"Yeah, maybe I'll take a double turn now, and loaf while you lot work later." Jamie, shrugged, and moved in on the disappointed Allan. The ships worked a long way out from the array, so the hand off of the three stabilizing cables was easy enough.
Once Allan was clear, Jamie took a long gentle burn, and started attaching the telemetry lines. His course trailed along the magnetopause; no point in not covering it, and for that matter, getting a strong fix on their original entry point.
How had that beacon stayed in position for so long, after abandonment?
If there were other wormholes . . . did they have beacons marking them as well? He bounced lidar off the beacon and studied the spectrum of the returns. Talked to Althea and Allan about her running long distance spectral analysis of everything in the vicinity of the magnetopause.
The scientists on the ground got pulled into analysis of everything the three ships were pinging.
It beat doing nothing, but not by a lot. Allan and Althea started checking out asteroids with anything out of line at all. With the array in tow, Jamie was stuck, but after forty days he swept the array over the known wormhole and got an unmistakable return.
"So we know it works." Jamie reported. He resisted the urge to scratch, and the crawling with ants sensation faded as the wormhole fell behind. Studying the details of the wormhole's location and the beacon's, he rather thought the beacon was drifting now. Moving away from the wormhole at a very slow velocity, sub orbital even for as far out as they were.
Forty days later the itch started again as he approached the leading 120 degree position from the other wormhole. He had no doubt at all about the presence of a wormhole here, and cruised through the region, using his itching to narrow down the search area. He found it on the fourth day, two hours before Allan found another beacon.
"So. An embarrassment of riches." Clint was grinning as Jamie climbed out of the Belefleur. The array was coasting on a course that would get it to Allan's beacon in about three months, so they'd all taken down time.
"Yep. Our choice of two wormholes. Three, really. Only a little over a year until we could try the Beta sing again." He'd landed in a valley, in case of winds. The other ships were spotted around, tucked up to walls. They'd been building them of loose brick and cement blocks. Just in case. They'd been getting wind squalls as the northern hemisphere summer progressed.
"Like the Santa Anna winds on steroids." Jerri said. "You know, California? Wild fires? Ah, never mind. At least here there's nothing to burn."
Jamie was pleased to see his gardens in full bloom, and fresh veggies appeared at every meal.
"We're freezing everything we can." Lonnie crunched carrot determinedly. "Because we may have a long trip ahead of us. Nothing to do with being sick and tired of tomatoes."
"We're freezing clams as well." Odessa grinned. "Even if they do taste better after the food processors have worked them over. Less strain on the processors if they start with protein."
Jamie stretched and leaned back on the warm sand dune. "You haven't found any that taste better?"
"'Fraid not. It's mushrooms and liver, period."
"That settles it, then. We'll have to leave." Jamie shrugged. "So, who's feeling adventuresome? Shall we try a whole new wormhole, or try to go back the way we came?"
"The nice thing about going back is that we know an unguided jump worked once." Clint shrugged. "With any other wormhole we're jumping into the unknown."
Odessa rubbed her nose. "What about the supernova? The reason they didn't explore the Beta sing was a belief that it would probably collapse. Do wormholes ever change?"
The scientists swapped looks around. Kenya chewed a fingernail. "We've never had an opportunity to see a system before and after a supernova. That was kinda the whole reason we were there."
"Roslyn, from your charts, which direction seems most likely to take us toward mapped space and known wormholes?" Jamie looked over at the little woman, not quite close enough to Clint to say they were sitting together.
"Beta sing, of course. The other two . . . the one you found either goes to some small stars or will corkscrew badly around them and end in a double A-B pair. Allan's has a better chance at a fairly straight jump to a B with a white dwarf companion."
"So, back to Alpha Crux or take Allan's wormhole."
"Once we locate it firmly." Allan said. "At the moment all I've found is a non-working beacon. It may have drifted."
"I think they're pretty stable. Balanced between the very weak gravity of the wormhole, and as far out as they are, the weak pull of the star, too." Mathew shrugged. "At any rate the first one was pretty close to the wormhole for something with as much obvious damage as that thing had. Doubt it was chance that kept it there."
"Another thing to consider is whether we want to work over the jump core before we try this again." Jamie said. "We've plenty of time to make proper wire and wind it very carefully." Make some more small magnets and hide them so I can steer better.
The miners thought it over and nodded.
"That was a real rush job, still can't believe it worked." Luke grinned. "Proof I was born to hang."
So when they returned to space they started pinging asteroids, and located some large enough to have partially melted and fractionated before breaking up into the layered boulders they were now. Copper wasn't valuable enough for it to have been mined in space. It was usually a by product of refining other metals. But it was common enough for their purposes. Again the older hands knew how to produce the fine even wire that was their goal, and with the native plants as input they insulated it and finally rewound the iron core.
Jamie tested the shape of the field and added a dozen little magnets, purportedly to round out the field properly. But he connected them to his controls.
"You never seem to worry about the wormholes, are you really that fatalistic? We'll either make or not, so don't worry?" Odessa studied the man curiously.
Jamie walked away, kicked a stone for a moment, then looked back. "My mother was from Snatch. The pregnancy was unplanned, and I can pilot us through any wormhole."
"You're a Snatch?" Odessa backed away, her stomach sinking. "You're one of those mutants?"
Jamie looked pained. "No, I'm not one of them. I've never been to the planet, they don't know I exist. I was an accident, a rare combination of a pilot whose contraception failed and was raped by a pirate that nearly succeeded in taking my uncles' ship. They didn't realize the pirate did that. Until I was born. I looked normal, so they raised me."
"But you're not normal, not if you can steer through a wormhole. So, what about the violence? Was there really a disease that caused pychosis? That, that took over? What do you do?" She glanced over her shoulder. Dead end. No place to run. She eased back a pace.
"There's no disease, otherwise they wouldn't be allowed to sell their brain dead mutant children for wormhole piloting." He hesitated. "Well, depending on how you define disease. I think they're plenty sick. But there's nothing contagious. Just a planet full of nutters, as far as I've ever read."
"Right, and next you'll tell me you don't drink blood." Odessa took another step back and flinched at the sudden contact with the wall.
"I don't drink blood. You know that. I really don't think snatch pilots do either, they do have enough medical equipment attached that the people maintaining them could get that impression, but where would the blood be coming from? And why would they think it's going into the feeding tube rather than back into a vein, I have no idea." He turned away. "I think you've watched too many pre-space horror shows. They have nothing to do with me."
"The ghouls on Snatch or the movies?"
"Either. Never been there. It's all fiction." He walked a few more steps.
"Well, why do you look so human if you're a, if your mother was a, a?" Odessa tried, and failed to make herself follow him.
"Oh, maybe the question ought to be, what do they do to make the pilots look like that? Why, is probably to avoid the fact that they brain-kill thousands of people and sell them off world." He started walking again, and this time didn’t stop.
After a long moment, Odessa turned the other direction. All urges to explore the ruins and maybe find something useful had died. They were in big enough trouble without a psychotic Snatch ghoul along.
What did she know about Snatch pilots? Snatches, well, the planetary government of Snatch 3487 that provided Snatch pilots, were the ultimate cold-blooded Capitalists. Selling their own mutated and hard wired children as a commodity. She'd never heard of a normal looking Snatch pilot. But then she'd only seen four of the irreplaceable hyperspace facilitators in her entire life. Seen, not met. You can't meet something that's had its brain sliced and diced and melded with a starships hyperdrive. There wasn't anyone left to meet. They were brain dead, by most definitions.
There were a million rumors. Plenty of them involving sex with the horrors. Jamie's pirate rapist may have been an invention of his 'uncles'.
She'd never really thought much about wormhole piloting. How did it work? She'd never thought about it before. Maybe she'd better start thinking about it. What was worse, thinking they were risking their lives in a blind jump or knowing that an unstable unknown was at the helm.
Except he wasn't. She knew him, had known him for a year now. She'd deliberately cornered him and confronted him. Wanting to know him better? To know what was behind his spacer background? And he'd told her his deepest secrets, and walked away.
Got more than I’d bargained for. Definitely checked out the top “possible Mr. Right.”
And how frightened had he been? If we ever get home, a word from me could be deadly to him.
"Exaggeration. They'd study him, not wire him up." I will never tell anyone. She scrambled up the last hill of rubble.
The ships were sitting right where they'd landed.
No sign of Jamie. Odessa crossed the space to the Wizard of Odds nonchalantly, trying to show no sign of having been terrified a few minutes before.