Turbines whirred and engines buzzed in the Paradise
launch bay, filling the hangar with ambient heat and exhaust, as the auxiliary transport ship came to life with its familiar roar. Although it was a well-rehearsed procedure, this time, it was for real. Major Deegan, Engineer First Class, could see the excitement in his crew mates' movements, their lively chatter as they prepared the transport lander for detachment. Although he couldn't see outside, he knew they were close. He could feel the ship's gravity dampeners adjusting, seamlessly accounting for the nearby planet's mass and readying the starship for a low planetary orbit; he could hear the atmospheric regulators shifting gear as they began reabsorbing trace gases from the planet's ionosphere. He thought for a moment that he could smell the change in air quality--heavy, and damp, almost. The Paradise
was his baby--or his mother, perhaps. He had spent the last fifteen years, more than half of his life, within her protective hull; first studying, then repairing and tinkering with her ins and outs. Now he was the lead member of her young technical crew of volunteers.
Most of the ships' gadgetry was automated, leaving the engineering crew to spend most of their time making repairs here and there, and adjusting sensors in certain nooks and crevices of the ship that robots couldn't reach. At least during a launch there were a few manual tasks to be done requiring expertise. Deegan knew his real work, however--what he and his teammates had been training for all these years--was yet to come on the new planet, where they would help construct new buildings, ships and life support systems. Old Earth, Lost Earth--it was still hard to believe that it was a real place.
Deegan always felt most at home in a ship, and imagined that humans were forever a starfaring people; it seemed unusual to think of any one planet as "home." He wondered what they would find there, whether it would be a friendly place.
The heads-up display over Deegan's right eye--a cybernetic modification he had implanted on his skull to allow quick access to the ship's vitals--flashed red, indicating overheating in one of the thruster units. Deegan pressed a few buttons on the portable control panel he was using to prepare the transport for liftoff, and tossed it into the hands of a nearby crew member with a nod. He approached another group of gossiping mechanics near the transport ship. "Alright guys, focus, this is serious! The retaining hooks are loose, we're ready for detachment. Give the shuttle 75 more liters of cryo; she's running a little hot. I'm goin' in--Wei, you're in charge," Deegan commanded. "Got it, Francis!" came the teammate's reply, as she playfully flicked the embossed name tape on his shirt, which read "Maj. William F. Deegan." "Hey, it's Major Deegan to you," he said with a grin. "See you all planetside."
Deegan held a handrail and swung himself into the transport vessel, landing in his seat and using the controls to perform systems checks in one swift movement. Taking note of the shorted computer terminal nearby, he crinkled his nose at Sargeant Northgate and firmly patted the equipment with his hand, popping a loose panel back into place. "You'll wanna be careful with this unit here, Sarge, she's more than just a smoke detector. Eve, deactivate internal flame sensors for t=24 hours." Confirmed
, came the response from the transport ship's computer. "So, folks, are we ready for liftoff?"