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“Agreed,” said Dad. “Make sure Mr. Shapiro stays nearby, though.”

“I’ll be right behind her,” Dale said. He stepped back into the connector.

I craned my head back to Dale. “Are we sure the pressure in here is exactly twenty point four kPa?”

Dale checked his arm readouts. “Yes. Twenty point four kPa.”

We had pressurized to 20.4 kPa instead of Artemis’s standard 21. Why? Because of how double-hull systems work.

Between the two hulls, there’s a bunch of crushed rock (you knew that). But there’s also air. And that air is at 20.4 kPa—about 90 percent of Artemis pressure. Also, the space between the hulls isn’t a giant empty shell. It’s partitioned into hundreds of equilateral triangles, two meters on a side. Each of those compartments has a pressure sensor inside.

So outside there’s vacuum, between the hulls there’s 90 percent Artemis pressure, and inside the bubble there’s full Artemis pressure.

If there’s a breach in the outer hull, the compartment’s air will leak out to the vacuum outside. But if there’s a breach in the inner hull, the compartment will be flooded with higher-pressure air from inside the bubble.

It’s an elegant system. If the compartment pressure goes down, you know there’s a leak in the outer hull. If it goes up, you know there’s a leak in the inner hull.

But I didn’t want a hull-breach alarm going off in the middle of my operation, so we made damn sure our air pressure matched the inside-hull pressure.

I made a quick inspection of my torch nozzle to make sure it hadn’t warped in the temperature changes it had just been exposed to. I didn’t see any problems.

“Dad, according to the specs, this will be the same as a city bubble hull—six centimeters of aluminum, a meter of crushed regolith, then another six centimeters of aluminum.”

“All right,” said Dad. “The initial breakthrough will be messy because of the thickness of the material. Just stay with it and try not to wobble. The steadier your hand the faster it’ll breach.”

I pulled the oxygen and acetylene tanks into the shelter and prepped the torch.

“Don’t forget your breather mask,” said Dad.

“I know, I know.” I’d completely forgotten. Oxyacetylene fills the air with toxic smoke. Normally it’s not enough to matter, but in a confined pressure vessel you need your own breathing apparatus. Hey, I would have remembered once I started coughing uncontrollably.

I reached into my duffel and pulled out a mask. The attached air tank had a little backpack rig to keep it out of the way. I put it on and took a few breaths just to make sure it worked. “I’m ready to fire up. Any other advice?”

“Yes,” he said. “The regolith has a high iron content. Try not to linger in one place for too long or it might clump up around the cut site. Too much of that and you’ll have a very hard time pulling the plug out.”

“Got it,” I said.

I put on my welding helmet and fired up the torch. Dale took a step back. However fearless EVA masters may be, there’s still a deep, basic instinct in all humans to avoid fire.

I grinned. Finally I’d get some revenge. Time to cut a hole in Sanchez’s gut.

I adjusted the gas mixture until I had a long flame. I picked a spot on the wall, dug in, and held the torch as still as I could. The massive heat plus the ready supply of oxygen dug away at the metal, boring a deeper and deeper hole.

Finally, it broke through. I can’t tell you exactly how I knew. I just knew. Maybe it’s the sound? The sputter of the flame? Not sure. In any event, the cut had begun.

“No airflow in or out,” I said. “Looks like a pressure match. Good job, Dale.”


I moved the torch along at a deliberate pace and cut along a meter-wide circle. I beveled the edges so the plug could fall out a little easier when the cut was complete.

“Running a little behind now,” said Dale.

“Copy,” I said. But I didn’t speed up. I was already going as fast as I could. Trying to go faster would just screw up the cut and end up costing me more time.

I finally completed the circle and the plug tilted forward. I turned off the torch and hopped back as an avalanche of gray regolith flooded into the chamber.

I threw off my welding helmet and pressed the breather mask hard against my face. I sure as hell didn’t want to breathe that dust. I like my lungs without barbed death particles in them, thanks.

My eyes stung and teared up. I winced in pain.

“You all right?” Dale asked.

The mask muffled my voice. “Shoulda worn goggles,” I said.

I reached up to wipe my eyes, but Dale caught my arm. “Don’t!”

“Right,” I said.

You know what’s worse than having barbed rocks in your eyes? Grinding barbed rocks into your eyes. I resisted the urge, though just barely.

I waited for the dust to settle. Then, with stinging eyes and blurry vision, I stepped toward the hole. And that’s when the electric shocks sparked off my body.

I yelped, more out of surprise than pain.

Dale checked his readouts. “Careful. The humidity is nearly zero.”


“No idea.”

I took another step and got another salvo of static discharges. “Goddammit!”

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