Chapter 18: Plan B
The lights flickered again all across the ship.
“Situation report, Jules,” barked Kyton, watching the progress of the launches from the bridge. The tempest outside brewed horrifically.
“Power marginal. If we don’t get everyone on board in the next five minutes we will not have enough reserve power to slingshot away from the epicenter.”
“Noted.” Flipping another switch, “Daniel, what is our ETA on the testing harness? Is everything connected and routed to the bridge?”
“Aye, sir. Though I don’t understand why. We can run the same tests from down here.”
Kyton responded perturbed, “That’s enough, Mister Pewter. Merely a yes or a no is sufficient.”
“Yes, it’s ready.”
“Make sure those pallets are secured down. Make sure they are immobile.”
Returning to the board in front of him, Jules has projected a power gauge and countdown. It annoyingly read “three minutes and thirty seconds.”
“Becky Thatcher, what is your ETA?”
Zak responded, “We’re being buffeted pretty badly. Estimate five minutes to docking.”
“Roger that Becky Thatcher.” Kyton flipped the mic off. “Damn.” Kyton changed channels. “Doc, is the Captain secure?”
“He is resting as comfortable as possible, given the circumstances.”
“And our guest?”
“She is equally sedated. Kyton, I wanted to talk to you about her. I’ve been monitoring her and just got her blood work back. There is something really peculiar…”
“Please, just make sure they are both secure,” he replied, cutting her off, “It’s liable to very quickly get a lot bumpier. We’ll talk about our guest after we get out of all of this. Please tell all non-essential people to get to their quarters and strap themselves in. It’s going to be a wild right getting out of here.”
“On it, Kyton.”
The gauges on the screen in front of him were flashing an angry red now.
“Mister Davis, we are getting very close to that mark. Even now, I’m not sure we have enough power to slingshot out of this.”
“Relax Jules, you won’t have to. I have it under control.” He looked at the new bank of makeshift controls. His hands hovered over the controls, searching for the correct button.
“Sir, that control panel won’t do much except redirect power.”
“That was the plan all along, Jules.” Kyton, knowing Jules was putting everything the ship had into staying away from the center of the storm. He slowly reached over and pulled his harness across, securing him in the seat.
“What are you about to do, Kyton Davis?”
Kyton looked at the screens again. The flashing indicator said thirty seconds. The pallets in the hanger appeared to be secured. The Becky Thatcher was still two minutes out. Damn. It was now or never.
Jules repeated, “What are you going to do, Kyton?” The sound of Jule’s electronic voice had taken on a more suspicious tone.
“Plan B, Jules. It was nice knowing you.” With that, his finger flipped up a guard, exposing the biggest, reddest button on the panel. The one marked Emergency Disconnect. He pressed it.
Zak looked down at the console, breaking his concentration on the ship for a moment as an emergency comm light came on. He pressed the button, thinking it was Kyton.
“No time.” There was no mistaking the voice on the other end as the ship’s computer. “Kyton-. crazy. Cut power…” The voice squawked and cut off in mid-sentence.
Zak looked up to see the Empress of the Sky listed crazily to one side and literally seemed to catapult into the storm. They had only been a few moments from making contact and now it seems miles away and retreating fast.
“What the hell?” Jackson looked through the cockpit window at the receding ship. Forgotten was Jackson Peck’s moratorium on swearing. “Zak, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Jackson screamed over the ever-increasing storm surging outside.
“I didn’t do this!” Zak played the message from Jules over the ship’s loudspeakers. “Options?”
“None! Jettison the cargo and haul ass! If the Empress is falling with no power, we can certainly catch her running full power. Jettison the cargo!” Zak indicated the correct button and Jackson pushed it with only marginal hesitation. The thorium fuel would be lost forever and never mind that he was dooming the creature that had attacked them to certain death. At least he would never feel it, but it was either it or them.
The pallet came loose from under the launch and the little ship lurched forward with renewed vigor. They could barely see the Empress of the Sky outlined below them but it seemed to be no longer getting smaller but larger.
They began to catch up with the ship. Nothing could be seen around them now other than a growing dimness above and swirling clouds and debris all around. To Liam, it seemed a scene right out of the Wizard of Oz, but to Doctor Peck, more like Dante’s Inferno. The propellers were flipping randomly in the wind and the whole ship was rotating. It was no longer under any kind of control and it was being taken wherever the torrent of wind and rain wished, which, in this case, was straight down into the mouth of a chasm that was large enough to swallow the gargantuan bulk of the Empress of the Sky.
As they tried to line up with the rear of the ship, there was no way to dock and they were going down fast. Fortunately, the vortex was pulling them away from edges of the chasm and more into the middle. The lights of the Becky Thatcher could not penetrate the inky blackness as they were sucked in. As it got darker, they no longer could see the walls of the chasm as they whirled past. Even if they could see it, the rock walls were mostly featureless as they continued to fall.
Seeing no other option, Zak gunned the engines and began to count partially out loud, but mostly to himself. His hands flew over the controls and he yelled out to Jackson… “Need help. Every six count, push that button for half a second…”
Jackson hesitated. Liam’s hand found the control. “One...two...three…”
Liam artfully stayed in tempo with Zak’s counting and pushed the button for half a second every six. His button pressing was controlling the lateral thrusters and the combination of his efforts, along with Zak’s, caused the Becky Thatcher to roll and pitch but also to line up with the heaving top deck of the Empress.
Jackson yelled over the tumultuous din outside, “You aren’t going to try and land this thing?”
Zak responded, “Just like a carrier landing in a storm. Do you have a better idea?”
“Brace for impact!!!” Liam turned in his seat and yelled to everyone who could not see out the front window. Zak managed to dodge some of the trees and other debris from the ship that hadn’t been securely anchored. Fortunately, the top deck was large enough to land an airplane on. Unfortunately, it was also large enough to crash into. The ground came up way too quickly for Liam’s tastes.
They hit the ground at almost the exact spot where Rebekah and Liam had walked the day before. Fortunately, the ground was soft and peaty and absorbed their impact rather well. Unfortunately, the material of the ground combined with nature of the Aerolon structure acted just like the spring rubber of a superball. Without fanfare or debate and just like a major league ball player hitting a fastball in the final inning of the World Series, the little RV was launched directly back into the eye of the tempest, well past the point of no return.