I joined Sarah. She grabbed one side of the tunnel’s front opening and I grabbed the other. Arun and Marcy did the same with the back half.
Sarah walked forward and I kept pace. The accordion-style tunnel expanded along behind us, with Arun and Marcy holding the rear steady.
Reacting silicon with oxygen creates a lot of heat. Hence the fireproof room. Why not just melt sand like they do on Earth? Because we don’t have sand on the moon. At least, not enough to be useful. But we do have plenty of silicon and oxygen, which are by-products of the aluminum industry. So we can make as much glass as we want. We just have to make it the hard way.
The primary reaction chamber stood just ahead of us. We’d have to get the tunnel around it to reach the trapped workers. “Probably a hot spot,” I said.
Sarah nodded and led us around in a wide arc. We didn’t want to melt a hole in our rescue tunnel.
We reached the shelter hatch and I knocked on the small, round window. A face appeared—a man with watering eyes and ash-covered face. Most likely the foreman, who would have entered the shelter last. He gave me a thumbs-up and I returned the gesture.
Sarah and I stepped into the tunnel, then clamped the hoop around the shelter’s hatch. That was easy, at least. It’s exactly what the tunnel was designed for. Still at the tent, Arun and Marcy pressed their end of the tunnel against the plastic and taped it in place. We’d created an escape route for the workers, but it was full of unbreathable air from the room.
“Ready to blow it out?” Sarah yelled.
“Sealed and ready!” Arun called back.
The folks outside cut a slit in the plastic. Smoke from the tunnel leaked into the hallway, but the brigade already had fans and filters ready to minimize its spread.
“Tent’s open! Blow it out!” Arun yelled.
Sarah and I exchanged a glance to confirm we were both ready. Together, we took a deep breath and popped the vent releases on our air tanks. The escaping gas pushed the smoke along with it, down the tunnel and out into the hallway. Soon, the tunnel had “breathable” air inside. Conrad Up 12 would have a sooty smell for days.
We both coughed when we tried the air, but it wasn’t too bad. It didn’t have to be pleasant. It just had to be non-toxic. Satisfied that it wouldn’t kill the workers, Sarah cranked the handle to the air-shelter hatch.
To their credit, the workers filed out in a fast, controlled line. My respect for Queensland Glass went up a notch. They kept their employees well trained for emergencies.
“One! Two! Three!…” Sarah counted off each person as they passed. I kept my own count to confirm.
Once she reached fourteen, I called out, “Fourteen! Confirmed!”
She looked into the shelter. “Empty shelter!”
I did the same. “Empty shelter! Confirmed!”
We followed the coughing, choking workers down the tunnel to safety.
“Good work,” said Bob. Other volunteers were already fitting oxygen masks on the singed employees. “Jazz, we have three moderately wounded—second-degree burns. Give them a ride to Doc Roussel. The rest of you, shove that tent and tunnel into the room and reseal the fire door.”
For the second time that day, Trigger and I served as an ambulance.
In the end, the oxygen tanks didn’t blow up. Still, Queensland Glass was destroyed. A shame—they’d always been solid on fire safety. Never even had a single infraction. Bad luck, I guess. Now they’d have to rebuild from scratch.
Still, their well-maintained air shelter and regular fire drills had saved a lot of lives. Factories can be rebuilt. People can’t. It was a win.
That evening, I hit my favorite watering hole: Hartnell’s Pub.
I sat in my usual seat—second from the end of the bar. The first seat used to be Dale’s, but those days were over.
Hartnell’s was a hole in the wall. No music. No dance floor. Just a bar and a few uneven tables. The only concession to ambience was noise-absorption foam on the walls. Billy knew what his customers valued: alcohol and silence. The vibe was completely asexual. No one hit on people at Hartnell’s. If you were looking to score, you went to a nightclub in Aldrin. Hartnell’s was for drinking. And you could get any drink you wanted, as long as it was beer.
I loved the place. Partially because Billy was a pleasant bartender, but mainly because it was the closest bar to my coffin.
“Evenin’, luv,” said Billy. “Heard there was a fire today. Heard you went in.”
“Queensland Glass,” I said. “I’m short so I got volunteered. The factory’s totaled but we got everyone out all right.”
“Right, well the first one’s on me, then.” He poured a glass of my favorite reconstituted German beer. Tourists say it tastes like shit but it’s the only beer I’ve ever known and it works for me. Someday I’ll buy an intact German beer to see what I’m missing. He set it in front of me. “Thanks for your service, luv.”
“Hey, I won’t say no.” I grabbed the free beer and took a swig. Nice and cold. “Thanks!”
Billy nodded in acknowledgment and went to the other end of the bar to serve another customer.
I brought up a web browser on my Gizmo and searched for “ZAFO.” It was a conjugation of the Spanish verb zafar, meaning “to release.” Somehow I doubted Mr. Jin from Hong Kong brought something with a Spanish name. Besides, “ZAFO” was in allcaps. Probably an acronym. But for what?