Authors: Andy Weir
“Great.” I hopped off the stool and whipped out my Gizmo. “How much?”
He hesitatedânever a good sign during negotiations.
He'd done odd jobs for me for years, mostly removing anti-piracy chips from smuggled electronics. He usually charged 2,000
for freelance work. Why was this time different?
“Two thousand slugs?” I suggested.
“Hmm,” he said. “Would you consider a trade?”
“Sure.” I put my Gizmo away. “Need something smuggled in?”
“I see.” Goddammit, I'm a smuggler! Why did people keep asking for other shit?!
He stood and gestured for me to follow. I went with him to the back corner of his lab where he did his off-book work. Why buy your own equipment when the taxpayers of Europe will buy it for you?
“Behold!” He gestured to the table.
The item in the middle wasn't much to look at. Just a small, clear plastic box with something inside. I took a closer look. “Is that a condom?”
“Yes!” he said proudly. “My latest invention.”
“The Chinese beat you by seven centuries.”
“This is not your everyday condom!” He slid a thermos-size cylinder over to me. It had a power cable and a hinged top. “It comes with this.”
I opened the top. Tiny holes inside adorned the walls and a rounded metal cylinder stood mounted to the bottom. “Um. Okayâ¦”
“I can make a profit by selling these kits for three thousand slugs each.”
“Condoms only cost fifty slugs. Why would anyone buy this?”
He grinned. “It's reusable!”
I blinked. “Are you shitting me?”
“Not at all! It's made of a thin but durable material. Good for hundreds of uses.” He pointed to the rounded metal part of the device. “After each use, you turn the condom inside-out and put it on this cylinderâ”
“Then you turn on the cleaner. There's a liquid cleanse cycle and then a high temperature bake for ten minutes. After that it's sterile and ready to use againâ”
“Oh God, no.”
“You should probably rinse it off firstâ”
“Stop!” I said. “Why would
want something like this?”
“Because it saves money in the long run, and it's less prone to failure than a normal condom.”
I gave him my most dubious glare.
“Do the math,” he said. “Normal condoms cost way too much. No one manufactures them locallyâthere's no raw materials to make latex. But
product will last through two hundred uses, minimum. That's
ten thousand slugs
“Huhâ¦” Now he was speaking my language. “Okay, maybe it's not so crazy after all. But I don't have money to invest right nowâ¦.”
“Oh, I'm not looking for investors. I need someone to test it.”
“And you think
got the dick for the job?”
He rolled his eyes. “I need to know how it feels for the woman.”
“I'm not having sex with you.”
“No, no!” He winced. “I just want you to use it the next time you have sex. Then tell me how it affected your experience.”
“Why don't you bang a girl and ask her yourself?”
He looked at his shoes. “I don't have a girlfriend and I'm terrible with women.”
“There are brothels all over Aldrin! High-end, low-end, whatever you want.”
“That's no good.” He crossed his arms. “I need data from a woman who is having sex
. The woman has to be sexually experienced, which you definitely areâ”
“And likely to have sex in the near future. Which, againâ”
“Choose your next words wisely.”
He paused. “Anyway. You see what I'm after.”
I groaned. “Can't I just pay you two thousand slugs?”
“I don't need money. I need testing.”
I glared at the condom. It
normal enough. “So it's effective? You're sure it won't break or anything?”
“Oh, definitely. I've run it through a battery of tests. Stretching, pressure, friction, you name it.”
A disturbing thought popped into my head. “Wait. Have you used this one?”
“No, but it wouldn't matter if I had. The cleaning process renders it sterile.”
“Are you kiddâ” I stopped myself and took a breath. Then, as calmly as I could, I said, “It would matter, Svoboda. Maybe not biologically, but psychologically.”
I deliberated for a moment, then finally said, “Okay, it's a deal. But I'm not promising to run out and get laid.”
“Sure, sure,” he said. “Justâ¦whenever the next time it comes up naturally, you know?”
“Yeah, all right.”
“Excellent!” He picked up the condom box and cleaning device and handed them to me. “Call me if you have any questions.”
I took the items gingerly. Not my proudest moment, but logically speaking there was nothing wrong with it. I was just doing some product testing, right? That's not weird, right?
I started to leave. Then I stopped and turned back toward him. “Heyâ¦have you ever heard of something called ZAFO?”
“No, should I have?”
“Nah, don't worry about it. I'll drop by tomorrow afternoon to pick up the device.”
“It's my day off. Want to meet at the park instead? Say, threeÂ p.m.?”
“That works,” I said.
“Can I ask what this thing is for?”
“Okay. See you tomorrow.”
Conrad Down 6.
I drove Trigger down the familiar hallways and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in my gut. I knew every crooked hallway, every shop, and every scratch on every wall. I could close my eyes and tell where I was just from echoes and background noise.
I rounded the corner to Crafters Row. The best tradesmen in town worked here, but there were no flashing signs or advertisements. They didn't need to draw in customers. They got their business through reputation.
I parked in front of CD6-3028, got out, and hesitated at the door. I turned away in a moment of cowardice, steeled myself, then turned back and rang the buzzer.
A man with a weathered face answered the door. He had a well-trimmed beard and wore a white
(head covering). He stared at me quietly for a moment, then said, “Huh.”
Good evening, Father
,” I said in Arabic.
Are you in trouble?
Do you need money?
No, Father. I am independent now.
He furrowed his brow. “
Then why are you here?
Can a daughter not visit her father simply to honor him?
“Cut the crap,” he said in English. “What do you want?”
“I need to borrow some welding equipment.”
“Interesting.” He left the door open and walked into the shop. That was as much invitation as I was going to get.
Not much had changed over the years. The fireproofed workshop was hot and cramped, as they all were. Dad's meticulously organized equipment hung on the walls. A worktable dominated one corner of the room next to a collection of welding masks.
“Come on,” he said. I followed him through the back door into the residence. The tiny living room was palatial compared to my humble shithole.
Dad's place had two coffin bunks along one wall. Very common among lower-class Artemisians. Not as nice as bedrooms, but they allowed privacy, which was good. I grew up in that house. I didâ¦stuff in that bunk.
He had a cook nook with an actual flame-based stove. One of the few advantages to living in a fireproofed room. Way better than a microwave. You might think a real stove meant tasty meals, but you'd be wrong. Dad did his best, but Gunk is Gunk. There's only so much you can do with algae.
There was one big change, though. Along the back wall a meter-wide sheet of metal ran from the floor to the ceilingâit wasn't even close to vertical. I'd estimate 20 to 30 degrees off true.
I pointed to the new feature. “What the hell is that?”
Dad looked over to it. “It's an idea I came up with a while ago.”
“What's it for?”
“Work it out.”
Ugh! If I had a slug for every time he'd said that in my lifeâ¦Never a straight answerâeverything had to be a goddamn learning experience.
He crossed his arms and watched me like he always did during these little quizzes.
I walked over and touched the sheet. Very sturdy, of course. He never did anything half-assed. “Two-millimeter sheet aluminum?”
“So it doesn't need to handle lateral forceâ¦” I ran my finger along the intersection of the sheet and the wall. I felt small bumps every twenty centimeters. “Spot welds? That's not like you.”
He shrugged. “It might be a stupid idea. I'm not ready to commit.”
Two hooks jutted out from the top of the sheet, just centimeters from the ceiling. “You're going to hang something on it.”
“Correct. But what?”
I looked it up and down. “This weird angle is the keyâ¦got a protractor I could borrow?”
“I'll save you the trouble,” he said. “It's twenty-two point nine degrees from vertical.”
“Huhâ¦” I said. “Artemis's longitude is twenty-two point nineâ¦ah. Okay, I got it.” I turned to face him. “It's for prayers.”
“Correct,” he said. “I call it a prayer wall.”
The moon always points the same face toward Earth. So, even though we're in orbit, from our point of view, Earth doesn't move. Well,
, it wobbles a bit because of lunar libration, but don't worry your pretty little head about that. Point is: Earth is fixed in the sky. It rotates in place and goes through phases, but it doesn't move.
The ramp pointed at Earth so Dad could face Mecca while praying. Most Muslims here just faced westâthat's what Dad had done all my life.
“How will you use it?” I asked. “Special straps or something? I meanâit's almost vertical.”
“Don't be ridiculous.” He put both hands on the prayer wall and leaned forward onto it. “Like this. Simple and easy. And it's more in keeping with Qiblah than facing west on the moon.”
“Seems silly, Dad. It's not like Muslims in Australia dig a hole and face down. You think Muhammad's going to be impressed?”
“Hey,” he said sharply, “if you're not going to practice Islam, you don't get to talk about the Prophet.”
“All right, all right,” I said. I pointed to the hooks. “What are those for?”
“Work it out.”
“Ugh!” I said. Then I grudgingly added, “For attaching a prayer rug?”
“Correct.” He walked to a table near the cook nook and sat in one of the chairs. “I don't want to poke holes in my usual prayer rug, so I ordered another one from Earth. It'll be here in a few weeks.”
I sat in the other chair, where I'd had countless meals throughout my life. “Do you have a shipping manifest number? I can arrange to get it here fasterâ”
“Dad, there's nothing illegal about pulling strings toâ”
“No, thanks,” he said, a little louder this time. “Let's not argue about it.”
I gritted my teeth but kept quiet. Time for a change of subject. “Weird question: Have you ever heard of something called âZAFO'?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Isn't that an ancient Greek lesbian?”
“No, that's Sappho.”
“Oh. Then no. What is it?”
“No idea,” I said. “Just something I saw in passing and wondered about.”
“You've always been curious. You're great at finding answers too. Maybe you should put your genius to work on something useful for a change.”
“Dad,” I said with a hint of warning in my voice.
“Fine.” He folded his arms. “So you need welding equipment?”
“Last time you had access to my equipment it didn't go well.”
I stiffened. I tried not to break eye contact, but I couldn't help myself. I looked at the floor.
He took a softer tone. “I'm sorry. That was uncalled-for.”
“No, it wasn't,” I said.
We had an uncomfortable silenceâwe'd mastered that art over the years.
“Wellâ¦” he said awkwardly. “Soâ¦what do you need?”
I cleared my head. I didn't have time for gnawing guilt. “I need a torch, a couple tanks of acetylene, a tank of O
, and a mask.”
“What about neon?” he asked.
I winced. “Right, yeah. Neon, of course.”
“You're getting rusty,” he said.
I didn't need neon. But I couldn't tell him that.
When you weld aluminum, you need to flood it with a nonreactive gas to keep the surface from oxidizing. On Earth they use argon because it's massively abundant. But we don't have noble gases on the moon, so we have to ship them in from Earth. And neon weighs half as much as argon, so that's what we use. It didn't matter to me, because I'd be working in a vacuum. No oxygen to oxidize the metal. But I didn't want him to know that. Also, I'd be cutting steel, not aluminum. But againâno reason to share that with Dad.
“So, what's this for?” he asked.
“I'm installing an air shelter for a friend.”
I'd lied to Dad more times than I could count, especially when I was a teen. But every timeâevery damn timeâit tied my stomach in knots.
“Why doesn't your friend hire a welder?” he asked.
“She did. She hired me.”
“Oh, so you're a welder now?” He widened his eyes theatrically. “After years of telling me you didn't want to do it?”
I sighed. “Dad. It's just a friend who wants an air shelter in her bedroom. I'm barely charging her for it.” Residential air shelters were common, especially among recent immigrants. Newcomers tend to be paranoid about the whole “deadly vacuum outside” thing. It's irrationalâArtemis's hull is extremely safeâbut fear isn't logical. In practice, personal air shelters quickly become closets.