There. Technically I’d made a moon base. I sat in Fort Jasmine for a few minutes, converting my other relay cables to simple jumpers.
Then I got to work on the second harvester. At least this time there was no need for a hammock. The harvester wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Now that I had the hang of firing up a torch in a vacuum, things went much faster. Also, I didn’t bother marking the site first. I just did it from memory. Nothing quite like experience to speed your hand. I cut the hole, installed the valve, and filled the reservoir with air.
Then I shorted the battery, ran to my metal plate, crawled under it, and waited. And this time, I didn’t look back like a moron.
I felt the explosion through the ground and readied myself for the “rain of terror.” Would the metal plate be thick enough?
Dents appeared in the plate. Scary as hell, but it protected me from the hail. I waited until the dents stopped and checked the ground nearby to see if the puffs of dust had stopped. It would have been better if I could just hear things. Vacuum’s refusal to convey sound is a real pain in the ass.
I crept out and nothing killed me, so everything seemed to be in order. I came around the rock to see another demolished harvester.
I checked the time on my arm readouts. Another ten minutes had passed. “Dammit!”
If the posse was efficient, they’d be on-site in another ten minutes. I still had two more harvesters to trash. If I left either of them operational, Sanchez Aluminum would still be able to get ore, still be able to make oxygen, and Trond would be keeping that million slugs.
The biggest time sink was when I had to run and hide from the debris. I knew what I had to do—I just didn’t like it. I’d have to blow the remaining two at the same time.
Please don’t quote that last sentence out of context.
I prepared each of the remaining harvesters for kaboominess. Both were now full of oxygen, their breaker boxes open, and my jumper cables dangling from their positive poles.
I laid all the welding equipment under one of the harvesters. Now that I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be able to drag all that shit home with me. But I couldn’t leave stuff with BASHARA WELDING COMPANY written all over it for people to find.
Eh. A million slugs. I’d buy him new stuff. Better stuff.
I stood at one harvester and looked to the other twenty meters away. This would be tricky. A long-forgotten rational part of my brain piped up. Was this really a good idea? (One million slugs.) Yup! I’m fine!
I shorted out one battery, ran to the other harvester, and shorted it too. I almost made it back to the shelter before the first one blew.
The landscape ahead flashed bright with the blast. Tufts of dust burst around me as harvester bits diligently obeyed the laws of physics. No time to go around the boulder. I half climbed, half leapt over it. I tried for a graceful tuck-and-roll, but ended up with more of a flail-and-flop.
“Did you see that?!” came a voice over the radio.
“You’re broadcasting on Main,” said Bob.
The posse had been talking on some other channel to keep me from hearing them. That one guy screwed up. So now I knew they’d seen the explosion. They were close.
I waited for the second explosion, but it never came. When I got brave enough, I peeked around my rock to see one harvester still unharmed.
“What the fu—” I began. But then I saw it: The survivor was pocked with superficial damage from the other harvester’s explosion. My jumper had been severed cleanly in half by a piece of shrapnel. The two ends hung from their poles. The battery wasn’t shorted anymore, and it hadn’t had time to get hot enough to touch off the explosion.
I spotted a glint of light across the harvesting zone. The EVA masters had come. I looked back at the remaining harvester. Fifteen meters of ground to cross to get back to it, plus however long it would take me to fix the jumper. Then I looked at the glint again—now identifiable as a rover, just a hundred meters away, and coming at me fast.
I wouldn’t make it. They’d be on me in a shot. I had to leave the one harvester behind.
“Shit!” I said. I knew it was the right decision, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. I fled the crime scene.
Minor problem with running away from people on the moon: Your footprints are very obvious. I beelined out of the collection zone and left a blatant trail any idiot could follow. No way around that. The whole area had long since been cleared of everything but dust.
Once I got into natural terrain I had options—the highlands are riddled with everything from pebbles to boulders.
I stepped onto a rock and jumped to the next rock over. Then I jumped to the next one and so on. I continued my high-stakes game of The Floor Is Lava for the next twenty minutes. I never had to touch the dusty ground at all. Try following that trail, Bob.
The next bit was equal parts boring and stressful. I had several kilometers to cover, all the while looking over my shoulder. It wouldn’t take the posse long to figure out I was headed home. Then they’d hop in their rover and catch up to me.
They’d drive along the shortest route home (I hoped), so I took a roundabout path. Nothing resembling a straight line. Artemis was only three kilometers away from the collection zone, but I walked five kilometers on my crazy circuitous route. The rocky landscape of the foothills provided lots of boulders and berms to block any direct line of sight to me.