Authors: Andy Weir
I got in first and rolled to the corner. I faced the wall, pulled the remote out from under my dress, and activated the HIB. It came to life in the prep room and fired up its camera. I could now see everything from the HIB's vantage point as well as my own.
Bob was paying attention to the tourists, which meant he was facing away from the HIB. The tourists had their eyes locked on the outer doorâthe last barrier between them and an exciting experience on the moon. Also, hamster balls are pretty dark when you're inside. They're made to shield the occupant from harsh sunlight.
So this was my chance. I had the HIB scamper forward on its adorable little claws. It darted into the airlock beside the second-to-last tourist's hamster ball. Then it hid in the corner.
Bob sealed the inner door and got to work on the outer door cranks. Nothing fancy for outer airlock doorsâjust manual valves. Why not a sleek computer system? Because valves don't crash or reboot. This is not something we take chances with.
The air hissed out of the room and our hamster balls became more rigid. Bob continually checked his readouts to make sure all eight of us had solid seals. Once the airlock was in vacuum, he addressed us over the radio.
“All right. Opening the outer door now. The tour area's been cleared of any sharp rocks. But if you see something that could possibly puncture your ball, don't mess with it. Just tell me.”
He opened the outer door, and the gray, lifeless landscape lay beyond.
The tourists oohed and aahed. Then they all tried to talk at the same time on the open channel.
“Keep chatter to a minimum,” Bob said. “If you want to talk to a specific person, call them with your Gizmo. The shared channel is for tour-related instructions and questions.”
He stepped outside and gestured for us to follow.
I rolled out onto the moon with everyone else. The scratchy lunar regolith crunched under my ball. The flexible polymer skin blocked most of the incoming sunlight. But that meant it all became heat. The inner layers of polymer were good insulators, but not perfect. Within seconds of stepping into the sunlight, I could feel the warmth in my air.
The scurry pack fired up one of its fans, sucked in the warm air, and blew it out cold.
Just like harvesters, hamster balls have to deal with the pain in the ass that is heat rejection. But you can't encase a person in wax. So what did the scurry pack do with all that heat? Dump it into a big block of ice.
Yup. Good old frozen water. A couple of liters of it. Water is one of the best heat absorbers in all of chemistry. And melting the ice takes even more energy. That was really the limiter to how long a hamster ball excursion could be: how long that block of ice would last. It worked out to be two hours.
Bob closed the outer door once we were all through and led us toward the landing site. I'd left my little HIB buddy (I decided his name was Hibby) in the airlock on purpose.
It was a short walk around the arc of the Visitor Center.
I joined everyone else right up against the fence. Remember when I told Jin Chu the view was just as good from the Visitor Center? I lied. It's way cooler from outside. You really feel like you're there. Well, I mean, you
there. But you know what I mean.
I took a moment to admire Neil and Buzz's old stomping grounds. It really was a sight. That was my history right there.
Then it was back to work.
The tourists fanned out to examine the site from different angles. Some of them waved to the Visitor Center windows, though we couldn't see in. From our side the windows were mirrors. It's a hell of a lot lighter outside than in.
I faced away from Bob as if I were admiring the lunar desolation. I pulled out the remote and fired up the HIB again. You might be wondering how a simple remote-control unit could send radio waves capable of penetrating an Artemis hull. It's hard to broadcast through two six-centimeter aluminum sheets and a meter of ground-up rock.
Pretty simple, actually. Like everything else in town, it sent data through the wireless communications network. The city had receivers and repeaters atop every bubble, even the Visitor Center. Wouldn't want to leave the EVA masters mute, right? There's no more powerful tool for safety than communication. So Hibby's controller could talk to him without any problems.
The airlock was in vacuumâthe default state of all airlocks. Right now, the next tour group was getting prepped by their EVA master. I had a short window of opportunity.
I had Hibby crawl to the outer door. The screen highlighted areas that he could grab to climb. Fantastic AI assist. All I had to do was tell him where to go and he worked out the rest.
He grabbed pipes, valve handles, and other protuberances to climb up the door. I had him anchor himself against a reenforcement rib and grab the hatch handle.
He needed two claws to get enough force to turn the handle, but it worked. After three full handle revolutions, the door was ajar. I had him drop to the ground. He automatically spun as he fell and landed on his claws. Man, he was fun to play with! I made a mental note to buy one after I was rich.
Like a cat sneaking into a room, Hibby nudged the airlock door open and slipped through. Then he closed the door behind him.
I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching. Most tourists were up against the fence and Bob just scanned the scene. No one was breaking rules or in danger, so he was content.
I had Hibby push the door closed, climb up it, and reseal the hatch. From there, I told him to get to the apex of the Visitor Center dome. A perfect place to stay out of sight. He climbed merrily up the side, finding a convoluted but effective path of handles and grips he could reach. It took him two minutes to reach the top.
I put him in power-save mode and re-holstered the remote. I looked back to the dome of the Visitor Center and couldn't even see the apex from the ground. Perfect.
Phase Two complete. I spent the rest of the tour checking out the
It's amazing to think people actually landed here in that thing. You couldn't get me to do that for a million slugs.
Well, okay. I'd do it for a
slugs. But I'd be nervous about it.
Sean fucked up.
I love the man and he makes me howl in bed. But my God he can be stupid sometimes.
He got ahold of some potâbought it off a tourist. We needed a place to party. Problem is, around here, if you smoke you'll set off fire alarms. So where would we go?
I had the perfect solution: Dad's new shop!
Dad's expanding the business right now. He leased a second location. He's bringing in new equipment, interviewing welders to staff it, the whole nine yards.
It's not up and running yetâhalf the equipment hasn't even arrived. So it's just this big, mostly empty room that I know the lock code to. And hey, smoking in a fire-rated workshop is the responsible thing to do! Protecting the city from fire and all that. So I offered it up.
We had a party. Nothing big. Just a few of Sean's friends and me. We got good and stoned. Then Sean and the guys started playing with the equipment. I should have stopped them, but everyone was laughing and having a good time. I didn't want to break the mood, you know?
Anyway, turns out Dad had filled the acetylene tanks that day. So while Sean and his idiot friends sword-fought with the torch handles, the gas-feed lines were actually live. Someone must have rolled a knob or something, because when they clashed the metal on metal it made a spark.
The whole room caught fire, the alarms went off, and it automatically sealed itself off. We were trapped in there and we barely got to the air shelter in time. We all crammed in and waited for the fire brigade.
Long story short: No one got hurt, but the room was trashed. Rudy (the nosy Mountie asshole) wanted to have me deported, but the fire destroyed all the pot, so he had no evidence of illegal flammables.
Dad was PISSED OFF. He yelled at me like never beforeâwent on and on about how much money he'd sunk into that location and how it went up in flames because of me. And that just got me mad, because, you know, I could have died. The least he could do is ask if I'm okay, right?
We really got into it. He said I had to stop seeing Sean. As if he got a say in my love life! And then he went off on that same tired shit he always slings about me wasting my potential.
I am so fucking sick of the word “potential.” I'm sick of hearing it from Dad, from teachers, and every goddamn “adult” I meet.
I told him he had no say in who I date! He kept banging on about how I could “make a difference” with a mind like mine, Sean's a waste of my time, blah, blah, blah. It's my life, I'll do what I want with it!
I grabbed some of my things and got the hell out of there. I'm staying with Sean for now. So much nicer than Dad's place. Sean's only twenty-three and his place has its own bedroom and bathroom. He doesn't work his ass off just to barely survive like everyone wants me to do. He's a bookie and he covers all his own bets. He's saving up to buy a table at the Starlite Casino. It's in Aldrin Bubble!
I'll find a job and stock up enough money until I can afford my own place. Or maybe not. Sean and I might just keep living together.
I'm so sorry to hear you've had a falling-out with your father. I know you're mad, but please consider reconciling with him, even if you don't want to live in his home. There's nothing more important than family.
In other news, I got a job at KSC! I'm just an assistant loadmaster and I weigh cargo pods all day, but it's a start! After a provisional period, they say they'll train me in payload balancing. It's very important that a payload be properly secured and balanced or the launch could fail.
If I work my way up to loadmaster, I'll be able to afford trade school for my sisters. Then, once they are all trained in skills, the four of us will be able to support our parents. Mom and Dad will finally be able to retire. It's a long way off, but my sisters and I are working hard to make it happen.
Sorry for the slow reply. These past two weeks have been pretty hectic. Sean and I got in a fight but then made up (I'll spare you the details, it's all cool now).
Congrats on the job!
Some Saudi guys dropped by the other day and told me they'd set me up as a welding apprentice if I wanted. There are at least five master welders in town who want me in their shop. The Hungarian machinists also dropped by. They figured welding and machining are similar in that they both involve metal. I don't follow their logic. Anyway, they think I'd be good at that.
After that, the word got out that I'm available or something. A bunch of tradesmen have contacted me. Plumbers, electricians, glassworkers, you name it. I'm suddenly the belle of the ball. Yes, I have a reputation for being good at whatever I set my mind to, but this is ridiculous.
I smell Dad. This has his fingerprints all over it. He's got influence with the craftsmen in town. Either he directly asked them to talk to me, or they're just doing it because employing Ammar Bashara's daughter would mean a strong business relationship with him.
I turned them all down. I don't hate Dad or anything. I'm just trying to make my own way, you know? Also, to be blunt: Those professions are a lot of hard work.
I got a job as a porter. It's just a temporary gig to have some spending money. Sean pays the rent, but I don't want to rely on him for everything, you know? Anyway, I like it because I can work as much or as little as I want. There's no structure or boss or anything. I get paid per pickup or delivery.
In other news, Sean is banging other women. We never declared exclusivity. I moved in because I had nowhere else to go. So I guess that's a weird situation, but it's okay. We worked out some rules. The main one is: Neither of us can bring anyone back to Sean's place. Go bang somewhere else. For me it's largely academic. I'm not interested in juggling men. One's plenty.
No, I don't like it. But Sean was very up front about all this from day one, so I can't complain. We'll just see how it goes.
The next morning, I lay in my coffin and screwed around with the HIB remote.
Hibby came to life right when I told him to. His charge was at 92Â percent. No solar panels for my little Hibby, unfortunately. Why would the designers put those in? HIBs are supposed to be used a couple of hours at a time, then come back inside.
I had him climb down the arc of the Visitor Center dome to just above the train airlock. Then, I had to wait. I dicked around on my Gizmo for a bit, mostly reading the Arabic gossip site. The queen actually sided with the wives against her own son! Can you believe that?! You know you're a fuckup when your own mother tells you so.
Finally, the first train of tourists arrived at the Visitor Center. Hibby climbed down off the dome and onto the train car itself. The train ran perfectly on time. After ten minutes it departed for Artemis with my little stowaway aboard.
HIBs have a nice battery life, but they sure as hell can't walk forty kilometers across lunar terrain. So Hibby was riding back to town in style. Nothing but the best for my little buddy!
I killed more time on my favorite gossip site while I waited for the train to get back to Artemis.
Oh my God! I could not
the shit the prince's second wife was saying about him in the press. That's just
! Still, I can empathize with any woman who's been cheated on. I've been that woman. And honey, it sucks.
The train made it back to town and I had Hibby scamper onto Aldrin Bubble. Things got easy from there. Now I was using Hibby to do exactly what he was designed to do.
He crawled along the outer hull of Aldrin, then across the top of the AldrinâConrad Connector tunnel, and then onto Conrad. I had him take up position at the apex of Conrad.
Then it was back to low-power mode for Hibby and back to trashy royal family gossip for me.
ATTENTION: YOU ARE ENTERING ALDRIN PARK. THE PARK IS NOT PROTECTED BY A DOUBLE HULL. IF YOU HEAR THE BREACH ALERT IMMEDIATELY GET TO THE NEAREST AIR SHELTER. AIR SHELTERS ARE DENOTED WITH BLUE FLAGS AND CAN BE FOUND THROUGHOUT THE PARK.
NON-RESIDENTS - 750
I waved my Gizmo across the reader and the booth door opened. Free entry for me, of course. Who says there's no such thing as an Artemisian citizen?
I stepped into the booth and waited for the outer door to seal. Once it did, the inner door opened, letting me into the park. I stepped into the sunlight. Yes, sunlight.
Aldrin Park occupies the top four floors of the bubble. Instead of the everything-proof walls found around the rest of the city, this area was protected by enormous panes of glassâthe same kind the ApolloÂ 11 Visitor Center used. Proudly manufactured right here on the moon.
It was threeÂ p.m. Nairobi time (and therefore threeÂ p.m. Artemis time), but physically it was lunar “morning.” The sun hovered at the horizon and cast its light onto the park. The glass protected park-goers from the harsh radiation and UV that would otherwise have roasted us alive.
I still had time before my meeting with Svoboda. I took a walk.
The park's design was simple and elegant. The circular grounds met with glass walls. The terrain was mostly flat with a few artificial hills here and there, all covered in grass. Real, honest-to-God grass. That was no small achievement.
I moseyed along the perimeter, looking out at the moon. I've never seen the appeal of lunar landscape. It's justâ¦nothing. I guess people like that? Some sort of Zen shit? Not me, though. To me, the most beautiful thing out there was the rest of Artemis.
The city shined in the sunlight like a bunch of metallic boobs. What? I'm not a poet. They look like boobs.
To the west, Conrad Bubble dominated the view. It might be grungy and impoverished on the inside, but the outside was just as pretty as its sisters.
Southwest, the smaller Armstrong Bubble sat like a spider in the middle of a web. Farther along that line, Shepard Bubble sat there full of richfucks. I didn't think it was possible for a half-sphere to look arrogant, but it did. Bean Bubble sat between Conrad and Shepard, both symbolically and geographically. It'd be my future home if all this scheming worked out. It was farthest from me.
I looked to the north. The Sea of Tranquility stretched out as far as I could see. Gray hills and jagged boulders dotted the terrain all the way to the horizon. I wish I could say it was all magnificent desolation and crap like that, but it's not. The land around Artemis is crisscrossed with tire tracks and utterly denuded of rocks. We have a lot of masonry here. Guess where people get the rocks.
I walked to the center of the park, toward the Ladies.
Real trees would have been too much to arrange. But the park featured a very realistic sculpture of a cinnamon tree. Two statues stood beneath it. One was Chang'e, the Chinese goddess of the moon. The other was Artemis, the Greek goddess our fair city was named after. The two women stood frozen in laughter, Chang'e's hand on Artemis's forearm. They seemed to be in the middle of some friendly girl talk. Locals knew them as the Ladies. I walked up and leaned against the “tree.”
I looked up to the half Earth in the sky.
“No smoking in the park,” said a raspy old voice.
The groundskeeper was at least eighty years old. He'd been a fixture since the park opened.
“Do you see a cigarette in my hand?” I said.
“I caught you once before.”
“That was ten years ago.”
He pointed to his eyes and then to me. “Watching you.”
“Let me ask you something,” I said. “Who moves all the way to the moon just to mow lawns?”
“I like plants. And my joints hurt. The gravity here's easy on my arthritis.” He looked up at Earth. “Once the wife died, I didn't have much reason to stay there.”
“Hell of a trip for an old man,” I said.
“I used to travel a lot for work,” he said. “I don't mind.”
Svoboda showed up exactly on time, as usual. He carried a bag over his shoulder and smiled. He pointed to me and the goddess statues. “Hey, look at that! Three hot moon babes hanging out!”
I rolled my eyes. “Svoboda, someday I'll teach you how to talk to women.”
He waved to the groundskeeper. “Hey, I know you. You're Mike, right?”
“Nope,” said the groundskeeper. He shot me a look. “I'll leave you and your john alone. No sex on the grass.”
“Try not to age to death on the way home, gramps,” I said.
He waved over his shoulder as he walked away.
“Did you finish it?” I asked Svoboda.
“Yup, got it right here!” He handed the bag over to me.
I peeked inside. “Thanks.”
“Did you get a chance to test that condom yet?”
“It's been twenty-four hours. What kind of sex life do you think I have?”
“Whatever, I don't know. Just asking.” He scanned the park. “I don't come here often enough. It's a nice place to relax.”
“If you like flying debris, yeah.” The park was infamous for this. If you're from Earth, no matter how much you mentally prepare yourself, you always throw too hard. Your friend ten meters awayâthe intended receiverâwill watch a ball sail over their head to the other side of the park. And don't get me started on Frisbees. Between the low gravity and low air pressure they're a complete mystery to tourists.
“I like it,” Svoboda said. “It's the only ânatural' place in town. I miss open spaces.”
“Plenty of open space outside to look at,” I said. “And you can hang out with friends in a bar more easily than a park.”
His face lit up. “We're friends?”
“Cool! I don't have many of those. You're my only friend with boobs.”
need to work on how you talk to women.”
“Yeah, okay. Sorry.”
I wasn't mad. It barely registered. I was too busy obsessing about my plans.
This was it. All the pieces were in place. I had the welding equipment, the custom electronics, and the HIB was ready. My breathing got short and my heart nearly beat right out of my chest. My little caper wasn't theoretical anymore. I was actually going to do this.
That night, I repaired the leaky valve in my EVA suit. And I gave the whole suit a thorough inspection. Then I gave it another one. I'd never admit it to Bob, but he was dead right about my shoddy inspection work before the test. It was my problem to make sure my suit wouldn't kill me. And this time I made
sure everything was in perfect working order.
I got some sleep, but not much. I'm not a brave person and I never claimed to be. This was it. The rest of my life hinged on how well I did.
I awoke at fourÂ a.m. Then I was too antsy to wait any longer.
I walked to the Port of Entry, collected Trigger and my EVA suit, and drove through the corridors of the sleeping city to Conrad Airlock. No one was there this time of morning. I dropped off my EVA gear and the big sack of equipment for my heist, stowing it all in the antechamber so it wouldn't be visible to anyone walking by.
I drove the now-empty Trigger
to his parking space at the port. Tip: If you're going to commit a major crime, don't leave your car at the crime scene while you do it.
I walked back to Conrad Airlock and closed myself into the antechamber. I just had to hope no one walked in on me or I'd have some 'splainin' to do.
I used duct tape to cover all identifying marks on my EVA gear. Serial numbers, license number, the big patch reading
on the frontâ¦that sort of thing. Then I brought Hibby back online. He perked right up.
Under my instruction, Hibby crawled down the arc of Conrad's hull to the airlock. He turned the crank to open the outer door. Then he dropped to the ground, nosed his way in, and shut the door behind him. He turned the crank again, sealing the door, then came over to the inner door.
I watched my little buddy through the round porthole window as he grabbed the manual valves to let air from Artemis into the airlock. A quick hiss, then the airlock had equalized with the city. Hibby turned the inner door's crank and opened it up.
I stepped into the airlock and patted him on the head. “Good boy.” I powered him down and stowed him in a locker in the antechamber, along with his remote.
Well. There it was. An airlock all ready for use and the control panel was none the wiser. I flipped off the control panel just to assert dominance. It didn't seem impressed.
I suited up. I timed myself, of course. It's an EVA master thing. I took eleven minutes. Damn. How did Bob do it in three? The guy was a freakin' prodigy.
I fired up the suit's systems. Everything came online just as it should. I ran a pressure test. As instructed, the suit over-pressurized a little and monitored its status. This was the best way to check for leaks. No problems.
I stepped into the airlock, sealed the inner door, and started the cycle. Once it was done, I opened the outer door.
Good morning, Moon!
It's not dangerous to do a solo EVA, in and of itself. EVA masters do it all the time. But I was doing an EVA
. No one even knew I'd be out there. If I had a problem, no one would think to look for me. There'd just be a very attractive dead body out on the surface for however long it took someone to notice.
I made sure my microphone was off, but left the receiver on to the public EVA channel. If someone else ventured outside I'd damn well want to know about it.
My two oxygen tanks had sixteen hours of oxygen total. And I'd brought six more tanks with eight hours each. Way more than I'd need (I hoped), but I was playing it safe.
Wellâ¦I can't quite say “playing it safe” when I'm on an EVA and planning to fire up a welding torch on a moving rock harvester. But you know what I mean.
-removal system reported green status, which was good, because I don't like dying. In the old days, astronauts needed expendable filters to collect CO
. Modern suits sort the CO
molecules out through some complicated use of membranes and the vacuum outside. I don't know the details, but it works as long as the suit has power.
I checked my suit readouts again and made sure all the values were in the safe range.
count on your suit's alarms to warn you. They're well designed, but they're the last resort. Safety begins with the operator.
I took a deep breath, hoisted the duffel over one shoulder, and got to walking.
First I had to walk all the way around the city. Conrad's airlock faced north, and Sanchez Aluminum's smelter was south. That took me a good twenty minutes.
Then it took me two hours to get to the smelter-reactor complex a kilometer away. It was disconcerting to see Artemis recede into the distance. Hey, look, it's the only place for humans to survive on this whole rock. Wave goodbye!