Winds of Aerathiea

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Chapter 15: Cleanup

Four other men came back from the hallway, having cleared many of the other rooms. Sydney reported “We found what appears to have been a nest. I don’t know how many there were altogether, maybe only these three, maybe five. It’s hard to tell, but we couldn’t find any signs of anymore within a hundred meters.”

Kyton turned from helping to bind the first beast with one of the super soakers. “Ok everyone, obviously playtime is over.” His demeanor became a lot more stoic and dark. “We let our guard down. We are dealing with something new here that we don’t begin to understand, but it’s obviously very dangerous.” He kicked the beast to emphasize his point. It began to stir. “This one is going to have a monstrous headache when it wakes, if it doesn’t have a concussion, thanks to young master Liam here. If you didn’t notice, girls,” he said addressing the other troops, “Liam single handedly took down two of these monsters while you were still picking your asses!” He looked at Liam with new eyes. “Now ladies, we have a job to do.” He looked at one of the men Liam didn’t know yet. “James, pick some men and figure out how to get this beast back safely. The rest of you, follow me.” With that, Kyton Davis stormed out of the room.

Liam was still getting his breath and suffering from a pretty severe headache of his own. Jackson Peck came up behind him and patted him on the shoulder.

“Thank you. I thought I was gone.”

“It was nothing. I just saw an opportunity and took it.”

“I don’t know if they taught you to fight like that in Union Springs, but I have never seen anything like it in my life. Was that some sort of Martial Art? I have never seen anyone move like that.” Jackson was looking at Liam curiously.

“You are the third person to look at me like I was a lab rat, about to be dissected! I’m just a kid who grew up too quickly on the streets. I’ve seen a lot of things no one should ever have to see, but I’m still just me. No, I’ve never had any martial arts training.” Liam dusted himself off. His head was still throbbing, but he decided to join the others before Peck really did dissect him.

“Well, again, Thanks! You have my undying gratitude. If you need anything at all, I’m at your service,” said Jackson. Liam actually believed him. Jackson Peck, realizing he was alone, hurried to catch up with Liam and join the others.

Ahead, they could hear the sounds of machinery and men moving heavy objects. As they entered the large bay, men were scrambling over many large and fancy machines and trying to wrench them free from the muck so that they could be prepared for transport. Jake Cramer came up to them and pointed to their radiation badges and the far corner of the room.

“Stay away from whatever is back there. We don’t have the suits for it and that area is pretty contaminated.”

Jackson replied “Thanks for the heads up. I’ve already had one brush with death today. No reason to also add the slow and lingering kind.”

Liam continued to walk over to the others. In the center of their attention were five cylindrical objects that looked like squat jet engines on gargantuan pallets. Each one was strapped down with some kind of hoist latches, designed to be transported by crane. Everyone had been working so hard on getting these motors out the dock that now that they were here, no one had thought into figuring out how they would get them back on the ship. Liam didn’t think the RV’s would be up to the task of transporting one of those.

He overheard Jake say to Ethan, “Well we still haven’t found the key yet.”

Ethan responded, “Damn shame too. We could really use the power.”

Liam asked, “If we have solar power already powering the engines, what do we need a nuclear reactor for again?”

Doctor Peck walked up behind them. He said, “Very simple. We have two sets of engines on the ship. The propellers and jet engines.”

“Jet engines? I haven’t seen those yet!”

“Yeah, your dad had them installed for testing. They really weren’t part of the original package, but every little bit helps, at least it would if we could run them. Right now, they are just dormant. The power we get from solar is only a fraction of what we need. We only get a quarter of the power we need from solar if we wanted to run the props at full speed. We would barely be able to even turn on the jets.”

“That why the ship can only top out at 10 knots?”

“Precisely. We could possibly hit 50 knots with the propellers running at full power and its only speculation, but it’s believed we could reach 120 with the jet engines. But we have to have power to make any of that work.”

Jackson continued, “We have two modified steam train locomotives right now that we brought on board about a year ago as an experiment. We thought about getting rid of them because of the weight, but they also provide ballast and we were a little light to start with. We couldn’t keep them fed in the long run. They were steam engines so they run on wood or coal. The fuel was heavier than the engines and hard to replenish. We just couldn’t keep up with them.”

Liam nodded his head in understanding. “Yeah, Rebekah told me about the fuel problem.”

“We also use piles and piles of batteries with the solar power, but they have their limits. If we had time, I know we could make better batteries that would be ten times more powerful than what we have now. Solar cells too.

“Why didn’t Captain Grumm do that then?”

“Do what? Oh, you mean to use Aerolon and graphene instead of a nuclear reactor?”

“Yeah, if graphene is so good, then why still use nuclear?”

“We really only learned to make decent batteries about a year ago. Artie has been hunting this damn key since the first day we set sail. The ship was designed to use the reactor. I guess he just wanted to see it through. I’m not sure it was worth him getting hurt over though.”

“What about the radioactivity? Don’t you have to have a lot of shielding with a nuclear reactor?”

“Traditionally, yes, nuclear reactors, powered by uranium or plutonium were very dirty and dangerous. Thorium was just beginning to become popular as a replacement for uranium. Don’t get me wrong, with a lot of energy, Thorium can be just as dangerous, but we would have to work extra hard for that to happen. At least with Thorium, you get a lot more control over the nuclear reaction.

We were actually going to showcase it worldwide as a safe alternative nuclear power. Grumm is nothing if he isn’t also an environmentalist. This was going to be his crowning achievement.” Jackson momentarily thought of how he last saw Artie, crumpled up against the wall, not an hour again and stifled an involuntary shudder. “None of THIS was supposed to happen, Liam. It was all supposed to be good now. I was going to retire.”

“Yeah, Beka kind of mentioned the game plan to me.”

Kyton walked up to them. He had been on the commlink. “Artie is in surgery. He does have a broken back, and cranial swelling, but Trish is really good. I’m sure he’ll pull through this just fine. I just thought you should know.”

“Thank you, Kyton. I know you care about him as much or more than any of us. Keep us posted.”

“You can count on it. Now, how about you two stop lollygagging around and figure out how we are going to get these whatever-they-are on-board. You are the engineering genius. As soon as the launch is back, I’m going back upstairs. I can be more useful supervising my operations crew.”

Kyton sat alone in the control room contemplating the last forty-eight hours. He had witnessed the boy, Liam Waite, single-handedly take on two fully mature Na ’Kie slavers and not only survive, but win. Where he came from, what just happened was only told in stories. There was something very unique about this boy. He knew Jonathan. Kyton had met him many times, but nothing Jonathan had said or done had raised any suspicion. He would have noticed.

Kyton mulled this series of events over in his head. He pushed a control on the console and spoke to the engineers on board. “How soon until we get the testing harness installed?”

“An hour, maybe two. What’s the rush?” came the disembodied voice from the other end of the speaker.

“When we get the parts on board, I want to get something rigged as soon as possible to get as much distance between us and this storm outside.” A brilliant flash accentuated his statement better than he ever could.

Kyton could hear the accompanying peal of thunder both outside the windows and through the small delay in the speakers.

“Aye, we’ll do everything we can,” said the voice, shaken from the proximity of that last crack.

“Jules, Situation Report. How are you doing with station keeping? I know you are putting everything you have into holding us away from the epicenter and that pit.”

The disembodied voice responded, “I’m running the blades at twenty percent. We are losing some ground, but I’m compensating by tacking. If I were to run at thirty-two percent, we would overcome drift but we would only be able to operate that way for an hour or so and we would deplete our batteries long before we could safely get away.

We have drifted to within forty clicks of the epicenter and I’m afraid we are dangerously low on reserve power. We can hold out for maybe three hours. At that point, we will need another power source or I can run the blades at dangerously over spec and still pull us out in twenty minutes, but that’s all. There won’t be anything left.”

“Thank you, Jules, that’s exactly what I needed to know. What about the anomaly below us? Anything new on this hole?”

“Nothing new to report other than I can see further into it now.”

“Can you estimate how deep it is?”

“Not at this time. It’s jagged and fresh, but the walls are starting to wear smooth from the constant air movement. That’s another thing. Since I have tracked weather patterns during our entire journey, we can assume that we are looking at what caused the cataclysm. If this was some kind of volcano, like Yellowstone, I don’t understand why the caldera is sucking air in. It should be expelling magma and debris.”

“What if it’s not a caldera, Jules?”

“What else could it be, Kyton? That chasm is ten kilometers in diameter and at least thirty kilometers deep, probably deeper, I just can’t resolve any more than that because of the storm and our angle to it. It has definitely breached the crust and backflow of magma should be totally covering this entire area.”

“What indeed…,” Kyton mused.

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