Read Artemis Online

Authors: Andy Weir

Artemis (4 page)

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Reacting silicon with oxygen creates a lot of heat. Hence the fireproof room. Why not just melt sand like they do on Earth? Because we don't have sand on the moon. At least, not enough to be useful. But we do have plenty of silicon and oxygen, which are by-products of the aluminum industry. So we can make as much glass as we want. We just have to make it the hard way.

The primary reaction chamber stood just ahead of us. We'd have to get the tunnel around it to reach the trapped workers. “Probably a hot spot,” I said.

Sarah nodded and led us around in a wide arc. We didn't want to melt a hole in our rescue tunnel.

We reached the shelter hatch and I knocked on the small, round window. A face appeared—a man with watering eyes and ash-covered face. Most likely the foreman, who would have entered the shelter last. He gave me a thumbs-up and I returned the gesture.

Sarah and I stepped into the tunnel, then clamped the hoop around the shelter's hatch. That was easy, at least. It's exactly what the tunnel was designed for. Still at the tent, Arun and Marcy pressed their end of the tunnel against the plastic and taped it in place. We'd created an escape route for the workers, but it was full of unbreathable air from the room.

“Ready to blow it out?” Sarah yelled.

“Sealed and ready!” Arun called back.

The folks outside cut a slit in the plastic. Smoke from the tunnel leaked into the hallway, but the brigade already had fans and filters ready to minimize its spread.

“Tent's open! Blow it out!” Arun yelled.

Sarah and I exchanged a glance to confirm we were both ready. Together, we took a deep breath and popped the vent releases on our air tanks. The escaping gas pushed the smoke along with it, down the tunnel and out into the hallway. Soon, the tunnel had “breathable” air inside. Conrad Up 12 would have a sooty smell for days.

We both coughed when we tried the air, but it wasn't too bad. It didn't have to be pleasant. It just had to be non-toxic. Satisfied that it wouldn't kill the workers, Sarah cranked the handle to the air-shelter hatch.

To their credit, the workers filed out in a fast, controlled line. My respect for Queensland Glass went up a notch. They kept their employees well trained for emergencies.

“One! Two! Three!…” Sarah counted off each person as they passed. I kept my own count to confirm.

Once she reached fourteen, I called out, “Fourteen! Confirmed!”

She looked into the shelter. “Empty shelter!”

I did the same. “Empty shelter! Confirmed!”

We followed the coughing, choking workers down the tunnel to safety.

“Good work,” said Bob. Other volunteers were already fitting oxygen masks on the singed employees. “Jazz, we have three moderately wounded—second-degree burns. Give them a ride to Doc Roussel. The rest of you, shove that tent and tunnel into the room and reseal the fire door.”

For the second time that day, Trigger and I served as an ambulance.

In the end, the oxygen tanks didn't blow up. Still, Queensland Glass was destroyed. A shame—they'd always been solid on fire safety. Never even had a single infraction. Bad luck, I guess. Now they'd have to rebuild from scratch.

Still, their well-maintained air shelter and regular fire drills had saved a lot of lives. Factories can be rebuilt. People can't. It was a win.

—

That evening, I hit my favorite watering hole: Hartnell's Pub.

I sat in my usual seat—second from the end of the bar. The first seat used to be Dale's, but those days were over.

Hartnell's was a hole in the wall. No music. No dance floor. Just a bar and a few uneven tables. The only concession to ambience was noise-absorption foam on the walls. Billy knew what his customers valued: alcohol and silence. The vibe was completely asexual. No one hit on people at Hartnell's. If you were looking to score, you went to a nightclub in Aldrin. Hartnell's was for drinking. And you could get any drink you wanted, as long as it was beer.

I loved the place. Partially because Billy was a pleasant bartender, but mainly because it was the closest bar to my coffin.

“Evenin', luv,” said Billy. “Heard there was a fire today. Heard you went in.”

“Queensland Glass,” I said. “I'm short so I got volunteered. The factory's totaled but we got everyone out all right.”

“Right, well the first one's on me, then.” He poured a glass of my favorite reconstituted German beer. Tourists say it tastes like shit but it's the only beer I've ever known and it works for me. Someday I'll buy an intact German beer to see what I'm missing. He set it in front of me. “Thanks for your service, luv.”

“Hey, I won't say no.” I grabbed the free beer and took a swig. Nice and cold. “Thanks!”

Billy nodded in acknowledgment and went to the other end of the bar to serve another customer.

I brought up a web browser on my Gizmo and searched for “ZAFO.” It was a conjugation of the Spanish verb
zafar
, meaning “to release.” Somehow I doubted Mr. Jin from Hong Kong brought something with a Spanish name. Besides, “ZAFO” was in all-caps. Probably an acronym. But for what?

Whatever it was, I couldn't find any mention of it online. That meant it was a secret. Now I
really
wanted to know what it was. Turns out I'm a nosy little shit. But right at that moment, I didn't have anything else to go on, so I mentally set it aside.

I had this bad habit of checking my bank account every day, as if compulsively looking at it would make it grow. But the banking software wasn't interested in my dreams. It gave me the dismal news:

ACCOUNT BALANCE: 11,916
ğ

My entire net worth was about 2.5 percent of my goal of 416,922 slugs. That's what I wanted. That's what I
needed
. Nothing was more important.

If I could just get into the damned EVA Guild, I'd pull down serious income from then on. Tours are big money. Eight customers per tour at 1,500
ğ
each. That's 12,000
ğ
per tour. Well, 10,800
ğ
after I pay the guild their 10 percent.

I could only give two tours a week—a limitation enforced by the guild. They're cautious about their members' radiation exposure.

I'd be making over 85,000
ğ
a month. And that's just from tours. I'd also try to get a job as a probe wrangler. They're the EVA masters who bring the probes to the freight airlock and unload them. Then I'd have access to shipments
before
Nakoshi inspected them. I could sneak contraband in right then or set it aside for later recovery with a sneaky midnight EVA. Whatever worked best. Point is, I could cut Nakoshi out entirely.

I'd keep living like a pauper until I'd saved up the money I needed. Accounting for living expenses, I could probably get it done in six months. Maybe five.

As it was, on my porter's salary with smuggling on the side, it would take approximately forever.

Goddamn
, I wish I'd passed that fucking test.

Once I'd taken care of the 416,922
ğ
, I'd still be making a bunch of money. I could afford a
nice
place. My shithole coffin only cost eight thousand a month, but I couldn't even stand up in it. And I wanted my own bathroom. That doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is. I realized that around the hundredth time I had to walk down a public hallway in my nightie to take a midnight piss.

For fifty thousand a month—well within what I'd be earning—I could get a condo in Bean Bubble. A nice one with a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and its own shower. No more communal anything. I could even get a place with a cook nook. Not a kitchen—that'd be stupidly expensive. They have to be in their own fire containment rooms. But a cook-nook burner was allowed to get up to 80 degrees Celsius and could have a 500-watt microwave.

I shook my head. Someday, maybe.

I guess my pained expression was visible even from the far end of the bar. Billy walked over. “Oi, Jazz. Why so glum?”

“Money,” I said. “Never enough money.”

“I hear ya, luv.” He leaned in. “So…remember when I contracted your services for some pure ethanol?”

“Sure,” I said. In a concession to basic human nature, Artemis allows liquor even though it's flammable. But they draw the line at pure ethanol, which is
incredibly
flammable. I smuggled it in the usual way and only charged Billy a 20 percent markup. That's my friends-and-family rate.

He looked left and right. A couple of regulars minded their own business. Other than that we were alone. “I want to show you somefin'…”

He reached under the bar and pulled up a bottle of brown liquid. He poured some into a shot glass. “Here. 'Ave a sip.”

I could smell the alcohol from a meter away. “What is it?”

“Bowmore single-malt scotch. Aged fifteen years. Give it a try, on the 'ouse.”

I'm never one to turn down a free drink. I took a sip.

I spat it out in disgust. It tasted like Satan's flaming asshole!

“Huh,” he said. “No good?”

I coughed and wiped my mouth. “That is
not
scotch.”

He looked at the bottle with a frown. “Huh. I had a bloke on Earth boil the liquids off then send me the extract. I reconstituted it with water and effanol. Should be exactly the same.”

“Well, it's not,” I rasped.

“Scotch is an acquired taste….”

“Billy, I've swallowed better-tasting stuff that came out of people.”

“Bugger.” He put the bottle away. “I'll keep working on it.”

I gulped beer to wash the taste away.

My Gizmo beeped at me. A message from Trond:

“Free tonight? Can you drop by my place?”

Meh. I was just starting my evening beers.

“It's late. Can it wait?”

“Best if handled tonight.”

“I'm just sitting down to dinner…”

“You can drink dinner later. This is worth your time, I promise.”

Smartass.

“Looks like I have to cash out,” I told Billy.

“Pull the other one!” he said. “You've only had one pint!”

“Duty calls.” I handed him my Gizmo.

He took it to the register. “One pint. Lowest tab I ever rung you for.”

“I won't make a habit of it.”

He waved my Gizmo over the register then handed it back to me. The transaction was done (I'd long ago set up my account to accept Hartnell's as a “no-verify” point of purchase). I slid the Gizmo into my pocket and headed out. The other patrons didn't say goodbye or even acknowledge me. God, I love Hartnell's.

—

Irina opened the door and frowned at me like I'd just pissed in her borscht. As usual, she wouldn't let me pass without stating my business.

“Hi, I'm Jazz Bashara,” I said. “We've met over a hundred times. I'm here to see Trond at his invitation.”

She led me through to the dining-hall entrance. The smell of delicious food hung in the air. Something meaty, I thought. Roast beef? A rare delicacy when the nearest cow is 400,000 kilometers away.

I peeked in to see Trond sip liquor from a tumbler. He wore his usual bathrobe and chatted with someone across the table. I couldn't see who.

His daughter Lene sat next to him. She watched her father talk with rapt fascination. Most sixteen-year-olds hate their parents. I was a
huge
pain in the ass to my dad at that age (nowadays I'm just a general disappointment). But Lene looked up to Trond like he put the Earth in the sky.

She spotted me then waved excitedly. “Jazz! Hi!”

Trond gestured me in. “Jazz! Come in, come in. Have you met the administrator?”

I walked in and—holy shit! Administrator Ngugi was there. She was just…there! Hanging out at the table.

Fidelis Ngugi is, simply put, the reason Artemis exists. When she was Kenya's minister of finance, she created the country's entire space industry from scratch. Kenya had one—and only one—natural resource to offer space companies: the equator. Spacecraft launched from the equator could take full advantage of Earth's rotation to save fuel. But Ngugi realized they could offer something more: policy. Western nations drowned commercial space companies in red tape. Ngugi said, “Fuck that. How about we don't?”

I'm paraphrasing here.

God only knows how she convinced fifty corporations from thirty-four countries to dump billions of dollars into creating KSC, but she did it. And she made sure Kenya enacted special tax breaks and laws just for the new megacorporation.

What's that, you say? Favoring a single company with special laws isn't fair? Tell that to the East India Tea Company. This is global economics, not kindergarten.

And wouldn't you know it, when KSC had to pick someone to run Artemis for them, they picked…Fidelis Ngugi! That's how shit gets done. She pulled money out of
nowhere
, created a huge industry in her formerly third-world country, and landed herself a job as ruler of the moon. She had run Artemis for over twenty years.

“Bwuh—” I said eloquently. “Shaa…”

“I know, right?!” said Lene.

Ngugi's traditional
dhuku
headscarf counterpointed her modern, Western-style dress. She stood politely, walked toward me, and said, “Hello, dear.” Her Swahili-accented English rolled so smoothly off her tongue I wanted to adopt her as my grandma right then and there.

“J-Jasmine,” I stammered. “I'm Jasmine Bashara.”

“I know,” she said.

What?

She smiled. “We have met before. I hired your father to install an emergency air shelter in my home. He brought you along. That was back when the administrator's quarters were in Armstrong Bubble.”

“Wow…I don't remember that at all.”

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