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I'm hoping someone can help me out because I don't remember a lot of details, but some time ago, this question on WB.SE reminded me of something I remember coming across (fairly sure it was a written story).

What I remember is two parties living on different celestial bodies, one of which had devised a way to catch packages that the other launched (using a railgun/coilgun, I think) by carefully targeting them to impact on a mountain slope. I want to say snow was involved (or it might have been some kind of foam), and also that this was being done "under the radar" as a sort of smuggling that was happening in addition to catching "sanctioned" packages using an inverse magnetic accelerator. I further want to say someone "higher up" found out about this and "requisitioned" the system in order to receive an important package (I want to say it was medical?), and that this was a fairly major part of the plot.

I believe this would have been published "relatively" recently (probably 20xx) and there's a very good chance it was published by Baen. I don't recall, however, if it was a short story or part of a full-length novel.

Ring any bells for anyone?

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    I have read this recently. The story happened on Mars, and the package was intercepted by filling a lava tube (possibly on Olympus Mons?) with polyurethane foam. I'll try to remember where I did read it.
    – LSerni
    Apr 16, 2021 at 10:03
  • @LSerni, I'm not sure if that's the one I'm remembering; my recollection is that the "shady recipient" was either on Earth, or a very-settled, Earth-like planet. Although I'm pretty sure I remember the story of which you're thinking. Do you recall, was this a case of adapting something that was being done on Earth to solve a problem on Mars? It might have been that...
    – Matthew
    Apr 16, 2021 at 16:34

1 Answer 1

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Found it! I was re-reading Baen's entire free stories series, and this is the short story Bullet Catch by Stephen Lawson from the 2017 collection. (I'd post a direct link, but it appears Baen's online version is now burdened with scripts such that that doesn't work. Anyway, it's a free download.)

The story opens with the main character (on Mars, which has a small but established population) talking his employer into letting him build a rail gun for "meteor defense" which he actually uses to launch payloads of platinum, which his brother on Earth "catches" in a snow bank after they slide down a chute on a mountain. Those details are spot-on. That's the set-up for the story.

I likely misremembered the bit about an inverse accelerator. Spoilers after this point...

A few pages later, we find out one of the women has had a "contraceptive failure". Due to radiation, her child has serious defects and will die shortly after birth, unless 'medicine' from Earth can repair the damage before the child is born. Upon learning of the problem, the main character decides to disclose his "interplanetary delivery system" in order to make the delivery, as all "traditional" shipping methods would result in the package arriving too late. An electromagnetic decelerator is proposed, but rejected. In the end, they fill a lava tube with a sort of foam; kudos to LSerni for correctly recalling this detail!

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