuse” that protects the battery. I pulled a homemade contraption from my duffel. It consisted of two jumpercable clamps on thick-gauge wire, which led to a high-voltage relay switch. The relay was wired into the buzzer on a battery-powered alarm clock. Simple as that. The relay would trip when the clock’s alarm went off. Not exactly rocket science, and it sure as hell wasn’t pretty, but it would work. I connected the positive and negative poles of the main power line with my contraption. Nothing happened, of course. The relay was open. But once the alarm went off (set for midnight that evening), the relay would close and the battery would short out. And the short would bypass the breaker box entirely, so the normal fail-safes wouldn’t work. When you short out a 2.4 megawatt-hour battery, it gets very, very hot. Like, extremely hot. And it’d be sitting in a sealed reservoir full of wax and compressed oxygen. And the reservoir was an airtight compartment. Let me give you the math on that: Wax + oxygen + heat = fire. Fire + confined volume = bomb. (Bomb + harvester) 4 = 1,000,000 for Jazz. And it would happen long after I had safely returned to town. They could look as closely as they wanted at the video footage, they wouldn’t know who I was. And I had another trick up my sleeve…. I checked my arm readouts. I had to hope Svoboda’s device worked as advertised. He’d never failed me before, at least. Back in my coffin, the device Svoboda had made for me would be powering up. I affectionately named it the “alibi-o-mat.” I’d slotted my Gizmo into it before I’d gone on this little adventure.
The alibi-o-mat poked at my Gizmo screen with little probes that had the same capacitance as a human finger. It typed in my passcode and started surfing the internet. It brought up my favorite Saudi gossip websites, some funny videos, and a few internet forums. It even fired off some emails I’d composed in advance. Not the perfect alibi, but it was pretty good. If anyone asked where I was, I’d say I was at home surfing the internet. Hardly an uncommon thing to do. And the data logs from my Gizmo and the city’s network would back that up. I checked the time. The whole procedure–from attaching the hammock to installing my harvester-killing-device–had taken forty-one minutes. This was doable! I’d make it back in plenty of time! One harvester down, three to go. I crawled back under the now-doomed harvester, collected my gear, and crawled back out. All the while I was careful not to get crushed by the giant wheels. Even in lunar gravity the harvester was heavy enough to squish me like a grape. I assumed the next harvester would be a hundred meters away or so on some other edge of the collection zone. But instead, it was three meters from my face. What the hell was it doing there?! It didn’t dig. It didn’t load. It just “looked” at me, its high-resolution cameras refocused slightly as I stood up. It could only mean one thing: Someone at Sanchez Aluminum had taken manual control of this harvester. They’d spotted me.
Dear Jazz, I’m very worried about you. I haven’t heard from you in over a month. You haven’t answered any of my emails. I found your father’s email address through his welding business website and contacted him. He doesn’t know where you are and he’s very worried too. Artemis’s public contact directory has 7 people named Sean. I contacted all of them and none are the Sean who knows you. I guess your Sean didn’t want his information public? Anyway, that was a dead end too. Dear Kelvin, Sorry you got worried. I wish you hadn’t contacted Dad. Things have not gone well lately. Last month Sean got a visit from an angry mob. About fifteen guys. They beat the shit out of him. He wouldn’t talk about it afterward, but I knew what it was about. It’s a thing people do here. It’s called a “morals brigade.” Some things really piss people off. Enough that they’ll form up and punish you, even though you didn’t break any laws. Sean is a horny guy–I knew that. And I knew he had other girls. But I didn’t know he was screwing a fourteen-year-old. We’ve got people from all over Earth here. Different cultures have very different sexual morals, so Artemis doesn’t have age-of-consent rules at all. As long as it’s not forced, it’s not rape. And the girl was consenting. But we’re not savages here. You might not get deported to Earth, but you’ll definitely get your ass kicked. I assume some of those guys were the girl’s relatives. I don’t know. I’m an idiot, Kelvin. A complete idiot. How could I not see what Sean was? I’m only seventeen and he was hot for me from day one. Turns out I’m on the older end of his preference range. I’ve got nowhere to stay. I can’t go back to Dad. I just can’t. The fire destroyed all that equipment he’d bought. And he had to pay for the damage to the room itself. Now he can’t expand the business at all. Hell, he can barely keep afloat. How can I go crawling back after doing something like that? I ruined my father with my stupidity. And I ruined myself too, by the way. When I walked out on Sean, I had a couple hundred slugs to my name. I couldn’t rent a room with that. I couldn’t even eat proper food. I’m living on Gunk. Every day. Unflavored, because I can’t afford extracts. And…oh God, Kelvin…I don’t have anywhere to live. I sleep where I can. Areas without a lot of people in them. High floors where it’s godawful hot or
low floors where it’s freezing. I stole a blanket from a hotel laundry room just to have something to sleep under. I have to keep moving every night to stay a step ahead of Rudy. It’s against the rules to be homeless. And he’s been gunning for me since the fire. He’ll use any excuse he can to get rid of me. If he catches me I’ll get deported to Saudi Arabia. Then I’ll be broke, homeless, and have gravity sickness. I have to stay here. I’m sorry to dump all this on you. I just don’t have anyone else to talk to. Do NOT offer me money. I know that’ll be your first instinct, but don’t. You have four sisters and two parents to take care of. Dear Jazz, I don’t know what to say. I’m devastated. I wish I could do something for you. Things haven’t been great here either. My sister Halima announced that she’s pregnant. The father is apparently a military man of some kind and she doesn’t even know his last name. There’s going to be a baby to take care of soon, and it throws a wrench into all our plans. Originally, I was going to pay for Halima’s education, then she’d pay for Kuki’s education while I saved up money for Mom and Dad’s retirement. Then Kuki would pay for Faith’s education and so on. But now Halima won’t be doing anything but taking care of her baby and we’ll have to fund her. Mom got a job as a clerk at a grocery store on the KSC campus. It’s the first job she’s had in her life. She seems to like it, but I wish she didn’t have to work at all. Dad will have to work many more years. Kuki is now saying she’ll get an unskilled labor job somewhere to bring in money. But she’s selling her future! We should count our blessings. Halima will be a good mother. And my family will soon have a new child to cherish. We are all healthy and we have each other. You may be homeless, but at least it’s in the relatively clean, safe streets of Artemis instead of some Earth city. You have a job and are making some money. Hopefully more than you are spending. Difficult times, my friend, but there is a path. There must be. We will find it. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you.
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