My firm sent every available inspector to investigate the Brandt mansion the moment his lawyers called. Something had gone wrong on his estate on the rim of Tycho, rendering the house a total loss, but he refused to say what happened. It was our responsibility to find out.
I had always wanted to travel into space, to see with my own eyes what Earth looked like from a distance. Unfortunately, I was bad at science and atrocious at math, which narrowed my prospects significantly. Having a solid reputation for discretion and reliability, however, opened up certain other opportunities, which was how I ended up going to the Moon as a claims inspector for the rich and famous. The paperwork was a pain, but the views made up for it. Going up in the shuttle, gliding down the ladder in the EVA suit, watching your feet make contact with the surface of the Moon…even on my seventh mission, I knew it would never get old.
I was partnered with Chen. I paused while we unloaded, unable to look away from Earth. The Pacific was in view, shrouded by thin veils of cloud, fragile and elegant as steam.
The mansion was almost as impressive.
“I think I could fit nine of my house inside that,” Chen commented.
“I don’t even want to know how many of my apartment could squeeze in. Twenty?”
“At least. Plus another five in the garage.”
“Please, it’s not that small. That garage is only four and a half Fox apartments at most.”
Brandt had borrowed the style of the antique British great houses for his mansion, replicating a small three-story palace in space-friendly metals and polymers. The mansion’s windows were triple-paned, triple-reinforced, and equipped with alloy shutters that were designed to close automatically in case of breakage. Instead of a practical tunnel linking the entrance to the garage and shuttle pad, it had an honest-to-God front door and porch, encased in a thirty-foot-tall half-bubble of clear polymer and accessed via an airlock that linked with the rover that brought guests – fully dressed for the party, because who wanted to arrive at a Brandt function in a spacesuit? – from the shuttle pad. Visitors could step out of their car and walk up to the house like they were arriving on a red carpet, except for the constant risk of ruptures, breaches, or implosions.
None of which appeared to have happened here. The house, airlock, everything we could see from the outside looked undamaged.
“Shutters didn’t close,” I pointed out. I could even see a grand piano through one of the ground floor windows.
“Maybe the windows weren’t the problem.”
The exterior inspectors started up their buggy and careened off towards the rear of the estate, where they would inspect the other half-bubble that protected the veranda. We picked up our own gear and headed towards the airlock in easy, gliding leaps. “Forgot how fun it is up here,” I called.
“Eyes on the prize, Faye.”
“What?” I laughed. It wasn’t that funny, but everything became less serious in low gravity, even mysteriously ruined houses. “Who even says that?”
“I overheard West. Whoever figures out the cause is up for a big promotion.”
“In that case, more luck to you.” I took another flying leap, still gazing at the ever-changing swirl of silver and blue. “Promotion means sitting behind a desk all the time, never getting to come up here.”
“Also means less chance of a variety of terrible deaths.”
“You’re no fun.”
Chen keyed the airlock for entry. “After what happened here, how many of these billionaires do you think will stick around?” he pointed out. “This job may not exist in a few years.”
We entered the airlock and I sealed the door behind us. “Then I’m going to enjoy it while I can.”
The exterior guys found it first: dust buildup in the circuits that monitored the veranda’s pressure independent from the house. When they overloaded, it registered as a pressure loss, and the bubble compensated by drawing oxygen from the house. It happened gradually, giving Brandt time to evacuate and concoct some story to hide the fact that he’d broken his multi-billion dollar estate due to crummy maintenance.
West dealt with Brandt’s lawyers while Chen and I began the paperwork. He obviously pined for the promotion, but I was relieved. I barely registered the papers through my waking-dream memory of the empty mansion and the sunlit, ephemeral marble of Earth beyond it.