Chapter 12: Landfall
It was only a couple of hours earlier that Captain Grumm had announced how close they were to the plant, but they had to fight gale force headwinds the entire way. It was early morning and he switch on the intercom once again. “All hands…” he started, “We will reach the Waite Aerospace Research Lab within the hour. Crews assigned to finding and salvaging, please assemble in the hangar bay. Crews with the squirt guns, be ready also. We anticipate the creatures we were tracking last night may have moved near or in the plant for shelter from the storm.”
With that announcement, the ship came to life. Crews had rehearsed for this moment for over a year. People began bustling throughout the ship and calls could be heard checking and rechecking across all the intercom systems. With all the activity, one would have found it hard to believe there were less than a hundred people on board.
One could feel the slight sense of vertigo as the ship rotated slowly and began to move along its new course. On a good day, the Empress of the Sky was only capable of about ten miles per hour with its wind and solar powered drive system, but Jules, anticipating the upgrade, seemed to pour everything into moving the ship and they seemed to cover the distance in half the time.
Kyton motioned to Artie “Come on, I want to see this in person.” Artemis followed Kyton off the bridge and out to the forward observation lounge where they had a sweeping panoramic view of the ground below and ahead of them.
They could see the factory now. It was about nine in the morning, ship time and the sun was just hitting it from the east having to get over the newly formed mountains first. The land below them was scarred and more and more devoid of life, looking more and more like a giant wound. The ripples of earth they had seen from the bridge were clearly evident now as they glided over them.
Artemis broke the silence. “My lord. What do you think caused this? When I first saw the screen, I thought maybe the plant had caused this. That maybe they were testing something that had exploded, causing this. Whatever happened was much bigger.”
Kyton just stared ahead, mesmerized. Suddenly, he pointed to the North and Northeast of the plant to a new vista that was just coming over the horizon and being illuminated by the early morning sun.
“Jules, what do you make of that?” Artemis also pointing, forgetting that Jules needed no such human references.
“That is a hole. I’m analyzing incoming data now. Not only is a hole, but it’s a damn big hole.”
“Jules, this is not a time to explore colorful euphemisms. Just stick to the facts, please.”
“Yes, sir.” Jules sounded sufficiently chastised. “The hole in front of us is the epicenter of both the weather phenomena- you can see how the clouds are circulating around it- and the center of damage we have cataloged. It is my estimate that the hole is approximately ten kilometers in diameter and at least as deep.”
“There is no way to tell. My instruments were not designed for anything more rigorous. The Empress was supposed to be a pleasure boat, after all. You never designed it for emergency search and rescue, or… research.”
“Remind me to upgrade you when I get the chance!”
“Upgrade reminder noted and appreciated sir. It should also be noted that there is enough pressure differential between the hole and the outside to create this permanent weather anomaly, so I would estimate it to be pretty deep.”
“Kyton, make sure the crew remains focused. They can undoubtedly see this as well as we can. Let’s get on the ground as fast as possible so we can keep them focused while we get supplies and find that key.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” still not taking his eyes off the jagged landscape emerging over the horizon. Kyton spoke into his comm-link, organizing the rest of the crew.
Artie addressed the computer, “Just soak up as much sunlight as possible and hold back reserves. I have a feeling you aren’t going to get another chance for a while.”
“Understood sir, beginning to top off the reserves now.”
They could see the factory spread out below them now. A lot of the factory’s walls still stood, but it was in bad shape. There were many collapsed points across the roofline and most of the windows and skylights were blown out. There would be significant damage inside. Taking one last look, Kyton Davis and Artemis Grumm made their way back to the hangar that Kyton had left, just a few hours ago.
The men that had made the last search and rescue had managed to clean up and find fresh uniforms, leaving Kyton distinctly out of place. He was still covered in mud and soaked to the bone. Someone handed him a replacement jumpsuit. As he unceremoniously stripped to his skivvies and suited up in the khaki outerwear, he addressed the assembly.
“I don’t have to tell you that this is exactly what we have fought for over for the last year. Everything comes down to today. The building is partially collapsed, but with any providence and luck we might not have to dig anything out. The engineering people are coming with us to look for supplies. Keep them safe. Many of you will be asked to help ferry equipment back to the ship. Do whatever you can to help, but don’t jeopardize anyone’s safety to do it. There will be machines and boxes of parts all over the plant that we might have to dig out and assemble once we get them on the ship. We are issuing everyone radiation detectors, flashlights and firearms for this mission.
“Yes, DePaul, Firearms and live ammunition. I know you have all been trained in how to use a standard issue M19. Some of you are even pretty good shots, so I’m not going to cover that. I also know that some of you have never been under fire or been in contact with anything overly hostile. The plant below us has been vacant for over two years.” Kyton finished with his jumpsuit. “We have no idea what threats might be inside. We also have reason to believe that our bigfoot friends we were trying to capture might have taken refuge there from the storm last night and might still be holding captives. We had an opportunity to possibly catch one last night in the open. We won’t be so lucky in close quarters.
Kyton turned to Jackson Peck. “Jackson, while we are gone, we need to you to ready the other launch. We are going to need both of them to ferry equipment back.” Jackson Peck nodded his agreement.
“Sir,” One of the men spoke out, “to the northeast, some of us saw something, sir. It looked like the Grand Canyon. There are no canyons near St. Louis? Sir?”
Kyton and Artemis glanced at each other. “Artie, do you want to take this?”
“Truthfully Jake, we don’t know what it is. All we know at the moment is that it’s a hole and a damn big one. It appears to be responsible for all the weather we are experiencing. Nothing else. As we find out more, we will relay it to everyone. For now, let’s just focus on getting those engine parts and making the Empress the ship she was meant to be!”
Kyton piped in, “I second that sir, so say we all...”
The assembly responded “...So say we all, SUH!”
Artie finished up, “That’s all folks, Godspeed and bring me what I paid for!”
Kyton leaned over to Artie and whispered “Technically, we never paid for them...”
Artie pointed to Liam and put his finger to his lips. “Shhhh”