The headquarters of Nucleodyne Thrust Applications was not, it was widely held, the most elegant of the habs in close orbit about Melíeré. The double-torus housing both the living spaces and the corporate offices, adorned about the docking hub with the stylized silver atom over flaring golden sun of the corporation’s logo, to be fair, might have qualified on its own – and did, in publicity pictures carefully shot to contrast it with the ruddy gas giant it orbited and to conceal the remainder of the station.

That remainder being the research section, an incoherent conglomeration of laboratory modules, floatways, power reactors, fuel storage tanks, construction slips, storage temps, and less identifiable machinery strapped along the massive truss that protruded from the rear of the docking hub, a messy tangle unconcealed by an aesthetic shroud, harkening back to the earliest days of space.

No, Cherac’s Breath Station was not an elegant construct.

* * *

The same, however, Melíändre Steamweaver thought, could not be said for the products they built there.

Dwarfed by the size of the construction bay it floated within, still gleaming in places with the fine buffering oil the nanoassemblers used, the prototype of Nucleodyne’s latest fusion torch drive was a case in point. Its clean lines breathed elegance from tip to tip: from the petal-like shrouds encapsulating the tangle of support machinery where she would attach to her ship, studded with molycircs gleaming like jewels in the bay lights; through the clustered cylinders of the injectors and beamers, surrounded by the polished, reddish orichalcium rings of the buffering accumulators; through, too, the silver ellipsoid swelling of the fusion preburner, surface marked with eloquent scrollwork depicting the fields within; though the golden toroid of the magnetohydrodynamic accelerator and the magnetic couple; and finally to the graceful outward sweep of the magnetic nozzle retained by that couple, blade shields of muonic iron glistening an impossibly bright white.

She turned to the head of the assembled engineering development team. “Beautiful work, Aurin, as ever.”

“She’s the smallest we’ve ever built. Half the size of a Little Sparky… We still need a type name for her.”

“What’s the current designation?”

“K64 pinnace-class torch, revision 3.”

“Hmm.” Melíändre turned, and headed for the airlock leading back to the hub junction. “If she passes static fire and flight tests, designate her Firefly.”