Authors: Andy Weir
The train finally arrived. I pretended to be enthralled by its approach like everyone else. It was just a single car, not the long-ass trains Earthers are used to. It slowed to a crawl next to the docking port and inched forward until it connected. After a click and a kachunk, the round entry hatch opened up to reveal the conductor.
Shit! It was Raj! He wasn't supposed to be there! He must have switched shifts with someone.
Raj and I grew up together. We went to the same schools. We were teenagers together. We weren't close friends or anything, but we saw each other every day for most of our lives. My dress and hijab might not be enough of a disguise.
He stepped through the aperture and adjusted his uniformâaÂ silly, nineteenth-century-style, navy-blue outfit with brass buttons and a conductor's cap. Giddy folks returning from the ApolloÂ 11 site exited the train. Many of them carried souvenirs from the Visitor Center: lunar modules carved from local rocks, ApolloÂ 11 mission patches, and so on.
Once everyone de-trained, Raj called out in a clear, loud voice, “
is the 2:34Â p.m. traaaain to Apollo Eleeeeeven! All aboooooard!” He held out a vintage-looking brass ticket shredder. Of course, there were no paper tickets to shred. It was just decoration surrounding a payment pad.
I closed the niqab a little tighter and walked with a hunch. Maybe if I changed my body language I wouldn't be as recognizable. Passengers filed past Raj, waved their Gizmos over the shredder, and walked through an antechamber into the train.
He made sure there was only one person in the antechamber at a time. He was sneaky about it, mostly by standing in people's way. It was easier than explaining, “If there's a pressure failure, the antechamber door will close. The city will be safe but you'll die.”
When my turn came, I looked down to avoid eye contact. My Gizmo beeped and popped up a text blurb:
CITY OF ARTEMIS: 75
Raj didn't notice me. I breathed a sigh of relief and stepped into the train.
The seats had all been taken and I was ready to stand for the whole trip, but a tall black guy saw me and stood up. He said something in French and pointed to his seat. A true gentleman! I bowed to him and sat down. I rested my purse in my lap.
Once the last passenger boarded, Raj followed and sealed both antechamber doors along the way. He walked to the front of the train and spoke over the intercom. “Welcome to the Lunar Express! This is the 2:34Â p.m. service to the ApolloÂ 11 Visitor Center. Our scheduled arrival time is 3:17Â p.m. Please keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times!”
A snicker rippled through the passengers. It was a stupid-ass joke, but comedic gold to the tourists.
The train set off. It was utterly smooth. No rocking, no shaking, nothing like that. It ran on an electric motor (obviously) and the tracks never had to deal with the warping effects of weather. Plus, there wasn't much weight on them, compared to Earth tracks.
Each row of seats had a porthole window. Passengers eagerly took turns looking at the drab, rocky landscape. Why did it excite them so much? It's a bunch of gray rocks. Who gives a shit?
A frumpy Midwestern woman giggled at her window and turned to me. “Isn't it amazing?! We're on the
Ma'alesh, ana ma'aref Englizy
,” I said with a shrug.
She turned to another passenger. “Isn't it amazing?! We're on
Nothing like a language barrier to make people leave you alone.
I brought up an Arabic gossip webzine on my Gizmo. I just wanted an excuse to keep my head down. Fortunately, Raj was manning the controls and facing away.
By the time we arrived, I had learned all about the latest scandal in the Saudi royal family. The crown prince had cheated on his wives. Two of them had filed for divorce under the Islamic law of Khula, but the other two were standing by him. I was halfway through reading the queen's quote on the situation when the train came to a stop.
The familiar sounds of the docking procedure clanged through the car and Raj shouted “End of the liiine!”
He walked to the door and opened it. “ApolloÂ 11 Visitor Center! Have an excellent stay!”
We all crowded out of the train and found ourselves in a gift shop. Some folks stopped there, but most of us continued forward to the Viewing Hall. That entire side of the center was floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the landing site.
A well-manicured docent greeted the crowd as we approached the glass. I averted my eyes. Yet another person I knew. Goddamn, it's annoying to commit crimes in a small town.
Gunter Eichel had emigrated to Artemis ten years earlier with his stepsister, Ilsa. They came because they were ostracized in Germany for being a couple. Yes, really. That's why they emigrated. We don't care what people do, sex-wise, as long as everyone's a consenting adult. (Though some folks stretch the definition of “adult.”)
Anyway, he and I weren't friends or anything. My disguise would be fine.
He waited for people to conglomerate, then launched into his presentation. “Welcome to Tranquility Base. Come on up to the glass, there's plenty of room for everyone.”
We moved forward and lined up against the giant windows. The lander sat where it had been for the last century, alongside experimental packages that the old-time astronauts had laid out.
“You may notice the Viewing Hall windows follow a weird path,” Gunter said. “Why not just a half-circle or a straight line? Well, we have a rule that nothing is allowed within ten meters of
of an Apollo landing site. The definition of âany part' includes the lander, equipment, tools, the commemorative plaque, and even the footprints left behind by the astronauts. The Viewing Hall is built so that each window is just over ten meters from the nearest part of the site. Feel free to wander along the hall to get a look from different angles.”
Some of the tourists had already walked along the serpentine wall. But with Gunter's suggestion, several more began the trek.
“If you're nervous about a pane of glass separating you from the vacuum of space, don't be. These windows are
thick to protect you from the radiation. That has a side effect of making them the
part of the Visitor Center's hull. And, I'm proud to point out, the glass was manufactured right here on the moon. A small amount of regolith dust was added to darken it. Otherwise the sunlight from outside would be blinding.”
He gestured to the landing site. “The
, named after the national bird of the United States, landed July twentieth, 1969. What you see here is the
's Descent Stage. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the Ascent Stage back into lunar orbit at the end of their mission.”
The tourists pressed against the windows, entranced at what they saw. I took a long look myself. Hey, I'm not made of stone. I love my city and its history. The
is a big part of that.
“Every Apollo mission planted an American flag,” Gunter said. “So where is it? Well, when the Ascent Stage lifted off, the exhaust knocked the poor flag over. Then, the dust that had been kicked up covered it. If you look closely on the ground, just to the left of the
, you can see a small patch of white. That's the only bit of the flag still visible.”
The crowd murmured as people pointed out the white bit to one another.
“For later missions, they figured out to put the flags farther away.”
A small chuckle came from the crowd.
“Interesting side note: All the other flags have been exposed to unfiltered sunlight during lunar days for over a hundred years. They've been bleached completely white now. But Tranquility Base's flag is under a thin layer of regolith. So it probably still looks like it did back in 1969. Of course, no one is allowed to enter or modify the landing site to take a look.”
He clasped his hands behind his back. “We hope you enjoy the history and beauty of Tranquility Base. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask me.”
Behind the crowd, Bob Lewis and two other EVA masters stood next to a doorway labeled
EVA PREPARATION AREA.
Gunter gestured to the trio. “We offer curated EVAs to those who are interested. It's an amazing experience and allows you to look at the site from angles the Viewing Hall can't provide.”
Usually, Dale would be there among his peers, but today was a Saturday. He was devoutly Jewish and off at Artemis's only synagogue, Congregation Beth Chalutzim.
A small crowd gathered around the EVA masters while the remaining (poorer) people stayed at the windows. I shuffled along with the EVA gang, trying to stay toward the middle. I didn't want to get too close to Bob.
The masters divided us into three groups of eight. I ended up with Bob. Goddammit.
Each master took their group aside and explained the basics of how things were going to work. I stood in the back of my group and averted my eyes.
“Okay, listen up,” Bob said. “I will be in a full EVA suit while you will be in what we call âhamster balls.' You are not allowed to bring anything sharp with you, because you would puncture your ball and die. There will be no horseplay. You will walk, not run. You will not bounce around or ram each other.” He shot a withering glare to a couple of teens in the group.
“There is a one-meter-high fence around the landing site to protect it from you. The fence delineates the ten-meter boundary beyond which no one may pass.
Do not attempt to get past the fence
. If you do, I will terminate the EVA and you
be deported to Earth.”
He paused a moment to let that sink in. “While outside, you will follow my instructions immediately and without question. You will stay within sight of me at all times. You may explore in any direction you choose, but if I radio that you are too far away for my comfort, you will return to me. Are there any questions?”
One small Asian man raised his hand. “Um, yes, the docent mentioned there's radiation out there? How dangerous is it?”
Bob answered the question with practiced ease. “The EVA will last approximately two hours. In that time, you will receive less than one hundred microsieverts of radiationâabout the same dosage you get from a set of dental X-rays.”
“Then why is the Visitor Center shielded?” asked Nervous Guy.
“All structures on the moon, including the Visitor Center, are shielded for the benefit of the people who live and work here. It's fine to be exposed once in a while but not all the time.”
“And what about you? You go outside all the time, right?”
Bob nodded. “I do. But each EVA master only does two tours per week, to keep their exposure to a minimum. Anything else?”
Nervous Guy looked down. If he had any further questions, he was too intimidated to ask.
Bob held out his payment panel. “The price for this EVA is one thousand, five hundred slugs each.”
The tourists ran their Gizmos over it one at a time. I wedged myself in the middle of the pack and paid along with them. I frowned at my Gizmo as it reported my dwindling account balance. This get-rich-quick scheme was costing me a lot of money!
Bob led us to the antechamber. As the most senior EVA master present, he got to take his group out first.
Deflated hamster balls hung on racks throughout the room. Next to each one was a hard-shelled backpack. The far wall had a large hatch and associated control panel. Beyond it was an airlock large enough to fit an entire tour group.
Bob pulled one of the backpacks off the wall. “This is a scurry pack. You'll have it on your back during the EVA. This is your life support system. It adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide as needed. It keeps the air at the correct pressure and temperature.”
He turned the scurry pack sideways to reveal a headset Velcroed to the side. “You'll have this headset on during the EVA. It's an open channel. All nine of us will be on it. Also, your scurry pack will report any problems to me if they arise.”
Nervous Guy raised his hand. “How do we operate it?”
“You don't,” said Bob. “It's completely automated. Don't screw with it.”
I listened with fake fascination. Of course I knew all about scurry packs. Hell, as part of my training, I'd been given several deliberately broken packs and told to identify the problems. I got every one of them right too.
Bob pointed to a line of lockers. “Put your personal items and anything else you don't want to carry in those lockers there. Keep your Gizmos with you.”
The excitement level jumped a notch. The tourists were all smiles and giddy conversation. I went to the locker nearest me and waved my Gizmo. It clicked open. Now it was initialized to my Gizmo, so only I'd be able to open it again later. Elegant designâeven Nervous Guy was able to work it out without extra questions.
I put my purse in the locker, then cast my eyes askance to see if anyone was watching me. No one was.
I pulled the HIB out of my purse and set it on the floor next to the locker bank. I couldn't get it completely out of sight, but at least it was partially occluded. I slipped the remote control into a holster I had strapped to my inner thigh.
From there, we all donned scurry packs under Bob's watchful eye. Then, one by one, he sealed us each into our hamster balls. There were some stumbles and falls along the way, but most people adapted to the balls well. It's not that hard.
Bob pulled his own EVA suit out of a locker and put it on in three minutes. Damn, he was fast. The fastest I ever got into mine was nine.
We all lined up behind him, some more gracefully than others. He waved his Gizmo over the airlock controls and the inner hatch popped open. He ushered us into the airlock.