All That Glistens Is Not Garbage
by Tony Noland
He was down to his last aluminum can. There was no point in checking to see if the garbage truck held any more; he'd long since catalogued everything, from the cans and bottles to the pizza boxes and banana peels. Now, after everything, he was going to be short by about a hundred grams.
No, it was impossible. He wouldn't accept it. There HAD to be a way!
With the suns at his back, he went out away from camp, stomping over the sand dunes until he came to the Alkali Sea. The foamy surface undulated, refracting both the blue-white light and the reddish light into a lavender iridescence. He stood well back from the coastline. There were no stones to skip across the "water", only hard plates of crystallized sodium hydroxide. He wished he could skip some stones.
Could he cannibalize the multivariate transceiver? Maybe make the brane oscillation coil thinner and use some of the copper to make up the difference? No, that wasn't it. He'd had to hand-wrap the coils with wire from the engine wiring harness of the garbage truck. The rest of the wire came from an old stereo, a floor lamp and three clock radios that had been in the load. A dozen different thicknesses and who knew how many different alloys... he'd had to build in molecular collapse margins of almost twenty percent. Anything less and it would just transsubstantiate into lead when - not if, but WHEN - he got a bounceback signal that he could calibrate with.
He needed another hundred grams of aluminum, but from where? Every aluminum can had already gone into the solar smelter, along with the brake lines of the truck, the support clips from the windshield wipers, the brackets on the headliner and every other bit of aluminum scrap he could find. Melted down, it would have come to less than half of what he needed for a warp core. Thank god for that old lawn chair!
Still, though, the warp core didn't do him any good without the nimbus rods to make it collapse in on itself. He kicked at the sand, wishing for the thousandth time that this dimension had allowed some kind of vegetation to grow nearby. Even though it was supremely unlikely that a metal-accumulating organism would evolve in an environment that wouldn't have just killed him outright, something, anything to break up the monotonous landscape would have been welcome.
The electrode plates in the battery? No, they were lead. The piston rings? No, they were carbon steel. The lifters? The grounding strap? The fuel injectors? The glowplugs?
He stomped back to camp and scowled at the truck, his arms crossed. It was still essentially intact, even though he'd been pulling it to pieces as he built his lifeboat. If he'd had heavy tools to work with, things would have been different. Unfortunately, when the terrorists set off their dimension-fracture bomb, he'd been hiding behind a garbage truck, not a fully equipped hyperspace tool shed.
Small pieces of steel plate littered the sand. With what was in the truck's tool box, he'd been able to make do, but any heavy cutting or welding was impossible, let alone any nanomolecular fabrication. Glass bottles ground into parabolic lenses gave him the solar smelter; that and the exercise bike-windmill was as much concentrated energy as he was going to get.
He looked at the teleportation rig. Was there anything there that would help? Any corner he hadn't already cut dangerously close? Hyperspace orientation mesh, gravity simulator, klein bottle reflector, waveguide radiator...
The radiator fins were aluminum, but he couldn't risk sacrificing it. He needed the radiator to cool the plasma arc waveguides. If he'd had a welding torch, he could have cut the radiator in half, since it was oversized for the job. After all, it was designed to cool the garbage truck's massive engine. However, while he could use the wire cutters and the pliers to tear the radiator flow pipes apart, he had no way of sweating the joints back together. He had to leave it as is.
With a sudden inspiration, he bent over the radiator. Carefully, he fitted the needlenose pliers onto one of the cooling fins and rocked it back and forth. It took almost a minute, but the sliver of aluminum broke off and fell onto the sand. He picked it up. It was too light to even estimate its weight, but it was aluminum.
He smiled. One down, a thousand to go. He fitted the pliers to the radiator again and got to work, pulling every other fin.
Maybe it would be enough, or maybe he'd still be grams short and have to think of something else. One way or another, though, he was going home. And as soon as he got back to his lab, he was going find those terrorists, no matter where in the multiverse they were hiding. He would make sure they regretted the day they decided to assassinate the Emperor's chief science officer!
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