Chapter 13: Enter the Plant
The launch made a couple of low passes across the length of the factory, looking for signs of life or movement. A more complete picture of the damage was now plain to see.
Kyton had Zak touch down in an overgrown parking lot on the opposite side from the largest landslide and cave-in. “Keep these engines hot like you did in Union Springs. We have no idea what kind of trouble we might find.”
“Aye, sir, hot and running…” Zak looked a little disappointed at being left behind once again.
“Zak, sorry you don’t get any action, but you’re our best pilot.”
“Martin, you and Jake stay back and form a perimeter. Shoot anything that comes near the launch, is that understood?”
Martin replied “Anything?”
“Well obviously, anything that shouldn’t be approaching the launch, like bigfoot or giant radioactive bugs or aliens…”
Martin gulped “Understood, no aliens, radioactive bugs or bigfoot. You can count on me, SUH!” Martin gave a half-hearted salute as best as he knew how.
I know he means well, Davis thought to himself. Out loud, he said, “The rest of you fall in.” and they set off across the parking lot toward the factory. With the amount of broken glass, it was virtually impossible to not telegraph their presence to anyone that might be within the walls, waiting for them. When they reached the first set of freight docks, it was obvious they would have no trouble getting in. The docks were wide open and the semis that were at the dock at the time were in complete disarray. Some were on their sides; some were burnt out. Some looked as if they had been lived in for a while.
Ethan commented, “I imagine that right after the event, many of the people that worked here probably camped out here, not being able to get home and all.”
Rows and rows of trucks were flipped up and over like a land tsunami had come through. There was also a lot of mud and apparent water damage.
“See that waterline?” Jeremy asked pointing to a dark line running along the outer wall. “I imagine the Mississippi overflowed its banks here and flooded some of this out before receding to God knows where.”
Kyton replied, “Good call Weathers. Everyone, plan to get dirty. I’m willing to bet there is a lot of stinking mud inside.” He turned to Ethan behind him. “Can we get one of your drones to go in first?”
Ethan stopped and pulled off his backpack. “Certainly sir.” He pulled out the drone he called “Agnes”, unfolded her blades and prepped her for flight. He attached the little screen that told everyone he was in communications with the drone and also took out the secondary display to show others what he was seeing. Giving her the command to power up, she was airborne.
Ethan flew the drone through the first set of open garage doors and handed the remote display to Kyton so he could follow along or give orders.
Flipping her lights on, Agnes maneuvered slowly into the shipping dock area of the plant. Ethan had her do a complete three-sixty to get her bearings.
Ethan said as he was concentrating “All this fuss over a puny little key.”
Kyton replied “Puny is in the eye of the beholder. Sure, it’s pretty small, but without it, our engines just sit idle. I don’t think I have to remind you how useful those engines would be to us. They will be more than powerful enough to both move the ship at one hundred and twenty klicks and provide enough power for all ships systems. No more rationing electricity.”
“Hey, I think we’ve done very well so far, “Jeremy retorted, “Who do you think rigged our solar, wind and sail power in the first place?”
“I did not mean to dishonor your accomplishments, Mister Weathers,” remarked Kyton in a mocking tone, “and we will put up a plaque at your memorial. Please lower your voice just a little.” He finished with a whisper. “Of course your contributions have been essential to us getting to this moment. But, just imagine what you will soon be able to do with megawatts of power!”
“Of course, sir.”
Ethan was concentrating on guiding Agnes around the cave-ins and through the various rooms of the plant. He got a message that the signal strength was starting to fade.
“Hey guys, I haven’t seen anything worth reporting yet, but because all this metal in here, we’re going to have to go in if I’m going to go any deeper. I’m starting to lose Agnes.”
“OK, hold up, let’s go into where you started and set up a perimeter and get our bearings.” Kyton motioned them all inside the building. He spoke to Zak, back at the launch “We’re getting ready to go in. We haven’t found much yet.”
“Damn, OK Chief.” Zak chuckled, “I guess I lose the pool. I would have sworn it would have been sitting there waiting for us; gift-wrapped even!”
Kyton was the last in and snapped on his light. Having previously made many forms of military and industrial equipment, the plant was enormous. In just the first room they entered, the beams of their lights would not even reach the far wall. Some things appeared to be picked over, yet other items that might be useful to them appeared to be intact. Debris lay everywhere and they had to climb mountains of junk. So far none of the radiation monitors had pinged, so they forged on.
Ethan still had Agnes moving ahead of them by a good two hundred meters. Suddenly, he lifted his fist in the universal sign to “hold”. Kyton caught it and stiffened in his tracks. Others, sensing the change, stopped their chatting and turned to see what was up.
Kyton whispered, “What are you seeing Ethan?” He had forgotten about the screen he was holding, being too occupied picking over the debris in the dark and trying hard not to get cut or twist something. He flipped the screen back on now.
Ethan whispered back, “There are definite signs of habitation ahead.”
“Ok, Ethan, switch to infrared, silent running and move Agnes in high and slow. Let’s get an overview before we get trigger happy.”
“Aye, Sir.” Ethan touched a couple of controls and the view changed. They were now higher up and the view expanded. Agnes moved slower now, slowly spinning and taking in the whole room. They were looking at some kind of cafeteria where people had been living recently. Wrappers and debris appeared to be a lot fresher. More concerning was that someone had overturned tables and vending machines, making a barricade against the doors - a barricade that had been breached.
The team continued walking in the general direction the drone had taken.
The clock on the wall said 8:00 am when Jules gave Liam his wake up call. Liam started awake from a deep but fitful sleep that had been made worse by the continual and worsening storm that had truly reached epic proportions overnight.
Liam looked out the window at the epic storm all around them. “Are you sure it’s 8 am, Jules?”
“Now, it’s precisely 8:04 AM. You have one hour and fifty-six minutes before you are needed on the flight deck. You are leaving at 1000 hours and going down to your father’s plant with the Captain in the Becky Thatcher to meet the first landing party, and you still need to be checked out by Doctor Weaver.”
“The Becky Thatcher?”
“We have two landing ships that were renovated from old recreational vehicles. The one that brought you back yesterday was the Tom Sawyer and its companion is, of course, the Becky Thatcher.”
“Of course, what was I thinking?” Liam finished tying his shoes and was just about to say “Lead the way!” when there was a knock on his door. “Come in.” Rebekah and her father, Jackson were standing outside.
“We thought we would walk with you - if you don’t mind?” said Jackson.
“Not at all Sir, I was just going to ask Jules to lead me back to the hospital wing.”
Rebekah said cheerfully, “Well, now you have us!”
“Lead the way.” Behind him and out the window, more lightning and thunder illuminated the ground below. Liam paused and turned. He could see the factory spread below. He gulped, taking in the scene. Hope faded that he was going to find anything out about his father. Secretly he knew one of the reasons there was already a team on the ground was to spare him if they encountered any remains that shouldn’t be seen by him.
They walked past many series of hallways, all alike, reminding Liam that this was first and foremost, a cruise ship. Some of the walls had been painted in garish Victorian colors.
“If the ship was so far from being finished, why are the walls are already painted,” asked Liam to whoever would answer him.
Jackson replied, “We were actually testing a number of different styles. We hadn’t picked anyone in particular yet. The whole idea was it was supposed to be a ship from the imagination of Jules Verne. Sadly, no one really remembered what that looked like. You’ll see as many variations as we have hallways.”
Rebekah added her bit, “I think it adds character! Oh, we’re here.” They rounded a corner and found themselves back in the wing where Liam first woke up less than 24 hours before. “We’ll wait outside for you.”
“No, seriously, it’s OK. I’m not bashful or anything.” They all went through the doors together.
A disheveled Doctor Weaver greeted them and walked over to a basin and washed her hands and donned a new set of gloves. She looked tired as if she had worked through the night.
She called over her shoulder. “Gus, keep her sedated! There is no telling what kind of other trauma she has been through and get her cleaned up the best you can!” Turning to her charge at hand, “Good morning, Liam. Take your shirt off, let’s have a peek at my handiwork. Do the two of you mind stepping outside?”
Jackson went wandering away towards the other charge in the hospital wing, curious about this lady Gus was treating. Rebekah took a couple of steps backwards and scowled as Doctor Weaver pulled the curtain closed on the exam room.
“Seriously, doc, I don’t mind them being here.”
“Just because you have lived the last two years on the streets and did God knows what, is no reason for me to lose a sense of dignity and decorum in my hospital.” She began to pull at the tape holding the bandage to his shoulder. “Just tell me if this stings or hurts in any way.”
“It’s fine doc,” replied Liam.
The next sound was an audible gasp from Doctor Weaver. She had successfully removed the bandage and stood gaping at a perfectly healthy and unblemished shoulder. The gauze and the scissors she had been holding clattered to the floor. She checked her charts and then the time and furiously wrote on his chart.
Moments ticked by. Finally, Doctor Weaver said quietly, “Liam, how is this possible?” She turned the chart around to him and showed him what his shoulder looked like less than 24 hours previously. A high-speed rifle bullet can do significant damage as it tears through flesh and bone. She then showed him a mirror. “There is not a scratch. Yesterday you had a hole big enough I could stick my thumb in it and today … nothing? What’s going on?”
Liam was now self-conscious and looked as dumbfounded as she did. “Honestly doc, I have no idea. I have always healed fast, I once stepped on a rusty nail, but that took two days to heal.”
She looked at him strangely. There was something needling the back of her mind, but she couldn’t quite place it. “Raise your arms for me?” He raised them and then she had him go through a series of strength and range of motion exercises just to make sure. “Well, I can find nothing wrong now. We’ll talk about this more, later, but for now, I certainly don’t see any reason you can’t join the Captain this morning.”
“Thanks, Doc, Can I get dressed now?”
Rebekah quickly moved from the spot she had taken where she could peek through the curtain that had separated Liam from his dignity. She almost gasped out loud when she also saw the lack of a bullet wound in his shoulder.
“Doctor, who is the other person in sickbay?
Jackson came sprinting back just at that moment… “Doctor, they need you. Come on kids, let’s get out of her way. This sickbay is already cramped enough without healthy people taking up space.” Everyone loved Trish, but Jackson had a thing about hospitals and the less he spent in one, the better.
The three of them descended into the ship and quickly found themselves immersed in the sounds and smells of the ship waking up and a crew hungry for answers … and breakfast.
Over breakfast, Jackson Peck continued to offer Liam an awkward, yet heartfelt, overview of his father’s many accomplishments. Jonathan Waite had always been a little distant; always preoccupied in his work. There was precious little time to do the things that Liam wanted to do. Very little time for baseball or soccer. Plenty of time to take Liam to work and to observatories. Liam remembered one time they went on a trip out West which was great, but it was really just a cover to visit another observatory in the mountains of California. His mother was totally enthralled. Liam looked through the lens a couple of times, decided you that if you’ve seen one star and you had seen them all, and spend the rest of the visit in the parking lot picking up rocks and throwing them over the cliff sides. In fact, that was the last trip he had taken with his mom and dad, when he was twelve, right before the Event occurred.
Liam was anxious and very apprehensive of other memories this little trip would dredge up, assuming they found anything at all.
“Liam, you have hardly eaten.”
“Yeah, I’m just nervous. It seems that everyone expects me to perform some kind of miracle, but I barely remember the place.”
“Well, the funny thing about miracles is that they happen when you least expect them,” replied Rebekah, punching Liam in the shoulder that should have been injured - just to accentuate her point.
“I’m sure if they find anything gross or a ghost or something, they will at least cover it up.”
“Yeah, but what if that ghost is my dad?” Everyone looked down and quickly finished their bacon and eggs in silence.
When they were finished and taking their trays to the trash, Jackson piped up. “Relax son, everything will be fine. Preliminary intel says that they haven’t found any people yet, dead or alive. Rebekah, could you walk Liam down to the flight deck?”
“I’d be happy to!” Carol shot her a knowing glance from across the mess hall.
“Come on Liam, let me introduce you properly to Becky.”