Portal – Chapter 08

Challenges, N:

Calls to engage in a contests, fights, or competitions.
Acts or statements of defiance; calls to confrontation.
Demands for explanation or justification; calling into question.
Tests of one’s abilities or resources in demanding but stimulating undertakings.

Chapter 8.

“So why Athena?” Madeline asked, watching the melt-probe’s interface and pre-start prep screen. So far, all good.

     In one corner of the HUD, she saw Helen, who was helping position one of the anchor sections, grin. “My goodness, Maddie, I think this is the first time you’ve ever managed to surprise 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, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, sprung full-grown from her father Zeus’ head. And I suppose see that a probe of any sort gathers information and so could be named Athena, but it seems quite a stretch.”

“Very true,” Mia Svendsen put in from her position directing the assembly of the anchoring structure for Athena’s deployment, “but as you very accurately stated, Athena was also a goddess of war, and it was she who, during the war with the Titans or Giants, plunged her spear directly into the Giant Enceladus.”

“That does make it a much more appropriate name. But you had the probe onboard long before we even discovered Enceladus would the target.”

Helen blinked. “Oh… yes, of course, they had to. They didn’t have any opportunity to go back and get one built.”

“That’s right,” Mia admitted, “And so the probe was originally just MP-N-1, Melt Probe, Nuclear, #1. We knew that there were several major bodies in the outer system which had icy surface layers which might require melt-probe operations, so such a system was included on Odin’s manifest as a matter of course. Once the destination was determined, a name became a priority and that one was an obvious choice.” She raised her voice slightly. “Horst, Jackie, the support deployment is on schedule. How’s the startup check going?”

“Everything looks good so far,” Jackie answered. “Maddie hasn’t seen any alerts, so Athena seems to have come through without any damage.”

“How long before the support framework is ready?” Horst asked. “Pre-start checkup on Athena will be done in a few more hours.”

“Longer than that,” Mia answered. “We are in very low gravity, which makes support less of an issue than it would be on Earth, but we cannot afford any level of preventable risk. Based on Anthony’s analysis I’ve expanded the support radius considerably, with more anchor points. We’ll be able to start Athena in two days or so, I would say.”

Maddie nodded to herself. Anthony, with some input from Larry and modeling by Brett, 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 possibility 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. Horst, I’ll keep an eye on the interface, but I’m switching over to team two on the comm.”


“Dan,” she said, knowing the comm system would recognize and perform the switchover even as she spoke, “how are you coming with the Odin?”

“Slowly,” Dan answered. He hastened to add, “There’s progress, and I’m sure we’ll get it all set soon enough, but right now things are going at a snail’s pace.”

“What’s the hang-up? A.J., is it the Faerie Dust?”

“Not as such, no. Or maybe yes, I guess. Between Mia and Horst – 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 one point to another, and that’s one huge ship. I have to figure out how much to move, and where, and then it has 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 first, 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 Odin’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 Faerie 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 a second. And the routes aren’t always very direct.”

“Well, you concentrated most of it in Engineering,” Maddie 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 Jamie Baker… SOOOOOOOOper-Genius!”

Dan 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,” Maddie said, trying not to let herself giggle; A.J. 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 Odin act as pack mule for my ultra-advanced sensors, yes, we can speed things up a lot. Duh, again. Brett, can you model 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, Brett Tamahori’s voice came back on. “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.”

“Brett, on another subject, how long will it take to fill Munin’s tanks?”

“That’s an easy one. Assuming no breakdowns – and I think we pretty much have to assume no actual breakdowns, just occasional snags – Athena 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 originally thought, just about exactly one and a half square meters, so you get about a ton and a half of water every meter. So… a month from the time we start melt, and she’ll have gone about three hundred thirty meters, or a thousand feet for the Americans listening.”

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” A.J. said, “and I use metric all the time. I can’t help it that my country insists that it’s better to use arcane systems from the dawn of time.”

“More to the point,” Madeline said, ignoring A.J., “are you saying that we could launch to Odin in only one month or so?”

“That depends on how well we get everything established here. We can’t afford to leave until the modifications to the Nebula Drive controls are tested and shown to work – both in reducing the volume and thus power demand, and in maintaining the same shielding effectiveness,” Brett answered. “We sure don’t want Munin taking off unless we are one hundred percent certain that we’re not going to need Munin to keep us going.”

“We are definitely agreed on that. One thing that we have to also do is check on the supply division; the last thing we need is to discover that while we have enough of everything, all of some vital material or component is on board only one of our ships, so that when Munin is gone one or the other of us is suddenly short.”

“Food probably won’t be a problem,” A.J. said, “but the vital supply of Joe Dinners may be tight.”

Maddie gave a small chuckle at that. “True, true,” she said, “but if that’s our biggest problem, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”