Together, we hoisted the air shelter and shuffled it over to the dome. We pressed the aluminum skirt against the shiny wall then set the shelter down.
“Goddamn, Dad’s good,” I said.
“Jesus,” Dale said.
He’d done an absolutely perfect job on the skirt. I mean, okay, he just had to make the point of contact with the wall flat, but holy hell. There was less than a millimeter of gap between the skirt and the wall.
I brought up my arm readout, which was basically just a fancy external screen for my Gizmo. The Gizmo itself was safely inside the suit with me (they’re not made to handle the rigors of the outdoors). I tapped a few buttons and made the call.
“Yo, Jazz,” said Svoboda. “How’s tricks?”
“So far, so good. How’s the camera feed?”
“Working perfectly. I’ve got your suit cams on the screens.”
“Be careful out there,” came Dad’s voice.
“I will, Dad. Don’t worry. Dale, you getting the phone audio?”
“Affirm,” said Dale.
I walked back to the skirt and faced it so the helmet cam would point at it. “Good skirt alignment. Like…really good.”
“Hmm,” said Dad. “I see some gaps. But smaller than the bead you’ll be making. Should be fine.”
“Dad, this is some of the best precision I’ve ever—”
“Let’s get to work,” he interrupted.
I dragged the oxygen and acetylene tanks to the site and fixed the torch head.
“All right,” Dad said. “Do you know how to start a flame in a vacuum?”
“Of course,” I said. No way in hell I would admit I learned it the hard way just a few days ago. I set the oxygen mix very high, sparked the flame, and got it stabilized.
When I’d worked over the harvesters earlier I’d done very rudimentary joins. I just needed it to hold the pressure in long enough to blow up. These joins would be a lot more complicated. The job would’ve been trivial for Dad, but he didn’t know anything about EVAs. Hence our teamwork.
“Looks like a good flame,” Dad said. “Start at the crown and let the bead puddle downward. Surface tension will keep it aligned with the gap.”
“What about the airflow pressure?” I said. “Won’t it blow droplets into the skirt?”
“Some, but not much. There are no eddy forces around the flame in a vacuum. There’s just the pressure of the flame itself.”
I held a rod of aluminum stock to the top of the skirt and set the flame on it. It was awkward in my EVA suit, but not too bad. A bead of molten metal formed at the tip and dribbled down. Just as Dad predicted, it wicked along the gap and filled the crack.
By habit, I brought the flame down to the fill site to keep the bead molten.
“No need for that,” Dad said. “The metal will stay liquid longer than you expect. There’s no air to convey the heat away. Some gets lost through the metal, but the state-change soaks up most of the energy. It can’t radiate too far.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I said. I returned the flame to the aluminum stock.
Dale stood a few meters away, ready to save my life.
And there I was again. Melting metal while in a vacuum. If a blob melted my EVA suit, my life would be in Dale’s hands. If I sprung a leak, he’d have to haul me into the rover airlock. I wouldn’t be able to do it myself because I’d be too busy dying of asphyxiation.
Bit by bit, I worked my way around the perimeter of the skirt. Dad told me when I went too fast or slow. Finally, I got back to the start of the seam.
“Whew,” I said. “Time for a pressure test.”
“No it isn’t,” Dad said. “Run another line. All the way around. Make sure you completely cover the first weld.”
“Are you kidding me?!” I protested. “Dad, that weld is solid.”
“Run another line, Jasmine,” he said firmly. “You’re not in any hurry. You’re just impatient.”
“Actually I am in a hurry. I have to get this done before the Sanchez shift change.”
“Run. Another. Line.”
I groaned like a teenage girl (Dad really brought that out in me). “Dale, hand me more rods.”
“No,” Dale said.
“As long as you have that torch in your hand, I won’t take my eyes off you, I won’t be more than three meters away, and I won’t have anything in my hands.”
I groaned louder.
It took another twenty minutes, but I ran another seam around the skirt under Dad’s watchful eye.
“Well done,” said Dad.
“Thanks, Dad,” I said. He was right. I’d done a good job. Now I had an air shelter perfectly welded to the smelter bubble’s hull. All I had to do was cut a hole in the wall from inside the shelter and I’d have a ghetto airlock.
I set the torch down on a nearby rock and spread my hands at Dale. Now that I met his stringent requirements for safety, he ambled toward the inflatable.
The inflatable was the same kind I’d helped set up during the Queensland Glass fire—an accordion tube with a rigid airlock connector at each end. He and I each grabbed a hoop and backed away from each other. I headed toward the newly welded air shelter while Dale went to the rover.