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matapam
19 July 2018 @ 07:57 am

Jamie had already run the numbers, so he hauled himself away from the mesmerizing view, and slipped down to his cargo hold. It was small, compared to most mining ships. They were so far away from most users that only the rare elements were worth collecting. He had about three tons of nickel iron with a trace of iridium and an even fainter trace of rhodium. The rhodium alone made this a rich haul. For better or worse, it was all in irregular pebbles and sand. "Well, heating it won't be a problem." A simple parabolic reflector made of flimsy mylar would supply the heat. It was shaping it that would be the problem. "Where's a two hundred foot long high temperature pipe when you need one? Four hundred. Damn it'll have to be four hundred feet long for us to all cuddle up to." The traitorous thought, that he could probably easily get his own ship through, alone, presented itself.

"Only if I have to," he muttered.

As the others woke up and heard about his plans, he found the implementation taken out of his hands.

"You're too young to have any experience with this," Jerri told him. "Sit back and watch an expert."

It was indeed an eye opening experience. Luke, Jerri, and Alan all had construction experience, and quickly formed ten foot long sections of pipe out of regolith from one of the outer moons and repair compound. They knew exactly how to build the parabolic furnace, how long to leave the iron stuffed cylinders in the focus, and how to run the ends in and out for welding them all together.

Then they coated it all with regolith and bondo, and melted it all again. "It has to be all one piece, you know." Jerri told him.

By the time it was done, the nets had been unraveled, and carefully rolled up and connected, and then insulated with a thin coat of something Roslyn cooked up and tested. Jamie rather thought it involved turning her waste recycler into a synthetic rubber factory and refused to think further. People did odd things to their ships from time to time, and Roslyn had had a lot of time. They pulled out from Bosco as a group, trading off hauling the iron core, wrapping it while coasting.

"This is insane, you know." Zack confided in Jamie on the twenty fifth day. "We could have been throwing an incredible orgy instead. That's the way I always wanted to go out."

"Well, we may find ourselves in worse shape on the other side, so we can keep that option in mind." Roslyn purred.

Jamie snickered, and wound six small electro magnets. Steering. Maybe. He put them on the exterior of the Bellefleur. Not the best placement, but he wasn't going to give away his talent.

The rest of the work on their improvised jumpship involved docking. Hard points for the mining ships' grapples that didn't touch the electromagnet. Four in front, four in back, and then they'd have to grab each other. And pray.

***

". . . anyone in . . . Beta Crux Observato . . . Help . . ."

"Good god, they're alive?"

"Can't be. Where are they?"

"Got 'em. Whoa, they've been through the mill. Looks like they dropped everything but their living quarters and used their station keeping engines to run."

". . . fuel. Is anyone . . . "

"Fuel? They use water for their ion engines, don't they?"

"We could take them some . . . " Althea trailed off.

"We might be able to go pick them up and still get back for the maiden voyage of the Last Orgy." Jerri sounded dubious.

"Who has room, or more to the point, air processing power." Jamie checked his. "I could take two extras."

"If they're in suits, I could grab them, put them in the cargo hold and run for it." Luke's Bounding Main was the fastest of them all.

"Right. Do a spin dock, if you can."

"Teach your Mama to suck eggs." Luke retorted, already maneuvering into the best departure orbit.

"Don't dawdle." Jamie told him.

***

They took turns talking on the radio. Nothing but static in return, but maybe someone could hear them. Maybe a miracle would occur.

Odessa jumped at the thump, then walked over the check the atmospheric pressure. "No hole." she reassured the others.

Then a series of thumps, and she lurched as their spin changed.

Clint caught on first. "Someone just docked."

"Pack." Odessa said. "Grab everything useful and let's get out of here." she pulled out her seabag, stuffed a drawer full of clothes into it, detached her comp and stuffed it in, more clothes, then turning to the instruments, started unscrewing the frame.

"Odessa, is that a good idea?" Clint dithered. "They could be bringing us fuel."

"No, there's no time, the blast wave is going to catch us. If they have a faster ship, we need to crowd aboard and go."

"Pack, and then everyone will also have to carry some equipment. We need the air recycler, the food extruder, the radio." They were moving now, packing, probably nearly randomly, but she was frantic to go. "Is everyone tight? I'm going to pop the seal."

It was so hot that they were all still suited. She hit the controls on the hatch that had once led to the observatory. Her suit expanded as the pressure dropped, then the door slid open.

The lumpy awkward Miner's ship was the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen. The Miner himself was just climbing down from an awkwardly positioned hatch. He spotted her and gestured. She got the drift. Quick.

She carried the air processor over first, then they formed a line and passed everything they could grab, and then scrambled in themselves.

The rotation of the station and ship threw them hard against what Odessa rather thought was the ceiling, but before she could work it out the centripetal force quit abruptly. The pilot had cut loose from the station, no doubt using the spin to send the ship in the right direction. She fought nausea for just a second, then acceleration built up and they and all their scavenged equipment sank to the rear of what was probably an ore bin.

Her suit started sagging again. Air. The pilot stuck his head in. "Got the air running at max, but I don't have enough capacity . . . Ah." He broke off as Matt held up the air processor. "Good show. Let's get that all hooked up so you don't die for being rescued."

"Are you planning on trying to sit out the blast wave near Bosco?" Clint asked.

"Nah. We didn't figure that'd work. I'm Luke Wittner, by the way. We've cobbled up a jump core. It ain't going to be nice, but some of us may survive the jump."

"You're going to jump?" Matt paled. "With no pilot?"

"That's how they used to do it," Luke said, "Before they found the snatch mutants."

"With massive damage to the ships and crew. Sometimes whole ships disappeared."

"Yeah, I ain't looking forward to getting my body all twisted up, but it beats burning, you know?"

"We don't have much time, do we?" Odessa asked.

"Oh, have you guys been flying blind?" Luke grinned. "Check this out." He reached up and adjusted the controls on a screen above his head. The view switched around to the rear, a flaming tail of ionized hydrogen, and then lifted slightly to show the double suns. And the looming menace of the blast front. "It's finally starting to break up," Luke said. "Should get interesting as it hits the stars."

"How fast is it traveling?" Clint's appalled voice cracked.

"'Bout a tenth of c."

"Slower than we'd thought, but a damned good thing. We'll still be cutting it close." Clint frowned. "Can you actually get to the jump point ahead of that?"

"Well, now that's the problem. The jump point's part way around the suns and at a place where the magnetopause is really far out. We're going to have to go for Beta sing."

"But, but . . . "

Luke nodded grimly. "Yeah, we know, but there wasn't enough time to make the jump point even before we caught your broadcast. Now it's going to be really tight to get to Beta sing."

"It's never been explored."

Luke pointed at the screen. "Would you rather try that on for size?"