Page 32

The train airlock stood on the other side of the bubble. The train tracks leading to it diverged into two lines. One ran to the airlock, the other to the unmanned silo car that transported rocket fuel to the port.

I dropped a couple of meters down the Berm and found a position where I could lie back and watch the scene. I had no idea what kind of schedule the harvesters had, so I would just have to wait.

And wait.

And fucking wait.

If you’re curious, there were exactly fifty-seven rocks within reach. I sorted them from smallest to largest, then changed my mind and sorted them from most spherical to least spherical. Then I tried making a regolith castle, but it ended up being more of a lump. Regolith particles are barbed and they stick together well, but there’s only so much you can do with EVA gloves. I could just about manage little half-spheres of dirt. I made a scale model of Artemis.

All told, I waited four hours.

Four. Goddamn. Hours.

Finally, I caught a glint of sunlight on the horizon. A harvester returning to port! Thank God. I stood and prepared the duffel for travel again. (I’d alphabetized my equipment out of boredom, first in English, then in Arabic.)

I hopped down the Berm. The harvester and I converged on the smelter from different directions. I got there first.

I crept around the bubble to stay out of sight of the harvester’s cameras. No real reason to do that—it’s not like anyone would be watching the feeds. I continued along the bubble wall until I got sight of the harvester. There it was, in all its giant shiny glory.

The harvester backed up to the hopper, latched into place, and slowly raised the front of its basin.

Thousands of kilograms of ore tumbled into the hopper. A brief cloud of dust accompanied the avalanche but almost immediately disappeared. No air to keep it afloat.

Having taken a good dump, the basin returned to level and the harvester sat idle. Mechanical arms reached out to attach the charging cable and coolant lines. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to recharge, but I wasted no time.

“One million slugs,” I said.

I climbed up the side of the harvester and threw my gear into the basin. Then I dropped into the basin myself. Easy enough.

I expected a long wait during the recharge, but it only took five minutes. I have to hand it to Toyota, they know how to make rapid-recharge batteries. The harvester lurched forward and just like that, we were on our way.

My plan was working! I giggled like a little girl. Hey, I’m a girl, so I’m allowed. And besides, no one was watching. I pulled an aluminum stock rod from the duffel, climbed to the top of the harvester, and held it out like a sword. “Onward, mighty steed!”

Onward we went. The harvester headed southwest toward the Moltke Foothills at the breakneck speed of five kilometers per hour.

I watched the smelter bubble and reactors disappear in the distance and grew uneasy again. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t the farthest I’d been from the Shire or anything. The train to the Visitor Center is over forty kilometers. But this was the farthest I’d ever been from safety.

The landscape grew rocky and jagged as we entered the foothills. The harvester didn’t even slow down. It might not have been fast but damn, it had torque.

We hit the first of many boulders and I almost flew out of the basin. I barely kept all my gear inside. Harvesters are not luxury cars. How did the rocks even stay put on the trip back? The harvesters must’ve been a little more cautious on their way home. Still, the bumpy ride was better than walking. That incline would have killed me.

Finally, we leveled off and things got smooth again. I pushed the duffel off of me and climbed back to the top. We’d made it to the collection zone.

The wide, flat plain had been denuded of rocks over years of harvesting. Good. Finally some smooth sailing. The cleared area was roughly a circle. I spotted three other harvesters at the clearing’s edge, scooping rocks into their basins. My harvester rumbled to the edge and dropped its scoop.

I tossed my gear out of the basin and hopped after it. At this point there was no way to avoid nav cameras. I just had to hope some Sanchez employee hadn’t randomly decided to bring up the feeds to impress his girlfriend.

I collected the gear and dragged it under the harvester with me.

The first step was to attach myself and my gear to the undercarriage. Harvesters don’t stay still for long and I didn’t want to scurry after it. I upended the duffel to prep my equipment.

First was the tarp. It was heavy, fiber-reinforced plastic with grommets in the corners so you could tie it down. I laced nylon rope through the grommets and affixed it to some jack-points on the hull. Now I had a hammock. I crawled into my new secret lair and pulled my welding equipment up with me.

The harvester lurched forward. I guess it had loaded some rocks into its basin and decided to move forward for another bite. I had no warning because, hey, no sound. A minor inconvenience—I hadn’t loaded the spare oxygen tanks into my hammock yet.

I looked over to the spare tanks. Okay. Not the end of the world. I could come back later to—

A huge boulder, destabilized by the fresh hole at its base, tipped forward onto the tanks. A pathetic fart of air escaped from underneath, briefly kicking up dust. Then there was nothing. And that was the end of my reserve air tanks.

“Oh, come on!” I yelled.

I took a moment to calculate how fucked I was.

I checked my arm readout. Six hours of oxygen left in the main supply. Two more hours in the emergency reserve. I had another tank for welding. I could attach it to my suit’s universal valve, but that would defeat the purpose of the whole trip. I needed that oxygen for my nefarious plans.

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