Winds of Aerathiea

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Chapter 5: The Campsite

Artemis entered the Bridge.

Kyton leaned back in the chair with an air of long familiarity. “You asked me to keep you up to date on our progress. We should be at Waite Aerospace by tomorrow evening.”

“Why so long?”

“This storm is kicking the ship’s butt. Jules, bring up tactical on the main screen.” He turned his attention back to the captain. “We think we know what happened now. It looks like an asteroid strike.”

The holographic image wavered into shape. The display changed to show a large map of their current position. Captain Grumm whistled as he took in the image laid out before him.

“Jesus… Will you look at that? Damn. Very good, Jules, start scanning for locals and any other trouble we might run into along the way.” They both looked at the route plotted against the terrain below them, but neither could take their eyes off the object in the center.

Jules explained, “We are trying to skirt the actual crater, but we are having to give it a wide berth. That’s taking us a hundred miles out of our way. For some reason, there is a huge low-pressure zone emanating from the crater. That’s what is creating the perpetual storm whipping around this area- it’s well above hurricane strength and it’s centered on the crater. As long as we avoid it, we should be fine, but even on the edges, it’s sure to get a little bumpy. Based on the current path, it will take about twenty-three hours to reach the plant with these headwinds.”

With that, Mister Davis turned back to the screens and controls, pretending to make himself useful, knowing that Jules already had everything well in hand. It was not quite night, but the heavy clouds were contributing to a cover of darkness that blanketed the entire area. They would have the element of surprise against anything on the ground, but it never hurt to be safe. Thermal imaging was just starting to pick up signs of heat below. Artie peered over Kyton’s shoulder at the data coming up from the ground.

“It looks like there are a couple dozen campfires and at least two hundred other heat signatures about twenty klicks ahead,” said Kyton, analyzing the screen “Wait! something’s not right here.” He pointed at a particular point. “These signatures that are clumped together look completely normal. We have cataloged that a hundred times. However, these readings-” he indicated the ones that were moving to and from the campfire, “-are different. They are definitely bipedal but warmer and larger, and somehow... not the same as the other ones?”

Peering closer, Artemis tried to interpret the readings. Jules piped in. “I’m scanning at a higher resolution now with night vision and heat overlay. We’ll have a compensated image in a couple of seconds.”

The screen in front of them went dark for a moment and was replaced with a closer and much clearer shot of the encampment they were slowly approaching. Both men audibly gasped at the scene unfolding below. Hundreds of people were corralled and huddling in makeshift cages and pens. But what was more interesting was the two or three beings, obviously guarding the pen.

“Kyton, what am I looking at?” Artemis finally broke the silence.

“If I have to venture a guess, I would say... bigfoot?” Kyton peered intently at the scene before them. “If I am interpreting this right, we have much bigger problems! Jules, any ideas?”

The disembodied voice of the computer spoke with conviction, never missing a beat. “Bipedal, ape-like, two point five meters tall, massing approximately two hundred kilograms, fur covering a much higher percentage of its body than humans.” On another screen came a rapid-fire assortment of images from the past of alleged Bigfoot and sasquatch sightings. “Yes, I would say we have found Bigfoot.”

“Bigfoot with guns it appears,” Grumm pointed to one of the apes, guarding one of the pens of humans. Please tell me we are not on Planet of the Apes?”

“Planet of the Apes?” Kyton Davis looked puzzled.

“The movie.” Kyton stared back at him blankly. “Sometimes, Mister Davis, it seems you climbed out from under a rock!” said Grumm with mock annoyance. “You mean to tell me you never heard of Planet of the Apes? It was a very famous movie.”

“Sir, you know my background. I was very... sheltered as a kid and poured myself into my studies. I rarely had time for entertainment.”

Grumm addressed the computer again. “Jules, put up some scenes from Planet of the Apes.”

“Certainly sir.” On yet another screen, popped up a scene from the iconic movie where Charlton Heston first encountered the encampment of human slaves.

Artemis and Kyton looked at each other and the Captain muttered, “See anything familiar? Maintain our present course and call senior officers to the conference room in twenty. Prepare everything we have so far. Oh, and have Liam meet me for dinner, but be gentle. Things might get ugly soon, and he has been through a lot already.”

“Aye, sir. I’m on it.” Kyton turned to his well-seasoned control board. “Jules, can you do the honors of alerting the officers, while I organize this data?”

“Very well,” said the hologram. “You do know when you pull that data up, you are just retrieving it from me anyway?”

“Yes, Jules, we all know you have many multi-faceted talents. Just let us poor humans believe we have something to contribute - every once in a while?”

“As you wish…” Kyton could swear he heard the inflection of disdain in the computer’s voice. He was really going to have to talk to that programmer.

“Senior staff, senior staff. Captain Grumm has requested your presence in the conference room in twenty minutes. Senior staff to the conference room in twenty minutes!”

Kyton smiled to himself. He imagined he could hear the grumbling throughout the ship.

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