Page 76

“Are you capable of learning?” Dale said.

“Aww shit,” I said. I pointed to the slowly growing pile of regolith in front of the hole. “It’s the fill material. Artemis air is humidified, but the air in hull compartments is bone dry.”


“Water’s corrosive and expensive. Why would you put that in your hull? That dirt acted as a desiccant and yanked all the moisture out of the air.”

Dale detached the water-storage unit from his suit, opened the canister, and pulled out a quarter-filled plastic bag. He ripped the corner off the bag and pinched it with his fingers. It’s amazing how much manual dexterity a true EVA master can achieve with those clunky gloves on.

He squirted me in the face with the water.

“What the fu—”

“Keep your eyes open. And look into the stream.”

I did as instructed. It was hard at first, but the sheer relief at having the dust rinsed out kept me going. Then he sprayed my clothes, arms, and legs.

“Better?” he asked.

I shook my head to clear water off my face. “Yeah, better,” I said.

Our ad-hoc wet T-shirt contest would protect me from any further discharges. At least for a while. Of course, dust collected on me and became a disgusting gray mud. I wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests, but at least I was comfortable.

Next step: I had to dig the fill material out to expose the pressure sensor and, more important, to get at the inner hull.

I pressed my finger to my earbud. “Svoboda and Dad: I’m going to be digging for a while. I’ll call back in a bit.”

“We’ll be here,” said Svoboda.

I cut the connection. “Give me a hand digging this out,” I said.

Dale held up a shovel. “There’s two kinds of people in this world: those with EVA suits, and those who dig.”

I snorted. “Okay, first off, if we’re doing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I get to be Clint Eastwood, not you. Second off, get your lazy ass to work and help me!”

“I have to be ready to drag your sorry ass back to the rover if things go wrong.” He held the shovel out to me again. “Accept your inner Eli Wallach and get digging.”

I groaned and took the shovel from him. This was going to take a while.

“We’re running behind, you know,” he said.

“I know.”

Right around that time, Bob was being a pain in the ass, as usual. But this time he was doing it for me instead of to me. I wasn’t present for any of this. I was busy digging dirt out of a wall. But I heard about it all later on.

Sanchez Aluminum owned dedicated train tracks from the Aldrin Port of Entry to their smelter. Three times a day, the train loaded up twenty-four employees and headed out to the facility. The short, one-kilometer trip only took a few minutes. They switched shifts, and the previous shift returned to Artemis on the same train.

I’d timed my little heist to coincide with their shift change. But I was running behind. I needed to be inside the facility before the train got there. And I still hadn’t cut the inner hull.

The Sanchez workers conglomerated at the train station. The train had already docked and its hatch stood open. The conductor pulled out her Gizmo scanner in preparation to take fees for the ride. Yes, Sanchez Aluminum charged Sanchez Aluminum employees to ride a Sanchez Aluminum train to the Sanchez Aluminum smelter. Your basic 1800s-style “company store” bullshit.

Bob walked up to the conductor and put his hand on her scanner. “Hold up, Mirza.”

“Problem, Bob?” she asked.

“We’re doing a freight-airlock leak inspection. Safety protocols say no one can operate another airlock in the port while that’s in progress.”

“Are you kidding me?” Mirza said. “It has to be right now?”

“Sorry. We detected an anomaly and we have to run the test before tomorrow’s lander.”

“For chrissake, Bob.” She gestured to the assembled crowd. “I’ve got twenty-four people here who need to get to work. And twenty-four more at the smelter waiting to come home.”

“Yeah, sorry. The test ran long. We thought we’d be done by now.”

“How much longer?”

“Not sure. Ten or fifteen minutes, maybe? I can’t make any promises.”

She turned to the crowd. “Sorry, folks. We’ve got a delay. Get comfortable—it’ll be around fifteen minutes.”

A collective groan arose from the crowd.

“I’m sure as hell not staying late to make up for it,” one worker grumbled to another.

“Sorry about this,” Bob said. “Let me make it up to you: I’ve got three tickets to the Artemis Acrobats show at the Playhouse. They’re yours. Take your husbands out and have a good time.”

Mirza’s face lit up. “Wow! All right then. All is forgiven!”

A ridiculous overpayment, if you ask me. Those tickets cost 3,000 slugs each! Oh well. Bob’s money, not mine.

After an eternity of digging and a great many profanities, I finally cleared out the dirt in the hull compartment. I flopped onto my back and wheezed.

“I think you invented new swearwords,” said Dale. “Like…what’s a ‘funt’?”

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