Aloha – Hope you were able to participate in the free read of the Orion Spur series last week. Meanwhile, back to the future. Eric and company are stranded. Chapter 5 is below for your reading enjoyment. If you missed the first 4 chapters, they are available in the blog archives :o) Doc
Chapter 5 Easy Peasy
Eric spent most of the night reading manuals and manning the radio. He thought he was getting something between the static during the late hours of the night, but it eventually became clear that it was a radio station in St Louis.
Early the next morning Kim came back into the cockpit, “the natives are growing restless.”
“Time for another potty break?” Eric laughed sardonically.
Kim smiled, “That would probably help, but I think Bernard is up to something. He has a group of kids in a tight circle. Every time I go by they clam up.”
Eric grinned tightly, his dark eyes almost glaring, “They can plot all they want to, but there isn’t much we can do until Springfield comes back online,” he rose from the chair and stretched. “Let’s start with the restroom break. I haven’t seen a cloud dragon since we landed. It seems odd. Maybe the tornado sucked them all in and carried the off to Oz.”
Kim got a far off look in her eye, and then shook her head, “I hope you’re right.”
With Kim on the laser controls, Eric decided to take his chances and use the restroom instead of a cup. Instead of racing out in a crowd, he set the class up in two groups of about a dozen each. He waited and went out with the second group.
The sky was clear this morning, but in the distance, Eric noticed large cumulus clouds forming in the south. He anticipated another stormy night. Maybe we should move the copter back down into the building this afternoon if we haven’t heard from Springfield by then, he thought as he walked back onto the craft feeling much relieved.
“Hey Brice we want to talk to you,” came a low voice, that Eric recognized as that of Bernie Parker. Bernie was a big kid, half a head taller than Eric and almost twice as wide. Eric didn’t spend a lot of time with Bernie as their interests and classwork took totally different directions. While Eric was into academics, Bernie was into vocational education. Bernie was already a certified plumbing specialist and had his post-high school career already lined up, while Eric had six to eight years of post-secondary education ahead of him. Bernie was an all All-Parish Football star; Eric was a bookworm. Bernie had a big mouth; Eric didn’t really like talking at all.
“What do you need Bernie?” Eric knew there was trouble brewing even as he asked.
“We’ve waited long enough,” Bernie’s voice rose loud enough for everyone to hear. All five of his companions nodded in agreement.
This would be a good time for some teacher support, Eric thought looking around for Miss Jackson, who was hovering over Mr. Dewquist and who seemed to be intentionally ignoring the discussion. “Right,” Eric let slip out in a disgusted voice.
“Right what?” Bernie baited.
“So what exactly do you want us to do Bernie?” Eric lowered his voice, as he settled into one of the seats on the lower deck. If I’m sitting he won’t punch me, Eric strategized.
“We want you to fly us out of here now,” Bernie continued in a loud voice.
“And when we run out of fuel?” Eric quizzed.
“If you fly high enough we should be able to spot Springfield,” Bernie grinned, missing a front tooth. “Easy peasy.”
“Could work in Utah,” Eric confessed. “But here?” he paused, “Have you considered that Springfield Parish is surrounded by massive forests of Oak trees? The trees would block the view from a distance.”
“I don’t believe you,” Bernie drew in close. Then bending over even closer he got in Eric’s face. “Move it or lose it,” he growled in a low voice.
“Knock it off,” another voice chimed in and suddenly Bernie went flying sideways.
“Keep out of this Tony,” Bernie regained his footing and turned in a tensed position. Looking around he relaxed his stance. Tony had gathered the rest of the class with Kviiiy at his side.
Eric decided that Kviiiy actually looked more intimidating than Tony with her hands on her hips and her red hair snarled into some wild coiffure.
“Eric is right,” Tony stated flatly. “I have no desire to try to find a lost city through a wilderness of trees and bushes. Who knows what might be out there. And, we wouldn’t even know which way to go if we run out of fuel. You’re being stupid.”
“Stupid” was a mistake Eric noticed and even Tony seemed to realize as soon as the words slipped out of his mouth. “Stupid” was a word that had resulted in more than one fight with Bernie. Bernie was not stupid, but he could not read well and he had been very defensive about that since first grade.
Bernie charged at Tony with everyone else backing out of the way.
Tony managed to side step Bernie’s first charge, but Eric did not believe that outmaneuvering Bernie would work long in a confined space.
“Stop it!” a voice screamed from the top of the stairwell. “You’re all stupid!” came Kim’s voice.
Bernie along with everyone in the compartment stopped and stared.
“Eric,” she called in a loud voice, “you need to come up here. There is some sort of connection coming through, but it is not on the radio. It might be a self-destruct signal or something.
Eric flew up the stairs to the cockpit, closely followed by Tony and several other students. Kim was right there was a red light flashing on a panel that had previously been dead. He turned exhaling slowly, “Not a self-destruct,” he gasped in relief. “… Looks like we may be able to fulfil Bernie’s wishes. It’s a GPS homing beacon.”
“Does this mean we can go home?” Chanel spoke up, and a noisy buzz of excitement flowed through Deck Two and down the stairs.
“I don’t know about home,” Eric couldn’t restrain his smile, “but I believe this is our map back to Springfield Central.” He settled back into the pilot’s chair and without turning called out, “Get everyone strapped in. We’ll take off as soon as they’re ready.”
For a moment Eric was worried, as the starboard rear rotor did not start up right away, but on a third reboot it began to turn.
“Looks like you were afraid we wouldn’t make it,” Kim’s voice came from the co-pilot chair.
“I might be able to fly this thing with three rotors, but I’d rather not try,” Eric relaxed into his seat.
The liftoff was smoother this time, as Eric took the copter vertical for several feet then began to follow the beacon south-southeast. Relaxing in his seat he turned to Kim, “I’m glad we waited, I was going to try due south. I think we would have missed Springfield Central completely.”
“I wouldn’t have let you take off,” Kim spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. “Stupid is as stupid does. If you’d have let Bernard bully you into taking off I had no doubt it would have been for destination disaster.” She leaned back in her seat and put her feet up, barely touching the dash, “It’s bullies like him that exacerbate the disasters of weak leaders.”
Eric noticed she slumped down further into her seat and got a distant look in her eye. He added reflectively, “Or exacerbate the disasters of no leaders.”
Kim returned from her lethargy, “You did okay,” she glanced over. “Better than okay I’d say. You were smart enough to sit down when he obviously was itching for a fight. You totally deflated the opportunity for escalation.
“I thought you were in the cockpit,” Eric stared suspiciously at Kim.
“Actually I was on my way down to tell you that the homing beacon had activated, but decided to watch the fireworks…”
“You knew it was a homing beacon?” Eric accused more than asked.
“Of course I did,” Kim laughed. “But suggesting the copter might blow up certainly seemed to distract the argument of Bernard and company.”
“Why do you keep calling him Bernard?” Eric asked.
“That’s his name,” Kim replied coolly. “Plus, it seems to irritate him. Bernie seems like a pleasant friendly name. Bernard feels more like an irritation, which he is.”
Eric had gradually let the copter drift down so that it was flying twenty to thirty meters above the tree line. Tall old timber was broken up with younger hardwood trees reclaiming farmlands from an era gone by. “Imagine,” Ryder posited, “what it must have been like to need this much farmland.”
“The population had outgrown the planet,” Kim replied in her matter-of-fact voice. The Transition was probably the best solution, it certainly has reduced the human footprint on the Earth,” she laughed sarcastically. “But I still wonder if there wasn’t a better solution.”
“War, famine, disease,” Eric replied quietly. “I think this was probably the better choice.”
The forest ahead was torn up as if a giant had walked through uprooting trees along the path. “Boy that’s a mess,” Kim changed the subject. “Must be the path of the tornado from yesterday.”
“Yes,” Eric agreed, “glad I wasn’t in its path.” He stared down closer and accidentally brought the copter down with his gaze; causing a commotion downstairs as some of the passengers had released their seat belts.
“Watch it,” Kim warned.
“Sorry, I’m still new at this,” Eric confessed. Even as he spoke, his eye continued to focus on the area below. “I think the tornado ripped right through the train line. Look at that.” He pointed to a section of track that was upturned and twisted, “Glad we weren’t on a train passing through the area when that happened.”
“Oh no,” Kim squealed. “Over there.”
Half way up a nearby oak tree were several birds fluttering around a metallic object. Eric spotted a light beam emit from the tree. “That is a train,” he momentarily lost his concentration and the copter wobbled causing an uproar from the cabin below. “It is being attacked by those Cloud Dragons.”
“Hard to believe anyone is alive. But they have a laser working,” Kim replied. “Get us in closer,” she growled angrily.
Trying to scatter a crowd of Cloud Dragons was no easy task. “Blue Jays,” Kim clarified. “Stop calling them Dragons.” She drilled a blue jay in the head with a laser beam and it fell fluttering toward the ground.
Twice blue jays came close to clipping the copter as Eric veered away from collisions with the birds. Once, an angry jay came flying to the craft with obvious intent for a collision, but Kim successfully hit it in the eye. It continued to fly but dove under the deadly beam of light.
The train, hanging precariously from a branch with the lower two cars dangling helplessly, was a mangled mess. Eric was surprised that anyone was alive to man one of the laser cannon. He was not surprised that other than the cannon fire itself the train and its cargo appeared to be dead.
A few malingering blue jays continued to return to the easy feast for several minutes before they gave up with severely singed feathers. Finally, the last of the stalwart Cloud Dragons departed for less painful hunting.
Drawing in as close to the train as he could, Eric spotted the gunner on the train who waved, beckoning the copter closer. “Could you go get Tony for me?” he called to Kim.
“Right here Eric,” Tony called from the doorway.
“Can you figure out a way to retrieve the survivors?” Eric asked, and then had to turn back to flying as he narrowly missing a branch that was dancing nearby. “I don’t know if I can bring it in much closer.”
“What about from above?” Kim asked. “It looks like we have a reasonable opening for several feet above the train,” she pointed.
“I can get there,” Eric agreed. “But how do we get the passengers?”
“I’ll work it out,” Tony called over his should as he turned to leave.
Less than two minutes later Kviiiy was at the doorway. “Tony wants to know if you can open the main exit, and stay as close to the train as you can… without moving around.”
“What’s he going to do?” Eric asked.
“Tony has the emergency hose ready to use to haul people up,” Kviiiy smiled. “He’s brilliant you know.”
“Cha-nel,” Eric provided a pseuo-sneeze.
“Hey,” Kviiiy responded in complaint.
“Just saying,” Eric replied. “Tell him I’ll hold it steady, but they’ll have to hurry. I don’t have unlimited fuel.”
Less than a minute later Kviiiy was back. “Tony’s going to have to go down. Looks like everyone on the train is hurt one way or another.”
Eric grimaced, “Tell him to hurry.”
After Kviiiy left, Kim looked over from her perpetual scan for blue jays. “How long do you think we have?”
“Hard to say,” Eric kept his hands tight on the controls. “The wind is starting to pick up. I’d hate to be dangling on a hose if it gets any worse. Then there is the fuel problem. We’re bumping on empty, but the red light hasn’t kicked in a warning yet. It sort of depends on how far it is from here to Springfield Central.”
Kim grimaced, “Well I’ll have to give it to Tony; he has guts. I can see what is coming in from above, but he’s pretty exposed under the copter. Hope they still have someone on the laser cannon on the train.”
A gust of wind caught the copter and Eric fought to stabilize the craft. “I hope he has good gription as well.
Gription? Kim paused in her scan of the horizon and looked inquiringly at Eric.
Eric blushed, “It is a word my sister coined. It makes sense to me. I’d define it as the ability to stick to or hold onto something else.”
Over the next twenty minutes, Kviiiy returned to the cockpit several times.
“They got the first one up. She has several broken bones.”
“You almost lost that one, can’t you hold it steadier?”
“Last one coming up now. They’re going to have to hurry because that guy was on the laser.”
As if a starting gun had sounded, three blue jays suddenly appeared from above diving toward the copter. Kim started firing immediately breaking up the attack that seemed more likely aimed at the meal that Tony and the last survivor appeared to be.
“All aboard,” Kviiiy returned breathlessly.
“Let’s get out of here,” Eric mouthed as he turned the copter out of the tree and moved back toward the direction that the GPS signal indicated. Suddenly a chime began ringing and a red light began flashing in the cockpit. “I was afraid of that,” Eric grimaced.
“Fuel?” Kim asked.
“Are we going to crash?” Kviiiy yelped.