Naturally, the tourist airlock was the farthest point from the Armstrong Connector tunnel. I mean, where else would it be?
I finally got there. Two EVA masters lay on the floor in front of sixteen tourists who’d passed out in their chairs. The leak had caught them in the middle of orientation.
“Dale, I’m at the airlock.”
“Copy,” came his voice. He was far from his Gizmo’s microphone. “It’s taking a while to cram Sanchez into your gear. She’s kind of tall—”
“I beg your pardon,” she said. “I’m 164 centimeters—exactly average for a woman. I’m not tall, your saboteur friend is short.”
“Don’t stretch out my suit,” I said.
“I’ll defecate in your suit!”
“Sanchez, shut up!” Dale said. “Jazz, save the city!”
I charged into the large airlock and pulled a deflated hamster ball from its cubby. “I’ll let you know when I’m outside.”
I spread the flaccid plastic on the ground with the zip hatch facing up, pulled a scurry pack off the wall, and put it on. Time for some Rudy Gizmo Magic. I closed the inner airlock door, waved the Gizmo across the airlock control panel, and it granted me access.
Next problem: Airlocks are meant to be operated by EVA masters wearing suits with gloves. This was going to take some finesse.
I deactivated the computer controls and switched to manual. First thing I did was spin the outer door’s crank. The door (like all airlock hatches) was a plug door—the air pressure behind it pushed it into its seal. So, while I made it possible to open the door, you’d have to be Superman to actually pull it open against the pressure. But I’d moved the physical latches out of the way, at least.
I very slowly turned the venting valve. As soon as I heard the hiss of escaping air, I stopped turning it. At full-open, the valve would let all the airlock’s air vent into space in under a minute. But at this rate it would take a bit longer—long enough for me to not die, hopefully.
I hurried to the hamster ball and crawled inside. It was an awkward affair, like getting into a collapsed tent, but that’s just how these things worked.
I closed the zip seals (there are three layers of them for safety), then cranked the airflow valve on the scurry pack for a few seconds. The ball grew just enough for me to move around.
Normally you do this shit when the airlock’s not venting. You take your time, inflate, and wait for the EVA master to check your seals. I wouldn’t have that luxury.
The pressure in the airlock decreased, so my ball grew like a balloon in a vacuum chamber. That’s not an analogy. It was literally a balloon in a vacuum chamber.
I crawled forward (it’s hard to move in a partially inflated ball) and reached out for the hatch handle. Since my ball wasn’t fully rigid, I could bend the skin just enough to grip the hatch. I held on with both hands as the pressure tried to pry me loose.
The ball grew more rigid as the airlock vented, making it harder and harder to hang on to the handle. That rubber really wanted to be a sphere now. It didn’t approve of me wrapping it around a handle.
I came close to losing my grip a couple of times but managed to keep hold. Finally, the airlock pressure got low enough that I could pull the door open.
The remaining air whooshed out and my ball sprang into full rigidity. It slapped my hands away from the edge so hard I actually fell on my ass. But it didn’t matter. I was safely in my hamster ball and the airlock was open.
I got back up and something scraped against my leg. It was the pipe I’d appropriated from Lefty. In all the excitement I’d forgotten I even still had it. Generally not a good idea to bring a pointy stick into your inflatable life support system, but it was too late to do anything about that now. I tightened my belt to make sure the pipe was secure. Wouldn’t want it slipping out.
I checked the scurry pack. All was well. Remember, they’re designed to be worn by tourists. They take care of everything on their own.
I ventured out onto the surface.
For all its limitations, a hamster ball is great for running in. No clunky boots, no thick suit legs to push around, no lugging around a hundred kilograms of gear. None of that. Just me in normal clothes with a moderately heavy backpack.
I got up to speed and rolled across the terrain. Whenever I hit a bump, I bounced into the air (well, not “air,” but you know what I mean). There was a reason tourists paid thousands of slugs for this. In other circumstances it would have been fun as hell.
I ran along the arc of Conrad Bubble until Bean came into view. I beelined for Bean, then followed its perimeter.
I tapped my earpiece to make sure it was on. “How’s it coming, Dale?”
“Sanchez is suited up and I’ve driven us to the Shepard–Bean Connector. About to exit the rover. You?”
I rounded the edge of Bean and saw Shepard come into view. I kept following Bean’s wall to the connector tunnel. Dale, at the wall of the connector, spotted me and waved. Bob’s rover stood parked nearby. Through the windows, I could see Sanchez sitting awkwardly in my suit. I scampered to the connector and checked my Gizmo. Fifteen minutes left.
Dale crouched down and put both arms under my bubble. “On three,” he said.
I coiled, ready to leap.