'City of Fresno'

Fiction stories and articles written by members.
Nik_SpeakerToCats
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City of Fresno #42

Post by Nik_SpeakerToCats »

City of Fresno #42

I took a moment to slurp some water from my suit's supply. After studying my anchor pits' and trench's continued out-gassing, I decided their rates were sufficiently stable. Again firing from the shoulder, I began another long, narrow trench. Instead of vertical sides, though, this slanted. Okay, given I was working 'by eye', with much of the trench often obscured by enthusiastic eruptions, the result was less than optimal. Still, I extended this trench, cutting out and down, until a transverse eruption showed I'd reached 'Trench One'.

Next, I began a converging trench, slanted the other way so, in theory, they'd meet at depth and free a juicy prism. Much to my surprise, that was exactly what happened. The iceteroid trembled underfoot, a slim fifty metre wedge lifted away, propelled by its angled keel's out-gassing. As it passed a dozen metres, uneven stress broke it into a train of car-sized chunks.

"Strewth !" I heard from 'Cwm Fahr'. "Nice one, Cobber ! Now, hold fire until we get these in the Can !"

I was happy to oblige. I had a couple of minutes to study the hints of stratification in this first quarry until my gleanings were far enough out for 'Cwm Fahr' to chase. Which, of course, averted the rock tug's powerful lights from my work area. Under other circumstances, I'd welcome several flood-lights, either perched on skinny masts or hung from Floater-buoys tethered to anchors. Now, though, I was just glad of the chance to sip some more water and let my pulse edge down. I'd made it look easy, but I'd logged most of my time as a 'rocky' gleaner, was re-learning this iceteroid stuff 'on the fly'.

Above me, 'Cwm Fahr' was slowly, elegantly dipping and diving, the open can efficiently scooping those fizzing chunks like an Alaskan orca snatching salmon. After a remarkably short time, the rock tug returned to station above me, again illuminating my quarry.

I edged sideways, began to carve a second wedge. Now I'd begun to get a feel for the iceteroid, I was confident enough to use a higher blaster setting, cut some-what wider and deeper. This, of course, took those slanted cuts into juicier sub-surface. Alternating sides allowed each to stabilise while I extended the other. Before long, my cuts' ends met 'Trench One', under-cut, cleaved the slim tetrahedron's keel. The chunk trembled, lifted. I 'mushed' it with a few well-aimed flank zaps, sent it up at about walking pace, which approached local 'Escape Velocity'.

"Cease fire !" Olwyn called from 'Cwm Fahr'. "Our turn !"

This glean had enough residual integrity for the thicker end to hold together. Several car-sized chunks broke from my narrower apex end, drifted sufficiently apart for the rock tug to scoop in succession. Then the tug aligned its catch-tank with the big part, warily 'sword swallowed' it.

Scant few minutes later, 'Cwm Fahr' was back on station, illuminating my quarry. As with third anchor holes, this third chunk could prove problematic. It did not. Even so, I'd a distinct sense of relief as the main part plus some apex debris climbed away.
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jemhouston
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Re: 'City of Fresno'

Post by jemhouston »

Don't get cocky, that's when bad stuff happens. :D
Nik_SpeakerToCats
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City of Fresno #43

Post by Nik_SpeakerToCats »

City of Fresno #43

With that third chunk caught and the Rock Tug again above me, I shifted along my base-line, carved out a big fourth chunk. Given my experience of the others, I cut it wider and deeper. The 'fissure fizzing' was appropriately enhanced. Like that unfinished mega-obelisk at Aswan, cracks appeared. When detached, the chunk rose as three large lumps plus some bulky apex fragments.

"Cease fire !" Ms. Betrys called. "My turn !"

The rock tug efficiently collected the lumps and bumps, returned to station.

"Can is filling well," Davyd reported. "Another big catch, or two smaller should do for today."

"Perhaps a few fragments, too ?" Ms. Betrys chimed in. "Pack into the corners ?"

"Understood," I replied. "Going better than I'd hoped."

"I'll take a cheap win, Boyo !" Davyd laughed. "Mind how you go..."

As with the fourth, this fifth was big, juicy and cracked. When safely in the can, and 'Cwm Fahr' back on station, I decided to experiment. Rather than long and narrow, I began a short, deep, cut skew into the outermost 'dart' left in my quarry. I kept having to pause for out-gassing to ease, but I was ahead of schedule. When I reckoned it deep enough, I retreated a dozen metres along my baseline, began two more steeply angled cuts. After due pauses for out-gassing to ebb, they met the first, freed a big, boxy tetrahedron. As it rose clear, I 'mushed' the ragged apex to speed progress.

"Strewth ! That's a nugget and a half !" Keith chuckled.

"It will fit..." Ms. Betrys stated, aligning 'Cwm Fahr'. It did. My 'nugget' went down the catch-tank's open maw, gently collided with its predecessors. Despite the hatch-rim's Field Poles, some gas and fines puffed.

"Can closing, closed. Volatiles handling on-line." Davyd reported. "That's a wrap, Jake. Come home."

My excavations' out-gassing had easily tripled the amount of near-iceteroid dust and gravel, so I flew slowly. 'Big Mac' was built to stand-off such, but their pings and rustles could not be ignored. I was very, very glad to reach the open air-lock, sidle in.

"Secure for de-dust sequence..." came from Olwyn.

"Ready." Three puffs of gas swept fines away. "Okay."

The outer lock closed, air bled in, equalised. At last, when all lock and suit instruments showed greens, and the inner hatch opened, I was able to release my armoured helmet. Even after the de-dust, which had included two 'ioniser' sweeps, the air smelled like gun-powder.

Working a small 'leaf-mister' bottle to knock down lingering 'fines', Olwyn grinned like a shark, said, "Nicely done, Boyo ! Davyd's going to drift 'Cwm Fahr' clear while you park 'Big Mac', then apply spin. You get a 'Fresher' stop while the tea brews, then I'll make us some Rarebit !"

"Welcome !" I nodded. "Very welcome ! Any preliminaries ?"

"Deeper had more volatiles, but no surprises: Betrys reckons the mix is 'Generic Halley'."

"Good." I nodded. That confirmed what my 'Big Mac' instruments had glimpsed. I smiled, began my un-suiting check-list. Olwyn hauled out her copy, chanted along...
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jemhouston
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Re: 'City of Fresno'

Post by jemhouston »

Keeping it routine and follow procedures.
Nik_SpeakerToCats
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City of Fresno #44

Post by Nik_SpeakerToCats »

City of Fresno #44

After we secured 'Big Mac' in the designated cubby near the air-lock, Olwyn notified the bridge. A 'Delta-V' honk later, 'Cwm Fahr' began to rotate about its long-axis. Well, 'more-or-less', as the offset 'Front-End' can and now-laden 'Catch' can shifted the 'pole' some-what. I did not mind. I wriggled out of my heat-exchanger overall and, toting my 'dump can', headed for the nearby wash-room. This had the necessary facilities for us skin-suit wearers. I connected the 'dump-can' to a 'recovery' port, took advantage of the saddle dock to relieve myself, then be pleasantly flushed. After wriggling out of my suit, I used the wash-room's provision to sanitise my 'intimate appliances' before wiping myself down with a wet cloth. A quick twirl in the blower's air-blast left me dry enough to pull on my waiting day-clothes: Briefs and vest, loose pants and tunic, ankle sox and soft-grip 'shippers'. I hung my skin-suit on the airing frame, left my 'dump-can' to complete its purge cycle.

The well-brewed tea was very welcome, the Rarebit brunch even more so. With those gone, Ms. Betrys and Keith presented their initial data, which they'd already forwarded to Fresno.

"Just over seventeen hundred metric tonnes," Ms. Betrys reported, with a mix of awe and glee. "A third each of ices, silicate dust and organics as generic tholins. Most of the ice is water. The rest's a mix of ammonia, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, formaldehyde, methanol and a zoo of trace stuff. There's just enough hydrogen cyanide to be scary."

"Uh-huh." I thought to ask, "Well trapped ?"

"Very well trapped." Our eyes met. She added, "Like the monoxide, the smelly sulphides and the VOCs..."

"Silicates are magnesium-rich, but there's a lot of 'fines', down to micron scale," Keith warned. "Even worse than 'Moon dust', which was sintered by micro-impacts."

"Uh-huh." Those unfamiliar, tarry tholins --I preferred 'rocky' moons-- were something of a 'wild card'. I'd read they could be used as a microbial growth medium, but knew little beyond that. Otherwise, this first, exploratory glean would yield about five hundred very welcome tonnes of water plus other useful volatiles, and a similar mass of minerals as lumps, 'grits' and 'fines'. Yes, we'd done well, sooner and better than I'd dared hope. Yes, Anne-Marie would be delighted. She could 'wet' and plant another 'Ponics line, if not two. Yes, the silicates' mineralogy would be interesting. After basic and isotopic analysis, I'd put some samples under the microscope, look at inclusions such as chondrules.

Anne-Marie would welcome the washed grit as planter bedding 'extender' and its magnesium content as a fertiliser supplement. Still, we'd have to crush and sieve lumps, 'congeal' the 'fines'. As a 'Rock Hopper', I knew keeping that abrasive dust at bay was hard, hard, hard. It would take more than Olwyn's neat leaf-mister. Thankfully, a brisk sweep with some spicy plasma should aggregate and fuse such 'fines' to convenient 'grit'.

One of the tales I'd heard during my 'Rock Hopper' time was about an early prospector in Avalon's neighbouring 'Erewhon' system. 'La Mar' was their hab-zone's 'super-earth', a high-gravity water-world with anoxic N2/CO2 atmosphere. The fizzy global ocean had no shallows, no solid surface, not even as seasonal ice near the poles. Beyond huge storms and vast tides, it was deep. Very, very deep. Probes and theory estimated hundreds of kilometres, going 'super-critical' long, long before it reached the rocky core. Last I heard, the exo-biologists and exo-oceanographers were still arguing over possible traces of life. Whatever, nothing obvious had appeared in Nansen sampling bottles or approached the probes.

Besides sundry moonlets, 'La Mar' had 'Costa', a face-locked, tidally-stirred, twice-Mars-sized mega-moon with Erewhon's main base and admin centre. 'La Mar' also had a nice assortment of Leading and Trailing Trojans, as did sub-Jovian 'Jack' and sub-Neptunian 'Jill'. They ruled the outer reaches, tossed 'Kuiper Belt' objects every-which-way...

The tale's prospector had spotted a potentially valuable asteroid. He matched his target's rather elliptical, 40º-inclined orbit via grav-assist fly-bys of both 'La Mar' and 'Jack'. Took samples, staked his claim. Belatedly returning with a Rock Tug and five catch-cans, he discovered his nice find was now the core of a serious dust / grit cloud. Worse, it had a much-changed spin and axial alignment. Re-mapping revealed a rather substantial and very fresh crater. Yes, despite long odds, his claim had recently been t-boned by a crossing object, was still vigorously venting, pluming. Though the impactor had been small-ish, perhaps only a dozen metres across, their relative speeds were large.

Given time, that out-gassing would ebb, enough dust and grit would disperse or settle. But, the Rock Tug was on a 'profit share' gig, between scheduled contracts. The crew could not afford to wait. So, he and they devised and crafted a really big electrostatic precipitator, progressively 'knocked down' enough 'fines' as fulgurites to permit safe working...
Nik_SpeakerToCats
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City of Fresno #45

Post by Nik_SpeakerToCats »

City of Fresno #45

Gleaning this first one point seven kilo-tonnes from that iceteroid was the easy part. Although 'Big Mac' was designed to repel 'fines' ingress to the joints, I still had to dismantle, inspect and, if necessary, clean them, to be sure, to be sure. Compiling my 'After Action' report meant going through the synchronised images and sensor readings from 'Big Mac' and 'Cwm Fahr' frame by frame, commenting and annotating. Why did I do this ? Why that ? Why pause ?? Like it or not, this would become part of the training material for the follow-on crews.

Also, the volatiles' 'Front End' needed fine-tuning. Yes, we'd expected that, but it was a fiddly business. Shift after shift, we forwarded data to Fresno. Joe replied with suggestions. We tried them, reported 'Better' or 'Worse'. Some issues we solved by careful logic, some with an 'Ah-Ha !!' and some we simply 'stubborned' into submission.

Between 'whispering' to the volatiles' catcher's oft-cranky plumbing --Literally !!-- Ms. Betrys repeated the flank dust-scans, now with a higher data-rate and tweaked algorithms. There was quite a difference near the iceteroid as my excavations had added a lot of material to the fug. After almost a full day, the density gradually returned to the in-bound leg's findings.

I made a first attempt at crafting a 'look-up' table to guide 'turret' ice-slicing. This did double duty as it correlated the surface and sub-surface scans 'Cwm Fahr' collected to the out-gassing I'd met, cross-referenced my 'After Action' report. Though not 'definitive', it did match most of the 'juicy' zones. 'Most', mind: I warily flagged the anomalies for follow-up investigation.

It was almost a relief to spend time studying so Davyd and Keith could quiz then re-qualify me to stand a 'Bridge Watch'. My 'Limited Ticket', earned on that work-pod as a 'Rock Hopper', had long since lapsed. Having me take even some four-hour shifts significantly eased the crew's dynamics. Yes, 'Cwm Fahr' was running on auto-pilot, but I was also keeping a 'weather eye' on the volatiles' mostly-stable plumbing. I'd a far less subtle touch than Ms. Betrys, but did 'well enough'.

Between progressively re-working my clunky ice-slicing table and templates, I also took a look at Olwyn's down-loads from the 'Cwm Fahr' hab-can's retro-fitted turrets. Digging far beyond the 'User Facing' error messages, I got to the truth. Essentially, the elderly turrets did not recognise the hab's even older 'Field Poles' as 'tug-grade', so had 'Failed Safe'. Yes, 'in extremis', you could over-ride their safeties, but you'd have to be desperate, juggle a dozen discordant parameters and have some-one ready to re-set or quench outraged circuit breakers.

The better solution was to comb out the logical impasse. Like fine-tuning the volatiles' 'Front End', this required a 'bitsa' fix. A minimal firmware tweak convinced the hab's turrets those Field Poles belonged to an early, yet still-compatible Rock Tug *toting* that hab. Though stretching the truth some-what, it worked. A few software tweaks ensured the hab's Poles' recently upgraded 'Vernon Preventers', effectively 'virtual flywheels', would still 'play nice' in ice-slicer mode. Some wary code-patches optionally passed data from the turrets' activity to the hab's nav-system and auto-pilot, assisting station-keeping. This was needed: When ice-slicers' Drive Field met, drove mass, in 'Push', 'Pull' or alternating modes, there was a Newtonian reaction...

"You said you did Field Poles and lasers, 'By the Book'," Davyd wondered unkindly when I showed him my work.

"It's amazing what you can find buried in the technical appendices," I replied, pulling up several tangentially-relevant pages. "Trick is to synergise those obscure features..."
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jemhouston
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Re: 'City of Fresno'

Post by jemhouston »

Which is why written manuals are better than "?". "?" tell you what you asked, manuals tell you what you should know. Or why things work on a starship.
kdahm
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Re: 'City of Fresno'

Post by kdahm »

Sounds about right. Ten hours of prep work and maintenance for every one hour of action.
"You said you did Field Poles and lasers, 'By the Book'," Davyd wondered unkindly when I showed him my work.
Yes, but I didn't say anything about what book"

Also, a technical non-answer. Saying that there are amazon things in the appendices does not say that those amazing things were actually used in the solution.
Nik_SpeakerToCats
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Re: 'City of Fresno'

Post by Nik_SpeakerToCats »

" tangentially-relevant..."

One bane of my lab-life was analysis system modules, each with an inch-thick 'manual' auto-indexed by section headings, per 'Word' tools, rather than actual content.

If you did not know exactly WTF the writing team called a specific topic, TSB;NFC...

Urgently consulting index, next user often found that topic added by hand-- And cross-referenced three or four ways, to be sure, to be sure...
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jemhouston
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Re: 'City of Fresno'

Post by jemhouston »

Nik_SpeakerToCats wrote: Sun Jun 09, 2024 4:14 pm " tangentially-relevant..."

One bane of my lab-life was analysis system modules, each with an inch-thick 'manual' auto-indexed by section headings, per 'Word' tools, rather than actual content.

If you did not know exactly WTF the writing team called a specific topic, TSB;NFC...

Urgently consulting index, next user often found that topic added by hand-- And cross-referenced three or four ways, to be sure, to be sure...
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