Read Artemis Online

Authors: Andy Weir

Artemis (5 page)

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“You were very young. Such an adorable little child, hanging on her father's every word. How is Ammar these days?”

I blinked a couple of times. “Uh…Dad's fine. Thanks. I don't see him much. He's got his shop and I've got my work.”

“He is a good man, your father,” she said. “An honest businessman and a hard worker. One of the best welders in town, as well. It's too bad you had a falling-out.”

“Wait, how did you know we—”

“Lene, it's been lovely to see you again. You're so grown-up now!”

“Thanks, Administrator!” Lene beamed.

“And Trond, thank you for a delicious meal,” she said.

“Any time, Administrator.” Trond stood up. I couldn't believe he was in his bathrobe! He had dinner with the most important person on the moon and he wore his bathrobe! Then he shook Ngugi's hand like they were equals or something. “Thanks for coming by!”

Irina showed up and led Ngugi away. Was there a hint of admiration on the grumpy old Russian's face? I guess even Irina had her limits. You can't hate
everyone
.

“Holy shit, dude,” I said to Trond.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Trond turned to his daughter. “All right, pumpkin, time for you to skedaddle. Jazz and I have business to discuss.”

She groaned the way only teenage girls can. “You always send me away when things get interesting.”

“Don't be in such a hurry. You'll be a cutthroat business asshole soon enough.”

“Just like my dad.” She smiled. She reached to the floor and picked up her crutches. They were the kind that gripped the upper arm. She got them both into position with ease and brought herself vertical. Her legs hung free. She kissed Trond on the cheek, then walked out on the crutches without her feet touching the ground.

The car accident that killed her mother had paralyzed Lene for life. Trond had money coming out his ass, but nothing could buy back his daughter's ability to walk. Or could it? On Earth, Lene was confined to a wheelchair, but on the moon, she could easily move around on crutches.

So he hired VPs to manage most of his companies and relocated to Artemis. And just like that, Lene Landvik could walk again.

“Bye, Jazz!” she said on her way out.

“Bye, kiddo.”

Trond swirled his drink. “Have a seat.”

The dining table was huge, so I picked a chair a couple of spaces away from Trond. “What's in the glass?”

“Scotch. Want some?”

“Maybe a taste,” I said.

He slid the glass across to me. I took a sip.

“Ohhh yeahhh…” I said. “That's better.”

“Didn't know you were a scotch gal,” he said.

“Not normally. But I had an awful approximation of it earlier today, so I needed a reminder of what it's supposed to be like.” I offered the tumbler back.

“Keep it.” He went to the liquor credenza, poured a second glass, and returned to his seat.

“So why was the administrator here?” I asked.

He put his feet up on the table and leaned back in his chair. “I'm hoping to buy Sanchez Aluminum and I wanted her blessing. She's fine with it.”

“Why would you want an aluminum company?”

“Because I like building businesses.” He preened theatrically. “It's my thing.”

“But aluminum? I mean…isn't that sort of blah? I get the impression it's struggling as an industry.”

“It is,” said Trond. “Not like the old days, when aluminum was king—each bubble required
forty thousand tons
of aluminum to build. But now the population has plateaued and we're not making new bubbles anymore. Frankly, they would have gone out of business long ago if it weren't for their aluminum monopropellant fuel production. And even that barely turns a profit.”

“Seems like you missed the gravy train. Why get in now?”

“I think I can make it hugely profitable again.”

“How?”

“None of your business.”

I held up my hands. “Sheesh. Touchy. Fine, you want to make aluminum. Why not start your own company?”

He snorted. “If only it were that easy. It's impossible to compete with Sanchez. Literally impossible. What do you know about aluminum production?”

“Pretty much nothing,” I said. I settled back in my chair. Trond seemed chatty tonight. Best to let him get it out of his system. And hey, as long as he talked I got good booze.

“First, they collect anorthite ore. That's easy. All they have to do is pick up the right rocks. They have automated harvesters running day and night. Then they smelt the ore with a chemical and electrolysis process that takes a shitload of electricity. And I do mean a shitload. Sanchez Aluminum uses
eighty percent
of the city reactors' output.”

“Eighty percent?” I'd never thought about it before, but two 27-megawatt nuclear reactors was a bit much for a city of two thousand people.

“Yeah, but the interesting part is how they pay for it.”

He pulled a rock from his pocket. Wasn't much to look at—just a gray, jagged lump like all the other lunar rocks I'd ever seen. He tossed it toward me. “Here. Have some anorthite.”

“Yay, a rock.” I plucked it out of the air as it approached. “Thanks.”

“It's made of aluminum, oxygen, silicon, and calcium. Smelting separates it into those base elements. They sell the aluminum—that's the whole point. And they sell the silicon to glassmakers and the calcium to electricians for next to nothing—mainly to get rid of it. But there is one by-product that's incredibly useful: oxygen.”

“Yeah, and that's what we breathe. I know.”

“Yeah, but did you know Sanchez gets free power in exchange for that oxygen?”

He had me there. “Really?”

“Yup. It's a contract that goes back to the early days of Artemis. Sanchez makes our air, so Artemis gives Sanchez as much power as they want—completely free of charge.”

“They don't have to pay an electric bill? Ever?”

“As long as they keep making oxygen for the city, that's right. And power is the most expensive part of smelting. There's just no way I can compete. It's not fair.”

“Oh, poor billionaire,” I said. “Maybe you should have some moors installed so you can pine on them.”

“Yeah, yeah, rich people are evil blah, blah, blah.”

I emptied my glass. “Thanks for the scotch. Why am I here?”

He cocked his head and looked at me. Was he carefully choosing his words? Trond never did that.

“I hear you failed your EVA exam.”

I groaned. “Does
everyone
in town know about that? Do you all meet up and talk about me when I'm not around or something?”

“It's a small town, Jazz. I keep my ear to the ground.”

I slid my glass over to him. “If we're going to talk about my failures, I'll want another scotch.”

He passed me his full glass. “I want to hire you. And I want to pay you a lot.”

I perked up. “Well, okay then. Why didn't you open with that? What do you need smuggled in? Something big?”

He leaned forward. “It's not smuggling. It's an entirely different enterprise. I don't know if it's even in your comfort zone. You've always been honest—at least with me. Do I have your word that this will stay between us? Even if you turn down the job?”

“Of course.” One thing I picked up from Dad: Always keep your bargains. He worked within the law and I didn't, but the principle was the same. People will trust a reliable criminal more readily than a shady businessman.

“That power-for-oxygen deal is the only thing standing between me and the aluminum industry. If Sanchez stops supplying oxygen, they'll be in breach of contract. Then I'll step in and offer to take it over. Same deal: free oxygen for free power.”

“Where would you get the oxygen?” I asked. “You don't have a smelter.”

“No rule says it has to be smelted. The city doesn't give a shit where the oxygen comes from, so long as it comes.” He steepled his fingers. “For the last four months, I've been collecting oxygen and storing it away. I have enough to supply the entire city's needs for over a year.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You can't just take city air and keep it. That's monumentally illegal.”

He waved his hand dismissively. “Please. I'm not an idiot. I bought the oxygen fair and square. I have standing contracts with Sanchez for regular deliveries.”

“You're buying oxygen from Sanchez so you can take over the oxygen contract from Sanchez?”

He smirked. “They make so much oxygen the entire city doesn't breathe it fast enough. They sell it cheap to anyone who wants it. I bought it slowly, over time, through various shell businesses so no one would know I'm hoarding.”

I pinched my chin. “Oxygen is pretty much the definition of flammable. How'd you get the city to let you store so much?”

“I didn't. I built huge holding tanks outside Armstrong Bubble. They're in the triangle formed by the connector tunnels of Armstrong, Bean, and Shepard. Totally safe from idiot tourists, and if anything goes wrong, they'll just leak into the vacuum. They're connected to Life Support's systems, but they're separated by a physical valve outside. No harm can come to the city.”

“Huh.” I spun my glass on the table. “You want me to stop Sanchez's oxygen production.”

“Yes, I do.” He stood from his chair and walked over to the liquor credenza. This time he selected a bottle of rum. “The city will want a fast resolution and I'll get the contract. Once that happens, I won't even have to build my own smelter. Sanchez will see the futility of trying to make aluminum without free power and they'll let me buy them outright.”

He poured himself a fresh drink and returned to the table. There, he opened a panel to reveal a bunch of controls.

The room lights faded and a projection screen came to life on the far wall.

“Are you a supervillain or something?” I gestured to the screen. “I mean, come on.”

“Like it? I just had it installed.”

The screen showed a satellite picture of our local area in Mare Tranquillitatis. Artemis was a tiny blob of circles brilliantly illuminated by sunlight.

“We're in the lowlands,” Trond said. “There's plenty of olivine and ilmenite around. Those are great for making iron, but if you want aluminum you need anorthite. It's rare around here, but the highlands are
littered
with it. So Sanchez's harvesters operate in the Moltke Foothills three kilometers south of here.”

He turned on his Gizmo's laser pointer and pointed to a region south of the city.

“The harvesters are almost completely autonomous. They only call home for instructions if they get stuck or can't figure out what to do next. They're an essential part of the company's operations, they're all in one place, and they're completely unguarded.”

“Okay,” I said. “I see where this is going….”

“Yeah,” he said. “I want you to sabotage those harvesters. Take them all out at once. And make sure they can't be repaired. It'll take Sanchez at least a month to get replacements shipped here from Earth. During that time they'll get no new anorthite. No anorthite means no oxygen production. No oxygen production means I win.”

I folded my arms. “I don't know if this works for me, Trond. Sanchez has like a hundred employees, right? I don't want to put people out of their jobs.”

“Don't worry about that,” Trond said. “I want to
buy
the company, not ruin it. Everyone will keep their jobs.”

“Okay, but I don't know anything about harvesters.”

His fingers flew over the controls and the display changed to a picture of a harvester. It looked like something from a catalogue. “The harvesters are Toyota Tsukurumas. I have four of them in my warehouse, ready for use.”

Whoa. Okay. Something the size of a harvester would have to be shipped in chunks and assembled here. Plus, it would have to be done in secret so no one asked awkward questions like “Say, Trond, why is your company assembling harvesters?” He'd had his people on this for a long time.

He must have seen the gears turning in my head. “Yeah. I've been working on this for a while. Anyway, you're welcome to examine my harvesters for as long as you want. All in secrecy of course.”

I got out of my chair and walked up to the screen. Man, that harvester was a beast. “So it's my problem to find a weakness in these things? I'm not an engineer.”

“They're automated vehicles without any security features at all. You're clever, I'm sure you'll come up with something.”

“Okay, but what happens if I get caught?”

“Jazz who?” he said theatrically. “The delivery girl? I barely know her. Why would she do such a thing? I'm baffled.”

“I see how it is.”

“I'm just being honest. Part of the deal is your word that you won't drag me down if you get caught.”

“Why me? What makes you think I can even pull this off?”

“Jazz, I'm a businessman,” he said. “My whole job is exploiting underutilized resources. And you are a
massively
underutilized resource.”

He stood and walked to the credenza for another pour. “You could have been anything. Didn't want to be a welder? No problem. You could have been a scientist. An engineer. A politician. A business leader. Anything. But you're a porter.”

I scowled.

“I'm not judging,” he said. “Just analyzing. You're really smart and you want money. I need someone who's really smart and I have money. Are you interested?”

“Hmm…” I took a moment to think. Was it even possible?

I'd need access to an airlock. There are only four airlocks in the whole city and you have be a licensed EVA Guild member to use them—their control panels check your Gizmo.

Then there was the three-kilometer trip to the Moltke Foothills. How would I do that? Walk? And once I was there, what would I do? The harvesters would have cameras and film everything in a 360-degree arc for navigational purposes. How would I sabotage them without getting spotted?

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