Aboard the Ultima Mule Raleigh stood on the bridge, hands on his hips. He and Granny watched on the holoscreen as Anthony Kim and Michael Pak directed their men working around the tandem drives.
He opened a neural network connection and said, “Status, Mr. Kim?”
“I’m sorry, Captain. It’s taking longer than we expected. One more hour should do it, though. Then we’ll be able to port anywhere we want to. Just be aware we still can’t maneuver once we get there without porting again, since we don’t have any standard drives.”
Granny said, “I don’t understand how we’re going to get her, Captain. We can’t just show up in orbit around Clarion and demand her back.”
Raleigh acknowledged her with a smile.
He opened a neural network connection once more and said, “Mr. Pak, would you care to explain to Granny your bold idea?”
Pak turned from the other tandem drive and faced them through the holovision.
“We think StarCen is way too busy on Clarion and elsewhere to keep an eye on every square centimeter in her solar systems. So, we proposed to Lootie that we show up on the edge of the system and park in orbit around one of their outermost objects. We should be able to evade detection for quite some time, if all goes well.”
“Okay,” Granny said. “Then what? You still can’t do anything that far out. That’s too far away to teleport down to the surface.”
Pak smiled and tapped the elephant-size tandem drive he and his men were working on.
“That’s where this puppy comes in. Normal teleportation distances are one AU or so. Lootie has stretched that out, but at the outer periphery of the Clarion system, it will still take two ports to get people on and off world.”
“People?” Granny said, shock edging the tone of her voice. “You’re going to port people in and out from the edge of their solar system?”
“That’s the idea, yes ma’am. First, Lootie is going to port this here spare tandem drive halfway in. Then she’s going to drop a sensor near our target on Clarion so she can see what she’s doing. Then she’ll port a volunteer, probably the Captain, to the surface of Clarion where he’ll retrieve his girlfr— uh, Ms. Thrall.”
Granny turned to Raleigh and narrowed her eyes.
She said, “Are you sure this is not suicide?”
Raleigh said, “The biggest problem at those distances are the accuracy of the proximity calculations. The first jump will be in the middle of space. I’ll be wearing a spacesuit. Lootie will pick a spot free of debris. It won’t matter if she’s off by a centimeter or two because it’ll be out in the middle of nowhere.
“The second jump she’ll drop me off in the water. Or above the water, where I’ll fall safely into it. Show us the picture of the Thrall family home, Lootie.”
The holoscreen changed to display an enormous four-story house sitting near the ocean.
“By that time her sensor should be fully synced with local conditions. Jillian and I should be able to port back easily enough.”
“Well, shucks,” Granny said. “Why do you even need to go at all? Let’s just pull her out of there.”
Raleigh shook his head. He said, “She’s got to wear a spacesuit for the way back. It’ll take two jumps. I’m going to bring her one and make sure she gets in it safely.”
“And then you’re both porting back?”
He nodded and said, “Two jumps. One from her house, the other from the halfway point.”
“You know how they say, ‘That sounds so crazy it just might work?’”
He smiled and nodded.
She said, “Well, this is just crazy. There is a reason AIs don’t make long distance jumps with people to planetary surfaces.”
“It’ll work. Have a little faith, Granny.”
She snorted. “And what happens if they spot us orbiting around that distant rock? It’s not out of the question, you know. One of their battleships could pop in and blow us to Kingdom Come.”
“If that happens, Lootie takes us away before they open fire.”
“You say ‘us.’ What if you’re not onboard when that happens?”
“You’ll just have to find a way to come back and get me, Granny. You’ll be in charge while I’m gone.”