Chapter 11: The Camp
The launch broke through the clouds and descended to the camp. It was still raining, but Zak, Kyton and a couple of the others could see through the front windshield that the camp had been abandoned. Either something spooked them or they went seeking better shelter from the storms. The camp was crude- really nothing more than quickly sawn timbers and leftover bits of fencing that they probably picked up as they moved. The rain had washed a lot away, but from the windshield, they could still see the party appeared to head north.
“Just go ahead and sit it down anywhere Zak, the quicker we get some answers, the quicker we can be on our way.”
Zak wasted no time, and neither did Kyton, opening the door and leaping to the ground before the RV had even touched down yet. Following his lead, many of the men filed out right behind him. They fanned out across the campsite looking for the sign of life that Jules had been able to detect earlier. Zak stood guard by the hatch, watching for any possible ambushes.
Kyton crossed over to the pen they had seen in the video feed. There was a lot of debris in one of the corners from the storm. A slight moan from the pile instantly grabbed his attention. “Over here. I found someone!” He called out to the others. The closest men scrambled over the fallen trees, and fencing to help Kyton as he began to pull tree limbs and other refuse from the pile. “I think there’s somebody buried in here.” As he pulled the next branch off, he could see the body of a young woman under the debris. “There’s someone here. Careful, but dig faster, she’s probably hurt. Someone bring the stretcher over here!”
They cleared the remaining branches and they carefully pulled a woman from the wreckage, she was bloody, cut and bruised and appeared to be young, naked and cold- but alive. Doctor Weaver took over as soon as she was on the stretcher and called for blankets. The woman was apparently in shock. The doctor started an IV and her and four others carried the lady to the launch.
“We need to get her back to the ship as soon as possible, Zak,” said Weaver as they entered the launch. Zak called back to Kyton on the intercom.
“Doc says we need to get her back. Are you coming or do you want me to come back for you?”
“There’s really nothing else we can learn here. The camp is picked clean.” Kyton turned and motioned to all the others with a whistle. “They headed north about three hours ago. We’re coming back.”
Scanning the horizon north of their location, Jules was not able to locate the creatures they had been hunting, but he was able to pick out the most probable trail. “Fortunately, we are only fifty kilometers out and the beings we encountered last night have appeared to head in the same direction. If they had passed it before they would have known a large structure was there. Maybe they went there for refuge from the storm?”
“Truthfully, Jules, I had almost given up hope that the plant would still be there. As we keep getting closer, it seems we are reaching some kind of epicenter. Everything here is increasingly inhospitable. I wonder if we’ll ever discover what caused all this.”
“Sir, I’m scanning now. I’ve found the plant. It’s still mostly there. I’ll bring it up on the monitors. I’m also scanning for radiation and other anomalies that might be related to the event, but I have nothing substantial to report yet.”
Artemis peered at the pictures on the screen above him. Taken from maybe sixty kilometers away, they were still surprisingly good quality. “You take good pictures, Jules.”
“Thank you, sir, I try to please. I took the liberty to enhance as well as I could, removing as much noise from the storm as possible. I believe a good eighty percent of the buildings are still intact. You can also see the rippling effect in the terrain around the building, I’ll project a diagram onto the picture.”
Jules superimposed a computer diagram in 3D, overlaying the footage of the plant. One could see the concentric circles of ground that appeared to be rippled just like an unmade bed. It was easy to see the pattern.
Jules spoke up again, “You can see from this expansion, all the circular patterns the ground makes center on this area about another twenty or so kilometers northeast of the factory. I think we are looking at some kind of ground zero, sir.”
Artemis stiffened at that revelation. He touched a control on the board in front of him, activating the ship to ship intercom. “Kyton, how far are you from being on board?”
Static and then “We are transporting now. We should be in the hangar in five minutes.”
“Good, get up to Bridge as fast as possible. You are going to want to see this!”
“On my way!”
Jules piped in again. “Doing some more cross-referencing. The ever increasing storms we have been encountering for the last month are not typical here.”
“What was it then?”
“I’m getting to that. Whatever is at the center of this anomaly appears to also be an area of extremely low pressure. The storms are circulating around it like a vortex.” Jules superimposed this new data on the schematic he already had on the screen.
“Yes, I can see the pattern quite clearly.” The status indicator on the board flashed that the launch was entering the hangar bay. It was now two years, five months and seven days since the world turned upside down. Now, they might be able to get to the bottom of what caused Armageddon.
Kyton burst into the Bridge. He looked at Artie and then looked at the screen. “What did you find….” but he didn’t have to finish the question. “Wow!” Kyton dropped into his seat and thoughtlessly stroked his chin as he loomed close to the screen, peering at the picture Jules had painted for them.
Jules spoke first, “Looks like another meeting of senior staff is in order.”
Kyton replied. “This time, let’s keep a lid on this until we at least find that damn key. Looks like we are only about fifty klicks from the plant. We have enough on our plate at the moment with these storms, a mysterious person in sickbay, bigfeet on the run and a magic key to find.”
“I agree, we don’t have the manpower to afford to not be focused, one thing at a time! We are finally going to start getting some answers! I don’t know why that excites me so much, but it does. Also, are you sure that’s big feet, not big foots?”
“Jules, set a course for the plant and maintain station keeping right above it. It’s time to get on with this.” Kyton flipped on the ship-wide intercom. “It’s all yours, boss.”
Artemis spoke into the mic. “All hands of the Empress of the Sky, we are finally about to arrive at Waite Aerospace- the destination we set out for over a year and a half ago...”