Winds of Aerathiea

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Chapter 20: The Becky Thatcher Wakes Up

Zak was the first to regain consciousness. At first he thought he was dead, but then he turned around and could see the others beginning to stir. He quickly surveyed his surroundings, released himself from the harness and began checking the others. Ethan, Zak, Liam, Jackson, Mark Simmons and Daniel Pewter were all breathing but looking worse for wear. At least nothing appeared to be life threatening. Daniel had a welt and a bruise where something in the cabin had struck him, but that was all that was obvious. They began to stir.

“Easy does it,” Zak said to Liam as his eyes fluttered open and began to roll around frantically. “Just take it easy for a minute and get your bearings.”

“Where are we?” Jackson croaked from behind, fumbling with his own harness.

“No idea, but apparently the storm is over,” gesturing to the front window. Sunlight was streaming in, illuminating the cabin.

“Well, that’s a huge relief at least. That storm was starting to really grate on my nerves.”

After helping Jackson and Liam, the three of them slowly woke the others and helped them out of their harnesses. Jackson obtained the med kit and helped Daniel treat the welt and cut on his forehead. The rest of them looked around the cabin.

“Apparently, the autopilot took over and landed us somewhere.”

“Well, pop this hatch and let’s take a peek.” Zak reached out and twisted the handle on the external hatch. It swung open wide, allowing the sunlight to stream in. The cacophony of sounds followed. The sounds of insects, monkeys and hundreds of varieties of birds filled the air to the bursting point. Zak and Ethan took a step outside while the others craned their heads at the door to take in the vista around them.

Daniel was the first to speak. “I know the cut on my head is making me a little loopy, but does anyone else remember Missouri looking like this?”

All seven of them were out of the hatch now. They stood speechless.

The little ship had brought them down on a long hillside overlooking a misty jungle. The humidity was the first thing they noticed, followed quickly by the heat. The din from hundreds of unidentified animals assaulted their ears from the tree line below their vantage point. Through the mist, they could see the noonday sun beating overhead. Something flew towards them, high overhead. Resembling a bird of prey, like a hawk or eagle, it circled overhead and then swooped back to the trees.

“I don’t remember it being ninety degrees either,” replied Liam.

“Wait a minute.” Zak ducked back into the ship. He came back out with his chronometer that he bought during the war. He looked at his watch and then back at the sun and then handed the watch to Jackson. “Explain this?”

Jackson stared blankly at the watch. It read nineteen thirty-eight. It was evening in Missouri, but the October sun shone directly overhead.

Jackson then handed the watch to Ethan and Liam. “I have nothing,” He said looking up at the sun again, shielding his eyes with his hand. He shrugged his shoulders.

Ethan took the watch. There was no reason to verify, but human nature dictated that he did anyway. Yep, the watch read seven thirty-eight in the evening. “Does anyone else have a watch or a tablet or anything? Wait, there was a pad in the launch. I saw it earlier.” Ethan ducked into the launch to retrieve the pad.

Ethan motioned to Mark who was standing closest to the RV. “Come, help me with this gear.” Ethan retrieved the pad from under a seat and the two of them started breaking out some of the kits and gear they had stowed. “Daniel, I think I found what clobbered you,” remarked Ethan, pulling a tuft of skin and hair from the corner of the pad.

Ethan grabbed his drone kit, grappling it with both hands while Mark wrestled with the mess kit. They pulled them through the hatch and back into the clearing and started setting up a makeshift camp. Ethan tossed the pad to Zak who turned it on and shielded the screen from the noon sun. It came up with its internal time of day automatically, Seven Forty-One. “OK, guys, we’ve established that my watch isn’t junk after all. It really is almost eight PM.

“Maybe whatever it was we flew through messed everything thing up?” said Mark

“Astute observation Mark,” said Jackson. “That’s the best explanation I’ve heard so far.” Leaning over the rations kit, “Anyone else as hungry as I am? Looks like we have quite an assortment here” He pulled out a couple of packages and the portable cooktop that ran on propane.

Mark and Ethan went back into the RV to retrieve the rest of the camp supplies while Zak retired to the cockpit to see what kind of sense could be made from the Becky Thatcher. He came back out a little while later with his assessment to the smell of beef stew cooking on the stove. They also had a working hydrator that could pull the muggy water vapor right out of the air and distil it into drinking water. It was so humid, the hydrator was working at hundred percent and already well on its way to filling up.

“What’s the word on Becky, Zak?”

“She’s still with us. She took a beating, but most of the systems check out. I really do think Aerolon saved our asses back there Jackson. The strain gauges show some incredible readings, but she held together.”

“When do you think we can have her flying again? We still have no idea where we are or where the Empress might be.”

“Yeah, about that. Fuel reserves are really low. Fortunately, between the hydrators working so well with all this humidity and the apparent abundance of sunlight, the solar panels are working overtime refilling the hydrogen tanks. It will still be four hours or so before we have a comfortable buffer. I would like to get as much fuel in the tanks as possible before we lose the sunlight.”

Ethan said, “Imagine if we still had to use jet fuel like they did ten years ago.”

Zak looked around and replied “Then we would never make it out of this jungle, would we? By the way, do you remember any jungles in Missouri?”

Jackson thought back to a line from the Wizard of Oz due to the similar way in which they were brought here, “Zak, we’re not in Missouri anymore.”

“Don’t you mean Kansas?”

“Yeah, I don’t think we are there either. I don’t know where we are. Let’s get a rundown on your findings.”

Chapter 21 - Ethan and Liam go Sightseeing

Jackson and Zak called everyone over. They all got their meal and sat on the gear boxes in a circle.

Zak began talking between bites, “Okay, the good news is that Becky can still fly. I’m just recharging her batteries and making some fuel before we lose daylight. I don’t know when but it has to get dark at some point. Some systems are showing non-functional, though, I can’t get any GPS or compass readings, so again, I have no idea where we are. The air pressure indicator says we are up about three thousand meters, so the air is a little thinner than normal but full of moisture. Be wary of coughs or any kind of respiratory distress.”

“But, we should have no problem leaving?” asked Mark.

“Leave? And go where? Where should we go? Ethan, you have the eyes of an eagle. Take the good binoculars and go up the hill some and see what you can see.” Zak gestured to the macronocs that had been broken out of one of the military kits.

Everyone had subconsciously assumed Zak was in charge and never hesitated. He was pilot and captain of the launch, so even though Jackson was twenty years his senior, most of them had military experience and they just fell back to it.

“Come on Liam, let’s go see what we can see,” said Ethan dropping his empty plate, grabbing the binoculars and motioning for Liam to follow. Liam set his plate down too and together they trudged up the rise to the top of the hill on the other side of the RV.

At the top, they could finally see in the distance where they came from. Ethan trained the binoculars in that direction. Faintly in the distance they could see the lightning flashes that marked the storm. Too far away to hear the thunder, the lightning was still giving quite a show. He was a trained observer and instantly noticed something was not right. The rangefinder inside the binoculars read the ground under the storm he was observing was over hundred kilometers away. He handed the glasses to Liam.

Liam took the glasses and looked at them. He had never used anything quite so sophisticated. He was used to the old pair of binoculars his dad had in his study. “Just hold them to your eyes and keep both eyes open. They will do the rest.” Liam did as Ethan instructed.

“I see the storm.” He was looking at the topside of a swirling mass of clouds and debris.

Ethan sighted behind Liam. “See anything odd?”

Liam said, “Everything here is odd.”

“Well, that’s true. What does the rangefinder say?”

“Uh. Hang on. I have to stop moving. Uhh… One hundred twenty-two... twenty-three.”

“OK, one hundred and twenty klicks away. Where is the horizon? ”

“Well I see mountains all around, but I don’t see any horizon? Should I?”

“At our height of approximately three thousand meters, the horizon at sea level should be about three hundred and fifty klicks away.”

Liam swung the glasses around and focused on things the rangefinder said were four hundred kilometers away. Jungles, clearings, and hills came into focus. In one clearing about one hundred and fifty kilometers away, he spied something that almost made him jump out of his skin.

“Damn! ... would you look at this?”

“Wait...Liam. Don’t move anything yet...”

“Okay, what?”

“There is a little button on the right side, near your middle finger. Whatever you looking at. Focus on it and press and hold.”

Liam felt the button that Ethan had indicated and pressed it. The characteristic sound of a digital camera clicked and in his viewfinder he saw an indicator that read “SET”.

“Okay, now hand them back to me.

Liam handed the glasses back to Ethan. “That button takes a picture of whatever you were looking at and uses that picture to guide me back to the same spot,” He said training the glasses in the same direction Liam had been looking. He almost dropped the binoculars.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing.”

Jackson Peck chose that moment to come up the hill behind them. “Find anything interesting?” He called out as he drew near their position. It was a little harder for him to climb the rocky rise they were standing on.

“Oh, chief, you have got to see this....” called out Ethan as they waited for him to finish the last hundred feet up the hill. Ethan handed the glasses to the out of breath engineer and pointed in the general direction he should hold the binoculars.

Jackson took the glasses and lined them up. He needed no training and the optics inside beeped when he got close and then flashed when he was looking at the same thing they had. Jackson blinked and then looked again. He let out a gasp and looked again. While holding the glasses, his fingers flew over the controls on the side, snapping pictures of what he was witnessing.

He could barely contain his excitement. “What- the- hell?” Jackson said has he continued to hog the glasses. From their distance, he couldn’t see a lot of detail, but Jackson could make out a small herd made of apparently adults surrounding their young. “Gentlemen, do you know what we are looking at?”

“If I ever get another chance to look,” said Liam. Jackson handed the pair of glasses back to him who handed them back to Liam. Liam lined them up again.

“Thanks! Who would have thought we would see honest to goodness dinosaurs in the twenty-first century?” Liam avoided saying in Missouri as they had all pretty much come to the foregone conclusion they were not there any longer.

As they continued to pass the glasses back and forth the realized what the circling was for. Another group of animals had emerged from the clearing. It was impossible to tell scale from the extreme distance, but these new creatures were less than a quarter the size of the stegosaurus-like, armor-plated beasts they were hunting. They circled the herd like wolves and the dance began.

Jackson was the one the break the spell and began to look in other directions with the macronocs. “Ok guys, now that we know there are dinosaurs here, wherever here is, we just know to watch out for them. Our bigger problem, of course, is finding our ship.” He suddenly paused and took his eyes off the fancy military issue binoculars. He looked straight at Ethan. “Ok, where is the horizon, Ethan?”

“Doc, that’s creepy. Don’t look at me like I broke it or something. I couldn’t find it either.”

“And you weren’t going to tell me?”

“I forgot as soon as we saw the dinosaur.”

“Hmmf.” Jackson put the macronocs back up to his eyes and began scanning slowly with the video recording settings wide open.

“Ah, smart move Jackson, never thought of that!”

“What’s he doing?” asked Liam.

Jackson replied “I’m letting the glasses do the work,” as he slowly turned around in a circle. “If I record in high definition and slowly pan around, then the computer will tag everything that moves in its field of view compared to the ground.”

Ethan finished, “If the Empress is anywhere in sight, even a blip, the glasses will tag it and give us a heading.”

“Yeah, I’ll take three good passes and then we will let the computer on the Becky Thatcher do the heavy lifting.” Jackson finished the third pass. “Let’s get this down to the rest of the crew.” Jackson shut down the glasses and motioned them all back down the path that had led them to the top of the hill.

Rejoining the camp, Jackson, Ethan and Liam excitedly told the rest of the crew what they had seen. Jackson went into the Becky Thatcher and obtained a portable computer screen that they linked into to camera system of the binoculars. Zak and the others visibly gasped in unison when the first dinosaur pictures came up. They all started talking at once.

“Guys, guys, as cool, bizarre or frightening as this is, we have a bigger problem… finding the Empress. We saw the storm off…” Ethan looked up, got his bearings and turned around pointing, “...that way.” So we have to assume that somehow, that’s where we came from and so did the ship.”

“Excuse me, how so we know that?” asked Daniel incredulously. “For all we know, we have been sucked into some other time, or some crazy other dimension. How do we know the Empress came with us?”

“At this point, we know almost nothing, Dan, but in order to learn or figure anything out we have to make some kind of hypothesis and test it. Unless you have a better idea, I’m going to make my hypothesis that the Empress was carried out by the same forces that brought us here and it’s just as likely looking for us right now.” Jackson turned back to the computer.”

“If that’s the case, shouldn’t we send up a flare or two to mark our location?”

“Considering the wildlife we just saw... And I’m still seeing…” Jackson pointed out other creatures that were captured moving during his sweeps a few minutes ago, “advertising our position might not be a great idea. Look at the size of that thing!” Jackson had the computer pop out any images or video clips showing movement. The range finder indicated the animal was over fifty klicks away so probably didn’t present any immediate threat, but seeing what looked like a beaver with horns take down a fully grown tree by pushing it over was awe inspiring.

They continued to be glued to the screen and mesmerized by what they were seeing. The computer had called out dozens of images of things that had moved in the forest around them. Beasts, familiar and unfamiliar, were reminiscent of creatures long ago extinct. Some were small, most were larger, and many of them were terrifying.

Zak was the first to volunteer “Has anyone else noticed anything funny about the horizon?”

“I’ve been wondering the same thing, Zak,” said Ethan. “Yeah, there isn’t any.”

“Yeah, I’m glad I’m not the only one that has been wondering that.”

Jackson was busy making adjustments to the computer program running the images. He finally stood up and said “Have any of you also noticed that we have been at this for almost two hours and the sun still hasn’t moved in the sky? I want to know what’s up with that!” Jackson leaned over the keyboard and made a few more adjustments. The computer started pinging. “There, now it will just ping every time it discovers something interesting to look at and if it sees something resembling the Empress, it will whistle out. We don’t have to stay as …”

Jackson never finished his sentence. Everyone else had trailed off after the talk about the sun and were staring up into the sky.

“What is that?” Zak said pointing emphatically.

“The moon?” replied Liam?

“That’s not the moon. I’ve been a pilot for ten years. Just look at it.” Zak never took his eyes off the moon, hanging in the sky. The regular patterns of craters were very different than the moon they had all grown up with.

“It’s also larger,” said Mark.

Dan piped in. “That’s definitely not the right face on the moon. During guard duty, I spent many nights having many conversations with the moon. That’s not it.”

“Ok gentlemen, let’s look at the facts we have so far. We have no idea where we are, no GPS, no compass, no horizon, a sun that never sets, or, at least, moves so slowly we don’t notice, and a moon that isn’t our moon.”

“Don’t forget dinosaurs,” piped in Ethan.

“And last, but not least, Dinosaurs.”

“I saw a show like this when I was a kid,” said Ethan. “Land of the Lost or something like that. The characters were rafting and got sucked into a whirlpool and down a waterfall in a cave and emerged in another time.”

“Are you suggesting we traveled back in time?” asked Mark.

“As crazy as it sounds, time travel isn’t the craziest theory I can come up with,” responded Jackson.” He pulled out a little journal and furiously wrote down some observations and scribbled some calculations. He was interrupted by chiming from the computer. Rather rapidly, it chimed again. “I think we found the Empress, gentlemen.” He turned to the computer and pulled up the relevant pictures.

One of them was the Empress, but the computer had also tagged another object in addition to the gargantuan airship.

“Why, that’s not that bad at all,” said Ethan. The computer indicated the Empress was about three hundred klicks away and drifting at about ten klicks per hour. “I’ll feed the info back into the glasses and they should be able to give us a bearing.”

“I thought the compass doesn’t work here?” Said Mark.

“It doesn’t, but it doesn’t mean we can’t improvise. I see where Zak is going with this.”

“Yes, we just pick an object or landmark that is always visible and use that as our center point.”

“Like the storm?” asked Dan?

“More like that mountain,” said Liam looking at the screen and pointing to the peak.

“Very good. Storms move, mountains don’t.” Replied Jackson. Here’s another thing. That mountain is measured as twelve thousand meters high by the glasses.”

“What’s that in feet?” Liam asked.

“What, they don’t teach the metric system yet?”

“Not really and my dad was never really keen on it either.”

“Your dad is a renowned engineer. You’re telling me he didn’t use the metric system?”

“I’m sure he used it when he had to. He just didn’t prefer it. Geez. Talk to him about it, not me.”

“Very well. It’s almost forty-one thousand feet.”

“That’s not possible!” Liam rebutted.

“Nevertheless…” replied Doctor Jackson, very deep in thought.

“Is it possible the glasses aren’t calibrated?” asked Ethan, afraid it would throw off all their readings. “There are no mountains on Earth that high.”

“I don’t think so. We’ve never had a problem with them and I know they worked fine, a week ago,” replied Zak.

“Then we will add that to the ever-increasing list of questions,” said Mark.

“I’m sure that list going to keep growing too.” Jackson’s hands flew over the computer keys and touch surface. “I’m recalibrating Becky’s navigation using that mountain as a reference point and factored in the Empress’s last known position and vector. Becky should be able to rendezvous in just a few hours. Zak, how are the batteries looking?”

Zak walked over to the RV and peeked his head in at the controls. “We are at fifty-four percent. Hmm. That’s odd.”

“What’s odd, Mr. Trimball?” Asked Jackson.

“The batteries. They are charging faster than normal.” Zak did a quick mental calculation. “About twenty percent faster.”

“Ok, adding need more sunscreen to the list of mysteries,” Doctor Jackson chuckled out loud. “The list was getting long.”

“I don’t follow,” said Liam looking over Jackson’s shoulder.

“Simple. If the batteries are charging twenty percent faster, that means they are getting twenty percent more sunlight. More light means more energy and radiation, meaning we will sunburn twenty percent faster. Break out the sunscreen, Mr. Pewter,” replied Jackson to Daniel.

“Why me?”

“Because you are sitting on the box, Daniel. Might want to break out the bug spray while you are at it.” Jackson smacked at a rather large mosquito-like bug flying near his ear.

Suddenly, there was a rustle from the bushes down the hill, only a few meters from the camp. The rustle moved quickly across their view. Then there was a roar that sounded decidedly Jurassic and many of the conifer-like trees at the edge of the clearing began swaying. Something big was out there and close.

The four men with military training, Ethan, Zak, Daniel and Mark grabbed instinctively for their rifles and formed a point. They heard another roar and this time the ground quivered as the trees shook.

“Ok, boys, you saw the videos earlier. We knew these beasties would be out there,” said Zak.

“Yeah, but somehow my disbelief kept telling me we wouldn’t run into one so quickly!” replied Mark.

Zak said, “Set your weapons to three burst. No idea how long the ammo will last.”

Jackson took refuge with Liam behind some crates. He said, “Any other great ideas?”

“Yeah, aim for the head, if it’s really big, it will be our only chance.”

Almost at once, they noticed the rustling in the bushes was distinctly different from the larger movement that was still apparently stalking from the tree line. The rustling got louder and more frantic and suddenly a queer little man came bowling from the underbrush and ran behind Liam, frantically pointing from the way he came.

Totally out of breath, the little man could not get a word out. Right behind him, out of the brush, barreled a reptilian creature with a huge gaping mouth of razor-sharp teeth and a club-like tail. It was about the size of a rhino or a hippo. It didn’t look like it was going to stop for anything as puny as a campsite or four men with rifles. There was a crack that broke the sky as four automatic rifles discharged in unison and the beast hit the dirt. Its momentum carried it right into camp though and knocked the closest set of supplies crates away like bowling pins.

“Strike!” said Mark.

“Naw, he missed one,” replied Ethan, pointing to a stack of boxes next to the crates.

“Well let’s not give him a chance to pick up the spare.” Mark went up to the creature and pointed his gun directly between its eyes and fired 3 more bursts. The beast twitched a couple of times and moved no more. Everyone took a few steps closer, examining what might potentially become dinner.

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