فصل 06کتاب: آرتمیس / فصل 6
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“Okay, this is some bullshit,” I said to the harvester. The other two harvesters also rolled toward me. Probably to make sure I couldn’t hide behind a rock to get away. Their controllers now had me on camera from multiple angles. Whee. I later learned what had happened: The boulder that murdered my air tanks made quite a thump–the harvester felt the tremor. They have very sensitive equipment in their wheels to detect ground vibration. Why? Because they dig on mountainsides. If there’s an avalanche brewing, the controllers want to know right away. So the harvester called home to report the tremor. Back at Sanchez’s control center, workers checked the previous couple minutes’ video. They wanted to know if a wall of stony death was about to eat their multimillion-slug harvester. Guess what they saw! Me disappearing into the undercarriage! So they sent another harvester to see what the hell I was up to. Then they called the EVA masters. I don’t know exactly how the conversation went, but I assume it was something like this: Sanchez controllers: “Hey! Why are you fucking with our harvester?!” EVA masters: “We’re not.” Sanchez: “Well, someone is.” EVA masters: “We’ll go kick their ass. Not because we care about you, but because we want to continue our stranglehold monopoly on EVAs. Also, we’re a bunch of assholes.” So right now, the EVA masters were forming a posse to drag me back to Artemis. After that would come beatings, deportation, gravity sickness in Riyadh,
and things generally going downhill from there. I stopped to think about this new situation. There was no way I’d get back into town before an angry mob of EVA masters came out looking for me. So there was no point in aborting. May as well finish the job before the epic game of lunar hideand-seek began. The posse would use a freight rover for fast travel. They can go ten kilometers per hour. The uphill climb would slow them a bit. Call it six kilometers per hour. I had a half hour before they arrived. Subtlety time was over. My plan to make shit happen after I got home was gone. Sanchez would recall all the harvesters for inspection. Mechanics would then go over each one with a fine-toothed comb and undo my hard work. I had to permanently destroy all four harvesters within the next thirty minutes. On the plus side, Sanchez’s controllers had been kind enough to put them all next to me. Okay, first things first. I grabbed a pair of wire cutters from my duffel, leapt onto the harvester that spotted me, and clambered to the top. The primary and secondary comm systems were both mounted to the highest point of the cab for maximum range. The harvester (now under human control no doubt) shimmied forward and back–probably trying to shake me off. But harvesters just aren’t very fast. I kept my balance easily and made short work of all four antennas. They were a little thicker than the wire cutters were designed for, but I got it done. It stopped dead as soon as the fourth antenna dropped. Harvesters are programmed to sit idle if they lose connection. You wouldn’t want your harvester wandering around on its own, right? I leapt directly to the roof of the next harvester over–the one I’d just meticulously turned into a time bomb. All that work for nothing. Sigh. Snip, snip, snip, snip! The other two harvesters backed away. “Oh, no you don’t!” I said. I leapt from the roof and hit the ground running. I caught up with ease. I climbed to the top of my third victim and got to snipping. Like its brethren, it stopped dead as soon as the last antenna was gone. I had a bit of a run to catch up to the last one, but I got there soon enough. I snipped three of the antennas and was just about to get the fourth when my left side exploded with pain and I flew through the air. Well, not “air.” Vacuum. You
know what I mean. I smacked into the ground and rolled. “Whu?” I said. It took me a second, but I realized what happened. Those asswipes at Sanchez had made the harvester smack me with its front-loader scoop! Sons of bitches! That could have ruptured my suit! Sure, I was trashing their property but you don’t kill someone for that, do you?! Oh, it was on. The harvester dropped its scoop halfway down and rolled toward me. I got to my feet, ran in front of the main camera, and flipped it my middle finger. Then I bashed it with the cutters in my other hand. No more visual data for you, assholes. “Whoever you are, we know you’re out there,” I heard over the main EVA channel. It was Bob Lewis. Dammit! Of course the guild would send their most skilled member to lead the posse. “Don’t make this hard. If we have to physically restrain you, risking our safety, we’ll make you pay for it.” He had a point. Contrary to space movies, fighting in an EVA suit is monumentally dangerous. I had no intention of doing that. If they caught up to me I’d just surrender. This had become a game of tag. One problem at a time. I still had Killdozer to deal with. Without the front camera, it flailed around trying to find me. The wheels might not move fast, but the raw power behind that scoop could really whip it back and forth. The scoop slammed to the ground a meter to my left. Pretty good guess, but not good enough. I hopped into the scoop and crouched down. I was taking a gamble here. The scoop had very accurate weight sensors and my mass would surely be detectable. I hoped the controller wasn’t paying enough attention. The scoop reared up again, and when it did I leapt. Between my leap and the scoop’s upward motion, I went way the hell higher than I’d intended. “Well, shit,” I said as I reached the top of the arc. I think I was about ten meters off the ground, but I’ll never know for sure. I do know that when I landed on the harvester’s roof I damn near broke my legs. After a moment of reflection on the wisdom of my plan, I reached over and snipped the remaining antenna. The harvester stopped thrashing instantly. “Whew.” I’d temporarily disabled all four harvesters. Now to permanently disable them. I started with the harvester that I’d already sabotaged. I climbed up the side as I
had done before and opened the breaker box. I reached into my relay box and pawed at the alarm settings on the clock. I couldn’t press the buttons, of course. The clock was designed for use by human fingers, not ham-fisted EVA gloves. Okay, if I couldn’t set the alarm time, I’d use a less subtle approach. I disconnected both alligator clips, yanked the relay out from between them, and cut the insulation off their cables. I tied the cables into a crude knot and reconnected the alligator clips to the battery poles. Then I hauled ass. By removing the relay, I’d created a new device known as a “wire.” The battery was shorted and was absolutely shitting heat. I ran full-speed to the nearest boulder and slid behind it. Nothing happened right away. I peeked around the edge. Still nothing. “Hmm,” I said. “Maybe I should–” Then the harvester exploded. Like…exploded. Way the hell larger than I expected. Shrapnel flew in all directions. The blast forced the chassis into the ground so hard it bounced up, did a half flip, and landed on its roof. I thought I was far enough from the explosion but no, not even close. Chunks of twisted metal bashed my boulder while smaller bits of wreckage rained from above. “Oh, right,” I said. I’d forgotten to account for the other explosive in there: the hydrogen fuel-cell battery. All that hydrogen had met the oxygen at high temperature and they’d had a brief chat. The rock shielded me from the initial blast, but it was useless against the debris that came down from above. I belly-crawled to one of the other harvesters while tufts of dust erupted around me. Reminder: There’s no air here. If something gets flung into the sky, it comes back down as fast as it was going when it left. It was raining bullets. Through pure luck, I made it to the harvester and cowered under it for a while. I waited until the storm abated and crawled out to check my handiwork. The victim harvester was totaled. Hell, you could barely tell it used to be a vehicle. The chassis was a wreck of twisted metal and a good 50 percent of the harvester was now evenly distributed across the collection zone. I checked the time. The whole process had taken ten minutes. Not bad, but I’d have to speed things up for the other three. First, though, I picked through the wreckage, found a sheet of metal about two
meters square, and dragged it to the far side of my Boulder of Protection. I leaned it against the edge to make a rudimentary shelter. There. Technically I’d made a moon base. I sat in Fort Jasmine for a few minutes, converting my other relay cables to simple jumpers. Then I got to work on the second harvester. At least this time there was no need for a hammock. The harvester wouldn’t be going anywhere. Now that I had the hang of firing up a torch in a vacuum, things went much faster. Also, I didn’t bother marking the site first. I just did it from memory. Nothing quite like experience to speed your hand. I cut the hole, installed the valve, and filled the reservoir with air. Then I shorted the battery, ran to my metal plate, crawled under it, and waited. And this time, I didn’t look back like a moron. I felt the explosion through the ground and readied myself for the “rain of terror.” Would the metal plate be thick enough? Dents appeared in the plate. Scary as hell, but it protected me from the hail. I waited until the dents stopped and checked the ground nearby to see if the puffs of dust had stopped. It would have been better if I could just hear things. Vacuum’s refusal to convey sound is a real pain in the ass. I crept out and nothing killed me, so everything seemed to be in order. I came around the rock to see another demolished harvester. I checked the time on my arm readouts. Another ten minutes had passed. “Dammit!” If the posse was efficient, they’d be on-site in another ten minutes. I still had two more harvesters to trash. If I left either of them operational, Sanchez Aluminum would still be able to get ore, still be able to make oxygen, and Trond would be keeping that million slugs. The biggest time sink was when I had to run and hide from the debris. I knew what I had to do–I just didn’t like it. I’d have to blow the remaining two at the same time. Please don’t quote that last sentence out of context. I prepared each of the remaining harvesters for kaboominess. Both were now full of oxygen, their breaker boxes open, and my jumper cables dangling from their positive poles. I laid all the welding equipment under one of the harvesters. Now that I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be able to drag all that shit home with me. But I couldn’t leave
stuff with BASHARA WELDING COMPANY written all over it for people to find. Eh. A million slugs. I’d buy him new stuff. Better stuff. I stood at one harvester and looked to the other twenty meters away. This would be tricky. A long-forgotten rational part of my brain piped up. Was this really a good idea? (One million slugs.) Yup! I’m fine! I shorted out one battery, ran to the other harvester, and shorted it too. I almost made it back to the shelter before the first one blew. Almost. The landscape ahead flashed bright with the blast. Tufts of dust burst around me as harvester bits diligently obeyed the laws of physics. No time to go around the boulder. I half climbed, half leapt over it. I tried for a graceful tuck-and-roll, but ended up with more of a flail-and-flop. “Did you see that?!” came a voice over the radio. “You’re broadcasting on Main,” said Bob. “Shit.” The posse had been talking on some other channel to keep me from hearing them. That one guy screwed up. So now I knew they’d seen the explosion. They were close. I waited for the second explosion, but it never came. When I got brave enough, I peeked around my rock to see one harvester still unharmed. “What the fu–” I began. But then I saw it: The survivor was pocked with superficial damage from the other harvester’s explosion. My jumper had been severed cleanly in half by a piece of shrapnel. The two ends hung from their poles. The battery wasn’t shorted anymore, and it hadn’t had time to get hot enough to touch off the explosion. I spotted a glint of light across the harvesting zone. The EVA masters had come. I looked back at the remaining harvester. Fifteen meters of ground to cross to get back to it, plus however long it would take me to fix the jumper. Then I looked at the glint again–now identifiable as a rover, just a hundred meters away, and coming at me fast. I wouldn’t make it. They’d be on me in a shot. I had to leave the one harvester behind. “Shit!” I said. I knew it was the right decision, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. I fled the crime scene. Minor problem with running away from people on the moon: Your footprints
are very obvious. I beelined out of the collection zone and left a blatant trail any idiot could follow. No way around that. The whole area had long since been cleared of everything but dust. Once I got into natural terrain I had options–the highlands are riddled with everything from pebbles to boulders. I stepped onto a rock and jumped to the next rock over. Then I jumped to the next one and so on. I continued my high-stakes game of The Floor Is Lava for the next twenty minutes. I never had to touch the dusty ground at all. Try following that trail, Bob. The next bit was equal parts boring and stressful. I had several kilometers to cover, all the while looking over my shoulder. It wouldn’t take the posse long to figure out I was headed home. Then they’d hop in their rover and catch up to me. They’d drive along the shortest route home (I hoped), so I took a roundabout path. Nothing resembling a straight line. Artemis was only three kilometers away from the collection zone, but I walked five kilometers on my crazy circuitous route. The rocky landscape of the foothills provided lots of boulders and berms to block any direct line of sight to me. It worked. I don’t know what route the posse took, but they never got eyes on me. I finally reached the base of the Moltke Foothills. The Sea of Tranquility stretched all the way to the horizon. Artemis shined in the extreme distance, probably a good two kilometers away. I suppressed the queasy feelings that came with realizing how isolated I was. No time for that shit right now. I needed a new strategy. I couldn’t hopscotch my way any farther. A vast field of gray powder separated me from home. Not only would I leave a trail, I’d be visible for kilometers around. Time for a rest. For the moment, at least, I wasn’t out in the open. I found a suitable boulder and sat in the shade. I turned off all my LEDs, even the ones in the helmet, and covered my arm readouts with tape. Shadows on the moon are stark and black. No air means no light diffusion. But I wasn’t in total darkness. Sunlight reflected off nearby rocks, dirt, hills, and so on, and some of that snuck around to hit me. Still, I was functionally invisible compared to the shine of the landscape. I turned my head to the water nipple and slurped down a good half liter. EVAs are a sweaty business.
Good thing I’d taken a break. Five minutes into my rest I spotted the posse driving back to town. They were a fair distance away from me–on the straightline course to the city. The rover, designed for four passengers, had seven EVA masters piled on it. It looked like a clown car speeding across the flatlands. Judging by the rooster tail of dust it kicked up, they were moving as fast as they could. At that speed on the bumpy terrain they’d have no chance of spotting me. What the hell were they thinking? “Aww, fuck,” I said. They didn’t need to find me. They just needed to beat me back to town. Then they could guard every airlock. Eventually I’d run out of air and have to surrender. “Shit! Damn! Crap! Ass! Son of a bitch!” It’s important to vary your profanities. If you use the same one too often it loses strength. I fumed in my suit for a minute more, then calmed down and got to scheming. Okay, this sucked but it came with advantages. They would beat me to town. Fine. But that meant they wouldn’t be patrolling for me in Tranquility. I’d been stressing out about how to sneak across the flatlands but now that wasn’t a problem. I stood up, turned my LEDs back on, and pulled the tape off my arm readouts. There’d be an EVA master on the lookout at every airlock. And they wouldn’t just be hanging around inside. They’d be outside, where they could see me coming and sound the alarm. I had a plan, but first I had to get next to the city itself. That was step one. Conrad’s airlock faced north, the Tranquility Bay Company’s freight airlock in Bean faced northwest, the Port of Entry in Aldrin faced east, and the ISRO’s airlock in Armstrong faced southeast. So the biggest “blind spot” in their coverage would be the southwest. I bounced along the gray nothingness for an hour, taking a wide, circular course so as to approach from the right direction. I kept my eyes out for trouble as the domes of home grew on the horizon. The last hundred meters were pure stress. Once I entered the shadow of Shepard Bubble I felt a lot safer. I’d be hard to spot in the darkness. Finally, I leaned against Shepard’s hull and breathed a sigh of relief. Okay. I’d made it to town. Now the trick was getting in. I couldn’t walk the perimeter of town to get where I needed to be. I’d be spotted
for sure. Time to make like Hibby and use those maintenance handholds. The handles had been designed with EVA suits in mind–the perfect width for grabbing with giant gloves. It only took me ten minutes to climb the arc of the sphere. I hunkered down once I got to the peak. Not because I was worried about EVA masters–they’d all be too close to other bubbles to get eyes on me. No, my problem was basic geography. Shepard and Aldrin are separated only by Armstrong, and Armstrong is only half their height. So right that moment, anyone in Aldrin Park would be able to see me. It was still pretty early in the morning, so hopefully there wouldn’t be too many park visitors. Plus, anyone who did see me would probably assume I was a maintenance worker doing her job. Still…I was perpetrating a caper and preferred not to be noticed. I climbed down the other side of Shepard and onto the connector tunnel between it and Armstrong. It wasn’t exactly gymnastics. The tunnel is three meters wide. Once I made it to Armstrong Bubble, I climbed over it too. Thanks to Armstrong’s smaller size, it went considerably faster than my Shepard climb. Then I catwalked across the ArmstrongAldrin Connector. Aldrin was more of a challenge. I climbed up part of the way, but couldn’t go to the peak. Well, I could, but I shouldn’t. It’s one thing to wander around on a bubble hull, but if I climbed on the glass of Aldrin Park right in front of people’s faces, it would raise a few eyebrows. “Mommy, why is Spider-Man on the moon?”–no thanks. Instead, I stopped climbing halfway up–just below the glass panels–and moved sideways, shimmying from handle to handle and working my way around the bubble. Soon, the Port of Entry came into view. Closest to me was the rail antechamber where train cars docked with the port. No train there at the moment, though. Next to that was the huge circular door to the freight airlock. Bob Lewis stepped out of the train alcove. “Oh shit!” I said. I’d been so careful coming around the arc of Aldrin! I’d moved slowly to make sure I’d see any EVA master before he could see me. But I didn’t know Bob was inside the damn alcove. That’s cheating, Bob! He was doing rounds. Once a marine always a marine. He hadn’t looked up yet but he would soon. I had a second, maybe two, to react. I let go of the handles and slid down the dome. I tried to aim my feet at the
ground–maybe if I landed just right I could control the impact. But no. No. I’m not graceful. I got the worst of both worlds: I hit the ground hard and completely off-balance. I landed like a sack of shit. But I landed on the other side of the alcove and didn’t break anything. Good thing sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum, because Bob surely would have heard that landing. Whatever. A clumsy, awkward success is still a success. I hugged the wall of Aldrin and crept away from the port until I couldn’t see Bob anymore. I wasn’t sure where his “patrol route” would take him, but I knew he wouldn’t stray far from the port’s airlock. I continued until I was well clear of the port and sat down with my back against the bubble. Then I waited. I couldn’t see the train alcove from my new position, but I could see the tracks leading away from town. The train appeared on the horizon half an hour later. Owing to the small size of the moon, our horizon is only two and a half kilometers away, so I didn’t have long before it arrived at the station. I waited for the train to pull into the alcove and dock with the port. Then I crept along my side of the alcove. This was the first train of the day. Most of the passengers would be employees of the Visitor Center itself. They loaded up quickly and the train was ready for its return trip. It emerged from the alcove. It takes a while to get something that size up to speed, so it wasn’t going very fast yet. I leapt forward and grabbed the front wheel housing. It wasn’t the best grip, but I held on with all my might. The train dragged me along, my legs bouncing off the terrain. Okay, maybe this wasn’t the best plan I’d ever concocted, but it kept a train between me and Bob, which was all I wanted. The train accelerated, faster and faster. I hung on for dear life. At this speed, any sharp rock could puncture my suit. I couldn’t let myself dangle for the whole trip. I had to put my legs somewhere. I reached up and grabbed the edge of a window–I had to hope no one was sitting there. I pulled myself up and put my feet on the wheel housing. I wanted to peek through the window to see if I’d been spotted, but I resisted the urge. People might not notice a few fingers outside a window, but they’d probably notice a big EVA suit helmet.
I tried not to move. It’d be pretty spooky for people in the train if they heard noise coming from the wall from outside. Attack of the Moon Woman Who Made Bad Life Decisions. We puttered along the lazy path toward the Visitor Center. By now you’ve probably figured out my plan. The posse was guarding all the Artemis airlocks, but had they thought to guard the one at the Visitor Center? Even if they had, they couldn’t beat me there. This was the first train. The trip took forty minutes, as usual. I managed to sit sort of comfortably on the wheel housing. It wasn’t too bad. I spent the trip brooding about my predicament. Even if I could make it back inside without getting caught, I was screwed. Trond had hired me to destroy four harvesters. I only trashed three. Sanchez’s engineers would undo my sabotage to the survivor and get it back to work. Their production would be reduced, but they’d still make their oxygen quota. Trond wouldn’t pay me for this debacle, and I wouldn’t blame him. Not only had I failed, I’d made things harder on him. Now Sanchez Aluminum knew someone was gunning for them. “Damn…” I said as my stomach knotted up. The train slowed as it approached the Visitor Center. I hopped off and stumbled to a stop while the train continued on to its alcove. I bounded over to the Visitor Center and worked my way along the arc of its dome. The Eagle came into view as I rounded the hull. It almost seemed to disapprove. Tsk, tsk. My crew would never pull shit like this. Then I saw a glorious sight: The EVA airlock was completely unguarded! Hell yeah! I rushed to the airlock and opened the outer door, hopped in, and closed the hatch behind me. I cranked the repress valve and heard the hiss of glorious air come at me from all directions. Even though I was in a hurry, I waited through the air cleanse. Hey, I may be a smuggler, saboteur, and all-around asshole, but I’d never leave my EVA suit dirty. The cleanse finished and I was clean as a whistle. Back in town! I’d have to find somewhere in the Visitor Center to hide my EVA gear, but that wouldn’t be a problem. I’d stow it in as many tourist lockers as it took, then come back later with a big container. I’m a porter–I’d just say I was there for a pickup. It wouldn’t even look weird.
I opened the inner airlock door and stepped into salvation. Except it wasn’t salvation. It was shit. I stepped into shit. The smile on my face quickly changed to a “freshly caught carp” expression. Dale stood in the antechamber, his arms folded and a half smirk on his face.
Dear Jazz, Are you all right? I’ve been worried. I haven’t heard from you in a couple of weeks. Dear Kelvin, Sorry, I had to shut off my Gizmo service for a while to save money. I’ve got it back on now. It’s been tough. But I’m starting to get above water. I made a new friend. Every now and then I scrape together enough money to get a beer at this hole-in-the-wall in Conrad. I know it’s stupid to spend money on booze when you’re homeless, but booze makes homelessness bearable. Anyway, there’s a regular there named Dale. He’s an EVA master, mostly working out of the Apollo 11 Visitor Center. He does tourist EVAs, stuff like that. We got to talking and, I don’t know why, but I ended up telling him my problems. He was shocked at my fucked-up situation and offered to lend me some money. I assumed it was a play to get in my pants so I turned him down. I don’t have a problem with prostitutes, but I don’t want to be one. But he swore up and down that he just wanted to help me out as a friend. Accepting that money was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, Kelvin. But I was out of options. Anyway, I had just enough to pay deposit and first month on a capsule domicile. It’s so small I have to step outside to change my mind (rim shot!) but at least it’s a home. And true to his word, Dale never expected anything in return. Perfect gentleman. And believe it or not I’m even dating a guy. His name is Tyler. It’s early days, but he’s really sweet. He’s kind of shy, polite to everyone, and sort of a Boy Scout when it comes to rules. So the opposite of me in every way. But we really click. We’ll see how it goes. You know what? I’ve been selfish lately. I’ve been so focused on me I didn’t even ask about you. How are you handling things? Dear Jazz, Good for you! I was worried your experience with Sean would put you off men forever. See? We’re not all bad. I have my job at KSC, for which I’m very grateful. I even got a promotion. I’m a loadmaster-in-training now. In a couple months, I’ll be a full loadmaster and I’ll get a raise.
Halima is six months pregnant now, and we’re all preparing for the baby. We’ve worked out a rotation so that my other sisters can take care of the baby while Halima stays in school. Mom, Dad, and I will keep working. Dad was almost ready to retire, but now he’ll have to work another five years at least. What choice do we have? There’s just not enough money otherwise. Dear Kelvin, You’re a loadmaster-in-training? Does that mean you sometimes set up cargo pods unsupervised? Because there are a lot of people in Artemis who smoke. Dear Jazz, I’m listening…
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