The wind blew through the air with a ferocity that made John quiver. He was seated, quite firmly, in the very same helicopter that he had been in just a few week prior. Next to him, the young Ruby Rose was grinning from ear to ear. Today was a special day for John, as it was the first time he was traveling outside of town since his arrival.
He was thankful for the escape.
The last two weeks had mostly involved sitting in comfortable chairs while telling the blonde-haired woman, Samantha, about his feelings. She, in turn, had taught him more about the town that they called home, and the mystery of the massive place where they all lived.
Some called it the “world ship” and concluded it was in space.
Others thought they may be at the bottom of a deep ocean.
A few thought it was an underground facility.
The theories aside, what they did know was that it was incredibly large.
In the time since the first citizens had arrived, they had only explored a small area and even those scouted areas were largely foreign to them. The town was, to date, the only comfortable sanctuary that the citizens had.
That didn’t mean they weren’t still exploring though. No, there were entire groups of citizens that were dedicated to learning more about these mysteries. Samantha had explained that Olivia Sun was a young leader, one of the first to arrive, and was considered the leader of the explorer missions that were orchestrated from outside of town in a place called the Grid.
Unlike the town, there were no familiar structures or homely touches in the Grid. Instead, it appeared to be a kind of operation center, one that was built right into one of the massive superstructures that were located all across their contained environment.
The Grid itself looked like a cheesy sci-fi film, with high gloss black and white walls that stretched on for miles to create cross sections that intersected in a grid pattern. It was this design, that at a distance, gave the whole area its nickname. Samantha had spoken of the Grid rather dismissively, but John had become immediately captivated by the information. When she had offered him a chance to see it in person, he couldn’t refuse.
Of course, he hadn’t really considered how he would get from town to the Grid.
The helicopter was not his favorite.
“We use the Grid as our exploration HQ,” Ruby was explaining as the helicopter sped deeper into the black and white structures. “Not all of the citizens like the idea of helicopters and dangerous missions, so we give them some distance. This location is good for retrieving people from the Core anyway.”
He knew that one. The Core was the very center of the massive structure. Samantha had explained it to him the best that she, or anyone in town for that matter, could try. It was the deepest and oldest part of the ship. Every single person living in town had arrived inside a white room inside the Core. Over time they had set up the recording and monitoring system to alert them when they had new arrivals, and they had been picking them up ever since.
Just like John.
“Has anyone ever explored the Core?” John asked, assuming the answer.
“One of the early exploration teams tried, but they got so lost and turned around that they had to retreat. We almost lost them. Ever since then Olivia has denied any missions there. We just wait for new arrivals and get them out.”
“Why is Olivia in charge of exploration?” John asked. “Did she—”
“She was the first,” Ruby replied bluntly. “You’ll understand when you meet her.”
John frowned. He wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that answer.
The helicopter soon touched down on a makeshift landing pad that appeared to no more than a large open area on a high gloss black platform. These platforms were a common sight in the Grid; massive open spaces with various control rooms or otherwise largely unoccupied space.
As the blades on the helicopter slowed, Ruby pushed John out the side of the craft and together they walked across the landing pad to a relatively small looking room. Inside, the room was filled with all kinds of computers, flashing lights, and a pair of monitors that filled one of the walls. At the largest console, with the most computers, John saw two individuals, one male and one female, leaning over a viewing monitor that was displaying number sets and random letters.
“We’re here,” Ruby announced as she approached the two. “Any luck yet?”
“Nothing yet,” the male replied. He turned to Ruby and John saw that he was a well-built male with a chiseled jawline and thick black hair. He was, without doubt, the prime example of someone at the peak of good health. “This the new guy?” he asked, gesturing to John.
“Fresh from the Core just two weeks ago,” Ruby answered.
“Glad you could make it out to visit the Grid. My name is David Nash. Most people just call me Nash, so you’re welcome to go with whatever works for you.”
“Thank you, Nash,” John replied. “My name is John Davis.”
“Davis?” Nash asked. “I like it. What do you think so far?”
“It’s pretty amazing.”
“So what brings you to the Grid anyway?”
“Oh, uh, Samantha set it up,” John replied sheepishly, suddenly concerned that he was doing something uncommon. “She said it was—”
There was a heavy sigh from the woman at the console monitor and David Nash’s smile faded away. When she turned from the monitor to face the others, John knew instantly he was looking at the one called Olivia. She had black hair and a face the portrayed a mixture of concern and judgment at the same time. It generated an immediately aura of serious tension around her and it was clear that she was someone who belonged in leadership. Without having yet said a word, her stare alone forced John to stand as straight as he could muster.
“Samantha has a way of doing things that… annoy me.”
“I didn’t realize I was causing a problem.”
“Of course you didn’t,” Olivia said dismissively. “I don’t blame you, of course. Samantha knows better than sending new arrivals to me. She is always trying to force her way into our operations somehow.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” Ruby piped up. “He should see the Grid. It’s good for morale.”
Olivia paused and a little frustration seemed to melt away. After a moment she actually flashed a smile and looked to Ruby. “Fine. Yes. You can take him with you on your next run.”
“Excellent,” Ruby replied, not hiding her excitement. “I was also hoping, since we aren’t expecting any—”
“Flynn is piloting,” Olivia said, cutting her off. “No exceptions.”
Ruby deflated. “I’m never going to learn if you don’t let me fly.”
Olivia looked to John and then shrugged. “I would, Ruby, but with this new arrival, it only makes sense for the more experienced pilot to take the lead on this one.”
“I see what you did there,” Ruby grumbled.
“Good,” Olivia replied. “Now, a greeting is in order to the new arrival. Apologies for being short. Your name is John? That’s a nice name. Have you discovered any skills that you excel at yet?”
John shook his head. “Not yet.”
Olivia was, of course, talking about the discovery. It was another cryptic thing that occurred with every single citizen. Somewhere in their minds, each citizen harnessed a skill that they were exceptionally efficient at performing. It might be engineering, design, piloting, or anything really, but the only way to find out was to keep performing various tasks until you found the one you were best suited for. So far, John had found no such skill.
Olivia looked him over, top to bottom, and squinted her eyes. “My guess is you probably won’t be doing any heavy lifting. Oh well, there’s plenty of time to figure out where you belong.”
“Of course,” John said. “Thank you.”
“Ruby, a word with you for a moment?” Olivia asked, turning away from John.
“Certainly,” Ruby answered.
As Olivia, Ruby, and Nash all started to speak to one another in hushed tones, John’s eyes wandered. He saw more screens, all of them full of nonsense, except one little standalone computer that appeared to have some kind of memorandum displayed. A simple text document that was easy enough to read.
John cringed as he read. It was a simple enough report, probably on all of the activities happening here at the Grid, but the document was absolutely filled with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and plenty of poor wording that would no doubt send the wrong impression. He thought about ignoring it. He could just leave the report well alone, but it would be so easy to edit this document. The keyboard was mere inches away. He looked to the trio and saw they were still deep in discussion about something, so he decided he might as well make a few changes.
He typed away, fixing errors, rephrasing incomplete thoughts, and even adjusting the language used to make the overall tone of the report far less hostile. By the time he was making the last few changes he couldn’t help but think how much better this report would read for the intended audience.
“Excuse me!?” Olivia’s voice ripped him from his work. “Are you reading my report?”
John panicked, stepping back from the computer screen. “I’m so sorry. I was just—”
“Just snooping in other people’s business,” Olivia snapped. “I have half a mind to throw you out of here for that!”
“I didn’t mean any ill intent,” John tried to assure her. “I mean it. I don’t even really remember what it said.”
Olivia was fuming, but David Nash didn’t seem too bothered, and Ruby was coming to the rescue. “We’d better get going on that mission,” she said eagerly as she stepped toward John and wrapped one of her arms through his. “Come along, John.”
“Best not to talk,” Ruby added. “Let’s gooooo.”
The helicopter ride to the Core wasn’t nearly as chaotic or dangerous as John remembered from his first trip, though he was a fair bit stressed out then.
So, what do we know about the Core?” he asked Ruby as Flynn finished making one of the more complex turns in their trip.
“Not much,” Ruby said with a slight shrug. “We haven’t really tried to figure it out. Of all the mysteries we deal with, the Core is probably the lowest concern. I mean, we haven’t even seen the outside of the world ship, so we’re more focused on stuff like that.”
“So you think we’re in a giant spaceship too?” John asked.
“Almost everyone working in the Grid thinks so. It’s by far the most popular theory.”
“You’ll have to explain it to me when you get the chance,” John told her. “I’m not sure I know where to begin.”
The helicopter lurched and then dropped as Flynn expertly spun them around and touched down on the metal platform that connected to the Core exit. Just like before, Ruby was quick to leap from the helicopter and make her way toward the hallway where John could see someone waiting, just like he had been waiting a few weeks before.
“Best to wait here,” she said to him as she walked away.
As she got closer, John saw that the new arrival was a woman with brown hair, a thin build, and a look of utter terror on her face. He remembered what it was like being on that end of things and he understood now why Ruby started her greetings the way she did. As the young Ruby hugged the new arrival, he watched, ever so slightly, as a bit of tension eased on the new woman’s face.
John could see that Ruby had a compassionate heart. She didn’t just come on these missions because she had to, but because she wanted to. The people that arrived in the Core were tired, scared, and oftentimes slightly malnourished. Ruby was a positive experience in a wave of confusion or fear. He had been thankful for her presence when he arrived, and he could see that Nima would feel the same too.
He liked Ruby.
As the helicopter lifted off to take them back to town, John looked out at the hallway one last time and decided he’d rather not come back here again, if he could avoid it.