The Helicopter Awaits
After trudging through the final two days of the school year, Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden finally made it to summer break. It was Wednesday afternoon, and the quest was supposed to begin the next day.
“Finally made it.” Corbyn walked out of the high school and into the sunshine. “I don’t think I could’ve taken one more useless video.”
“No kidding.” Maddy walked stride-by-stride next to him.
Walking behind the other two, Aaden didn’t respond. The teens made it to the bike rack and unlocked their bikes.
“So,” Corbyn said casually, “tomorrow’s the big day. Either of you nervous?”
“I’ve had butterflies for the past two days,” Maddy admitted.
“Me too,” Corbyn echoed.
“I suppose it helps that I’m finally ready to go,” Maddy added. “I got packed last night and told Aunt Janet about summer camp.” She used air quotes with summer camp. “I’ll get my passport when I get home today. To be honest, she seemed happy that I’m leaving.”
“We’re ready also,” was all Aaden said. He stared at his bike lock. His attitude hadn’t improved, and Maddy was growing tired of it.
“What’s your problem all of a sudden? If you don’t want to go with us tomorrow, just say so.”
Looking down, Aaden responded softly. “I’m…sorry. I just got…bothered by something. I want to go.”
“Then chill out,” Corbyn demanded. “If we did something, tell us now.”
“I said I’m sorry,” Aaden replied sternly.
“Fine.” Corbyn turned to Maddy. “So we’ll see you in the morning?”
Maddy nodded. “Taxi’s supposed to pick me up at seven. I’ll be at your place around seven fifteen, so make sure you’re both ready to go.”
“Will do,” Corbyn replied with a smooth smile…a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by Aaden.
Early the next morning, Maddy’s alarm woke her up. Mumbling to herself, she crawled out of bed. “Summer break and I still can’t sleep in.”
Maddy did her best to ignore the feeling of growing anxiousness in her gut. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and got ready for the day. Once her shower was done, teeth were brushed, and clothes put on, she went downstairs to grab some breakfast.
“Morning, Mr. Zhang.”
Mr. Zhang bowed slightly. “Good morning to you, Ms. Rutherford.”
“I’ve told you not to call me Ms. Rutherford,” Maddy said with a smile. “What’s for breakfast today?”
“A blueberry muffin and a banana. You’ll need a lot of energy for your…summer camp.”
The pause in Mr. Zhang’s voice went unnoticed.
“Of course. Your taxi will be here any moment. Do you have everything you need?”
“Luggage, passport, breakfast…I should be good to go. Tell Aunt Janet good—”
“Tell me what?” Aunt Janet was hobbling down the stairs. She was in her typical mood.
“Oh, hi, Aunt Janet. I’m just getting ready to meet the taxi. I didn’t know if you were up and—”
“Of course I’m up! I never sleep past five, you know that. Come give your Great-Aunt a kiss before you go.”
Really? Maddy thought.
Maddy quickly gave Aunt Janet a peck on her cheek. She grabbed her things and rushed towards the front door. “I’ll just wait for the taxi out front. Bye, Aunt Janet! Bye, Mr. Zhang!”
“Good luck…er…I mean, have fun dear!” Aunt Janet shouted with a chuckle.
Maddy ate while waiting for the taxi to arrive. The taxi pulled up to the curb and the driver loaded her belongings into the trunk. Maddy climbed in the back seat and gave directions to Corbyn and Aaden’s house.
After a quick ride, the taxi pulled up to the house. The twins were waiting on their front porch. Once their luggage was taken care of and Team SoNaR was safely buckled in, the vehicle drove away.
“Where to?” the driver asked.
“The airport, please,” Maddy replied politely.
“You got it. Should be there in no time.”
Corbyn smiled. “Nothing like a random last-minute trip to Canada, eh?”
“No kidding.” Aaden actually grinned for the first time in a few days.
“I couldn’t wait to get out of the house this morning.” Although Maddy would miss Mr. Zhang, she wasn’t particularly sad about being away from her aunt.
“Same here,” Corbyn replied. “We were out on the driveway a half hour before you picked us up.”
“Not surprised.” Maddy suddenly had a thought. “Hey, guys? Have either of you thought about what we’re supposed to do when we get to the airport? The letter said nothing about how and where we’ll find the helicopter.”
“We’ll just have to play it by ear when we get there,” Corbyn said without worry.
“It can’t be too hard to find,” Aaden added. “How many Sikorsky S-92A helicopters do you think there will be there?”
“Good point,” Maddy admitted.
The cab eventually made it to the passenger drop-off lane. Maddy paid the driver with money Aunt Janet had given her the night before. The team stepped out and waited for their luggage. They discussed what to do next.
“Do we go inside and ask someone for directions?” Aaden asked.
“I don’t know,” Maddy said. “Does it violate the rules of the quest to ask someone for help?”
Corbyn looked around. “I bet we need to go talk to that person.”
Maddy looked around. “Who?”
Pointing to his left, Corbyn indicated a large man standing alone on the sidewalk. He was holding a sign that had the same atomic symbol the back of the envelope had had.
The team walked over to the man and Maddy spoke. “Hi. I think we’re supposed to meet you. My name is Maddy. This is Corbyn. And this is Aaden.”
The imposing man looked down at the team. “Do you have the letter?”
The question took Maddy slightly off-guard. “Um, yeah. I do.”
“I must see it, please.”
Maddy pulled the letter out. “Here it is.”
The man unfolded the letter, glanced at it, and handed it back. “Thank you. Follow me.” He turned and walked away.
With luggage in tow, Team SoNaR followed the man through the airport and eventually to the tarmac. Parked before them was the sleekest helicopter they’d ever seen. Standing just under five meters at the cabin and stretching over seventeen meters from nose to tail, the Sikorsky S-92A was a sight to behold. Painted a dark blue with the EIS atomic symbol in white on both sides, the helicopter looked powerful yet luxurious.
Aaden admired the aircraft. “Did you guys know that helicopter can hold nineteen passengers? It’s like riding in a jet plane.” Staring in awe, he rattled off its features, mostly to himself. “Retractable tricycle landing gear…ten cabin windows….hydraulic cargo ramp…six-foot interior cabin…air conditioning…entertainment unit…four blade rotor system…two turbo shaft engines.”
“How do you know all that?” Maddy asked.
Aaden didn’t take his eyes off the aircraft. “I saw a documentary that featured one of these a few years ago. I know everything there is to know about them now.”
“It is pretty sweet,” Corbyn admitted.
“That’s an understatement. Just wait till we get up in the air. You’re not going to believe how smooth the ride is.”
Following the large man over to the helicopter, Team SoNaR climbed inside. They found themselves in a luxurious and spacious tan cabin. Containing three leather seats and a round conference table, the helicopter was equipped with a full kitchen, a flat-screen television hung near the top of the cabin’s front wall, three laptop computers, a full bathroom, and three small bedrooms with twin size beds. The aircraft was obviously outfitted for luxury and comfort.
“We removed many of the seats inside and retrofitted the interior with everything you see here,” the large man said. “I am the chef for your flight, by the way. I shall do my best to make you whatever your taste buds desire.”
“Thanks,” Corbyn replied. “What do we call you?”
“Chef. What else?” Chef smiled, turned, and walked away.
“Kind of an odd name,” Aaden muttered.
Maddy agreed. “What should we do with our stuff?”
“Leave it to me to.” A pretty woman with dark hair in a ponytail stepped into the aircraft. “I’ll be the housekeeper for your trip. Feel free to leave your belongings right where they are and I’ll be glad to take care of them for you. If you need anything during your flight, just let me know and I’ll be at your service.”
“Uh, thanks.” Despite living with Mr. Zhang, Maddy wasn’t used to being waited on. “My name’s Maddy. This is Corbyn. And this is Aaden.”
“Welcome aboard.” The housekeeper smiled. “You may call me Miss. Oh, and I almost forgot. I was asked to give you this backpack. Might be things in it you’ll need for your trip this week.” She handed a large backpack over to Aaden.
“Thanks.” Aaden placed backpack on the conference table. It seemed to have too many pockets in and around it to count.
“Sure thing. Also, quick question. Do you mind if I occasionally take your picture this week to document for Isaac how things are going? I’ll be as discrete as possible because I want to capture you all in your natural state.”
Maddy agreed. “Just don’t ask me to smile.”
Miss chuckled. “Deal. Fact is I’ll be so far out of your way that you’ll probably forget I’m even doing it. Anyway, feel free to get comfortable and have a look around. We’ll be taking off shortly.”
The teens toured the helicopter before going through the backpack. They sat down at the conference table and emptied all the pockets. The backpack held way more than it looked like it should be able to. Out spilled changes of clothing, a camping axe, matches, energy bars, three bottles of water, cash, three pairs of blue-lensed sunglasses, a length of rope, three incandescent flashlights, a UV flashlight, a towel, a map of North America, a first-aid kit, a box of ballpoint pens, paper, a smart phone, and a portable phone charger.
“What do you suppose we need some of this stuff for?” Aaden asked.
“To get you through the quest, of course!” said a new, booming voice.
Looking in the direction of the voice, Team SoNaR saw a rough-looking man walk out of the pilot’s quarters and into the passenger cabin.
“Welcome aboard, everybody! I’ll serve as the maintenance crew on your trip. If anything isn’t working properly during your flight, I’m the one to call!”
“Thank you.” Maddy introduced the team again.
“Good t’meet you! I go by Goodwrench. I’d like to think my name explains my aptitude with tools, you know?”
“Sure,” Corbyn replied. “Hey, could I ask you something?”
“Where are you, Miss, and Chef going to sleep? I only saw three beds in the back.”
“Great question. We converted part of the storage area below to a make-shift bedroom for the three of us. Just to make sure we’re outta your way, you know? Don’t you worry, when we take off, we’ll be outta your hair in no time. Have a great trip!” Goodwrench shook the teens’ hands and walked away.
“Doesn’t anybody here go by their real name?” Aaden asked.
“I guess not,” Corbyn replied. “To each his own I suppose.”
“Now what?” Maddy asked.
“I don’t know about you guys,” Corbyn said while sitting down at the conference table, “but I’m going to get on this laptop and check my email. I assume there’s Wi-Fi on here.”
“And I’m going to look around some more,” Maddy said. “This helicopter is amazing.”
“Told ya’.” Aaden smiled. He decided to relax until takeoff. He sat in one of the leather seats and stretched out.
A few minutes later, Maddy returned and sat in the chair next to him. “I can’t believe everything Grandpa’s company gave us for the quest.”
Aaden agreed. “I feel like royalty.”
Corbyn finished checking his email and closed the laptop. “I wonder who’s flying this thing. Is the pilot even here yet?”
An invisible and metallic voice suddenly filled the cabin. “I am, of course! Who did you think was flying? The Wright brothers?”
Looking up at the television screen hung from the cabin’s front wall, Team SoNaR saw something that took them completely by surprise.