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One woman was clearly in charge. People came to her, spoke briefly, and she gave quick answers. That’s a boss. I estimated her age at around fifty, and she had a Latino complexion. She turned to speak to someone and I finally saw her face. It was Loretta Sanchez. I recognized her from the pictures I’d seen online while researching the company.

She was the one who designed the smelter. She’d started Sanchez Aluminum. And she was so thoroughly owned by O Palácio, she might as well have had a collar on. Interesting that someone like her would be in the trenches with her employees instead of in a comfy Aldrin office.

The other employees were just…people. No horns or black capes. No cackling with steepled fingers. Just a bunch of working schmoes.

I crawled to the other end of the smelter, but that was as far as I could go. The thermal control systems were visible from the control room. I called Bob on my Gizmo.

“Go,” said Bob.

“I’m in position. Release the train.”

“Affirm.” He hung up.

I waited behind the smelter. After ten minutes of impatient fidgeting, I finally heard a clunk echo through the walls. The train had arrived. Right now, the outgoing shift was bringing the incoming shift up to date. I had a short window—maybe ten minutes—before the train loaded up and left.

I still had the breather mask and portable oxygen supply. But now I added a pair of goggles from the duffel. They’d be important for what came next. I duct taped both the mask and goggles to my face—I needed an airtight seal this time.

So now I was a mud-covered freak with random shit taped to my face. I probably looked like something out of a horror movie. Oh well. I was about to be horrible.

I pulled a cylinder of gas from the duffel. I gripped the valve, then stopped and did one more check on my duct-tape seals. Okay, everything was all right. Back to the valve. I gave it a quarter-turn.

The bottle released pure chlorine gas into the air.

Chlorine gas is lung-dissolvingly dangerous. They used it as a weapon in World War I, and it worked very well. Where did I get ahold of a tank of compressed death? I had my pal Svoboda to thank for that. He stole it from the ESA chemistry lab.

The FFC Cambridge Process involved a bunch of molten calcium chloride. In theory it was all safely contained inside the sealed, extraordinarily hot smelter. But just in case the smelter had a failure, the facility had chlorine gas detectors all over the place. Very sensitive ones too. They were designed to raise the alarm well before the toxic gas could harm people.

I left the valve open briefly then sealed it again. Within seconds, the chlorine gas alarm went off. And my, what a show!

Yellow lights flashed to life in twenty different places. An incredibly loud alarm blared throughout the facility. I felt a breeze. The emergency circulation vents had sprung to life. They would replace all the air in the facility with fresh oxygen from an emergency reserve.

In the control room, the employees scrambled to safety. Normally, their procedure would be to get into the air shelter in the back of the room. But why would you do that when there’s a train right there? It’s much better to be in a train that can go back to town than sitting in an air shelter awaiting rescue. It didn’t take them long to make their decision—they piled into the train and sealed its hatch.

It was probably cramped in there. Both shifts were sharing the train—a total of forty-eight people.

I snuck a peek at the control room and fist-pumped when I saw it empty. They’d done exactly what I wanted.

Obviously, I had to get everyone out of there before making the smelter melt down. I could have let the pressure alarm go off when I was cutting the inner hull—that would have made people skedaddle. But a pressure leak would bring emergency crews to the hole in the wall. That’d raise a few eyebrows once they saw the rover, makeshift airlock, an awkwardly blushing Dale, et cetera. A toxic gas leak was much better. That was a purely internal issue.

I opened the valve to the chlorine tank again—just a trickle. That way the ventilation system couldn’t clear it out. And as long as the chlorine alert blared, the workers would stay in their train.

I didn’t have to hide anymore. I walked around to the front of the smelter. Then I shimmied underneath it and into the catch basin below.

As a last-ditch defense against meltdowns, the smelter had a copper plug at the bottom of its tank. Copper has a higher melting point than the operating temperature of the bath, but a lower melting point than steel. So if things got too hot (1085°C to be exact), the copper would melt. The superheated salt bath would drain into the cement basin below. There’d be a hell of a mess to clean up, but the smelter itself would be saved.

Can’t have that!

I pulled the welding equipment and my duffel into the pit with me. Once again, I would be welding upward. Sigh. And this time I was joining steel to steel with steel rods as stock. So, in case it wasn’t clear: steel. Yay. Well, at least this time I wasn’t in an EVA suit. Any molten steel that hit me would just disfigure me for life instead of killing me. So I had that going for me.

I got to work. I stayed well to the side as I joined the plate to the underbody. I admit I lost the bead a few times, sending a blob of flaming death to the ground. But I kept at it. After fifteen minutes, I had a solid steel plate covering the copper plug.

I wasn’t sure what grade of steel the smelter walls were made of, but most grades melt at or below 1450°C. So, just to be safe, my plate and stock rods were Grade 416 with a melting point of 1530°C. The smelter would melt before my patch would.

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