Things change. They always do. We had originally planned to outfit one of the lifeboats cum shuttle craft as a long distance sentry, to stand guard near the exit of the wormhole and alert us as to when the Goonies arrived. Now, with the signal from the original sentinel craft having stopped, it was imperative that we find out what was happening out there. The shuttle craft were simply to slow for that and besides, it would be a waste of a relatively useful ship.
In conference with the others here on the Mayflower, it was decided that we would send out the Surprise, the small personal cruiser. It was built for two, and two robots it would hold. It was built for speed, and by ripping out the unnecessary life support systems, we were able to outfit it with greater fuel capacity. In addition, with only robots riding along, rapid acceleration was possible. The robots could care less about G-forces.
We had already installed one of the laser canon on it, and we filled it with other spare electronic parts and converted the bunk to a work table. The idea, and it was a good one from Hibbes, was that as our technology advanced here on the Mayflower, we could communicate those things to the robots on the Surprise who could then build it right there within the cruiser.
The Surprise was launched without fan fare.
Another decision reached was that the Lancer cruise ship was now superfluous. It was big, and while speedy, lacked maneuverability and was wasteful of fuel. We decided to cannibalize it for weapons, parts, electronics, fuel tanks, and even the engines and life support systems. It’s not that fuel was in short supply, anymore, since the NIFT had returned yesterday with another load of Helium3 from the fourth planet. Still, as fuel demands increased both on the colony and here in the rock, it made sense to find ways to economize it.
I was heading towards the cargo bay where the first of the newly outfitted shuttle sat ready. As I left the tunnel and approached, I spotted Hibbes and Monroe standing under one of the wings making final inspections.
This had been the priority project for all of us, all nine of us plus our 25 robots, converting the Lancer’s lifeboats to more functional shuttle craft. Originally designed to hold 10-12 evacuees in not very much comfort, they were agile for travel in both space and through atmospheres.
The crews had ripped out some of the seating and long-term life support systems. The shuttle would now hold four people although a bench off one side could seat another couple in an emergency, had enough air and supplies for a month long jaunt, and the fuel capacity had been increased four-fold.
The shuttle craft would never be especially speedy but we did increase engine thrust a bit. In addition, one laser canon and one 100mm projectile gun, both taken from the Lancer, had been installed. The 100mm popped out of a hatch on top. The laser was mounted above the cab windows Beyond all of that, an extra layer of shielding had been installed and the inside consoles made ready for installation of, whenever Hibbes finished building and testing, the EMF electronics necessary to implement Dr. Ash Andrew’s shielding plans.
As I pulled up my golf cart I said to Hibbes, “Wasn’t this thing a dull beige? Yesterday?”
He chuckled and said, “Like the floor, Captain, yes. And tomorrow it might be a dull blue. We’ve applied a coat of nanoskin paint to the outside. I figured it would come in handy down planetside. If Andy and his forces park them in a sandy area, or a grassy area, or hide them in the woods, the skin color can change to camouflage the ship. Just thinking ahead in case the goonies are on the way.”
I nodded and said, “Good work, Doctor.”
“Even in space,” Monroe added, “the shuttle can be made non-reflective black. Very hard to spot visually although granted, there will always be some reflection and light leakage from the large zirconium windows in the bow.”
“How soon till the other three colonist’s shuttles are ready?” I asked.
Monroe said, “Four or five more days. Are you taking this one down, now?”
I shook my head and said, “Nope. I’ve got those three large generators to deliver, plus I’m picking up a load of copper ore. These shuttles simply don’t have much cargo space, despite their size. I’ll have to take the Galileo.”
“That sure is wasteful,” Hibbes said, “a huge ship like the Galileo being used for a paltry couple tons of ore.”
I said, “You’re right, Hibbes, could you cobble together some parts from the Lancer and put together a couple of simple cargo vans, as it were. Nothing fancy, about forty feet long with just a couple seats, low power engines. Figure they should haul about fifty tons and be very fuel efficient. One for the colonists to use planetside to transport rock, lumber, whatever, and one for us to use.”
“I’ll have them ready in two weeks, Captain, as soon as the shuttle retrofits are complete I’ll start on them.”
“What about the X-Fighters?” Monroe asked.
“We’ve got time enough for those,” I said, “since whatever it was that silenced the Sentinel, it’s still a light year and a half away from us.” But I worried just the same. What did happen out there? The Sentinel had been operating for three-and-a-half years before going silent. Did the battery simply give out? Was the small craft hit by some space debris? Or was it our nemesis, announcing their arrival on this side of the worm hole?
It was still on my mind as I touched-down the Galileo later that afternoon at the Space Port in Liberty City. I had several people to seek out. Andy, of course, and Bart and Janie were going to return to the Mayflower with me to get some training in the shuttle craft. First, though, I headed to Hanna’s tent for some of her fine coffee…