Winds of Aerathiea

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Chapter 21: Ethan and Liam Go Sightseeing

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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