Chapter 38: Heading North
From the other side of the closed door, they heard a powerful jolt of lighting-like electricity. The lights in the corridor dimmed and they could hear the current surging through flesh. Almost simultaneously, they heard an unearthly shriek. It wailed through the very fabric of the ship. There was a wrenching back and forth and the sharp smell of charred flesh managed to waft through what should be a sealed door. One last shudder and it was suddenly quiet.
Kyton was the first to make it to the deck where the kids were piled up in a ball of arms and legs. He was followed almost immediately by Jonathan and Roon. The walking carpet had that same fierceness that Liam had seen once before back at his father’s plant when they had been attacked by others of his species. Liam untangled himself and automatically crouched down into a defensive posture. The instant the Na’Kie saw the danger was past, his demeanor softened dramatically and he rummaged around to see if anyone was hurt.
Captain Grumm and Doctor Weaver brought up the rear. She immediately ran to Carol who was still down on the floor.
“Are you hurt?” She immediately felt for a pulse. Finding one, strong and steady, she slowly rolled Carol over, mindful of any possible head or neck injuries. Carol’s eyes fluttered open and she coughed the residual dust from the encounter out of her lungs.
“Ow… What happened?” Carol sat up and held her head.
“Look at me,” Doctor Weaver produced a small flashlight. “Follow the light, Carol.”
Carol waved her off. “I’m fine, Trish.”
“Well, you don’t appear to have a concussion. You have a nasty bump on your head, though.”
“I think I ran into the door jamb. Is everyone else alright?”
“Physically, yes. I think so.” Doctor Weaver looked around. Liam was holding Rebekah who was shaking uncontrollably.
“Rebekah, sit down. Let’s get you a blanket before shock sets in.”
“I thought that was only in the movies?” Liam rolled his eyes.
“No, shock is very real I’m afraid and it’s the body’s response to trauma, both physically and emotionally. What you kids just experienced is way beyond the everyday run-of-the-mill we are accustomed to. Everyone handles it differently. Be useful and get her a blanket, Liam.”
Kyton, Jonathan, and Roon worked on getting the door back open. Roon looked like he was capable of wrenching the bumper off of a Buick, but even he had problems. Finally, they had to call down to engineering for a cutting tool designed for Aerolon. With a little more patience and a lot of effort, they finally cut through to the controls and used the built-in hydraulics to wrench the door free. Right as they finally wrenched the door free, the howling wind caused them to immediately force it closed again.
Embarrassed, Kyton dropped down with his back against the wall panting. “In all the excitement, I completely forgot the pressurization. Completely forgot.”
“Don’t beat yourself up Kyton, we all forgot, none of us are used to working like this.” Jonathan turned to everyone else. “I’m more interested in where those creatures came from, why they are running around thirty thousand feet up and how they were able to make mincemeat of the ship’s crystalline polymer coating.”
Doctor Peck came huffing into the corridor. He stopped, wheezing to catch his breath. Concerned, Trisha went running over to him and ran her handheld scanner over him. She pulled something out of her kit.
“I’ll be fine; I’m not going to puke.”
“No, but you are hyperventilating. Breathe into it.”
“I’m ok. I came as soon… as I … heard. Big ship.”
Captain Grumm answered, “Yeah, the next one I build is going to have moving walkways or sideways elevators or something.”
“I second that vote! What was that about making mincemeat of my Aerolon?” Jackson Peck headed for the door.
“No! Don’t go in there!” Everyone said in unison.
“What’s going to happen?”
“Those dragons managed to breach the hull.”
“They managed to do what?” Jackson wasn’t buying it. He did a double-take. “Dragons?”
“Well, I would have thought people had been misidentifying a Pterosaur if I hadn’t seen it out the window myself.” Captain Grumm said.
“There were three of them, sir.”
“And they were hunting cooperatively in a pack.”
“And I suppose they breathed fire also?” said Doctor Peck incredulously.
“Yes!” they all cried in unison.
Kyton now spoke up. “I’m afraid they are very, very real and very, very dangerous. Not too many people can claim to have survived a dragon attack.”
Doctor Weaver spoke out. “Why didn’t you warn us there might be dragons?”
“Simple. Dragons are very rare. They are hardly seen any more and certainly not this far South. They are rumored to like the colder climates. I did mention the possibility to Jules, but we shouldn’t have even thought about the possibility for a couple of more weeks.”
“They must inhabit the mountains at these altitudes,” said Jonathan.
“No one in Aerathiea has ever developed the technology to travel so high or to safely pressurize a cabin. I seriously had no idea that the Drakkor could fly this high.”
“Is that what you call them?”
“Indeed. The Emperor-Drakkor are an ancient race that stick mostly to themselves. It is said that they are just as intelligent as any Nilor or Dranok but extremely reclusive. There is another species that we do encounter much more often, the Rym-Drakkor, but they are more of a nuisance to farmers more than anything.”
“A fire-breathing dragon that’s just a nuisance?”
“Don’t get me wrong, they are very dangerous. They hunt like wolves or hyenas but at least they are much smaller than these beasts.”
Marcus replied, “Well at least they have that going for them. I think I’m liking them already.”
“Well, they do have a nasty temperament, a mouth full of razor sharp teeth just like a shark, four-inch talons and as smart as a baboon.”
“How would you fight such a thing?”
“You normally don’t. You can’t outrun one. Your best bet, believe it or not, and I have only heard this from other hunters, is to bow to them and submit. You can shoot one, of course, their hide is extremely tough, just like you would think a dinosaur would be, but the big problem is not the one you take down…”
“Then what is the big problem?” Liam was mesmerized. He was coming to grips with the fact that this might actually be his world whether he liked it or not.
“The bigger problem is the rest of the pack that’s watching you kill their pack mate. You will probably get that one shot off, but it’s probably the last shot you will ever take.”
Carol, still nursing the bump on her head said, “I’m starting to like this place more every day!”
Doctor Weaver was finished looking over everyone and insisted on looking at the welt developing on Carol’s forehead one more time. Convincing herself it wasn’t serious enough to warrant any further attention, she said, “Let’s get out of here and let the engineers work. It’s already after nine.”
The kids look at Doctor Weaver like she had snakes growing out of her head. Marcus spoke first. “Seriously, Doc? Nine pm? Since when did we set bedtimes on this ship?”
“I’m not setting a bedtime; I’m only making a suggestion. You were just attacked by a dragon for crying out loud! That’s trauma in any book. Yeah, you survived. You guys thought on your feet and vanquished a real fire-breathing dragon. I’m sure there are bragging rights there somewhere.” Jonathan just nodded in agreement. “However, you are going to crash anytime when the adrenaline runs its course.”
Jules replied “You are quite right of course doctor. We were also talking earlier. We are going to make a ship-wide night shift, dim the lights and everything. If we can’t have night time outside, at least we can have it inside.”
“Very good idea, fellows,” She looked around as they walked away from the mess in the corridor. Doctor Peck, Kyton Davis and a team from Engineering stayed behind to continue to assess the damage. “I was beginning to worry about the lack of darkness and how that was going to affect our circadian rhythm and serotonin levels.”
“Speaking of serotonin, Doctor, I would also suggest we start prescribing melatonin, at least on an as-needed basis.”
“That’s a great idea. Hey, when did you become the ship’s doctor?”
“I am fully capable. I hold the knowledge of several degrees from general medicine to metallurgy and from Psychology to Musical Theory…”
Doctor Weaver finished his sentence, “…and the bedside manner of a goat. Come on Carol, let me at least get you an ice pack.” She turned with Megan in tow down the secondary corridor that led to the medical wing. Over her shoulder, she said, “And the rest of you, off to bed. I’m sure there will be just as much excitement tomorrow.” And she was gone.
They decided that to avoid another run-in with a dragon, the ship would descend a bit, at least while going through the mountains. Since the Empire possessed no radar, and the Empress was bristling with every twenty-first-century navigational tool, they could fly above, or even through the clouds, and never be detected by another airship.
Captain Grumm came to the wrecked observation bay the next day to survey the damage and talk strategies. Kyton and Jonathan had just come on shift themselves, wanting to get an early start of it. Aaron was down there too with a platter of breakfast sandwiches. It seemed everyone wanted to get back to a normal routine as fast as possible.
Doctor Peck had worked through the night and was obviously very tired. He hadn’t got the memo about serotonin and sleep deprivation. He was sitting on a spool of replacement cable holding a piece of the superheated Aerolon in his hands.
The captain said, “Have you even slept Jackson?”
Doctor Peck replied, “I can sleep later.” He took an instrument out of his bag and pressed the probe to the surface of the amberized glass-like shard. He tossed the piece down in disgust and rummaged to find another one.
“You can sleep now. Come on. Doctor’s orders.” Kyton held out his hand for the probe.
“Why should I trust you? Why should any of us trust you? After what you did?”
“Peck, let it go.” Jonathan came to Kyton’s aid.
“And you... Gone for years. You just waltz back in here and start giving orders again?”
“I’m not giving you orders. Captain Grumm and Doctor Weaver are. The crazy eternal sunshine here gets to you. I’m not immune. Kyton has to sleep too, but I’ve been here eight years and I’ve managed to adapt.
“Well, I’m not finished yet.” Jackson grabbed the probe back from Kyton. He was getting more belligerent by the moment. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. The tensile strength alone is more than….” He turned back to look at Kyton. “You knew this would happen. You even suggested we take this route. You knew the dragons were there. You almost killed my daughter- you son of a bitch!”
Just then, Jackson’s daughter, Rebekah appeared at the doorway. “Dad!” she cried out. He looked like he was about to strike Kyton Davis. The instant Jackson saw his daughter standing there, his resolve instantly melted. He dropped everything and ran up to hug his daughter. She quickly hugged him back. “Eww. Dad, you stink. Come on, let’s get you out of here get you something to eat, a hot shower and then some sleep. You can work on this later.”
“Honey, I can’t. I have to figure this out.”
Rebekah took another stance with him. “No, you will come with me right now and get cleaned up and get some sleep. Now.”
“I said now,” with her firmest voice she could muster.
The fight drained out of Jackson Peck and his demeanor changed completely. “Ok dear. Do you know how much you look like your mom when you do that?”
When Jackson’s back was turned, Kyton mouthed “Thank you” to Rebekah. She nodded in return and they left the deck behind. True to her word, she stayed with him until she was sure he had showered, had another bite to eat which she had laced with sleeping meds and was deposited in bed.
Meanwhile, fresh eyes were looking at the structural damage within the observation lounge.
Kyton said, “Tell me how they killed it again?”
Jonathan replied “Well, we have no idea if it’s dead or not. You can tell from the aroma that they at least roasted it a bit. They pulled the 100 amp 440 down that ran the chillers a couple of decks up and wired it directly to the window frame. Thankfully the poly Aerolon filaments are great conductors.”
“It must have taken that jolt right to the brain.”
“Yeah, ain’t science wonderful? Rebekah thought of it and Liam implemented it. They make a really good team those two.”
Kyton was nosing around in the wreckage and picked up a reddish fragment that was different than all the others.
“Is that what I think it is?” Jonathan asked.
“I think so. I think my grandfather had one, I saw it once, but I was never allowed to touch it.” Replied Kyton. He was obviously relieved to able to talk anecdotally about his past now that his true identity and intentions were well known. Jonathan held out his hand. Kyton reluctantly handed the triangular bronze-like object over.
Jonathan held the dragon scale and weighed it in his hand. He handed it over to one of the engineers. “Take this down to engineering and run a complete battery of tests on it. Especially spectral, mass and density analysis.” The man took the palm-sized scale from him.
“Right away sir,” The crewman said and ran off at a trot.
“What do you expect him to find, Jonathan?”
“Our worst nightmare, Kyton, just our worst nightmare.”