“Muscle wire. Do you have any muscle wire?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The man standing beside her looked at her strangely.
Guin sighed. She had temporarily accepted an assignment to escort a group of tourists off-base. During their excursion to the nearest overlook, nicknamed the Loch Ness Monster due to the group of humps that seemed to loom out of the landscape as you drove up to it but gave a sweeping view back to their research outpost when you turned around on top, a torsion bar was torqued out of shape.
“Oh, if only…well, never mind. I don’t think we’d have any in the lab. Back on Earth, though…”
Every now and then, Guin recalled her younger years. She smiled and laughed inwardly as a scene from her childhood, when she first had an inkling she wanted to be a mechanical engineer, flashed through her thoughts.
She was in the mountains visiting her grandparents.
Her father, who had grown up there, had warned her about the kind of folks that lived deep in the hills.
“Now, our family is mainly of the preaching kind, as you know. But the other families don’t take too kindly to strangers, being drug runners, mainly ‘shine, but some of them have been known to grow the wacky weed, especially Pennsylvania Pure, said to be a direct descendant of crops raised by George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.”
Even down in the valley, where Guin’s father had raised her, the drug dealers lived nearby.
Once, when Guin was out mountain biking, she blew a tire and hitched a ride home from a nice boy with a really cool 4×4 Jeep. The moment the Jeep pulled into the driveway, her father let loose two warning shotgun blasts in the air.
Guin yelled it was her so her father set down the shotgun, telling her to get out and the boy to take off.
“He’s one of those drug dealers I told you to stay away from. He’s bad!”
Guin shook her head. “No he’s not, Dad. He gave me a ride home.”
“Well, don’t go near him again.”
Guin kept this in her thoughts as she pulled up into her grandparents’ driveway, honking her horn long before she got to the house.
Her grandfather met her at the door. “Praise Jesus. I was worried about you, child. Your father said you’ve been hanging out with those bums in the valley. Don’t you know they’re the devil’s brood?”
“Aw, come on, Granddad. I just had a flat tire.”
“Well, you shouldn’t’ve. You need to learn to fix a tire yourself ’cause if you go out riding around here and get a flat, you will not be coming back.”
Guin wondered why her grandparents, who claimed to be good Christians, were so quick to dismiss the very people who they should be preaching to. Instead of asking, she noticed her grandfather had a can of of spray foam insulation in his hand.
“Whatcha got there, Granddad?”
“Oh, this? Well, your grandmother noticed bugs getting into the laundry room. I noticed a gap running along the line between the window and the wall, probably from the house settling all these years. I’m going to spray some of this and fill the gap, hoping that’s where the bugs are coming in.”
“Granddad, you’ve given me an idea.”
“Yes, dear, what’s that?”
“Well, that spray foam’d make a great inner tube for my mountain bike tires, don’t you think?”
“That is a great idea. I’ll save you some.”
While Guin loosened the brake cables on her bike and removed the wheels, she looked at the brake cables and shocks.
Her thoughts wandered. What if…
She covered the inside of the wheel rims with a thin coat of oil to keep the spray foam from sticking but left a thin line of the rim clean just inside where the tires would touch the rims, allowing the foam and tires to stick together and bond with the rims. She slowly sprayed the wet foam along the inside of each tire and seated one at a time back on the wheel rim, letting the expanding foam dry out and form a fully-inflated tire tightly wrapped around the wheel. She didn’t know how long the foam-filled tires would last but surely long enough for her to have fun biking around the old home place in the mountains.
She dug through the mechatronic play set her grandfather had given her for Christmas and pulled out the muscle memory wire kit.
The heat generated by her bike could activate the muscle wire. With a tip actuator, she could use the heat generated by her brakes to…hmm…well, what exactly? A recoiling strand of muscle wire, as part of a nitinol heat engine, could turn a pulley. What would it take for the system to know if she was about to tip over her handlebars because the front brakes were locking up tighter than her back brakes and ease off pressure on the front wheel so she could still slow down controllably?
Guin’s grandparents wished her goodnight but Guin got out of bed after she heard them quietly snoring down the hall.
She snuck outside with her gear and biked down the road to one of the moonshiners’ hangouts, loudly announcing her presence in the middle of the night.
Needless to say, she was met by flashlights and rifles with hidden voices behind the blinding lights demanding to know who she was and what she was doing in the middle of dadgum night.
Guin explained who she was and the guns lowered.
She further explained why she was there and the lights motioned her on into the barn and down into the hidden chamber where the moonshine was being cooked.
One good thing about being herself, Guin knew how and when to hide her geekiness just long enough for guys to warm up to her good looks. Most guys got a kick out of a preacher’s granddaughter saying that she liked a strong sip of good moonshine.
She passed on the bong of Pennsylvania Pure getting handed around.
After 15 minutes of shooting the bull, trading stories about high school and cruel principals who didn’t take a liking to mountain folk, Guin sauntered over to the moonshine still. She paid close attention to the welding, how neat everything was put together.
“You fellows sure know how to assemble piping. Any chance you have any soldering equipment I can use?”
One boy’s face lit up. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Well, Nathaniel, is this your handiwork?” She pointed at the temperature control gauge and electronic control board that was hooked up to the still.
“Yes’m. My daddy taught me. He went to trade school and all that. Was working at the steel mill over in Pittsburgh back before all that was shut down or automated.”
“Can you show me how to operate your equipment?”
“I broke my bicycle and need to fix it but I want to make it better than before. Any assistance you could give me would be greatly appreciated.”
“You aren’t trying to steal my ‘shine recipe, are you? A purty girl like you?”
“No, Nathaniel, I’m not. I just want to get to know you and your kin better.” She looked around the group of guys, a couple of them in their teens, three or four in their 30s and two of them in their 50s or 60s. “Right now, I don’t see much difference between you guys and my brothers or my father and grandfathers.” She shrugged her shoulders. “They preach fire and brimstone. You make white lightning from fire and piping. Both of you want to make the world a better place from your point of view.”
The guys nodded in general agreement.
Nathaniel pointed toward the back of the room. “Over here, then.”
“Okay, I’ll get the rest of my gear.” Guin climbed the ladder and walked over to where she had been made to set her stuff down in the barn.
The memory seemed like yesterday. Had it been decades?
Guin looked at her reflection on the side of the all-terrain vehicle filled with antsy tourists, some who’d paid a life’s savings for this trip to Mars. She had paid dearly for a treatment of Syndrome X, “freezing” her body at the age of 40, more than a life’s savings, sacrificing some of her memory and all of her wealth on Earth in order for the biological parts of her body not to die of natural causes for many more decades, what her friends called the ultimate energy exchange.
She opened her thoughts to Lee and Shadowgrass who were leading a tourist group out to an old historic landing site.
Between the three of them, they mentally created a reconfiguration of the ATV to operate without the need for one torsion bar, recording a note to themselves to request an expedited repair bot not only for their domicile but one each of the latest generation bots for the tourist ATVs. Guin applied their fix and drove on, wishing for a new repair but wishing more that she’d had time to design one herself.
The new bots contained their own smelters which could forge hybrid parts from just about any chemical found in Martian soil, allowing Guin, Lee and Shadowgrass to expand their exploration and free up time for research after the tourista bots were allowed to go back into operation once the latest supply ship had landed with much-needed irreplaceable parts.
At the top of the ridge, the tourists oohed and aahed, recording themselves together in small groups, drinking water replacement fluids and eating spicy snack treats exclusive to this tour.
Guin virtually handed out commemorative electronic stamps that were actually coded algorithms once called apps that could only be sent and activated from the geolocation of the Loch Ness Monster Overlook, the tourists choosing the colour schemes, soil/clothing smells, wind/walking sounds, and 3D background scenes to include with their immersive experience video that was included as part of their tour package.
Guin sent a silent smile and hug to her two “guys,” which they returned within microseconds.
To get this far with their development of the Martian colonies had cost them many close friends on Mars and lost time with family members back on Earth.
But it was worth every sol (Martian day) and marsec (Martian second).
Whatever it took, even a week of giving tours instead of time devoted to pure research.
They always had each other.