I loaded all my welding equipment and tanks into the tunnel, then connected my end of it to the air shelter. Then I joined Dale and we both climbed into the rover airlock. Together we pulled the tunnel’s other connector into place.
I stared down the tube toward the still-sealed air-shelter hatch.
“Time to test it, I guess,” I said.
He reached for the valve. “Keep on your toes. Just ’cause we’re in EVA suits doesn’t make us safe. If we misconnected the tunnel, we could be in for an explosive decompression.”
“Thanks for the tip,” I said. “I’ll be ready to jump out of the way if a pressure wave moving the speed of sound comes at me.”
“You could be less of an ass.”
“I could,” I said. “But it’s not likely.”
He turned the valve and a foggy plume of air rushed in from the pressurized rover compartment. I checked my suit readouts and saw we were up to 2 kPa—about 10 percent of normal Artemis pressure.
An alarm blared from inside the rover.
“The fuck is that?” I said.
“Leak warning,” Dale said. “The rover knows how much air it should take to fill the airlock, and we’ve gone way past that. We’re filling this whole tunnel.”
“No,” he said. “We’ve got plenty in the tanks. Way more than we need. Bob saw to that.”
Slowly, the tunnel inflated. It held pressure perfectly, of course. This was exactly what it was designed to do—connecting one hatch to another.
“Looks good,” Dale said. He turned the hatch crank and opened the rover’s inner airlock door. He climbed into the main compartment and settled into the driver’s seat. The rover was designed to accommodate a driver with or without an EVA suit.
He checked the control panel. “Twenty point four kPa, one hundred percent oxygen. Good to go.”
“Here goes nothing,” I said. I popped the vents of my EVA suit. I took a few breaths. “Air’s good.”
Dale joined me in the connector and helped me de-suit.
“J-J-Jesus.” I shivered. When you release pressurized gas it gets cold. By filling the tunnel from the rover’s high-pressure tanks, we’d made a goddamned meat locker.
“Here.” Dale handed me my jumpsuit. I put it on faster than I’d ever put on clothes before. Well…second fastest (my high school boyfriend’s parents came home earlier than expected one day).
Then he handed me his own jumpsuit. He was a big enough guy that his clothes fit over mine easily. I didn’t even argue. I leapt right in. After a minute, I warmed up to something bearable.
“You all right?” he asked. “Your lips are blue.”
“I’m okay,” I said through chattering teeth. “Once I fire up the torch, it’ll be plenty warm in here.”
I pulled my Gizmo out of its holster on the EVA suit, then popped an earbud into my ear. “You still there, guys?”
“We’re here!” said Svoboda.
A thought struck me. “Did you watch me strip on Dale’s video feed?”
“Yup! Thanks for the show!”
“Ahem,” said Dad’s voice.
“Oh, relax, Mr. B,” said Svoboda. “She kept her underwear on.”
“Still…” Dad protested.
“All right, all right,” I said. “Svoboda, consider that payment for all the favors you’re doing me. Now, Dad: Any prelim advice on this cut?”
“Let’s get a look at the material.”
I walked down the tunnel toward the air shelter and Dale followed close behind. I glanced back at him. “You going to be on my ass like that through the whole thing?”
“Pretty much,” said Dale. “If there’s a breach, I’ll have to get your un-suited body down the tunnel and into the rover. I’ll have three or four minutes before you get permanent brain damage. So yeah. I’m going to hang nearby.”
“Well, don’t get too close. I need elbow room to work and you don’t want the flame anywhere near your suit.”
I turned the air-shelter valve and let air from the tunnel into the shelter. We listened to the hiss closely. If it stopped, that meant the skirt weld was airtight. If it just kept hissing that meant there was a leak and we’d have to go back out there and find it.
The hiss grew more and more quiet, eventually coming to a stop. I cranked the valve open all the way and there was no change. “Seal’s good,” I said.
“Well done!” Dad exclaimed over the radio.
“No, seriously,” he said. “You made a three-meter-long airtight weld while wearing an EVA suit. You really could have been a master.”
“Dad…” I said, a note of warning in my voice.
“All right, all right.”
He couldn’t see my smile, though. It really was a hell of a weld.
I cranked the hatch open and stepped in. The metal tube was freezing cold. Water condensed on the walls. I gestured Dale to the front. He turned on his helmet lights and got close to the weld site so Dad could see it through the camera.
“The inside edge of the weld looks good to me,” I said.