Read Artemis Online

Authors: Andy Weir

Artemis (3 page)

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Jin reached forward to get his coffee. As he did, I got a look at the box. It was white with stark black text that read
ZAFO SAMPLE—AUTHORIZED USE ONLY
.

“So this couch I'm on is an Earth import, right?” Jin said. “How much did it cost to bring here?”

“That one weighs forty-three kilograms,” Trond said. “So it cost forty-three thousand slugs to have it shipped.”

“What does a typical person make?” asked Jin. “If you don't mind me asking, that is.”

I grabbed my tea and let the cup's warmth seep into my hands. “I make twelve thousand a month as a porter. It's a low-paying job.”

Jin sipped his coffee and made a face. I've seen it before. Earthers hate our coffee. Physics dictates that it tastes like shit.

Earth's air is 20 percent oxygen. The rest is stuff human bodies don't need like nitrogen and argon. So Artemis's air is
pure
oxygen at 20 percent Earth's air pressure. That gives us the right amount of oxygen while minimizing pressure on the hulls. It's not a new concept—it goes back to the Apollo days. Thing is, the lower the pressure, the lower the boiling point of water. Water boils at 61 degrees Celsius here, so that's as hot as tea or coffee can be. Apparently it's disgustingly cold to people who aren't used to it.

Jin discreetly put the cup back on the table. He wouldn't be picking it up again.

“What brings you to Artemis?” I asked.

He drummed his fingers on the ZAFO box. “We've been working on a business deal for months. We're finally closing the deal, so I wanted to meet Mr. Landvik in person.”

Trond settled into his couch and picked up the box of contraband. “I told you, call me Trond.”

“Trond it is,” Jin said.

Trond tore the wrapping off the package and pulled out a dark wooden box. He held it up to the light and looked at it from several angles. I'm not much for aesthetics, but even I could tell it was a thing of beauty. Intricate etchings covered every surface and it had a tasteful label written in Spanish.

“What have we here?” Jin asked.

Trond flashed a shit-eating grin and opened the box. Twenty-four cigars, each in its own paper holder, rested inside. “Dominican cigars. People think Cubans are the best, but they're wrong. It's all about the Dominicans.”

I smuggled a box of those things in for him every month. Got to love regular customers.

He pointed to the door. “Jazz, would you mind closing that?”

I headed to the doorway. A starkly functional hatch hid behind the finely appointed wall panels. I slid it closed and spun the handle shut. Hatches are pretty common in upscale homes. If the bubble loses pressure, you can seal your house and not die. Some people are paranoid enough to seal their bedrooms at night just in case. Waste of money if you ask me. There's never been a pressure loss in Artemis's history.

“I have a special air-filtration system in here,” Trond said. “The smoke never gets out of this room.”

He unwrapped a cigar, bit the end off, and spit it into an ashtray. Then he put the cigar in his mouth and lit it with a gold lighter. He puffed several times and sighed. “Good stuff…good stuff.”

He held the box out toward Jin, who politely waved it away. Then he offered it to me.

“Sure.” I grabbed one and slipped it into my breast pocket. “I'll smoke it after lunch.”

That was a lie. But why would I turn down something like that? I could probably get a hundred slugs for it.

Jin furrowed his brow. “I'm sorry, but…cigars are contraband?”

“Ridiculous, really,” said Trond. “I have a sealed room! My smoke doesn't bother anyone! It's injustice, I tell you!”

“Oh, you're so full of shit.” I turned to Jin. “It's fire. A fire in Artemis would be a nightmare. It's not like we can go outside. Flammable materials are illegal unless there's a really good reason for them. The last thing we want is a bunch of idiots wandering around with lighters.”

“Well…I guess there's that.” Trond fiddled with his lighter. I'd smuggled it in for him years ago. Every few months it needed new butane. More money for me.

I took another swig of warm tea and pulled out my Gizmo. “Trond?”

“Right, of course.” He pulled out his own Gizmo and held it next to mine. “Still four thousand slugs?”

“Mm-hmm. But fair warning: I have to bump it to forty-five hundred next time. Things got more expensive for me recently.”

“Not a problem,” he said. He typed while I waited. After a moment, my screen popped up the transfer verification. I accepted and the transaction was complete.

“All good,” I said. I turned to Jin. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Jin. Have fun while you're here.”

“Thanks, I will!”

“Have a good one, Jazz.” Trond smiled.

I left the two men behind to do whatever they were up to. I didn't know what it was, but it sure as hell wasn't aboveboard. Trond did all sorts of shady shit—that was why I liked him. If he'd brought a guy all the way to the moon, there was something way more interesting going on than “a business deal.”

I rounded the corner and left through the foyer. Irina gave me a nasty look as I departed. I wrinkled my nose at her. She closed the door behind me without saying goodbye.

I was just about to hop into Trigger when my Gizmo beeped. A porter job had just popped up. I had seniority and proximity, so the system offered it to me first.

“PICKUP LOCATION: AG-5250. MASS: ~100KG. DROP-OFF LOCATION: UNSPECIFIED. PAYMENT: 452ğ.”

Wow. Four hundred fifty-two whole slugs. Roughly a tenth of what I'd just made from a box of cigars.

I accepted. I had to make money somehow.

Dear Kelvin Otieno,

Hi. My name's Jasmine Bashara. People call me Jazz. I'm nine years old. I live in Artemis.

Ms. Teller's my teacher. She's a good teacher even though she took away my Gizmo when I played with it during class. She gave us homework to send email to kids at the KSC complex in Kenya. She assigned me your address. Do you speak English? I can speak Arabic too. What do you speak in Kenya?

I like American TV shows and my favorite food is ginger ice cream. But usually I eat Gunk. I want to get a dog but we can't afford one. I hear poor people can have dogs on Earth. Is it true? Do you have a dog? If you have a dog please tell me about your dog.

Does Kenya have a king?

My dad's a welder. What does your dad do?

Dear Jazz Bashara,

Hello. I am Kelvin and I am also nine. I live with my mom and dad. I have three sisters. They're jerks and the two older ones beat me up. But I'm getting bigger and someday I'll beat them up. I'm just kidding, boys should never hit girls.

Kenyans speak English and Swahili. We do not have a king. We have a president and a National Assembly and a Senate. Grown-ups vote for them and they make the laws.

My family doesn't have a dog but we have two cats. One of them just comes around to eat, but the other one is very nice and sleeps on the couch all the time.

My dad is a security officer for KSC. He works at Gate 14 and he makes sure only people who are allowed to go in can go in. We live in assigned housing in the complex and my school is in the complex too. Everyone who works for KSC gets free school for their kids. KSC is very generous and we are all grateful.

My mom stays at home. She takes care of all of us kids. She is a good mother.

My favorite food is hot dogs. What's Gunk? I've never heard of that.

I love American TV shows. Especially soap operas. They are very exciting even though my mom doesn't want me watching them. But we have good internet here so I watch when she's not looking. Please do not tell her. Haha. What does your mom do?

What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to make rockets. Right now I make models of rockets. I just finished a model of a KSC 209-B. It looks very nice in my room. I want to make real rockets someday. The other kids want to be pilots for the rockets but I don't want to do that.

Are you white? I hear everyone in Artemis is white. There are many white people here at the complex. They come from all over the world to work here.

Dear Kelvin,

It's too bad you don't have a dog. I hope you get to make rockets someday. Real ones, not models.

Gunk is food for poor people. It's dried algae and flavor extracts. They grow it here in Artemis in vats because food from Earth is expensive. Gunk is gross. Flavor extracts are supposed to make it taste good but they just make it taste gross in other ways. I have to eat it every day. I hate it.

I'm not white. I'm Arabic. Sort of light brown. Only about half the people here are white. My mom lives on Earth somewhere. She left when I was a baby. I don't remember her.

Soap operas are lame. But it's okay for you to like lame stuff. We can still be friends.

Do you have a yard at your house? Can you go outside anytime you want? I can't go outside until I'm sixteen because those are the rules for EVAs. Someday I'll get my EVA license and go outside as much as I want and no one can tell me no.

Building rockets sounds like a neat job. I hope you get that job.

I don't want a job. When I grow up I want to be rich.

Armstrong sucks. It's a damn shame such an awesome guy got such a shitty part of town named after him.

The grinding thrum of industrial equipment oozed from the walls as I guided Trigger along the old corridors. Even though the heavy manufacturing plants were fifteen floors away, the sound still carried. I pulled up to the Life Support Center and parked just outside the heavy door.

Life Support is one of the few places in town that has genuine security protocols. You don't want just anyone wandering in. The door had a panel you could wave your Gizmo over, but of course I wasn't on the approved list. From there I had to wait.

The pickup request was for a package approximately one hundred kilograms. No problem for me. I can lift twice that without breaking a sweat. Not many Earth gals can say that! Sure, they have six times the gravity to deal with, but that's their problem.

Other than mass, the request was vague. No info on what it was or where it was going. I'd have to find that out from the customer.

Artemis's Life Support is unique in the history of space travel. They don't process carbon dioxide back into oxygen. Yes, they have the equipment to do that and batteries to last months if needed. But they have a much cheaper and virtually infinite supply of oxygen from another source: the aluminum industry.

Sanchez Aluminum's smelter outside town produces oxygen from processing ore. That's what smelting is, really. Removing oxygen to get pure metal. Most people don't know it, but there's a ridiculous amount of oxygen on the moon. You just need a shitload of energy to get it. Sanchez produces so much oxygen by-product that they not only make rocket fuel on the side, they supply the city with all our breathable air and still end up venting the excess outside.

So we actually have more oxygen than we know what to do with. Life Support regulates the flow, makes sure the incoming supply from the Sanchez pipeline is safe, and separates out the CO
2
from used air. They also manage temperature, pressure, and all that other fun stuff. They sell the CO
2
to Gunk farms, who use it to grow the algae poor people eat. It's always about economics, am I right?

“Hello, Bashara,” came a familiar voice from behind.

Shit.

I put on my fakest smile and turned around. “Rudy! They didn't tell me the pickup was from you. If I'd known, I wouldn't have come!”

Okay, I won't lie. Rudy DuBois is a seriously good-looking man. He's two meters tall and blond as a Hitler wet dream. He quit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ten years ago to become Artemis's head of security, but he still wears the uniform every day. And it looks good on him. Really good. I don't like the guy, but…you know…if I could do it with no consequences…

He's what passes for law in town. Okay, sure, every society needs laws and someone to enforce them. But Rudy tends to go the extra mile.

“Don't worry,” he said, pulling out his Gizmo. “I don't have enough evidence to prove you're smuggling. Yet.”

“Smuggling? Me? Golly gee, Mr. Do-Right, you sure get some strange notions.”

What a pain in my ass. He'd been gunning for me ever since an incident when I was seventeen. Fortunately, he can't just deport people. Only the administrator of Artemis has that authority. And she won't do it unless Rudy provides something compelling. So we do have
some
checks and balances. Just not many.

I looked around. “So where's the package?”

He waved his Gizmo over the reader and the fireproof door slid open. Rudy's Gizmo was like a magic wand. It could open literally any door in Artemis. “Follow me.”

Rudy and I entered the industrial facility. Technicians operated equipment while engineers monitored the huge status board along one wall.

With the exception of me and Rudy, everyone in the room was Vietnamese. That's kind of how things shake out in Artemis. A few people who know one another emigrate, they set up a service of some kind, then they hire their friends. And of course, they hire people they know. Tale as old as time, really.

The workers ignored us as we wound between machinery and a maze of high-pressure pipes. Mr.
Đ
oàn watched from his chair in the center of the status wall. He made eye contact with Rudy and nodded slowly.

Rudy stopped just behind a man cleaning an air tank. He tapped the man on his shoulder. “Pham Binh?”

Binh turned around and grunted. His weathered face wore a permanent scowl.

“Mr. Binh. Your wife, Tâm, was at Doc Roussel's this morning.”

“Yeah,” he said. “She's clumsy.”

Rudy turned his Gizmo around. The screen showed a woman with bruises on her face. “According to the doc, she has a black eye, a hematoma on her check, two bruised ribs, and a concussion.”

“She's clumsy.”

Rudy handed me the Gizmo and punched Binh squarely in the face.

In my delinquent youth I'd had a few run-ins with Rudy. I can tell you he's a strong son of a bitch. He never punched me or anything. But one time he restrained me with one hand while typing on his Gizmo with the other. I was trying really hard to get away too. His grip was like an iron vise. I still think about that sometimes late at night.

Binh crumpled to the ground. He tried to get to his hands and knees but couldn't. When you can't get off the ground in the
moon's
gravity, you are seriously out of it.

Rudy knelt down and pulled Binh's head off the ground by the hair. “Let's see…yes that cheek is swelling up nicely. Now for the black eye…” He rabbit-punched the barely conscious man in the eye then let his head fall to the ground.

Binh, now in a fetal position, moaned, “Stop…”

Rudy stood and took his Gizmo back from me. He held it so we could both see. “Two bruised ribs, right? The fourth and fifth on the left side?”

“Looks like it,” I agreed.

He kicked the prone man in the side. Binh tried to cry out but had no breath to scream with.

“I'll just assume he has a concussion from one of those head punches,” Rudy said. “Wouldn't want to take things too far.”

The other techs had stopped to watch the spectacle. Several of them were smiling.
Đ
oàn, still in his chair, had the slightest hint of approval on his face.

“This is how it's going to go, Binh,” Rudy said. “Whatever happens to her happens to you from now on. Got that?”

Binh wheezed on the floor.

“Got that?!” Rudy asked, louder this time.

Binh nodded fervently.

“Good.” He smiled. He turned to me. “There's your package, Jazz. Approximately one hundred kilograms to be delivered to Doc Roussel. Charge it to the Security Services account.”

“Got it,” I said.

That's how justice works around here. We don't have jails or fines. If you commit a serious crime, we exile you to Earth. For everything else, there's Rudy.

—

After that “special delivery” I did a few more mundane pickups and drop-offs. Mostly items from the port to home addresses. But I did nab a contract to move a bunch of boxes from a residence back to the port. I love helping people move. They usually tip well. That day's move was pretty modest—a young couple relocating back to Earth.

The woman was pregnant. You can't gestate a baby in lunar gravity—it leads to birth defects. And you can't raise a baby here, anyway. It's terrible for bone and muscle development. When I moved here I was six years old—that was the minimum age for residency back then. Since then they've bumped it up to twelve. Should I be worried?

I was just moving on to the next pickup when my Gizmo screeched at me. Not the ring of a phone call, not the bleep of a message, but the
scream
of an alarm. I fumbled it out of my pocket.

FIRE: CU12-3270—LOCKDOWN ENACTED. ALL NEARBY VOLUNTEER PERSONNEL TO RESPOND.

“Shit,” I said.

I threw Trigger into reverse and backed up until I found a patch of hallway wide enough for a U-turn. Now facing the right way, I sped to the ramps.

“Jazz Bashara responding,” I said to my Gizmo. “Current location Conrad Up Four.”

The central safety computer noted my report and popped up a map of Conrad. I was one of many dots on that map, all converging on CU12-3270.

Artemis doesn't have a fire department. We have volunteers. But smoke and fire are so deadly here the volunteers have to know how to breathe with air tanks. So all EVA masters and EVA trainees are automatically volunteers. Yes, there's an irony there.

The fire was on Conrad Up 12—eight floors above me.

I screeched along the ramps up and up to CU12, then sped along the corridors toward the third ring. From there, I had to find the lot that was approximately 270 degrees from true north. It didn't take long—a crowd of EVA masters had already converged.

A red light flashed over the thick door to the address. The sign above read
QUEENSLAND GLASS FACTORY.

Bob was on-scene. As the ranking guild member present, the fire was his responsibility. He gave me a quick nod to acknowledge my presence.

“Okay, listen up!” he said. “We've had a full-fledged fire inside the glass factory, which has burned off all the available oxygen in the room. There are fourteen people inside—all of them made it to the air shelter in time. There are no injuries, and the shelter is working properly.”

He stood in front of the door. “We can't just wait for the room to cool like we normally would. This factory creates glass by reacting silicon with oxygen, so they have large tanks of compressed oxygen in there. If those tanks burst, the room will contain the explosion, but the people inside will have no chance. And if we let fresh oxygen in the whole thing will blow.”

He shooed us away from the doorway to make an empty area. “We need a tent right here, sealed to the wall around the doorway. We need an inflatable accordion tunnel
inside
the tent. And we need four rescue workers.”

The fire brigade, well trained, got on it immediately. They built a cube skeleton out of hollow pipes. Then they taped plastic to the wall around the fireproof door, draped it over the skeleton, and taped the edges together. They left the rear flap open.

They hoisted an accordion tunnel into the tent. This was no small task—unlike the makeshift tent, inflatable tunnels were made to hold pressure. They're thick and heavy, designed to rescue people from air shelters when there's a complete vacuum outside. A bit of an overkill in this scenario, but it's the equipment we had.

The tent wasn't very large, and the tunnel occupied most of the space inside. So Bob pointed to the four smallest responders. “Sarah, Jazz, Arun, and Marcy. Get in.”

The four of us stepped forward. The others put air tanks on our backs, breather masks on our faces, and goggles over our eyes. One by one we tested our gear and gave a thumbs-up.

We crowded into the tent. It was a tight fit. Bob stood a metal cylinder just inside. “The air shelter is along the west wall. A total of fourteen people inside.”

“Copy. Fourteen,” said Sarah. A fully licensed EVA master with the most tenure out of the four of us, she was the insertion team's leader. The other fire brigade volunteers taped the tent flap closed, except for one corner, which they left slightly open.

Sarah cranked the valve on the cylinder and it sprayed a fog of carbon dioxide into the tent. It's a sloppy process, displacing oxygen, but we didn't need to expel every last atom. We just needed to get the percentage as low as possible. After a minute, she cranked the valve shut again and the people outside sealed that last corner of the tent.

She felt the door. “Hot,” she said. We were about to open a door into a room just waiting to blow up. We weren't going to add oxygen, but it was still unnerving.

She keyed the fire unlock code into the door panel. Yes, a code. Once a fireproof room's alarms go off, the doors and vents seal immediately. The people inside can't get out—they have to get into an air shelter or die. Seem harsh? Well, it's not. A fire spreading in town would be far worse than a few people dying in a sealed room. Artemis does
not
fuck around with fire safety.

At Sarah's command, the door clicked open and heat from inside filled our tent. I immediately broke into a sweat.

“Jesus,” said Arun.

The factory was thick with smoke. Some corners glowed red with heat. If there'd been any oxygen to spare, they would've certainly been aflame. Along the far wall, I could just make out the shape of the industrial air shelter.

Sarah wasted no time. “Jazz, you're with me up front. Arun and Marcy, stay here and hold the back of the inflatable.”

I joined Sarah. She grabbed one side of the tunnel's front opening and I grabbed the other. Arun and Marcy did the same with the back half.

Sarah walked forward and I kept pace. The accordion-style tunnel expanded along behind us, with Arun and Marcy holding the rear steady.

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