Day 38, Evening, Mayflower Lounge
“That’s quite a story you’ve told,” Travis said to Hibbes, Chandler, and Natasi. They were seated in the lounge along with Monroe, Glenda, and Darren Calver at two tables pushed together. Drinks were before all of them.
“And you’ve entered this — ‘beyond‘ — several times now?” Glenda asked.
“Three times now,” Chandler said, “But it seems to be getting more difficult.”
Chandler said, “We’ve had to revise our theories a bit since our first excursion, Captain. While the fields the ship sets up certainly open a hole to the beyond, as we’ve taken to calling it, it’s obvious that the strong electromagnetic fields from the solar storm are widening that hole and enabling our ship to enter. Leaving is no problem and relies soley on our willing ourselves back. We don’t belong there and so this beyond is more than happy to help us out of it.
“As the storm dies down, we had to increase our own field but the transition took longer. Once the solar storm is gone, the window closes and we might not be able to enter beyond space at all unless we can envelope the entire ship in a field.”
Travis asked the obvious question, “Could you think of Earth and get back there?”
“No,” Hibbes said, “at the moment, range seems limited to the inner part of this solar system. We know this space. Earth, or it’s actual location, is too abstract at this range. In the future, with some sort of training. . . Maybe. Also, while distance is a limiting factor, so would knowledge be one, too. You can’t go someplace you haven’t been and don’t already know intimately. You can’t visualize what you don’t know. We can’t simply say, ‘Take me to Rigel,’ and expect to go there.”
“Hmphm,” Travis said.
“Why are you calling it ‘beyond‘ rather than your original ‘not-space’ designation?” Calver asked.
“‘Not-Space’ is an affront to my sensibilities,” Chandler said, “since we’re clearly someplace even though it’s not in our universe. So it’s Beyond, as in beyond our universe, beyond the fabric of reality.”
Travis said, “Well, this is all very interesting but of no practical value at the moment. There are far more pressing tasks I’d like you two to address. How is the upgrade to the final shuttle coming?”
“Fine, Captain,” Hibbes said. “We’re nearly finished.”
“Good,” Travis said, “I was planetside this morning and talking with the Stuarts. Even though we have to assume that the bomb that the late Mr. Jack planted finished off Bart and Janie’s shuttle, I still would like a coordinated effort to locate the wreckage. With our two shuttles plus the three on Alchibah, we can cover some territory.”
“Closure, if nothing else,” added Glenda.
“Two more days and she’ll be ready,” said Hibbes.
Turning to Calver, Travis said, “How’s the outside dish work coming, Darren?”
“We should have normal communication with Liberty’s tower by tomorrow,” he replied and then added, “The solar storm is almost over and I’m planning a trip to the three comsats when it is, to repair and reactivate them.”
“Good.” Travis took a pull on his drink and said, “We’ve had a request that you, Hibbes, and Bugbee can work on. Rocco and BJ are going into a business venture together. BJ has experience with ceramics, or something like that. They’ve decided to start a brick factory.”
Glenda said, “I thought wood was plentiful down there?”
“True, but given recent events, they want to offer something stronger for those who prefer strength over beauty. BJ has already built several kilns and there’s plenty of clay in the area they and Histy have staked out for their homesteads. They’ve already brokered a few deals. One with the council to supply enough brick to build a school house in the center of town. That’s in exchange for rental of the cargo bus for a couple weeks to transport materials to and from their business. Most of the colonists prefer wood for the natural look but several other deals have been cut with a few other entrepreneurs to provide furniture, clothing, what have you, in exchange for building materials.”
“Sounds like they’ll do well,” Hibbes said, “So where do we come in?”
Travis replied, “Well, renting the town’s cargo bus is fine in the short run but a bad business model. They’d like us to design a small personal craft for their own use. Sort of like a flying pickup truck! In exchange, they’ll supply us with enough brick and mortar to build our villa, our vacation retreat on the edge of the sea, as well as for our little in town bungalow.”
“I’d rather we built the retreat of wood,” said Glenda, “It just looks nicer.”
“Well,” said Travis, “Maybe we can do it of both, with a strong foundation or something. In the meantime, I see a ready market for such a craft for others as well. Should keep us in milk and honey for some time to come. Mind you, these are just for flitting around town. They don’t need anything elaborate or even shielding since they won’t be space worthy.”
“Flitters!” said, Natasi, “I like dat. It good marketing name.”
Hibbes said, “I guess I’ll start work on designing the thing. It will take several weeks but besides fuel, we do need something else to trade in with those below if we’re to eat something besides chicken and tomatoes!”
“And I could use some new clothes!” Glenda added.
After another round of drinks, a card game started up.
Hibbes and Chandler wandered out of the lounge and while riding back to their rooms in one of the carts, Chandler asked, “We’ve got to keep exploring Beyond. Why didn’t you show Travis a picture of what we found on the last trip?”
“Because we don’t even know what it is. Besides, he’s far too practical, like most space jockeys. No imagination, those.”
Opening a folder he was carrying, Chandler took out a photograph of something strange and impossible, something that had no right to exist in the Beyond:
“Damn,” he said, staring at it, “It looks like some giant, obscene structure, trapped in our shuttle’s outside lights.”
“Yes,” Hibbes said, glancing at it, “Except that those limbs were moving!”