I looked to the north. The Sea of Tranquility stretched out as far as I could see. Gray hills and jagged boulders dotted the terrain all the way to the horizon. I wish I could say it was all magnificent desolation and crap like that, but it’s not. The land around Artemis is crisscrossed with tire tracks and utterly denuded of rocks. We have a lot of masonry here. Guess where people get the rocks.
I walked to the center of the park, toward the Ladies.
Real trees would have been too much to arrange. But the park featured a very realistic sculpture of a cinnamon tree. Two statues stood beneath it. One was Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the moon. The other was Artemis, the Greek goddess our fair city was named after. The two women stood frozen in laughter, Chang’e’s hand on Artemis’s forearm. They seemed to be in the middle of some friendly girl talk. Locals knew them as the Ladies. I walked up and leaned against the “tree.”
I looked up to the half Earth in the sky.
“No smoking in the park,” said a raspy old voice.
The groundskeeper was at least eighty years old. He’d been a fixture since the park opened.
“Do you see a cigarette in my hand?” I said.
“I caught you once before.”
“That was ten years ago.”
He pointed to his eyes and then to me. “Watching you.”
“Let me ask you something,” I said. “Who moves all the way to the moon just to mow lawns?”
“I like plants. And my joints hurt. The gravity here’s easy on my arthritis.” He looked up at Earth. “Once the wife died, I didn’t have much reason to stay there.”
“Hell of a trip for an old man,” I said.
“I used to travel a lot for work,” he said. “I don’t mind.”
Svoboda showed up exactly on time, as usual. He carried a bag over his shoulder and smiled. He pointed to me and the goddess statues. “Hey, look at that! Three hot moon babes hanging out!”
I rolled my eyes. “Svoboda, someday I’ll teach you how to talk to women.”
He waved to the groundskeeper. “Hey, I know you. You’re Mike, right?”
“Nope,” said the groundskeeper. He shot me a look. “I’ll leave you and your john alone. No sex on the grass.”
“Try not to age to death on the way home, gramps,” I said.
He waved over his shoulder as he walked away.
“Did you finish it?” I asked Svoboda.
“Yup, got it right here!” He handed the bag over to me.
I peeked inside. “Thanks.”
“Did you get a chance to test that condom yet?”
“It’s been twenty-four hours. What kind of sex life do you think I have?”
“Whatever, I don’t know. Just asking.” He scanned the park. “I don’t come here often enough. It’s a nice place to relax.”
“If you like flying debris, yeah.” The park was infamous for this. If you’re from Earth, no matter how much you mentally prepare yourself, you always throw too hard. Your friend ten meters away—the intended receiver—will watch a ball sail over their head to the other side of the park. And don’t get me started on Frisbees. Between the low gravity and low air pressure they’re a complete mystery to tourists.
“I like it,” Svoboda said. “It’s the only ‘natural’ place in town. I miss open spaces.”
“Plenty of open space outside to look at,” I said. “And you can hang out with friends in a bar more easily than a park.”
His face lit up. “We’re friends?”
“Cool! I don’t have many of those. You’re my only friend with boobs.”
“You really need to work on how you talk to women.”
“Yeah, okay. Sorry.”
I wasn’t mad. It barely registered. I was too busy obsessing about my plans.
This was it. All the pieces were in place. I had the welding equipment, the custom electronics, and the HIB was ready. My breathing got short and my heart nearly beat right out of my chest. My little caper wasn’t theoretical anymore. I was actually going to do this.
That night, I repaired the leaky valve in my EVA suit. And I gave the whole suit a thorough inspection. Then I gave it another one. I’d never admit it to Bob, but he was dead right about my shoddy inspection work before the test. It was my problem to make sure my suit wouldn’t kill me. And this time I made damn sure everything was in perfect working order.
I got some sleep, but not much. I’m not a brave person and I never claimed to be. This was it. The rest of my life hinged on how well I did.
I awoke at four a.m. Then I was too antsy to wait any longer.
I walked to the Port of Entry, collected Trigger and my EVA suit, and drove through the corridors of the sleeping city to Conrad Airlock. No one was there this time of morning. I dropped off my EVA gear and the big sack of equipment for my heist, stowing it all in the antechamber so it wouldn’t be visible to anyone walking by.
I drove the now-empty Trigger back to his parking space at the port. Tip: If you’re going to commit a major crime, don’t leave your car at the crime scene while you do it.
I walked back to Conrad Airlock and closed myself into the antechamber. I just had to hope no one walked in on me or I’d have some ’splainin’ to do.