From my story “Rainy Days and Moon Days” available on Amazon:
Jeff skidded to a stop the next day at the number twenty-seven airlock. The rest of the group already waited, suited and helmeted.
“Mr. Brannock, how good of you to join us.” His teacher, Shazhad Patrick scowled at him. Jeff completed most of his classes on computer but lab and other “practical” classes called for an actual teacher. Jeff rather liked Mr. Patrick although he would never admit it out loud.
The shower unit in the family apartment had gone wild, alternating freezing and scalding water in erratic bursts. He’d needed time to find the faulty valve actuator and lock it down. Not a perfect fix, but enough for a shower only slightly chilly. Between that and running to the robing room to get into his suit meant he was already late to class. “I’m ready to go, sir.”
“Are you?” Mr. Patrick shook his head. “It doesn’t seem so. Where’s your helmet, Mr. Brannock?”
Jeff held it up. “Uh, right here?”
“In your hands?” Mr. Patrick sighed. “I’m sure it does you a great deal of good there, Mr. Brannock. But would it not, perhaps, do you a bit more good on your head?”
“Yes, sir!” Jeff set about securing the helmet to his suit’s neck ring. Mr. Patrick always managed to rattle him. Still, Jeff knew what Mr. Patrick was doing. The work they did on the Moon had to be done right every time even when tired, afraid, or under stress. And so, Mr. Patrick picked at Jeff, trying to frustrate or confuse him.
Knowing why didn’t make it any easier to handle. And knowing that Mr. Patrick could kill his grade–he wouldn’t without cause, but he could–and with it his chance of getting into college, made the fear all too real.
While Jeff secured his helmet and ran the series of tests that ensured his suit was tight and ready to venture outside, Mr. Patrick donned his own.
“Today,” Mr. Patrick said via the suit radio. “We’ll be doing a bit of real work. You’ve all studied the theory of explosive excavation and at least passed the written…Mr. Brannock, did I say something funny?”
“No, sir,” Jeff said. He had not laughed, giggled, or even hiccuped. He put down the comment to another attempt by Mr. Patrick to get under his skin.
“Good, Mr. Brannock. Now, as I was saying, You have all at least passed the written test.” Jeff knew that he had aced it. “Are there any questions?”
One of the other suited figures–Cody, by the name tag on the suit–raised his hand. Jeff could see the cocky grin on Cody’s face inside the helmet.
“Yes, Mr. Cunningham.”
“Why?” Cody said.
“Machines do all the real work. Drilling boreholes, placing charges for the shot, setting them off, that’s all automated,” Cody’s wave took in the entire construction site. “Why do we have to do it by hand?”
“Because, Mr. Cunningham, these machines occasionally go awry. Someone has to see when that happens, preferably before a shot blows up something you don’t want blown up. If you take the Selenian Engineering Course in college, should any of you make it that far, you will make thousands of shots before you are deemed fit to supervise excavation machinery. You will, at least, have a basic familiarity before you pass my course. Is that understood, Mr. Cunningham?”
Jeff grinned, glad that the heat was on someone else for a change.
Four hours and three shots later, Jeff rode the slidewalk to his family’s apartment. He had just enough time for a quick shower and to swap tanks before his shift at the solar farm.
Silence greeted him as he opened the door. A message hovered in the Tri-vid. “Dinner out with Dad. Don’t wait up.”
Jeff chuckled as he stripped out of his suit. He hung the suit for a quick disinfecting and deodorizing mist in his room, planning to take it to the robing room later. He climbed into the shower. At least with efficient recycling they did not have to skimp on water.
A few minutes later, clean and dry, he stepped out of the shower. The suit still needed some time to complete the deodorizing cycle so Jeff sat at his computer and checked his messages. A teasing message from Cody about the “attention” Jeff kept receiving from their instructor. A plea from Ginnie for help with the differential equations lesson. Jeff found himself grinning as he read her message. One message from the ad server reporting that three hundred sixty-two people had seen his announcement of the found data stick.
Jeff deleted Cody’s message, saved Ginnie’s for later, and left the auto reply in the queue. By the time he had finished, the suit had completed its disinfection cycle. He wriggled into it. The suit felt clammy from the mist, but at least it did not stink. Jeff pulled a fresh set of bottles from storage and shackled them to the back of the suit. He grabbed his helmet and dashed out the door.
At the robing room, Jeff secured his helmet, then punched his code into the shift clock. Just in time. As he stepped into the airlock, the scheduling computer linked with his suit computer and gave him his assignment for the day. He viewed the map in his helmet display and scowled. That was a lot of panels for a single two-hour shift. He broadened the map display. Oh. The section of panels was the one nearest the excavation practicum. He guessed that scheduling figured if he messed it up, he should help clean it up.
“Sea of Rains, huh,” he said as the outer airlock door opened. “Maybe if it’s raining dust.”
“Crewman Brannock, what was that?”
Jeff winced. “Sorry. Personal comment, not intended for broadcast.”
“Sure, kid,” the voice from EVA Ops said. “Please maintain comm discipline.”
Jeff tilted his head forward and thrust his chin out to work the transmitter switch in his helmet. Once he heard it click into the “off” position he said, “Sure, whatever.”
A rack outside the lock held discharge brushes. Another held extensions. Jeff grabbed three extensions and shoved them into the thigh pocket of his suit. He then took one of the brushes and set off in the direction of his assignment.
His long, loping strides, a technique called a “moon trot” carried him around a stack of air return pipes, big half-meter diameter ferrocement tubes, for the next stage of expansion of the construction station. He rounded it and paused while he looked ahead to spot the section of solar panel that was his goal.
In the vacuum of the moon he did not hear the strap break. His first warning was the stack of pipes shifting a moment before it began to collapse. For a moment, Jeff froze, then he turned and ran.
At least, that was his intention. He pushed a little too hard and his foot slid out from under him. He landed on one knee, prepared to spring to his feet and continue but the lowest of the pipes, squirted out by the weight of those on top of it, caught him in the small of the back and knocked him to the ground. His head snapped forward as he hit the ground, pain bursting through his nose as it struck the faceplate of his helmet. For an instant, he saw red spattered on that faceplate before the falling weight pinned him face-down into the regolith, leaving him in blackness. The pipes slammed repeatedly into his back as the stack continued its slow collapse.
Eventually, the pounding stopped. A pipe lay across Jeff’s legs. His left ankle blazed with pain, his left foot twisted back. Something pressed his helmet into the regolith and pinned his left arm. He could move his right, in the gap, he guessed, between two pipes.
Jeff lifted his head to look at the instruments in his helmet. Static roared in his ears. He mentally put that aside for later as he mentally ran through the emergency checklist. First, air consumption. Normal. Well, a bit high, but normal for the way he was gasping. Not so high as to indicate any major leaks in his suit.
Temperature? Holding steady. Even with the radiators covered conduction through the pipe and ground appeared to be sufficient to carry heat away. Power? Usage was high, probably from the heating elements but power would last longer than air.
Something wet dripped from his nose, reminding him that his face hurt too, although not as badly as his ankle. He tried moving his left hand. He could only manage wigging his fingers.
He worked his jaw. No pain. Well, no new pain. He thrust his jaw out and worked the chin switch for the radio. “Man down! Man down!”
Jeff drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It’s okay,” he said softly to himself. “I’ve got fresh tanks. That’s eight hours.” He glanced at his tank gauge. “Six hours?” He looked at the chronometer. Two hours had passed. Sometime during his self-inventory he must have passed out.
“I’m sure it won’t be long,” he told himself firmly. “I’m overdue. Somebody will check. They’ll find the fallen pipes.”
Fumbling blindly, he felt with his right hand for the pipepipe pinning his helmet. He shoved against it, trying to squirm backward, trying to push himself into the gap between the pipe sitting on his helmet, and the one across his legs. Pain flared in his left ankle. He managed to wiggle slightly in his suit, but the suit held fast.
He swore and let his arm fall. His ankle throbbed.
“Somebody will be along. They’ll check the fallen stack. They’ll get me out of here.” He licked his lips. His nose still dripped. Could you bleed to death from a bloody nose?
Jeff let his head sag forward, then picked it up again as his cheek touched the sticky wetness on the inside of his faceplate. Then he sighed and lowered his head again. Even in lunar gravity he could not hold his head up forever. Well, not forever. Just up to six hours. After more than six hours it would not matter any more since he would be dead.
He licked at his lip. Blood still trickled from his nose. He could not tell how much blood he was losing except the puddle on his faceplate wasn’t too deep. He didn’t think he would drown, or bleed to death. No, running out of air was his biggest worry.
For now, he could do nothing. He closed his eyes and settled in to wait.
Jeff Bannock, while working his after school job at a construction outpost on the moon, merely wants to graduate and head to college. But a casual find of an obsolete memory chip leads to more danger than he ever bargained for.