Title: Tavern on the Edge of Time
Author: Peter Durrach
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During the year 2125, former asteroid miners Max Cody and Elaine Zhou never get a moment’s rest. No sooner have they doused the flames of war between Earth and Mars or returned from their first trip to the Tavern on the Edge of Time when they are called upon to help fit out the fledging Martian colony orbiting Jupiter’s moon Callisto. In parallel, Earth extradites the war’s fomenter, ex-billionaire arms merchant Xanthus Rex, hoping to gain from his insights into Martian teleportation technology, but he manages to turn Earth’s resources toward private revenge against Max, Mars, and the Callisto Colony. In the meantime aliens are leaking into the Earth-Mars continuum from the Tavern, whose proprietor repaired and upgraded Max after accidentally injuring him during an asteroid mining expedition. Max’s enhancements help, of course, but when strange beings with the power to animate matter—the Assemblers—find their way to Earth, Max, Mars, and humanity are sorely beset. Worse yet, the Tavern itself is becoming unstable, its acquisitive host having overstretched his considerable powers. His prospecting for collapsed neutron matter has also opened portals between continua, inadvertently adding still more aliens to the mix. That’s when the Assemblers’ overlord arrives and Max finally meets his match. Oh, and Elaine is expecting their hybrid baby. Yes, you might say these are difficult times at the Tavern on the Edge of Time.
“Brilliant!” Elaine rewarded Dargeen Philips with a suitable smile. The engineer grinned modestly.
“Actually, it’s just a combination of technologies others have invented. Kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.” He scratched his head in reflection, ruffling his thick, black hair.
“Elaine’s the brains, see, Dargeen? I take a little longer.” Max turned the holographic image with a practiced flick, rewinding it by revolving his fingertip. “Using the probability drive, you deliver the package in Callisto orbit out near Jupiter looking like this soup can, right?”
“Uh uh.” Dargeen nodded encouragingly.
“Then the initial station inflates,” Max continued.
The soup can blossomed into multiple radial segments, each twice the original cylinder’s length and diameter, now arrayed around the central core like flower petals.
“Then the remote sintering rig arrives from MOSA and begins to lay down the composite shielding layers along each of the spokes... ”
“Yeah. I had no idea how far you have developed sintering out here near Mars.” Dargeen glanced back and forth between them, his enthusiasm all too evident. “Molecular powders are delivered in exactly the right mix and timing to the three-dimensional printing heads circling slowly around the station in Callisto orbit. The material flows into the pipes on MOSA I and is whisked out to Jupiter via a live probability-field feed connected to the sintering rig. It lays down molecular powders, welding them effectively into a seamless casing protecting the station at least as well as anything we could build near MOSA, or on Earth for that matter.” Dargeen sat back, shaking his head in continuing admiration.
“We know about sintering, Dargeen, but thanks.” Elaine laid a soothing hand on his arm. “All access ports are built into the original cylinder, I suppose, to avoid complexity in the sintering process?”
“Right. For 100 colonists two access ports should probably suffice initially, at least according to our projections.” Dargeen seemed oblivious.
“And the hydroponics module?” Max rolled the simulation forward until another can with radial petals arrived in the view and was linked up to the original cylinder.
“Well, we could repeat the same process, but on the other hand, the internal kit is much more complex than for a merely human population. With the water and nutrient handling systems, the artificial sunlight, and the rotation drives to maintain something like a normal diurnal cycle... Well, sintering would be overtaxed to say the least, so we build it near MOSA I and boost it out to Callisto. Takes 50 to 55 days in transit, but the plants and fish arrive alive, which they wouldn’t, of course, if we used the p-drive.” Dargeen shrugged.
“Could we use the neural network with fish, Elaine?” Max raised an ironic eyebrow.
“Well it works on you... ” Elaine smiled placidly.
“Dargeen?” Daniel Sinclair had been lounging in the doorway. “You do know you are talking to the only two humans who can ride the probability-drive and live, right?”
Dargeen looked up in alarm, firstly because the Director of MOSA I was addressing him familiarly, but then because he realized that he had been preaching to the pope as it were.
“I’m awfully sorry, Ms. Zhou and Mr. Cody! I didn’t mean any disrespect. I just get excited about my work and I tend to run on a bit.” Dargeen’s crimson cheeks confirmed his state of mind.
“Calm down, Dargeen. We are still Elaine and Max to you, and no harm done. Of course, we could simply move the units out to Callisto orbit for you, but I think it is critical for Mars to stand on its own two feet... in spite of the low gravity.” Max grinned.
Peter Darrach has lived in New York, London, Prague, Munich and Vienna. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and a Master of Arts degree in German Literature, both from Pennsylvania State University. Darrach pursued a career in sales and marketing in fields as diverse as amusement parks and retail before moving to Europe in 1991. Since then he has worked in Eastern and Western Europe, holding a series of executive positions with blue chip FMCG companies. Most recently he has returned to the U.S. to pursue his career as a business coach and fiction author and currently lives in Florida.
His latest book is the sci-fi, Tavern on the Edge of Time.
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