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I put my mask on and gave him the desired tool from the cart. He fixed the head and checked it twice. Then he meticulously checked the gas-mixture valves. Then he rechecked the cutting head.

“What’s up, Dad? You’re slow as snot today.”

“Just being thorough.”

“Are you kidding? I’ve seen you fire up a torch with one hand and set mixture levels with the other at the same time. Why are you—”

Oh. I stopped talking.

This wasn’t a normal job. Tomorrow, his daughter’s life would rely on the quality of these welds. It slowly dawned on me that, to him, this was the most critical project he’d ever done. He would accept nothing short of his absolute best. And if that meant taking all day, so be it.

I stood back and let him work. After more fastidious double checks, he got started. I assisted and did what I was told. We may have our friction, but when it came to welding he was the master and I was the apprentice.

Very few people get a chance to quantify how much their father loves them. But I did. The job should have taken forty-five minutes, but Dad spent three and a half hours on it. My father loves me 366 percent more than he loves anything else.

Good to know.

I sat on the edge of Svoboda’s bed and watched him set up.

He’d really gone all out. In addition to the normal monitor on his desk, he’d mounted four other monitors to the wall.

He typed on the keyboard and magically brought each monitor to life.

“A little overboard, don’t you think?” I said.

He continued typing. “Two cameras on your EVA suit, two on Dale’s, and I need a screen for diagnostics. That’s five screens.”

“Could have been windows on the same screen, though, right?”

“Pfft. Philistine.”

I flopped back onto the bed and sighed. “On a scale from one to ‘invade Russia in winter,’ how stupid is this plan?”

“Risky as all hell, but I don’t see what else you can do. Besides”—he turned to me with a grin—“you have your own personal Svoboda. How can you lose?”

I snickered. “But have I covered every angle?”

He shrugged. “No such thing. But for what it’s worth, you got everything I can think of.”

“That means a lot,” I said. “You’re pretty thorough.”

“Well, there is one thing,” he said.

“Shit. What?”

“Well, it’s half of a thing.” He turned back to his computer and brought up the Sanchez bubble schematics. “The methane tanks bother me.”

“How so?” I walked over and hovered behind him. My hair dangled on his face a little, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“There’s thousands of liters of liquid methane here.”

“Why do they need methane?”

“The rocket fuel they manufacture is about one percent methane. It’s needed as a combustion regulator. They import it from Earth in big-ass tanks.”

“Okay, what’s your concern?”

“It’s flammable. Like…super-duper flammable.” He pointed to a different part of the schematic. “And there’s a huge staging tank of pure oxygen over here.”

“And then I’m going to add a bunch of molten steel to the room,” I said. “What could go wrong?”

“Right, that’s my concern,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be a problem. By the time the smelter melts, there won’t be anyone around.”

“Yeah,” I said. “And if the tanks do leak and explode that’s great. Even more damage!”

“I guess,” he said, clearly not convinced. “It just bugs me, you know? It’s not part of the plan. I don’t like things that don’t match a plan.”

“If that’s the worst thing you can think of, I’m in good shape.”

“Guess so,” he said.

I stretched my back. “I wonder if I’ll sleep tonight.”

“You crashing here?”

“Eh…” I said. “Ngugi isn’t going to sell me out again. Have I mentioned she’s a bitch?”

“It’s come up.”

“Anyway, now no one can track me down by my Gizmo. So I can pay for a hotel. I’ll probably be up late fretting, anyway. I wouldn’t want to keep you awake.”

“Okay,” he said. Was there a hint of disappointment in his voice?

I put my hands on his shoulders. Not sure why, but I did. “Thanks for always being in my corner. It means a lot to me.”

“Sure.” He craned his neck around to look up at me. “I’ll always be there for you, Jazz.”

We looked at each other for a moment.

“Hey, did you try out the condom yet?” he asked.

“Goddammit, Svoboda!” I said.

“What? I’m waiting for feedback here.”

I threw my hands up and walked away.

The huge door to the freight airlock lumbered open and revealed the desolate lunar landscape beyond.

Dale checked a reading on the rover’s control panel. “Pressure is good, air mix A-okay, CO2 absorption on automatic.”

I looked over the screens in front of my seat. “Batteries at one hundred percent, wheel motor diagnostics are green, comms are five-by-five.”

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