I pulled Trigger up to the ESA Research Center and parked in the narrow hallway.
Space agencies around the world were the first to rent property in Artemis. In the old days, Armstrong Ground was the best real estate in town. Since then, four more bubbles sprang up, and the space agencies remained. Their once cutting-edge design was now two decades out of date.
I hopped off Trigger and went into the labs. The first room, a tiny reception area, was a throwback to the days when real estate was much more limited. Four hallways led off at odd angles. Some of the doors couldn’t be opened if others were open. The ergonomic abortion was the result of seventeen governments designing a laboratory by committee. I went through the center door, down the hallway almost to the end, and into the microelectronics lab.
Martin Svoboda hunched over a microscope and reached absently for his coffee. His hand passed three beakers of deadly acid before he grabbed the mug and took a sip. I swear that idiot’s going to kill himself someday.
He’d been assigned to Artemis by ESA four years ago to study microelectronic manufacturing methods. Apparently, the moon has some unique advantages in that area. The ESA lab is a highly coveted posting, so he must’ve been good at his job.
“Svoboda,” I said.
Nothing. He hadn’t noticed me come in and didn’t hear me speak. He’s like that.
I smacked him on the back of the head and he jerked away from the microscope. He smiled like a child seeing a beloved aunt. “Oh! Hi, Jazz! What’s up?”
I sat on a lab stool opposite him. “I need some mad science from you.”
“Cool!” He spun his stool to face me. “What can I do?”
“I need electronics.” I pulled schematics out of my pocket and handed them over. “This. Or something like it.”
“Paper?” He held the schematics like they were a urine sample. “You wrote them on paper?”
“I don’t know how to use drafting apps,” I said. “Just—what do you think?”
He unfolded the paper and frowned at my scribblings. Svoboda was the best electrical engineer in town. Something like this shouldn’t be a challenge for him.
He turned the sketch sideways. “Did you draw this with your left hand or something?”
“I’m not an artist, okay?”
He pinched his chin. “Art quality aside, this is an elegant design. Did you copy it from somewhere?”
“No, why? Is something wrong?”
He raised his brow. “It’s just…it’s really well done.”
“I never knew you were so talented.”
I shrugged. “I found electronics tutorials online and worked from there.”
“You taught yourself?” He looked back to the schematic. “How long did it take?”
“Most of the afternoon.”
“You learned all this today?! You’d make a great scientist—”
“Stop.” I held up my hand. “I don’t want to hear it. Can you make it or not?”
“Sure, sure,” he said. “When do you need it?”
“The sooner the better.”
He tossed the schematics on the lab table. “I can have it for you tomorrow.”
“Great.” I hopped off the stool and whipped out my Gizmo. “How much?”
He hesitated—never a good sign during negotiations.
He’d done odd jobs for me for years, mostly removing anti-piracy chips from smuggled electronics. He usually charged 2,000? for freelance work. Why was this time different?
“Two thousand slugs?” I suggested.
“Hmm,” he said. “Would you consider a trade?”
“Sure.” I put my Gizmo away. “Need something smuggled in?”
“I see.” Goddammit, I’m a smuggler! Why did people keep asking for other shit?!
He stood and gestured for me to follow. I went with him to the back corner of his lab where he did his off-book work. Why buy your own equipment when the taxpayers of Europe will buy it for you?
“Behold!” He gestured to the table.
The item in the middle wasn’t much to look at. Just a small, clear plastic box with something inside. I took a closer look. “Is that a condom?”
“Yes!” he said proudly. “My latest invention.”
“The Chinese beat you by seven centuries.”
“This is not your everyday condom!” He slid a thermos-size cylinder over to me. It had a power cable and a hinged top. “It comes with this.”
I opened the top. Tiny holes inside adorned the walls and a rounded metal cylinder stood mounted to the bottom. “Um. Okay…”
“I can make a profit by selling these kits for three thousand slugs each.”
“Condoms only cost fifty slugs. Why would anyone buy this?”
He grinned. “It’s reusable!”
I blinked. “Are you shitting me?”
“Not at all! It’s made of a thin but durable material. Good for hundreds of uses.” He pointed to the rounded metal part of the device. “After each use, you turn the condom inside-out and put it on this cylinder—”
“Then you turn on the cleaner. There’s a liquid cleanse cycle and then a high temperature bake for ten minutes. After that it’s sterile and ready to use again—”