Chapter 26: Incoming
Zak called from the cockpit. “Hey guys look sharp; we have a small incoming… What the hell… It’s one of our drones. It came up from the other side, from the tree line. Ethan get up here.” Ethan unbuckled and moved forward in the cramped quarters of the RV. “Can you call it in?”
He replied, “I don’t have a control… wait a minute, Liam, toss me that pad.” Liam looked down and picked up the pad they had been using earlier. Making a projectile out of it, it sailed effortlessly into Ethan’s outstretched hand. Ethan found what he was looking for and used the app to connect with the autonomous drone and took over remote control. Not wanting to risk opening the hatches at over a hundred kilometers per hour, he navigated it between the rotors up above and had it magnetically latch onto the hull. A message indicator began flashing on the pad. The drone had downloaded a message to them.
Everyone huddled around the pad and Ethan pressed the play button. Immediately, an image of Rebekah, Marcus, Carol, Megan and Aaron popped onto the screen. They adjusted the camera they were talking into and began.
Carol began, “Dear God, where do I start? I hope you are all ok. You are flying so I take that as a good sign. Please do not attempt to board! Kyton has gone off his rocker. We don’t know why yet.” Carol looked back at Rebekah who was trying to get a word in. She stopped talking.
Rebekah started, “Dad, if you get this. Protocol Nemo Zion 2. I repeat, Nemo Zion 2. What a dumb butler. Zeus is still sleeping, hidden in Hades” Sometimes playing all those spy games as a kid really came in handy.
Jackson stared at the screen. How had he missed his little girl growing up? Tears welled up. He knew exactly what to do.
Everyone was staring at Jackson. He brushed away the tears. “My little girl is alright, Thank God.” They were still staring. “Becka and I made up this protocol a few years ago, mostly just for fun. I never knew we would actually need to use it.” They were still staring, now more blankly than before. “We need to encode one video on top of another. If anyone other than Rebekah looks at the video, all they see is the original.”
“How do we do that,” asked Ethan?
“I’m glad you asked,” smiled Jackson. “The other part of the message… The butler is Jules and Zeus is Artemis. - What a dumb butler means that Jules is in silent mode. He’s online, but playing dumb. Zeus is still sleeping, hidden in Hades means that Captain Grumm is still out, but hidden somewhere in the bowels of the ship.”
He turned to the others. “Guys take a message. Ethan, I assume you can steer that thing back the way it came?”
The drone swept backwards off of the Becky Thatcher and down into the tree line. It then zig-zagged a path that would lead it back in about two hours up the other side of the Empress. If it got intercepted by anyone else other than one of the people shown in the video, it would play dumb and just show video of all the sights of flora and fauna it picked up along the way. Only in the hands of one of the people on the tape would it reveal its true message.
As luck would have it, one of the men on watch saw the incoming drone and alerted Sydney. Sydney practically ran down the gantries to the hangar deck to see what was up. He arrived out of breath, right as they were flying the drone into the hanger.
“What are you kids doing?” It was Sydney’s nature to be suspicious and intimidating.
Becka stammered “Uhh, We...”
Marcus finished “We were just sending a drone down to get a closer look at everything from the tree line. Everyone else is hogging the glasses and we can’t see anything.”
“That’s actually a really good idea, Marcus. Let’s see what you got.”
It was Marcus’s turn to go stone silent and turn white. “What’s the matter boy?”
“Nothing’s the matter, sir.” Rebekah piped in. She could only hope her dad understood the message. “Here.” She handed over the control pad and Sydney hit play. Two hours of flying at treetop level greeted the nosy security chief. He saw mostly trees and blurry dinosaurs. Sydney lost interest quickly and started to fast forward through the recording. At about the halfway mark, he saw something that made him almost drop the tablet.
“What in the world is that?” Sydney turned the screen around for them to see. The kids stared intently.
Marcus spoke first “Is that another airship, sir?”
They could make out something being built under the forest canopy. It was large, though not nearly on the scale of the Empress, but compared to the trees around it and the scale of the scaffolding and the people they could see milling around, it was still very large.
“It does indeed. One being built naturally and hiding in the tree line. I have to take this to Mr. Davis. He’ll want to see it! Without giving them time to object, Sydney popped the camera unit out of the drone and quickly strode away, leaving the two kids speechless.
“What do we do know?” asked Marcus.
Rebekah replied “Well, if I know my dad, the video meant for us will only display if I am the one accessing it. At least I hope my dad was the one responding. If not, things might get really weird, very quickly.”
Jules piped into the two of them over their earbuds, “I’m afraid you will have to get that camera unit back. I don’t think there is any way I can access the data on it without it being detected that I’m online.”
Megan and Aaron rounded the corner. They were both in an area they had never explored before. Five decks down and in an unlit inner area. The deck and cabin number put them on deck seven, cabin seven forty-three.” Of course the confusing part is that most of this area was unfinished and there were no signs on the walls directing them in the correct direction. Jules was really no help either because there was little working electricity down this far in the bowels of the ship.
“OK, this has to be the right section. On the left side should be seven forty through fifty-two and the left should be forty-one through fifty-three.”
Aaron said, “How in the world would you know that?”
“The pattern is the same on every deck.” Aaron looked at her with that same deer in the headlights look. “You mean you never noticed?”
“Hey, I haven’t been on this gig as long as the rest of you. I don’t go out exploring like you either.”
“Yeah you sit on your fat ass all day, come on dough boy, you take the left side and I take the right.”
Most of the doors opened easily. None of the cabins even have locks yet.
A familiar voice came through the earpiece she was wearing “Megan, can you pan the camera on the pad around, please?”
Megan complied with the request.
“I assume you haven’t found anything?”
“Nada. This section doesn’t even have furniture yet.”
“Not surprising. It wasn’t even on the manifests yet to be delivered. I’m afraid Mister Davis has planted a ruse. I assume for my benefit. He merely took a camera out of storage that had been intended for this section. Whether he did it by accident or on purpose, unfortunately, it won’t be useful find the captain.”
“Dammit, there are hundreds of places on this ship the captain could be then.”
In his ear a voice responded. “There are fourteen hundred and thirty-six cabins all together, but based on the arrangement of the walls, I deduce that I can eliminate everything on the starboard side and about three hundred others.”
“Why didn’t you say so before, aren’t you some kind of supercomputer?”
Jules pretended to sigh. “Technically, yes. However, my higher thought and deduction processes are patterned from human behavior. Therefore, even though I can keep track of all eighteen million ship processes simultaneously, I still have to think about some things the same way you do.”
“That must be a real drag,” replied Aaron.
“You have no idea,” replied the computer. “Back to the subject at hand, I estimate there are about five hundred potential cabins Artemis could be in. If we eliminate all the current crew cabins, that’s closer to four hundred. However, you had both get topside to the Starboard Lido deck. You were just missed and Marcus mentioned you might be there.”
“Shouldn’t we inform Beka and Marcus what we didn’t find?” questioned Megan.
“Already taken care of it, Miss Pierce. I would suggest you go now; I’ll give you directions in case someone is intercepting your course. I would suggest you go through the Grand Ballroom. It would be a prudent shortcut.”
Megan shuddered. She had not been there since three crew members had died there. “Come on, Masters, you said you might take up jogging…” She darted off in the aft direction.
“I meant next week,” already out of breath at the mere thought of exertion, he trundled out after her. “Hey, wait up!”