Patrons of the Bar-Soom fall into three classes. Some people believe the whole “Coldest Beer on Mars” thing. Some come for the view of Hellas Lake. But mostly, they come to hear the owner, Dave Bowman.
Yeah. Dave Bowman. I know. Let’s get the name out of the way first. His father was a 2-D space film buff. You know, the old, old ones, pre-holovision, from before Earth turned into hell. Specifically, the ones with a hopeful vision of the future that it’s taken Mars three hundred years to reclaim. So, with the family name Bowman, why wouldn’t he name his kid after the astronaut in 2001? After all, it’d give the kid a push toward space instead of, say, terraforming, hydroponics, or mining.
It worked. Bowman flew some of the first orbital redirect ships into the Belt. The first ice hauler to Saturn’s rings, too. He’s a living history book.
So, me? I’m in the “come to hear the stories” group. Today, I was in luck.
“Rachel,” Bowman says, addressing the bar’s AI, “that’s enough news for today. Turn the holovision off.” The images of the two newscasters for “Mars Today” on the transparent cube below the display of Bowman’s medals disappear. Bowman sits down and took a long sip of beer. “Here’s the thing.” he says.
The man to my left nudges me. “He’s going to tell another story, isn’t he?” he asks.
This guy must be in the “cold beer” crowd, I thought. “He’s earned the right, hasn’t he?” I answer. “Marvin’s up the block sells beer too, you know.”
The man sputters, then frowned and heads for the door.
Bowman strokes his beard and looks at a table of young navy pilots. They’re fresh out of the academy from the looks of it, wearing crisp, starched white uniforms. Ordered, precise. Lovers of checklists, probably. Mars today was nothing like the Mars that sent Bowman out there fifty years ago.
“Guns,” Bowman says, “I’m talking about the old projectile kind, the kind that your great-great however many times granddad had back on Earth, back before they ruined it – they absolutely work in space.”
Ah, that story. Good. The Academy kids might learn something.
“Now, a lot of people don’t know that,” Bowman continues. “Hell, your average citizen hasn’t ever seen a gunpowder weapon outside of museums. Most of them probably think you need atmosphere for it to fire, or some silly thing.”
Bowman pauses and takes another sip of beer.
“Nope,” he continues. “See, it isn’t combustion you need to worry about in space. It’s good old Isaac Newton.”
I wonder for a second whether telling these stories is a way of reliving his glory days. Or a way to relieve the boredom of pouring drinks all day. It doesn’t matter, though. You could hear a pin drop.
“My tangle with that form of antique weaponry happened on an orbital diversion run to an asteroid that the Astronomical Union had numbered as 2275-5 BZZUR,” he said. “The big scope at Mons Olympus picked up spectra suggesting it had off-the-charts amounts of cobalt and samarium. So, I get the order to go nudge it towards home so that the orbital miners could strip it. The ship’s AI, Hal, came up with calling the target ‘Buzzer.’”
No one was drinking. Bowman isn’t selling any beer, but he has a captive audience.
“This was before the nano-netting, mind you. You couldn’t just shoot the snare and let the net grow into place back then. We moved them the old-fashioned way – attach a couple of engines to the target, then play shepherd as you remote piloted it all the way back to one of the LaGrange points. So, we matched orbits, and closed on the target. It’s an odd shape – flat as hell, like a giant’s tabletop. Maybe seven hundred feet long, a hundred thick. Jagged as hell.”
The cold beer guy is back. He’s brought a woman and a kid who looked to be about ten with him. Maybe I misjudged him, I think.
Bowman looks over at the academy table. “Now, what’s the first two things you do on bodies with micro gravity?”
One of the sailors answered. “Anchor your ship and attach yourself to the tether.”
“Correct,” Bowman says. “So, we fired the cable spear into Buzzer. I hooked on, wrangled out the first engine, and sank the mounts at one side of the topside of the rock. I detached the ship, headed around to bottom side of the rock, anchored, and started to repeat the process. Two engines was arguably overkill, but you never know.”
“Weren’t you upside down, on the bottom?” the cold beer guy’s kid asks.
Bowman smiles. “Son, there is no upside down in space. It’s all referential.” He takes another sip and goes back to the story.
“So, anyway, I’ve got the second engine pretty much anchored when Hal chirps me. ‘Inbound ship. Hard deceleration. No response to hail,’ Hal said. Well, that screams pirate. We still had ‘em back then – out of Earth or Luna, looking to grab anything good. I thought about it and decided I’ll be damned if I give up the rock after all that work.”
“The bandit slowed and hovered off the other end of Buzzer, probably four hundred feet away, close to where I put the first engine on the other side of the rock. No cable, his ship’s just hovering. Idiot. A man floated out and said, ‘If you leave now, I’ll let you live.’ He sounded nervous, young. New to this.”
“I magnified him through my visor. Huh, I thought. Interesting. ‘Is that a – gunpowder weapon?’ I asked.”
“’Damn right.’ he answered. ‘I’ll hole you right out.’”
“Now, why this jackass doesn’t have a laser, I’ll never know. Maybe he thought he was a space cowboy. Or some macho thing, maybe. Who knows. I thought for a second. My laser probably wins any shootout since I can fire a continuous beam. And at that distance, he’ll miss. But, I thought, there’s a way to tilt the scales even more.” He smiles again. “Pun intended.”
“’Yeah, do your worst,’” I said.
“He shoots off a burst of bullets. Bear in mind, he’s floating already. He’s holding the weapon at his side. So, the shots started to spin him clockwise. Not a lot. His mass still dampens most of the force that the kick from the bullet imparts. But some. Enough that I can see him looking puzzled. I guess they didn’t teach the whole “for to every reaction, there is an opposed equal reaction” thing in pirate school. The bullets landed somewhere, just not near me.”
“So, it’s time for my gambit. Remember, those engines were designed to move bigger rocks than Buzzer. ‘Full thrust on engines one and two, Hal,’ I said.’”
“Now, the engines were on opposite sides of Buzzer. They’re firing in opposite directions. That turned Buzzer into a giant teeter-totter as it started to tumble end over end. My end of the teeter-totter starts going down. My cable went taut. His end started to go up. It smacked him and his ship. The good news for him was that now he’s got pseudo-gravity from the acceleration. The bad news – the really bad news – for him was that it holed his suit in multiple places. I saw him trying to slap patches on it. But the suit is basically shredded, and I saw him go limp.”
“Game over. I stabilized Buzzer’s spin. His ship was banged-up, but it has some salvage value, so I lashed it down. Him? Well, old-time pirates got buried at sea. I figured the same applied here and gave him a shove in the general direction of Jupiter.
Bowman pauses and sighs. “Anyway, somewhere out there in the Belt, there’s a dead bad guy in a suit. Some of that samarium and cobalt is probably still up there in weather satellites.”
Then he walks over to the Academy table. “I too old for that anymore. Too banged up. Gravity drugs only do so much. So here I am.”
He pauses, looking at each one of them.
“But you. You’re just starting out. And don’t let anyone – anyone – tell you there’s no adventure anymore. Sure, it’s tamer now. But you’re in space, for God’s sake. You get to do something magical. You get to see a beauty that only God has seen before.”
I swear I see a tear.
“Someday,” he says. “You’ll miss it.”
He walks over to the cold beer guy’s kid and kneels. “And you? Dream, son. Dream big. Yeah, I may be done.”
“But humanity is just getting started.”
Source: Buzzer Beater by David Newkirk