He grabbed the control stick. “Port of Entry Airlock, request permission to disembark.”
“Granted,” came Bob’s voice over the intercom. “Take good care of my rover, Shapiro.”
“Try not to screw it up, Bashara,” Bob said.
“Bite me,” I said.
Dale slapped the Mute button and shot me a look. “You know what, Jazz? We’re breaking every guild rule in the book. If we get caught, Bob and I will both get kicked out. Forever. We’re risking our livelihood here. Can you be a little more fucking considerate?!”
I unmuted the mike. “Uh…thanks, Bob. For…all this.”
“Copy,” came the clipped reply.
Dale piloted the rover out of the airlock and onto the regolith. I expected things to get bumpy but the suspension was very smooth. That, plus the area just outside had been flattened and smoothed over by years of frequent use.
Bob’s rover was, simply put, the best rover on the moon. This was no dune buggy with awkward seats for EVA-suited passengers. It was fully pressurized and had a spacious interior with supplies and power enough to last for days. Both of our EVA suits were stored neatly in racks along the walls. The rover even had a partitioned airlock in the rear, meaning the cabin never had to lose pressure, even if someone went outside.
Dale looked straight ahead while he drove. He refused to even cast me a sideways glance.
“You know what?” I said. “It’s the EVA Guild that’s a threat to your livelihood, not me. Maybe protectionist bullshit isn’t the best policy.”
“You’re probably right. We should let everyone play with the airlocks. I’m sure we can trust untrained people not to annihilate the city with the press of a button.”
“Oh, please. The guild could have members operate the airlocks and let people manage their EVAs themselves. They’re just greedy fucks running a labor cartel. Pimps went out of style a long time ago, you know.”
He snickered despite himself. “I’ve missed our political arguments.”
I checked the time. We had a fairly tight schedule to keep. So far, so good.
We turned southeast and headed toward the Berm a kilometer away. Not a long drive, but it would have been a very long walk, especially dragging the modified air shelter with us.
The shelter clanked against the roof as we entered the rougher terrain. We both looked up at the source of the noise, then at each other.
“It’s strapped down tight, right?” he asked.
“You were there when we secured it,” I said.
I winced. “If it falls off, we pick it up, I guess. It would cost us time we don’t have, but we could hustle.”
“And hope it didn’t break.”
“No way it breaks,” I said. “Dad did the welds. They’ll last until the sun goes cold.”
“Yeah, about that,” he said, “will you be able to handle the next set of welds?”
“And what if you can’t?”
“I’ll die,” I said. “So I’m fairly motivated to get it right.”
He turned left slightly. “Hang on. We’re crossing over the pipe.”
The air pipeline that carried freshly minted oxygen from the smelter to Armstrong Bubble lay along the ground.
On Earth, no one would be insane enough to ship pressurized oxygen gas through a pipeline. But on the lunar surface, there’s nothing to burn. Also, on Earth, they usually bury pipelines to protect the system from weather, animals, and idiot humans. We don’t do that here. Why would we? We don’t have weather or animals and all the idiot humans are mostly confined to the city.
Dale managed the controls as the front end of the rover bucked up and down, then the rear did the same.
“Is that really safe?” I asked. “Driving over a high-pressure line like that?”
He adjusted one of the wheel motor controls. “That pipe’s walls are eight centimeters thick. We couldn’t hurt it if we tried.”
“I have welding equipment. I could hurt it.”
“You’re a pedantic little shit, you know that?”
I looked through the roof porthole. Earth hung in the sky—a half-Earth, just like Lene’s watch had said.
We’d strayed far enough from the city that the terrain became wholly natural. Dale navigated us around a boulder. “Tyler says hi.”
“Give him my best.”
“He really does care about—”
My Gizmo rang. I put it in a dashboard slot and it connected to the rover’s audio system. Of course the rover had an audio system. Bob traveled in style. “Yo.”
“Yo, Jazz,” came Svoboda’s voice. “Where you guys at now? I don’t have a camera feed.”
“Still en route. The suit cams are offline. Is Dad there?”
“Yup, right next to me. Say hi, Ammar!”
“Hello, Jasmine,” said Dad. “Your friend is…interesting.”
“You get used to him,” I said. “Say hi to Dale.”
“Call me when you’re suited up,” said Svoboda.