Chapter 35: Discovery
The three of them fanned out. The deeper the drones descended, the more the rock within the palatial building was interfering with the signal so they split up and followed the drones about a hundred paces back, given themselves enough room to react if the drones encountered anything bad.
There was no debating that everything about the structure was as interesting as it was alien. As they traveled deeper into the building, the architecture subtly changed. It was much older now and decidedly different than the obvious Spanish and Portuguese sixteenth-century architecture of the upper levels.
Liam was watching the building and architecture from the video feed on the pad. As he passed by a nondescript door, he felt an odd tingling, almost like a surge of static electricity jolting his attention away from the drone for a minute. He stood and stared at the door.
He backed away from the door and the tingling subsided. He moved closer and the tingling got worse. Also, as he got closer, Liam could swear there was a bluish glow emanating from under the door. He approached the door with curiosity. There was definitely a glow now. He knew he shouldn’t be this curious, but he was compelled to see what was going on behind this door. Rattling the door latch, he was excited to see that it wasn’t locked. He tentatively lifted the latch and slowly pushed the door open a crack.
Peeking in, he saw a narrow hallway, almost like an alcove with doors leading to the right and left and another small room ahead. This is where the glow was coming from He looked beyond the hallway into the small interior room, almost like a shrine. Tables and shelves were covered with oddly shaped objects. It resembled a small treasure room, but the inner glow was what attracted Liam. He pushed the door open further and tentatively walked into the room, ignoring the danger. The electrical feeling was almost overwhelming. As he approached the objects, he could see there were many different kinds of small vessels like little Chinese urns. They were very ornate with traces of gold and silver inlaid in layers of jade, onyx, and ivory. The most curious feature, of course, was the blue glow.
Zak rounded another corner and found another barred door. Since Ethan had the mace, he had to double back to where Zak was because Zak’s corridor had the most promise. It was the one that was the most protected, the masonry had taken on the air of a dungeon, and they could sense bodies somewhere in the direction they wanted to go. The drones didn’t have the sophisticated imaging sensors of the Empress, but they could get by in a pinch. The other two drones had arrived and with a now practiced hand and mace, Ethan made short work of the barred door. The door creaked open. Immediately, they could hear a couple of men talking.
“That isn’t the lanterns the guards were using.”
“Yeah, listen…” the two men stopped talking for a moment. Once the door was open you could now hear the faint sounds of the ship above, still carrying out its faux rock concert. “…It’s the ship. Someone has found us.”
Through the commlink, Liam heard the new voices and shook off the buzzing electrical feeling. Without any further thinking, he retraced his steps out of the set of rooms where he had stood, mesmerized. Once away from the door, he broke into a run.
Ethan’s drone had been the first one in. “Us?” Through the speaker, Ethan replied. “Hold on Mister Davis, we’re coming to get you. We just sent the drones in to map us a path first. We have everyone occupied upstairs. We should be able to get you out in about ten minutes.”
“Oh the gods, Ethan. I thought you were dead! The storm. How? I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear your voice. I can’t tell you how pathetically stupid I was.” Kyton sobbed out the last couple of words.
“Save it Mister Davis. We’re on our way.”
“Bring a cutting torch, Ethan. These bars may be old, but they are thick. By the way, there are two of us here.”
“Two of you?” questioned Zak.
“I’ll explain when you get here. I assume Liam is with you?”
Ethan replied, “Yes, Liam is here.”
“Bring him, there is someone here who very much wants to see him.”
“Hold tight; ten minutes.”
Ethan had estimated ten minutes. Hearing the conversation, Liam was determined to make it in five.
Overhead, the airship was continuing to be as menacing as it could. Sometimes dipping and lunging and sometimes shooting out laser beams at the various towers. Even though the lasers wouldn’t do any real damage, they were very impressive when they caused some of the stone to ablate and erupt in balls of plasma.
The soldiers pretending to protect the facility on the ground, however, thought the world was coming to an end. None of this fit into their paradigm in any way. A few of the towers shot at the ship with what looked like impressive cannons, but they had little effect on the Empress. It would take a significantly larger gun to make a dent in that hull. Even though it could not puncture, the force of the blasts did jar the ship around. They were not completely cleaned up from falling through the vortex yet and even though most things below decks were appropriately stowed, the kitchen was beginning to believe they were not going to have any more fine china for the Captain’s dining if these blasts didn’t stop soon.
Liam had joined back up with the others. The five of them, Ethan, Zak, Liam, Daniel and Telami used the maps and made for the dungeon. They had left the one drone at the entrance to the lockup and placed another one about half way to stand guard. The third one they ran about a hundred feet ahead just to be on the safe side. Jackson Peck had stayed behind to monitor logistics and coordinate the rescue from the launch. Even though they were fairly certain the way was clear and they would not be running into any surprises, they were still extremely cautious inside the building.
They were not there to sightsee, but seeing things from the drone’s cameras had not prepared them for the splendor they found themselves surrounded by. Even though this was supposed to be a building for the Church and government center, it had all the trappings of a palace. Had anyone had time to think about it, there was a very good analogy back in their own world. This building with all its secrets, twists, and turns, was so opulent, it made the Vatican, back in Rome, seem like a summer home.
The party was about halfway to the first drone when they came to a great dining hall. In fact, the arrival of their ship must have interrupted dinner. They never really saw this when the drones had moved through before. The light streaming through the stained glass windows on the ceiling blanketed the room in a myriad of color. They had to stop for a moment to take it all in.
“Wow. Just wow.”
“Let’s stop admiring the local scenery and get moving people!” Zak said to the others. “Come on.” They continued to follow the drones through the building all the way back to the prison wing they had discovered.
Even though it was only ten minutes, it seemed like an hour. They eventually made it to the steps of the prison where the third drone was keeping watch. Setting all the drones out to watch over them as sentinels, the team entered the prison area.
Ethan called out “Kyton…” Hushed but insistent, he called out again “Kyton…” He didn’t want to alert any lingering guards or raise any alarms with other prisoners.
“Over here,” came the sound of two distinct voices. At the sound of the other voice, Liam took off in a run.
“Liam… Wait! what is it?” Zak and Ethan both called out to his disappearing figure in the gloom. “Damn it, go after him.” Ethan and Zak were fast. Poor little Telami has no hope of keeping up. Daniel stayed back with Telami more for moral support but also because he didn’t relish rescuing Kyton Davis after what he had put them all through.
They raced past row after row of cells. Most were empty, but many were filled with one creature or another. There were Nilori men in chains, some reptilian looking creatures and a couple of the large Na’Kie that Telami had been talking about. They saw Liam stop short at a cell and with an exclamation reached through the bars to someone on the other side. Zak and Ethan were slightly winded at the sprint that finally brought them face to face with Kyton.
“Am I ever glad to see you!” Kyton looked like a completely different man. Gone was the bold, crass demeanor of the Executive Officer. He hung his head low and muttered. “I am so sorry. I was such a fool.”
Ethan started. “You can say that again. We are just the messenger boys here, stow it and tell the Captain how sorry you are. If it was up to me…” He stopped short when Zak tugged his sleeve. Liam was having an animated conversation with someone in the adjacent cell. “Liam. Who is that?”
Liam turned his head to the group in front of Kyton’s cell. Tears were streaming down his face. He stopped momentarily to wipe them with a sleeve that was still a couple of sizes too large for him. He managed to choke out. “Guys… this is my father.”
“Your father?” Zak and Ethan jaws would have hit the floor if that were possible, but instead, they just stared. “Your father?” one of them repeated.
Kyton broke the spell. “Yes, Liam’s father, Doctor Jonathan Waite.” Kyton added “In the flesh.”
“What the…? How in…?”, but Zak could not complete a thought, let alone a sentence. At that moment, Telami and Daniel caught up with them huffing and puffing. Daniel looked at Liam and the man in the cell. The look on his face said everything. Zak finally managed to get out “Yes, Daniel, that is Doctor Waite.”
“I know who it is, I installed the engines. What in the hell is he doing here?”
Ethan recovered faster than Zak, “We have no idea Daniel, but let’s just get back to the ship. We’ll figure everything out there.”
“The ship?” asked Doctor Waite. “You mean the ship? The Empress of the Sky? That monstrosity that Artie was building? You brought it here?”
“Yes, it’s parked just outside. Let’s get you out of here.” Zak brought the torch in and made short work of both locks. It cut through the iron like it was made of butter and they were out in less than thirty seconds.
“Wait,” said Doctor Waite.
Kyton spoke up first. “Oh no, Jonathan, you can’t be serious.”
“We have to take Roon with us.”
“We can’t.” Once Kyton was freed he started taking on the air of the Executive Officer again.
Daniel Pewter was noticeably hostile. He turned to Kyton and barked, “I can’t say I’m sorry, Mister Davis, but you are no longer in charge. The only reason your sorry ass isn’t still in that cell is purely because of how altruistic your friend, Captain Grumm can be.”
“Artie is OK? Thank the gods. You are right, of course.” The contrite came back into his voice. “I’m sorry. But Jonathan…”
“No buts, we have to take Roon as well. He’s about five cells down.”
“Dad, who’s Roon?”
“He has been my companion and guide for the last eight years.”
“Eight years? Dad, you have only been gone two and a half?”
“I’ll explain in few minutes, son. It’s kind of long and complicated. You say the ship is right outside? Well, let’s get the hell out of this freakish place, please.”
He started walking with a slight limp down the hall looking at the cells as he went. At the fifth cell he stopped. “Roon, Roon, I’m here. Are you ok?” A grunt came from the cell. “Can you walk?”? Another couple of grunts. “We’ll get you out of there and think of something. “Help me out, guys.”
They arrived at the cell and looked in.
“He’s just shackled in there; I think he’s ok. Roon?”
The beast in the cell looked up. It was a Na’Kie.
“There is no way in hell I am…” Zak started.
“Dad, you know what that is, right?”
“Son, yes, I know who that is. I can tell you have had some run-ins with the Na’Kie.”
“Yeah one of them just about skewered the Captain back at your factory back home. By the way, I hope you had insurance.”
“Oh dear God, you must have run into a slaver band. Are you alright?”
Kyton said, “Not only is he alright, but Liam saved everyone. I have never seen reflexes like that.”
Jonathan smiled, “He always was his mother’s son. Speaking of…How is...”
“Dad, she isn’t here. I haven’t seen her almost as long as I haven’t seen you. She was supposedly working after the earthquake and they were raided by men and all of them were taken away. I have no idea where she is.”
“I am so sorry, Liam, we will find her.”
“How do you know she is still alive?”
“Trust me, I know. We will talk about it later. Right now, let’s please get Roon out of here. He has put his life on the line for me more times than I can count.”
“I’m not releasing that thing.” Zak was still looking through the bars.
“Here, give me that.” Liam took the torch from Ethan. “If my dad says we are rescuing him then we are…” Liam pressed the button and held the business end up against the lock the way he had seen Ethan do it and waited about twenty seconds as the insides of the lock made a puddle on the stone floor. The creature on the inside, sensing the change, started to stir. It made sounds like it was hurt. Liam walked up to it and it growled, but in a scared way. Jonathan limped into the cell behind Liam with words of encouragement. Roon listened to his voice and opened his eyes. At first when it saw Liam in a uniform, there was the same look he saw back at his dad’s plant. Then, when Roon focused on Jonathan, the look softened and the beast’s demeanor visibly changed. He was still menacing at over eight feet tall and as massive a tree, but he seemed to deflate a couple of sizes just on seeing Jonathan. Roon reached out and touched Jonathan on the shoulder. It was almost enough to topple him over in the state he was in, but everyone could see it was a gesture of friendship and compassion. Liam went to work on the shackles that were holding Roon to the far wall.
Suddenly the beast lunged and assumed his full size. Everyone backed up, but he was not threatening them. All of them had been so focused on the rescue that they had forgotten about their surroundings.
“Damn.” He jumped up as they were surrounded by troops. Fortunately, the lock was now a puddle of goo on the floor so there was no way the Na’Kie was being trapped again. He barreled out the cell right into the four soldiers in armor. They had swords and spears, but they were no match for a mad bigfoot in a confined space. They had heard the disturbance from the prisoners and had come running. They had not been prepared for what they ran into when they turned the corner into the prison wing. One of them managed to unsheathe his sword and tried to take a swing at Roon. Liam, demonstrating those incredible reflexes again stopped the guard short with a shot from his stun gun. The bolt hit the sword and the electrical current arced through the sword, up the guard’s arm and directly into his nervous system, dropping him instantly. The Na’Kie made short work of the other three though not quite as cleanly.
When he was finished, they pushed and pulled all four bodies into the cell and Roon bent one of the spears through the bars to hold the door fast. Ethan took the next minute to vaporize the locks on a dozen more cells, at least giving the occupants a fighting chance. He showed one of the more astute prisoners how the device worked and then left it with them. A cheer went up in the cell and the party limped their way back out the way they came, hoping that a major prison break would help mask their escape.
They could hear the ship above now that they were closer to the surface. It sounded like they had switched the music to something more mainstream but still equally loud and obnoxious. As they burst out onto the roof, they almost barreled right into an entire company of soldiers that had surrounded the launch. Luckily, Doctor Peck had thought to close and bar the door. There was nothing the soldiers could do to the RV of course. Its hull was virtually impenetrable, but instinct still came into play here. The soldiers were pounding on the door and hadn’t noticed them yet.
“Jules, we could use your help about now. Jackson are you there?”
“Jackson. Baby Bear, please come in.”
“Baby bear?” Kyton looked incredulous.
“Jackson here… Sorry, I was reinforcing the door. I’m afraid we have some trouble here.”
The computer replied. “Don’t worry, Doctor Peck, we’ll have you free of them in a moment. On my mark, I need you to take off and hover about fifty feet. Guys on the ground. I need you to get back about a hundred feet if you can.”
“Roger. I think I know what you have in mind.”
Jonathan started at the voice. “My god, is that the AI?”
Liam responded, “Yep dad, that’s Jules, the AI you patterned after our James.”
“Remarkable, He sounds just like one of the crew.”
“That’s because he is, Doctor Waite,” said Ethan. “A very trusted member.”
“Remarkable,” was all Jonathan could manage to squeak out.
“Ok,” the computer said again, “On my mark… one… two…” They had all backed up into the anteroom of the roof top patio they had landed on. It was apparently the office of someone important, it was all decked out in leather furniture and the non-conductive hides of various animals. On three, someone had opened the door behind them. There was a shout and soldiers poured in, but it didn’t matter. The last thing they saw before the sky lit up and the electricity surged through their bodies was a bunch of prisoners and men in uniforms jumping on the furniture. The light and the crackling faded as the electricity found its way to ground by any way necessary. The group threw open the doors and walked up to the waiting launch.
The doors flew open and Jackson came running out, almost tripping over the unconscious body of one of the soldiers. “Did you see that? Damn!” It was one of the few times anyone had ever heard Jackson Peck curse. He was so excited. When he saw the party coming toward him and his eyes darted from the obvious Na’Kie to Kyton to the third person they rescued, his eyes lit up even more excited. “Jonathan? Can that possibly be you?”
“In the flesh.”
“Oh my God. Oh my God.” He grabbed Doctor Waite’s hand and shook it vigorously, “But you can tell me about it later. Let’s get the hell away from here.”
Jonathan looked over Jackson’s shoulder at the launch waiting for them and shook his head. He asked, “You rescued me in that?”
Someone was paying attention in one of the towers and cannons started firing on the launch as it ascended. What had been rather spacious accommodations suddenly felt very cramped with the addition of two more humans and four hundred pounds of bigfoot. The smell of damp fur didn’t make it any better. Liam was looking out the windows as they approached and couldn’t help noticing that several more airships had arrived but were keeping their distance from the Empress. If a ship strayed too close, a bolt of lightning would shoot out across its bow, warning it off. Many of the ships mounted weapons and had been firing them at the Empress with no apparent effect.
When they saw the smaller launch making its escape towards the larger airship the guns swung around and they started to open fire on it as well. Even though they couldn’t penetrate the armor plating on the launch, they gave it a good jostling. The occupants were thrown around quite violently as they approached the Empress. They were still trying to get strapped in as one blast directly made contact with the side of the Becky Thatcher. It threw Telami across the inside of the ship like a rag doll. He would have hit on the edge of one the equipment lockers had Roon not reached out a large furry hand and pulled him in. Startled, at first Telami struggled but then when he cleared his mind, he realized the Na’Kie had no bad intentions, he relaxed. “Thank you,” he said with a squeak. Roon just nodded and held him tight as the ship bucked again from another violent blast.
Suddenly the little launch slipped into the hangar bay and the giant airship began a rapid ascent to an altitude where the other airships couldn’t possibly follow. The occupants had to wait a couple more minutes until the launch bay doors were closed before it was safe to disembark. The occupants then began to pour out of the little launch onto the deck. The inner doors opened and many people began to pour into the bay.
Sydney directed four of the men and they immediately surrounded Kyton. Another group surrounded a very-disoriented Roon.
Captain Grumm broke the tension. “Jonathan!” he yelled as soon as he recognized the third person coming out of the launch. It was the fastest anyone had ever seen Artemis run. He embraced the other man. “How on Earth?”
Doctor Waite smiled, “Don’t you mean in the Earth?” The two of them chuckled.
Captain Grumm pointed to the Na’Kie. “A friend of yours? One of those almost took my head off. If it hadn’t been for your son…”
“I know. I heard part of the story. I assure you, Roon is very different. You can’t judge all Na’Kie by the actions of the Slavers. That would be like judging all humans by the actions of a band of pirates.”
“I get it. I do. Are you sure he’s housebroken?”
“I would bet my life on it. He has been a good and loyal friend for eight years.”
“Eight years? Jonathan, it’s only been two and a half.” Captain Grumm pulled back and looked at Jonathan quizzically.
“Yeah, about that. We had better all sit down and have a pow wow very soon.”
“Well let’s all get cleaned up and get some dinner. Some normalcy would be a good thing and I think you would all like to get a little cleaned up first.” Let’s meet back at the officer’s lounge in about two hours, Trish, take them both up to sickbay and get them checked out. Make sure those metal-headed Castalan bastards didn’t do anything to them. Then, Duncan, assign them some quarters and stuff.
Kyton turned to Captain Grumm, “Sir, I can’t tell you how…”
“Stow it Kyton, You, of course, are confined to quarters, but I want you cleaned up and at that meeting too. I really, really need to know what’s going on here. Then we will figure out how to proceed.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Kyton, obviously relieved.
“Don’t thank me yet, you aren’t off the hook that easily!”
“I understand sir, just thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell my side of it.”
“Just do me a favor and make it a good story.”
“I’ll try sir… I’ll try.”
“Now, go get cleaned up.”