“The MOPAD (Multiple Operation Personnel Aerial Drone), or ‘Moppet’, was designed initially as a geological survey unit to aid small groups of scientists and geologists in expeditions. With a carbon frame, advanced photo-voltaic surface and a utilitarian onboard computer, the MOPAD quickly populated the fringes of the colonial outposts. Trailing behind scientists and vehicle operators, they became the cybernetic pets of the new world.”
I watched a gust of wind come towards me over the regolith. Pulverised dust whipped from the tops of dunelets. The heat of the nearer Alpha B generated wind fronts which circled the planet; these were complicated by the lesser heat of the diminishing Alpha A.
I turned back to the Sprat. A line of footsteps were traced in the duricrust, from my vantage point back to Gingrich and the Sprat. Aside from the pattering of micrometeorites, this duricrust had not changed in billions of years.
Gingrich lifted a Moppet into the air; it drifted slowly upwards and away from her. It hovered at a point between Gingrich and myself, about three metres above the regolith. From my position, I could hear its soft engine.
“Where do you want to start?” Gingrich asked. Although she was maybe twenty meters from me, her voice was loud in my earpiece.
I looked at the panorama before me. I stood on the crest of a small elevation; before me was relatively flat, grey-brown regolith, stretched to the horizon. There were a series of hills off to my right and left, either formed over a basalt seam or the remains of the ridgeline marking a much larger crater.
“Well the benches need to be fifty meters wide.”
I looked at the GPS display on my tablet. This signal was relayed to me by the Moppet. The drone was connected to the GPS system directly through Port Mayflower, while also relaying a wireless connection with the Colonies’ computer over the southern horizon.
I pointed to the north, toward the far end of the elevation I was standing atop. “Let’s try up there. GPS says seventy five meters.”
Gingrich clambered back aboard the Sprat and kicked it over. She moved it north, to where I had pointed. This saved hauling the bulky seismic probe that distance on foot. The Moppet defaulted to hover above me while Gingrich drove the short distance.
Images from the growing satellite network deployed in orbit showed good signs of a vein of iron and nickel in this area. The seismic probe would confirm this, and if the vein were as close to the surface as satellite imagery suggested, an open-cut mine would be developed here.
In my ear, I could hear Gingrich groaning with the effort of unloading the A44 by herself. I turned around and looked back to the south, toward the Colonies. There was no glow of light on the horizon to mark their presence. Instead I watched a bead of light, a climber suspended on the elevator ribbon, moving slowly higher into the ruddy sky.
I held the view a moment too long.
“Come on,” I said to the Moppet. “Let’s get started.”