Crater Trueblood has to rescue his ex-girlfriend . . . and the entire human race.
Maria Medaris is the 21-year-old matriarch of the most powerful family on the moon—gorgeous, powerful, and high-maintenance. When she is kidnapped by green-lipped, gene-splicing scientists, Maria’s only hope turns out to be the very man she once spurned: Crater Trueblood.
Crater and the Lunar Rescue Company must rescue Maria before she joins forces with the lunatics who have taken her hostage and aim to make her queen.
Turns out more than Maria is at stake: the planet Earth, majestically rising over the lunar horizon, is in the crosshairs of an asteroid engineered by Maria’s abductors. If Crater can’t stop it, humanity on Earth will be destroyed.
The fate of two worlds hangs in the balance . . . and the clock is ticking.
“Hickam again displays a knack for suspenseful scenes out in the ‘big suck’ of space . . .” —KIRKUS Reviews
“An exciting romp through a surprisingly realistic future.” —JASPER T. SCOTT, author of the Dark Space series
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CRATER TRUEBLOOD AND THE LUNAR RESCUE COMPANY
A HELIUM-3 NOVEL BOOK THREE
By HOMER HICKAM
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Homer Hickam
All rights reserved.
Beneath the vast Michael Collins Dome in Armstrong City, Medaris Enterprises guards held back curious pedestrians as Dr. Maria Medaris strode purposefully from her corporate headquarters building and into the backseat of a black limobug, her assistant Miss Torricelli settling in beside her. Maria was a glamorous celebrity, often appearing on lunar and Earthian business shows as well as slick fashion putersites. She was also an executive who led companies that employed thousands of lunar settlers. It was said she had the golden touch when it came to business because every enterprise she commanded was profitable and growing. It was also said, this by the gossipmongers, that this raven-haired young woman was cold and aloof, for no recent suitor—among them the wealthiest and most eligible bachelors on the Earth and the moon—ever came close to winning her hand. There were also rumors of a lost love, a common Helium-3 miner who'd since disappeared somewhere in the wayback. But if he had ever existed, he'd been out of Maria Medaris's life for years and was therefore of no interest to the columnists and bloggers on the society pages of two worlds.
A broken heart can explain many things in a woman, but first a heart must exist, and there was some doubt by the writers who sold copy about her that Dr. Medaris had anything other than the muscle that pumped blood in her chest. Had these scribblers cared to delve deeper into their subject, they would have discovered her lofty poise was entirely a ruse. Every day Maria awoke thinking of that Helium-3 miner out there in the dust and despaired, because even as she commanded others to do her bidding, she felt quite lost without him. Although her expression was outwardly serene as the lunaparazzi clicked away, she was in fact inwardly sad, romantically bewildered, and tired to the marrow of her bones. She had already put in a fourteen-hour workday and it was still far from over. And when she awoke the next morning, she knew the heel-3 miner she adored would not be by her side and the reason he would not be there was entirely her fault. "How many?" Maria wearily asked her assistant while struggling to push the man from her mind. He was always there, but stronger when she was tired and unable to fight him off.
"Fourteen decision papers."
"Virgil, let's go," Maria commanded the driver, then subsided into the plush faux leather seat as the limobug eased into the traffic flow, leaving the running photographers behind. "All right, Teresa," she directed. "Put them up."
As the chauffeur weaved them through the traffic of fast-bugs and dust trucks and limobugs along mooncrete roads lined by bright orange streetlights, Miss Torricelli drew rectangles in the air, describing each document that appeared. "Approved," Maria said, or "Disapproved," or "Save for more study," and her assistant dutifully touched the shimmering rectangle, whipping it back inside her workpad.
After passing through the J. R. Thompson Tunnel connecting the Michael Collins Dome with the Neil Armstrong Dome, the limobug turned to the southwest toward the various private skyports that serviced the moon's largest city. When Miss Torricelli noticed a small sigh that escaped Maria's lips, she said, "Just a few more to go, Dr. Medaris."
Maria did her best to focus on the floating contract. "Disapproved," she said. "I think we can get a better price. Tell purchasing to ask for a ten percent discount and to let this company know that if we don't get it, we'll jump to their competition. And keep going. If I don't make these decisions now, I'll just have to do them later."
"Yes, ma'am," Miss Torricelli said and drew the rectangle for the next decision paper to hang in the air.
When they reached the Medaris Enterprises Jumpcar Facility, Maria made a decision on the final document, then climbed out, took the kitbag handed her by the driver, and walked into the hangar where her private jumpcar waited on a mobile launchpad. Her day had begun in Armstrong City but was going to end at Clyde's Dream, a chaotic boomtown located in the brownish-gray dust of the Moscow Sea on the farside of the moon. She would spend the night there before inspecting the giant new telescope her company was building.
Tall and elegant, Maria was dressed in a military-style jacket over a chic jumpsuit of clinging lunacell fabric, all in the latest fashion color of Earth Sky Blue, a color sorely missed on the moon. She had also tucked her shapely legs into a pair of unfashionable ersatz leather flight boots. Although fashion was important to Maria, jumpcars could get chilly and she didn't care for cold toes during flight. As she came through the entry hatch, she nodded to Jack Nguyen, her pilot and a scar-faced veteran of the recent war. "Would you like to fly her, Dr. Medaris?" he asked.
Maria's fatigue and sadness instantly evaporated. She loved flying jumpcars, and she was good at it, too, best demonstrated during the war when she'd not only outflown but managed to cripple an armed-to-the-gills Earthian warpod intent on shooting her little jumpcar down. As Nguyen slipped over into the copilot's seat, she eagerly climbed into the cockpit. "Hatches sealed, Jack?" she asked.
"All sealed, ma'am. She's ready to go."
"Medaris hangar, take us out," Maria said to the ground crew.
The first set of hangar doors slid open and the jumpcar pad slowly rolled along a track into an interim chamber, the doors closing behind and sealing it off. Pumps were engaged to drain the air into pressurized tanks for reuse, followed by the outer doors opening to the vacuum of the moon. The pad trundled through the doors to its designated launching position. Once poised for liftoff, spotlights focused on the ship while streams of vaporized liquid propellant vented from its three engines.
"Armstrong Control," Maria called, "Medaris One Alpha on the pad. Flight plan zero four seven alpha kilo zulu. Trajectory is standard northeast vector along the farside corridor. Destination Clyde's Dream."
"Roger, Medaris One Alpha, you are cleared for transit."
"Ready, Jack?" Maria asked.
"Full throttle up," the pilot responded, his eyes on the sky brilliantly awash with stars only partly obscured by the lights and fuel vapors.
An eager smile formed on Maria's face. All business and thoughts of old and lost loves were set aside. It was time to fly! "Puter, autopilot off. I'll take her all the way. On my mark for launch. Five-four-three-two-one-mark!"
The jumpcar's trio of engines burst into action and it soared atop their flames into the sky, then transitioned along a ballistic arc, its tail kept constantly pointed at the lunar surface. Maria kept her eye on the trajectory displayed on the puter while moving the joystick to stay precisely on the curve. "Wish I could wring her out," Maria said regretfully.
"Just give me a call anytime," the pilot replied, "and I'll have her ready to go as far and as fast as you care to fly her."
"Thanks, Jack. I appreciate it."
"I appreciate the job you gave me," he answered. "Not many wanted me, messed up as I was after the war."
Maria made no reply. She didn't have to. There were a lot of so-called "messed-up" veterans after the vicious war between the moon and the Earth, and she made it her policy to hire them when she could. Experience had shown that all they needed was a job that allowed them to be useful, and, anyway, veterans were the best employees around. In fact, Maria was one herself, having gotten more than a whiff of the war while fighting with the irregulars in the dust and later the fuser fleet in the sky. It had been a nasty conflict and there had been no winner, although it had been concluded by a truce begged for by an exhausted Earth tired of fighting a bunch of recalcitrant Lunarians who simply refused to give up. Maria was proud of how the moon had fought back, although the dead and the maimed of the conflict called out to her. She knew it also concerned her grandfather, the truly great Colonel Medaris, who had told her that he intended to "fix it so that war would never return to the moon." How he was going to do that, Maria didn't know, but whatever it was, she knew it would be in the grand style of the Colonel who rarely did anything in a small way.
A little less than ten minutes after liftoff, Maria piloted the jumpcar to a smooth landing on her reserved pad at Clyde's Dream. There was no dome over the town. Except for the jumpcar hangar and a few out buildings, everything was built underground. A dust truck pulled the jumpcar into the hangar, and after one atmosphere was established, Maria went through the postflight checklist, then nodded her gratitude to the pilot and climbed out of the hatch and down the ladder to the hangar floor. After processing through the primary dustlock into the underground network of living tubes and administrative offices, she went straight to the tube reserved for her living quarters, meaning to have dinner (which Miss Torricelli had preordered), answer any urgent emails, and go to bed.
Maria's quarters were small but functional, a single tube with a plaston partition between a combination kitchen/living room and the bedroom with its adjoining bathroom. She tossed her kit on her narrow bunk, shrugged off her jacket, and opened one of its pockets to let her gillie out. The clump of intelligent slime mold was asleep, so she shook it onto the bed, then took it in the palm of her hand and placed it on the bedside table. The mass of gray cells did not move, which was fine with Maria since she had no questions for it to answer. Gillies also tended to be unhappy if they were awakened from a sound sleep, and Maria was in no mood to contend with a cranky, sarcastic gillie who was, after all, one of the toughest, smartest biological computers yet devised, although that hadn't saved them when their creators realized the monsters they had created.
Now there were only two gillies left: Maria's and the one belonging to the Helium-3 miner who'd captured her heart, a man named Crater Trueblood. All the rest of the gillies, which had numbered in the thousands, had been destroyed because of their ability to hack any puter, their general sneakiness, their ability to kill, and their willingness to use all their powers to help their owners whether they wanted help or not.
Maria contemplated the dozing gillie and recalled how it was she came to own it. Crater's gillie had belonged to his parents, who'd died in a jumpcar crash. As a boy, he hadn't realized what it was but had kept it as a keepsake tucked away in a drawer in his bedroom. When he was twelve and started working as a Helium-3 miner, the gillie had suddenly come awake and told him to take it out of the drawer and keep it with him, while promising to keep Crater safe on the often deadly scrapes. Only then did Crater become aware of his gillie's full powers. Maria's gillie was the offspring of Crater's, delivered up during their wild escape across the moon from pursuing crowhoppers. When Maria had left Crater, she'd taken the baby gillie with her, and now, as far as she knew, it was fully grown. The only thing she knew for sure about the gillie was that it was illegal, but it knew that. She also liked its reputation of always being completely, utterly, and totally on the side of its owner, no matter what. For that reason, she was willing to ignore its illegality, its general sneakiness, its ability to wantonly kill anyone it deemed a threat to its owner, and its often sarcastic commentary. Also, the truth was, she liked having it because it was her only direct connection to Crater Trueblood, whatever had become of the man. After she'd left him, she'd deliberately made no attempt to find out where he was. She assumed he wanted it that way.
A knock on her hatch announced the arrival of dinner. Carrying a biovat-derived salad on a tray, the attendant proved to be someone Maria knew, an App named Durwood Hale. After the Earthian Appalachian Mountains had been fenced off into a national park, its residents—called Apps—had been expelled, many of them moving to the moon and settling in the little town beside Adolphus Crater named Endless Dust, there to mine Helium-3 and Thorium along with other minerals. Maria, running with Crater from enemy troops during the late war, had lived in the remote village for many months. Delighted to see someone she'd known during that time, she put down her workpad and stood to greet him. "Durwood, how good to see you."
The App placed the tray on her desk, started to put out his hand, then caught himself and bowed. Although Apps still maintained the tradition of a handshake, it was now considered an old-fashioned gesture. A modified Japanese bow was the modern and polite greeting for most humans on the Earth and the moon.
"Hello there, Dr. Medaris," he said. "I grabbed the tray when I saw it was your order. I hope you're well."
"Quite well, but what are you doing here?"
"There's more than a few of us Apps here from the Dust, ma'am, come to work on your telescope. We're sendin' the money back to our families."
Durwood's answer pleased Maria. She'd worked hard to see that the wages for her telescope workers were robust, since it was her strong belief that quality work was usually best accomplished by employees who were both fairly paid and firmly managed. "How are things at Endless Dust?" she asked. "I'm sorry, but I haven't kept up."
Durwood's face fairly glowed at the mention of his town. "Real good, Miss Medaris, thank ya for askin'. They opened up a new scrape and got some new separators for the Thorium. Guess you heard about Crater's leg."
Such casual mention of Crater caught Maria by surprise. "Crater? What's this about his leg?" A flutter of worry beat in her chest.
Durwood took on a sheepish look. "Sorry, ma'am. I figured you already knew. A shuttle car turned over on him. Busted up his leg pretty good. They shipped him off to Cleomedes for surgery and rehab and he never came back. Heard he started his own company over there, something to do with rescuing folks. Not sure what it's all about, but I know Crescent went with him. That crowhopper girl looked kinda rough, but once you got to know her, she was sorta sweet. Wherever Crater went, she was sure to go. Sorry if that sounds like gossip."
Maria tried to act nonchalant. "Well, thank you for filling me in, Durwood." She tapped a generous tip into her workpad and waved it toward his workpad, instantly transferring the money across.
Durwood bowed again. "Thank you, ma'am. Hope you enjoy your meal. Just leave the tray outside your hatch. I'll pick it up later."
When the hatch closed behind the App, Maria, feeling flustered by news of Crater, sat back in her chair. Even though his absence saddened her, the flip side of that emotion was anger. After all, he'd had his chance with her, actually several chances, and messed them all up. Or maybe it was Maria who'd messed them up. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Who was at fault didn't really matter. The point was they were always going to be messed up. Still, she recalled him kissing her that first time, at least the first time when they weren't wearing space helmets, and how his lips felt against hers, and how he drew her in with his powerful miner's arms ...
Maria flung the memory from her mind. The problem with Crater Trueblood was he was deeply flawed. True, he was attractive, that is, if a girl liked the wholesome country bumpkin type, with long, sandy hair and blue-gray eyes that could see right through you and broad shoulders, muscled arms, strong hands, and ... Well, those physical things shouldn't matter, not to a woman like Maria, should they? After all, she was on a trajectory to the top of the Medaris family empire. And how could she marry someone like Crater, who didn't care anything about either corporate business or money? A man like that would only hold her back, and she was well rid of him.
Excerpted from CRATER TRUEBLOOD AND THE LUNAR RESCUE COMPANY by HOMER HICKAM. Copyright © 2014 Homer Hickam. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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