Page 5

She snorted, turned, and walked inside. That was my invitation to enter.

I made snide faces at her back while she led me through the mansion’s foyer. She pointed down the hall and walked in the opposite direction without saying a word.

“Always a pleasure, Irina!” I called after her.

Through the archway, I found Trond reclining on a sofa, wearing sweats and a bathrobe. He chatted with an Asian man I’d never seen before.

“Anyway, the moneymaking potential is”—he saw me enter and flashed a wide smile—“Jazz! Always good to see you!”

Trond’s guest had an open box next to him. He smiled politely and fumbled it closed. Of course, that just made me curious when I normally wouldn’t have given a shit.

“Good to see you too,” I said. I dropped the contraband on the couch.

Trond gestured to the guest. “This is Jin Chu from Hong Kong. Jin, this is Jazz Bashara. She’s a local gal. Grew up right here on the moon.”

Jin bowed his head quickly, then spoke with an American accent. “Nice to meet you, Jazz.” It caught me off guard and I guess it showed.

Trond laughed. “Yeah, Jin here is a product of high-class American private schools. Hong Kong, man. It’s a magical place.”

“But not as magical as Artemis!” Jin beamed. “This is my first visit to the moon. I’m like a kid in a candy store! I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. I grew up watching Star Trek. Now I get to live it!”

“Star Trek?” Trond said. “Seriously? That’s like a hundred years old.”

“Quality is quality,” Jin said. “Age is irrelevant. No one bitches about Shakespeare fans.”

“Fair point. But there aren’t any hot alien babes to seduce here. You can’t quite be Captain Kirk.”

“Actually”—Jin Chu held up a finger—“Kirk only had sex with three alien women in the entire classic series. And that number assumes he slept with Elaan of Troyius, which was implied but never made clear. So it might just be two.”

Trond bowed in supplication. “I will no longer challenge you on anything Star Trek–related. Are you going to the Apollo 11 site while you’re here?”

“Absolutely,” Jin said. “I hear there are EVA tours. Should I do one, you think?”

I piped in. “Nah. There’s an exclusion perimeter around the whole site. The Viewing Hall in the Visitor Center gets you just as close.”

“Oh, I see. Guess there’s no point, then.”

Suck it, Dale.

“Anyone want tea or coffee?” Trond offered.

“Yeah, please,” Jin said. “Dark coffee if you have it.”

I slumped into a nearby chair. “Black tea for me.”

Trond vaulted over the back of the couch (not as exciting as it sounds—remember the gravity here). He slid to the credenza and picked up a wicker basket. “I just got some high-end Turkish coffee. You’ll love it.” He craned his neck toward me. “Jazz, you might like it too.”

“Coffee’s just a bad kind of tea,” I said. “Black tea is the only hot drink worth having.”

“You Saudis do love your black tea,” Trond said.

Yes, technically I’m a citizen of Saudi Arabia. But I haven’t been there since I was six. I picked up a few attitudes and beliefs from Dad, but I wouldn’t fit in anywhere on Earth nowadays. I’m an Artemisian.

Trond got to work on our drinks. “Talk amongst yourselves, it’ll be a minute.” Why not have Irina do it? I don’t know. I don’t know what the hell she was for, honestly.

Jin rested his arm on the Mystery Box. “I hear Artemis is a popular romantic destination. Are there a lot of newlyweds here?”

“Not really,” I said. “They can’t afford it. But we do get older couples trying to spice things up in the bedroom.”

He looked confused.

“Gravity,” I said. “Sex is totally different in one-sixth G. It’s great for couples who’ve been married a long time. They get to rediscover sex together—it’s like new.”

“I never thought of that,” Jin said.

“Lots of prostitutes in Aldrin if you want to find out more.”

“Oh! Uh, no. Not my thing at all.” He hadn’t expected a woman to recommend hookers. Earthers tend to be uptight on that topic, and I’ve never understood why. It’s a service performed for a payment. What’s the big deal?

I shrugged. “If you change your mind, they run about two thousand slugs.”

“I won’t.” He laughed nervously and changed the subject. “So…why is Artemisian money called slugs?”

I put my feet up on the coffee table. “It’s short for soft-landed grams. S-L-G. Slug. One slug gets one gram of cargo delivered from Earth to Artemis, courtesy of KSC.”

“It’s technically not a currency,” Trond said from the credenza. “We’re not a country; we can’t have a currency. Slugs are pre-purchased service credit from KSC. You pay dollars, euros, yen, whatever, and in exchange you get a mass allowance for shipment to Artemis. You don’t have to use it all at once, so they keep track of your balance.”

He carried the tray over to the coffee table. “It ended up being a handy unit for trade. So KSC is functioning as a bank. You’d never get away with that on Earth, but this isn’t Earth.”

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