Winds of Aerathiea

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Chapter 45: Duranae

“Well are you going to fill me in or am I going to have to beat it out of you?” Marcus was looking intently at Liam.

Liam grinned. “You and what army?”

Marcus gave him a look then looked back down at his food. “Sorry.”

“Hey, I was only kidding. Same old Liam, I swear!”

Rebekah reached for his hand under the table. “Almost the same old Liam.”

Megan just came up to the table and saw the exchange “Oh my God! Rebekah! No way!” She said it loud enough to make heads turn.

Rebekah whispered her replied “Shit. Keep it down will you? Do you want my dad to lock me in my cabin for the rest of the trip, which incidentally might be forever?” She squeezed Liam’s hand and then released it so they could both eat.

Megan asked, “What do you mean forever?”

Marcus parroted, “Yeah, what do mean?”

Rebekah told them what just happened, about the reactor and about the dragons. When she got to the mating part, Megan replied with an “Ewww” and Marcus replied with “Shit, no way!” Typical males, Rebekah thought.

Megan said, “Well if we can’t use the reactor, how do we get back home?”

Rebekah replied, “We’re open to ideas. If anyone wants to drop something in the suggestion box, I’m sure it will be considered.

Liam jumped in, “Rebekah, you didn’t tell them the best part.”

She looked at him quizzically.

“The part about the end of all life as we know it.”

Rebekah looked visibly relieved. Liam thought, she thought I was talking about our kiss. Typical females!

She told them all about the weather models and the breach and everything that had been said in the officer’s lounge. Megan and Marcus looked at each other in alarm.

Megan broke the silence “Well then, what are we going to do then?”

Liam said, “We just don’t know yet.”

Marcus thought of himself as a junior engineer and thought he knew something about physics. “Hey, I have an idea. If we can’t use the reactor anyway, why don’t we just jettison it and blow it up inside the breach. We just fly through and drop it out the rear.”

Liam jumped in, thinking he was the smarter of the two. “First off, the reactor is deep inside the ship. How do you propose to get it off the ship? Plus, that hole is ten miles wide. How do you intend to blow up a hole?”

Rebekah contemplated how she would respond. She said, “…Well, we can jettison the reactor. It was made to do that just in case of emergency. That would present its own kind of problem, but we also have a type of reactor that doesn’t blow up. It was purposely made that way. It requires a concentrated laser to excite the thorium to a state where it is useful. It just doesn’t explode under normal conditions.”

She went on “Secondly, even if you could make it detonate, even if we could navigate a clear channel, we will have over a hundred mile per hour head winds. We could not be safely outside the blast radius before it detonated. We can’t possibly outrun a nuclear bomb!”

Marcus replied. “Okay Brainiac, sorry I said anything, geez!”

Rebekah wrinkled her nose. “It’s ok, it’s a mistake even a smart person could make.” She barely ducked an incoming grape.

Liam was piecing together what Rebekah just said and two plus two was coming out as five not four. “Wait a minute. Why can the ship jettison the reactor if the reactor can’t blow up? That doesn’t make much sense.”

Rebekah cleared “It was all regulations. The government made them build it that way. I think at first they were going to use a more traditional reactor, but your dad’s company had something new they wanted to test.”

Of course, Jules had overheard their conversation and started making his own calculations.

At the rate they were going, they would be close enough to their entry point in twenty hours that they would have to start making some decisions. They still hadn’t completely slowed down to normal cruising speed. The ship was at about twelve thousand feet and cruising at about one hundred and fifty miles per hour and gradually slowing.

Sydney was back on the bridge. “Jules, let’s go over the options again.”

“Certainly, Sir.”

“First, there is something in the reactor or the way it works that attracts the dragons into a mating frenzy. It also seems obvious that the dragons, given enough time, can catch up with the ship. We have no idea what their top speed is or ours for that matter.”

Sydney continued, “We have to crack water for the hydrogen fuel to run the jet engines and we have to get that from either rain water or spend enough time over open water and low enough to siphon it off. Am I right so far?”

“Correct, sir. It takes about twenty hours of sunlight for four hours of fuel, providing we have the water. We used about half of it up with the tests we just ran, so we will have to put down somewhere and refuel before we make a run for it.”

“Make a run for it?”

“I have been calculating every factor and combination available to me.”

“And?”

“I don’t know how we are going to pull this off.”

“I don’t follow.”

“The last encounter we had with the vortex that brought us here almost tore the ship apart.”

“Yeah, but we were out of fuel and were totally off guard. This time it’s different.”

“Maybe so, but I calculate that with the headwinds and shear forces that I can only extrapolate because I was offline. It will take us at least four hours to battle through the hole back to the surface.”

“That’s good right?”

“That leaves us very little margin for error. But that’s not the problem.”

“Yeah, I know. We can get back, but what do we do when we get there?”

“Precisely. With no means of closing that hole, we will see the pressure equalization in seventeen years.”

“Which pretty much means the destruction of both worlds, yeah, I get it.” Sydney sat there and stared at the leftover pictures of Jule’s earlier holographic presentation from when the dragons were still chasing them. Suddenly a thought came to him. “Jules, where are the dragons now?”

The images changed to show the dragon’s relative positions to the ship. Jules was making damn sure he didn’t lose track of them this time.

“What are they doing?”

“They seem to be hunting for the scent they had before.” They both stared at the display as the dragons seemed to sweep in large concentric circles. They knew there was a mate there somewhere. They had sensed it earlier. There had to be a connection to either the reactor or the engines.

“Jules, are our engines still on?”

“Yes, but pretty much idling.”

“Do me a favor. Send out a ship wide announcement for everyone to brace themselves and then punch it up to say twenty-five percent and track the movements of every dragon. See if there is any change at all.”

Over the intercom came the canned message:

We will be conducting a short test of the Primary engines in one minute. You might experience slight lateral g-forces so please prepare yourself and batten down any loose objects. This message will be repeated at regular intervals.

Immediately, Liam and the others jumped up from wherever they were.

Liam called the bridge, “What’s going on?”

“Just a test,” replied Sydney

Sydney got the same question from Rebekah. She was already on her feet and on her way back to the bridge anyway. She had stayed with Carol after Liam and Marcus left breakfast. “What are you doing?”

“Just a little test, Miss Peck.” He turned his attention to the computer. “Jules, if everyone is prepared, just boost the engines to twenty-five percent, hold it for what? Maybe thirty seconds to a minute and then shut it back down.”

Rebekah was curious. “What is this going to prove?”

Suddenly the engines kicked in. Not as strong as before, but enough that it knocked Rebekah into Liam. She started to protest. “If that’s the way you flirt!” But Liam just grinned. Almost as fast as the engines started, they stopped again.

“Well anything from the dragons?”

“Nothing that I can detect. It appears they took no notice of the engines powering up.”

Liam said over the open channel, “Ok, well, then restart the reactor for few seconds.”

Rebekah protested. “Umm, Liam, that’s not a great idea. That would be putting a lot of stress on the systems.”

Sydney agreed with Liam. “I don’t see any other way, Rebekah.”

Jules chimed in. “Reactor ready on your command.”

“Go ahead.” This time, now that they were all quiet and watching intently, Liam could swear he could feel a tingling once the reactor kicked in. “Do you feel that?” he asked Rebekah through the commlink.

“Feel what?”

“I don’t know. It’s just a prickly sensation I’m feeling. I felt it before, but we were a little distracted.” Rebekah smiled at the memory. They met at the gangway to the bridge. “We’re going to have to stop meeting like this…” Liam smiled at Rebekah.

“I’m not feeling anything.” They walked in and intently watched the screen. Slowly, it was obvious that the dragons changed course and were now circling tighter towards the ship.

“Shit, turn it off, Jules. Turn it off.” Just as soon as he did, the dragons dispersed. At that moment, Jonathan Waite and Jackson Peck entered the bridge.

“What was that all about?” Jonathan had just seen the tail end of the display in front of them.

“It was just a test dad. The dragons definitely react to the reactor. Are we sure there is no radiation leakage from the reactor when it’s on”

“Quite sure,” Jules responded.

Sydney said, “Well test it again!”

“There won’t be any need…”

Rebekah was deep in thought. She suddenly snapped out of it. “Because that isn’t a nuclear reactor is it? At least not in the conventional sense?”

Jonathan Waite sighed. “No, it isn’t.” He dropped into the chair next to Liam.

Liam did a double take, looking up at Rebekah and then over at his dad. “Then what the hell is it?”

“It’s supposed to be the answer to our nuclear nightmare, a safe, reliable new fuel that provides a tremendous amount of energy but safe from the hands of extremists. At least that’s what the company literature says.”

“Why all the secrecy then?”

“Simple. It’s unregulated and it would have taken years just to cut through the red tape to get it licensed, plus Waite Aerospace was on the verge of a breakthrough and there is no way we were going to let any of our competitors even get a hint about this. It is rather exclusive and I did have a bit of an inside track after all.”

“Ok, I give, what is it then?”

Rebekah jumped in. “I bet I know, don’t I?” Everyone just looked at her. “You are using that mineral that’s embedded in the dragon scale aren’t you?”

Jonathan looked at her and nodded. “The only reason we kept it a secret was for regulators and government red tape. I guess there is no harm in letting the cat out of the bag.”

“So what is it?”

“The locals call it Duranae. Because, in its crystalline form its semi-transparent and yellowish gold in color, we had taken to calling it Amber in the shop.”

Peck said, “It would have been nice to know about it from the beginning.”

Jonathan just nodded in agreement. “When you have been in business as long as Grumm or I, you have to keep secrets. There are three other aerospace companies out there that would literally kill every one of us for even a sample of this stuff. We are the little fish in a big pond and anything we can do to give us an edge is worth its weight in gold. I would appreciate it that when we get out of here, you keep this between us? There might still be a company out there to salvage when everything is done.”

This time, they all mumbled or nodded their agreement.

If the computer had a throat, he would have cleared it. “OK, would someone mind filling me in? Every file I have in my memory states that I have a Waite Aerospace W2B 60MW Light Water Thorium Reactor as my heart. Would someone care to tell me what it is really?”

Jonathan grimaced. “You are going to love this, Jules.” He thought for a moment and said “Priority Override Alpha One Niner Seven Fourteen. Authorization Jonathan Waite.” He looked at Sydney. “The captain has to give authorization also.

Sydney licked his lips. “Authorization Sydney Blankenship, Captain” He looked at Jonathan who nodded and smiled.

Suddenly the computer exclaimed “Oh my….” and the screens lit up with a cascade of technical diagrams, pictures, essays. Ten years of research was instantly unlocked. Previously encrypted and passcoded from sight, Jules now knew everything that Waite Aerospace knew about the mysterious substance.

Liam looked at his dad. “You used our address for a passcode?” He just shook his head.

His dad looked sheepishly at his son. “Well, they always say, use something you can remember...:”

The computer seemed to be finished assimilating all the data. The avalanche of files and pictures had come to a halt. Suddenly Jules announced. “I have an idea. We can close the breach after all.” Suddenly everyone was talking at once. “However...” Everyone stopped short. No one ever liked, however.

“However, what?” Rebekah asked suspiciously.

“We can close the breach, but it severely lessens the chances of getting home.”

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