Chapter 7: Officers Meeting
Grumm watched as his senior staff filed into the makeshift briefing room. Originally designed as a conference room for guests, it was bright and airy with one wall a sweeping vista of the sky. It was large enough to accommodate as many as twenty around the large, faux glass and oak conference table, which was also made from Aerolon to save weight.
Now, serving just a handful of people, the room seemed out of proportion and dwarfed the assembly. Artemis sat at the head of the table with Kyton to his left. “Take your places gentlemen, and lady,” Kyton said with a smile and nod to Trisha Weaver, the ship’s doctor.
Artie took over the meeting. “What I’m about to show you completely defies any rational explanation, but we just picked it up thirty minutes ago. The images and video are still pretty raw, but Jules has been trying to clean them up.” Addressing the holographic image, “Jules, could you start, please?”
The windows and lights dimmed subtly and the far wall came to life, showing the assembly all the images and overlaid data they had been able to put together in the last twenty minutes or so. Clearly depicted were several ape-like creatures, much larger than a person, holding several dozen people captive in wretched conditions.
Sydney Blankenship, head of security, was the first to make a comment. “You mean to tell me we found a sasquatch?” It would have sounded humorous had the circumstances been any different.
“I’m afraid so, Mr. Blankenship.” Kyton eyed the rest of the crewmembers assembled there. “But not just any Sasquatch, these are carrying rifles and holding humans captive. The question is, what do we do now?”
Artie responded, “We help them, of course.” Holding a hand up to figuratively block the onslaught of objections, he continued, “I know we are not equipped for this and none of us, save a few…” Artie looked at Sydney. “...are trained for combat. We have messed up before and we almost got our asses handed to us yesterday, but these are people, just like ourselves, being held captive by God knows what and if we are going to try and reclaim anything that’s left of our humanity, we owe it to them to at least try.”
Kyton replied, “Sir, no one was going to object to helping them at all. We just have to figure out how! The only other wrinkle is that we are only about a day out from Waite’s plant. I know I have said it enough times you can quote it with me, but if find that key, we will be in a much better position to help everyone. We really need those engines!” Turning back to the now paused video on the screen, “They are humanoid, just bigger than us. There is no reason to believe they would be any stronger than a bear or smarter than a primitive human, whatever they are...so any conventional weapons should be effective.”
Captain Grumm replied, “I won’t mince words. I consider them a threat, they are hurting our people and they don’t belong here. I would like to just scare them away, but it’s pretty obvious they have a purpose and even if they scare easily, they would be back, possibly in greater numbers. I have no qualms about killing them, but I would like to capture one, for study if nothing else, although communications would nice too.”
“Sir, bringing one of those things on board would be very dangerous. What if it got loose?”
“I’m more than aware of the dangers, Mister Davis, but I’m also told this ship makes one hell of a prison. I’m quite confident we can keep such a creature subdued. We might even learn something. If we could find out how many more of these creatures we might have to face as we go further North, I think that would be really good intelligence.”
“What makes you sure we can communicate with them at all?”
“I’m betting that Jules can figure something out. Right, Jules?” said Artie, never taking his eyes off Kyton.
“There is a 74% chance learning their language will be successful.”
“See, Kyton? 74% chance.”
“If we can secure two specimens,” the hologram added.
“If we have two of them.” Artemis sounded a little less sure of himself that time. “So, any ideas? Now would be the time to speak up.”
They begin to hash out a plan.
Jules piped in again. “Sirs, I truthfully hate to interrupt, but an issue has come to my attention. I have been monitoring weather conditions for some time. The closer we get to St. Louis, the more chaotic the conditions are becoming. There is an extremely large weather system moving in from the Southwest, merging with the system already rotating around the crater site. It would be best if we put some vertical distance between us and it and ride it out before starting any rescue missions.”
“Thank you, Jules.” Grumm turned back to his briefing. “Second order of business, we have a guest on board. Jonathan Waite’s son, Liam, was injured and brought back on the launch from the surface this morning. He was shot in the shoulder, but I am told he is recovering nicely. He is on his way up here and I’ll talk to him after this briefing.” Artie looked around the room. “We need to afford this boy every courtesy. Help him, as he’s not familiar with the ship or our ways and I suspect he has had a fairly harsh time of it. Integrate him and teach him the best you can.”
Artie’s tone suddenly took a darker tint. “Then we need to prepare, and at least pretend, we are military. I know most of you never conceived of this, nor asked for it when signing up, but you and your teams have all performed admirably under incredible odds so far. It’s my only hope that we can recover something to make this ship fully functional. At that point, we plan on turning this ship over to a more equipped search and rescue group if one can be found. Anyone that wants out at that point, I will make it a point to get you safely where you need to be.”
The sky outside the window showed a massively forming thunderhead with lots of intermittent cloud to cloud lightning. Artemis could now see what Jules meant. No matter how big the ship was, in its present condition, they didn’t want to go through that. He glanced up at the clouds and then leveled his gaze back down to the senior staff.
“Let’s get busy. We’ll implement at 0400 hours. Any further questions?”
Doctor Weaver spoke up first, “There are bound to be casualties and probable ongoing trauma we will have to treat right away. By the looks of that,” she said gesturing at the images on the screen, “I’m going to need supplies for dozens of people and triage space and a dozen nurses and orderlies.”
“Trish, you have my authority to conscript anyone not assigned to a critical duty to help you. Take the finished staterooms that are closest to the infirmary and probably the Lido deck lounge for triage. Anything else you need, don’t hesitate to just acquire it and ask later.”
“OK, everyone, you all have your assignments. Let’s get ready for a lot of guests and kick some Bigfoot ass!”
The senior staff all filed out of the room save Kyton. As Doctor Peck was just getting ready to walk out, Artemis held him up. “Jackson, is there any way at all that one of these creatures could free themselves if you spray them with the wrap?”
The web wrap was the name for a spray coating of Aerolon they had invented to secure cargo. It consisted of essentially a large glue gun that squirted out a stream of Aerolon that solidified when it made contact with air, essentially making a bonding agent many times stronger than steel. It was momentarily sticky and would probably require some of the creature’s fur to be cut to remove it - but that would be the least of their worries.
“I have no doubt it will work. We have secured freight containers to the side of the ship with this stuff. It will hold,” answered Doctor Peck.
“On a different topic, what do you think of Liam? I hear he’s getting around just fine. It’s remarkable how he’s healing, though, isn’t it? Trish says she’s never seen anything like it. Four times the normal rate for someone his age. She also said some of his readings were not right. I don’t know what that means. I haven’t had any real time to discuss it with her and probably won’t until we get to past St Louis. She said he’s bright and healthy and Jules reports he’s getting along quite well with Rebekah, though I guess that might make him armed and dangerous as far as Jackson is concerned?” Artemis winked at Kyton.
Doctor Peck looked concerned.
Kyton replied, “We’re watching, professor. There is little chance he is going to do something stupid or with bad intentions. So far he just looked tired and hungry. His medical condition concerns me, though, Artie. How is that possible?”
“Kyton, I honestly have no idea. Of course, he is Jonathan Waite’s son. That may account for something. I think, no matter what, we owe it to Jon to keep the boy safe. I must get ready now. This sounds like it will be a late night and I’m not getting any younger!”
Kyton and Jackson opened the door to leave just as Rebekah and Liam arrived.
Jackson was the first to break the ice. He reached out for Liam’s hand with his own. “You must be Liam. Of course you are,” shaking Liam’s hand. He looked at Grumm. “Firm handshake, I like that. Anytime, I mean anytime you need anything, do not hesitate to look me up!”
Liam took the hand and looked back and forth between the two, somewhat embarrassed. “Thank you, sir,” said Liam, shaking back.
“I knew your father. An absolute legend.”
“I honestly don’t know that much about him. I did go to work with him a few times, but he was gone a lot.”
Kyton interjected. “You’ve been in the St Louis plant before, Liam?”
He couldn’t put his finger on it, but Liam did not feel as comfortable around Kyton. He was much more direct to the point and not as overly friendly as the rest of the crew. “Sure, I’ve been in it four, maybe five times.”
A crew member arrived with a couple of trays of food.
Grumm spoke up first. “Jackson, I’m sure Rebekah is hungry. It’s getting late.” That was his way of nicely stating the short “get to know you” was over and it was time to get down to business.
“Carol, just set the trays down in there. We’re right behind you.”
Jackson spoke up. “It was wonderful meeting you, Liam. We will have to sit down soon and talk. Come Rebekah, join your dad for dinner?”
Rebekah said, “Liam, I’ll see you after dinner?”
She beamed when Liam said, “You can count on it.” Her dad grabbed her hand and pulled her along.
Kyron’s firm hand on his good shoulder led Liam back into the briefing room.