Charlotte Station

14 10 2007

Exactly one week before the Mayflower would arrive, the mining site cracked through the crust and started digging into the upper mantle. Immediately we started bringing up unprecedented amounts of silicone and aluminium, which partially offset how late these resources had started coming in.

Thankfully, some bright spark back Home had pushed for the essential components for the anchor station to be carried with us, prefabricated. At the cost of reaction mass we hauled most of the ground station with us: all that had to be built were the tethers to the body placed in geosynchronous orbit by our orbiters. We had started running simultaneous missions to get that part ready for the Mayflower, and at any time now we had at least two of our six orbiters up above us.

By the time we finished Charlotte Station, our impression on this ancient planet had grown to be quite considerable, though it must be said that it was much less than we had intended, three months after planetfall. There were four cities, growing out of, and over, the colony pods; we had an underground mine and were planning a second, open-cut site far to the north; an active spaceport with limited launch facilities; and now Charlotte, our ground station for the space elevator. Connecting these were the beginnings of our carbon highways, slowly spreading out from the cities like cracks in ice.

Our timetable, written by the same learned people who foresaw the need for a prefabricated ground station, put the completion of all components of the space elevator at a date already more than three weeks past. We had yet to stabilise the geosynchronous orbit of Wilbur, that silicate hunk of Amundsen that we had captured and slipped into orbit directly above the ground station. And, of course, while the Mayflower was itself enclosed by the structure which would unfold to become our space station and shipyard, it still required a basic dock to tether itself to when it arrived, which we hadn’t finished.

It would be a close thing, but that had been how this colony had started, and got by in the time since. There was growing optimism in everyone here. Some of us began to believe that we had passed the worst of the bottleneck – that the arrival of the Mayflower would mean the end of rationing and the end of double-shifts. But this optimism was not yet widespread. Many still feared the one event which would instantly destroy our modest progress. More of us would simply not allow ourselves to hope.

And then the solar station misaligned while painting an NFO, nudging one of the objects tagged by the orbiters in the wrong direction. It orbited Fram sixteen times, each orbit dropping lower and lower, before it slammed into the Quoqasi – still in the orbit we had left it when we made planetfall. The ship which had borne us across the unimaginable distance between Sol and Alpha Centauri was snapped in two, and the entire bow section was decompressed…