Winds of Aerathiea

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Chapter 29: They Move the Captain to Safety

It was half past nine pm when the other ship appeared. Not that anyone could tell it was any different of a time than any other. But, by ships time, it was evening. Jules had found the other ships paralleling their course off the starboard side, about ten kilometers out.

The earpiece chime in each of the conspirator’s ears. “Carol, I need you to go to sickbay at once.”

Carol was still getting used to Jules’ voice constantly in her head and she started when he abruptly began speaking. She subtly nodded, made an excuse to Davidson, the head chef and left the kitchen. Aaron was just coming on shift and saw her abrupt departure and started to follow her.

“Aaron,” Jule’s voice spoke in his head that time. “Leave Carol. She has to get the captain out of sickbay. You need to meet the others in a safer place than the other places you have been hiding”

“Whatever you say, boss.” He untied the apron he had just started tying and hurried out a side door.

Carol got to sickbay. Two other crewmembers were there with her. The voice in her head said, “Make a diversion, Carol. Get Doctor Weaver alone.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” She said to the wall.

“I’m not programmed to tell you how to talk to your physician. I’m sure you can think of something?”

“Yeah. Okay, I got this.” Carol opened the door into the sickbay. “Oh, Doc, I didn’t know you were with someone. I can come back.”

Tricia Weaver answered “Don’t be silly, Carol. We are done here. Tom, take two of those over the next four days or so. You should slowly adjust.”

“Thanks, Doc. I never thought twenty-four hours a day of perpetual sunlight would be a bad thing.”

“Yeah, it really messes with your circadian rhythm. Please come right back if things don’t improve.”

“You can count on it Doc. Good evening, Carol.”

“Good night, Mr. Foley.”

Tom walked out of the sickbay and the two ladies were alone.

“What can I do for you, Carol?”

“Jules asked me to give you this.” Carol handed the earbud to the doctor.

“Jules? What do you mean, no one has heard a peep out of him since? Some think he might have gotten fried after such a long power loss.”

“Just listen.”

Trish accepted the earbud from Carol, swabbed it down with an alcohol wipe, brushed her hair back and placed it in her own ear.

The unmistakably British voice of the computer started. “Doctor Weaver. Thank you for listening. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“Jules, I don’t understand. Why are you offline?”

“I’m not, but there is sadly very little time to explain. Right now, there is something you have to do. I’ll explain once we are safe. Carol will help you. We have to get Artemis somewhere safe.”

There were still areas of the ship unexplored even by Rebekah. Of course, now she knew why. Because of the time period and because of its Steampunk genre, there were to be many hidden surprises, designed for the amusement of the passengers. This was one of them. It had never dawned on Rebekah, Megan or Marcus to ever look for secret passages. Of course, for the passenger’s sake, the ship’s designers had to ensure these areas were among the safest on the ship.

“Jules, were you ever going to tell us about these areas?” Marcus looked around in amazement. The detail was stunning. It was unfinished like most areas on the ship, but anyone could tell where the designers had been going with this.

“You have your secrets, I have mine, Marcus. Protocols and artificial intelligence are a very tricky thing,” replied Jules. “My programming forbids me from revealing the secrets of the ship that are there for passenger entertainment without the proper override.”

“Proper override?”

“If the captain, or in this case, Mister Kyton, were to say ‘Jules, tell Megan about the secret passage leading off the Lido deck’, I would have no choice. It wouldn’t even enter my processing to not comply. However, only an emergency would cause me to divulge its location and I’m afraid this situation rises to the level of an emergency.”

“You don’t say,” replied Aaron.

“Sarcasm, Mister Masters?”

“Extreme Jules. Extreme. Haven’t we been running in Emergency Mode for like the last couple of, I don’t know… years?”

“An emergency, according to my programming, is an immediate risk to life and limb. Under the careful care and piloting of this crew, we were rarely operating under that condition.”

“Okay! Enough! Will someone care to please fill me in?”

Everyone, especially Doctor Weaver started at the sound of the gravelly voice they hadn’t heard in days. In the cramped little room that was dusty from disuse and filled with boxes of building materials and odds and ends, the captain finally woke up.

“Stop gaping at me like a trout out of water and help me get this stuff off,” said Grumm curtly pulling at his monitor leads and IV drip.

Doctor Weaver jumped in, her training taking control. “Sir, lie back. We’ll tell you everything, but if you start pulling everything out, I don’t have the resources here to fix you.”

Grumm lay back. He said weakly, “I don’t recognize this place.”

Jules piped in “Artemis, it’s a point on one of the shipboard games that never got published. I doubt you or Mister Davis would know its location since all the game planning was coordinated by the Activity Director…”

“Yeah I get it. So, I’m assuming we are now inside, right? And I am also assuming Mister Davis has taken control of the ship? Tell me, what’s it like out there?”

Everyone around Grumm was stunned. Rebekah didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. With the anticipation of being the first to tell, falling flat like a dead balloon, she didn’t know which part was the most deflating, not being able to tell Artemis about the new world they were travelling through or that Kyton had hijacked the ship.

“Will all of you please stop gawking? How in the blazes do you ever think that I got to be a Multi-Billionaire Cruise Ship Magnate if I didn’t at least know the people working for me?”

Megan was first. “But sir, Kyton Davis has been working for you for years? You knew this would happen?”

“Megan, I knew something would happen, I just didn’t know exactly what or when.”

“But how did you know we were inside? You’ve been in a coma the whole time?” Rebekah stated with obvious skepticism.

“Miss Peck, where else in the world do you think such a hole in the ground like that would lead? China?” Artemis chuckled, “but I guess I do have a little foreknowledge.”

“Oh!” was the only reply Rebekah could think of at the moment. She grabbed her pack and began rummaging through it. She carefully withdrew the book she had ‘borrowed’ from Grumm’s cabin and handed it across to him.

“Ah, yes… be very careful with that, dear,” said Grumm accepting the book like a cherished gift. “It belonged to my great grandfather. Okay, I’ll bring you all up to speed. No more time for secrets.”

“No more secrets,” they all chanted in reply.

“First secret, I’m dying.” Talk about dropping a cat in a bucket of water.

He waited for the clamor to die down. The group of them took turns looking incredulously at Artemis then at Doctor Weaver, looking for the punchline.

“It’s true, I’m afraid. How much longer, Trish?”

Trish Weaver swallowed hard but couldn’t hold back the one tear. “About a month, Artie. Maybe two,” she whispered.

Everyone jumped in again. “But why?”

“You don’t look sick”

Carol turned to Doctor Weaver, “Can’t you do anything, doctor?”

Doctor Weaver turned her head. Even a doctor is unprepared for such raw emotion.

“Kids, kids, it’s alright. After the aftermath of the impact, we have been searching for the cancer drugs that would at least prolong the inevitable. It’s pretty aggressive and we just do not have the means to treat it here. It’s just a fact I thought you should all know since there are no more secrets.”

Rebekah just felt like her world was coming apart at the seams. She couldn’t catch her breath. It felt like someone had just punched her in the gut. She couldn’t contain the sob that wracked her body. Carol moved to put her arm around her, but Rebekah pushed her away.

Grumm changed the subject. “Next order of business… where is everyone else? Where is Liam? Rebekah, where is your father?”

They all took turns, including Jules, filling him in and bringing Grumm up to date with all that had happened. He pretty much just nodded through the dialog, interrupting a couple of times to clarify points of confusion.

“Jules, I never knew you had it in you to be so cunning and devious. My how computers have changed since I was a child.”

“Sir,” said the disembodied voice, “I would prefer to use the term evolved.”

“Of course you would, and duly noted. Thank you.” Grumm summarized, “So Kyton controls the ship, the primary crew, including Liam, are shadowing in a launch in contact with Jules via carrier drone… ingenious by the way, who thought of that?”

You could hear the boastful tone of the British butler. “I did, sir.”

“Remarkable… remind me to give you a raise. But the intriguing part is that Kyton thinks he is triumphantly delivering the airship to his father, but he is actually handing it over to his brother who has switched sides after his father has been dead for 22 years. How do we know this again?”

“There is a native on board the launch with them. They saved his life and Telami seems to have found a new home.”

“Exceptional. How did we break the language barrier so quickly?”

“Apparently these people, collectively called ‘Grommon’ have a unique ability that borders on reading minds.”

“Does that make him a liability?”

“I don’t think so sir, he appears to only be able to read that part that would have been vocalized into speech anyway. It makes their speech processing highly developed and he is learning English at a much-accelerated rate.”

“Excellent! Let’s try to keep all the allies we can. The other part about 22 years passing… My digging into Kyton’s past has put him on our side for approximately 12 years. I know he came from Tibet before attending Cambridge and he has been in my employ for about 8 years. Before that, he was a total mystery. A favor from the Dali Lama and a couple of bribes told me the rest I needed to know. It was Kyton’s arrival that sparked a renewed interest in my great grandfather’s explorer past.”

“What do you mean?” asked Aaron, actually appearing to be interested and engrossed in the tale.

“Who do you think first got me interested in building airships?” replied Artemis.

Marcus asked, “You mean the book?”

“Yes, this book.” He opened the book and the picture fell out. “Ahh yes, Miss Peck, I assume you looked through the book and saw this?” He held up the photo. Rebekah nodded. She swiped her face with her sleeve, choking back the tears.

“Most of us have seen it… oh, except for Doctor Weaver.”

“Please, Rebekah, you have certainly earned the right to call me Trish.” She held out her hand and gingerly accepted the grainy, yellowed photo from Artemis’s outstretched hand.

The kids looked over Trish’s shoulder as if they expected the picture to change from what they saw yesterday. As before, it still showed the same three men, one grizzly older man standing next to a couple of younger men; one more handsome, another, more rugged, all wearing arctic style clothing like the old explorers did. On the back, it said Nicholas Grumm (left), Jonathan Waite (middle), Neville ____ , Aerathiea Expedition #2, Aug 1897.

This happened almost 140 years ago?

“Yes, that’s my great grandfather on the left.”

Trish added, “…and that would be Liam’s great, great grandfather in the middle?”

“You would think, right? Nope. That is one of the biggest mysteries facing us. That my friends, is the Jonathan Waite, Liam’s father.”

Artie waited for the repercussions of that bombshell to stop.

“Artie that’s simply not possible. That would make Jonathan over 160 years old. I’ve met him, he can’t be over 50.”

“Trish, we have known about Aerathiea for a very long time. You treated Liam when he first got here on a stretcher. Ahh… I see, you are starting to figure it out.”

Megan piped in, “Figure what out, Doctor?”

Rebekah finished for her. “Liam. He’s not from our side is he? He is from this inside world… Aerathiea?”

“Bright girl, close but not completely the truth. During that expedition in 1897. Nicholas, Jonathan, and Neville were merely flying an airship to the North Pole as any intrepid explorer would do in those days. In fact, it became all the rage. They are the first that didn’t meet with disaster and actually found passage to a new land beyond the poles. Of course no one believed them.”

“Didn’t Jules Verne write about a journey to the center of the earth?”

Grumm continued, “As did many others of that time. When Nicholas came back and published his discovery, the scientific community literally went bananas and ridiculed his account and bankrupted him, making it impossible to fund any further expeditions. Even his children eventually considered him a lunatic and had him committed for a spell. Nicholas died alone and penniless.”

Trish responded, “How sad that a family could be so cruel?”

“It seems people were generally like that back then. I’ve never had any children of my own, so it’s hard to relate.” Artemis continued, “I know they were already well on their way to building empires in textiles and steel that I eventually inherited. I can only imagine that they considered Nicholas a liability. So, they hushed things up for the good of their legacy.”

Carol said, “What about Jonathan?”

Rebekah parroted, “Yeah, what about Liam’s dad?”

“I’m getting to it. Jonathan himself filled in a lot of the details when I confronted him about it. He never tried to hide it. I guess he thought he owed it to me or something.”

He continued, “It was in September, about seven years ago. I caught up with Jonathan Waite at a symposium on safe nuclear propulsion in San Francisco. I assumed he had been related to the man in the photo so I hunted him down- stalked him if you will. Besides, he had exactly what I needed to propel this ship. We had dinner and talked into the night. Kyton, myself and your dad, Rebekah were just starting to lay down the groundwork for this ship. We had to perfect many of the industrial processes. It was great times. We were going to change the world. To have been a fly on the wall in those days. It seems so long ago now.”

“Within two years, Jonathan and I were collaborating regularly. It was at that time, Doctor, that I went to their home in Union Springs. Much nicer place then, I might add.”

“That’s when Liam had that baseball accident?”

“Yes, I knew something was odd then. I had also had time to study pictures of him and the picture I had. The resemblance was uncanny. It wasn’t until I got to the hospital with them that I started to suspect something very strange was taken place.”

Trish asked, “What was that?”

“Doctor, how long does it take a compound fracture to heal?”

“About ten to twelve weeks given proper treatment and no complications.”

“Exactly. Liam’s arm was already partially healed by the time we got to the emergency room. It healed so fast, in fact, that his arm even had to be broken again so that it could be set properly.”

The Doctor looked at him with skepticism. “That’s not possible,” she whispered.

“Doctor, is this world even possible?”

She replied, “Point taken.”

“The doctors treating him began to assume some kind of child abuse since they claimed the wound had to be at least three weeks old. It took Liam’s mom taking over as his primary caregiver, plus multiple assurances of witnesses that he had just been pitching an hour earlier to get the hospital to back down.”

“Wow. So, Liam’s dad, Jonathan Waite is from here also?”

“That’s what I thought at first, but no, his mom is.”

“Then how does that explain his age, Artie? Little of this is making any sense at all!”

“Relax, I’m getting there. Jonathan and Nicholas went on that expedition in 1897. That is irrefutable fact. Even though my family tried to cover it up, you could still find records, especially in small town newspapers, if you knew where to look. Even though Nicholas swore he had spent two years by their own reckoning in Aerathiea, he emerged without Jonathan within six months. Of course, the officials thought some form of foul play had occurred and it took a percentage of the Grumm fortunes in bribes to quiet down the do-gooders, looking for justice. At the very least, they decided that Jonathan had fallen into a crevasse or was eaten by a polar bear and that Nicholas’s story was a psychosis brought on by grief. That was the main reason they had him committed.”

“The real story, like in most tales, was actually a story of love. Once I confronted Jonathan and his wife with the photo and the evidence I had accumulated, I got the whole story. I also gained a very good friend. It turned out that Nicholas’ story was completely true. Jonathan had stayed because he had met the love of his life. She met the dark stranger from another world and found herself hopelessly smitten. From what I gather, they had to run for their lives.” Artemis stopped and licked his lips. “Could I get some water, please?” Aaron opened one of the bottles of water and handed it to him.

“Thanks, Now, I where was I?”

“Liam’s parents were running for their lives.”

“Yes. Apparently many of the less civilized clans know of passages where, though it’s taboo, it is at least rumored one can find passage to the other side. From that point on things get really strange. From what I am hearing about Kyton’s brother, Nicholas’s account and Jonathan, time must work differently between the inside and the outside.”

“What do you mean?” Marcus asked.

“Nicholas swore he was inside Aerathiea for two years, even though records show it could have only been six months. Kyton is trying to contact a father that has been dead for twenty-two years, but Kyton has been on our side, no more than twelve. Last but not least, Jonathan swore that he and Liam’s mother, Margie, left four years after Nicholas. Somehow, in crossing through to this side, they arrived in 2010.”

“How is that even possible?”

“I’m not a scientist, Rebekah. I leave the how’s up to people like your dad.”

“Does he know any of this?”

“No. It was Jonathan’s secret and I thought that it would be Jonathan’s to tell. I suppose now that everyone is involved we should tell the others as soon as we get out of our current predicament. However, the way we tell Liam should be very sensitive. I don’t want to overwhelm him.” Artemis got assurances from everyone that the secret remain safe before they went on.

“Rebekah, can you lend me your pad, please?”

Beka pulled her pad out of her pack and handed it over.

“Jules, please show me a tactical of where we stand right now.” The screen came to life and showed the Empress as a silhouette in blue and the approaching three vessels in scarlet. They were holding at about ten klicks away. “Okay people, I think I have a plan. Jules, can you get me a commlink with the Becky Thatcher?”

“Of course, I can, however, it is likely to be observed and monitored by the bridge,” replied the computer.

“Let me rephrase that. Can you establish a commlink that will not be noticed by the bridge?”

“It may be possible. I’ll work out the details,” the computer replied.

“I would say Take all the time you need, but it appears those other vessels will be on us in less than an hour.”

“I will be discrete.”

Captain Grumm replied, “I’m counting on it. In the meanwhile, folks, we have some work to do. Gather round.”

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