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The Trap on Europa

Summary

Kathryn Janeway had miraculously landed the crippled exploration ship the Voyager on Europa.  There she joined on that frozen moon of Jupiter the stranded crewmembers of the ill-fated EU vessel Mariposa.   There is no hope of rescue, and there only hope is to make Voyager  spaceworthy again.  But Europa has one more discovery waiting for them---a discovery that might be the deadliest trap in the Solar System.

Star Trek Voyager x-over fanfic with the novels of Eric Flint.

1.

I don't have answers.

That was the thing that kept her here now in an office lit mostly by the ruddy glow of Mars swinging regularly by.  Richard Berman was used to having answers, to knowing what he wanted to do and how to make it happen.  By the time he'd been five, he'd known he wanted to be a paleontologist, and he'd succeeded---beyond his expectations, even.

Then when one of his best students, Kes Zimmerman, had discovered something impossible and the impossible had turned out to be true---a fossil of an alien creature whose race had built bases across the Solar System when dinosaurs still ruled the Earth---he had wanted to become a part of that, follow the dream into space.  And he'd succeeded in that, too, and again beyond his wildest dreams.

But now that brilliant student, and her friends---his friends, too---now all of them were gone, and a hundred other people along with them.  The faces refused to leave, the crew of the half-alien, half-human vessel Voyager kept coming and going like ghosts in his mind.  Kes, wither her blond hair tied back, looking at a desiccated Bemmius  Secordii  mummy 76-million years old:  Tom Paris, irreverent and irrepressible sensor expert whose blond hair, cocky smile, and not-too-well-hidden vulnerability eventually led to his marriage to Kes; dark-haired and dark-skinned Bellanna Torres, who'd found the first trace of Bemmi on her family's ranch and later became a rocket engineer for the first manned interplanetary vessel, Vulcan; Harry Kim, black hair above a moon-face whose lines showed patience and acceptance of whatever the universe threw at him (he was Oriental, after all)---good, bad, or ugly.  Kathryn Janeway, red-haired, delicately built, the single most dangerous---and most reliable---person Richard had ever met, one-time agent for the least-known American intelligence agency, later Richard's only right hand and married to Harry; Trip Tucker, tall and always someone stopped over as if to apologize for his height, slow-talking but with encyclopedic knowledge of astrophysics.

But Voyager  was lost with its crew, as were over a hundred others on the ship she had been pursuing, the immense mass-beam drive vessel Mariposa, both vessels lost with all hands in what was in all likelihood an act of corporate greed gone utterly mad, or---maybe---a terrible accident triggered by misunderstanding. 

And now he had to decide what to do. The others at Heroscape Inc.----Dirk Forgrave, Maxwell Sharpey, and the rest of their board---were awaiting his decision as "Director Richard Berman of the Interplanetary Research Institute of the United Nations."

He snorted at the pomposity of the title and stood angrily, the rotation of Phobos Station keeping him as firmly planted on the floor as if he'd been on Earth.  Out of habit he started pacing again.  If I keep this up, I'll wear a whole in this exceedingly expensive imported carpet.

It had all begun simply---like most disasters do.  With the discovery of the first two alien bases, one on Mars and one on Mars' moon Phobos, it had become a virtual certainty that there must be other alien installations, possibly with incalculably valuable artifacts inside, waiting for salvage elsewhere in the Solar System.  The Bancroft Accords gave the first discoverer to literally set foot on any other system body long-term rights to exploit resources on that body, within a certain range of that first footstep.  That was the starter's gun on the greatest race in history---a race to discover these new locations and reach them first, claiming those resources for the nation---or the corporation---that first placed a human being upon the planet, moon, asteroid, whatever, on which the alien base was located.

Trip Tucker had made it 3-for-3 discoveries for Heroscape Inc; his co-worker Tom Paris had made the first earthshaking discovery within Phobos, and later found the pieces of the puzzle that led to a huge installation in Mars' Melas Chasma region, and now Trip had found unmistakable clues indicating that the giant asteroid Orpheus, was the site of another alien base.

Keeping the discovery a secret, Heroscape and the Interplanetary Research Institute (IRI) had prepared and finally launched an expedition to Orpheus, locating and setting foot directly above the base---which turned out to be at least as extensive as the one on Mars!

And that was the last straw, Richard thought sadly.

The European Union's flagship vessel, the Mariposa, had visited Orpheus and stayed there for some months.  Cooperation had seemed to have been established, and many pioneering results had come of it---ranging from the commercialization of room-temperature superconductors found on Phobos to the discovery of structures which might hold the key (finally!) to successful commercial fusion, and a completely intact alien vessel whose propulsion system and purpose was a mystery.

Unfortunately, the Mariposa had a hidden agenda, and within the mass of scientific data one of their people---astronomer Jean-Luc Picard---found indications of another alien installation on Iapetus, a moon of Saturn known to have many strange characteristics indeed.  Keeping their discovery secret, the Mariposa prepared for departure, even as a rogue meteor impacted the IRI-Heroscape base and totaled her main reactor.                                                                                                       

Except that it hadn't been a meteor, and Tom Paris had been able to show that it was almost surely a projectile from a railgun, a device that uses electromagnetic force to launch high velocity projectiles by means of a sliding armature that is accelerated along a pair of conductive rails concealed---against all international and established space laws---within the mass-driver elements of Mariposa.  There was no proof of this, and neither the IRI nor Heroscape could afford to accuse the EU of such things without concrete evidence.  The action showed that their worst fears had been true; the security officer of Mariposa, Miles O'Brian, was an old enemy of Kathryn Janeway's and was just as willing to use extreme methods to assure the completion of his mission.

Heroscape and the IRI had, meanwhile, discovered the principal behind the alien vessel's drive system---something called a dusty plasma drive which acted like a solar sail combined with a magnetosail, requiring no physical "sail" to capture much of the Sun's incidental energy to propel it---and using the most advanced nanotech sensor and effector motes had restructured the key elements to work again.  For various reasons the Heroscape personnel decided to attempt to beat the Mariposa  to the now-known base on Iapetus, and revived the 76-million year old vessel, launching it as the IRI Voyager.

The modified alien vessel had performed well and the Voyager caught up with Mariposa near Jupiter, where both vessels were expected to perform an "Oberth Maneuver" to increase their speed and change their course to send them on a rendezvous with Saturn and Iapetus.  The situation had been tense but Richard had felt that it was under control.  Kathryn's terse but informative final report had  indicated that they had preliminary evidence that the Mariposa was indeed armed with up to four railguns concealed as part of the main mass-beam drive system, and thus was virtually certainly the cause of the apparent meteor strike that had temporarily disabled the Orpheus base and almost killed Trip Tucker.

She had also stated that they were going to be able to obtain proof during the Oberth manuever.  From the specific way the former secret agent phrased her report, he suspected they were planning some actions which he, as director, would be better of being unaware of as he would then be required to advise against it, but he couldn't be sure.  Still, he trusted----had trusted.....Kathryn Janeway [Kim] to take no unnecessary risks four hundred million miles from home.

And in the normal course of things, he still  would have at least known what  happened.  While professional astronomical instruments, both land and space-based, had more important things to do, EASTA would have been focused on the most exciting space travel event in history.  The Earth Amateur Space Telescope Array (EASTA) had been a project begun shortly after Mahabharata, the Indian space elevator, had become fully operational, to deploy an inexpensive array of optical telescopes which would be able to be synchronized and controlled from the ground for amateur astronomers to use.  It had been an ambitious and ultimately surprisingly successful project, with its multiplicity of smaller aperture space telescopes sometimes nearly matching the performance of some of the professional telescope arrays.  

Unfortunately, only minutes before Mariposa and Voyager had passed out of sight around Jupiter, EASTA's control system had crashed due to an adaptive virus infection which had taken one day and a half to eradicate, and another twelve hours had elapsed before the multiple elements of EASTA could be realigned properly; even a very small element of uncertainty in the positioning of the several dozen EASTA telescopes would eliminate their tremendous light-gathering capacity and resolution. 

So instead of pictures of the ships down to less than 1 meter resolution---almost enough to read the Mariposa's name on the hull---we lost them entirely for a few days.  Mariposa's shattered hulk, front half severed from the rear and most of two of its drive spines shattered, and Voyager---is nowhere to be seen!

Even radar had been fooled, because whatever had happened, the two vessels had totally changed their courses.  Rather than charging forward out of the Jovian system, both had for reasons unknown decelerated and emerged----or not emerged, he corrected himself, since Voyager was nowhere to be seen---on utterly unexpected vectors.  It had actually fallen to the Intra-Phasic Search Telescope (IPST) to detect the wreckage of Mariposa and allow the others to home in on it and try to start making some sense out of the incident.

As no trace of Voyager  had yet been found, the theory that made the most sense (a terrible kind of sense) was that she had for some reason slowed enough to drop orbit, scrape the atmosphere of Jupiter itself and be drawn ever closer until the friction melted even her alien hull and Jove pulled the remains down into the crushing darkness of its lethal atmosphere.

Richard shook his head and felt the ache not only in his head but in his joints---seeming buried in his bones. I'm getting too old for this shit, he thought.

It dawned on him with a faint chill that, in fact, he was getting old.  He was past seventy now.  It had been nearly fifteen years since Bellanna, Kes and Tom first dug up Bemmie.  Ten years since he last stood on Earth and watched Vulcan blast its way out of orbit.  Almost five years since the discovery of the base on Orpheus.

These days seventy wasn't that old, true.  When he was born---when personal computers were new and the web not yet worldwide---seventy was nearing the end of a man's life.  People lived longer now and the last great medical advances had pushed active, healthy lifestyles even farther, so that he was physically a match for what his father had been at 40 or 45.                                                

But right now he felt more like twice that.

He sat back down and called up the nearly blank document which was supposed to be a press release----one he just couldn't put off any longer.  Oh, there'd been a quick one expressing everyone's shock and loss, with some hope that maybe Voyager would be found soon---but this was different.  He would have to decide which direction he would take, both in public and behind closed doors, in placing---or not placing---blame for the disaster.

The European Union itself certainly wouldn't have resorted to such tactics---but the European Space Development Corporation might have; according to Britt Wallach, who was still the U.S. representative here at Phobos Base, the ESDC's CEO Lungsand had some rather dark-gray, not to say black, operations history.                                 

"Not directly, of course," Wallach had said, some weeks earlier, "but he's connected.  We're sure of it back at the Agency.  And with the political pressure and having seen the benefits coming out of the discovered bases so far---no, I wouldn't put it past him."  He'd made a very expressive face. "And picking--rather forcefully---DONELOW for this? Sorry, Richard, but that pretty much seems dirty tricks."

He'd appreciated Wallach's honest input---the more so since he could get it now.  The president who'd tried to screw Kathryn over and, when Kathy foiled him by resingning and signing on with the IRI, sent out Wallach as a replacement was gone now, his last term scarred by a totally home-grown scandal that put the opposition partyin power.  The new president was much more interested in cooperation, the more so since he could then depend upon others to do a lot of the work while he focused on domestic issues.  With those pressures gone.  Agent Britt Wallach had become more of an associate who just had to be treated with respect and the same caution over proprietary information as any other, not a specifically-assigned spy.

He sighed again and began dictating.  "The IRI apologizes for the delay in this announcement, but we have all been in a state of shock and mourning, ever since we recieved the news that the Voyager and the Mariposa had both been lost or suffered severe damage, presumably resulting in the deaths of all hands.  We have lost friends and even family on those vessels, as have those in the European Union, and we extend our own sympathies to our brothers in the EU over this horrific accident...."

This was, naturally, the obvious and smartest course, to say nothing to anyone. Treat it as a terrible tragedy whose cause would likely never be known and maybe arrange a true joint mission to Iapetus with the E.

But he had to halt the dictation again, because the very idea made his guts rebel.  They killed my friends.  How can I permit anybody to get away with that?

He knew he couldn't really live wiht himself if he did.  That was the reason Kathyrn, Bellanna, Tom, Harry, and even Kes and Britta had gone out on that half-insane venture, chasing down the Mariposa in a vessel 65 million years old:  because that kind of action, that kind of robber-baron treachery, could not be countenanced, must not be countenanced in the greater reaches of the solar system.

But at the same time he couldn't afford to lose the support of the European Union.

I really should have stayed a paleontologist. I had no trouble dealing with the petty politics there!

A light flashed on and off on his desktop and he touched the icon A message from Ceres. Encrypted.

Maybe they'd found some evidence, at least.  If he could prove what had happened on Ceres....

He was started to find that it was deeply encrypted.  The standard decrypt key in the desktop wasn't enough; it was demanding a personal one-time key and biometric verification.  It must be something important. 

The screen lit up and his heart seemed to stop for a moment.  

Then it gave a great leap and had felt a laugh of joy and relief rising as the scarlet-haired (if somewhat bedraggled) woman on the screen smiled at him.

"Hello, Richard," said Kathryn Janeway. "I'm using the secure Ceres relay for this because I'm sure you'll want to decide what to do---and you want us to do---very much in private.

"A warm hello from all of us here on warm and sunny Europa."

 

 

2.

"Pull---gently, dammit, smoothly, don't jerk!" Tom couldn't keep the tense exasperation from his voice as he barely reacted in time, commadnign one of the three autonomous "Locust" drones,Drillbit, to ease the tension on the all-too-vital cable.

"No need to snap," Marko Schmid said mildly. The dark-haired former enviro-systems tech for Mariposa spoke English with just a trace of his native Germanic accent.

"Sorry, but snap is just what we'll get if we're not careful.  We're crossing 100 meters of ice frozen to minus one-seventy, and the cable's dropped a lot of flexibility."

Tom felt his hair sticking to his forehead, barely kept himself from trying--futilely---to wipe sweat away.  That doesn't work when you're in a spacesuit.

He stood between two spaceships---the Voyager, half-embedded in a huge ridge of ice that had stopped her final slide after Kathryn Janeway had, impossibly, managed to land her on Europa---and the Calypso, one of Mariposa's two explorer/lander vehicles, which had joined them after Miles O'Brien's ill-fated mutiny led to Voyager's main reactor being shut down and Mariposa being crippled and most of her crew dead.  Six people on Voyager, six on Calypso; the only survivors of this whole disaster.

Of course, on his side that meant that Voyager hadn't lost anyone (not yet), while the survivors of Mariposa had lost 100 of their friends and co-workers.

"Run the sheath heaters again?" Kim asked over the radio.

So close now. Four meters, maybe five---but----"Yeah, you'd better.  If we break this way may be totally screwed."  Tom heard his voice shake slightly and realized that he was far from recovered from the tensions of the last few days.  Running on a few hours sleep for days on end will do that to you, espeicaly when you're not twenty anymore.

The cable he was helping string from Calypso to Voyager was, quite literally, the lifeline for the whole expedition.  The superconducting coil batteries on Voyager had been heavily drained for the landing---since her reactor was down---and the remaining energy was being quickly consumed by maintaining the dusty-plasma "Warp Drive" over the two crashed vessels as a powerful radiation screen, diverting the thousands of rems of lethal radiation that screamed down onto Europa every day from Jupiter's hellish magentosphere.

Had Calypso not been equipped originallyl as the lander and exploration beachhead for the expedition to Iapetus, they might have been out of luck already.  Thank God that was its intended destination, with a last-ditch lifeboat a distant second, and that meant it had Petra on board. The independent nuclear-powered melt-probe was meant to penetrate the icy shell of icy worlds like Europa or Iapetus, and in the latter case to reach the assumed Bemmi base beneath---and for that it had a lot of superconducting cable.

So it wasn't, strictly speaking, the breaking of the cable that would be the problem; it was the fact that they didn't have time to redo this before the Voyager and her barely-visible pearlescent shield shut down and let invisible, deadly hellfire in again.  If that happens, we'll have to splice cable and try to manipulate it almost all by remote control, and I really don't know well the Locusts will do in that kind of environment.

"Activating sheath heaters," Roosa Vatanen said cheerfully. She's doing well, Tom thought.  Possibly because she'd become so sure she was going to die at O'Brien's hands that she was still riding on relief.  Tom hoped she stayed that way, at any rate; they were going to need all the engineers they could get, and it was an incredible stroke of luck that they'd ended up with not one, not two, but three---four if you counted Green, who was technically an engineer but focused more on computer software/hardware than the heavy gadget sort.

He set the cable down gingerly and waited; his suits imagers showed the progressive glow of infrared marching down the length of cable with its embedded heaters, and his other sensors reported the slow, steady rise of its temperature.  He chuckled slightly.

"What's so damn funny Tom?" asked Bellanna.

"We're busy trying to heat a superconducting cable above the temperaure that we used to have to cool them down to just a few years ago, so that we won't break the damn thing like a twig." The cable was considerably warmer already, but nowhere near room temperature yet.  His smile faded as he looked to the side, at a counter projected in the upper left corner of the suit display; it showed the steady and inexorable drop in Voyager's power.

That'll have to do. "Roosa, cut the power.  Tom, Marko, I'm ready to pay it out again, you guys pull it through slow and steady on the count of three until you reach the interface.  We don't have time to wait anymore, it's going to take you at least ten minutes to mate the adapater and get it linked in and then another ten to test before we can throw the switch."

"Understood, Tom." Myles Green's voice was rock-steady, betraying none of the tension Tom knew he had to be feeling.

"On three.  One---two----three!"

Tom felt the pull start and the cable began to move again. Behind Tom, inside Calypso, Marko Schmid and Jean-Luc Picard were feeding the cable through the ship.  Outside it was just Tom and his three Locusts----Drillbit, Gigabit, and Bit.  The sensor and exploration probes multiplied Tom, synchronized with his movemetns so that all four could feed the cable across the gap between the two ships with minimal chance of snags or miscoordination.

Now the cable ripped smoothly from Calypso's hatchway, through the manipulators of Gigabit and Bit, through Tom's hands, and thence from Drillbit into Voyager.  One meter. Two meters.  Three. Four.

"That's done it!" Harry's voice was triumphant.  "We're starting to attach the adapter now.  The rest of you lock down the cable and put the pads around it.  Roos, I'll give you the go-ahead for the heaters as soon as we get them connected and grounded---that's priority #1 in the adapter."

Tom breathed a sigh of relief and told the Locusts to stay ready as he slowly released the cable.  One bullet dodged.

But this far away from home, there's a lot more bullets being fired at us!
 

 

3.

"All right," Kathryn Janeway said, her voice just slightly amplified by the walls of the common room of Calypso.  "Now that we're all reasonably safe for the next few days, we need to evaluate the entire situation and come up with a real schedule of action.

"Were you able to contact Dr. Paris, Kathryn?" Myles Green asked.

"I was.  He relayed a fast acknowledgment of our message through the secure channels, thanking us for bringing him up to date, and saying that he could dealy a couple---but only a couple---of days to do a press release we can all live with.  So that's part of our agenda today, but I'd like to leave it for some time later."

She looked around as the others nodded.  The Calypso was, relatively speaking, large, and had been built as a mobile command post and a vessel able to enter and leave atmospheres as well as airless environments.  The common area was meant to hold crew for just such meetings, and the number of people there seemed to make it crowded, but a headcount would make it exactly twelve, herself included.

Not very many to survive on a barren iceworld hundreds of millions of miles from home.

"First," she continued, "after this meeting we'll arrange a funeral."

"Not meaning to sound cold about it," Harry said diffidently, "but is that a good idea?  I mean, given everything else we've got to do."

He winced and withered under a number of glares, which only subsided slowly.

"Yes, I think so," Kathy said, deliberately not sounding either hostile or exasperated---though exasperation was certainly a common emotion even with the new improved Harry Kim. "Voyager was extremely lucky; we lost no one on board.  But not only did Calypso have two people die on the way here, but also Mariposa lost virtually all of its crew.  We need to salute them, we need to say goodbye, we need to stay civilized and human."

"Sorry. I still think someone needed to ask.  We'll be using power and resources for everything we do here."

"I---suppose someone did."  The Scottish accent belonged to Dr. Fiona MacLaren, late the Chief Medical Officer of Mariposa. She was a moderately tall woman with the solid, heavy-boned build that was common in certain Scottish families.  "A question we will probably have to ask ourselves every day from now on."  Her expression was controlled, but Kathyrn could still see traces of strain and sadness; she had fought heart to save both Leonard Stammler and Gregor Hnat, but Stammler had been badly wounded in the devastating scattershot explosion that had crippled Mariposa, while Hnat, outwardly appearing to be fine when he boarded Calypso, had quickly succumbed to acute radiation sickness; he had, it turned out, been in a side section which had lost shielding---and the geometry had meant that the remaining shielding had actually caused more radiation to be channeled through that area.  Even with modern medicine and some experimental anti-rad drugs, there was nothing that she could do.  Stammler had died hours after landing, and Hnat followed him about a half-day later.

Okay, let's get back on track.  People need jobs.  "Now that we've got that out of the way, let's focus on what we've got to do.  I don't think there's any argument that we're on our own in both surviving and getting home?"

Tiki Hamuera shook his head.  "No argument here.  I've run some sims---being as that was my job---and worked with Tom, Bellanna, Kes and Roossa on different assumptions, and the answer's always the same."  The slightly dark skin tone was the only sign of Tiki's partly Maori hertiage, but the accent was, as Richard Berman would have put it, "pure Kiwi."  he had been one of the few members of Mariposa's crew not from one of the EU's member states, hired specifically lfor his modeling and simulation skills, which could be invaluable on a vessel that would have to evaluate situations constantly with limited information.

"There's just no reasonable way they can get us help in time," Tiki continued. "The infrastructure was pushed to the absolute limite to get us out here to begin with.  If they start right now....within the next few days.....to build a new Mariposa, or maybe a dusty-plasam sail rescue ship, and everyone gives it top priority, maybe.  Maybe.  But most likely we're looking at two years before anyone else can make it."

"And even if we can survive two years," Bellanna said, "I suppose we'll still have to assume they're not coming at all, with that kind of timeframe."

"Right. So how long can we survive, Marko?"

"We're actually not in dire straits there," answered Marko Schmid, calling up a display that Calypso echoed to everybody present.  "Thank the general for making sure Calypso was prepped for just about every contingency. Even with scientific equipment on board, she was provisioned for eight people and an expedition lenght of one and a half to two years, and the general's decree of prepping her to be a lifeship added to that.  Your crew had planned on a round trip of three years and most of that's yet to come.  So provision-wise all of us together could make it at least two and a half to three years, especially if we're careful with rationing."  He grinned and gestured toward the outside. "Water, of course, won't be a problem."

That was true enough; they were sitting on top of a world-girdling ocean roofed over with water ice. "What about general environmentals?"

"We're okay on that, too. I'll have to keep up on maintenance on both ships, but with some good PHM programs and Tom doubling our sensor coverage in those areas, I don't see any problems.  We've even got some backups if we have to scrounge---the large rover we brought has its own environmental plant.  Insofar as power, Calypso's reactor can handle even a bigger load than this for something like ten years."

Kathy could feel the tension drain from the room as the environmental technician made his cheeful, matter-of-fact statement of hope.  "Thank you so much, Marko.  Doctor, I think we need to hear about the rest of us."

While taking careful physicals of the desperate combined crew hadn't been feasible, Dr. MacLaren had carefully gone over the medical records of the survivors and examined the telemetry of the extensive sensor suites in their suits.  "Overall, that's tolerable news," Fiona said promptly.  "Naturally the majority of the crews of both vessels were chosen for physical health and ability as well as for their professional skills, and this is evident in my examinations.  Some of us are getting older than the usual optimum, but that's really not a terrible concern; everyone here has had a lot of preventative medicine applied and, speaking honestly, are likely in better shape even at fifty or sixty than they might have been at twenty-five or thirty in the early part of the century."  She glanced over at Harry Kim.  "Mr. Kim's lungs are a matter of slight concern, but I'll keep an eye on them."

Kathyrn saw Harry wince reflexively, as he usually did when reminded of the horrific accident in which he had nearly died, and had lost his perfect health, inhaling enough superheated, toxic air to cause damage that even modern medicine could not completely undo.  "Good.  But I hear some reservations in your voice."

Dr. MacLaren nodded briskly. "Obviously I must be concerned with the gravity.  Mars-normal gravity was shone by three IRI studies to be adequate to minimize many of the effects of microgravity, but indications are that anything below a third of a gee will be a major problem.  If we are here for a year, there could be long-lasting complications."

"I thought they'd figured out treatements for that," said her favorite voice in the world.  Tom Paris was seated over by the door, as if ready to exit in case of an emergency.

"Some," continued MacLaren, "but the efficacy is still under research and there are clear side-effects.  The intention at Iapetus was that we would regularly rotated the groundside scientists back to Mariposa, where they could reaccustom themselves to normal gravity in the habitat ring at periods which prevent bone loss of any of the other health problems."

"This is a long-term problem," Kathy agreed, "but not an immediate one. I'd like you and the others, especially Tiki, to work together to see if there are better solutions, but for right now we've got to concentrate on the mission-urgent issues.  Which real boil down to getting uss off of here, which means fixing Voyager."

"Right." Kes Zimmerman stood and floated up slighlty before Europa's gravity pulled her back down; she looked slightly embarrassed.  "Ahem.  That's going to be the biggest project."  She called up a simplified schematic of Voyager to the room's projector.  "O'Brien's bullett went through about here.  The problem is that Voyager was a cobbled-together mess in some ways---no disparagement meant to you or Harry, Tom; she served us well and hopefully will get us back off this rock, but she was put together with not much time and some really crude compromises, which means that while I know it punched the core, I can't tell exactly lwhere because I can't check the housing and angles as precisely as I'd like.  I'm not sure we have all the tools I'd like to have, and it's going to be touchy work.  We're talking about disassembling a nuclear reactor and fixing what's wrong---with tools not designed for that job.  Which just emphasizes one of our biggest worries."  Kes glanced towards Dr. MacLaren.

"Oh, my, yes. Radiation.  We have radiation meters already, of course---all of us going into the outer system knew this would be an issue. However, it is terribly more important now.  Medical supplies are most limited resource, and radiation illness---well, poor Gregor gives us an immediate example.  If you exceed your dosage, you are dead. You might feel fine, you might be walking, but you are dead and there is not one thing I will be able to do about it." She looked levelly around the room, making sure she caught eveyrone's eyes. "Remember that. Voyager's shield is protecting us from what would be a lethal dose every day, but nothing is perfect, and it is also always possible that something could go wrong and bring down the shield."

"They're all set to alarm automatically," Harry pointed out. "And I can give us backups."

"That would be ideal, Mr. Kim.   But anyone working on Voyager will have to be extra careful; radiation, please remember, is cumulative over quite a long period of time, and the more you absorb now, the less safety margin you have for later.  I know this is repeating things that have been said before, but it really does bear repeating, and I shall continue to repeat it at intervals until I'm absolutely sure you've all got it.  We will be here---a year?  Maybe longer.  And during all that time we must be vigilant."

"We understand, Doctor," Tom said.  "And repeat it all you want. Everyone should stay inside the ships when possible; they're built with shielding, especially the crazy stuff Bemmie used for Voyager's hull.  But the big radiation shield from the Voyager's drive is our main interest, so we're going to be foolproofing that two ways.  First we're going to armor up the cable so that you can drive over it without a problem, and second we'll be stringing up a backup calbe over another route.  No power outages unless something can take out both."

The floor beneath their feeet quivered and something rattled in another room.  Kathryn found everyone standing up and looking at her.

"A----Europaquake," she said slowly.  Trip? Do we have something to worry about?"

The tall, slightlyl stooped astrophysicist glaced at his opposite number, Jean-Luc Picard, and shrugged. "Hard to say. Maybe. The reason Europa has a liquid ocean is that Jupiter keeps squishing it around and generating heat.  The following bulge moves back and forth every day..."

"And the one theory is that many of the cracks on the moon, if the ice is relatively thin, may be opening up each time this happens," Jean-Luc finished. "We may have some very interesting times.  Though the Conamara Chaos isn't believed to be a direct feature of that behavior; some people think it's the result of collapsing voids beneath the surface.  I and some others think it's the remnants of a meteor strike, or maybe it's both.  Still, significant quakes on a substrate that may be capable of splitting are no laughing matter."

"See what you two can come up with insofar as how bad the quakes are likely to be, how frequent, and what we can do to keep from getting killed or our ships and equipment damaged.  The final part you'll likely have to work with Tom and Myles."

"Gotcha," Trip said equably.  His even-tempered willingness to go along was one of his strongest points, especially in crowded spaceships.  Jean-Luc Picard also nodded his agreement.

"This," Kathy continued, making sure her tone lightened in a way to draw people's attention back to her, brings me to the other major effort we'll be undertaking." The others looked at her in puzzlement, and she smiled.

"Let's face it; we're going to be living here in very cramped conditions for likely over a year, with danger lurking right behind us ever minute.  I think we need to remember to give us something to do beyond just survival....especiall if we can make it part of the whole effort."

Everyone's attention was fully upon her now.  Kes grinned, the sudden flash of white that always seemed to brighten whatever room she was in.  "I see you've got something brilliant in mind as always, Kathy."

"Just efficient.  That's my job, after all. We're going to need a lot of reaction mass, what we someetimes just call 'fuel,' for the main drive engines.  We've used water in the past when we had to, but the ideal is hydrogen or at least some other lighter material.  I know that our tanks are designed to handle multiple materials; what I want is a determination as to wehther we can get by with just water for current purposes. It may not be as efficient but it's so much easier to work with that if we can, we probably should.

"In any case, whether we use water or hydrogen, we have only one real source:  Europa's ice.  Which we have to melt.  Fortunately, we've got a device meant to melt a ton of ice: Calypso's nuclear-powered thermoprobe Artio. And it was thinking about that which brought the whole idea clear.

"We are all here on a journey of discovery," she went on, seeing some of the faces already brightening in understanding.  "I don't see why we shouldn't go on being scientists and discoverers even now.

"We can't protect Europa from our contamination really; we didn't plan on this landing, and we had no chance to sanitize our material in the manner required by international law.  More, we can't afford the time and effort to maintain such strict controls, even if we had the resources.

"But we can go on with our research. Artio was aboard Calypso to probe Iapetus's interior, but she can tunnel into Europa's just as well....and provide us with all the water we'll need.  Unmanned probes have traveled through the system, but as we know from Phobos and Mars, all the automated probes in the universe still aren't half as good as human beings on-site--if you can get them there.  Well, we are here, and we won't just survive.  We won't just rescue ourselves. We'll learn, just as we came all the way out here to do."

Bellanna suddenly laughed, and Harry looked at her in confusion. "What's the joke?"

The brunette paleontologist shook her head bemusedly.  "It's---so typically Kathryn, three steps ahead of our own thoughts.  If we were all thinking of this as survival and nothing more, we'd be doing our science all right---but feeling guilty about it, as if we were somehow wasting valuable thinking resources.  She's already seen that and this makes it all part of our job---so we can just enjoy as much as we can."

Kathryn felt a touch of pink on her cheeks, and---unlike in some intstances---it wasn't entirely at her choice. "Anyone else taking a few minutes to think about it would see it. I just want us to remember to be human in all ways.  Not just for remembering the dead---but for keeping us among the living."  She looked up involuntariliy, and---like the others---she wasn't really seeing ht elow ceiling of Calypso, but the immense black sky with King Jupiter low in the west and Sol a tiny disk less than a fifth than seen from Earth. "Especially when we're the only living things within hundreds of millions of kilometers."

 

 

 

 

 

4.

I am the only living thing within hundreds of millions of kilometers, thought General Elmar Brecher. 

The thought was not, he admitted to himself (there being nobody else he could admit it to) strictly true.  There were undoubtedly a number of bacteria, probably fungal spores and the like, still living on the remains of the giant mass-drive vessel Mariposa, and there was the chance that the water-oceans under the surfaces of Europa and Ganymede harbored some kind of life.

But of course when we thing such thoughts, we mean life as we know it---other humans, dogs, cats, something that feels like we do and would be able to alleivate our loneliness and isolation.  And there's nothing like that except for me until you reach---at least---the asteroid belt and Orpheus.

Seated---strapped in---at the engineering console of Mariposa, Brecher could see the exterior view displayed faithfully by the still-operating external cameras of Mariposa, or the half of Mariposa that remained at all.  The forward portion, separated from the rest in Brecher's last-minute desperation maneuvers to prevent a meteoric crash into lethal Io, had impacted on the volcanic moon of Jupiter just scant minutes before Brecher's section had passed---just barely---by Io and continued onward.

In the days that followed he had gathered supplies from the wreck which seemed both far larger and more cramped than it had before.  Sometimes he had to wriggle his way through crumpled metal that half-blocked a corridor, or find a way to force open a door whose frame no longer quite fit and which had no power to control it.

It was, he was forced to admit as he took a bite of the tight-wrapped liverwurst sandwhich that was his lunch, something of a miracle that any of the systems still functioned.  O'Brien's shrapnel-filled shell had detonated at what might have been the worst possible angle and shredded the huge EU vesssel like a bird hit by a shotgun blast at point-blank range.  Angles of explosion and of other hardened components had protected engineering itself and some of the other core regions, but the drainage was so pervasive, so heavy, that even systems which would normally have been able to recover some function were failing, and even with the references and augmented reality overlays that the central engineering systems and his own in-suit computers could do to repair any of them.  Most of the stauts board showed red, with considerable splotches of yellow and virtually no green anywhere.

At least I can manage to spend a fair amount of time out of the suit.  The suits had been designed well and a man could live in them for a long time---but everything chafes, everything becomes dirty, no matter how well designed, no matter what special funtion or even self-cleaning materials and miniaturized systems exist.

The air of Mariposa was almost clean, but the sharp, urgent smell of burned-up electronics and heated metal still hung in the air, maybe permanently a part of Mariposa's surfaces by this time. Still it was far better than being a prisoner in the suit, giving him time to take zero-g showers, clean the unit out, refill its vital reservoirs (and empty other, equally vital reservoirs), and even to rest in a suspended hammock---with a helmet always nearby, naturally.

The lack of additional crew also meant that he did not have to ration out the better remaining supplies, like the actual meat content of his sandwich; even though many storage areas had gone with the other half of Mariposa, the giant vessel had been provisioned for a hundred people over three years. Even a very small fraction of that would sustain General Brecher for as long as he was likekly to survive.

That might not be for too horribly long; the critical indicator of air supply was a brilliant amber and there were times he though tit was starting to shade to red.  Overall, though he was fairly sure of the integrity of the remaining hull of Mariposa, even if a large proportion of her main air supply had been lost.  There were very small leaks somewhere, but whenever he could trace them he sealed them, and the cold hard fact was that 99% of his crew were gone; he dind't need all that much air.  Oh, it'd run out eventually with the slow leaks bleeding it away; a month, two moths, three at most and he'd be reduced to staying in his suit, trading and refreshing air supplies until the rechargable oxygen renewal systems finally gave out, but that didn't really matter. His true mission would be accomplished long, long before then.  It was an easy mission, just one that had needed a good deal of wrok, but was not almost accomplished.

Back to work. Brecher mad sure he had no significant crumbs in the air and carefully placed the wrappings from his lunch in a disposal chute.  He unstrapped, shoved himself with practiced ease over to his suit, and donned it, running through the full functionality checklist before sealing the suit and making his way over to his tool bundle. One more set of connections to go!

The theory was very simple, and the practice not much more complex.  While Mariposa's structure incorporated a lot of composites, it also included a great deal of metal, and some of that structure could be used as a gigantic antenna.  Not, maybe, the most efficient of antennas, but he could spare power to make up for that.  Indeed he could, with virtually all other ships systems shut down, the mass-beam drive offline, and even environmentals only required for a fraction of the original vessel.  The important thing was to make sure he could transmit with enough power---across a number of different bands---to make sure that he was heard.

Because what he was going to say---was going to be something many people did not want to hear, and being silenced was not an option.  His honor---the only thing that was truly left to him---demanded that much.  The truth about O'Brien's actions, and those behind him, had to be known.  That was the least he could do for those on the Voyager, as well as his own crew, who had been their victims.

It was in a way horribly unfair that he was the only survivor, but the Mariposa's radar and remaining imaging systems---both infrared and visible---had found no trace of Calypso or Voyager since he had regained control of Mariposa.  What had happened to them he couldn't guess; Calypso had departed with the survivors many hours before Mariposa's last rendezvous with Io, but maybe it'd been unable to escape that collision itself.  Voyager, crippled by O'Brien's brilliant if totally sociopathic attack, may itself have crashed somewhere, or merely lost power and dwindled into the distance, so far away that neither infrared nor radar could find her now.  He had no idea of the full abilities of these systems, nor was he an expert in their use.

Perversely, he still had an occasional flash of wishing that O'Brien were here; the security expert had hidden a tremendously able mind behind his deliberately-affected accent and had undoubtedly been nearly as omnicompetent as Kathryn Janeway, his adversary.  He would surely have figured out a better way to accomplish this objective, and might even have been able to tell them what really happened to the others.

On the other hand, he'd simply have shot me for even trying to transmit the message I intend to transmit. He wanted O'Brien's competence, not his presence. 

Brecher sailed with economical, efficient movements through the corridors and through rooms.  Sometimes his passage disturbed the slow, drifting dance of ordinary objects---pens, paper, fragments of broken glass--in the air, leaving a rippling trail behind him that rang a distant bell in his memory, a fragment of one of the novels a younger Elmar Brecher had read while daydreaming about space.  He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not dead yet!

Indeed, though not that long had passed, or is likely to.  Still, the memory was a kind of grim symmetry; like Vaidas Kutas, Brecher was trapped in the wreckage of his own ship, living onlky to strike back against those who had condemned him to this space-drifting tomb.  The difference was that Brecher knew how to achieve his goal,a nd he needed no miraculous reawakening of the drive of his ship to do so.

The next door showed only vacuum on the other side.  He sealed his helmet and opened htte lock. The corridor looked superficially untouched, but a close look showed the neat hole, nearly large enough for Brecher to put his fist thought, that had let the air out of this section.  A distorted and frozen corpse---Senior Officer Latorre, Brecher thought sadly---drifted in the weightless emptiness.  He tried not to touch the Senior Officer's body as he went by---out of respect, not squeamishness.  I must devise some kind of ceremony after I'm done.  There are at least ten corpses on board this part of Mariposa and if I cannot committ them to the deep properly I must at least pay the correct respects---perhaps make Mariposa itself a tomb worthy of their sacrifices.

He opened a panel at the far end and checked.  Power still flowed here.  Good!  He inserted the end of one cable into the power source and locked it to the repeater and transciever box, then moved on.  Ten more meters...

Naturally the door between there and her was stuck.  He extracted the compact spreader-cutter rescue tool and inserted it into the gap.  As he already had a power-connected cable, he removed it from the transciever and plugged it into the spreader-cutter.  The rescue tool hummed to work, the sound inaudible through the vacuum but transmitted to Bracher through his suit as he held the tool in place.  He could also feel and hear the groaning protest of the door as it gave grudgingly under the tons of force the tool could generate.  A few minutes sufficed to force the door wide open enough for Brecher to wriggle through with the cable and transciever.

He left the tool behind him for now; it was "compact" only in the sense that it could be carried around by one man, but it was still a massive and unwieldy instrument, and he had no more barriers to pass, just one panel to remove.  Behind the panel was one of the main structural members of Mariposa, metal and carboanan composite combined.  He attached the antenna connections to the metal portion, reinserted the power line into the transciever, and clamped all pieces down to make sure they stayed in place in the unlikely event that he made any maneuvers that would put stress on them.  

Almost impossible, really, he thought.  The neo-NERVA drive was no longer operable, its damaged nozzle having blown off in the last manuevers, and the few functional reaction thrusters were veyr low on fuel---or, he corrected himself, on reaction mass, to be precise.  With Jupiter's magnetic field available, Mariposa's magnetorquers had been able to eliminate her unwanted rotation partially, with the field-parallel vector being dealt with by those few remaining reaction jets.  Any maneuvers he could manage would be slow, ponderous, and unlikely to be felt by anything in the ship.

The central engineering console verified the connection and started running the progrram to characterize and balance the jury-rigged antenna system as best as could be managed.  While that was ongoing, Brecher made his way back, picking up the rescue tool on the way.

The calibration run was nearly complete as he finished stripping off his suit and strapped back into the console seat.  The computer had flagged a few anomalies for him to examine, and he sighed.  I am hardly a radio engineer, and if this needs more than a bit of look-up and basic calculation---ugh!

Most of them, fortunately, were simply areas of signal loss that he'd expected.  Most of the radio noise being recieved was what he expected as well; Jupiter's entire solar system was filled with it!

However...

He frowned at the last one.  It was narrow in spectrum. And the cutoff bands were...

"Gott im Himmel," he heard himself whisper.  It couldn't be.....

But there had been distinct peaks, peaks that corresponded to the movement of Mariposa in her drift through the Jovian sky, and that meant direction, a triangulation that would tell him if the impossible was true.

And when he had his answer, the amber warning of Mariposa's air supply was no longer irrelevant at all.

5.

Richard checked himself in the camera-eye once more. Every stitch in place, every line correct. And my hair going mostly white, I gotta admit, has added an extra soupcon of dignity to my appearance.

He also checked the VARD display, making sure the "augmented reality" display of his announcement would allow him to focuse on the attendees while still able to see the announcement notes. That's good enough.  Let's get to it, then, as Kathy would say.

He stepped out onto the tiny platform that was in place in Phobos Station's conference chamber, and acknowledged the smattering of applause with a nod.  "Everyone please be seated, thank you," he said with a brilliant flash of his trademark smile; he noted that for once there really were sufficient people present in the conference room---one representative from each of the six recognized space powers (the EU, the USA, China,India and Nigeria), Ronald Dorsey from Ares, and all four of the people who, in addition to regular jobs on Phobos Station or the IRI base below, acted as reporters for the various news services.

"Now, I know everybody's been waiting for a real announcement and some details, but I hope you understand it's been a very trying time for us all and we didn't want to make any announcements until we were absolutely sure of our findings."

That final bit was a deliberately ambigious statement, and Richard thought he saw the slightest twitch of concern on the face of Dirk-Jan Banis, the EU respresentative from Holland.  He probably doesn't know veyr much, but there has to be some sense of worry pervading the EU space community right now.  They've lost the most expensive ship ever built, at least by some measures, and it was at least to a great extend their own fault.

But the idea of this conference wasn't to cause trouble, so he went in with a sudden broadening of his smile.  "And the first thing I want to tell you---should be said by someone else."

One cue the display behind Richard lit up with Kathryn Janeway's face; behind her could be seen a number of other people from both the Ares and the EU expedition.  Kathryn smiled and repeated the line she'd said first to him some days earlier.  "A warm hello to all of you from all of us, here on sunny Europa."

It was amazing how a mere ten people then managed to sound like thrice that many, and it took a few moments for him to get them to quiet down.  "Please, everybody, I'll answer questions in a little bit, but let me get through my announcement; I'll no doubt be covering many of your questions as I do so.

"As you can see, by both tremendous luck and some absolutely heroic and inventive actions on the part of the crews of both Voyager and Mariposa, there are some survivors of this twin tragedy, and they are---at this time---healthy and safe. They made a superb landing on the 6th moon of Jupiter, Europa; for those interested, the Institute will be releasing the footage of that landing as taken by the survivors themselves." As if anyone in this bunch would not be interested. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if that video clip becomes th emost-viewed in the history of mankind.

"Unfortunately, while---at the moment---all of the Voyager's six crew have survived, there are only six survivors of the Mariposa.  In addition, these twelve people are currently maroooned on a moon whose environment makes Mars look like an Earthly island paradise."

He paused for a moment, taking a drink of water from the glass on the podium.  The ten faces before him, five men, five women, waited tensely.  "I know all of you want to know what happened---how we got here.  The preliminary events are already known and I think we all want to put those behind us."  He was referring, naturally, to the fact that the EU had taken the information on Iapetus's possible Bemmie base and run wiht it, while hiding that information from the Ares/IRI consortium on Vesta.  No point rehashing it, either.  "I'm sorry to say that at this point we still have only partial information as to what happened in those crucial hours as both Mariposa and Voyager prepared for their final manuevers in preparation for heading to the Saturnian system, but I will tell you what we know at this point.

"As both vessels prepared for what is called an 'Oberth manuever,' a method of using a combination of the interaction of the gravity well of a large planet with a ship's reaction drive to greatly change the speed and direction of your vessel, something went wrong with the automatic systems of Mariposa.  Instead of firing her systems to accelerate out of the Jovian system, the ship swung effectively opposit the intended vector and fired to slow down the vessel. Subsequently there was a large explosion on Mariposa." So far, I'm telling the truth---just omitting a few details and confusing the timeline a little bit.  Now I have to add some bald-faced lies, however.  "Upon detecting this event, Voyager changed her own manuever to try to match up with Mariposa.  This attempt was not entirely successful but did at least allow the two vessels to remain near each other.

He could see that Mr.Banis wasn't sure whether he should relax or not. Don't worry. We've reached an agreement on how to handle this, and you'll be able to relax soon enough.  "We still have no evidence as to what caused this explosion."  Strictly speaking one might be able to argue that this was true; he had some hearsay about what happened but no direct testimony by Mariposa's personnel---yet---and he hadn't gotten copies of the sensor records from Tom which would no doubt have demonstrated just what did happen.

"What we do know is that it was violent enough to shatter at least one of Mariposa's mass-driver spines and send shrapnel through most of the whole vessel.  Most of the Mariposa's crew, I'm sorry to say, died within minutes of the explosion, as the shrapnel penetrated most of the living quarters in the 'hab ring' around the vessel.  The damage also severel incapacitated the radiation shielding, which led to further casualties.  Intraship communmications were almost totally wiped out, and even in the areas of the vessel that remained liveable immediately thereafter, there was little to no way to communicate with other components nor to reach them unless the people in question were fortunate enough to have their EVA suits with them.  The vessel's magna-torquers apparently malfunctioned along with some of the other systems, and this caused a spin in the ship; this eventually revealed that serious sstructural damage must have been done, because in the end Mariposa broke up into two separate pieces."

"Good Lord!  How did any of them survive?" The involuntary question came from Norma Brewer, once a NASA information specialist on the Nike project, now the main IT for Phobos Station and freelance 'stringer' for CNN.

The question fit neatly into his narrative, so he went with it.  "Fortunately, on the far side of Mariposa from the explosion was the bay with its remaining landing craft, Calypso.  Even more fortunately, General Elmar Brecher had directed that Calypso be kept ready for use at all times, even though arrival at Iapetus was not projected for many months to come.  Because of this, the few survivors who were able to make it to Calypso found themselves with an excellent and well-stocked 'lifeboat.'"

"Excuse me, Dr. Berman," Dirk-Jan Banis said, "but---was the general one of the survivors?"

"I am afraid not," Berman answered regretfully.  "According to the survivors, he was still alive but remained onboard to make sure that, in fact, the Calypso could launch successfullly." And that much is, in fact, true.

The two successive questions had succeeded in breaking the briefing into a Q&A session, but that didn't bother Richard; he'd gotten the main introduction out of the way and the rest could be presented in this format as well as any othoer.  "Rick," Ronald said, "I'm confused by this.  The Voyager's dusty-plasma drive isn't really limited by mass as such, and even if we assume that Calypso, fully loaded, was maybe a thousand tuns....I think it's considerably less---there's no reason for them to have landed anywhere.  If the two ships could rendezvous at all they should have just made sure they were secured together and then headed home. It might have taken a little bit longer, but.....?"

"That would have indeed been the plan," Richard said, acknowledging Ronald's question with a nod, "but apparently fate was not quite through with our friends yet." Time for the next part of the big lie. "As they had slowed down to match with Mariposa and---later---with Calypso, something struck Voyager and punctured the hull.  It's possible that this was purely coincidence, or it may be that one of the fragments from Mariposa managed to take Voyager with it.  Be that as it may, whatever it was managed to damage the ship's reactor core."

"Christ almighty!" Ronald muttered, and similiar sentiments rippled around the attending group.

"I see you understand. Without an operating reactor the Voyager could not continue operations of the dusty-plasma drive, especially, at full size and with full control."

"Dr. Berman," Tsukino Amane, the Japanese representative, spoke up with an apologetic tone.  "Forgive me for bringing this up...but as I understand it, the Voyager and the Mariposa were, in truth, the only vessels currently capable of outer-system travel---even if, for instance, the Nike or Galileo could be spared from their current support duties.  Does this mean that we are only going to witness another tragedy as the survivors starve or freeze to death?"

"I don't think so," he said with another smile.  "We are already working on plans which---with, I hope, the assistance of the EU and others---will allow us to get a new outer system vessel constructed in the next year or so.  But more importantly...." he activated the second clip from the interplanetary castaways.

"We're not just sitting on our asses here waiting to be rescued," Bellanna Torres said from the display, smiling confidently at the assembly.  She stood on the surface of Europa, the immense banded gibbous disc of Jupiter touching the horizon behind her, the black of space faintly pearlescent with some odd mist.  "We have engineers. We have tools. We have food, air, and a whole planet of water, and we've got the Warp Drive working some as a shield so that we can live and work right here on Europa.

"So you go right ahead and build a rescue ship---we need all the ships we can get, anyway. But don't be surprised if we meet that ship halfway, because we're going to fix the Voyager, and fly her and Calypso all the way back home!"

 

 

6.

"I'm not seeing much of a lightshow," Harry observed as he watched Tom hard at work.  Of course the "hard at work" was more conceptual than actual; much of Tom's work looked more like a man reclining in one of Calypso's pilot chairs, wearing a pair of reflective sunglasses and waving his gloved hands semi-aimlessly in the air in front of him.

"Give this iceball a good atmosphere and you'd be seeing a pretty good one," Tom retorted. "I've just finished returning Calypso's topside comm phasers and we'd already figured out the tweaks for those we put on Voyager.  They're all running now."

"Kathy mentioned you were working with the phasers, but she didn't say for what. So--for what?!"

"We need all the resources we can get our hands on, right?  Welll, the most versatile single resource we've got is, naturally, Pixie Dust. I can't get any more of mine delivered here, but...

Harry laughed.  "You've still got it, I see. Of course, there's just tons of the Mariposa's drive-dust floating around out there. And the more of it we get, the better off we are."

"Right in one.  Oh, it's practically chipped-flint level compared to my babies here," he patted the sealed bag he carried practically everywhere, "but even that stuff can do a lot for monitoring activities, basic PHM/CBM over every millimeter of both ships, be a sensor net over a wide area---and allow us to put off the fancy stuff until we need it.  Like if the Doc needs some very detailed imagery of somebody."

"I thought you said Pixie Dust wouldn't survive long in a human body.  You know, when you went all Mad Scientist on Mazzara." Harry was speaking of the not-so-distant time when some of O'Brien's agents (actually more like unwilling pawns) had made the extremely bad mistake of kidnapping and threatening Kathryn.

"And that's true, but if one of us is hurt or sick, I'm not going to whine about sacrificing some of my toys to get our medical officer the best data she can use.  At that point the very minor risk from the dust will hopefully be a lot less than whatever's threatening our crewmates." Another lazy set of gestures with a glissando ripple of the fingers.  "Shouldn't you be working?"

"Break time.  Those of us doing outdoor work..."

"---do pretty short shifts to prevent any chance of getting bored, overstraining the suits, and such.  So do we need heaters?"

"So far, no.  As you so aptly observed, Europa only has an atmosphere in the very technical sense that astronomers use---basically that it's got a higher density of gas around it than the surrounding medium. So it's not conducting or convecting any heat from us, and only direct contact with the surface poses any kind of threat there.  We're still trying to dump heat, not trying to keep it."

"Good.  I doubt we could successfully retrofit any of those suits for heating."

Harry suddenly sat bolt-upright, the motion jouncing him almost a meter into the air; whatever he was looking at in the VRD had captivated him so totally that he seemed utterly oblivious to the fact that he somersaulted halfway around and came down nearly on his face, breaking his fall with an instinctive and unconscious movement of one arm.  "Holy flying wrecks, Batman!" he said.

"What?"

"The Mariposa! She's still flying!"

"What the---?!  Show me!  I thought we'd calculated that she was heading for a crash landing on Io."

The forward telescreen lit to show a horribly mangled yet still somehow recognizable shape.  "Damn! She looks even worse than the last time we saw her," Harry said slowly.

"Much worse," Tom muttered, his voice abstracted. "She's lost her entire forward half.  More than half, if you're counting by mass--everything very far forward of the main engines and drive spines is gone."

"Could she have had a one-in-a-million grazing collision?" Harry remembered an old video he'd seen of a large meteoroid that had passed through Earth's atmosphere and then headed back out into space without actually hitting the ground.

"Ummm..." More waving of the hands.  "Not with the orbit we left her in.  Something had to have shifted her orbit quite a bit.  Not much, or maybe quite a bit, depending on when..." Some more motion indicated Tom was trying to figure out how much change would be needed at what point in the orbit.

Harry stared at the mangled vessel on the telescreen, turning very slowly. "Tom," he said at last. "What's that?" 

"What's what? For an engineer, your dialogue is amazingly imprecise sometimes."

"That---green flickering on the Mariposa."

"What green...." Harry trailed off, then froze.  "KATHRYN! Get your ass in here RIGHT NOW!!!"

The suit and ship control systems weren't particularly smart by human standards, but they were very good at context-sensitive transmission.  Not only did they immediately relay that order directly to Kathryn Janeway (Kim), they recognized the urgency and context and did not send it to anybody elese.  Tom, of course, stayed put. Anything that got Harry that excited he wanted to know about right away.

The lock cycled and Kathryn entered, removing her helmet.  "What's up, Harry?"

The screen flickered, and suddenly, looking out of it, was a face.  A face with a sharply-cut blond beard and a slightly-beyond regulations haircut, looking at them with startlingly golden eyes.  "Voyager and Calypso, please respond.  This is General Elmar Brecher.  Voyager and Calypso, please answer.  This is..."

Even Kathryn seemed frozen in shock for long moments---though Harry realized later it could only have been for seconds.  Then she snapped into action.  "Cane we reply?"

"Huh?" The question broke Harry out of an incredulous stare. "Oh, yes.  Of course.  He's using Mariposa's remaining dust-collecting phasers as a comm beam.  Probably homed in on ours once we started them up."  Harry scratched his head, then tapped out invisible commands. "Didn't think the general was quite that tech-savvy, though.  That was a fast response---I've only been working these things maybe twenty minutes." He nodded sharply. "Okay, that should do it.  I've patched it through for you and you alone to speak although anyone here---that's the three of us---can hear you."

"General, this is Kathryn Janeway.  We read you.  Over."

".....and Calypso, please respond.  This is General Elmar Br----"

The repeating message abruptly cut off and the living General Brecher was on screen. The golden eyes showed hints of tears shed and unshed, but he was smiling broadly. "Guten Tag, Agent Janeway," he said. "A very good day indeed."

"A marvelous day, General!  I won't ask you for the details at the moment, but---are you all right?" 

The face paused for a few seconds before responding; Harry said, sotto voce, "He's only about 500,000 kilomters away right now---figure about one point seven seconds each way."

The general then nodded. "I am, for now. I am afraid that there are no other survivors on board this vessel, however."  His smile faded, as he asked carefully, "May I be so curious as to ask....how many of my crew are still alive?"

"Only six, sir. I"m sorry."

The figure on the screen closed his eyes once enough time had passed to send the message back.  "Sechs...Six." It was, indeed, a small enough number when his crew had numbered over 100 in total. "Still, six is infinitely preferable to zero.  Then you and Calypso did indeed join forces.  Still---why are you there on Europa, instead of using your magnificent Warp Drive to sail home?"

Kathyrn explained the situation. "So we expect to find a way to get hom eventually, but we couldn't do it as things were."

Brecher nodded. "Yes, I see. Excellent thinking.  Calypso has more than enough power to bring both of you back into space, as she was designed to be able to reach Earth orbit on her own, and Europa has scarce 1/8 of Earth's gravity."

"Excuse me for butting in," Harry said, "but---no offense, sir---how it you were able to lock your beams on our so fast? I'm not surecould have pulled it off that fast."

"Unless," the general responded with a more natural smile, "you had that trick up beforehand. Once we'd recognized that you had captured some of our dust and were playing with the beam, it occurred to us that you might be planning to somehow interfere with our drive. I accordingly had instructed Mr. Schmid to create options within our control systems whereby our phasers---much stronger than your own---would automatically track yours and attempt to overwhelm any signals you sent.  That particular application was not hard to repurpose to using for a transmitter."

"Speaking of which---Generla, you haven't communicated with anyone farther in-system, have you?" Kathryn's voice ws tense, and Tom suddenly realized why.

"No, not yet. I very nearly did, I admit, but just before I was prepared I detected radio activity and realized that it was coming from Europa." General Brecher looked grim.  "I was going to transmit a detailed account of this whole affair---a totally honest account. But once I realized that your people might have survived, I decided to at least try to contact you and find out what your intentions were."

Kathryn sighed with relief.  "Thank you for that, General. As we proposed before Mr. O'Brein mutinied, we wish a cooperative venture---previously for the exploration of Iapetus, now in getting us off of Europa and home. Sending an unvarnished account would totally destroy that cooperation.  Understand," she continued in a harsher tone of voice, "we've got every intention of bringing this home to whose who were behind O'Brien---but not in such a way as to make all of the EU our enemies by embarrassing them publicly."

After the pause, they saw Brecher nod slowly, his lips tightening for a moment. "As you wish, Mr. O'Brien himself is dead; whlie I cannot claim to have killed him---he was a terribly capable man, as I am sure you are aware---what little data I could wring from the computers indicates that in his attempt to reach the location on Mariposa where I had sent Calypso, something happened that either killed him outright or, maybe, ejected him into space.  Either way would be most certainly his doom---and one far too good for him.  But his backers---I promise you, you we are of one mind on this."

Kathyrn was smiling narrowly, the kind of smile that sent a slight shiver down Tom's back; it always meant trouble. Trouble for the people Kathy didn't like.  "And I think you, General Brecher, are going to be our secret weapon."

"I believe I have an idea of what you mean," the general said after a moment.  "But you may only have me for a brief time."

"What?" Kathryn looked worried.  "Don't tell me the Mariposa is headed for a crash?"

"Nein, nothing so melodramatic, I fear." General Brecher gestured to the ship around him.  "The Mariposa is too damaged to work forever. In particular---she is leaking.  In a few weeks---maybe a few months---there will be no air left that I can breathe."

 

 

 

7.

"We have to rescue the general." Marko Scmid said the words emphatically, ending with a challenging glance at Harry.

"Damn right we rescue him," Harry responded.  At Marko's raised eyebrow, he continued, "Yeah, I raised the necessary question about the funeral, but that was about people we couldn't help anymore. If it weren't for the general, none of you folks would have gotten off Mariposa---or if you did, O'Brien would've been aboard. I can't see any way that could've worked out well."  And that's an understatement. That guy was someone who bothered Kathryn Janeway, and he damn near got everybody on both ships killed.  "So we all owe him big time, since we'd never have landed alive without you folks.  We can't just let him drift out there and die if there's anything we can do about it."

"Is there anything we can do about it?" Trip Tucker asked, reluctantly. "We're just starting to figure out how to save ourselves."

"There certainly is," Myles Green answered. He brought up a diagram of the inner Jovian system. "Here's big daddy Jupiter and his big kids Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.  Mariposa was originally scheduled for a grand finale hard landing on Io, but the general pulled off a genuine miracle and managed to shift his orbit to avoid that.  The combination of his shift and the encounter with Io put him into this orbit."

Harry watched as the dot representing Mariposa cycled through an obviously elongated orbit while the Galilean moons performed their effectively circular orbits around Jupiter. "He's orbiting between Io and Europa!"

"Right, and that's what gives us an excellent chance, if we can get everything working soon enough." Myles paused the animation. "Here, he's at maximum distance from Jupiter, and just a tiny bit outside Europa's own orbit.  Relative to us, he'll go through periods where he's really going quite slow, comparatively speaking.  If we can rendezvous with Mariposa at those times, we can transfer people or equipment pretty easily wihtout crowding Calypso's safety margin."

"Right," Dr.MacLaren said, "but I think the earlier bit there is the sticky one. If we can get everything working soon enough. Can we? The General said that he could be out of air in a few weeks."

"Sorry, but snap is just what we'll get if we're not careful.  We're crossing 100 meters of ice frozen to minus one-seventy, and the cable's dropped a lot of flexibility."

Harry opened his mouth but it was Roosa Vatanen who spoke first.  "General Brecher's managed some miracles thus far, but he's no engineer. I would be very surprised if the engineers we have here can't give him some better guidance to stretch out his survival.  Dr. Kim..."

"Harry, please," he said reflexively. I'm not quite as bothered by the title I haven't really earned as I used to be. But habit stays with a man.

"Harry, then.  Harry, would any of your Pixie Dust still be operative on Mariposa?"

"Yes," he promptly answered. "I was going to say something about that just a minute ago.  I'd concentrated a lot of the Dust into the control systems of the neo-NERVA drive and the drive spines---as you know.  Some of it got lost in the disaster, but once we started talking to Mariposas I was able to focus some comm phasers on it and then use both Calypso and Voyager's RF antennas to pick up some back-pings from the Dust. Problem is that in all the hash of interference Jupiter likes to throw out, it's really hard to get anythin good out of things at this kind of range.

"Would it help if you could have an onboard control node?"

"Of course it would, but...." he broke off and then whacked himself on the head in reprimand.  "Of course, there's got to be onboard comm and programming nodes for the drive dust. Maybe real simple..."

Roosa shook her head and smiled. "Not very simple, no. We assumed that various types of nanodust might be used, including in the future some quite complex ones. All we need to use them as interfaces are your protocols and security codes."

Harry hesitated, instinctively unwilling to hand control of his Pixie Dust over to anyone else---even if, as was true here, it was liekly that all he was doing was just letting somebody else talk to it so he could control it more efficiently.  "Uh---Yes, of course, you're right."

"What'll we get out of that, Roosa?" asked Jean-Luc Picard.

"Tons more information, that's what," said Marko Schmid.  "We had a lot of built-in sensors throughout Mariposa, but the whole system was pretty much destroyed by the accident, and for all I know some of what O'Brien did might have wiped other parts by accident.  We stopped getting any significant updates from the main PHM systems onboard once the central net went down.  If we can get Harry's much smarter smart dust spread through the critical areas, I'm sure I can figure out where the worst leaks are, help the general plug them, and maybe even find how to activate some of the backupt air supplies that still have to be on his chunk of Mariposa.

"Very well," Kathryn said.  "Let's presume that we can help General Brecher seal Mariposa better and preserve enough air so that he has several months instead of weeks. We still have to get Calypso filled with reaction mass, and we can't just detach Calypso from Voyager without losing our shielding."

"We're about ready to deploy Artio," Marko spoke up. "She was designed with piping to help dispose of water as it was melted, and Myles and I have put together fittings that will take that water and put it directly into Calypso's tanks---and another set that will do the same for Voyager's tanks.  Water is not the very best reaction mass, but it is the best compromise we've got---abundant, stable, noncorrosive, easy to handle, no need for high compression or any of that nonsense." As usual, only a slight hard edge on some of the consonants showed that German was Marko's mother tongue.

"Artio does have a roughly one-meter bore," Tom said, "which means that you'll get a metric tone of water for every meter or so she descends." He grinned.  "That's what Kathy meant about doing science while we save ourselves; we'll be cutting a deep bore into Europa's crust, studying this cross-section of the moon, and getting our reaction mass at the same time."                  

"That's---a long bore." Hundreds of tons of water would be needed, Harry knew---five hundred tons or maybe more for each ship.

"But actually pretty short compared to what we were looking at on Iapetus," Jean-Luc pointed out.  "Sure, where the vents are seen, there the crust must be very thin, but if we wanted a piece thick enough to stay on without it cracking apart, we might have to find a place with kilometers of ice crust."                               

"Good enough," Kathryn said, "but what about the Voyager and the fact that we need to maintain a radiation shield?  Those of us left behind could just retreat inside Voyager's main hull, I guess, but..."             

"Not necessary, Kathy," Tom answered.  "Given the problems we've already had, Tiki and I have been modeling various changes to the Warp Drive interface, and there's ways of running a reasonable-sized shield version of the drive with a lot less power.  If Calypso fully charges our ring batteries before leaving. I think we can keep everything going a lot longer than we used to."

Kathy smiled. "Excellent. So we believe we can keep General Brecher alive long enough, we can get to him, and we can keep ourselves alive while we do it. That leaves just one more problem:  why are we going out to Mariposa?"

Everyone, Harry included, stared at her. "Uh---what?"  Tom said after a pause. "We're going there to rescue the general, Kathy. Wasn't that what we were all just talking about?"              

She shook her head. "Yes, and of course that's what we're doing. But what do we want everyone back home to think we're doing?"

Now Harry got it. "Crap. Of course, we're trying to keep the general a secret. So we need a reason to go out there that makes sense but doesn't involve rescuing somebody."                    

"Couldn't we be trying to salvage something from the wreck?" Kes asked.                                   

"Maybe, yes," Marko said, frowning, "but it would have to be something very valuable---crucial for our survival.  Look at how much we are risking.  To help another survivor, it makes sense, yes, people will oftn do things that are very risky for that; but if we're not admitting that this is our reason, then we need a motinve that's very, very strong."

"What about superconducting cable?" Harry suggested. "We could say that a big chunk of Artio's got heated too high during the landing."  As with many other materials, heating the Bemmie-derived room-temperature superconductors too much could destroy critical parts of the metamaterial structure that made it work.                                                                                                                          Kathy looked thoughtful, but Marko shook his head. "Never work; there's only one place on Calypso that Artio wold have been stored, and for it to get that hot, we'd have had a lot more troubles.  Ones likely ending with us all dead."

"Why not just say we're going to look for survivors?" Tiki asked. "We didn't know there was a piece of Mariposa intact before, now that we do we feel obligated to check."

It was Kathyrn's turn to shake her head. "That one unfortunately fails the strength-of-motive test. Oh, it could be assumed we had that discussion, but anyone would know that I would oppose it....and, not to waste our time with pseudo-modesty, I'm fairly sure that I could make sure that we didn't go down that road if I felt it was a bad idea."

Nobody seemed inclined to argue; the Voyager crew had worked with Kathryn Janeway for years and knew just how formidable she was, and of the formidable Mariposa crew, several knew that Kathyrn was the only person who had worried Security Chief Miles O'Brien.

There was a brief silence as all twelve castaways tried to think of something that met the strict requirements.

A rippling chuckle suddenly broke the silence. Startled, all heads turned to the source. "What's so funny, Doctor?" Myles asked.      

Fiona MacLaren smiled. "It's a tad trite, that's all.  But why not medical supplies?  I used up quite a bit of ours," her faces was momentarily shadowed, "trying to save Leonard and Gregor.  We're going to be working on a damaged nuclear reactor, on a moon---let's be honest, really a planet that just happens to be going 'round an even larger planet---that might be unstable enough to get us hurt rather directly. And we still could get sick in other ways---that old hackneyed standby appendicitis could rear its head, to name one.  Calypso was supplied with the assumption that Mariposa would be orbiting overhead in case of any real emergency, at least in terms of medical supplies.  Now we have twelve people and a real state of emergency."

Harry found himself nodding alone with Kathryn; the delicate-looking redhead said, "I like it.  Yes, I think that's excellent.  Most of the experimental medications for low-gravity expsoure are on Mariposa as well.  That's really a very good idea, Dr. MacLaren."                                            

"We do tend to think of our own specialty first."  The Scottish doctor tried not to look overly pleased.

"All right then, people. Let's get to it.  Keep the general breathing, get the tanks refilled, and prepare our stories to withstand any questions." Kathryn said briskly.                                                   

"Concocting stories to decieve and confuse the enemy?" Tom inquired as everyone stood up. "And I thought you gave that up for Lent."

"Oh, don't spoil her fun, Tom." Kes said, and gave a delighted chuckle herself as she saw a touch of pink on Kathryn's cheeks.

"I wouldn't dream of it," Tom answered.  "She's never quite happy if she doesn't have someone to confuse," he continued, with a fond look at Kathryn, "and I'm just too easy a target to be worth it."

 

8.

"So why Artio?" Kathyrn asked, watching the melt-probe's interface and prestart prep screen.  So far, so good.

In one corner of the HUD she saw Kes, who was helping position one of the anchor sections, grin. "My God, Kathy, I think this is the first time you've ever managed to shock me by not knowing something."

She returned the smile at the gentle dig. "My publicity greatly exceeds my only very slightly superhuman abilities. I know the name of course, Artio, the Gaulish goddess of wildlife, transformation and abundance, often shown with baskets of plenty and surrounded by animals.  And I can, I suppose, see that a probe designed to seek out life could be named Artio, but it seems like quite a stretch."

"Very true," Roosa Vatanen put in from her position directing the assembly of the anchoring structure for Artio's deployment.  

"You had the probe on board long before we even discovered Iapetus would be the target."

Kes blinked. "Oh---yes, of course, they had to.  They didn't have a chance to go back and get one built."

"That's right," Roosa admitted. "And so the probe was orginally just MP-N-1.  Melt Probe, Nuclear, number one.  We knew that there were several major bodies in the outer system which had icy surface layers that might need melt-probe operations, so such a system was included on Mariposa's manifest as a matter of course.  Once the destination was determined, a name became a priority and, having exhausted Greek and Roman names, we mined the Gaulish pantheon for that one."  She raised her voice slightly. "Marko, Myles, the support deployment is on schedule. How's the startup check going?"

"Everything looks good so far," Myles answered. "Kathy hasn't seen any alerts, so Artio seems to have come through without any damage."

"How long before the support framework is ready?" Marko asked. "Prestart checkup on Artio will be done in a few more hours."

"Longer than that," Roosa answered. "We are in very low gravity, which makes support less of an issue that it'd be on Earth, but we cannot afford any level of preventable risk.  Based on Jean-Luc's analysis I've expanded the support radius considerably, with more anchor points.  We'll be able to start Artio in two days or so, I estimate."

Kathryn nodded to herself.  Jean-Luc, with some input from Tom and modeling by Trip, had determined that there was a small but significant danger from the quakes, and that they certainly should be bracing everything for potential shocks.  A probe trying to tunnel into the depths of Europa was, obviously, one of the things most at risk, even though it was designed with that possiblity in mind and could, in fact, tunnel backwards if it had to in order to get back up a partially-collapsed shaft.  But it did need to retain a good connection to the surface to do that.  "Good enough, Marko.  I'll keep an eye on the interface, but I'm switching over to team two on the comm."

"Acknowledged."

"Trip," she said, knowing the comm system would recognized and perform the switchover even as she spoke, "how are you coming with the Mariposa?"

"Slowly," Trip answered.  He hastened to add, "There's progress, and I'm sure we'll get it all set soon enough, but righ tnow things are going at a snail's pace."

"What's the holdup?  Harry, is it the Pixie Dust?"

"Not as such, no.  Or maybe yes, I guess. Between Roosa and Marko--and me, of course---we were able to get their nodes to talk to my Dust well enough, and we're getting a lot of good data.  But it takes time to get the stuff from point to point, and that's one huge ship. I have to figure out how much to move, and where, and then it's got to work its way, millimeter by millimeter, to the target. And the dust doesn't move all that fast on its own, even in zero-g."

"Aren't there key locations to focus on firt, rather than trying to distribute it everywhere?  And I thought you had distributed it through the systems before."

"Again yes and no.  When we first compromised Mariposa's systems we entered through known points on the neo-NERVA drive, and after that I was able to pinpoint other entry locations. But even then, I was focused on one specific set of systems, the drive controls. I wasn't touching their environmentals, for a lot of reasons. So there's at least three places that I really could use a bunch of Pixie Dust in so it could disperse from there, but I never had anything all that close.  So it has to go there, at about a hundred microns per second.  And the routes aren't always very direct."

"Well, you concentrated most of it in Engineering," Kathy said after a moment. "Why not have it just go into a cup or a bag and let the general carry it to the main dispersal points?"

There was dead silence for a moment, and then the transmitted sound of a glove smacking the faceplate of a helmet.  "DUH! DUH!  Adric Myles Green....SOOOOOOper-Genius!"

Trip was laughing, but he said, "Don't beat yourself up too much there. None of the rest of us engineers thought of that, either."

"Sometimes you just need someone on the outside of the problem to show you the solution," Kathy said, trying not to let herself giggle; Harry would get over it, of course, but there was no need to rub it in, as he was doing a more than adequate job of it himself.  "Taking this into account..."

"....if I have the highly-trained commander of Mariposa act as a pack-mule for my ultra-advanced sensors, yes, we can speed things up a lot.  Duh, again.  Trip, can you modle the dispersion if we have the general move some to the main areas in question?"

"Just a minute." In very little more than the named time, Tiki Hamuera's voice returned. "That cuts a lot of time out. We'll have most of the environmental and integrity monitoring network up within the next day and a half, especially if I assume the general isn't averse to actually dispersing what he carries in smaller packets to specific areas."

"I'm sure he won't be, after all, your initial tests did help already."

"True enough. We found two seals that had subtle leaks and one filter that had failed without tripping its built-in indicators. His air quality went up significantly after that."

"Trip, on another subject, how long will it take to fill Calypso's tanks?"

"That's an easy one. Assuming no breakdowns---and I think we pretty much have to assume no real breakdowns, just occasional snags---Artio can manage about half a meter an hour at this temperature.  As we go deeper the temperature may---has to, I guess---rise significantly, until you reach the water layer.  It's got a melting cross-section a little bigger than I'd at first thought, just about exactly 1 1/2 square meters, so you get about a ton and 1/2 of water every meteer. So---a month from the time we start melt, and she'll have gone about 350 meterse, or a 1,000 feet for the Americans listening."

"Hey, I resemble that remark," Harry said, "and I use metric constantly. I can't help it that my country insists that it's better to arcane systems from the dawn of time."

"More to the point," Kathyrn said, ignoring Harry, "are you saying that we could launch the Mariposa in only a month or two?"

"It depends on how well we get everything established here.  We can't afford to leave until the modifications to the Warp Drive controls are tested and shown to work---both in reducing the volume and thus power demand, and in maintaining the same shielding effectiveness," Trip answered. "WE sure don't want Calypso taking off unless we're 100% sure that we're not going to need Calpyso to keep us going."

"We're definitely agreed on that. On ething that we've got to also do is check on the supply division; the last thing we need is to discover that while we have enough of eveyrthing, all of some vital material or component is on board only one of our ships, so that when Calypso is gone one or the other of us is suddenly short."

"Food likely won't be a problem," Harry said, "but the vital supplie of Tom Paris may be tight."

Kathy gave a little chuckle at that. "True, true," she siad, "but if that's our biggest problem, I think we're in pretty good shape."

 

 

 

9.

"The EU, it did not advertise that its astrophysicists were expected to do heavy physical labor," Jean-Luc Picard ssaid with dry humor.

Kes laughed as she tried to position her piece of the huge gray-white mass of material.  "I don't remember them specifiying that for their xenopaleontologists, either," she said.

"Yeah," Tom said, "but at least paleontologists spend their time breaking rocks regularly. We astronomical types look at computer screens and expend our heavy effort lifting coffee cups." He pulled perhaps slightly too hard on his piece and it slid up and slightly over him so he had to to back up, and tripped, falling in slow-motion.  "Bugger, as some of our Down-Under friends might say."

Kes restrained another giggle.  Tom's protest was of course mostly pro forma and exaggerated the stereotype; on Earth, the best observatories were generally in areas of the world which remained both remote and challenging, while any space-based operation required top-flight fitness; Tom had shown his physical abilities while helping to build Ares' fledgling colony. "Is this thing built like our shelters on Mars?"

"Not really," Harry said. He wasn't physically participating, but mainly because he was once more being the nerve center for coordinating several operations at once; it was something ideally suited to him, and Kathy had made sure to emphasize that, both to prevent anybody else from resenting the sensor expert's apparent indolence (not that many were likely to) and just as importantly to prevent him from feeling guilty that he was inside while most other people were doing "real work."

"On Mars," Harry continued, while Kes and the others finished spreading out the largest of the shelter units Calypso had been carrying, "we used mostly the old 'tuna can' hab units, like the ones we lived in on the way here to Jupiter syste, plus the Cascade-SAIC designed subsurface inflatables.  But there we could take advantage of the Martian soil, bury stuff underground and insulate with the native material.

"Here on Europa, we're dealing with ice frozen so hard that digging through it is like trying to take a shovel to steel. Artio can cut through it, yeah, but can you imagine how long it'd take to keep repositioning and running Artio in order to clear out anything of reasonable size?  So we can't really go underground, at least not quite for a while."

"Actually, the original plan would put us underground anyway," Marko said, "but the excavation equipment was supposed to be brought down from Mariposa after the lander had verified the site, and the space for it was taken up by a lot of the additional supplies the general had us load up to make it a viable lifeboat."

"Yes," Jean-Luc said. "We are lucky, I think, that these shelters stayed aboard."

"All right, Kathy, you'll have to set the first hold-downs," Kes said, seeing that they had the fifteen-meter-long, ten-meter-wide structure spread out fairly well. "I think we can extend it a little bit after you get two in place to keep it from sliding all over."

"On it," Kathyrn said.  To set something down well into the rock-hard ice requires something more complex and forceful than the standard tent stake, and that was why it was Kathy's job; the hold-down units were a combination of shaped-charge and spike, blowing a small hole into the ice and inserting a long spike which then extended anchor points.

"So to finish answering your question," Harry went on, "These are more self-contained---though they need some power run to them from Calypso or some other source---and designed for much more extreme environments.  There's a big difference between operating in even a relatively thin atmosphere like Mars and going to hard vacuum, and sitting on ice that's cold enough to liquify air is another major difference.  You've got a lot of specialized LTP aerogel insulation in the floor, gluzocane-reinforce puncture-resistant layered synthetic walls---interior and exterior---plus a lot of built-in amenities.  Well, 'amenities' by the Spartan standards of the Outer System; we don't have a Jacuzzi in any of these.  But there's power, air filtration and renewal, temperature control, all of the stuff to make it liveable---and give us a lot more space while we're here."

Kes cut in the private channel. "Which I am so looking forward to."

She saw Harry grin and wink in her VRD. "I want to lay claim to our own hab unit again. And I know Kathy and Tom want theirs back..." he glanced sideways and she could guess where he was looking. "And it's hard for Marko and Bellanna when there's like no privacy at all!"

Ain't it the truth, she thought.  The two married couples in the group had established and assumed relationships and the rest of the "castaways of Europa" had assumed and arranged---without, as far as Kes could call, even being asked directly---for occasional hours of privacy for those pairs.

As Marko and Bellanna had pretty much just begun the dance back---Good Lord, a year and a half ago---during Mariposa's visit to Ceres, and had minimal chance for privacy since, no such automatic arrangments had materialized.  It wasn't beyond the pale that another couple might materialize within their midst either; Kes had no idea of the preferences or intersts of the others from Mariposa, but---as Kathy had once mentioned to her---with two other women and (counting the general) seven other men in a highly emotionally-charged environment, she'd be surprised to see nothing else happening.

Besides, even without the romantic pairings, there was plenty of reason to want a few hours away from anyone elese.

Kathy arrived next to her.  "Stand very still." The smaller spacesuited figure bent down, did something with her hands; Kes felt a sharp shock or vibration through the soles of her boots, and a moment later Kathyrn straightened up. "Okay, let go."

The material tried to pull back but the spoke firmly held.  "All right, then. Let's all get the rest of them stretched out and set at intervals.  Watch for the indicator tags."

"You mean the square over the hold-downs?" Jean-Luc asked. "It looks just gray and has not changed ever since we began working."

"Because we haven't had any part of it anchored," Kathyrn answered. "The indicators sense tension and extension along the length in two dimensions.  When they're pulled to the right distance and tension levels, that gray square will turn bright green.  Pull too far and it'll go red.  If you're too far off angle, determined by the way the spikes and other walls are set, it will start going either yellow for an angle that's too acute, or blue for one that's too obtuse.  So you want to get each square as perfect bright green as you can before I lock it down."

"Got it!"

The process took another hour and a half, by which time Kes was beginning to feel awfully tired.  Low gravity reduced the weight of the suits, but the mass stayed, and it was actually in some ways a lot harder to move around in low-g with extra mass all over you---especially if you were trying to pull or drag things that didn't want to move to start with.

But as soon as that last spike was in place, she heard Kathy signal Harry.  "Okay, Harry, check status.  If everything's green, pull the trigger."

"Checking now...good work, everybody.  That things within a very small percentage of being perfectly straight on all sides."  A pause.  "Kathy, the third spoke near the middle of the far wall---away from Calypso---didn't set right. For some reason the anchor points didn't deploy."

"I can't move the hold-down though. What do I do?"

"Pull the first spike, then take a new one and just disarm the charge, then put it down the hole and I'll trigger it; hopefullyl it will deploy the anchor points.  Normally I wouldn't really care about one being not perfectly set, but we're still not sure how heavy the quakes are going to get, and I don't want to take any chances."

I don't want to take any chances, either, Kes silently agreed.   A few minutes passed before Harry confirmed the substitution had gone well. "Harry," she began, "what if there's a big quake---one that really alters the landscape?"

Harry shrugged. "Then we're screwed.  Imagine one of these cracks opening up for a second. I think we've got to assume we won't get something really big---like Richter eight.  A five or a six we can likely handle, though it's possible it'd hurt something. But we need the space--for work, and for our sanity---and that shelter's built tough; I think it can take anything the rest of us can." He spoke more loudly and was broadcast to the whole group. "All right.  Activating the shelter---now."

Kes stepped back; almost instantly she saw the almost shapeless mass, staked out in a rectangular pattern, start to come alive.

"Active composite elements responding. Constructing first level wall grid."  The sides of the perimeter began to rise systematically, a low wall coming up almost as if being elevated from below.  It reached a hieght of about 1 1/2 meters before stopping. "1st level wall grid complete.  Interlocking supports connecting---connected---locked. Structure is solid!  Looks like the design's working!  Starting second level wall grid with reinforcement elelments."

The shelter continued to raise itself under Harry's direction; the main walls were 3 meters high, with the roof curving gently to a maximum height of 4 1/2 meters.  "That's deceptive, though," Harry noted. Insulation, structural flex abilities, internal wiring and such, plus lots of cushioining and redundancy in the structure and leakproofing, make the walls about 1/2 a meter thick now that it's assembled."

Completed, Kes had to admit it looked pretty impressive up close; spaced-out transparent aerogel-filled windows would admit light and a view to the rooms that made up the interior (it could be divided up several wasy).  This was going to give them large, open, brand-new spaces where all of them could go around sans suits.  But most importantly----"Harry?  How long?"

"After you get the power cable connected?  I'd say---about 90 minutes.

"But for you, it's probably going to be at least another hour after that," he continued, and she could see him grinning.  "'Cause I think our fearless leader is willing to pull rank and her extreme badass nature in order to be the first one to get a real, if low-gravity, shower!"

 

10.

"Even with the reactor scrammed, the radiation in there's gotta fry the dust, Harry," Tiki said doubtfully, looking on as Bellanna prepared to pour approximately three liters of Pixie Dust into an instrumental funnel-shape that was positioned above Voyager's main reactor, fitting precisely into the small but fatal hole in the ceiling.

"Oh, no doubt about that," Harry agreed cheerfully, and Marko continued for him, "And if we had no access to the main tons of drive dust made for Mariposa, maybe we would not be risking our most versatile sensing method this way, at least not yet.  But the drive dust was meant for long-term space exposure and was hardened by some complex metamaterial design to resist a good deal of radiation, mostly beta radiation, admittedly. I would advise against betting that it'll survive long inside a nuclear reactor, but it should last long enough to give us the data we need."

The trouble was, naturally, that opening up a fueled nuclear reactor whose core had been punched wasn't something to do casually; in fact, with the tools available to the combined expedition it was something that only the mad or the desperate would try. Still, even something insane was best attempted with the maximum amount of knowledge.

Harry felt he'd redeemed himself slightly after his prior blindness to the easy solution of his Pixie Dust's mobility, by realizing that the tougher, simpler drive dust would provide a sacrificial method to obtain a clear idea of what the exact condition of the core was.  A few devices back on Earth might've been able to look straight through the reactor casing, but---after all---the casing was especially designed to prevent any kind of radiation from leaking out, it was equally efficient at preventing any radiation from getting in.

He was really pretty proud of how he'd solved the problem of knowing what they hit.  Bellanna and Tiki had managed to assemble a detailed model of the orginal reactor and core, and simulated what the drive dust motes would "see" as they encountered the various components.  While there wasn't really enough data for the drive dust to identify, say, uranium vs. steel in isolation---unlike his cutting-edge Pixie Dust, it wasn't buiolt with multimodal sensor components---but the way in which hihg-speed impacts would break the pieces apart would still yield a fairly good rule-of-thumb heuristic to recognize the different kinds of things expected outside the reactor.

So Harry would run his custom sensor analysis software on the drive dust as it worked its way, likely quickly degrading, through the reactor casing, and then when he'd processed the data as best he could, he'd send to Tripp's model, where the interior would be mapped out and----with luck---the precise nature, position, an extent of the damage caused by O'Brien's last shot would at last be known, allowing them to proceed with precision; possibly they'd even be able to figure out a way to do the repair without really having to open the casing, working through the already-extant hole as if doing a laparoscopy.

"Ready, Harry?" Bellanna asked.

Harry checked all the displays in his VRD. "Telemetry's good for the whole mass.  Since we'rein vacuum we don't need to worry about any of the messy reactions that can happen in a reactor that's been breached. Yep, we're set."

"Tiki?"

The New Zelander gave her a thumbs-up.  "Model's ready to take input as fast as Harry can feed it to me."

"All right.  Starting the pour---now."

In Europa's roughtly 1/8 gravity, the speed of the almost liquid mass of drive dust motes looked more like the lazy flow of stage fog off the edge of a stage, dreamlike, surreal.  But there was nothing unreal about the torrent of data that abruptly filled the bandwidth Harry had allocated. "Data stream coming in loud and clear."  Another running tally started to rise. "Yeah, it's lousy with rads in there. Attrition rate is already noticeable.  Progress isn't terribly fast, though.  The motes are using gravity assist where they can, but that core's packed pretty tight.  Lessee----" He made some basic assumptions, plotted things again.  "Yeah, it's definitely going to be eating into the supply fast.  Marko, I think we'll need twice that much to finish the scan, get it up, would you?"

"Right away."

Bellanna joined them in Voyager's control room, pushing back the helmet with a relieved sigh. Harry knew that she was always (understandably!) tense when working near the damaged reactor.  "When does Tiki start getting something?"

"Getting something now," Tiki said. "Only starting the outline at the entry point, but it's sufficient to show it's working. Don't get too eager; it's going to be two hours, probably, before we get enough data to give you a look."

Bellanna smiled. "It'll take us days to take her apart, so a few hours to know whether we've got to, or what way we've got to?  Priceless."

"Harry," came Myles's voice, "Got a minute?"

"I do now," he answered, leaning back a little in the seat.  "What do you need?"

"We got another quake, about 3.4 on the adjusted Richter, and the dust we spread around the whole area did a lot of recording.  Can you...."

"No problem.  I actually have a suite of programs designed for deriving data out of that kind of return."  He suddenly grinned.  "Kes knows; you could almost say it was the earlier version of that suite that got us into this mess to start with."

"You mean the analytical program you used that gave us a picture of the Bemmie fossil before we even dug it up?"  He could hear the smile in her voice even if he hadn't seen it in the  HUB imagery his VRD showed. "That's right, you set off little charges or something and mapped the acoustic, along with other signal returns."

"And the combination almost got me thrown off your epedition as a practical joker," Harry finished, with a chuckle.  It was one of his fondest memories; a revelation so dramatic that even the people who'd called him in very nearly didn't believe him---likely wouldn't have, if Myles hadn't known him so well. Plus, that was when he'd first met Kes. Not that he'd even imagined at the time.

A second firehose of data started dumping into his systems; this one, however, was for much more familiar analysis, and with even the relatively limited systems available on the Voyager and Calypso was much easier to interpret.  In about fifteen minutes he was able to call Myles back. "Well, some interesting results for you to look at. Some if it I have no idea how to interpret, but I can tell you that it looks like there's a general discontinuity about a kilomter down; I'd say we've got evidence for the Thin Ice model."

"A kilometer?" Myles's voice was incredulous. "That's---almost ludicrous.  Unless---lemme take a look." Several minutes passed, interspersed with Myles and Jean-Luc debating some of what they saw in technical language.  Finally Myles said, "Hey, listen up, everyone."  The tone and his use of 'everyone' keyed the general broadcast. "Returns from that last quake gave us the data we needed.  This whole area's part of something called the Connamara Chaos, and turns out it's an appropriate name below the surface as well as above.  Everything's scrambled, no clear structure---and there's some really odd returns; I suspect that there's some subtle interaction of different phases of ice that's making it very hard to interpret some of what we're seeing.

"But I thnk we've got good evidence for an impact several thousand years ago; that's what screwed up this part of Europa, and it actually thinned the surface over an extended area; I think ew can see the thickness trending up in all directions away from us.  It's probably more like ten kilometers thick normally, but right around us the crust isn't much more than a kilometer thick."

"Does that mean that Artio may really punch through?" Bellanna asked.

"If we stay here long enough, and keep drilling in the one spot, I'd say certainly.  So we've got a tood chance of really getting the first sample of a planetary internal ocean.  Real science, guys!"

"That's about 3 1/2 months of running Artio," Trip said after a moment. "But then she was meant to run for a long time. If everything else holds out, I don't see any reason we can't do that. And we're not going to be done with eveyrthing else before then."

"What implications for our safety does this have?" Kathyrn asked. "I don't want to reduce the enjoyment of this discovery, but..."

"Totally understood, Kathy. We're still getting data on the---tectonic dynamics of this situation, so we can't really say for sure.  On the other hand, there've been several unmanned probes of the Jovian system in the last thirty years which observed Europa pretty closely, not counting the Europa probe that glitched, and none of them have seen clear evidence of surface breaches even here, so I'd say we should be reaonsably safe.  Keep everything secured, is all I'd recommend."

That's a relief, Harry thought to himself. If Kathy decided that their current location was too dangerous, they'd have to figure out how to move the crashed Voyager far enough to make it safe, and then land it safely again. NOT something I want to even think about trying.

He checked both sets of processes; the reactor analysis was still running, and the spread-sensor net was still running. Hm.  Another momentary spike of that lethal chemical dihydrogen monoxide.

He'd seen several of these momentary, almost-in-the-noise readings of water vapor, but the net still couldn't loacalize them.  Which meant he didn't have much to hand to the others.

It did occur to him that it might just be from the force of a quake, maybe momentary cracks vaporizing some of the ice somehow.

But the others were all busy talking about the ice thickness, so he decided not to bother.  Yet.  The scientists continued talking about the implications of this latest find while he leaned back and took a nap.

It was a curse that awakened him; the usually polite and cheerful tones of Bellanna Torres saying "Oh, shit."

That kind of thing immediately brought Harry to full consciousness. "What's the matter?"

He could see by the expression on Bellanna's face that it was even worse than he'd thought from the cussing.  She pressed a control and the modified model of the interior of the reactor appeared.

It looks almost as jumbled as the goddamn ice!  "What the hell....?!"

"Ricochets."  The word itself was spat out like another obscenity.  "That damned bullet penetrated the Voyager's hull, then the reactor vessel, then because the reactor was mounted directly on the lower hull it bounced off the hull the second time, and bounced two more times inside the reactor before it stopped."

"I guess that means it's going to take longer to fix," Myles said at last.

Harry winced, and Bellanna's face was grim as she answered. "No," she said, and took a deep breath.

"It means there's no way to fix it," she said slowly. "It's not a matter of one clean hole through; the whole core has been---almost scrambled, like an egg.

"Kathryn---I'm sorry, but Voyager will never fly again."

 

11.

"Got a minute, Rick?"

Richard Berman looked up to see Britt Wallach standing in his doorway. "For you? Always. Please, come in, take a seat."  He waved towards his coffeepot---the low-gravity device that Tripp Tucker had designed for the station a few years before. "Coffee?"

"Don't mind if I do," Wallach said. "Always for me?  A change since the old days when Kathy would be finding the most inventive excuses to head me off."  He inserted the coffeemaker's spout into the sealed hole in the coffee cup's top, and Richard could hear the faint hiss as the air displaced by coffee was vented through the other hole.

"And I find that just as much a relief as you do," Richard agreed with a smile.  He noticed that while Wallach smiled, there was a faint tension to the way he moved while injecting a measure of creamer and sweetener into the cup, a wrinkle or two on the now slightly-balding forehead.

"Oh, I do. And between you and me, I never liked my prior boss much either. I'm glad neither of you decided to start playing ball with him."  Wallach swung the chair around and seated himself, folding his hands around the cup as if to keep the heat in.  He looked seriously at Richard.  "Rick, I've got a lot of friends in high places.  You know that."

Berman nodded and said nothing, waiting to see what was on Wallach's mind.

"Some of those people are in modeling and reconstruction for the government, of course; the kind of post-action analysts that do forensics on the big things, like weapons tests that go badly wrong, stuff like that," Wallach continued, watching Berman's face narrowly.

Oh, my. I suspect that I know where we're going.

After a pause, Britt Wallach shrugged and went on. "Well, I've had some of them going over the entire sequence of events with Voyager and Mariposa, and things just don't quite match up."

"Match up?" Richard repeated carefully. "How do you mean that, Britt?"

Wallach gave him a look that said, as plain as if he'd said it, so we have to go through the whole song and dance?  Fine.  "You know, the whole bit with the Voyager chasing the Mariposa never sat well with me anyway. Sure, Mariposa's crew had pulled a fast one, but that whole emergency deployment of a ship you couldn't possibly even be sure would work didn't fit with the profiles we had of your people, at least not under those circumstances, especially given that Ceres base was still recovering from the accident and in the end actually had to give up its own reactor to get Voyager underway.

"Leaving that aside, though, in all honesty the whole sequence of events starting with the pass by Jupiter just stinks, Rick.  It's one of those barely-plausible sequences of events that no agent at my level can swallow as coincidence." He looked at Rick carefully. "But if it wasn't coincidence, then something caused it to happen---starting with that reversal of thrust on Mariposa's final burn. And for that, I have a candidate named Harry Kim, which would mean the whole thing was caused by Heroscape and the IRI!"

Sweet CHRIST.  "Britta, you can't possibly believe that I, or Kathy, would try to kill 100 people just because they stole a march on us?  Or that we'd let Harry do so, even if he was crazy enough to try, which he obviously isn't?"

"I would very much like to not believe it, Director," Wallach said, very formally, "but the fact that there are multiple layers of redundancy built into the controls of Mariposa---and I would presume any spacegoing vessel---to prevent such mistakes, or to cancel or stop them if they were to start.  Such as inverted burn implies either a fundamental flaw in the embedded software---a flaw that never showed itself throughout all the prior uses of their drives---or much more likely, a very carefully calculated subversion of the systems, so that even direct abort commands from the command deck and the core computers in the engineering section were ignored.

Berman thought for a moment. "Before I make any comment on this, even unofficiallyl, do you have anything elese?"

"There's quite a bit more, Director."

He stood and paced to the window, then looked back at Wallach as Mars spun past. "I would think the whole destruction of Mariposa would be even more of an anomaly."

Wallach's narrow smile acknowledged the point. "It is. A most interesting anomaly in several ways."

"Let's suppose---purely unofficially and purely theoretically---that I were to say that it's possibly your theory on the reversal of Mariposa's drive is correct, but that if it were right then there'd have to have been considerable excuse, if not justification, for the actions."

"An excuse," Wallach said calmly, "such as an assault on Ceres Base by a railgun cannon?"

Rick looked back at him sharply, but said nothing. Where is he going with all this blather?

"Richard, the idea the coincidence destroyed both ships stretches to the level of the ridiculous.  My people can't model any reasonable, or even reasonably unreasonable, scenario that would cause part of the Mariposa to explode with even a fraction of the needed force, and the only energy sourcees onboard which could have done that much damage were the neo-NERVA reactor and the Mariposa's main power reactor---both of which are still perfectly functional, according to infrared signatures from the remains that are being tracked through the Jovian system.  Even if we assume a high-velocity meteoroid impact that shattered a large portion of the Mariposa, it's very hard to create a scenario that results in any fragments moving fast enough, on the right vector, to puncture Voyager's Bemmie-made hull."  He stood and walked closer to Richard.  "But it's not hard at all to model the chance of a covert railgun in the drive spines that could've had, to use an everyday kind of parallel, shotgun loads."

"The Mariposa was inspected by your own people,Britt. You mean to tell me that the United States' own inspectors couldn't find a weapon---no, if your right, four weapons---a thousand feet long, right before their very eyes?"

Wallach's face darkened momentariliy, but he smiled wryly. "If this was the case, I assure you there will be several heads rolling.  But of course we're talking a covert weapon, one that would be designed to look like a perfectly normal part of the vehicle.  The EU and its contractors are quite good, you know, and the fact is that there isn't that much reason to have major armaments in space."

Richard sighed, turned away from the window, and faced Wallach. "Britt, to be honest it's a moot point.  The Mariposa---and any covert weapon it may or may not, have had aboard----is a wreck, almost its whole crew is dead, and if your scenario is correct their arming the vessel cost them all their lives somehow.  What matters isn't..."

"Richard." His name was spoken in a tone that cut him off instantly, something Berman wasn't use to, not at all.  "I think I know what you're doing, and I understand.  There's no profit for the IRI in pissing off the EU, and---if I'm right about what happened---right now you're potentially in a position of huge advantage with respect to them.  But politically you're skating a lot of thin ice, and you're playing with the very, very big boys. If my scenario's correct, the EU---or, more likely, some private concern, the ESDC or one of their divisions or subcontractors---not just got that psycho O'Brien assigned as Mariposa's security, they put a hypersonic cannon into his hands, in direct violation of the Mars Treaty and Accords.  Maybe the EU itself was utterly blameless---I'd sure as hell like to think that even Schulberg wouldn't be that stupid---but you know that we just can't let this kind of thing slide."

Rick debated with himself for what seemed a long tone, but was really just a few seconds. I've got to trust him if we're going to make any of this work now.  "Britt, I agree with you absolutely," he said at last.  

Wallach's look of relief was one of the rare uncontrolled expressions the agent had ever given. "You do? Then...."

"but this isn't exactly the time," Berman continued smoothly.  "You see---unofficiallyl and completely off the record---I will tell you that you're entirely correct, and I'm very impressed by how you've put all the pieces together. But there are a few, very cruicial, pieces that you're missing of this puzzle." As he explained, he fond the sequence of expressions that crossed Wallach's face nearly comical.

"The general's alive?!"

"He is. And given all else, I think you can see what we're planning to do."

Wallach nodded, and then he started to look suspiciously at Berman. "And you're going to need me to keep everybody else from jumping the gun."

"Please."

"Richard, do you have any idea what you're asking?  If I have a reasonable bit of intel.  I'm supposed to send it up the chain right away. Something like this..." 

He nodded sympathetically, but then he smiled. "I know, Britt.  But on the other hand---you came here privately, unofficially, to ask me.  You were already trying to keep it private.  If you weren't ready to play ball, why'd you come with your own bat and glove?"

Wallach couldn't restrain a snort of laughter. "Okay, you got me.  I knew you guys couldn't possibly have deliberately killed people in cold blood, and I thought I knew the story---but you've added a few wrinkles. Damn, Rick, this isn't going to be easy.  You want to keep the EU happy, stop anyone from blowing the lid off the truth, and get the rescue project well underway while your people try to pull of a by-their-bootstraps rescue on their own, before you go public."

"And we want to be able to get every one of the people responsible dead to rights," said Berman, this time with a severe edge to his voice.  "They nearly killed some of my best friends, and did kill 100 people who had trusted their lives to those people's work."

"That is going to be the really tricky part," Wallach said slowly.  "People like that---especially Banis, if he's involved---are insulated, protected, and very much readied for any accusations.  And he's not going to relax for quite a while." A sudden smile spread across his face.  "But we still have a few cards we haven't played." Wallach stood up.

"Like what?"

Wallach stopped in the doorway and grinned. "You know, I can't attend his retirement party in six months so why don't I give Director Okuda a call?  He might like an update on what his favorite protege is really up to on Europa."

The door hissed shut, leaving Richard feeling better than he had in weeks. We just might pull this off after all!

12.

"Then---there's zero chance of the reactor ever being repaired?" Kathryn asked, looking mostly at Bellanna but keeping one eye on everybody else in the conference room of Calypso.  This was a crucial factor, and she had to make sure that no decisions were made without as much certainty as possible.

Like most engineers, Bellanna instinctively shied away from absolute certainty.  Centuries of experience had taught the profession that real life machines and structures would fail---or sometimes, survive---in ways that you just wouldn't have believed or anticipated.  "Well---zero chance?  Um, if we were to..." She paused for one moment, clearly thinking, then shook her head.  "What am I saying?  No, Kathy, there's no way we're fixing it.  Oh, I could come up with some absurd maybe-possible scheme with the combination of Harry's super-dust, all the engineers we've got, and some luck, but in this setting?  No, that reactor's shot, and it's not getting fixed."

Funny how we seem to go from triumphant confidence to crisis mode on a regular basis, Kathy thought.  Now to navigate this crisis.  "Okay, the Voyager's reactor is shot. What're the next steps?"

"Well, first, we get the reactor and reactor-specific support components out," Trip said. "There's no use in keeping a damaged and potentially dangerous reactor onboard, and the thing---along with support components---weighs a lot. I know the "Keep our Solar System Clean" contingent will have kittens over the concept, but we've got to dump the weight where we can.  No point in dragging our trash with us."

"Makes sense, and I wouldn't worry about the complaints; we'll deal with that if and when we get home for them to whine at.  But what next?  How do we get ourselves home?"

The silence was discouraging.  But there's got to be a solution.  We have too many resources for it to not be possible. "Marko, what about the Calypso's main reactor.  Couldn't it run the Warp Drive?"

Marko grimaced, wrinkling his usually handsome face so it looked like he was sucking on lemons spiced with habenero peppers.  "Ja, yes, in theory. But---Kathyrn, you remember we did connect our reactor to your systems for the travel and landing to Europa."

"That's one of the reasons I asked."

"That worked for a short time, but that was because it was a short time," Schmid said. "The connecting of the ships was done through an airlock for each of us and took up a good deal of space.  We could afford that space for a few days, but it'll be months---perhaps a year---for us to make it back to the Inner System and a location where we can be rescued or make a good orbit and landing for ourselves.  As it is, we'll have to be taking turns in the rotating sections to raccustom ourselves to real gravity and minimize degeneration of our bodies from constant low-g exposure, yes?"

Kathy nodded reluctantly. "I think I see your point.  The twelve of us---thirteen, after we rescue the general---are crowded enough as it is, even though with the equipment aboard Calypso we've been able to set up those self-contained living quarters---not to mention the absolutely wonderfully designed showers---in additional insulated structures intended for the exploration and study teams. We just can't afford to sacrifice room for such a connection." She looked over to Roosa and Harry Kim. "I don't guess we could not use the airlocks?  Put in a dedicated---and out-of-the-way---power conduit?"

Roosa looked thoughtful, but Harry didn't even hesitate. "No chance in hell, Kathy. Maybe for Calpyso we could figure it out, but to put a nice out-of-the-way power conduit into Voyager we'd have to run it through the hull of Voyager."

She winced.  Nobody knew better than she just how unyieldingly stubborn the composite alloy they simply called "Vault material" was.  With what they had, she wasn't even sure they could put a hole in that hull at all, let alone do so with enough precision and control to prevent them from wrecking something else in the interior.

"There's another much bigger problem, too," Tom Paris said after one moment.

"So what's your good news, Tom?" Harry said brightly.

"It's related to that bit about gravity.  In order for us to manage that at all, we have to spin the ship and use those habitation modules...."

Marko nodded glumly, and Trip smacked his forehead.  "And Calypso wasn't designed to spin, probably couldn't be balanced while attached to us, and making a harness that let you transfer power from Calypso that was stationary to a rotating Voyager...." Trip trailed off, then finished. "It'd be twice as big, and a huge potential point of failure unless we did a lot of engineering work on it.  Slip rings or similar tricks....they're just perfect invitations for wear."

Marko shook his head. "Worse than that, Tom. Remember that we need to take turns? Well, unless Calypso is going to be just left empty and all of us crowd into Voyager, how would we do that when the one available airlock between the two ships was filled with the power connection?"

They were silent for a moment, then Kes spoke.  "Speaking of the hab modules," she said, looking at Tom, "Can we fix the one we kind of landed on?"

"Yes," Tom said with confidence. "It got bent and squashed, but all the pieces are still there and we've got everything we need to fix it.  So we'll be able to spin up once we're back in space."

"That's good," said Kathyrn.

Another silence. "How are we doing with Calypso and preparations to visit the general?" Kathy added at last.  I might as well touch on other subjects.

"Going good there," Tiki said. "We've got good models up on all the critical systems and we think we know how to repair them.  It's going to take quite a while---our good buddy O'Brien sure knew how to screw things up. But between the resources on Mariposa and our know-how---well, Mariposa's never going to be pretty again, but she'll be a functioning space station, at least."

The last line tugged at something.  Space station instead of spaceship. But why?  Mariposa couldn't move anymore, not in any significant way. She retained enough functionality to orient herself in different ways, but neither of her drives were.....

"Tom," she said slowly. "And Bellanna....When we threw Voyager together, we used the reactor for the Ceres colony as our chief power source, didn't we?"

"We did," Tom said. "Plus a big bank of RTSC batteries to fake up the NERVA drive."

"And bolted the spare nozzle from Galileo onto Voyager's rear," confirmed Bellanna. "Why?"

"Oh, oh, oh. I think I see where you're going, Kathyrn, and it might work, goddamn, it just might work!" Harry said, a grin spreading across his face.

The others glanced at him in puzzlement; he looked to Kathy; she just smiled and nodded. He loves explanations, and I think he does get it.

"Well," Harry said, giving her a quick smile of thanks, "Mariposa's pretty much kaput, but her reactors---both of them---are still intact, and the one is just a tweaked drive unit from the original Nike, just like the one to Galileo...."

Tom and Bellanna started grinning too, and the smiles began to spread.  Marko cut in:  "---and the reason Mariposa can't use its NERVA isn't because the drive's completely shot, but because the drive nozzle was totally shredded! And..."

Suddenly it seemed like everyone was talking all at once"

"---well, that's not totally true, some of the secondary support systems were damaged."  Roosa Vatenan said cautiously, but she, too, was smiling. "And we'll have to do, some careful design models; I think Galileo had modified the nozzle design for its own applications..."

".....need to figure out how much water we'll need, might need several trips..."

"...and Myles, the orbital change needed, not much I think, yes?"

"....transfer valve to move the water from Calypso to Mariposa, sort of a reverse, we never thought we'd have to do the opposite...."

"....cutting tools that might do the job..."

She raised her voice. "People.  EVERYONE, please!" 

The room went suddenly quiet.  She smiled at them. "From the general look and sound, can I assume that we think this is a good solution?"

"It's a damn-near perfect solution, Kathy," Tom said fondly. "With Mariposa's orbit going into Io and out about to Europa, it's going to be tracing something like an old fashioned Spirograph pattern arond, which means over time it will get closer and then farther and farther around the circle, eventually catching up to us. But it does mean that it's going tobe a pain to transfer to and fro, especially at different points of the cycle."

"And Maripossa has so many resources on boardf, even in its cut-down state, that we just don't have," Roosa said. "If we can get it enough reaction mass and put on a nozzle that lets it shift orbit enough to turn to an orbit around Europa....!

"....it becomes a satellite filled with resources we can access a lot more easily and reliably," finished Kes who surely understood the basics of the situation.  "I guess we can't land it, though."

Marko snorted at the thought of landing the massive wreck. "I would think not."

"What about our other objections to the situation with Calypso and Voyager?" she asked. "Do they still hold if we add Mariposa into the picture?"

"I don't think so," Roosa said. "There are cutting tools and materials aboard Mariposa that I think could manage to put an access conduit through even the Voyager's hull; they'd be too large and power-intensive to be practical to transfer from Mariposa to us here on Europa, but if we assume that we will do all the design and preparation work ahead of time, we could bring Voyager up when we're ready to leave, then shut her down and work on her in orbit; the Maripoas would provide more than sufficient living space, which is protected by Mariposa's radiation shielding so that we wouldn't need Voyager to maintain her drive at that time."

"So we would be able to put a connection for power that would still allow us to transfer back and forth," Tom said, "and with the tools and materials on all three ships we could probably lmake one that will survive the rotational demands for long enough."

Tripp nodded, already starting on his simulations via remote. "It's not going to be easy, not at all, but I think it's all workable.  The only question is:  can Voyager actaully tow Mariposa. I mean, whether it can two it effectively.  I know it's a matter of pretty much constant force so you could theoretically tow anything, but is the Warp Drive able to give us enough acceleration to get home in reasonable time?"

"Yes, it can," Bellanna said positively. "First, Mariposa as she currently sits masses something like 3,000 tons or less, rather than 10,000, especially if we dump most of the drive spines, which are pretty much shot to hell now.  Together, Voyager and Calypso are going to be about 2/3 that much, especially once we're topped off with reaction mass.  So that's say, 1/5 our acceleration prevously.  But since it's constant acceleration, cuting it by five doesn't multiply our time by five---time's a squared term in there, so square root of 5 is the effect of decreasing the acceleration, it'll take us a little more than twice as long to get someone." She grinned again.  "It took us about three months to get from Ceres to here.  We've got food for more than a year, will have that much even after we finish all the work; in a year, I could get you across the whole goddam solar system!"

"Keep those smile and make 'em bigger!" she said, and Kathyrn gave her own grin. "We're going home---and we'll be bringing Mariposa with us!"

 

 

13.

"Alone at last," Bellanna said, deliberately using the old cliche.

"Yes," Marko agreed, looking shockingly nervous. "We are."

One of the additional inflatable hab units had been tranformed into Vacation Hotel Europa, as Harry had dubbed it---a place where people could go for time separated from the group. The unit, originally meant as two separate living spaces, had been made into a single larger living space, with all the amenities that the castaways of Europa could manage crammed into it, including a shower, a large entertainment projector put together using smaller entertainment components, a larger bed than the usual near-bunk size, projective windows to allow the real view outside or substitute it with other locations, a large proportion of the "Tom Dinners," and whatever other bells and whistles could be dreamt up.

Any of them (as individuals or groups) could schedule a "vacation" there when not immediately needed (which of course probably meantyou worked twice as hard the day before).  However, last week, right after it had been finishted, Kathyrn had informed the two that Hotel Europa alreadyu had two full days reserved for them at the end of the following week, and that they were not to be working at all those days.

"You're looking awfully tense, Marko," she said, raising her eyebrow and putting a hand on his arm.  "What's wrong?"

Marko gave an embarrassed grin. "It's really very silly of me. But I somehow feel like---this is as if I brought a date home to my mother's house and we went to my room and locked the door."

Bellanna laughed. "I guess that's not so silly.  Or maybe like coming home and finding your parents have Just Happened to step out for that night and have left a note saying they definitely will not be back until noon the day after."

"Ha!  Yes, that is maybe much more like it." Marko took a deep breath and then exhaled, seeming to blow his tension out with it, and then turned and kissed her.

It wasn't their first kiss, of course, but it'd been a long time since they could just---take their time about it.  Bellanna took her time, and so did Marko.

By the time they broke slightly apart, her hair was slightly mussed and his would have been, had he not kept it military-regulation short.  She smiled up at him and saw an answering sparkle in his eye. "That was pretty good."

"But it is important to practice your skills in order to make them better," Marko answered and suited action to words.

"Mmm," she said appreciatively after a while.  "So, besides that, what do you want to do on our vacation?"

Marko glanced out the window, which was currently set to an active view (based on recordings, of course) of Lanikai Beach in Hawai'i.  "I would say a swim, but I am told it is actually colder outside than it looks."

"You goof.  Yeah, I think surfing and swimming is out. Though," she gave him a wink, "there is a double-size shower."

"Hmmm. Something to consider carefully, ja," Marko agreed; his light Germanic complexion reddened noticeably.  Bellanna was pleased that her Native American heritage gave her dark enough skin that blushes weren't easily visible; it let her tease Marko, and sometimes other people, with impunity on her part.

"Well, I actually picked out some of the newest movies that Ceres was able to forward us.  You like the Sharky Star Rover series, don't you?"

"Yes! Yes!  I didn't know that the next one was already out.  If that's all right with..."

"Would I have brought it up if it wasn't?" she said. "Actually, there's lots of things to watch, if that's what we wish to do.  Harry also set upa  local Quest of the Seven Races server if you like that kind of thing---I do sometimes---and there's some really good beach simulations if you wanted to at least pretend we're at the beach.  Or there's old-fashioned chess or something like that."

"Or we could just talk, but I think we'd still end up 'talking shop' as you call it."

She shrugged, still smiling. Thats part of why I like to be with him.  Just any kind of talking with him makes me smile. "That's okay too----I mean, we talk shop because it interests us and we're still doing what we want to do, way out here in the solar system."

She signaled the window control and one window shifted as she approached.  "I haven't gotten tired of that view yet," she softly said.

Jupiter loomed over the horizon, about half above the edge of the jagged edges of the Connemara Chaos. Shadows from the sun were thrown in sharp relief of black against the bright surface, a black then tinged with with thre red-brown-cream light of the largest of the planets.  Against one edge of Jupiter was a black spot, a spot with a yellow-orange crescent edge---Io, where they presumed the body of Miles O'Brien had finally ended its journey and where General Brecher had pulled off an impossible escape.  The stars beyond dusted the black velvet setting of the sky.

"Nein, I have not either," Marko said, hugging her from behind and looking over her shoulder.  "And the view will be changing for us again in a few ddays."

That was true enough; after their mini-vacation she, Marko, Roosa, Fiona, Myles, and Jean-Luc would be leaving in rendezvous with Mariposa and the general.  As they were choosing close-to-minimum delta-v routes, it would take a few days to catch up with Mariposa on this trip, and depending on how long the work on board took, between a day and several days to get back afterward, but they'd also be able to transfer a considerable portion of Calypso's reaction mass onto Mariposa. Several more trips would be needed to make sure there was enough water for the remains of the huge EU craft to shift its orbit and have some reserves for later, but there seemed to be no barrier to accomplishing this.

"Sometimes I wonder where we'd be if you hadn't had O'Brien on board," she said, pausing.

She could see Markko frown slightly in thought.  "That---is a damn good question, you know.  I suppose we'd still have come to Ceres, but things would have been different almost from the start." 

She glanced back and up. "How?"

"Well, you were not aboard Mariposa, so you perhaps do not realize he was main advisor to the general for most of the trip, at least in security and---hm, industrial espionage tactics."  He looked somewhat embarrassed about the latter, which she didn't mind; the fact that it bothered him was one of the things that told her Marko was as good as he appeared to be.  "Oh, we would have been looking for things on our own, ja, but it may be that we would have just made the proposal you did when you cornered us, except we would have done so when Jean-Luck found the ifnormation on Iapetus."

She thought about it.  If it'd happened that way....Marko would have left peacefully, we'd have had no reason to chase Mariposa down in Voyager---hell, it wouldn't even be a named ship, just a museum piece----and I wouldn't have been going wiht them. Probably wouldn't have seen Marko for three years, maybe.

"I'd still be be on Ceres, likely, unless I was shuttling to and fro on Einstein," she said after a pause.  "That'd be pretty exciting in its own way, I guess---you see the announcements we downloaded?"

Marko snorted. "Your Richard, he knows how to work his P.R.; as soon as excitement from our survival dies down, he lets them release the news about the Bemmie fusion work."

She grinned. "He's good with that. And think about it; we know Bemmie had the technology working. We've seen the work they did carving out just magnificent caverns in Ceres and the digs on Mars, and we've got those half-ruined pieces. Fusion isn't twenty years away; it's five!"

"And that'll change many things, maybe make us able to make a better Mariposa when we get back."

"Or maybe more; some of the stuff we've gotten passed on from Ceres through the secure channels....."

"The plantanimals?"

Marko was referring to some of the recent discoveries in Ceres, more advanced lab work with what seemed to be sessile forms of Bemmie-type life, or maybe animal-like plants from the Bemmie homeworld. "No, not those---though why they were apparently being developed as metal concentrators is still being argued about, and Kathryn is of course all over that stuff.  No, I was talking about the hints from Lowri and Ben."

"Eh?" Maybe, yes," Marko said skeptically, "but I will believe they are close to cracking the Rosetta Disc when the translation is released.  They thought they would crack it much sooner, remember."

She couldn't argue that.  "Ah, you're right.  They thought they'd be giving lectures on its contents by now. I thought I'd be working on the design of a new and better ship for the IRI...."

"And I," said Marko, looking out across Europa again, "I had thought I would be here, in the Jovian system---but that was because we guessed there might be a Bemmie base here.  I had not thought I would be maroon on one of Jupiter's moons."

She grimaced and said, "And that still seems unreal sometimes. And downright scary, when I realize how close we came to getting killed---how close we still are, it seems."

"We are not so close now as we were, really," Marko said. "Now we've got backups for most systems and there is no O'Brien to damage them.  And more engineers per square foot than some engineering companies!" He kissed her on the neck, making her giggle---she couldn't help it, she was ticklish there sometimes---and turning to the entertainment unit, "Now let's watch Sharkey, and we can have Tom Dinners, and then...."

"And then, she agreed with an impish grin.

 

 

 

 

14.

"Disconnecting in three, two, one---now!" Marko, with Jean-Luc's help, dragged Calypso's small section of the thick, insluated, double-wrapped cable back and stowed it securely near the reactor housing. "Everything stable?"

"As the Rock of Gibraltar," answered Harry. "Batteries at full charge, we're running on them, drain shows what we expected. Get back here in two weeks and we should be fine---though I'd a lot rather you get back sooner, if you can."

"No problem, Harry," Bellanna said from her position in the copilot's seat. "But now comes the tricky part."

"Marko, are you sure you're comfortable with this?" Kathryn's question, he could tell, was for his ears only. "If you prefer, I'd still be glad to do part one for you."

"Don't worry, Kathryn," he answered, hiding the slight nervousness he was feeling.  "Besides, that would mean you would have to set Calypso back down and get off.  The more ups and downs, the more chance for something to go wrong, I would think."

"You're absolutely right. Then good luck and Godspeed."

"Danke Schon, Kathyrn. I shall be very careful."  He switched back to general broadcast.  "Everyone, clear the area of Calpyso now, please.  Is the power cable all stowed on your end?"

"Just got it in, Marko," Tom answered, sounding slightly winded, obviously still trying (with Kathryn and Harry helping) to get the much larger and bulkier cable into stowage.

"Everyone's clear, Marko," Kathyrn said. "I've just checked everyone's positions. Harry, will you verify?"

"Hold on, Tom," the sensor expert said. Pause.  "According to readings on all sensors---mine and the primary suit and individual monitor chips---we have Marko, Jean-Luc, Roosa, Bellanna, Dr. McLaren and Trip on board Calpyso..."

"Might I ask," Fiona McLaren inquired mildly, "why I'm called by my last name and a title and everyon else is by their first?"

Harry gave an embarrassed chuckl. "Always taught to be very, very respectful of real doctors, I guess.  So, Fiona, Marko, Jean-Lluc, Roosa, Bellanna, Trip on Calypso; Kathryn's up front of Voyager playing observer, me, Tom, and my lovely and talented Kathyrn still wrestling this superconducting cobra, and Myles and Tiki watching over Artio. I check you, Kathy; all clear."

Marko finished locking himself into the pilot's seat, touched the controls, watched to see that Bellanna was ready to back him up. "All right. Calypso is preparing for liftoff.  Cold manuever jets first, to get separation."

The Calypso's manuevering thrusters spurted in quick, controlled bursts, skidding the lander sideways.  Screeching, grating sounds echoed through Calypso and a shower of pulverized ice rose and fell, a motion both too fast and too slow, strange and alien.  Marko felt Calypso wobbling on her skids, and---not for the first time---griped to himself inwardly about the winged design.  He knew why Calypso had been designed with wings---not only for the possibility of skimming the atmosphere of one of the giant planets, which would be exciting but in his view far too dangerous, but much more importantly for the chance to land on Titan.  Not this trip, which means those wings are a goddamn waste!

But they didn't cause him to tip, which was the important thing. "Calypso now well clear.  Engaging auto-launch sequence."

As with most vehicles, Calypso could pilot herself most of the time, given the proper circumstances and assuming nothing too terribly odd; the last few flights had been, of course, rather decidedly odd.  A takeoff, however, even from a low-gravity moon with tough ice terrain, was something for which Calypso had been designed.  The onboard computer surveyed the area with LIDAR, millimeter-wave scanners, and optical imagery, and came to a decision.  There was a staccato burst of activity from the forward nose jets, and Calypso reared up on her tail---and then with a silent roar of flame blasted up into the black sky of Europa.

Marko grunted as nearly two gravities worth of acceleration crushed down on him; it had been nearly two months now since they had landed, and in that time he'd gotten far too used to Europa's puny grip.

The others felt worse. "Jesus!" came the strained voice of Bellanna, and Jean-Luc Picard croaked. "Marko----is Calypso running away?  This accleration, it is---far more than you said!"

"I hate to tell you, Jean-Luc," he said, trying to force a relaxed tone into his voice, "but that is only 1.8 gravities."

Picard said something obscene in French.  "We are in worse shape than I thought."

"Which is precisely why we must cannibalize parts of the drive spine coils to make a controllable centrifuge," Fiona said, her voice labored but clear.  "Drugs may or may not work, but hours spent in heavy acceleration will definitely help.  Tiki and Tom should have the design perfected by the time we get back."

Intellectually, Marko approved of this plan immensely.  There was, however, a tiny part of him that was already complaining. 

Real gravity was tiring.

--------

 

"Mon Dieu," Jean-Luc said softly.

Though he'd have phrased it in German, Marko would have said the same thing.

The wreck of the Mariposa loomed large in Calypso's forward port.  They had of course seen the pictures