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Written by Bud Sparhawk
Illustrated by Lee Kuruganti


Away from the station the wind was free. Out there, in the vastness that was Jupiter's atmosphere, the wind hummed sweetly, bragging of its freedom to move. But when it encountered the sharp prow of the station it screamed as if angered by this barrier, this obstacle to its travels.

Jake Sands listened to the voice of the wind through the thick plating of the E-2 station. He could sense the power of the five hundred knot wind as it was split on either side by the station's sharp prow. He could feel the raw force of the fierce wind that, were the station to become separated from the tether that held it to the synchronous station far overhead, would toss it—and all of its fragile contents—as if it were no more than a child's beach ball. Jake listened as the wind spoke to him, listened to the voice of Jupiter.

"You've got that look again," Marie said. She was nursing a precious cup of coffee in her hands, sipping the liquid gold slowly, as if it were the nectar of the gods.

Jake snapped the cap on his own cup of tea, the only drink he could afford. He carefully measured a spoonful of sweetener into the dark brown brew and added a dollop of ersatz cream to lighten it. That done he sat back and sipped it slowly so as not to burn his tongue.

"I heard weather reporting a storm heading this way," Marie continued. "Figured that you'd be heading out, but wasn't sure until I saw your face."

"Am I that transparent?" Jake grinned as he took another sip. "And here I thought I was being old stone face."

Marie grimaced. "Don't kid around, Jake. Mining these storms is dangerous business. You should leave it to the kids."

Jake snorted. "I'm a lot better than most of them. Hell, by the time I was their age I'd already worked the wind all the way around Jupiter three times. Isn't a thing me and Pumpkin can't do better than them; not a single damn thing!" He took another sip. "Besides, you know how much we need to mine the storms."

Marie didn't respond immediately. Everyone who worked in the stations knew how expensive it was to bring goods, especially raw materials, down the elevator from geo-synch. Every gram they could mine was one less they had to bring down. It was also one gram less dependence on JBI's mining operations on Europa, Io, and Callisto.

Jake leaned forward. "Now, don't get upset again, Marie. You know I wouldn't do this if I didn't have to. Shoot, one day I'll get lucky and find a big one. Then I'll pay off my debts and get shy of Jupiter faster than the wind could carry me. Take you with me, I will. You can bet on it."

"You keep saying that," Marie replied sadly. "But every time you get a little ahead you find some change you want to make on that ship of yours. Tell me, have you made any progress on repaying the loan in the last few years? Or have you kept rolling over the loan to pay for the modifications?"

Jake hesitated. "I'll admit that Pumpkin needs quite a bit of upkeep." Then he grinned widely. "But then, she's not a lot different from any other woman!"

Marie slammed her soft plastic cup down, which lacked the effect she wanted, and slopped the expensive coffee over the side besides. "Don't make a joke about it, Jake! I nearly have a heart attack every time you say you're going into one of these storms. I never know if you are going to come back." She clenched her hands before her. "I don't think I can take it much longer."

Jake took her hands in his own. "Listen honey, Pumpkin's a good ship and I know what I'm doing. There's no need for you to worry. Shoot, there isn't a storm the old man can throw at us that Pumpkin and me can't beat. Haven't I always come back to you?" He squeezed her hands when she nodded. "And I always will come back, Marie. To you, darling. To you! You've got to believe that!"

Marie sniffed and pulled her hands free. "The problem is, Jake, that I don't think I can really and truly believe that any more. I worry about you. I'm always afraid that something will happen, that I will lose you. I'm sorry, but I just can't help the way I feel."

"Man's got to go where he can make some money," Jake said. "Storm's the only way Pumpkin and me can get the high payoffs. Hey, don't I make enough to live on from what I find?"

"You could make a lot more if you'd run shipments or take passengers. You could even get a good station job with JBI."

Jake paused, but only for a second. "JBI won't give an independent like me any shipping contracts, not while they have their own huge fleet of transports. And you know as well as I that Pumpkin isn't set up to handle passengers. Shoot, there's hardly enough room for me and crew!"

"You could let the bank have Pumpkin and take a position on one of JBI's stations," she said quickly, not willing to concede.

"Huh, I'd sooner cut off my arm than let them turn me into one of their popinjays. Besides, they don't like us old guys—want them young and pliant, they do. Shoot, can you picture me in one of them fancy uniforms, strutting around like I was somebody?"

"You'd look great in JBI blues." Marie shot back. "And you aren't that old; you're only forty-five!"

"Yeah, forty-five and nearly broke. Which is why, with the payment on Pumpkin due next week, I've got to go after this storm. Now come on, give me a kiss for luck and let me go. I've got to check on that lazy crewman of mine."

* * *

Rams, Jake's sole crew member, was talking to the refit boss when Jake arrived at the shipyard bay. Both of them were wearing their pressure suits, which meant that they had either just come back in or were preparing to go out.

"Costing me time and money to let you two jawbone all day," he grumbled as he approached them. "How's the inspection going?"

Rams snapped to attention as if he were some damn JBI staffer. No matter how much Jake protested, Rams would not stop this silly routine. Jake half expected him to salute.

"Checks t'damn 'all right!" Rams chimed in a singsong Jupe accent so thick that you could cut it with a laser torch.

The boss nodded agreement and shoved the clipboard into Jake's hands. "Signed and certified by your crew, Cap'n. Double checked every item m'self, I did."

Jake scanned the sheet. All the checklist items were neatly marked off. Apparently everything he'd requested had been done, or at least Rams had signed that they had. The evening before he'd personally inspected the internal systems work for himself, just to be absolutely certain it had been done correctly. "I'd like to put my own eyeballs on the deck fittings," he remarked and pointed to three items in the middle of the list. "Wait here until I suit up."

The boss blustered. "Look here, I have other things that—"

Jake turned and glared at him. "If I remember my rights, a ship's not certified until its captain signs off, no matter how many crewmen think it might be." He glared at Rams and the boss, defying them to contradict him. When neither replied, Jake stamped to the fitting room.

* * *

Pumpkin floated high in her berth. Her keel was fully retracted, leaving only the enormous bulb of her counterweight hanging beneath the smoothly rounded hull. Jake noted the deep scars on the surface of the bulb, each one a mark from the storms they'd weathered over the years. Similar scars on the nose of the ship itself had been erased as part of the refit. Jake nodded when the boss pointed out the fresh welds where the scars had been.

The boss wore one of the new suits, lightweight and flexible in stark contrast to Jake's bulky, heavy, second-hand suit.

"You did a good job, there," Jake admitted and pointed at the ladder ahead of them. "Now, let's take a look at the topside fittings."

Even at this altitude, still within Jupiter's atmosphere, the effective gravity was just a bit more than two gees. Adding that to the weight of the heavy pressure suit made climbing the ladder a major undertaking, even for someone in good shape. Jake, long accustomed to working the under Jupiter's heavy gravity, didn't mind. Besides, the climb gave him an opportunity to inspect the hull's sides.

The shiny new deck fittings stood out from the rest of the deck gear. Jake bent over one of the new blocks and checked to make certain that it had been fastened per spec. He carefully read the serial number off the block and checked it against his own manifest to be certain that the numbers matched. He'd ordered those blocks from the best fabricators in high orbit and was damn sure that these shipwrights weren't going to foist some substitute off on him.

"Look here," he said as he pointed at the mains'l shroud, the covering that protected the sails until they were deployed. "That looks like a cold weld—see how rough it is! I want that corrected before we leave. Smooth it out and show me the deep scans afterwards!" Nobody was going to abuse Pumpkin while he was around!

"You don't need scans of that weld. It isn't load bearing," the boss protested. "That weld's just decorative—to make the installation look smoother."

"It might be," Jake bit out. "But if a worker gets sloppy on something trivial then he's probably sloppy where it matters. If I were you, I'd fire the slob who did this," he advised.

* * *

Early the next morning, after another detailed inspection of the shroud, Jake made himself comfortable in the captain's chair. The tell-tales on the status board all read green.

"Rams, is everything in order down below?" he shouted down the short corridor to the forecastle.

"Aye Cap'n," Rams responded. "I even tied down the fine china and put away your best crystal."

"Very funny," Jake replied dryly. Four plastic cups and two bowls constituted their entire dinnerware.

He turned to the console and toggled the intercom. "Pumpkin is ready to go, Echo Two. Can you grant me clearance?"

"Pumpkin, this is Echo-2 control. Ready to accept the report, Jake?" It was Marie's voice. He'd forgotten that this was her shift.

"Sure, Marie," he responded laconically. He'd already gotten all of the weather information he needed before boarding, so this last bit of official folderol was pretty irrelevant.

"Weather reports the wind at one-twenty meters per second and falling," Marie recited in a sing-song rhythm. "The storm's about one hundred and twenty thousand kilometers away and moving south by southeast at about two hundred meters per second. Weather predicts that the center will pass about eighteen thousand kilometers to the north of the station."

"Excellent. That will give me plenty of time to get into position to make at least a double pass as it goes by."

Marie hesitated and then resumed her report. "Laminar wind flow of the Kilo Kilo and Lima Lima bands will be somewhat disrupted by the storm, but weather predicts no lasting effects beyond the double Kay bands. We do not advise . . ."

"You don't have to say it," Jake interrupted.

"We do not advise the northerly course you have filed," Marie continued as if she hadn't heard. "Please record your acknowledgement that you will not hold the station responsible for loss or damage as a consequence of your sail plan. Do you so acknowledge?" There was a barely concealed crack in her voice, as if she were hoping that he would not do so.

"I understand and acknowledge," Jake said dryly, and then added; "Don't worry, Marie. I'll be all right. Done this plenty of times. Don't worry."

"I have recorded your acknowledgement," Marie continued in her official voice. "You are cleared to depart."

The huge clamshell hatches behind Pumpkin groaned ponderously open, exposing the ship to the whipping winds that howled around the station. Pumpkin bobbed and strained at the clamps that held her fast to the berth as the wind sucked at her stern.

"Pumpkin ready to depart," Jake said as the little ship strained toward the opened hatch. "Goodbye, Marie."

"Fair winds and good passage, Cap'n." she replied with the standard sign off and then added in a rush. "Watch yourself, Jake. Come back to me."

With those words she released the station's clamps. Jake could hear them clang through the pressure hull as they released. Now, the only thing holding Pumpkin to the station were her own tie-downs.

"Ready for release," he warned Rams as he tightened his own seat belt another notch. As soon as Rams acknowledged that he was secure Jake hit the release button. The retraction motor in the bow whined as it pulled the docking lines aboard.

Pumpkin drifted quickly backwards. The closer she came to the opening the faster she moved. In a matter of seconds the ship had accelerated so that the walls of the station whipped past in a blur.

Then Pumpkin was free. She slipped into the air stream and was tossed backwards, rocking and tumbling until her speed equalled that of the surrounding wind. The radar image of the station disappeared in the white hash from Jupiter's constant electrical activity.

"I'm setting our course for sixty-five degrees," Jake shouted over the rattle of the gear as Rams lowered the keel to stabilize them. "I figure that we've got three days to get ourselves into position."

After Jake checked Rams' work to make certain that the keel had been set properly, he activated the winch that pulled the mainsail out of the shroud and into the wind. The sail luffed for a moment until Jake forced Pumpkin's nose into the wind and tightened the main sheet. The ship heeled dramatically as the breeze caught and filled the sail, tilting them to a precipitous thirty-degree angle. As the ship leveled she drove forward, cutting across the prevailing wind at a steep angle.

A few minutes later, after he was satisfied with the set of the main, Jake deployed the small foresail and winched her as tight as she'd go, forcing the wind through the venturi formed by the tight angle between main and jib. With the additional sail area unfurled, Pumpkin increased her speed. On this course he needed to run as close to the wind as possible. Pumpkin ran smooth and true, as if she was grateful to be finally free.

"The barrier layer feels a mite rough today," Jake said casually as he fought the wheel. The little craft was being tossed about in the turbulence at the boundary between the dense atmosphere beneath them and the relatively light air above them. There was continual turbulence between the layers, causing them to mix and tumble and make the boundary layer resemble the rolling, tempestuous seas of Earth.

* * *

Pumpkin raced toward the oncoming storm with hardly a hairsbreadth deviation from Jake's carefully plotted course. When the inertial navigation system indicated that they were in position, Jake hauled the jib back, turned Pumpkin head to wind, and let the main fly free. Pumpkin rocked precipitously for a moment.

"This heave-to trick of yours always scares me," Rams said nervously as Pumpkin began swinging wildly.

Jake laughed as the ship's oscillations damped with each swing. "Don't worry, Rams. Done this lots of times. She'll run slow into the wind this way. All we have to do now is wait for the storm to come to us. Keep an eye on the manometer. Soon's it starts to fall we'll need to make ready." That last instruction was just to give Rams something to concentrate on while they waited. He'd set the automatics to alert them long before the pressure gauge showed any sign of movement of the storm's approach.

He was surprised at Rams's reaction. In their few years together he'd taught Rams how to balance keel and ballast and how to adjust the buoyancy of the ship. He told him the secrets of playing the winds of Jupiter's storms to capture its treasures. He had tried to teach Rams to love the wild winds of Jupiter's wine-red seas. He wondered if his efforts had been wasted.

"I wish we could see what is happening out there," Rams said wistfully.

"Sure, and I wish that I had a ship that was ten times the size of tiny Pumpkin, but wishes won't make it so," Jake said. "It's black as pitch outside." He didn't need to add that the radar was useless; there was so much electrical energy around Jupiter that returns from more than a few tens of meters away was pure hash, impossible to decipher.

The echophones were more useful, although not in any way the designers of those systems intended. Jake had learned over the years that he could use the echophones to listen to the approaching storms. He'd learned that Jupiter's winds had their own voice.

Sometimes the winds sang soft songs of the vast distances they travelled as they swept the vast planet, as if they were boasting of the millions of kilometers that had passed beneath their fleet feet. When Pumpkin was moving, he felt that the winds sang a slow song, one of gentle passages across the vast uncharted distances, of ports hundreds of thousands of miles apart, of long voyages where only the wind and the ship mattered.

When a storm approached the wind whispered hymns of power and majesty. There was a deepening to Jupiter's eolian voice, a deep basso that seemed to say, "I am coming. I am coming to duel with you, pitiful little humans. I can crush your tiny craft, rip your very atoms apart and spread the pieces over a billion square kilometers. I could kill you in an instant!"

Jake knew that he and Pumpkin could best any storm. He'd acquired the skills needed to ride the updrafts and beat to weather in a hundred voyages. The ship might just be a tiny bulb of metal and plastic, but—unlike the storms—he could use his knowledge and skills to show Pumpkin how to ride the pressure waves and dance on the cyclonic winds.

"Come ahead," Jake whispered to himself as he listened to the storm's challenge. "Come and get me if you dare!"

* * *

Alarms shrilled within the cabin. Jake was off the bunk and onto his feet instantly. All traces of sleep vanished as he tightened his truss and worked his way back to the helm. Jake's heart was pounding furiously. He could feel the rush of adrenaline, the nervous sinking in his stomach, the tingling of his entire body as the excitement of the storm's arrival washed through him. This was what he lived for, the challenge of beating Jupiter's furious storms, of the anticipation of great wealth that they would find, of the excitement of the moment. Nothing else equalled it. He was grinning broadly by the time he reached the helm.

Rams was already fighting the sails and the wheel. Jake noted that Rams had already lowered the keel to maximum length. Good. The blinking red light on the console told him that Rams had also started pumping ballast to give Pumpkin some more weight.

Their kilometer-long diamond fiber keel contained pipes and pumps to pull denser material into the keel to balance the force of the wind on the sail. Since it was always easier to lose ballast than bring more aboard it was wise to enter the storm with a full load. According to the indicators, it wouldn't take long for the ballast pumps to finish.

"You're showing her too much of our beam," Jake shouted as Pumpkin heeled to port. "Let me take the helm!"

Jake slid into the seat and twisted the wheel. As Pumpkin turned he quickly adjusted the main, pulling it in as much as possible. He then tightened the jib. Pumpkin responded to the adjustments and slewed into her new heading, cutting into the storm and accelerating quickly.

Rams lowered the gain on the radar in preparation for their mining run. If the storm was carrying anything from down below it would show up on the short range radar display far brighter than the static.

Jake jibbed the ship from side to side, favoring always the side of greatest pressure and bearing into the teeth of the storm. Pumpkin's relative speed increased with each maneuver as Jake worked their way to the center of the raging arms that guarded the periphery of the storm.

"Down on Earth they'd call this a million year storm!" Jake shouted as Pumpkin rocked ahead. "Just a tiny little turbulence out here, eh?" He laughed as Pumpkin tilted from a sudden gust.

"I'd rather not be on Earth in a storm like this," Rams admitted. "Too much open down there, I'm told. No protection against the wind at all." He shivered visibly. Like most native Jovians he was most comfortable in the close confines of ship and station.

Jake laughed. "Grew up down on Earth. Didn't come to work the old man until I was in my teens. You'd like Earth, Rams. Lots of pretty girls, plenty of fresh food, and air that doesn't smell like damned ammonia all the time."

"Nothing wrong with our food," Rams protested. "Besides, what good are pretty girls to me? I am already married."

Jake grunted. He'd hardly call Rams arrangement with a woman back on Earth a marriage. As far as he knew, Rams had only seen his bride in photos and never touched or spoken to her. Such were the ways of his people. He wondered wryly how they would ever have children; would Rams mail her a frozen specimen?

Pumpkin heeled suddenly as another gust hit. Instead of steady westerlies the fierce winds were now blowing the ship directly south. One look at the new heading told Jake that the storm was to their north, and passing them by. He had misjudged the track and sent them too far below the storm's path.

Jake quickly released the wheel and spun Pumpkin about. He let the jib balloon wide and let the main swing to the opposite side. For a moment he could picture the titanium-strengthened sails whipping like soft silk in the intense breeze as they flew across the deck and then filled with the wind that was now to their back. Pumpkin tipped forward as the sails filled.

The wind drove the ship downwards for a few seconds until Pumpkin found her balance, steadied, then accelerated as she raced northward along the face of the storm. As they passed closer to the center of the turbulence the pressure decreased and they dropped lower and lower.

"Have to stay clear," Jake said as a caution to Rams, but mostly as a reminder to himself. "If we fall into the low pressure at the center, we'll lose too much altitude. Be a bitch to fight our way back." He said it calmly, knowing full well that if they fell too far into the low-pressure center they could die. Without the supporting P12 layer they would fall forever until Jupiter crushed the ship as if it were made of foil.

But the risks of falling were worth taking. Close to the center were where the strongest updrafts could be found. Nearest the center were the vertical winds that brought the riches of the deep up to his level.

Metallic, ice, and stony meteorites dropped through Jupiter's atmosphere until they reached a point where their density equalled their surroundings. At that point they floated, a sargasso of astronomical history. Any storm whose center reached down to that level wrenched them upwards and tossed them about. And, occasionally, the storm brought them up to where Jake could mine them.

There was a sound like raindrops on a metal roof. "That's gravel hitting us!" Rams exclaimed excitedly. "Should I drag the scoop?"

"Wait a bit," Jake replied with one eye on the radar. He didn't want to waste his time on this early, tiny dross. Farther along, closer to the storm's mouth, the gravel would be larger, the riches would be more plentiful. He made a slight adjustment to turn Pumpkin more toward the center and felt her drop noticeably.

The clatter of the gravels' impact grew louder. A field of bright sparks glowed in the display; a decent radar return that meant that they were at least half a meter across. The rocks were prime size!

"Hit it!" Jake shouted and jinked the ship sideways as Rams kicked the release on the scoop. Pumpkin bucked as the wind hit the deployed netting. Jake fought to keep her on course, fought to keep her from falling into the center as he steered the sharp division between safety and certain death.

The stream of gravel didn't seem to have an end. There was a continuous pounding on the hull. In a matter of moments their net was loaded to capacity and began to drag on the ship, slowing her speed.

Rams reeled the scoop's harvest into the hold as Jake fought to work Pumpkin outward and upwards. He had to make use of the updrafts, skipping from one to the next while avoiding the even more fierce downdrafts.

The proximity alarm sounded a shrill warning. Jake glanced at the display and saw an enormous radar return. It was so large that it had to be nearly three meters across!

Jake spun Pumpkin's wheel, hoping to keep the fleeting phantasm in view. But the huge nugget disappeared from the display, leaving only the occasional sparks from gravel. "Did you see that?" he asked. "Did you see that big mother?"

"See what?" Rams said in puzzlement, looking up from the scoop controls. Apparently he had not been distracted from pulling the scoop aboard when the alarm sounded.

"We almost hit a big rock. From the way it reflected the radar it had to be pure metal, I'll bet—a solid nickel iron meteorite! Damn, if we'd caught that one it would have paid off a big hunk of Pumpkin's debt."

"Next time, for sure," Rams said repeating the standard prayer of the storm miners. He really didn't sound as if he believed Jake at all. "But for now let's get out of here. I want to see what we've caught this time."

Jake turned Pumpkin outward, away from the storm's center, away from the tantalizing riches that he had just missed. The winds dropped and Pumpkin rocked along on a course to the nearest station.

* * *

Jake was upset. Not only had they barely made a profit from their catch from the storm, but, worst of all, none of the other miners believed him about the huge nugget he'd seen.

"Probably another miner's craft," one of them said. "Better get your recognition coder checked, Jake—else you might think a station's one of them there Jovian whales!" The room had erupted in gales of laughter at that.

Their amusement was his own fault, he thought miserably, reflecting on the fact that he had exaggerated slightly on a few occasions in the past. He rose, took a bottle by the neck and stepped toward the joker. "You calling me a liar, Brian?" he muttered.

"I think it is time that we found ourselves something to eat," Rams said loudly as he put himself between the two miners. "Captain, let us go."

"You'll see," Jake shouted as Rams steered him away from his glowering adversary. "I'll come back with the biggest damn hunk of rock anybody's ever seen down here. Just you wait!"

"What shall we have to eat this evening?" Rams asked once they were away.

"Steak and gravy," Jake replied grimly. "Best meal we can afford on what we made. Yes, station steak and gravy would be just the thing."

* * *

"You the captain who brought that little ketch in last night?" a harried-looking man demanded as he approached their table.

Jake looked up from his plate of station steak and gravy—the cafeteria's nightly special. A single glance took in the man's expensive clothing, his neat haircut, and the pair of new, unblemished boots he wore.

"Pumpkin's a barque, not a ketch," Jake said slowly, indicating by tone that he thought the man's education sadly lacking. "And who the hell are you?"

"Pavel Grobbka," the man introduced himself. He sounded as if he had other things on his mind. "Listen, I need someone to run me back to station E-2. I understand that's your home port."

Jake scooped another big spoonful of beans and chewed them slowly, as if they were pieces of the real steak he couldn't afford. He swallowed his too-dry beans and then took a drink of cheap beer to wash them down. "I think you've got me confused with the JBI liner desk. They can sell you a ticket on the next packet ship out of here."

"I can't wait until next week," Grobbka protested. "I have to get back to E-2 as quickly as possible. Listen, I'll pay if you'll take me right away."

"Me and Rams here figured to spend a day or two resting up," Jake drawled. "Might sail back the day after tomorrow."

Pavel placed his hands on the table to bring his face level with Jake's. "Tomorrow or the next day is too late, Captain! I really need to leave immediately! Tell me what you want to take me as a passenger and I'll pay it."

Jake pushed some beans and rice together with his spoon, moving them into a tiny puddle of thin pseudo-gravy. "Money's not the point. Like I said; Pumpkin's not outfitted for passengers and, just in case you didn't hear me the first time, I'm in no hurry to leave. Need my rest, you know."

Pavel slumped into the extra chair and put his head in his hands. "But you've the only ship available. All the rest either have to be refitted before they can sail or are already cleared for someplace else. You've got to take me!"

Jake slowly savored a mouthful of the highly spiced rice that was mixed with his beans. "Life's too short to be rushing about. What's so all fired important that you can't wait another week?"

"I have to get up the elevator to my wife," Grobbka explained. "I was supposed to be back last week, but was delayed by . . . well, no reason to go into that." He stopped for a moment and then said, almost too low to be heard; "I guess I'll miss the delivery."

Jake's ears perked up. "Delivery? What; some big deal cargo coming in that you have to handle?"

The man smiled sadly, "In a manner of speaking. It's my first child. My wife's up in geosynch right now, waiting for her time. I . . . I was supposed to be with her."

Jake wiped his mouth and finished the last of the beer. "C'mon Rams, we got to empty out the equipment hold."

Rams choked on his beans. "Why? You told me to pack all the spare gear in there just this morning."

Jake stood up. "Well, things change. Come on. We can't expect our new crewman here to sleep on that pile of crap, can we?"

"Crewman?" Grobbka and Rams exclaimed.

"Well, sure," Jake smiled. "I said that Pumpkin don't carry passengers and she doesn't. Crew's another matter entirely." He looked at their startled expressions. "Well, come on! We got a delivery schedule to meet!"

* * *

There was a celebration in progress at the Rat's Nest when Jake and Rams wandered in. Surprise of surprises was that Marie seemed to be in the middle of the festivities.

"I passed my finals!" she shouted as she threw her arms around Jake and planted a huge kiss on his lips. "God, I missed you!" she added when they came up for air. "I was so afraid."

"Didn't I promise you that I'd be back," Jake replied. "And I missed you, too," he added.

Marie danced away and pulled him into the circle of fellow celebrants—all station people, Jake noted.

"Great news, isn't it?" remarked a tall black man. "Master Marie Monarimi. Has a certain ring to it."

"She'll have a station of her own within a month or two, you can count on it," said another—Jake thought his name was Toma, a guy who shared watches with her.

Marie sneered. "Not likely. I'm tenth on the list, which puts my station a year or more away."

Toma shook his head. "I heard that fabrication is launching two new stations a year, Marie. You might move up that list faster than you think."

"Yeah," the black man said. "I think a few of the old hands are ready to rotate back to Earth. Cross your fingers for luck!"

Jake wondered if it were true. Was it possible that Marie would be leaving E-2 to manage one of the floating stations that circled Jupiter with the winds?

* * *

"You'll come with me, won't you?" Marie said when they reached the privacy of her quarters. "I can support the both of us on a master's salary. You wouldn't have to mine the storms any more. You wouldn't have to put yourself at risk so much."

"Still have to make the payments on Pumpkin," he said slowly, as if pointing out the obvious. "No sense letting the ship go when I put so much into her."

"You could get a station job—I could authorize that."

Jake shook his head. "Don't know much about station tending. Besides, what would happen to Pumpkin if I had some kind of job?"

"Well, for starters, you could stop thinking about that damned ship of yours and start thinking about us for a change. Jake, I want you with me when I get my station. I need you with me when I go."

"Pumpkin has to be moored at one of the tethered stations, you know that," Jake continued, oblivious to her protests. "Can't mine the storms without adequate weather data and the tethered stations are the only place I can do that."

"Forget mining the fucking storms!" Marie screamed. "You won't have to do that once I start drawing a master's pay. You won't have to sail that stupid barque of yours. You won't have to do anything but be there for me!"

Jake stood up abruptly. "So you want me to be a damn lap dog? I've always paid my own way and always will. Spend your master's pay to buy a cat or something if you want a pet. I'll have no part of it!" With that he stomped out and made his way to where Pumpkin was berthed.

The ship's bunk was especially cold, hard, and lonely that night.

* * *

Rams woke him the next morning. "I saw Master Landston having breakfast with Marie in the dock cafeteria," he reported. "Did you two have an argument again?"

"Keep your nose out of other people's business," Jake bit back as he rubbed sleep from his eyes. "Marie's a grown woman. She can eat with whoever she wants."

Rams looked thoughtful. "Ah, I see. You did have an argument, didn't you?"

"I think you need to repack the sails, Rams. Wouldn't be surprised if it took you all day to do that."

Rams was taken aback. "You will not be helping me." It was a statement of fact, not a question.

"No, I think I need a bit of breakfast myself. Guess I'll wander over to the cafeteria and see what they have that might interest me."

Rams smiled as he pulled on his work gloves.

Marie was sitting in a corner of the cafeteria when Jake arrived. She was freshly showered and wore a clean uniform that was in stark contrast to Jake's rumpled bearing. There was a half-empty cup of tea before her. Landston was nowhere in sight.

Jake sat down. "Good morning."

Marie stared at him. "Do you think that you can just walk in here and act as if nothing happened last night?"

"Missed you terrible," Jake said and gently stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. "Maybe we both need to forget about the future for a little bit and let things settle themselves out."

Marie pulled away. "No, that's what we do every damn time! I can't just let things drift any more, Jake. I want to know what sort of future we are going to have. I want to feel confident about what we can build together, and that means that I can depend on you next week, next month, next year."

"Sorry you feel that way," Jake said slowly. "After you been down here in the old man as long as I have you'll realize how little control we really have over the future. Storm could blow that station of yours off of its track so's you could never find your way back. Ships go out and get lost, broken, destroyed by a storm or maybe have some other mischance. You plan too far in advance and you're bound to be disappointed. Future's a chance happening here on Jupiter, not something you can depend on."

Marie chewed her lip. "I can't live that way, Jake. I need someone I can depend on. I want somebody stable—someone willing to invest time and energy in a relationship. Damn it, Jake; I want to know that my man is going to try to stay alive for me and not rush off into every damn storm that comes along!"

"Now, you don't really mean that, do you, darling?" Jake smiled widely as he drawled out the words. "Nobody puts as much time and energy into a relationship as old Jake. Come on, let's go home and make up."

Marie stiffened. "Don't try to wheedle me into bed, Jake. Stop that," she pushed his exploring hand away, but gently. "I really shouldn't let you touch me. Ouch! That pinched!" She aimed a slow swing at his chin, which he easily deflected and pulled her closer. "Damn you, Jake. Damn you to hell and back!" Marie said as she returned his kisses with increasing fervor. "But first, let's get you a shower and a shave."

Rams had the entire sail set repacked by the time a smiling Jake returned.

* * *

Marie was excited when she got off shift and burst into their quarters. She shook a flimsy in Jake's face. "Why didn't you download the mail today?" she demanded. "Look! Look what came! This is important!"

Jake snatched the flimsy from her waving hand and tried to read it in the dim cabin light.

"It's an offer of a contract with JBI!" Marie exclaimed before he could finish reading the tiny text. "Someone over at corporate has actually offered to give you a long-term contract! They want you to make speed runs between stations for high priority shipments."

Jake scanned the address block and recognized the name at the top. It was that Grobbka fellow, the one with the pregnant wife. Apparently this must be his way of repaying the favor.

"Looks like tight schedules, constant demand, but the pay could be good," Marie said excitedly as she danced around the room.

"Pays not good, but adequate," Jake said slowly. "You know that JBI won't give a small shipper like me top rates. I'd probably get all the shit jobs they don't want."

Marie sat in his lap and threw her arms around his neck. "Don't you see? You can do this. No more storms. No more putting yourself at risk. It's a good, safe way to keep Pumpkin."

"Maybe," Jake admitted slowly. "But, before I reply I think I need to talk this over with Rams and see what we'd have to do to the ship. Might need some more modifications, you know. Could be costly. Cargo take different equipment."

"Then get another loan," Marie laughed. "Hell, I'll even pay part of it. Oh, Jake. I do love you. Now we can be together. Now we can have a future!"

"Together don't come with making freight runs," Jake corrected her.

"But you will always come back, won't you," she said smugly. "I'll know that you'll always come back to me!"

* * *

A month later Pumpkin had been refitted. Jake had them widen the hatch to the scoop bay, which was now the cargo hold, and replace the heavy-weather sails with a set of standard issue. The new sails would allow Pumpkin to make speedier passages, provided they stayed out of the heavier winds.

The contract required a number of safety modifications that would make the barque less agile. Jake had protested, but let Marie and Rams overcome his objections. He might be able to carry higher value cargo, they argued, if he complied with JBI's safety regulations.

"First shipment's due in two days," Rams announced breathlessly as soon as he returned from the Factor's Office.

Jake looked up from the satellite shots and rubbed his chin. "Look here," he pointed at a spot of turbulence at the edge of the KK band. "There's a big storm due around that time. Supposed to pass real close, just northeast of us."

"Not a problem," Rams replied quickly with a flashing smile. "According to the manifest we are to be heading southwest, in the opposite direction, completely out of the path of the storm. We are so lucky!"

"Just the same I'm going over to weather to take a look at the raw data myself. Never did trust those pointy-headed weather people to make a decent prediction. Want to get a good look at this monster for myself."

Jake knew how to read the signs of Jupiter's weather, having figured long before the scientists had put an equation to it that the depth of a storm was a function of its radius and its angular speed. The higher the product of the two numbers the deeper it would pull up the stuff that floated below, where even the five hundred million tons of meteorites that rained onto Jupiter each year were light enough to float. Jake could look at the first satellite pictures of a forming turbulence and decide whether it was worth the trouble to mine its depths. This gave his a clear advantage over the others who waited until weather confirmed Jake's instincts and therefore arrived too late or found themselves in the wrong position.

Rams came back from dinner to find Jake arguing with the yard boss. The heavy canisters of their new sail sets were lined side by side on the dock floor. Four of the stevedores were swinging Pumpkin's old heavy-duty sails into the sail locker.

"What is happening?" he asked as he ran to Jake's side. "Why are you changing the sails?"

Jake finished giving the boss instructions and turned to face Rams. "It's the storm!" he said with rising excitement in his voice. "Rams, I've never seen a storm this deep. It's the biggest, widest damn thing that the old man has ever boiled up! From the satellite pictures I figure that it must go at least two thousand kilometers deep. This one is going to bring up stuff that we've never seen before—it's going to be the richest haul we'll ever make!"

"But what about the cargo?" Rams cried. "We must make the run tomorrow when the shipment arrives down the elevator! Whatever shall we tell the JBI?"

"Screw JBI and its stinking cargo!' Jake shouted. "Didn't you hear me? This storm is the big one! This storm is going to make us rich beyond belief! Now, come on, get a move on. We have a lot to do if we're going to set sail this evening." He turned to shout more instructions at the stevedores as Rams stood with his mouth agape.

* * *

"What the hell do you think you are doing?" Marie screamed when she arrived at the dock, oblivious to the dock hands that she left scattered in her wake. "Are you out of your mind? What about the contract? What about the cargo you promised to carry? How can you think of going after some stupid storm at a time like this?"

"Rams shouldn't have called you," Jake said. "I knew you wouldn't understand."

"What's to understand, you fucking idiot! You have obviously lost whatever brains you had. Weather is screaming that we should think about evacuating the station because of the size of this storm. Everybody with an ounce of sense is sailing away from the path of the storm and here you are, rigging that miserable excuse for a ship of yours so you can go right into the monster's mouth! Lord, Jake, you must be out of your freaking mind!"

"Like a fox," Jake said with a smile. "Storm this deep's got to pull tons of stuff up from below! I just wish I could convince more miners to go with me—this one is going to make us so much money." His voice trailed off as he caught Marie's expression.

"Come on! Think of it, Marie; you won't have to be a station master. I won't have to worry about paying off Pumpkin. We can live a life of ease on what I'll mine from this one. When I get back we'll be free and clear for life!"

"So you won't stop this foolishness?" Marie asked in cold, measured tones. "You really are going to go through with it?"

Jake took her by the shoulders. "Why aren't you listening to me, woman? This is my big chance. This is the storm that will let us get away from Jupiter once and for all! One final run, Marie, let me take this one last grab at the golden ring. Let me show everyone what Pumpkin and I can do!"

Marie looked at Jake, stared into his eyes for a long time and then turned away without saying another word. She walked slowly off of the dock.

"Aren't you going to wish me luck?" Jake shouted after her.

* * *

Rams was easier to convince than Marie, but still it had taken a promise of one quarter of whatever they found to get him to stay as crew.

"Pumpkin out at 1545," he radioed as they exited the dock.

"Fair winds, Cap'n," was the master's automatic reply as he released the clamps. The station was nearly deserted save for a caretaker staff working at triple overtime rates. Even with a reduced crew the master hadn't deviated one iota from the standard departure checklist. Jake had fumed as he ran into block after block until, finally, he had filed a fictitious sail plan just to get out before the storm passed them by.

Whatever else the master had to say was lost in the hash of white noise as Jupiter blanked any hope of electronic contact with the station. The radar display lost the station a few moments later as the wind ripped Pumpkin from the station.

"Course set for 280 degrees," Jake said aloud as he made further adjustments to Pumpkin's sails, trimming the small ship to race ahead of the prevailing winds on a broad reach. With luck he could get far enough ahead of the approaching storm to tack northward into direct line with the storm's predicted track.

Then they just had to wait until the monster came to them.

For the past six hours Pumpkin had been drifting along, cutting back and forth from 350 north to 160 south. Rams noted the difference in headings and remarked, "Pumpkin's got a slight inclination to weather, Cap'n."

Jake snorted. "Yeah, thanks to those damned JBI safety changes. Glad we have our old sails back, though. Couldn't work out the storm with those flimsy ones they wanted us to use."

The leading edge of the hurricane touched Pumpkin with a gentle kiss of a breeze—an abrupt wind change to the southeast. Jake turned Pumpkin eastward and ran for another hour and then tacked back. This time the heading was 320, which meant that something was seriously altering the prevailing wind.

"Get the weather sail ready to hoist," Jake instructed. "And get a second set of lines ready to deploy. If we lose the sail we'll have to get another one out there in a hurry!"

"Aye, Cap'n," Rams replied.

Pumpkin was being buffeted by even heavier breezes, if 200 mps winds could be called breezes. Still, it was light wind compared to the ones they would feel farther in.

Jupiter's swirling hurricanes were fed by thermal disturbances deep within the atmosphere, far below the relatively thin atmosphere surrounding Pumpkin. Within the storm were thick bands where the heated air ascended to the cool crown of the storm before sinking into the depths. Pushing the rising and falling air masses were the rotating winds. The rapid rotation of the planet gave these hurricanes a sideways thrust that drove them onward.

Jake knew the structure of the storms, could tell where he was in the stack by listening to the roar of her winds through the sonar, through the echophones, through the strumming tone of the rigging as it strained against the wind.

Pumpkin's tendency to weather grew more pronounced as they encountered heavier winds, forcing Jake to fight the jib and main against the natural pull of the wheel. She wanted to turn into the center, to head right for the most dangerous part of the storm where they would be carried down to depths. But Jake held her back. He steered a course that took them gradually down as they progressed inward. He wanted to get far enough in that he could ride the heavy upwellings closest to the center—that was where they were most likely to find the flotsam from the depths.

The first pass yielded little. They detected lots of small gravel, objects that ordinarily would represent a lucky find, but which Jake insisted were just a teaser. Jake maneuvered Pumpkin within the upwelling, steering in a tight circle that brought them to the outside edge of a thermal just as it crested.

Jake swung the main and pitched Pumpkin on a steep heel as they raced away from the center, cutting the oncoming wind at a twenty-degree angle. They ran on this course for an hour before Jake jibed and beat his way back inward, downwards, into the storm.

The third pass was the lucky one. Rams nearly screamed as the radar display flashed with a brilliant spark. "Damn, she's nearly as big as a house!" he yelled as he fumbled for the net release. Jake swung the ship to track the find, spilling the wind to hold his speed down to that of the nugget.

The alarm rang again as a second time as a second spark appeared to their stern. Rams nearly had the scoop deployed, which made Pumpkin steer like she had a sea anchor out. Jake pulled in more sail to hold their speed.

"Hate to ignore that one," he yelled. "Ping them with the sonar to see what we have." If the rock they were trailing was metallic then it would ring when the sonar hit it. Rock and water meteors usually absorbed the ping.

"Listen to that!" Rams yelled and turned the loudspeaker up as far as it would go. The return sounded like a huge church bell.

"The nugget must be pure iron!" Jake screamed, dreaming of wealth beyond imagining. "Try the other one!" The response was the same.

Jake thought quickly. If he could back wind just enough to get behind the second rock, then they might be able to close and capture both of them. The hold would just have enough room for the one, but they could sail home with the rock hanging below them in the scoop. It would be hard sailing, but well worth it.

The maneuver worked perfectly. Rams was able to winch the first one aboard and deploy the net a second time in the time it took to catch up with the original target.

Pumpkin bucked as they drew nearer to the rock. Jake fought the wheel. The additional weight of their find made the ship wallow like a whale. He couldn't get nearly the speed he wanted from the sails, it seemed. It was those damned safety features that restricted the set of the sail, he knew.

* * *

"Something is wrong," Rams reported from his station at the radar display. "The rock appears to be dropping."

Jake stole a glance at the display and grunted. "Maybe the wind is subsiding. Does that sometimes." But at that moment Pumpkin pitched forward. He had been concentrating so much on capturing the rock that he hadn't realized that they'd reached the top of the stack. The sudden drop meant they were now pitching down into the mouth of the storm. If they didn't act quickly Pumpkin would be lost forever!

Jake pulled the sail in and turned the ship to weather, hoping to catch a breeze that would provide enough power to pull them out of hazard. But Pumpkin lumbered in the wind, scarcely increasing her speed.

"This does not look good, Cap'n," Rams said quietly, which meant he was seriously worried.

Jake ignored his pessimistic crewman. "We'll have to work our way outward, towards the downdraft's wall. Then we can transition to the updraft, if we're lucky, and start making our way out of here."

"I fear we are already too deep, Rams replied, pointing at the inertial. "I doubt anyone has recovered from this depth."

Jake smiled. "Well, even Jupiter can't produce a storm that me and Pumpkin can't beat. Hang on, Rams. This is going to be a hell of a ride!"

The next ten hours were a maddening fight of wind and sail. Pumpkin rocked from side to side as Jake tacked ferociously to take advantage of every shift in the winds. At one point they rode upwards so swiftly that they could actually feel the acceleration. But their hopes were dashed minutes later as Pumpkin dropped precipitously to her original depth.

Rams and Jake took two on and two off at the wheel trying to get a little rest in the rocking ship. It was during one of these rest periods that Jake felt the keel rock violently, which made the hull ring like a gong.

"What the hell?" he exclaimed as the ship slewed around in a complete circle. The radar alarm rang shrill in his ear as the display lit up in a shower of sparks.

Jake couldn't believe his eyes. They were floating in a field of rocks as large as or larger than the one in their hold. He had been right; this storm was bringing material from the depths like none before. These were riches beyond measure.

Pumpkin continued to ring. "The keel's hitting the damn rocks," he yelled. "Take us to port. No, don't do that! Luff the sails instead—we need to get out of this mess!"

Rams spilled wind as best he could and Jake watched the sparks disappear from the display. Pumpkin regained her balance and the vibrations from impacts on the keel damped.

They continued working their way outward.

They were on the port tack of a circular course when they encountered the outer edge of the downdraft. The first indication was the hammering and buffeting of Pumpkin's sails, which made the rigging clang against the hull.

Jake was prepared, had been prepared for this for hours. He hauled the sail close, tightened the jib, and threw the wheel hard over. Pumpkin pitched and heeled, nearly lying on her side as she was whipped around by the turbulent winds of the barrier layer. Every loose piece of gear rattled around the ship, smashing from side to side, bow to stern. Jake watched a cup roll toward the stern as Pumpkin tipped bow upwards and go in the opposite direction a few seconds later to smash against the navigation

The circular course they were sailing was of an opposite sense to the one on the other side of the barrier layer. This meant that they'd reached the periphery of the rising stack. Jake tried to steer Pumpkin to where he hoped the strongest updrafts would be.

The radar alarm was sounding so constantly that they had to shut it off to concentrate. Never had Jake seen such an accumulation of junk in a storm. He tried to imagine the devastation that the base of the storm was causing at the bottom of its funnel. Huge pieces of junk pulled up and tossed about as if they were nothing, rocks the size of a ship flying about. It was incredible to think of the forces involved.

Yet here he was, he and Pumpkin, fighting the wind, fighting the storm, drawing on its strength to survive. Instead of controlling them, it was they who controlled the forces of the storm. The feeling of power, of winning was overwhelming. It made him feel so alive!

With a laugh that drew a sharp look from Rams he cut the wheel and turned Pumpkin closer to the wind. Yes, they could even dare the center of the tornadic updraft.

Then Pumpkin rocked as if she had run aground and bucked like a rodeo horse. "We lost our main," Jake screamed as his tell-tales blinked red. "Let the jib go!"

But it was too late. The jib tore loose and her leads rattled against the hull, beating a fierce tattoo. Pumpkin pitched and yawed as if she were nothing more than another bit of flotsam on the winds of chance.

"We are sinking again!" screamed Rams. "We have to dump that load."

"No!" Jake shouted. "There has to be some other way out of this!" But he could not think of anything as Rams stared at him, expectation written on his face. Did the boy think he could create miracles? What the hell did he think he was, anyway?

"Drop the load," Jake said with resignation. "And pray."

With the ship lightened it bobbed higher and higher until it finally reached some relatively calm air. As soon as the violent pitching stopped Jake and Rams squeezed into the sail locker and shifted a new sail set into the shroud housing, attached the control lines, and made their way back to the helm.

Pumpkin tilted with the wind as the sails emerged, then rolled slightly and cut across the face of the wind. Jake sullenly maneuvered them across the storms tearing arms, fighting always against being sucked into the downdrafts, and avoiding the buffeting winds between the arms.

The storm had carried them so far that it was a fourteen-day voyage back to the station. A fourteen-day trip during which Jake could think only of the riches he had seen, and those he had lost.

* * *

Marie was standing at the hatch to the docking bay when Jake emerged. One look at the dark expression on her face was enough to tell Jake that he was not going to get a hero's welcome.

"Your shipping contract has been canceled," she said. There was an angry undercurrent clearly evident in her voice. "Pavel went way out of bounds to help me and you threw it right back in his face."

"Don't you want to know what happened?" Jake asked, amazed that she expected him to be thinking about some stupid shipping contract after what he had gone through. "We barely escaped with our lives!"

Marie continued as if she had not heard him. "The contract was canceled because you decided to make one more run at this stupid, risky storm mining. They found someone else to do it."

"What did you mean about Grobbka doing this for you?" Jake said. "I thought he was repaying the favor, not . . ."

But Marie didn't let him finish. "What the hell were you thinking about, Jake? How the hell could you throw our future away like that?"

"I was thinking about our future," Jake shot back. "If we hadn't had a string of bad luck I would have been far richer than a hundred stupid, dull JBI contracts. Anyhow, I can always make those runs between storms once I get Pumpkin fixed up right."

Marie snapped. "You stupid fuck-up! You'll never get another chance like the one you threw away. Nobody wants to deal with someone they can't depend on!" She kicked at the deck in anger. "Damn it, Jake. You'll never get that stupid ship of yours paid for, never be out of debt, never be anything except a flat-broke sailor until the day you die, which will probably be in one of those storms of yours." There was a catch in her voice. Tears were streaming down her face. "Jake, this was your chance to be somebody."

"Marie," Jake said as he moved to give her a hug.

Marie stepped backwards. "No! You're not going to sweet talk your way out of this, Jake Sands! I've let you slide by a hundred times and every time I think I can trust you, you slip away and risk your freaking scrawny neck. I can't do it any more. I can't go through my life wondering if the next storm will be the one that kills you. I can't live with that kind of uncertainty. I just can't," she finished in a weak whisper. "Oh, Jake. I just can't."

"But this was the big one," Jake tried to explain. "We snagged a huge metallic hunk that must have massed at least two tons! And there were other pieces just as big—bigger! If we hadn't lost the sail we would have brought it back. Think of what that nugget would have brought us, Marie. Think of how much money that would have produced! Lord, it would be enough to pay off my debts, buy my way out of Jupiter, buy our way out of Jupiter for good and all!" He held his hands out as if impeaching her belief.

"They assigned me to a new station while you were gone," Marie replied flatly. "I ship out to commission it next week. I've already packed my stuff to go. You can come or not, but not as a miner—never as a miner! I won't have it any other way."

Jake chewed his lip. "Pumpkin needs repairs and weather says there's probably another storm behind this one. Maybe, if we can get refitted in time, Rams and me can snag those nuggets we lost. The next storm will probably bring them up again. Yeah, once we catch those we'll have our ticket out of here."

"Don't you see what is going to happen, Jake?" Marie said, shaking her head and backing away from him. "You aren't ever going to get rich."

"But I know that I can do it this time," Jake protested. "I know that Pumpkin and me can do it!"

Marie stood stock still for a moment more, tears streaming down her face. She took half a step toward Jake, stopped, hesitated a moment more, and then took a deep breath. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand before speaking.

"You'll never learn, Jake. I don't know why I've believed you all those years. I guess I've been a fool for a long while, too long, perhaps. But no more. This is goodbye, Jake. Goodbye!" With that she turned on her heel and stomped away without looking back.

Jake stood where he was as she walked away. He knew that all he had to do was shout and she would come back. All he had to do was call her name and she would come back. He knew that all he had to say was "All right," and they could stay together.

But he said nothing as she disappeared through a hatchway.

* * *

A few days later Jake stood in the vee formed by the prow of the E-2 station, listening to the voice of the wind through the thick plating. The power of the five hundred knot wind was a palpable presence here in the prow. He could sense the wind's energy despite the thick armor that separated him from the outside. He could hear the wind calling to him. He could hear the voice of the storm as she called him to her bosom.

Marie will get over her mad, he thought as the sound of the howling wind washed over him. She will come to him once he got Pumpkin's loans paid off. All he had to do was get the big one that was out there, waiting for him. That's all he had to do.

Meanwhile, Pumpkin was waiting. She was eager to dive into the storms once again. She was waiting for his hand on her helm. She was waiting for him to fulfill her destiny. The storm was calling.

Rams found him a few hours later. "Marie just left," he said slowly. "We all wondered why you weren't there." He hesitated. "She cried," he added simply.

"Just a short separation," Jake replied. "Couple of months. After I grab the big one we'll get together again."

Rams shook his head. "I don't know, Cap'n. She said some really bitter things when I brought your name up—words I do not like to use."

"Don't worry about it, boy. Now, forget Marie. Weather tells me there's a nice storm coming. If we're lucky maybe we can catch those rocks we dropped. That'll show them that old Jake isn't full of gas—that the big stones are really out there for the taking!"

Rams hesitated. "You are not going to go after those shipping contracts?"

Jake spit on the deck. "Hell no! We can make more with one rock than we could with a hundred years of JBI's best shipping contracts. Pumpkin's made for the storms, boy, not hauling canapes and toilet tissue."

"There are some ships on the block," Ram said. "JBI is decommissioning some of the smaller craft—uneconomic to operate, they say. Grobbka says if I had one he might reconsider that contract."

"Waste of time and effort," Jake said, wondering why Rams had taken it upon himself to intrude in his affairs and why he'd thought he'd even consider partnership in some low-ball shipping contract. "I know those ships—not worth a damn in heavy weathers. Good for the blue-suit boys, not for people like us."

"I looked at one of them—the Primrose," Rams said. "Maybe I could . . ."

Jake exploded. "Listen you fool; what are you going to use for money? Doubt if JBI will let one go on credit, especially to some miner's crewman. Look all you want, Rams, but don't get your hopes up. Ship's expensive, even at salvage prices."

"I have saved some funds," Rams countered. "Then there is the share you promised me. Perhaps that will be enough for a down payment."

"Sure it will, and I'll sell you a barrel of Jovian whale blubber for what is left over. Now, come along—we have to get Pumpkin ready. We have to push off by evening tomorrow."

* * *

They were sixteen thousand kilometers out of the station when they detected the edge of the storm. Jake pulled them into position and let the storm's arm pull them toward the center.

"Primrose is a fine ship," Rams said as they fought the jib into position. "And for only three million down I can have her."

"Where are you going to get that much? Even if you saved every centime I ever paid you, you'd still be short two million and a hell of a lot more!"

The alarm shrilled moments before the patter of incoming gravel rang through the hull. Jake cut across the scattering of stars on the radar display until they had fought clear.

"First Bank of Jupe will advance me one and a quarter against earnings on the contract," Rams continued. "And the Hespera Group promised the same. Watch it!"

The bright spot on the display grew quickly as it raced by the ship. "Big sucker," Jake observed. "Nearly as big as that one we lost. Let's get in deeper and see if there are any more like that one." Pumpkin heeled over as he tightened the main.

"This is not a good idea," Ram said worriedly. "We are already farther down than we should be. We do not want to repeat the last time, do we?"

"Got to go where the big ones are," Jake replied. "So, how did you manage to get two banks to cooperate on a loan? Most bankers are tighter than a storm jib."

Rams blushed. "They do not know of each other," he admitted. "I did not think it important that they should be bothered by all the petty details."

Jake guffawed. "Kiting a loan! Well, there is promise for you yet. Hell, you might even make it, providing you stay out of jail. Here we go!" He pointed at the radar display where several sparks were emerging from the hash of white noise. "There they are. Ready the scoop."

"Aye, sir!" Ram replied as Jake steered the ship to intercept. "They ping metallic," Rams exclaimed with rising excitement. "We will be rich!"

Jake jounced Pumpkin to the side, bringing the scoop directly in line with the largest rock. As they made contact Pumpkin shuddered violently. "Must mass a couple of tons," Jake remarked as he held the ship steady and Rams drew their treasure into the bay.

"I'll call this one Marie," Jake said quietly. "For luck. Now, where's the next one?"

Rams looked around with an alarmed look on his face. "Another one? Isn't this enough? Let's take what we have and get out of here before we get into trouble."

Jake laughed. "No problem. Got us out of worse than this, just in case you don't remember. Come on, Rams, let's run with the luck while she's with us." He steered toward a second spark.

Rams disengaged the scoop and deployed it again, casting their net in Jupiter's seas. He watched the display with fascination as Jake closed on the second target.

Contact! This time Pumpkin shook and tipped downward. Something in the forward compartment broke loose and crashed against the deck. Rams felt the ship sinking.

"What the hell?" Jake said as he fought with the helm. He threw the switches that released the ballast in an attempt to stop their descent. Pumpkin's descent slowed, but did not stop.

"Dump the rock!" Rams screamed. "It's too heavy. It's pulling us down."

"Can't imagine what it could be to mass so much," Jake swore. "Probably worth a fortune—enough for you to buy Primrose and have enough left over for a barque with your share!"

"I don't give a damn about that," Rams replied. "I want to live! Forget the money. Just get us out of here."

"Wait a bit," Jake said. "I know I can get us back. These two rocks will give me enough to fix Pumpkin up proper!"

"So you can spend more time out here in the storms? That's not much to look forward to. But then, I guess that's all you've got," Rams said bitterly.

Jake started to reply and then stopped. What else did he have to live for? Pumpkin gave him a lot of pleasure, and fighting the storms for their treasures was a rush like nothing else.

But he was, as Marie had said, getting up there in years and, to be perfectly honest, the storms weren't nearly so exciting as they were frightening. If it hadn't been for the promise of these huge rocks he probably would have gone with her. Somehow, right now, dying in the depths with a fortune in tow didn't seem quite so satisfying as he'd expected. Maybe Rams was right—he didn't have much of a life now that Marie was gone.

He jiggled the ballast switches. "Damn, we're empty!"

Rams reached over and put his hand on the release. "I'm going to drop the rock, Cap'n—it isn't worth our lives."

"Do that and you'll never sail with me again," Jake threatened. "You'll never get another mining berth, so help me."

"Sorry," Rams said and threw the release. "But I no longer wish to pursue a mining career."

Jake cried out as Rams fired the releases that dropped the net. "I'm taking the cost of that scoop out of your share," he declared angrily. Rams had no right to throw away those riches.

Pumpkin rocked suddenly, heeling hard to port, turning completely around, and coming to a dead stop. The tell-tales indicated that the sails were filled with wind, but when Jake tried to turn the craft the sails stayed in the same position.

"Check to see what's jammed the rigging," Jake said. "I can't move the sails."

Rams turned on the deck camera, which was ordinarily used only for docking, and scanned the deck. Something was wrapped around the winches and tangled the boom. "I don't know . . ." he began and then stopped. There was something familiar about those lines. "It's the scoop! The damn scoop's blown back into the rigging, Cap'n!"

Jake swore. Pumpkin was continuing to sink in the downdraft, but slower than before. He had to get the rigging clear if they expected to get out of this.

"Should I dump the other rock?" Rams asked. "Maybe lightening the ship will help us."

"Are you crazy? That rock has to be the biggest nugget anyone has ever found! Solid metal, Rams, think about that—it's worth a fortune. Maybe enough to help you get that ship."

Rams hesitated. "Fortune is not good to us down where we are heading. Come on, Cap'n; let me dump the load."

Jake locked the wheel in position and made certain that the sail winches were as well. Then he stood up, leaning against the slope of the steeply inclined deck. "Watch the ship. I'm going out."

Rams blanched at the thought. "You can't do that! The winds out there . . . "

Jake didn't let him finish. "I have to cut the sail loose. Even if we dropped the rock we still couldn't steer worth a damn. Now, come and help me suit up. We're wasting time jawing like this."

* * *

Jake checked the safety line twice before he climbed out of the hatch onto the deck. One slip on the steep cant of the deck and he'd plunge several thousand kilometers while simultaneously cooking from the heat. His suit would become a pressure cooker, basting him in his own juices as he was slowly being crushed.

But he didn't dare think about that right now. He had to get that damned netting off the rigging. He struggled to the stern, where the net had snagged on the aft winch housing. With every second step he hooked one of the safety lines to a tie-down and released the trailing one until he finally reached the winch.

He fired up the cutting torch, which threw a harsh blue-white light into the darkness surrounding him. The hard, armored strands of the netting resisted the torch for a moment, glowing through red to orange, then white and finally parting in a shower of sparks as the portion of the net flew into the void.

Jake carefully worked his way forward, staggering as an occasionally strong gust hit the locked sails and tilted the ship. He fell once, but the safety lines held so he was able to recover his footing.

The next tangle was wrapped around the end of the boom and the main sheets. From the way they ran he wasn't sure if cutting them at the closest point would clear the sail. Once he severed the net near the deck he would have no way of getting to the parts that hung on the end of the boom, which hung over the side of the ship, well beyond his reach.

At the limits of his light he could just barely make out some netting stretching forward. Perhaps it was tangled somewhere toward the bow. He began to make his slow way forward.

Sure enough the net was caught on the short docking boom just below deck level. The problem was that, with the ship canted over so far, the boom was pointing nearly straight down, under the ship.

Jake thought fast, calculating the configuration of the net and ship. If he could loosen the portion on the docking boom and then sever the part on the sheet, perhaps the wind would pull the net away from the boom. Sure, and all he had to do was dangle on his safety line, swing under the ship, cut the netting loose, and climb back up—doing all of this under two gravities and wearing a pressure suit that weighed more than he did!

It was impossible.

No! Wait a minute, Jake thought. What if he cut the rear line first? Then he could come forward and work on the docking boom. Once the net was free the ship would right itself and he could walk up the deck. Sure, it wouldn't be that hard. Piece of cake, as Rams would say.

The struggle back was even more difficult than before. Must be getting tired, he thought as he clicked the safety line in place. The only good thing was that he didn't slip.

The tangle of net was more complex than the one at the stern. It took him nearly an hour to sever the last strand.

"Try to haul the main in," he told Rams through the intercom. A moment later he saw the main sheet tighten. It began to vibrate visibly.

"Hold it there," he yelled. "I don't want to be up here if that line parts." With that much strain on the main sheet it would whip around like a scythe, clearing the deck of anything that got in its way. He'd once seen a breaking line cut right through a man once, back in his construction days. The man's torso went flying off into the black while his legs stood there, held in place by the safety lines.

Jake worked his way forward. He was getting awfully tired, moving around in the heavy suit. His arms and legs felt as if they weighed a ton. All he wanted to do was rest. But rest was impossible: They had to save themselves from sinking further and Rams wouldn't know what to do. He had to keep working on the problem. Damn, was his age finally starting to tell on him?

When he reached a point just above the docking boom he began rigging his safety lines. The jib was stretched tight so he had to go under the jib sheet, over the fairleads track, and then down the side. He estimated the length of line he needed to play out, gave himself a little slack and then started to crawled slowly backwards down the sloping deck. The torch clanged against his side with every move.

Jake placed his feet on the fairleads track and grabbed the jib sheet with both hands. Beneath his feet was the empty void, a black pit to forever. From this point on the only thing that would hold him to the ship were the two safety lines. It didn't matter that they were tested for one hundred times the load they had to bear, they still looked awfully thin and insubstantial.

Jake took a deep breath, removed one foot from the track, and leaned backwards, over the deep dark. With a brief prayer he let go of the sheet and felt himself fall, swinging out and down, falling into the night.

SNAP! His fall was arrested with a suddenness that snapped his teeth together. Then the side of the ship was swinging toward him as he reached the top of his swing.

Jake reached desperately for a handhold, grabbing a double strand of the netting to prevent himself from swinging back. The weight of the suit pulled on him, trying to rip his grip loose. Jake pulled himself upwards with all of his remaining strength, thrusting an arm into the netting to hold himself in place.

He rested for just a moment, dangling from the netting with his legs swinging free. Then he grabbed another handful of net and swung his legs to propel himself toward the boom where the net was anchored.

His arms felt as if they were on fire by the time he reached his objective. His fingers were starting to cramp and his forearms shook with the effort. He clamped himself to the boom and let himself hang for a moment, letting the blood rush back into his hands, letting his muscles rest.

But only for a moment. He unhooked the torch, prayed that there was enough gas left, and fired it up. The flickering light played tricks on his eyes as he cut though the multiple strands of netting. He was careful that none of them would entangle him when they came free.

He was working on the final strand when something hard hit him on the side. He glanced down and saw a glittering scar on his suit where the impact had scraped the paint away. Damn, just his luck to run into a pile of gravel at this point! If that piece had hit his helmet it would all be over—for him, for Pumpkin, and for poor Rams. He applied the fierce flame of the torch with sudden urgency.

As the final strand glowed orange Jake braced himself. When it let go the ship was going to swing violently and, even though he was belayed to the boom, he was going to suffer the consequences. Well, nothing to be done but ride it out, he thought and continued cutting.

The net let go with explosive force, disappearing instantly. Pumpkin dipped further for a moment and then rocked back upright, twisting forward and to starboard.

Jake, at the end of the short boom was tossed over and up, swinging in a complete circle before he slammed against the boom and blacked out.

When he came to, Pumpkin was riding level and he was lying atop the boom. He grabbed his safety lines and managed to pull himself erect. He stood on the boom to bring his head level with the deck. He tried to pull himself up, but didn't have the strength. He'd spent all of his energy getting Pumpkin free of the netting.

He looked up at the edge of the deck illuminated by his helmet lamp. So near and so impossibly far. Was this how it was going to end—with him lashed to Pumpkin, like some latter day Ahab, plunging into the depths with his obsession? Well, he couldn't think of a better way to go.

Still, he had a few regrets. One, he'd be taking Rams with him, which was a shame, because the kid had a lot of good years ahead of him. Then, he'd not be seeing Marie again, and he really owed her an apology for being such an idiot. She was right and he'd known that. He was too old for this business. He'd pushed his luck too far, once too many times. Well, for what it was worth, she'd probably be happy knowing she was right.

He toyed with the idea of releasing his line and opening his suit. It would be a certain death, messy, but quick. Better that than slowly roasting as they descended. He reached for the clamp.

Then something happened. Perhaps Rams had somehow perceived his plight. Perhaps some vagrant wind had taken Pumpkin. Or maybe Pumpkin had decided to take matters into her own hands and heeled to starboard.

Suddenly the side of the ship became a gentle slope, one that he could easily climb. He took a double handful of safety line and worked his way up to the deck and crawl back to the hatch, carefully alternating his attachments as he went. He wasn't so tired that he ignored common-sense precautions.

Rams was waiting inside the hatch and helped him remove the heavy suit. Jake lost no time in taking the wheel to bring the ship into the wind. He noted that Rams had already done so, which made him reevaluate his opinion. Maybe the boy had learned a thing or two.

Yeah, and that wasn't the only thing he'd learned.

* * *

Marie was curious when she got the call from the docks that Jake had arrived. There had been no storms nearby in the past month, nor had weather predicted any new disturbances. What then, could have brought Jake this far away from his home station? And on board a packet ship at that.

As she headed down below she hoped that he hadn't come seeking some sort of reconciliation. That he hadn't come with hopes of sweet-talking her into bed, worming his way back into their old relationship. All that was behind her—she had mourned him for weeks and waking up in the morning without him was finally becoming bearable. She would not allow him to open that door again. No, she was stronger now. She would make her position clear, just as she had when she told him goodbye.

But all that certitude vanished when she saw him step out of the hatch and walk across the deck. She felt the cold icicles of her resolve melt in the heat of his smile, the snowbank of her supposed indifference disappear and reveal buried memories of the good times they'd had. So help me, she thought, if he so much as touches me I will start to cry. She bit her lip and tried to strengthen her resolve. There would be no contact, no excuse for letting him steal her heart again.

Jake stopped two paces away from her and smiled. He fumbled in his jacket and pulled out a pink sheet. He handed it to her without a word of explanation.

Marie took the pink sheet and stared at it without comprehension. There were some words on the paper—standard bill of sale—complicated words that didn't make sense. There was Jake's name and Pumpkin's in big letters. Down at the bottom was a big stamp that said "Paid in full."

"Sold her," Jake said keeping that idiotic smile on his face. "Figured you'd like a honeymoon trip to celebrate."

"I don't understand," Marie said. "Trip?' She did a double take. "Did you say 'honeymoon'?"

"Yep, I finally got the big one. The rock we brought back assayed out as pure nickel—worth a bloody be damned fortune! Finally had enough to pay off the loan and a lot more. Now we can get back together and . . ."

"We don't have a future, Jake," Marie said slowly as she handed the sheet back. "I thought I made that perfectly clear—no storm mining, no Pumpkin."

"Now wait a minute there. I'm offering to take you up the elevator for a nice zero gee honeymoon," He said as he held up two tickets. "Then we can come back down, set up housekeeping and get back to normal. It'll be like old times, only without the arguments over Pumpkin." He stepped forward and held out his arms. "Come on, Marie," he said softly. "Pumpkin's gone for good."

Marie hesitated and felt her body moving forward, ready to surrender itself to those familiar, warm, embracing arms that she knew so well. It would be so easy to say nothing, to go along with Jake's plans, to enjoy the vacation from the heavy pull of Jupiter and to have a man to share her bed once more.

But she stopped herself. "No," she said. "I'm not going back to that old relationship. And it wasn't just your ship. It was the stupid risk-taking, the storms, the uncertainty. I told you before—it's the storms or me—take your choice!"

Jake dropped his arms. "That's a hard choice, darling. But you mean more to me than any storm does." He hesitated for a moment, held out the pink sheet once more, and smiled again. "All right. Pumpkin's gone and my storm mining days are over. I figured that's the only way you'll have me." He reached for her.

Marie threw herself forward and embraced Jake. "Oh Jake, you have made me so happy. I know how much you loved that old ship. Oh, this is going to be so wonderful."

"Yeah, wonderful," Jake repeated as he kissed her again and again.

He just hoped that she would be as understanding about his new ship.

* * *

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