Claim Jumper
Carl Bussjaeger

Never mind freefall; stripped to basics, mining in the Asteroid Belt was a lot like Earth-side mining: dirty, hard work. And since the major deposits on the almost-planets like Ceres and Pallas had long since been claimed by the big corporations, the independent operators had another complication. They worked the small lodes in countless free floating mountains. A bit here, a bit there, moving constantly.

Small, but by no no means worthless. Fortunes had been made by small outfits that had located concentrations of industrially useful elements, and even fissionables. But old science fiction dreams of moving ore-bearing asteroids around with nuclear explosions never really caught on. True, a few huge ice rocks and carbonaceous accretions had been relocated for the convenience of the habitats requiring those resources, but such were the exception rather than the rule. With useful elements comprising only a fraction of a percent of the mass of most asteroids, it didn't make economic sense to boost the entire mass.

Typically, a small team would drift along through the Belt randomly scanning asteroids with an array of gamma and neutron sensors, infrared detectors, and millimeter-wave radar. Likely rocks were further evaluated with on-site spectrographic tests and seismic soundings. Occasionally, a high power x-ray source, a 'flashbulb', might be expended.

Once a valuable concentration was found, the real work started. The miners would deploy huge aluminized mylar mirrors to concentrate solar process heat for reducing ore. Then they would break out a rather conventional collection of excavation tools tools ranging from pickaxes to demolition charges, and the age old task of digging out ore began.

Then, that ore was fed to the focal point of square kilometers of mirror. Through a brute force application of raw heat, the desire elements were separated from the surrounding matrix. Valuable volatiles were precipitated out on chilled collector surfaces. The results of this process were still fairly low grade in industrial terms; the ore would require real smelting or electrical and chemical processing before actual use. But it was concentrated enough to make shipping cost-effective. By the time two or three tiny asteroids had been reduced to gravel, the miners would have accumulated enough tons of valuable elements to justify a trip to the metals markets at Ceres or Pallas.

Since prospecting and mining were difficult, hit-or-miss propositions, some folks saw the value of taking shortcuts to wealth. Would-be pirates waited in space, looking for the telltale sign of a processing mirror deployment, knowing that such a mirror meant a rich lode had been found. By the time a claim jumper reached the site, the miners had generally processed several hundred kilos of valuable metals.

"Frankly, Mr. Ahacic," the insurance agent said, "we're going to increase the premium on your policy."

Frustrated, Ivan Ahacic let loose the breath he had been holding. He drummed his fingers on the desktop separating him from the agent. "Why?" he asked.

The balding agent shrugged and said, "Claim jumpers. Pirates. You're a prospector. You work the distant rocks. That makes you a greater risk; so, higher premiums."

"Of course I don't work the Ceres or Pallas neighborhoods," Ivan explained. "They're not open. Every independent works deep space."

"Which puts you that much farther from help should a claim jumper strike." The agent looked smug. "So an attack is more likely to be successful, meaning we make a larger payment to any survivors."

"Now wait a minute," Ivan objected. "I've been operating for ten years. Your company's been our insurer for most of that. How many claims have I ever filed?"

The agent reviewed the account on his datapad. A small expression of surprise flitted across his face. "Very few, really. A dozen or so job related injuries."

"And how many jumper claims have I made?" Ivan inquired.

"Hmm... None, it appears. Nonetheless..."

"Nonetheless, my rear end. You're telling me that I'm a higher risk for jumper claims when I've never had one."

The agent sniffed and pointed out, "The actuarial tables indicate that any mining concern of your size will file at least two jumper claims in ten years." He indicated the display, free of claims. "You're overdue."

"What?" exploded Ivan, incredulous. "I haven't filed a claim, so I'm going to?"

"Yes, that seems highly probable," agreed the corporate bureaucrat.

"You're freaking nuts!" Ivan exclaimed. "Has it occurred to you that we don't have jumper probs because we've taken precautions?"

"Many miners have 'taken precautions,' Mr. Ahacic. Frankly, I take a dim view of such precautions. The presence of firearms aboard a ship is simply courting trouble." The agent frowned disapprovingly.

Ivan returned the stare in sheer disbelief. "You raise our premiums because of jumpers, and disapprove of protecting ourselves against them?"

As if by rote, the agent recited, "A lone band of isolated individuals cannot adequately protect themselves from determined attackers. Such an attempt simply leads to more expensive property damage."

"Bull!" Ivan countered. "And if this is what I've been paying for these past years, shove it!"

"I beg your pardon?" spoke the agent. "You're canceling your policy?"


"You do realize that we will have to notify the lien-holder on your craft that you aren't carrying adequate insurance?" The agent smiled slyly.

"What lien-holder, dipstick?" challenged Ivan. "Don't you even read those account files before trying to screw more money out of us?" He shook his head. "I own my ship free and clear, ya idiot." He got up and walked to the door, where he paused. "You said I should have had at least two attacks in ten years, right?" He looked at the outraged agent, who nodded speechlessly. "Who says we weren't attacked?" He stepped out the door into the more open air of the habitat.

Several months later, Ahacic and his partners were working, though not quite as usual. They had been hoping for a tungsten strike. Rumors of a breakthrough in antimatter production had been encouraging speculation in AM drives, several versions of which required large quantities of the refractory metal for the reactor. Ivan placed no real faith in the rumors; he'd been hearing such predictions on and off since he first left Earth more than a decade back. But he and his fellow miners were quite willing to take advantage of the price increase driven by the speculation.

The problem was that they hadn't found tungsten. Instead, they had happened upon one of the rare concentrations of pitchblende. And until the mythical grail of commercial antimatter is found, uranium was the power metal. The applications ranged from spacecraft reaction drives and thermoelectric electrical production to breeder reactors capable of producing higher grade transuranic elements.

Katie Ahacic, Ivan's wife and permanent partner had suggested the change in their usual procedure. "No, Bill," she said, addressing the male half of their newest business associates. "Best not to put up the furnace mirrors, yet."

Bill Hunter frowned, clearly perplexed. "Why not? We have to be ready to process the ore..." Perched beside him, his wife Jeannie nodded agreement.

Ivan spoke up. "Katie's right. If the strike were anything else, I'd say go with mirrors now. We'd need the time to slag enough low grade to produce a worthwhile cargo." He shook his head, then waved towards their remaining partner. "Tomas says we can generate a not-so-small fortune pretty quick, with a high value element like uranium." He stared blankly for a few seconds, then added, "In fact, uranium's valuable enough that we could haul the raw ore and still make good money; wouldn't have to run it through the furnace at all." That's just how it was done on old Earth, but then, Terrestrial miners couldn't haul around mirrors big enough to cover entire towns.

"Nyah," Tomas countered this idea. "We can skip the evaporative accumulators, but I want to at least cook off the lead, get the mass down." Lead, being a byproduct of uranium's fission decay, was always present with the radioactive element.

"I dunno." Ivan squinted in thought. "Lead's not exactly zero-value either. Bullets, reactor shielding, storm cellars..." He pursed his lips. "We cook the ore, but collect the lead, too."

"Okay," Tomas agreed. "So our biggest time killer is the excavation. If we have ore piled up, ready to go, we can reduce it in a week or two. If the numbers are right on what's in the rock?" He eyed Jeannie Hunter.

"Oh, yes. Nearly 9 tons, post-processing," she replied. "Plus the lead I guess we're keeping now." She smiled. "It assays very nicely, don't you think?" The others grinned as well.

Bill chimed in again. "If we're going to run the furnace and accumulators anyway, how 'bout running the tailings and such through the furnace and separating out some of the lighter metals, too?"

Ivan shook his head. "Let's not get too greedy. After we've got the pitchblende secured, and we get the lead packed, we might consider running the tailings, and dig waste." His grin faded and he took on a serious air. "But this is too valuable to risk losing it to a claim jumper. I think we should take the good stuff and scoot for the Pallas market." He faced the new couple. "Bill, Jeannie; you two have been doing okay on your own already. But if we get this to market, you're going to pay off the Drifter's mortgage real early."

Bill chuckled and rubbed his hands together in a parody of avariciousness.

"You idiot!" Jeannie exclaimed and smacked him on top of the head; laughing herself. Everyone went to work.

And finally the mirrors were up, and the ore reduction nearly completed. The excavation had gone fairly well. A month long days had seen the entire concentration dug out. There had been only a few minor accidents. Tomas had suffered a green stick fracture when an explosive charge had unexpectedly dislodged a large rock fragment along an undetected fault. Ivan had ripped his suit in a similar accident. He still had an impressive hickey on his butt, where the partial pressure suit fabric had yielded to flying debris. And everyone had acquired the usual collection of bruises, strains, and aching muscles associated with hard labor. Bill had even survived his humorous speculation about that hickey and the Ahacics' sex life.

The lode had played out a little quicker than expected; yielding no more than eight tons of processed uranium. No one was too disappointed, though. Jeannie figured that not only could she and Bill pay off the Drifter from their cut, they could darn near buy a new ship outright.

Click. "Jeannie," came a voice over the suit comm.

"Yes?" she answered.

"Tomas, here. You and Katie can start shutting down the furnace for today."

"Will do. We've pretty well finished everything on hand anyway," Jeannie replied. "How much more do you have coming in from the pit?"

Bill's voice broke in, "We've got maybe six thousand kilos here. Tom and I'll move it up to the conveyor while you turn things off. We should be finished processing tomorrow."

"Wheee!" cam Katie's cheerful voice. "Pallas, here I come! Bars, baths in gravity... Stores!"

Click. "Stores... I'm doomed. There goes my share," from Ivan. Laughter all around.

Tomas spoke again, "I'm doing up egg rolls in the Melissa tonight. And I'm tapping the keg, too. So who's coming to dinner?" he asked.

"Me, me, me, me!" Bill chipped in immediately. Katie and Jeannie also accepted.

"Ivan," Tomas asked, "why not leave sentry to the automatics tonight? Come to dinner. You've stood watch for two days, on top of working the mine."

Ivan replied, "You know the risk, Tomas. The longer the mirror's up, the higher the probability we get spotted. Remember the first time?"

Suddenly serious, Tomas simply said, "How not?" Then, "Want me to take the watch?"

"No, make dinner, have some fun. Just leave some for me, for later."


Bill asked, "What was the first time?"

Immediately Katie jumped in, "Claim jumper. But not now; we'll talk later."


"Later, Bill."

Quietly, everyone returned to work.

A few hours later, aboard Melissa, Tomas' ship, three miners relaxed after a wonderful dinner which had included the promised egg rolls. Tomas was in another room obtaining the promised beer; tapping a keg of carbonated beverage was no easy task in free fall.

With Tomas occupied, Bill quietly asked Katie, "Okay, so what was the first time?"

Katie glanced to the door, then, "About eight years ago we had our first claim jumper attack. We weren't ready; figured it could never happen to us. Besides, all we had a comparatively low value aluminum lode." She stared into space. "We were wrong."

"But..." Jeannie started.

"The only thing that saved our butts was the fact that the jumpers were almost as naive as us. And Melissa."

Puzzled, Bill asked, "How did the ship matter?"

Looking sad, Katie turned to face him. "Nah, the ship was called the HiJinx back then. Melissa was Tomas' girl. He was absolutely devoted to her. They were going to marry officially when we finished the dig." A tear glistened at the corner of her eye. She went on, "The raiders made an actual in person assault. Melissa spotted them and started shooting." Katie faced the floor. "Back then, she was the only one with a gun. We used to kid her about it. We were wrong there, too. She dropped one of them, and gave us enough time to prep. We fought 'em off with mining charges."

Bill nodded; Jeannie was squeezing his hand. "So that's why y'all were so adamant about us providing our own sidearms if we partnered."

"Yeah." Katie wiped away a tear.

Jeannie began, "But what about Melissa..."

From behind them, Tomas said, "She... didn't survive the attack." He floated there with baggies of amber fluid, which he offered. Looking guilty, the three accepted the beer in silence. "But it was a long time ago, and I'm mostly over it, except that I miss her sometimes." He poked a sipping hole in his own bag.

"Tomas..." Katie started.

"No, it's okay," he replied. "I just want to start with a toast to her. For teaching us... me, to live."

They sipped.

Three hundred kilometers out, two men examined a magnified image on a screen.

"Okay," the older, heavier man said. "Three ships. They all look like Pedersen Rock Hunter Three's. Figure six to eight miners."

"I don't like the idea of going hand to hand with eight guys," the second man said. "Think we can even the odds a bit?"

The first looked at the screen a little longer. He magnified the view again. "Yeah, I think so. Look here; I don't think that furnace is runnin'. And there's no activity in the diggin' area." He smiled evilly. "I think they must've shut down for the night."

"So you figure they're snoozing in their ships?" the younger asked with an anticipatory air.

"Uh huh. Timin' couldn't be better. We've got 'em all gathered together in one spot; they even got the ships tethered together." He pointed.

"Excellent. I say we hose them down with the gun from here. Oughta depressurize the ships. Even things up, anyway, before we go in on foot."

The older man leaned down to the screen again. And again he magnified the image. "What's that there?" he asked. Under magnification they saw a pixelated stubby cylinder apparently several meters across.

The second man looked. "Umm... Some kinda structure. Maybe a tank. Well away from the dig and the ships. Could be explosives storage." He shrugged. "I'll try not to hit it; explosives are valuable, too." He tapped away at a keyboard, slaving an external gun to the screen. Cross-hairs appeared. He manipulated a joystick, aligning the sights on the group of moored ships. He depressed the joystick trigger.

Outside on the mylar hull, fire flared from a clumsy looking contraption. The heavily modified machine gun spat .50 caliber slugs at the distant rock. Gases vented from barrel slots, and from a massive compensater on the muzzle. The expanded receiver allowed an oversized, overweight bolt to rock back, soaking up more recoil.

Inside, the older man spoke, "Easy on the ammo, Mike." He indicated a numeric display on the screen. "You just blew off better'n two hundred rounds."

"Ah, what of it?" Mike countered. "These guys been processing something for two weeks. Bound to be enough to buy more bullets." He grinned. "Anyway, that oughta do it. Five, six minutes, we should see the hits."

"Yeah," the older man agreed. "I'll keep her headed in. We'll park on the far side of the dig, and go in on foot." He looked at his watch. "I'll give the engine a quick burn, so call docking in about an hour."

Bill sucked amber fluid, then spoke to Tomas, "Man, you brew a fine beer. Beats the heck outa that garbage that comes up from Earth." He smiled and held up his bag. "Never understood why anyone would pay orbital freight for Clydesdale piss from..."

Suddenly the craft jerked. Ripping sounds filled the air, followed by hissing and pressure alarms. The four miners spun their heads, scanning for the leak, a well-trained survival habit. Small balloons drifted on air currents toward the hull breaches. Tomas cursed, and dove for a cabinet. "Suit up!" he shouted. He yanked the cabinet door open and pulled out an aerosol dispenser. He kicked hard, and floated to a group of congregating balloons. He brushed them aside and squirted a thick, gooey sealant into the hole. His eyes tracked and he spotted another bunch of balloons. He moved towards them.

Katie and the young couple were suiting up. Jeannie sealed her helmet, and yelled, "Tomas! Suit up! I'll take it!"

Tomas tossed her the sprayer and dove for the suitroom, where he began donning his own garment. Jeannie plugged another hole in the hull. Katie and Bill completed their own suitup and grabbed more cans of sealant. By the time Tomas was dressed for space, all the leaks were accounted for.

Tomas moved to the control area and checked displays. "Pressure's holding," he announced. "At least one of my water tanks was holed, though." He called up an external view. "Looks like Drifter and Digger got the same treatment. I'd say we got jumpers." Tomas keyed a transmitter. "Hello, Vorpal Blade. Hey, Ivan!"

Click. "Gotcha, Tom. Looks like a frumious bandersnatch to me. Is everyone okay?"

Tomas looked around quickly before answering, "Yeah, we're fine. Do you see 'em yet?"

"Nope, not... Whoops! There they are. Looks like an approach burn around three hundred klicks out. I'm outa here!" Click.

Aboard the jumper Mike eyed his screen. "Yo, Jimmy. Lookee here. I got hits on all three, I think. And this looks like a water tank venting."

Jimmy drifted closer and looked for himself. "Yep, looks that way... What the fu...!" he exclaimed. "What's that?" On the screen, a string of explosions, bright expanding globes, rose from the little asteroid's surface.

Mike stared, then yelled, "Whoooeee! Looks like I got the explosives after all. Lookit them fireworks!" The lights of the explosions faded to black. Then a final blast flashed. Mike considered. "Huh. Slow burner." He faced Jimmy and said, "Well, from the looks of that, we aren't goin' to have any trouble down there."

Jimmy grinned. "Sure doesn't look like it." He frowned. "What's that?" Another light flared on the display.

Mike played with the joystick and keyboard. A something appeared on the screen, a familiar stubby cylinder. "Is that some kind of ship?" he asked. Another light flared.

Jimmy cussed. "Yeah, they've launched a sorta fighter, I think. Lookit that thing move." Light flashed.

On the Vorpal Blade Ivan moaned and did a bit of cursing himself. "Dyson was nuts," he mumbled. "Orion drives are for the birds." He checked instruments and a screen. He was closing on the jumper. "Darned if it ain't working, though."

He was strapped down flat on his back on a gel-filled mattress. The form fit to his body was a necessity, given the momentary accelerations used by his improvised fighter. Ivan was flying an unpressurized cockpit mounted on a circular sandwich of steel and rock. The small but massive, and incredibly ugly, Blade was loosely based on the Orion project craft of the mid-twentieth century. She was driven by a series explosive charges. For most of her flight she was unpowered, flying dark. When maneuvers were called for, an ejector tossed a mining charge out the back. The blast pressed against the massive base plate and drove the fighter on. Small, cheap, and hopefully deadly to claim jumpers.

Ivan brought up a display very similar to that used by the jumpers. He aligned his own targeting sight and triggered his weapon. It was, in principal, similar to the pirates' machine gun. But it had started life as a shoulder-fired assault rifle; smaller caliber, and less powerful.

A minute later, the pirate registered the hits. "He's shooting at us, Jimmy!" Mike called.

"So? Is he doing anything to us? Anything getting through?" Jimmy inquired.

"Umm... No. It must be little stuff." Having opted for a life based on attacking others, the jumpers had wisely invested in a bit of extra protection; the small arms fire was being absorbed by sandwiches of steel plate.

Ivan cursed to himself. Judging from the video, he had barely touched the pirate. He keyed his radio. "Blade to home. Hi Tomas, Katie, whoever."

Click. "Hi, Ivan." It was Katie. Ivan smiled.

"Hi, honey. Launch was... interesting. I don't recommend bombs as a normal propulsion system."

"Are you okay?" she asked worriedly.

"I'm fine. I've popped off a few rounds with the gun. But it looks like the SOB has some armor. I'll try again with the laser. Talk to you.. Whoooaa!" The Blade spun wildly.

"Ivan! Are you okay?" Katie screamed.

Mike laughed, watching his screen. "Got the little bugger! See him tumble?" Light flared. "Dang, did I blow him up?"

The blast knocked the wind out of Ivan. "This is no way to run a spaceship," he mumbled. Then he keyed the transmitter again. "Hi, Katie."

"Ivan! What happened?" She replied.

"I just learned a basic rule of space combat: don't stay on the same trajectory too long. Freaking jumper almost got me with that gun of his. I think he's using a heavy machine gun. Anyway, he tagged the edge of the plate and tumbled me."

"Be careful! The point of this for us not to get hurt," Katie admonished.

He grinned. "Oh, heck. That tumble probably saved my butt; he just shot up the blast plate is all."

"Still. Don't get killed. I mean it."

"Yes. Mommy." He grinned bigger. "Let me go take of business now. Later."

"Out." Click.

Ivan whistled as he worked. He toggled a couple of switches, and eyed another set of gauges. Then he disengage the rifle. "Okay, you little mother; you were ready for bullets. Now eat lasers." He thumbed the weapons trigger again. In the appropriated mining laser hydrogen and fluorine combined violently. Light beamed across space.

Mike and Jimmy watched a screen showing glittery dust vaporing off of their hull. Mike swore. "Sweet Jeez... I thought you were crazy, wanting all that danged glass powder on the hull. But look at that..."

Jimmy corrected him, "Not powder. Glass beads. The stuff they use for polishing metal clean. Figgered it'd make decent ablative armor for lasers." He smiled smugly, proud of himself.

"But how do you think of that stuff?" Mike questioned.

"Easy 'nough. You look at what gear a miner has to fight with: cuttin' lasers, explosives to shoot projectiles, whatever. And you figger what'll block it."

"Cool," Mike said admiringly.

"But darned if I ever expected one to put it all on bloody fighter, and come after us." He turned from the screen. "See if you can't blow him outa the sky. I don't want him to get desperate and ram us. Some things even I can't handle."

Ivan cursed. "I do not freaking believe this... Freaking ablative armor on a spaceship? Who is this..." He cut off as a hole appeared in his canopy. A companion hole appeared in a gel pack between his legs, spraying gel and spawning a viscous tsunami in the gel cell.. "Sheesh!" He triggered another drive blast. "Son of a mother- f..."

The radio spoke. "Ivan? Are you there?" Katie's voice.

"I'm here, honey. Despite my stupidity. I've gotta remember to dodge. In fact..." He set off another bomb. Acceleration pressed him against the gel mattress. "Unnff! I hate this drive!"

Katie again, "Bill's watching on the 'scope. He says you tried the laser, but that some sort of glitter stopped it."

"Yeah, got to give the SOB's credit. They actually installed ablative armor as well as bullet-proofing."

"Ivan, are you going to be able to stop them, then?" She sounded scared, and worried.

"Oh, yeah. I can stop them. Didn't want to have to do it this way, but I'm gonna have to."

"Ivan... Honey, you aren't going to ram them are you? There's got..."

"Now, Katie. Don't you worry. But you and the other better get under cover. Go to the dig, and hide underground."

"But, Ivan..." Katie objected.

"But nothing! Do it! Now!" He killed the radio. "Okay, scumbo; I'll bet you didn't plan for this one," he muttered. He set a vector and tripped another bomb. Again he slammed against the mattress. And again. Half stunned he checked his course. Then he adjusted yaw. His back turned to the pirate. He pressed a last button. The world turned white, and God used the Blade to hit a home run.

The pirates saw an intense flash in the instant before their cameras overloaded. Mike felt a way of heat. " What in..." Sirens blared. Jimmy scrambled for the controls.

"Tanks are over-pressure! They're gonna..." He was cut of by the sudden tumbling of the craft. He fought the board, trying to correct the tumble. Nothing worked.

Mike screamed, "What'd he do?" Ship lights died, along with the alarms.

From the sudden quiet dark, Jimmy answered, "Killed us is what."

"But how? He was at least eighty klicks away!" Mike objected.

"I don' know... nuked us, or sumfin... I'm not feelin' too..." Dizzily, Jimmy let the force of the tumble press him against a console. "Feel... hot."

In panic, Mike realized that he was too well either. "Jimmy, I... t'ink we're screwed."

"Yeah, kid."

Voices screamed out of the night. Hammering at him. He tried to ignore them. They got more insistent. "Ivan! Ivan! Answer me, goddam it!" He opened his eyes and the world was a little less dark. And the screaming voices became just one. "Ivan! Are you there?"

He felt around awkwardly. Oh, jeez, I hurt everywhere. He found the transmitter key. "Hel... " His voice cracked. He tried again. "Hello, Katie."

"Ivan! Where have you been, are you okay, have you..."

"Hi, Katie. I'm fine. How are you? Having a nice day?" he asked, feeling the need for a bit of absurdity.

"We're all fine down here. But you've been off the air for ten minutes! I thought you were dead, you sorry..." She broke off, crying. Tomas' voice cut in. "Ivan, what the devil did you do? The jumper's dead. Just tumbling across the sky with blown propellant tanks, completely dark."

Ivan smiled grimly, "Got him, then. Good."

"But how?" Tomas asked. "It looked like you set off a nuke. But we don't have any. And you must have been nearly ninety kilometers from him."

Ivan laughed; it hurt, but so what. "Yeah, I'll bet that's what he figured, too." He chuckled again. "Yeah, I nuked him; sort of."

"How?" Insistently.

"I hit him with the mother of all flashbulbs, man."

Tomas was clearly puzzled. "Eh?"

Ivan laughed some more, and began explaining, "You know how our survey x-ray sources work?"

"Hesitantly, Tomas said, "Yes, an EMP pulse to a metallic target generates x-rays, to be channeled via the plexiglass guide rod. But..."

Ivan interrupted. "Yeah, well... you can pump up one heck of a huge x-ray burst with a pocket nuke." More chuckles. It still hurt, but he was feeling better. "My last bomb was a nuke, with a plastic x-ray guide. I dumped it, pointed it at the bugger, and set it off. Hit him with a beam of x-rays God's own dentist would be proud of. Fried the sucker," Ivan finished proudly.

"But the blast? The EMP? Didn't..."

"Yepper. But what the heck. This is an Orion; the original concept was to use nukes. As for EMP... Well, I guess I'm going to be flying home on manual so to speak. Most of my electronics are gone. I'll be wanting y'all to give me a nav beacon."

Katie's voice returned, "But Ivan, we didn't have any nukes," she said plaintively.

"Oh, heck, honey. Remember when I canceled that useless insurance policy?" Ivan asked.

"Yeessss..." she replied slowly.

"Well, what'd you think I spent the premium on?"

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