“That?” Cathál glanced at the slate-blue pipe in question, then down at her slate. “Water coolant source for distillation unit 02-367, tap off main section 11-9120, return through 02-3683, automatic flow valve controlled by sector utility server #2, manual cutoff accessible via service panel 02-38.”

“Distillation unit? This isn’t a machinery section.”

“Not that kind of distillation unit. It’s a… personal still.” Seeing her apprentice’s still-confused expression, she continued. “A starshine still.”

“You have those on the plans?”

She looked at him appraisingly. “You’re new-up, aren’t you?”

“First spaceside rotation, yeah. What’s that –”

“Look around you. The hab’s maybe two-thirds, or a little more, plumbing by mass. All kinds. Potable, non-potable, gray, black, steam, rad-hot, loaded, non-aqueous – hell, we’ve got reactor lines in section one circulating liquid sodium. People around here get all kinds of upset when they find a pipe that’s not on the plans, especially if they don’t know what it’s for or what’s in it. So we have an Agreement. We agree to put all the, um, unofficial plumbing on the master plans and hook it into the control systems, and the adminisphere agrees not to bug us about it unless it causes a genuine issue.”

“And it’s still unofficial?”

“Surely. But it’s officially unofficial.”



W141972 Syntherum (Gelidaceous-class asteroid)
e’Luminiaren Belt
Lumenna-Súnáris System

A thousand years ago, they used to think there wouldn’t be much water in space, and we’ll all be stuck out here in a barren desert, sending home for bottled oceans.

Well, fortunately not. There’s plenty – more water than there is just about anything else worth digging up outside a gas giant. It’s just nowhere near the places where you actually need the damn stuff, which is where we come in.

We being, first, the Initiative’s tanker, Adorably Aqueous, keeping station about a mile off and waiting to load up with 32,000 tons of water for the thirsty habs between here and Talentar high orbit;

Being, second, the dozen or so automated Seredháïc-class ice-miners sitting around down here on Syntherum, big 160-ton water-blimps with drive, drill, and ancillary equipment all packed into their tiny gondolas. They chop through the dusty crust of the ‘roid, pump steam down to melt the ice and slurp the water back. Shuffling back and forth between here and the tanker, they get it filled up in just a few hours, quick and clean.

And being, third, myself, Cathál Rian-ith-Ríëlle, hydrodynamic engineer, waterwright, and now spacer, with my candle and my trusty wrench.

Because where you have water, you have pipes, and where you have pipes, you have leaks, blockages, and all the rest.

Even in space, that means you need a plumber.