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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

New Frontiers

A Collection of Tales About the Past, the Present, and the Future

Ben Bova

Tor Books

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

SAM BELOW PAR



"A GOLF COURSE?" I asked, incredulous. "Here on the Moon?"

"Yeah," said Sam Gunn. "Why not?"

"You mean … outside?"

"Why not?" he repeated.

"It's crazy, that's why not!" I said.

We were standing at the far end of Selene's Grand Plaza, gazing through the sweeping glassteel windows that looked out on the harsh beauty of Alphonsus Crater's dusty, pockmarked floor. Off to our left ran the worn, slumped mountains of the ringwall, smoothed by billions of years of micrometeors sanding them down. A little further, the abrupt slash of the horizon, uncomfortably close compared to Earth. Beyond that unforgiving line was the blackness of infinite space, blazing with billions of stars.

The Grand Plaza was the only open area of greenspace on the Moon, beneath a vaulted dome of lunar concrete. Trees, flowers, an outdoor bistro, even an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a thirty-meter-high diving platform. The Plaza was a delightful relief from Selene's gray tunnels and underground living and working areas.

"Why not build a course under a dome?" I asked. "That'd be a lot easier."

"You'd need an awful big dome," said Sam. "More than ten kilometers long."

"Yeah, but—"

"No dome. Outside, in the open."

"You can't play golf out there," I said, jabbing a finger toward the emptiness on the other side of the window.

Sam gave me that famous lopsided grin of his. "Sure you could. It'd be a big attraction."

"A golf course," I grumbled. "On the Moon. Out there in the middle of Alphonsus."

"Not there," Sam said. "Over at Hell Crater, where my entertainment center is."

"So this is why you brought me up here."

"That's why, Charlie," Sam replied, still grinning.

I had heard of Sam Gunn and his wild schemes for most of my life. He'd made more fortunes than the whole New York Stock Exchange, they say, and lost—or gave away—almost all of them. He was always working on a new angle, some new scheme aimed at making himself rich.

But a golf course? On the Moon? Outside on the airless, barren surface?

Sam is a stumpy little guy with a round, gap-toothed face that some have compared to a jack-o'-lantern. Wiry, rust-red thatch of hair. Freckles across his stub of a nose. Nobody seems to know how old he really is: different data banks give you different guesses. He has a reputation as a womanizer, and a chap who would cut corners or pick pockets or commit out-and-out fraud to make his schemes work. He was always battling the Big Boys: the corporate suits, government bureaucrats, the rich and powerful.

I was definitely not one of those. I once had designed some of the poshest golf courses on Earth, but now I was a disgraced fugitive from justice, hounded by lawyers, an ex-wife, two women who claimed I'd fathered their children (both claims untrue), and the Singapore police's morality squad. Sam had shown up in Singapore one jump ahead of the cops and whisked me to Selene on his corporate rocket. S. Gunn Enterprises, Unlimited. I didn't ask why, I was just glad to get away.

I had spent the flight to Selene trying to explain to Sam that the charges against me were all false, all part of a scheme by my ex-wife, who just happened to be the daughter of the head of Singapore's government. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned—or her mother.

Sam listened sympathetically to me during the whole flight.

"Your only crime," he said at last, "was marrying a woman who was wrong for you." Before I could think of a reply, Sam added, "Like most of them are, Charlie."

My family name happens to be Chang. To Sam, that meant my first name must be Charlie. From somebody else, I'd resent that as racism. But from Sam it was almost … well, kind of friendly.

As soon as we landed at Selene Sam bought me a pair of weighted boots, so I wouldn't trip all over myself in the low lunar gravity. Then he took me to lunch at the outdoor bistro in the middle of the Grand Plaza's carefully cultivated greenery.

"Your legal troubles are over, Charlie," Sam told me, "as long as you stay at Selene. No extradition agreement with Earthside governments."

"But I'm not a citizen of Selene," I objected.

His grin widening until he actually did look like a gap-toothed jack-o'-lantern, Sam blithely replied, "Doesn't matter. I got you a work permit and Selene's granted you a temporary visa."

I realized what Sam was telling me. I was safe on the Moon—as long as I worked for S. Gunn Enterprises, Unlimited.

After lunch Sam took me for a walk down the length of the Grand Plaza, through the lovingly tended begonias and azaleas and peonies along the winding paths that led to the windows. I walked very carefully; the weighted boots helped.

"We can do it, Charlie," Sam said as we stood at the glassteel windows.

"A golf course."

"It'll be terrific."

"Out there," I muttered, staring at the barren lunar ground. "A golf course."

"It's been done before," Sam said, fidgeting a little. "Alan Shepard whacked a golf ball during the Apollo 14 mission, over at Frau Mauro." He waved a hand roughly northwestward. "Hit it over the horizon, by damn."

"Sam," I corrected, "the ball only traveled a few yards."

"Whatever," said Sam, with that impish smirk of his.

I shook my head.

"Hey, there are unusual golf courses on Earth, you know," Sam said. "Like the old Hyatt Britannia in the Cayman Islands. I played that course! Blind shots, overwater shots—"

"They've got air to breathe," I said.

"Well, what about the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club in Yunnan, China? Ten thousand feet high! You practically need an oxygen mask."

"But not a spacesuit."

"And the Legends Golf and Safari Resort in South Africa, with that nineteenth hole on top of that fifteen-hundred-foot mountain. The ball takes thirty seconds to drop down onto the green!"

"A par three," I murmured, remembering the course.

"I birdied it," Sam said gleefully.

If there's one thing Sam Gunn can do, it's talk. He wheedled, he coaxed, he weaved a web of words about how we would be bringing the joys of golf to this bleak and dreary world of the Moon. Plus lots of golf-playing tourists to his entertainment center.

Not once did he mention that if I didn't go to work for him I'd be forced to return to Singapore. He didn't have to.

* * *

SO, OF COURSE, I went to work for Sam. Had I known how shaky the company's finances were, I—well, to be perfectly truthful, I would've gone to work for Sam anyway. The man has a way about him. And there was that phalanx of police detectives and lawyers waiting for me back in Singapore. Plus an angry ex-wife and her angrier mother.

Sam had built what he euphemistically called an entertainment complex at Hell Crater, a couple of hundred kilometers south of Selene. The thirty-klick-wide crater was named after a nineteenth-century Austrian Jesuit priest who was an astronomer, Maximilian Hell, but in Sam's impish eyes it was an ideal spot for a lunar Sin City. He built a gambling casino, a dinner club called Dante's Inferno (staffed by Hell's Belles, no less), gaming arcades, virtual reality simulations, the works, all beneath a sturdy concrete dome that protected the interior from micrometeors and the harsh radiation streaming in from the Sun and stars.

Underground, Sam had built the first-class Paradise Hotel and shopping mall, plus an ultramodern medical facility that specialized in rejuvenation therapies.

Apparently Sam had financed the complex with money he had somehow crowbarred out of Rockledge Corporation; don't ask me how.

Anyway, his latest idea was to build a golf course out on the floor of Hell Crater, a new attraction to draw customers to the complex. As if gambling and high-class prostitution weren't enough.

"How do you get away with it?" I asked Sam my first night in Hell, as we sat for dinner in Dante's Inferno. The waitresses were knockouts, the entertainers dancing up on the stage were even more spectacular.

"Get away with what?" Sam asked, all freckle-faced innocence.

I waved a hand at the exotic dancers writhing on the stage. "Gambling. Women. I imagine there's a good deal of narcotics moving around here, too."

With a careless shrug, Sam told me, "All perfectly legal, Charlie. At least, nobody's written any laws against it. This ain't Kansas, Toto. Or Singapore. The New Morality hasn't reached the Moon." Then he grinned and added, "Thank God!"

Truth to tell, I was temped by one of Hell's Belles, a gorgeous young blonde with the deep-bosomed body of a seductress and the wide, cornflower blue eyes of a naïf. But I didn't act on my urges. Not then.

I got to work, instead.

Designing a golf course takes a combination of skills. The job is part landscape architecture, part golfing know-how, part artistry.

The first thing I did was wriggle into a spacesuit and walk the ground where the course was to be laid out. The floor of Hell Crater was pretty flat, but when I examined the area closely, I found that the ground undulated ever so slightly, sort of like the surface of a rippling pond that's been frozen solid. Good, I thought: this would present some interesting lies and challenges for putting.

There were plenty of challenges for me, let me tell you. The Moon's gravity is only one sixth of Earth's, and the surface is airless, both of which mean that a golf ball should fly much farther when hit than it would on Earth. But how much farther? Sam provided physicists and engineers from the faculty of Selene University to work with me as consultants.

The key to the distance factor, we soon found, was the spacesuits that the golfers would have to wear. When Alan Shepard hit his golf ball, back in the old Apollo days, he had to swing with only one arm. His spacesuit was too stiff for him to use both arms. Spacesuit designs had improved considerably over the past century, but they still tended to stiffen up when you pressurized them with air.

Then there was the problem of the Moon's surface itself. The whole darned place was one big sand trap. Walking on the Moon is like walking on a beach on Earth. Sandy. For eons dust-mote-sized micrometeors have been falling out of the sky, hitting the ground and churning its topmost layer into the consistency of beach sand.

I tried some putting tests. I tapped a golf ball. It rolled a few centimeters and stopped dead. I nudged it harder, but it didn't go more than about a meter.

"We'll have to smooth out the ground, Sam," I said. "The greens, the areas around the cups. So the players can make some reasonable putts."

"Okay," he answered cheerfully. "Plasma torches ought to do the job."

"Plasma torches?"

"Yep. They'll bake the ground to a nice, firm consistency."

I nodded.

"And once you've got it the way you want it, paint the areas green," Sam said.

I laughed. "Not a bad idea."

There was another angle to the distance problem. The greens had to be so far from the tees that some of the cups were over the damned short horizon. You wouldn't be able to see the pin when you were teeing up.

Sam solved that one in the blink of an eye. "Make the pins tall enough to be seen from the tees, that's all. Put lights on their tops so they're easily visible."

I nodded sheepishly. I should have thought of that myself.

The ground was also littered with lots of rocks and pockmarked with little craterlets and even sinuous cracks in the ground that the scientists called rilles. More than once I tripped on a stone and went sprawling. I found, though, that in the Moon's gentle gravity I tumbled so slowly that I could put out my arms, brake my fall, and push myself back up to a standing position.

Cool. I could be an Olympic gymnast, on the Moon.

But I had to tell Sam, "We'll have to clear away a lot of those rocks and maybe fill in the rilles and craterlets."

He scowled at me. "Golf courses have roughs, Charlie. Our course will be Hell for them." Then he broke into a grin and added, "At least we won't have any trees or deep grass."

"Sam, if we make it too rough, people won't play. It'll be too tough for them."

He just shrugged and told me to figure it out. "Don't make it too easy for them. I want the world's best golfers to come here and be challenged."

I nodded and thought that trying to play golf in a spacesuit would be challenge enough, with or without the rough.

I didn't realize that when Sam said he wanted to invite the world's best golfers to Hell, he intended to include the woman who wrecked my life. The woman I loved.

* * *

HER NAME WAS Mai Pohan. We had known each other since kindergarten, back in Singapore. She was a slim, serious slip of a young woman, as graceful and beautiful as an orchid. But with the heart and strength of a lioness. Small though she was, Mai Pohan became a champion golfer, a world-renowned athlete. To me, though, she was simply the most beautiful woman in the world. Lovely almond-shaped eyes so deeply brown I could get lost in them. And I did.

But then my parents exploded all my dreams by announcing they had arranged for me to marry the daughter of Singapore's prime minister, who was known in the newsnets as "the dragon lady." And worse. I was flabbergasted.

"This is a great honor for our family," my father said proudly. He didn't know that I was hopelessly in love with Mai Pohan; no one knew, not even she.

For a designer of golf courses—a kind of civil engineer, nothing more—to be allied to the ruling family of Singapore was indeed a great honor. But it broke my heart.

I tried to phone Mai Pohan, but she was off on an international golf tour. With misty eyes, I e-mailed her the terrible news. She never answered.

Like a dutiful son, I went through the formalities of courtship and the wedding, which was Singapore's social event of the year. My bride was quite beautiful and, as I discovered on our wedding night, much more knowledgeable about making love than I was.

Through my mother-in-law's connections, I received many new contracts to design golf courses. I would be wealthy in my own right within a few years. I began to travel the world, while my wife entertained herself back in Singapore with a succession of lovers—all carefully hidden from the public's view by her mother's power.

It was in the United States, at the venerable Pebble Beach golf course in California, that I saw Mai Pohan once again. She was leading in a tournament there by three strokes as her foursome approached the beautiful eighteenth hole, where the blue Pacific Ocean caresses the curving beach.

I stood among the crowd of onlookers as the four women walked to the green. I said nothing, but I saw Mai's eyes widen when she recognized me. She smiled, and my heart melted.

She barely won the tournament, three-putting the final hole. The crowd applauded politely and I repaired to the nearby bar. I rarely drank alcohol, but I sat at the bar and ordered a scotch. I don't know how much time passed or how many drinks I consumed, but all of a sudden Mai sat herself primly on the stool next to mine.

My jaw dropped open, but she gave me a rueful smile and said, "You almost cost me the tournament, Chou."

"I did?" I squeaked.

"Once I saw you I lost all my concentration."

"I … I'm sorry."

She ordered a club soda from the man-sized robot tending the bar while I sat beside her in stunned silence.

"It's been a long time," she said, once her drink arrived.

"Yes."

"How is married life?"

"Miserable."

Those fathomless eyes of hers widened a bit, then she smiled sadly. "I'm almost glad."

I heard myself blurt, "You're the one I love, Mai. My family arranged the marriage. I had to go through with it."

"I know," she said. "I understand."

"I love you." It seemed inane, pointless—cruel, almost—but I said it.

Very softly, so low that I barely heard her, Mai replied, "I love you too. I always have."

I kissed her. Right there at the bar. I leaned over and kissed her on the lips. The first and last time we ever kissed.

Mai said, "Like it or not, you're a married man."

"And you…?"

"I could never marry anyone else." There were tears in her eyes.

That was my encounter with Mai Pohan. That was all there was to it. But we must have been observed, probably by one of the paparazzi following the golf tournament. By the time I got back to Singapore my wife was raging like a forest fire and her mother was hiring women to testify in court that I had fathered their illegitimate children. The police produced DNA evidence, faked of course, but my defense attorney didn't dare to challenge it.

My parents disowned me. My contracts for new golf courses disappeared. I was alone, friendless, on my way to jail, when Sam whisked me to the Moon.

Four hundred thousand kilometers away from Mai Pohan.

And now she was coming to Hell Crater!

* * *

AS SOON AS I saw her name on the list of pros coming for the First Lunar Golf Invitational, I rushed to Sam's office.

For the head of a major corporation, Sam had chosen an office that was far from imposing. Modest, even. He wasted no money on the trappings of power. The office was merely a small room in the complex that housed Dante's Inferno on one side and the virtual reality simulations center on the other.

Sam's office did feature one concession to his ego, though. His desk was raised slightly on a cleverly disguised platform. And the chairs before the desk were shortened, their legs sawed down a few centimeters. Sitting in front of him, you had to look up at Sam, while he looked down at you. I heard years later that Sam had picked up that trick from reading about Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union. Sam did a lot of reading about powerful men who were short: Napoleon, Stalin, Alexander Hamilton.

"Sam," I exclaimed as I burst into his office, "you've invited Mai Pohan!"

Looking mildly surprised, Sam replied, "Sure. She's one of the top golfers on the international tour."

Before I could begin to thank him, Sam added, "And she's the best-looking woman in the bunch of 'em." He broke into a leering grin.

Sam's reputation as a woman-chaser was well known. Behind his desk I could see a panoply of photographs of Sam with spectacularly beautiful women, sometimes two or even three of them hanging on him. Most of them were very scantily clad.

"She's young, beautiful, unattached," Sam went on, his leer widening. "I intend to show her the wonders of lunar living."

At that instant I began to hate Sam Gunn.

* * *

I THREW MYSELF into building the golf course, while Sam spent most of his time arranging transportation and accommodations for the invited golfers. I've got to admit that a good many tourists did sign up to come to Hell for the tournament; Sam's judgment about its attraction was squarely on the mark.

Once I mapped out the course, the actual construction didn't take very long. I directed a team of human and robot workers who smoothed the greens areas and fairways (and painted them), removed a good deal of the rocks and pebbles that were strewn everywhere, rearranged some of the bigger boulders so they presented strategic problems for the golfers, and leveled off the tee boxes.

It turned out the greens were now too smooth, too fast. Tap a ball and it rolled right across the green and into the deep sand of the rough. So we had to spread a thin layer of sand over them. And spray-paint it green.

We painted the golf balls too, a brilliant Day-Glo orange, so they could be seen against the gray lunar sand of the tees and the rough.

Finally we planted the tall lighted poles at the holes, so the players could see where they should aim their shots.

Sam was buzzing about like a mosquito on amphetamines, meeting and greeting the invited golfers as they arrived on the Moon. They flew from Earth to Selene, of course, and stayed at the Paradise Hotel (all expenses paid by S. Gunn Enterprises, Unlimited) until the entire fifty professionals—plus their families and/or friends—had arrived. Then they were whisked to Hell Crater on a special passage of the elevated tram line that connected Selene to Hell.

I wondered how Sam could possibly afford all this largesse, but when I asked him about it he simply shrugged and said, "You've got to spend money to make money. Prime rule of business, Charlie."

I made it my prime business to be at the tram depot when the pros arrived on their special train. Sam was there too, of course, eager as a tail-wagging puppy, leading a small army of guides, robot porters, and news reporters. He had even brought the band from Dante's Inferno to provide lively music.

Sam seemed surprised to see me there, in the midst of all the flunkies.

"Shouldn't you be rearranging rocks or something?" he asked, over the noise of the milling assistants and the band.

"All done, Sam," I shouted into his ear. "The course is ready for action."

He broke into that leering smile of his. "So am I, Charlie."

The tram glided into the depot, the airlock hatch closed behind it, and the band broke into a raucus welcoming rendition of "Happy Days Are Here Again." Golfers of all sizes and shapes came pouring out of the tram, together with assorted family members, friends, and hangers-on. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to see tiny Mai Pohan in the crowd.

But there she was! She looked like a little waif, standing alone in the swirl of people, like a delicate flower in the midst of a storm.

I pushed through the bodies toward her, but Sam was faster. He grabbed her by the arm and led her to one of the carts that were lined up to take his guests to the Paradise Hotel below the entertainment complex. In all the noise and bustle, Mai didn't see me. Sam was jabbering in her ear nonstop, and she looked pleased that Sam Gunn himself was escorting her.

He seated her in the cart, then climbed up onto its roof and bellowed, "Welcome to the First Lunar Golf Invitational! I want you all to enjoy yourselves."

I stood there, hopelessly hemmed in by the surging crowd, as Sam clambered down to sit beside Mai. They headed off for the hotel, leaving me standing there, alone in the midst of the throng.

* * *

FOR A SOLID week I tried to see Mai alone, but she was either playing practice rounds or in Sam's company. We had dinner together a couple of times, but always with Sam and a bunch of other golfers.

"It's a very interesting course," Mai said to me, from across the dinner table. Sam sat at its head, with Mai on his right. Six others were at the table, all internationally-known golfers.

"I got the best designer in the business," Sam said proudly.

The man on my left, a burly, ruddy-faced South African, Rufus Kleindienst, complained, "Hitting the ball over the horizon is a bit weird. Why'd you make the course so bloody big?"

"We're on the Moon," Sam answered. "Lower gravity, no air resistance."

"Yes, but you could have just made the balls heavier to compensate for that. Hitting the ball over the horizon is wacko."

I agreed with him, but one of the other pros, Suddartha Ramjanmyan, a rake-thin Indian, spoke up: "You are a very long hitter, after all. Now the rest of us have a chance to match you."

Rufus grinned good-naturedly.

But one of the Yanks, a youthful-looking sandy blond sitting down at the end of the table, piped up. "What I don't understand is why you've made this a mixed tournament. Why not a men's tournament and a separate one for women? That's the normal way."

Sam explained, "We've got to hustle things along a little. The Sun sets in ten days. That gives us a week for practice and getting accustomed to the course, and three days for the tournament. After that we'll have two solid weeks of night."

"Two weeks of night?" The Yank was totally surprised. He might have been a champion golfer, but he hadn't bothered to learn the first thing about conditions on the Moon.

"Two weeks," Sam repeated solemnly. "Starlight's pretty bright, but I think you'll prefer playing in the daytime."

The Yank nodded weakly.

* * *

AS I EXPECTED, the big problem was the spacesuits. There were three basic types. The standard issue had a hard-shell torso of cermet, with fabric sleeves and leggings and accordion-pleated joints at the elbows, knees, and wrists. A newer variation kept the cermet torso, but its sleeves and legs were made of a reasonably flexible plastic. Then there was the exoskeleton, its fabric arms and legs covered with high-strength carbon fiber rods that were powered by tiny servomotors, slaved to the wearer's body movements. This increased the wearer's natural strength and made the suit feel more flexible.

While the exoskeleton allowed the most flexibility, it was twice the weight of the others, which made it cumbersome, even in the light lunar gravity. And it took an hour or more to put on. And take off.

For four days the golfers tried on different suits, clomping around in their heavy boots, whacking away at golf balls out on the driving range. Most of them eventually went for the exoskeleton, although a handful opted for the standard suit. Nobody wanted the plastic job.

When I saw Mai in the smallest exoskeleton that was available, she looked like a little child being swallowed alive by some alien metal monster.

Try as I might to get some time with her alone, Mai was constantly working out on the course or otherwise in the company of her fellow golfers. In the evenings, she was either with the golf pros or with Sam. Or both. She ignored my calls and my messages.

Finally I decided to face her, once and for all. On the night before the tournament was to begin, I planted myself in the surveillance center and watched for Mai on the dozens of display screens lining the walls of the chamber. Two security technicians monitored the screens, which showed every public space and corridor in the complex.

I watched Mai at a dinner table in Dante's Inferno, sitting with Sam and a quartet of other golfers, two of them women. Sam was chattering away, as usual, and Mai seemed to be entranced by whatever he was talking about. Her eyes hardly left his face, even for a moment. I would have gladly strangled him.

At last they finished their desserts and coffees and got up from the table. Sam took Mai's arm—and she let him do it. He escorted her out of Dante's, along the corridor that led to the elevators, and then down to the level of the Paradise Hotel.

I didn't realize how tense I was until one of the security techs complained, "Hey, look at what you did to my pen!"

I had unconsciously picked up her pen off her desktop and bent it into a horseshoe shape.

As I muttered an apology and promised to buy her a new one, I watched Mai and Sam make their way down the hotel's main corridor. They stopped at her door.

I had to admit to myself that they made a well-matched couple. Mai was just a centimeter or so shorter than Sam, and exquisitely beautiful. Sam was far from handsome, but he radiated a vital energy, even in the security camera's display screen.

My heart was in my throat as Sam began to slip his arms around Mai's waist. But she artfully disengaged, gave him a peck on the cheek, and slipped into her room, leaving Sam standing alone in the corridor, looking nonplussed.

I let out a yelp that made both the security techs jump, then raced for the door, the elevator, and Mai's hotel room.

By the time I got to her door Sam was long gone, of course. I tapped lightly. No response. I rapped a little harder, and Mai's muffled voice came through: "Sam, I need my rest. Please go away."

"It's not Sam," I said, smiling happily. "It's me."

"Chou?"

"Yes!"

For a moment nothing happened, then the door slid back and Mai was standing there in a silk robe decorated with flowers and birds. She looked up at me, her face serious, almost gloomy.

"Hello," she said, sadly.

"Mai, I had to see you. Why haven't you answered my calls? Why are you spending all your time—"

She put a finger on my lips, silencing me.

"Our last meeting was a disaster, Chou. I ruined your life."

"Ruined?" I was truly shocked. "You saved my life, Mai!"

"I thought they were going to put you in jail."

"They would have, if it weren't for Sam."

"You owe him a lot."

That's when it hit me. Mai was being nice to Sam because she was grateful for what he did for me!

"Sam's getting his money's worth out of me," I growled. "I don't want you to let him include you in the payment."

Now she looked shocked. "I would never—"

I didn't let her finish her sentence. I took her in my arms and kissed her. A couple strolling up the corridor passed by and chuckled softly.

"We've been seen again," Mai said, a little ruefully.

"I don't care. I'm a free man now."

"As long as you stay on the Moon."

"Well, yes," I had to admit.

"So we'll always be half a million kilometers apart."

"Four hundred thousand," I corrected, inanely. "But it doesn't have to always be that way. Once my divorce becomes final, maybe I'll be able to return to Earth."

Mai said nothing.

"Or maybe you could stay here, on the Moon. We'll get married and … and…"

"And I'll give up my career? Become a housewife? And what are you going to do, now that you've built Sam's golf course? Do you think there are others who'd want you to build courses for them here on the Moon?"

I shook my head, crestfallen.

She touched my cheek with her fingertips.

"I love you, Mai," I whispered.

"I love you, too," she said. "But I don't see how it could possibly work out."

Neither could I.

"You'd better go," she said.

I couldn't move.

"The tournament starts tomorrow, Chou. You're bad for my concentration."

"I know. I'm sorry."

But then she smiled and took my hand and led me into her room and neither one of us gave a thought to her concentration or our future.

* * *

THE TOURNAMENT STARTED the next morning. Mai hopped out of bed and headed for the shower. I thought about joining her there, but I decided it would be better if I just stole away. Which is what I did, feeling miserable every step of the way.

Love is strange. Powerful. But sometimes so painful it tears the heart out of your chest.

I had nothing to do. My work was finished. So I went to my quarters, cleaned up, got into fresh coveralls, and made my way to the spacious lobby of Dante's Inferno, which Sam's people had turned into a sort of auditorium, with comfortable seats filling the floor and enormous video screens hanging on every wall.

The place was already full of eager onlookers, while a team of Hell's Belles (looking a little bleary this early in the morning) circulated through the crowd with trays of drinks and snacks.

To my surprise, Sam's name was at the top of the list of entrants. Several of the spectators noticed it, too.

"That Sam," a silver-haired, dark-skinned man chuckled, "he'll do anything to put himself in the limelight."

One of the better-looking women said, "Well, it's his tournament, after all."

Sam had detailed one of his publicity aides to go out to the first tee and introduce the competitors. And there was a flock of sports reporters there, too, waiting for the golfers to come out.

One by one they stepped through the airlock and out onto the barren, airless floor of Hell Crater. Most of them wore exoskeletons, which made them look like ponderous, clanking robots. As each one reached the first tee the reporters huddled around him or her and asked the same tired old questions:

"How do you feel about playing golf on the Moon?"

"Will your spacesuit hamper your playing?"

"What do you think your chances of winning are?"

And then Sam came waltzing through the airlock and out onto the floor of Hell Crater. We all gasped with surprise. He was wearing nothing more over his coveralls than what looked like a transparent plastic raincoat.

It had leggings and booties that covered his shoes, and gloves so thin I could see the veins on the backs of Sam's hands. His head was encased in a transparent bubble of a helmet, his red thatch of buzz-cut hair clearly visible through it. The spacesuit looked impossibly flimsy.

The news team that was interviewing each golfer clustered around Sam like a pack of hounds surrounding a fox, firing questions about his spacesuit.

"Nanofabric," Sam exclaimed, the crooked grin on his face spreading from ear to ear.

Before the news people could take a breath, Sam explained, "The suit was built by nanomachines, from the nanolab at Selene. Dr. Kristine Cardenas is the lab's director, you know. She won the Nobel Prize for her work on nanotechnology."

"But … but it's so … light," one of the newswomen gushed, from inside her standard hard-shell spacesuit. "How can it possibly protect you?"

"How come it doesn't stiffen up, like regular suits?" asked another.

"How can it protect you against the radiation?"

"How can it be so flexible?"

Sam laughed and raised both his nanogloved hands to quiet their questions. "You'll have to ask Dr. Cardenas about the technical details. All I can tell you is that the suit gives as much protection as a standard suit, but it's a lot more flexible. And easier to put on and take off, lemme tell you. Like old-fashioned pajamas."

The other golfers, in their standard suits or exoskeletons, hung around the edge of the crowd uneasily. None of them liked being upstaged.

Mai hadn't appeared yet, and I began to wonder if something was wrong. Then she came through the airlock, wearing a nanosuit, just like Sam.

"No!" I bellowed, startling the tourists sitting around me. I bolted from my chair and ran to the airlock.

There was a team of beefy security guards at the airlock hatch, in dark gray uniforms. They wouldn't let me take a suit and go outside.

"Only players and the reporters," their leader told me. "Mr. Gunn's orders."

Feeling desperate, I raced to the communications center, down the corridor from the airlock area. It was a small chamber, studded with display screens and staffed by two men and two women. They didn't want to let me talk to Mai, or Sam, or anybody else out there on the golf course.

"Mr. Gunn's orders," they said.

"To hell with Sam's orders," I roared at them. "This is a safety issue. Lives are at stake!"

They told me to call the safety office and even offered me a spare console to sit at. I scanned the available comm channels and put my call through. To Mai.

Before the technicians realized what I'd done, Mai's face came up on the central screen of my console. She smiled at me.

"You left without saying good-bye," she chided gently.

"Get back inside!" I fairly screamed. "If Sam wants to kill himself that's his business, but I won't let him kill you!"

Mai's face went stern. "Chou, do you think I'm an idiot? This suit is perfectly safe."

"That may be what Sam says, but—"

"That's what Dr. Cardenas says," Mai interrupted. "I've spoken with her for hours about the suit. It's been tested at Selene for months. It's fine."

"How can it be?" I was nearly hysterical with fear. "It's nothing but a thin layer of transparent fabric."

"Ask Dr. Cardenas," said Mai. "I've got a golf game to play."

She cut the connection. My screen went blank.

Still sitting at the console, with all four of the comm techs staring at me, I put in a call to Dr. Kristine Cardenas, at the nanotechnology laboratory in Selene.

All her lines were busy. News reporters were besieging her about the nanosuit.

I sank back in the console's little wheeled chair, terrified that Mai would die of asphyxiation or radiation poisoning or decompression out there in that flimsy suit. Insanely, I felt a grim satisfaction that if Mai died, Sam probably would too.

Numbly I pushed the chair back and began to get up on wobbly legs.

One of the technicians, a youngish woman, said to me, "You can watch the tournament from here, if you like."

I sank back onto the chair.

One of the male techs added, "If you can sit quietly and keep your mouth shut."

That's what I did. Almost.

* * *

IT WAS A weird golf game.

Sam was nothing more than a duffer, yet he was holding his own against some of the best players on Earth.

Encased in an exoskeleton suit, Rufus, the muscular South African, literally scorched his drives out of sight. In the light lunar gravity, the Day-Glo orange balls rose in dreamy slow motion, arced lazily across the starry sky, and sailed gently toward the ground, disappearing over the short horizon.

He was overdriving, slamming the ball beyond the green, into the deep treacherous sand. Then he'd flail away, blasting explosions of sand that slowly settled back to the ground while his ball zoomed into another area of deep sand. When he finally got his ball on the green his putting was miserable.

The more bogeys he got, the harder he powered his drives and the more erratic his putts. In the display screen of the console I was watching I could see his face getting redder and redder, even through the tinted visor of his helmet. And his exoskeleton suit seemed to be getting stiffer, more difficult to move in. Probably sand from his desperate flailings was grinding the suit's joints.

Sam just took it easy. His drives were erratic, a slice here, a hook there. It took him two or three shots to get on the green, but once there, his putts were fantastic. He sank putts of twenty, even thirty meters. It was as if the ball was being pulled to the cup by some invisible force.

Mai was doing well, also. Her drives were accurate, even though nowhere near long enough to reach the greens. But she always landed cleanly on the fairway and chipped beautifully. She putted almost as well as Sam and kept pace with the leaders.

Both Mai and Sam seemed able to swing much more freely in their nanosuits. Where the other golfers were stiff with their drives and chips, Mai and Sam looked loose and agile. If they'd been bigger, and able to drive the ball farther, they would have led the pack easily.

But my course was really tough on all of them. By the time they reached the last tee, only three of the golfers had broken par. Sam had birdied the last three holes, all par fives, but he was still one above par. The skinny little Indian, Ramjanmyan, was leading at three below.

And Mai was right behind him, at two below.

The eighteenth was the toughest hole on the course, a par six, where the cup was nearly a full kilometer from the tee and hidden behind a slight rise of solid gray rock slanting across the green-painted ground.

Mai stood at the tee, looking toward the lighted pole poking up above the crest of the rocky ridge, her driver in her gloved hands. She took a couple of practice swings, loose and easy, then hit the drive of her life. The ball went straight down the fairway, bounced a couple of dozen meters short of the green, hopped over the ridge, and rolled to a stop a bare ten centimeters from the cup.

"Wow!" yelled the comm techs, rising to their feet. I could even hear the roar of the crowd all the way over in Dante's lobby.

Sam was next. His drive was long enough to reach the green, all right, but he sliced it badly and the ball thunked down in the deep sand off the edge of the green, almost at the red-painted hazard line.

Groans of disappointment.

"That's it for the boss," said one of the techs.

Somehow I found myself thinking, Don't be so sure about that.

Ramjanmyan's drive almost cleared the ridge. But only almost. It hit the edge of the rock and bounced high, then fell in that dreamlike lunar slow motion and rolled back almost to the tee. Even in his exoskeleton suit, the Indian seemed to slump like a defeated man.

He was still one stroke ahead of Mai, though, and two strokes in front of his next closest competitor, a lantern-jawed Australian named MacTavish.

But MacTavish overdrove his ball, trying to clear that ridge, and it rolled past the cup to a stop at the edge of the deep sand.

Mai putted carefully, but her ball hit a minuscule pebble at the last instant and veered a bare few centimeters from the cup. She tapped it in, and came away with a double eagle. She now was leading at five below par.

Sam had trudged out to the sand, where his ball lay. He needed to chip it onto the green and then putt it into the hole. Barely bothering to line up his shot, he whacked it out of the sand. The ball bounced onto the green and then rolled and rolled, curving this way and that like a scurrying ant looking for a breadcrumb, until it rolled to the lip of the cup and dropped in.

Pandemonium. All of us in the comm center sprang to our feet, hands raised high, and bellowed joyfully. The crowd in Dante's lobby roared so hard it registered on the seismograph over in Selene.

Sam was now three below par and so happy about it that he was hopping up and down, dancing across the green, swinging his club over his head gleefully.

Ramjanmyan wasn't finished, though. He lofted his ball high over the ridge. It seemed to sail up there among the stars for an hour before it plopped onto the middle of the green and rolled to the very lip of the cup. There it stopped. We all groaned in sympathy for him.

But the Indian plodded in his exoskeleton suit to the cup and tapped the ball. His final score was six below par.

The only way for MacTavish to beat him would be for him to chip the ball directly into the cup. The Aussie tried, but his chip was too hard, and the ball rolled a good ten meters past the hole. He ended with a score of four below par.

Ramjanmyan won the tournament at six below par. Mai came in second, five below, and Sam surprised us all with a three below par score, putting him in fourth place.

* * *

EVERYONE CELEBRATED FAR into the night: golfers, tourists, staffers, and all. Sam reveled the hardest, dancing wildly with every woman in Dante's Inferno while the band banged out throbbing, wailing neodisco numbers.

I danced with Mai, no one else. And she danced only with me. It was well past midnight when the party started to break up. Mai and I walked back to her hotel room, tired but very, very happy.

Until I thought about what tomorrow would bring. Mai would leave to return to Earth. I'd be an unemployed golf course architect stranded on the Moon.

"You're awfully quiet," Mai said as we stepped into her room.

"You'll be leaving tomorrow," I said.

"I'll get the best lawyers on Earth," she said as she slid her arms around my neck. "Earth's a big place. Your ex-wife can't harass you anywhere except Singapore."

I shook my head. "Don't be so sure. Her mother has an awful lot of clout."

"We'll find a place…"

"And spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders? That's not what I want for you, Mai."

She kissed me lightly, just brushing her lips on mine. "Sufficient for the day are the evils thereof."

"Huh?"

Mai smiled at me. "Let's worry about things tomorrow. We're here together tonight."

So I tried to forget about my troubles. I even succeeded—for a while.

* * *

I WAS AWAKENED by the phone's buzzing. I cracked one eye open and saw that Mai was sleeping soundly, peacefully curled up beside me.

"Audio only," I told the phone.

Sam's freckled face sprang up on the phone's screen, grinning lopsidedly.

"Mai, I've got the medical reports here," he began.

"Quiet," I whispered urgently. "Mai's still asleep."

"Charlie?" Sam lowered his voice a notch. "So that's where you are. I called you at your place. We've gotta talk about financial arrangements."

Severance pay, I knew.

"Come over to my office around eleven thirty. Then we'll go to lunch."

"Mai's flight—"

"Plenty of time for that. My office. Eleven thirty. Both of you."

They say that today is the first day of the rest of your life. I went through the morning like a man facing a firing squad. The rest of my life, I knew, was going to be miserable and lonely. Mai seemed sad, too. Her usual cheerful smile was nowhere in sight.

We got to Sam's office precisely at eleven thirty and settled glumly onto the sawed-off chairs in front of his desk. Sam beamed down at us like he hadn't a care in the world. Or two worlds, for that matter.

"First," he began, "the radiation badges we all wore show that the nanosuits protected us just as well as the standard suits protected everybody else."

"Dr. Cardenas will be pleased," Mai said listlessly.

"You bet she is," Sam replied. "We're having dinner together over at Selene this evening."

Dr. Cardenas was a handsome woman, from what I'd heard of her. Was Sam on the hunt again? Does a parrot have feathers?

"Okay," he said, rubbing his hands together briskly, "now let's get down to business."

The firing squad was aiming at me.

"Charlie, you don't have much experience in business administration, do you?"

Puzzled by his question, I answered, "Hardly any."

"That's okay. I can tell you everything you need to know."

"Need to know for what?"

Sam looked surprised. "To manage the golf course, naturally."

"Manage it?" My voice squeaked two octaves higher than normal.

"Sure, what else? I'll be too busy to do it myself."

Mai gripped my arm. "That's wonderful!"

"And you, oh beauteous one, will be our pro, of course." Sam announced, chuckling at his little pun.

"Me?"

Nodding, Sam replied, "Sure, you. This way the two of you can stay together. Sort of a wedding present." Then he fixed me with a stern gaze. "You do intend to marry the lady, don't you?"

I blurted, "If she'll have me!"

Mai squeezed my hand so hard I thought bones would break. I hadn't realized how strong playing golf had made her.

"Okay, that's it," Sam said happily. "You'll manage the course, Charlie, and Mai, you'll be the pro."

"And what will you do, Sam?" Mai asked.

"Me? I've got to set up the company that'll manufacture and sell nanosuits. Kris Cardenas is going to be my partner."

I felt my jaw drop open. "You mean this whole tournament was just a way of advertising the nanosuits?"

With a laugh, Sam answered, "Got a lot of publicity for the suits, didn't it? I'm already getting queries from the rock rats, out in the Asteroid Belt. And the university consortium that's running the Mars exploration team."

I shook my head in admiration for the man. Sam just sat there grinning down at us. The little devil had opened up a new sport for lunar residents and tourists, solved my legal problem, created a career for me, and found a way for Mai and me to marry. Plus, he was starting a new industry that would revolutionize the spacesuit business.

Before I could find words to thank Sam, Mai asked him, "Will you answer a question for me?"

"Sure," he said breezily. "Fire away."

"How did you learn to putt like that, Sam? Some of your putts were nothing short of miraculous."

Sam pursed his lips, looked up at the ceiling, swiveled back and forth on his chair.

"Come on, Sam," Mai insisted. "The truth. It won't go farther than these four walls."

With a crooked, crafty grin, Sam replied, "You'd be surprised at how much electronics you can pack into a golf ball."

"Electronics?" I gasped.

"A transmitter in the cups and a receiver in the ball," Mai said. "Your putts were guided into the cups."

"Sort of," Sam admitted.

"That's cheating!" I exclaimed.

"There's nothing in the rules against it."

That's Sam. As far as he's concerned, rules are made to bend into pretzels. And looking up at his grinning, freckled face, I just knew he was already thinking about some new scheme. That's Sam Gunn. Unlimited.



Copyright © 2014 by Ben Bova