Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


This is the Hardest Thing I Do All Day
by Alexandra Grunberg

by Fábio Fernandes

Sixteen Tonnes
by Robert Dawson

It’s Not What You Think
by Davyne DeSye

Dreams of Clay
by J. Rohr

Mundane Applications
by Philip Margolies

by Eric Del Carlo

My Parking Space is Near the Door
by Gustavo Bondoni

Shorter Stories

Clothes Make the Man
by Peter Wood

For All Time
by Simon Kewin

You Belong to Me
by Tom Borthwick


More Than “Zarathustra”
by Dennis W. Green

When Words Divine
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Sixteen Tonnes

By Robert Dawson

I REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS LYING against the wall of the tunnel, in a heap of rocks. My right arm hurt when I moved it, and my head throbbed. The sound of my breath rasped in my ears. The air in my pressure suit seemed stale.

I extricated myself, painfully, and looked around.

Heaps of broken stone covered the floor. A meter away, Elodie du Mesny, my apprentice, sprawled motionless, trapped from the waist down under a coffin-sized gray-and-orange slab. I estimated its size: about a cubic meter. It would mass several tonnes, too much to lift even in lunar gravity.

“Elodie! This is Mark. Are you all right?” I called. No response, not even the usual headphone echo. My radio was dead.

I tried to climb to my feet. Something grabbed at my shoulders, yanking me backward. I almost jumped out of my p-suit until I realized that it was my air hose. A couple meters away from me, it was trapped under the rockfall. A little air—not enough—was getting through. I pulled, as hard as I dared, but the hose was immovable.

We were sealed inside the vacuum chamber. Any passer-by, seeing the red vacuum-warning light, would just assume we were hard at work. Elodie’s mother would notice when she was late for dinner—unless she was on a night shift and had told Elodie to eat on her own. How about me: would anybody notice if I wasn’t at the cafeteria this evening? It seemed unlikely. Tim’s schedule was even more random than mine. And Natalia? Half the time she didn’t even notice me when I was there.

There was no way we could expect rescue in less than three hours. And we couldn’t wait that long.


That morning, we had walked along the unfinished tunnel to the temporary vacuum bulkhead, ready to start the day’s work. Back on Earth, a kid Elodie’s age would never have been allowed anywhere near a project like this; but in Luna City, where most adults were researchers with multiple doctorates, the handful of us who did the less-skilled work had to draw upon the growing teenage population as apprentices. Think of it as shop class.

This tunnel, intended as the backbone of a yet-unbuilt lab complex, was the same height as my home corridor in the bachelor wing, but about twice as wide. No rooms had been excavated yet; the walls stretched unbroken for fifty meters. Near the bulkhead, one side of the tunnel was crowded with my equipment: pumps, diamond saws and drills, hoses, cables, and a rack of vacuum suits.

Elodie found her suit. She squirmed into it, then turned to me. “Cross-check?”

We did the usual six-point suit check, much simpler than the complex sequence for a surface suit, and stepped through the door. “Time to connect up. Remember, only sockets one and two are switched on. Connect to one of the others, you’ll be breathing your own BO.” She rolled her eyes and rubbed her knuckles on her cheek, in the ineffably French gesture indicating ennui.

Each suit trailed a springy coil, two tubes fused together, from a plate between the shoulders. One tube was sky blue for fresh air, the other black for exhaust. Extended, they would be about twenty meters long. I plugged the other end of mine into one of the four self-sealing air vents in the frame of the vacuum door, and supervised Elodie as she plugged in her own. We attached and cross-checked helmets. I closed the door and raised the two heavy red handles, one on each side of the frame, to seal the door and enable the pumps. Neither handle could be raised on its own, and a light pull on either would snap both down and restore pressure. The shrill whine of the vacuum pump began, then slowly died away as the pressure dropped.

I felt my suit lift away from my skin. We were in near-vacuum: the traces of air that remained were not enough to keep rock dust in suspension. We were ready.

Elodie’s voice came through my suit radio. “Can I go first? Please?”

I handed her “Diamond-Tooth Gertie,” the big vibro-saw. Elodie plugged the power cable in, and I signed “Go ahead” in pidgin sign, the vacuum worker’s second language.

“Right. Stand back,” she signed, and turned on the saw. The sound started as a low buzz, rapidly climbed the scale to a mosquito whine, and leveled out. She began to cut, scoring the end of the tunnel with parallel slots a quarter meter deep and about ten centimeters apart. A wild jet of rock dust came from the saw; it did not billow and drift, but shot out like wet snow from a snow-blower. In the near-vacuum I could just hear the thin scream of the saw, dropping when the blade bit rock, then sliding up again, faint and distant, like an operatic mad scene heard from far away. How many kids get to build their own city?

For half an hour, Elodie wielded the saw, standing on a sturdy platform to do the highest parts. A year ago, like most beginners, she had been flustered by the gyroscopic precession of the saw, like a frightened animal trying to wriggle out of her grip. Now she moved like a pro, not fighting it. Apart from a few radio suggestions about cutting neat corners, I let her get on with it.

When she was finished, floor-to-ceiling slots scored the face at ten-centimeter intervals. I tapped her on the shoulder, and signed “Good work.” We could have used radio, but this was part of her training.

She turned off the saw, let it spin down, and set it on the tunnel floor. When her hands were free she responded “Thanks!”

“I’ll cut now.” Soon the rock at the end of the tunnel was divided into squares like a tray of fudge, and the floor was covered with talc-fine rock dust. If we left it there when we let the air in, the gust would turn it to a choking cloud that would stay suspended almost forever in the low lunar gravity. I reached for our next tools: a bucket, shovel, and broom. Some things about construction work never change.

Once we had swept up the dust, and dogged the lid onto the bucket, I pulled down one of the red handles and the air whistled in, quietly at first, then louder as the pressure increased. Finally we could remove our suits, breathe easily, and smell the dry clay odor of the powdered rock.

The slits we had cut were already developing traces of frost; heat moves slowly through stone, and the relative warmth of the tunnel had not penetrated to the full depth of the cut. Ambient rock temperature in Luna City is about ninety below zero Celsius. Cold, even for a Northern Ontario boy. Of course, once the tunnels are occupied, waste heat keeps them warm.

The tools for the next stage were equally high-tech. We each had a short-handled two-kilo sledgehammer and a narrow steel wedge. We set to work cracking blocks loose, using technology that John Henry the Steel-Drivin’ Man would have understood perfectly.

People have asked me why we don’t use laser drills, like in the old science fiction stories. It’s true, we do have an industrial cutting laser for surface work. It would make my job easy—for the first tenth of a second. But a laser doesn’t send the rock quietly off into the fourth dimension: it vaporizes it. The vapor’s hotter than a flame, there’s a lot of it, and it can’t turn back to solid till it expands or hands that heat on to something else. Cutting out a very big room, or a wide tunnel like Main Street, we can use a computer-guided laser from ten or fifteen meters back, with welding goggles, dustsuckers, and refrigeration on high; or even, sometimes, tiny explosive charges. But there just isn’t room in a narrow tunnel, and it wouldn’t be that much faster anyway.

Soon we had the rock cracked into a waist-high heap of jagged black bricks, each one gradually growing frost crystals at one end. Elodie picked up one of the bricks and pointed to a lighter-colored patch, almost orange. “What’s that, Mark?”

I wasn’t quite sure, but lunar basalt does have a fair amount of color variation. “Well, Elodie ... I’d say that’s a good specimen of leverite.” She groaned at the old joke: Leave ’er right there! Elodie had ambitions to be a geologist—or selenologist, or whatever the word is—and the lack of interesting minerals in the rock around Luna City was an ongoing aggravation to her.

Next, we had to move all the rubble to the construction waste airlock, two hundred meters away. So, a hundred meters below the surface of the Moon, in the human race’s first outpost on our long journey to the stars, we loaded the handcarts, brick by brick.

A person can move a couple hundred kilos easily on Earth with a well-balanced handcart; and while the momentum is awkward, half a tonne is a comfortable load on the Moon. Elodie loaded hers a little more lightly, and we set off. As we walked along, I started singing my Lunar Tunneling Song, something I’d made up once to an old tune. Since then I’ve taught it to all my Structural Excavation students.

“Sixteen tonnes of rubble to haul ...”

Elodie joined in:

“For a meter more tunnel going nowhere at all.
Saint Peter take a number, ’cause I won’t be free
Till my contract’s up with the LRC.”

We were on the third verse, halfway to the Construction Airlock, when we pulled over to one wall to let Tim Shaughnessy pass. Tim was another of the downtrodden and undoctorated proletariat of Luna: our hydroponic farmer and, on the rare occasions when one was needed, paramedic.

He grinned when he heard us. “No doubt about it, mate. They should have sent a poet.”

“Damn straight, Tim. Send two. They can haul these garbage cans for us.”

Elodie laughed. Tim punched me on the shoulder, and we moved on.

At the airlock, I swiped my authorization card, while Elodie emptied her cart into the lock. She pulled the lever down halfway, and the inner door closed.

“Now what?” I asked her.

“Now I suck back the air ...” She slapped a blue button: click, hissss. “And flush the lock with oxygen.” Oosssh ... click, hissss. “Seems funny to be using oxygen to wash the lock out.”

“Well, yes; but we can get that from water. It’s the nitrogen we’re short of. Do you know ...”

“Wait till I finish the cycle.” She pulled the lever the rest of the way down. There was a faint crash, conducted through rock rather than air. She lifted the lever again, and the lock reopened, empty, like a rather pointless conjuring trick.

“Okay, Mark, now you can tell me. Why are we short of nitrogen?” She looked carefully at my face. “It’s a common element, isn’t it?”

“Nope.” I tipped my cart in, and half-cycled the lock.

“What? But it’s all over the place on Earth: in the soil, in the atmosphere ...”

“Elodie. Name me three Terrestrial minerals containing nitrogen.” Click. Hissss. “Name one.” Oosssh. Click, hissss ...

She thought for a minute. “Merde!

“That’s not a mineral,” I said, and she snickered. I continued: “Earth’s crust has twenty parts per million of nitrogen. Rarer than yttrium. Nitrogen’s been concentrated in the biosphere by the same things that concentrated carbon. Until we find another source, we’ll have to bring up ammonium nitrate from Earth.” I didn’t mention the rumors going around: the cost of shipping nitrogen might result in a moratorium on new development, with everybody but the researchers getting sent back to Earth. Luna City would revert from a living community to an astronomers’ base camp. There was nothing official yet, but the rumors wouldn’t die. “Hey, want to hear something funny?”


“Last year one of the researchers asked me why we didn’t breathe straight oxygen.”

Oh. Mon Dieu!” She giggled. “Who? No, you won’t tell me, will you? Adult solidarity. But whoever said that wasn’t up here twenty years ago when the recyclers failed. Maman told me they had to do just that for two weeks, two hundred millibars of oxygen. Water boiled at fifty Celsius so the food was terrible, and everybody was cold all the time and got a sick throat.”

“Exactly. And a full atmosphere of pure oxygen’s reaching the toxic level and a fire risk too, so we need nitrogen to dilute it. And Tim needs nitrogen for his hydroponics.”

In three more trips, we had the blocks cleared. Then we did it all over again: sawed, swept, hammered, and hauled. Four hours of work, half-a-meter of new tunnel. We set up the radiant heaters to warm up the new walls so they wouldn’t chill the air in the tunnel, and headed off for lunch, dropping two buckets of rock dust off at the hydroponics room on the way.


When we got to the cafeteria the queue wasn’t too bad. They were serving a thick soup that I knew was made mainly from cultured yeast, but after the morning’s work it smelled wonderful.

We took our places in line behind Natalia Petrovska. Natalia, an astronomer, had been first a doctoral student of Elodie’s mother, then her co-worker. Most of what I knew about her was via Elodie, who hero-worshipped her.

I had my own reasons for being infatuated with Natalia, and trying to get her attention had been my main extracurricular project for some time; but so far the results were near zero.

“Hi, Tascha!” said Elodie.

“Hi, skinny!” Natalia glanced at me, then back to Elodie. “Are you excavating today?”

“That’s right.”

“Have fun. Mark, you take care of her, okay?” She got her tray. “I’m going to eat at my desk, I’ve got a deadline for a research paper. See you both!” She walked away, her blonde braid swinging, syrup-slow, in the low gravity. I turned, reluctantly, back to the counter.

“Hi there, Mark! There’s soup for lunch today.” Andy Wedderburn handed us our trays with an eager smile. “Hi there, Elodie! Are you and Mark making tunnels?”

“Yes, Andy,” she said. “We’re just having lunch while the walls warm up.”

“I like making tunnels. Maybe I can help you and Mark sometime.”

“This afternoon, if you’re free, Andy,” I said. Andy was a few years older than Elodie; he had been one of the first children born on the Moon, and the only one yet with Down’s syndrome. He worked mealtimes at the cafeteria; between meals, he rotated among most of the semiskilled jobs in the colony, and if he was free to haul rocks this afternoon, we’d get an extra layer cut.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mark. I told Tim I’d help him pick his tomatoes when I’m through with lunch.”

“Tomatoes! Are they ready, Andy? I haven’t had a tomato for years! Yes, that’s what needs doing most right now.”

Andy smiled again. “Okay, Mark. I’ll help Tim.”

“What’s tomato like?” Elodie asked. “Real tomato, not the powdered stuff?”

“It’s good,” he said, and laughed. “You’ll like it.”


We ate lunch, walked back to the tunnel, and suited up again. I turned on the vacuum pump, picked up the saw, and prepared to cut. Suddenly there was a flicker in my peripheral vision, and a faint quiver under my feet.

“Mark!” Elodie shouted. “Attention! Au-dessus!

I looked up. Lazily, as if under water, the roof of the tunnel was falling onto me, one big slab and a cloud of little pieces, drifting downward in a loose formation. Dust, and what looked like smoke, jetted between them, starkly lit by the LED lights on the vacuum bulkhead. In the near-vacuum, the dust sprayed like water, not dissipating or slowing until it splashed silently against the walls. And, impossibly, I was hearing it happen, an insistent grumbling and crackling like boulders rolling in a stream.

I stared, transfixed, my Earthborn brain treacherously refusing to interpret the dreamlike slow motion as danger. True, the boulders had comparatively little kinetic energy at that speed; but they had enough momentum to break bones, enough weight to crush.

Elodie slammed into me, knocking me clear of the falling rock. My helmet crashed into the rough surface of the end of the tunnel, and I blacked out.


I pushed myself painfully to my knees, and crawled over to Elodie: the hose was just long enough that I could reach her if I stayed low. She lay like a rag doll, but she was breathing: the slab was supported by other rocks, and though I couldn’t pull her out, it didn’t look as if the rock was crushing her legs. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth. Every so often she seemed to gasp, and more blood flowed. Maybe only a bitten tongue, maybe a broken rib. If one lung was punctured, the other one might collapse at any moment: there was no time to lose. And we were on our own—I would have given every tomato on the Moon to have Andy trundling back towards us with an empty cart.

I found a place where I could grip the slab and tried to move it off her. It rocked a millimeter or so, but would move no further. I looked around to see what resources I had. One of the little sledgehammers and a wedge were within reach, but Diamond-Tooth Gertie, my companion through so many meters of tunnel, was nowhere to be seen, trapped or crushed under the rockfall. Without the saw, or a long lever, I could see no way of getting the rock off Elodie.

I tried to sign but her eyes were closed. Straining against my hose again, I put my helmet to hers and shouted her name. Her eyes opened. “Don’t give up, Elodie!” I called.

Her lips moved, and I listened carefully to the trace of sound passing from her helmet to mine. “Get this off me, Mark! It hurts!”

“I’m going to!” I called.

“Please, Mark! I’m scared.” Her lip quivered, but she didn’t cry.

I gave her a quick hug, then looked around. No, I hadn’t overlooked anything; it was me, a short-handled sledgehammer, a steel wedge, and unlimited chunks of rock, against a Universe that had suddenly stopped giving a damn. All the stuff I really wanted—the door, the emergency switch to kill the vacuum pump and let the air back in, all the other tools—was six meters away, far beyond the range of my shortened air hose. It might as well have been on Neptune.

I tried to lever the rock with the hammer handle, without success. I tried to pound the wedge under the rock and lift it that way: perhaps if I could lift it a centimeter, I could chock it with a pebble and do it again, moving it up a little bit at a time. But the rock didn’t move more than a millimeter. I considered a few wilder ideas. Only one made sense.

I almost wished it didn’t.

I took my air hose, folded it double, and listened. My air supply did not stop entirely, as I had hoped, but died to a faint whisper, too little to breathe. Not good, but it would have to do. I let it straighten and took a few last breaths of the precious stale air. My right hand felt stiff and weak, but I took the wedge and pinned the hose to the floor under the sharp edge. With my left hand, I kinked the hose again, just on my side of the wedge, and awkwardly passed the doubled hose into my right hand. Then I took the hammer in my left hand, said a quick prayer to anybody who might be listening (Saint Peter, take a number!), exhaled hard, and kept my mouth open.

And I cut my air hose with a hand-stinging blow of the hammer.

There was an angry hissing, my ears hurt, and my suit slowly deflated around my body. A thin strand of the tough plastic remained; a second blow freed me. I got painfully to my feet, jaw stretched open to equalize the pressure, and stumbled across the mess of fallen rock towards the door. My skin felt cold, my eyes were dry, and the pain in my ears got worse and worse. I kept a death grip on the folded hose, trying to preserve my last thin breaths. My cheeks tingled with the soda-water tickle of anoxia. Finally I was within reach of the door; I lunged for the red handle, pulled it, and heard the high whistle of air filling the little chamber. At first it was almost inaudible, but as the ambient pressure rose, it grew louder. My suit started to constrict me like a monster in a nightmare. I was still holding the hose kinked. I released it, and one tantalizing puff of fresh cold air gusted against my shoulders as my suit relaxed.

I fumbled with my helmet catches, hoping I could get the thing off before I passed out. Eventually my helmet dropped to the ground, and I stood there, cautiously sipping the bitterly cold air, chilled to deep-freeze temperatures by its expansion through the emergency valve. There was an odd chemical odor that I did not recognize.

When I opened the door, the dry Luna City air felt tropical. I yelled for help; without waiting for a reply, I picked up the two-meter crowbar that I keep for difficult rockbreaking jobs, and took it back to where Elodie lay. Her lips were blue, and the inside of the plastic bubble of her helmet was spattered with blood. I got the crowbar under the edge of the rock, used the wedge as a fulcrum, and pressed down, bracing myself to exert a force two or three times my feeble lunar weight. Eventually the rock started to move. I jammed my end of the crowbar under a protrusion in the wall, and hauled Elodie out from under the rock. Just as I got her feet free, the crowbar came loose and the rock settled slowly, like a cow lying down.

I got her helmet off; she was unconscious, but breathing. With every few breaths she would splutter and spit out a bit more blood. I decided not to move her. “Elodie!” I said. “I’m going for help. If you can hear me, stay right here. Don’t move!”

I opened the door and ran back along the empty tunnel. I found Tim; he got his emergency kit and the stretcher and followed me back. When we got there, Elodie was sitting up, pale and bloody, but cradling a little fragment of pale-green crystal in her gloved hand.

“Look at this, Mark!” she said, excitement lending her a flicker of energy. “A real mineral!”

I looked. Suddenly the crystal began to crackle. She dropped it hastily. A moment later there was a loud sizzle, like gunpowder burning unconfined, and a cloud of white smoke. When it cleared, the crystal had vanished. She stared dazedly at where it had been, and slumped slowly back to the floor: one shock too many.


By the time we got Elodie to the clinic, Dr. Peng was already there. He checked her out, told her she was going to have to take it easy, and called her mother to say he was keeping her overnight for observation.

Then he turned to me. “You’re looking a bit rough yourself, Mark. Step over there to the other room and skin out of that P-suit, OK?” He put his hand on my right arm and I yelped. “Sore, is it?”

Half an hour later, wearing a clean outfit from clinic stores, and with my right arm in a cast and sling, I checked in on Elodie. Her mother was with her; Elodie was sitting up, a blanket around her shoulders, pale but apparently all right. She saw me, smiled, and waved weakly. I didn’t feel ready to try explaining the day’s events to Marguerite, so I just waved from the doorway and limped away.


I slouched in the cafeteria, poking at my yeast patties with a spork. Even the crisp greens and the luscious slices of ripe tomato that Andy had proudly served didn’t give me an appetite.

I looked up. Natalia was walking towards me, looking at my sling and frowning, and my heart sank. “Take care of Elodie,” was the last thing she’d said to me. She was going to be royally pissed off.

She put her tray down, sat beside me and—smiled. “Mark, that was such a brave thing to do, and so resourceful, cutting your air hose! Thank you so much for keeping Elodya safe.” And she kissed me.

When my heart rate had dropped back into the aerobic zone, I tried to straighten the record. “Well, I owed her one. She saved my life first.”

“You’d better tell me everything.” She looked at the sling on my right arm, and the untouched food. “Here, let me help you. Please?” She took my knife and spork and cut up my meal for me, then proceeded to feed me, one bite at a time, like a mother bird. Between mouthfuls I told her the whole story, how Elodie had seen the rockfall before I did and pushed me to safety. I ended up with the thing that had been on my mind ever since.

“Natalia—I, I shouldn’t have let it happen in the first place.”

“Mark, how could you possibly have foreseen that? Do the rocks often explode where you come from?”

“No. Not often.” She had a good point there: Ontario granite is pretty damn stable. Something in my chest loosened for the first time since the rockfall. “But I do have one other confession to make.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m not right-handed.”

She looked at my sling, then at my healthy left arm.

Sukin syn!” she said, slowly, then began to laugh.


“You. Son of a. Bitch,” she said, through her laughter. “You let me think ...” And she doubled over again. I started to laugh too, until I was gasping for breath and, with only lunar gravity to hold me in place, starting to slip off the flimsy chair. She grabbed me to keep me from falling, and we clung together, quaking helplessly. Her cheek was warm against mine, and the fragrance of her skin was such bliss that it seemed a shame that I could hardly breathe for laughter.

“But you never asked,” I whispered in her ear with the last milliliter of air in my aching lungs, and that set her off once more.


An hour later, Natalia left, ten minutes late for her observatory shift. I sat there, replaying the moment of the rockfall in my mind. There was something I still didn’t understand. Something had been giving off a lot of gas, puffing the dust around; and for a while, before the pump evacuated the chamber again, the pressure had been high enough that I could hear the sounds of the rockfall. What could do that? Most mine explosions are caused by methane or flammable dust burning in air. But there hadn’t been any air—to start with, anyhow. Where had that gas come from? And what was it?

Suddenly I got to my feet ... it was just crazy enough to be true. Giving Andy an “I’ll-explain-later” wave, I swiped an insulated plastic coffee cup from the stack by the hot-drink machine, and limped as fast as I could out of the cafeteria and back to the rockfall.

I knew I should be wearing at least an armored surface-mining suit at the site, especially if my theory was correct; but if I’d had one I couldn’t have put it on over my broken arm. I compromised with safety goggles, then clambered painfully over the rock and retrieved my hammer. I chose a big chunk of rock with plenty of the orange staining that Elodie had noticed and I’d ignored, and I hit it as hard as I could with the hammer. After half a dozen blows, a basketball-sized chunk split away. On the exposed face, which was already frosting over, were several geode-like pockets of the green crystals. With a few more taps, I obtained a good hand specimen, and poked it gingerly into the plastic cup.


“What d’ye have there, Mark? And who’ve you been fighting?” asked Norman MacDonald, the colony’s chemist. His eyes moved between my sling and my insulated cup.

“I sort of hoped you could tell me that. By the way, be careful with it. It becomes unstable when it gets warm.”

“And I suppose you learned this by warming it?” He looked meaningfully at the sling.

“Well, I didn’t know. All I saw—well, Elodie did—was a few orange patches on the rock.”

"Mark, this is the Moon, not your parents’ garden back on Earth. We still don’t know all the rules here yet.”

“Okay. But what I want to know is, everything I can think of that’s this touchy has nitrogen in—nitrogen iodide, silver fulminate, lead azide, things like that. How about this one?”

“Nitrogen, you say? That would be—unexpected, to say the least. Well, let’s have a look-see, then.”

He weighed a little fragment carefully, and put it into a heavy closed vessel of some kind of glass, and puffed in a bit of gas from a thin metal straw on the end of a hose. He caught my eye. “Argon. Like vacuum but easier.” He rummaged in a cupboard, took out an infrared heat lamp, and set it up. Almost immediately, the crystal began to fragment and smoke. He chuckled appreciatively, and got to work.

“So, laddie, how did all this happen, then?” he asked. As he worked, I began the story again. How many times was I going to have to tell it? I tried to remember the exact population of Luna City.

Half an hour later he looked at the spectrometer trace and whistled. “Well, I’ll be damned! Not so bad a guess, Mark. That’s nitrogen, all right.”

I whooped and punched the air.

Norman looked at me keenly. “Aye. You know how badly we need nitrogen. Is there enough to make a difference, lad? Is there?”

“There might be, Norman, I just don’t know yet. What is it, anyway?”

“It seems to be a compound of silicon, magnesium, and nitrogen. Just a wee bit unstable above forty below, even in vacuum; in air, the silicon and magnesium end up as oxides, making the reaction a lot more exothermic.”

“What’s it called?”

“I doubt it’ll have a name. There’ll be a systematic chemical name, mind, but you’d need to know where all the bonds were to figure that out, and I can’t do that analysis right now. But I’ll bet good money it won’t be found on Earth; it’s too warm there. So, no geological name. Say, Mark—d’ye want to write this up for Exomineralogy? We’ll bring the lassie in as a coauthor too.”

“Sure, Norman, let’s do that. Think we could get it named elodite or something?” It was pretty poor compensation for what Elodie had been through, but it would make her feel better.

“I would think so. Mineral naming conventions are fairly loose—not like elements. But Mark—from what we’ve seen, I think you’d better get that wee rockpile of yours under vacuum again right now, and put up a keep-your-arse-out sign. Just to be on the safe side?”


Of course, we don’t let the youngsters cut rock on that side of town anymore. But the LRC office found two hard-rock miners with chemistry degrees to be my nitrogen mining team.

It took us a while to figure out how to mine elodite safely. Fortunately, the decomposition in vacuum doesn’t give off much energy, and it’s not set off easily by impact; so, working cold and drilling vent holes before we cut, we’ve had no real problems. And our test holes show there’s tonnes of the stuff—enough to keep Luna City going for a century or more. So we all get to stay.

And that’s good news, because Natalia and I have applied for a two-person residential unit. We move in as soon as I finish excavating it. END

Robert Dawson teaches mathematics at a university in Nova Scotia. He has been published in “AE,” “Nature Futures,” and elsewhere. He is a frequent contributor to “Perihelion.” His last story with us was in the August, 2015, issue.


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