I bounded over the gray, dusty terrain toward the huge dome of Conrad Bubble. Its airlock, ringed with red lights, stood distressingly far away.
It’s hard to run with a hundred kilograms of gear on—even in lunar gravity. But you’d be amazed how fast you can hustle when your life is on the line.
Bob ran beside me. His voice came over the radio: “Let me connect my tanks to your suit!”
“That’ll just get you killed too.”
“The leak’s huge,” he huffed. “I can see the gas escaping your tanks.”
“Thanks for the pep talk.”
“I’m the EVA master here,” Bob said. “Stop right now and let me cross-connect!”
“Negative.” I kept running. “There was a pop right before the leak alarm. Metal fatigue. Got to be the valve assembly. If you cross-connect you’ll puncture your line on a jagged edge.”
“I’m willing to take that risk!”
“I’m not willing to let you,” I said. “Trust me on this, Bob. I know metal.”
I switched to long, even hops. It felt like slow motion, but it was the best way to move with all that weight. My helmet’s heads-up display said the airlock was fifty-two meters away. I glanced at my arm readouts. My oxygen reserve plummeted while I watched. So I stopped watching.
The long strides paid off. I was really hauling ass now. I even left Bob behind, and he’s the most skilled EVA master on the moon. That’s the trick: Add more forward momentum every time you touch the ground. But that also means each hop is a tricky affair. If you screw up, you’ll face-plant and slide along the ground. EVA suits are tough, but it’s best not to grind them against regolith.
“You’re going too fast! If you trip you could crack your faceplate!”
“Better than sucking vacuum,” I said. “I’ve got maybe ten seconds.”
“I’m way behind you,” he said. “Don’t wait for me.”
I only realized how fast I was going when the triangular plates of Conrad filled my view. They were growing very quickly.
“Shit!” No time to slow down. I made one final leap and added a forward roll. I timed it just right—more out of luck than skill—and hit the wall with my feet. Okay, Bob was right. I’d been going way too fast.
I hit the ground, scrambled to my feet, and clawed at the hatch crank.
My ears popped. Alarms blared in my helmet. The tank was on its last legs—it couldn’t counteract the leak anymore.
I pushed the hatch open and fell inside. I gasped for breath and my vision blurred. I kicked the hatch closed, reached up to the emergency tank, and yanked out the pin.
The top of the tank flew off and air flooded into the compartment. It came out so fast, half of it liquefied into fog particles from the cooling that comes with rapid expansion. I fell to the ground, barely conscious.
I panted in my suit and suppressed the urge to puke. That was way the hell more exertion than I’m built for. An oxygen-deprivation headache took root. It’d be with me for a few hours, at least. I’d managed to get altitude sickness on the moon.
The hiss died to a trickle, then finished.
Bob finally made it to the hatch. I saw him peek in through the small round window.
“Status?” he radioed.
“Conscious,” I wheezed.
“Can you stand? Or should I call for an assist?”
Bob couldn’t come in without killing me—I was lying in the airlock with a bad suit. But any of the two thousand people inside the city could open the airlock from the other side and drag me in.
“No need.” I got to my hands and knees, then to my feet. I steadied myself against the control panel and initiated the cleanse. High-pressure air jets blasted me from all angles. Gray lunar dust swirled in the airlock and got pulled into filtered vents along the wall.
After the cleanse, the inner hatch door opened automatically.
I stepped into the antechamber, resealed the inner hatch, and plopped down on a bench.
Bob cycled through the airlock the normal way—no dramatic emergency tank (which now had to be replaced, by the way). Just the normal pumps-and-valves method. After his cleanse cycle, he joined me in the antechamber.
I wordlessly helped Bob out of his helmet and gloves. You should never make someone de-suit themselves. Sure, it’s doable, but it’s a pain in the ass. There’s a tradition to these things. He returned the favor.
“Well, that sucked,” I said as he lifted my helmet off.
“You almost died.” He stepped out of his suit. “You should have listened to my instructions.”
I wriggled out of my suit and looked at the back. I pointed to a jagged piece of metal that was once a valve. “Blown valve. Just like I said. Metal fatigue.”
He peered at the valve and nodded. “Okay. You were right to refuse cross-connection. Well done. But this still shouldn’t have happened. Where the hell did you get that suit?”
“I bought it used.”
“Why would you buy a used suit?”
“Because I couldn’t afford a new one. I barely had enough money for a used one and you assholes won’t let me join the guild until I own a suit.”