Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Laredo’s tugship was idling peacefully in geosynchronous orbit. Laredo was ten screens from the end of Asimov’s Second Foundation when the LSC alarm sounded, followed by a vocal transmission. “Code 13, Sector E180D500.”

In one fluid motion, Laredo brought the main engines online and activated the comm system. “This is Sam Laredo. Please verify that a cruise ship has lost stability control only 500,000 kilometers from Earth.”

“Roger that, Laredo. But it gets worse. Its course will intersect Earth in 68 minutes. If you can’t realign the magnetic plate in 25 minutes, the ship will have to be destroyed. It carries 423 passengers, and a crew of 192. Please assess the situation and report your findings ASAP.

Lerado headed toward Sector E180D450 at full throttle. The tugship utilized conventional reaction engines for propulsion and guidance. However, for the last hundred years or so, the larger sublight vessels, like the cruise ship, rely on MASIS for their primary propulsion. MASIS is the acronym for Magnetic Amplification by Synchronous Isolinear Solenoidazation. MASIS uses large ground-based transmitters to project extremely strong magnetic fields into space, similar to a search light. The magnetic field is precisely columnated, so it only loses 10% of its strength per trillion kilometers, rather than obeying the inverse square law typical of magnetic fields. By convention, these MASIS driven ships have a 3 mega-gauss “South Pole” electromagnet plate at their stern, and a similar “North Pole” in the bow. Therefore, the ships can be pulled, or pushed, by any of the numerous Pulse Magnet Stations on the Earth, Moon, Mars, Ceres, Ganymede, or Titan. Prior to MASIS, ships needed to carry more fuel than cargo. Now, they’re almost all cargo, except for the guidance jets. But whenever the guidance jets malfunction, the ship loses alignment, and the magnetic propulsion system can’t be used to stop them.

When Lerado reached the cruise ship just outside the moon’s orbit, it was tumbling stem over stern. “Control, this is Laredo. We have a tumbler, RPM 1.82.”

“Can you get it aligned in under 20 minutes?”

“Negative. It will take at least an hour to arrest the tumble.”

“Copy that, Laredo. Return to your post. I’ll notify Asteroid Defense.”

“Whoa. We can’t just give up that easily. They’re over 600 people on that ship.” Laredo racked his brain to come up with something. “Look,” he finally said, “I have an idea. Maybe I can push it sideways while it’s still tumbling, like a baton twirler tossing a baton. If she misses the Earth, I’ll stop the tumble on the sun side, and you can pull her back using MASIS.”

Not waiting for authorization, Laredo moved his tug to the center of the cruise ship’s axis of rotation. After synchronizing with the cruise ship’s cartwheel motion, he wedged the tug’s bow into the cruise ship’s bulkhead cargo hatch. He prayed that its force field would hold, and fired his aft thrusters at maximum. Asteroid Defense monitored his progress closely, and opted to let him proceed past the Minimum Close Approach Radius (MCAR). As the swelling Earth filled Lerado’s viewport, both ships began to skirt the upper edge of Earth’s exosphere. The two ships left a wake of thin ionized gas as friction heated up their hulls. It was the longest few minutes of Lerado’s life. Finally, Earth began to recede, and Lerado started to breathe again.

“Okay, Control, we’re clear,” he transmitted. “Give me an hour to align her mag-plate. Then you can haul her in.” But first, he thought, I need to change my flight suit.

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