Irina opened the door and frowned at me like I’d just pissed in her borscht. As usual, she wouldn’t let me pass without stating my business.
“Hi, I’m Jazz Bashara,” I said. “We’ve met over a hundred times. I’m here to see Trond at his invitation.”
She led me through to the dining-hall entrance. The smell of delicious food hung in the air. Something meaty, I thought. Roast beef? A rare delicacy when the nearest cow is 400,000 kilometers away.
I peeked in to see Trond sip liquor from a tumbler. He wore his usual bathrobe and chatted with someone across the table. I couldn’t see who.
His daughter Lene sat next to him. She watched her father talk with rapt fascination. Most sixteen-year-olds hate their parents. I was a huge pain in the ass to my dad at that age (nowadays I’m just a general disappointment). But Lene looked up to Trond like he put the Earth in the sky.
She spotted me then waved excitedly. “Jazz! Hi!”
Trond gestured me in. “Jazz! Come in, come in. Have you met the administrator?”
I walked in and—holy shit! Administrator Ngugi was there. She was just…there! Hanging out at the table.
Fidelis Ngugi is, simply put, the reason Artemis exists. When she was Kenya’s minister of finance, she created the country’s entire space industry from scratch. Kenya had one—and only one—natural resource to offer space companies: the equator. Spacecraft launched from the equator could take full advantage of Earth’s rotation to save fuel. But Ngugi realized they could offer something more: policy. Western nations drowned commercial space companies in red tape. Ngugi said, “Fuck that. How about we don’t?”
I’m paraphrasing here.
God only knows how she convinced fifty corporations from thirty-four countries to dump billions of dollars into creating KSC, but she did it. And she made sure Kenya enacted special tax breaks and laws just for the new megacorporation.
What’s that, you say? Favoring a single company with special laws isn’t fair? Tell that to the East India Tea Company. This is global economics, not kindergarten.
And wouldn’t you know it, when KSC had to pick someone to run Artemis for them, they picked…Fidelis Ngugi! That’s how shit gets done. She pulled money out of nowhere, created a huge industry in her formerly third-world country, and landed herself a job as ruler of the moon. She had run Artemis for over twenty years.
“Bwuh—” I said eloquently. “Shaa…”
“I know, right?!” said Lene.
Ngugi’s traditional dhuku headscarf counterpointed her modern, Western-style dress. She stood politely, walked toward me, and said, “Hello, dear.” Her Swahili-accented English rolled so smoothly off her tongue I wanted to adopt her as my grandma right then and there.
“J-Jasmine,” I stammered. “I’m Jasmine Bashara.”
“I know,” she said.
She smiled. “We have met before. I hired your father to install an emergency air shelter in my home. He brought you along. That was back when the administrator’s quarters were in Armstrong Bubble.”
“Wow…I don’t remember that at all.”
“You were very young. Such an adorable little child, hanging on her father’s every word. How is Ammar these days?”
I blinked a couple of times. “Uh…Dad’s fine. Thanks. I don’t see him much. He’s got his shop and I’ve got my work.”
“He is a good man, your father,” she said. “An honest businessman and a hard worker. One of the best welders in town, as well. It’s too bad you had a falling-out.”
“Wait, how did you know we—”
“Lene, it’s been lovely to see you again. You’re so grown-up now!”
“Thanks, Administrator!” Lene beamed.
“And Trond, thank you for a delicious meal,” she said.
“Any time, Administrator.” Trond stood up. I couldn’t believe he was in his bathrobe! He had dinner with the most important person on the moon and he wore his bathrobe! Then he shook Ngugi’s hand like they were equals or something. “Thanks for coming by!”
Irina showed up and led Ngugi away. Was there a hint of admiration on the grumpy old Russian’s face? I guess even Irina had her limits. You can’t hate everyone.
“Holy shit, dude,” I said to Trond.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Trond turned to his daughter. “All right, pumpkin, time for you to skedaddle. Jazz and I have business to discuss.”
She groaned the way only teenage girls can. “You always send me away when things get interesting.”
“Don’t be in such a hurry. You’ll be a cutthroat business asshole soon enough.”
“Just like my dad.” She smiled. She reached to the floor and picked up her crutches. They were the kind that gripped the upper arm. She got them both into position with ease and brought herself vertical. Her legs hung free. She kissed Trond on the cheek, then walked out on the crutches without her feet touching the ground.
The car accident that killed her mother had paralyzed Lene for life. Trond had money coming out his ass, but nothing could buy back his daughter’s ability to walk. Or could it? On Earth, Lene was confined to a wheelchair, but on the moon, she could easily move around on crutches.