Chapter One: Mare Nubium
Paul Stavenger always spoke those words whenever he stepped out onto the bare dusty surface of the Moon. But this time it was more than a quotation: it was a supplication, a prayer.
Standing at the open hatch of the airlock, he looked through his tinted visor at the bare expanse of emptiness stretching in every direction. Normally the sight calmed him, brought him some measure of peace, but now he tried to fight down the churning ache in his gut. Fear. He had seen men die before, but not like Tinker and Wojo. Killed. Murdered. And he was trying to get me. The poor bastards just happened to be in his way.
Paul stepped out onto the sandy regolith, his boots kick up little clouds of dust that floated lazily in the fight lunar gravity and slowly settled back to the ground.
Got to get away, Paul said to himself. Got to get away from here before the damned bugs get me, too.
Twenty miles separated this underground shelter from the next one. He had to make it on foot. The little rocket hopper *as already a shambles and he couldn't trust the tractor; the nanobugs had already infected it. For all he knew, they were in his suit, too, chewing away at the insulation and the plastic that kept the suit airtight.
Well, he told himself, you'll find out soon enough. One foot in front of the other. I'll make it on foot if I make it at all.
Twenty miles. On foot. And the Sun was coming up.
"Okay, he said, his voice shaky. "If it is to be, it's up me."
The sky was absolutely black, but only a few stars showed through the heavy tint of his helmet's visor. They stared steadily down at Paul, unblinking, solemn as theeyes of god.
Turning slightly as he walked, Paul looked up to see a fat gibbous Earth, blue and gleaming white, hanging in the dark sky. So close. So far. Joanna was waiting for him there. Was Greg trying to kill her, too? The thought sent a fresh pang of fear and anger through him
"Get your butt in gear," he muttered to himself. He headed out across the empty plain, fleeing death one plodding step at a time. With all the self-control he still possessed, he kept himself from running. You've got to cover twenty miles. Pace yourself for the long haul.
His surface suit held the sweaty smell of fear. He had seen two men die out here; it had been sheer luck that the berserk nanomachines hadn't killed him too. How do you know they haven't infested the suit? he asked himself again. Grimly he answered, what difference does it make? If they have, you're already dead.
But the suit seemed to be functioning okay. The real test would come when he stepped across the terminator, out of the night and into the blazing, fury of daylight. Twenty miles in that heat, and if you stop you're dead.
He had calculated it all out in his head as soon as he realized what had happened in the shelter. Twenty miles. The suit's backpack tank held twelve hours of oxygen. No recycling. You've got to cover one and two-thirds miles per hour. make it two miles an hour, give yourself a safety margin.
Two miles an hour for ten hours. You can make that. Sure you can.
But now as he budged across the bleak wilderness of Mare Nubium, he began to wonder. You haven't walked ten hours straight in ... Christ, not since the first time you came up here to the Moon. That was twenty years ago, almost. Twentypissing years. You were a kid then.
Well, you'll have to do it now. Or die. Then Greg wins, He'll have murdered his way to the top.
Even though it was still night, the rugged landscape was not truly dark. Earthglow bathed the rolling, pockmarked ground. Paul could see the rocks strewn across the bare regolith, the rims of craters deep enough to swallow him, the dents of smaller ones that could make him stumble and fall if he wasn't careful.
Nothing but rocks and craters, and the sharp uncompromising slash of the horizon out there, like the edge of the world, the beginning of infinity. Not a blade of grass or a drop, of water. Harsh, bare rock stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction.
Yet Paul had always loved it. Even encased in a bulky, cumbersome surface suit he had always felt free up here on the surface of the Moon, on his own, alone in a universe where he had no problems at all except survival. That's what the Moon gives us, he told himself. Brings it all down to the real quesuon, the only question. Are you going to live or die? Everything else is bullshit. Am I going to live or die?
But then he thought of Joanna again, and he knew that there was more to it. Would she live or die? Was Greg crazy enough to kill her, too? It's more than just me, Paul realized. Even here, a quarter-million miles from Earth and its complications, he was not alone. Even though there was not another living human being -- not another living thing of any kind this side of the mountains that marked the Alphonsus ringwall. Paul knew that other lives depended on him.
Joanna. Mustn't let Greg get to Joanna. Got to stop him.
He stopped, puffing hard. The visor of hishelmet was fogging. A flash of panic surged through him. Have the nanobugs gotten to this suit? He held up his left arm to check the display panel on the suit's forearm, trembling so badly that he had to grasp Ins wrist with his right hand to steady himself enough to read the display. Everything in the green. He tapped the control for the air-circulating fan in his helmet and heard the comforting whine of its speeding up.
Okay, it's still working. The suit's functioning okay. Settle down. Keep moving.
Turning to see how far he'd come from the underground shelter that Greg had turned into a death trap, Paul, was pleased to see that its gray hump of rubble was just about on the horizon Covered a couple of miles already, he told himself.
His boot prints looked bright, almost phosphoresce% against the dark surface of the regolith. In a couple of thousand years they'll turn dark, too; solar ultraviolet tans everything. He almost laughed. Good thing I'm already tanned.