Chapter 44: Plans of Amber
They reached the bridge as breathless as Liam had been when he ran to the reactor room. This time, unknown to all except the computer, biology was partially responsible.
Zak said, “Jules, update the lovebirds on our situation.” The screens lit up with a variety of information. Jonathan, Jackson, and Ethan came barreling in almost knocking Rebekah over on their way in. “I guess you can update all of us now.”
Jules begin the narrative. “I am counting nine inbound dragons.”
“Why didn’t we notice they were dragons?” Sydney said to anyone that would listen.
Rebekah sat herself down at another console and furiously began punching up numbers. Finding a match, she quickly sent the data to one of the larger screens. “This is why. When they aren’t moving, they look like ships. Look at the actual radar cross-sectional data.” Everyone in the Bridge could see it. The Castalan Corsair’s radar image appeared to be smaller than the actual ship because of the materials it was made from. Likewise, the dragons and their special armor appeared to be larger in the radar. Zoomed away to the same distance, they were virtually indistinguishable.
Zak was the first to react. “Ok, I assumed they were Corsairs when I first saw them. That was my fault. It won’t happen again. You’re off the hook, Jules.”
“That’s so comforting.”
Sydney asked, “What is their course?”
“They are heading directly for us. If we make any turns, they flank to maintain.”
“Can they catch us?”
“What do you mean, maybe?”
The computer explained. “We are a mechanical object, they are biological. I have no idea which one is going to run out of energy first. These new engines are barely tested. We can top out at maybe three-twenty, three-forty, tops, as long as we have plenty of fuel, but it’s going to take us a long time to get there.”
“Why is that?”
“We weren’t designed for speed and even though we are countering the weight of the ship with a clever use of buoyancy, we still have lots of mass. It’s a good thing that we even had those engines to test or they would have overtaken us by now.” Jackson was doing a little math. He said, “Whose idea was it anyway to put so much power in a cruise ship?”
“That would be me,” Jonathan replied sheepishly. “Remember, this ship was a multi-purpose prototype. There were versions on the drawing boards for high-speed military transport. They only reason we have the bigger engines is that we were also building the military version and this seemed like a good way to test them first. It was just easier to use the same engines.”
Rebekah looked up at Jonathan, “Thank you!” She looked back at the data, concentrating, “Well they are gaining on us slightly. We are ahead of them by thirty miles, but they are gaining about ten miles every hour.”
Sydney said, “Thank you, Rebekah. Any ideas gentlemen and lady? Jules, please let me know if that rate changes in any way or if their movements show any kind of change.”
“Yes sir, one change now. There are more dragons rising up from the new mountains we just passed. I’m counting twelve now. No, make that fourteen.”
Jonathan touched his earpiece and grunted.
Liam noticed the action. “What was that Dad?”
“I just called Roon up here to join us.”
Sydney asked, “Whatever for?”
Jonathan replied “His people know dragons better than all of us. These dragons are displaying a behavior I have never heard of before. He will know better than anyone.”
Jules interjected. “There is a new behavior now. They are fighting each other.”
Jonathan asked, “Can you put this one the screen?”
“I can do one better. I have holographic cameras recording it.” The open area in front of them opened up with a holographic display of the dragons behind them in 3D. They were fighting each other. It was apparent to all that watched though that their fire had little effect on each other.
Liam asked, “Can we get a reading on that fire?”
“Certainly Liam. Extremely hot. The core temperature looks like it reaches about twelve hundred degrees Celsius.”
Ethan exclaimed “Damn, that’s hot.”
Jules continued. “Fortunately, it drops to four or five hundred only a few meters away. If we can keep them off the hull, we should be ok. If we let them get close or if they exhibit that behavior we saw in the observation lounge, we are in deep trouble.”
Sydney asked, “How are we with electrifying the hull? That seemed to work before.”
“It worked, but only in an isolated area. I’m afraid the ship is just too large to cover in a net of that much power. It would be a huge drain on our resources and unsafe to everyone inside the ship. We already have to protect and insulate the ship from lightning.”
Liam asked “Even with our nuclear option?”
Jonathan answered, “It wasn’t even possible before. Now, it’s possible, but it’s too dangerous. To electrify the hull and allow current out would also potentially allow current in. One break could electrocute us or short circuit the ship’s framework. Remember the magnetic fields this frame and in those bladders are the only thing keeping us in the air.”
Liam gulped. “Yeah I had forgotten about that.”
Roon made it to the bridge and passed right through the holographic dragons and their display of aerial combat. He started swatting at the imaginary dragons buzzing his head and looked too much like an old King Kong movie.
“No, buddy.” Jonathan grabbed his hand and pulled him further into the room so he could see the entire picture and not be part of it. He grunted something to Roon.
Roon responded and bellowed. Everyone else had a confused look and waited for the translation from Jonathan. Jonathan grunted a question and Roon responded by making a crude gesture of humping the chair. Rebekah immediately thought of her pet schnauzer that used to hump her leg when he got excited. Mom always said that meant he wanted a girlfriend. She was much younger then.
“Eww, yuck” is all she could manage between blushing.
Jonathan looked at Rebekah and then barked at Roon.
Roon responded and bowed to Rebekah. Jonathan said, “Roon sincerely apologizes for his crude behavior. He has a lot to learn about civilized behavior in mixed company.”
Rebekah regained her composure. “That’s OK. I’ve seen worse.”
Her dad exclaimed “Rebekah Peck!”
“Well, it’s true dad. You can’t keep me bottled up forever. Anyway, is Roon actually saying that the Dragons are mating?”
Jonathan replied, “Those all seem to be male dragons. They appear to be competing and ranking to mate with something much larger that’s attracting them.”
Rebekah blushed again. “Ewww. You mean they want to mate with…”
Liam finished “The ship. Yeah, I see it now. Good call, Roon. Ok, they suddenly see the ship go by and see love. What would have changed between last week and now?”
They all stopped to think for a moment.
Jackson spoke up “Well we really don’t know if the earlier attack was from males or females, do we?”
“No, we don’t know much of anything about them. Dragons are rumored to be intelligent but are typically loners.” He grunted to Roon. A more subdued Roon grunted back with a shrug of his massive shoulders that universally told everyone that he didn’t know either. “Dragons are very elusive. They stick to themselves except when hunting or apparently mating.”
Ethan spoke back. “Maybe the ship is giving off a smell?”
Liam jumped up at that. “Yeah, a smell, like in the observation deck when your stuff was setting or curing or whatever it was doing?”
Doctor Peck replied “The smell of the new CAG42?”
“I guess. I thought it was Aerolon? I didn’t know it had another name.”
Rebekah said, “With dad, every compound has another name. He was obsessed by it. I would hate to be a creature turned on by the smell of that nasty stuff.”
Liam responded, “Good, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought it was nasty.”
The computer spoke up. “I just did an analysis. It couldn’t have been the Aerolon for two reasons. At the time of our approach, the winds were against us.”
Liam stared blankly, “And that means what?”
Zak finished “They would have never smelled it.”
Jules continued, “Secondly, they seem to be more and more frenetic the closer they get, almost geometrical. The Aerolon smell has dissipated fourteen percent in the same amount of time, I don’t think that is the cause.”
“Wow, this is just like an episode of NCIS or something!” Zak was just amazed at all the ideas flying around the room. “Ok, what has changed from our first attack to now that might get geometrically stronger the closer you get?”
Rebekah looked at her dad who looked at Jonathan who looked at Liam.
Liam said, “Don’t look at me. I have no idea why you are looking at me.”
Rebekah broke the tension. “Jules, we have enough reserve power to run a few hours on what we have accumulated, right?”
Jules responded. “Yes, Miss Peck, we can run at approximately four hours with what we have right now.”
Jonathan asked “Rebekah, are you thinking what I am thinking?”
“Almost certainly. It’s radiation. It has to be. It’s below any level that would make us sick, but these creatures might be drawn to it.”
Sydney, listening to all the ideas took this time to jump in. “Jules, shut down the reactor please.”
Jules responded, “I assume you mean safely?”
Jonathan replied, “Of course he meant safely.”
The computer replied, “Sigh… I was just getting used to all that power… OK. Shutting down.” The transformation was remarkable. Jules plotted the movement of the dragons chasing the ship against the radiation from the reactor. Almost instantly, the dragons seemed confused and stopped short like they had suddenly lost their prey in the bushes, or in this case, in the clouds.
Liam realized he had been holding his breath. “It worked! See what we can do when we put our heads together?”
Jules said sullenly to whoever would listen “Well, that was fun while it lasted.”
Zak asked, “What was fun? Being chased by dragons?”
“No, all that wonderful power!”
Ethan continued the thought “What’s wrong with the power?”
Rebekah finished it “Well, obviously we can’t run the reactor unless we want dragons humping the ship, now can we?”
Jackson Peck said, “Rebekah!”
“Well, we can’t!”
Jonathan said “As crude a point as it was, it is a valid point after all. We risk attracting the dragons again if we turn on the reactor.” He looked at the screen and did a couple of mental calculations. “It seems to attract them within about a fifty-mile range. I would say that pretty much puts the reactor out of commission, at least until we can find out why.”
Rebekah was the first to point out the obvious. “Then how are we going to get home?”
Jonathan sighed, “Like I said, until we can find a way.”
Sydney said, “OK Jules, you might as well shut down the main engines too and go back to normal, whatever that is. No sense using up what power we have and fuel. We might need it later.” Turning his attention from the screens to his friends “Now we have new things to figure out. How to get home either with or without the reactor and how to get that breach closed behind us. On a different note, is anyone else as hungry as I am?”
Everyone murmured their agreement.
“Ok, everyone to the mess hall, Sandwiches are on the house! I can do that, right? He looked around and the unflinching faces around him. What?”
Marcus and Carol were in line at lunch right ahead of Liam and Rebekah. The others had gone off to confab alone and left the kids to fend for themselves. It seemed like forever since he had last talked to them.
Liam said, “How’s the head, Carol?”
“Much better today, Thank you.” She turned away with her tray.
Rebekah said, “Carol, I miss Artie too.” Carol turned back. Tears were streaming down her face.
Marcus said, “We all miss him, Carol.”
Carol replied, “I’ll be ok. I just need to be alone.”
“OK, well you know where we are if you ever need to talk.” Carol took her tray out of the mess hall and down the corridor. The rest of them set down together. Rebekah spied Megan coming in from the opposite door and motioned her over. Megan pointed to the food and indicated she would be right over.