It felt so foreign a place to John. He had only traveled here a few times since he arrived in town, and each trip reminded him how cold and rigid it felt compared to the warmth and welcoming feeling back in town. Glass and metal structures were all that could be found in the massive superstructures that made up the Grid.
Honestly, he didn’t understand why Olivia preferred it here.
He had learned, however, that most of the engineers assumed the black and chrome towers were home to all of the ship’s computer servers. It was, in a sense, the brain of the entire “world ship”… if it was a ship.
He had concluded, like the other engineers, that they were indeed aboard a spaceship. He wasn’t sure when he gave up on the other theories, but at some point he had.
No matter the reality, learning more about the place where they lived was imperative. The Grid was the secret to unlocking that knowledge. The computer servers for the entire world. The engineers had been trying, ever since discovering this place, to tap in and access the massive amount of data that flowed through the computers.
So far, as Flynn Brickshelm was explaining while he flew John to the Grid, they had mostly come up empty.
“We do have a map now,” he said, turning the helicopter toward the landing pads in the near distance. “Just months and months of perusing systems, pushing buttons, and one day we finally got it. A nice three dimensional schematic of the ship. It was a major win for us. That’s how we found out about the Garden, the Hangar, the Upper Levels, and the Warehouse. We even have an idea how the ship looks from the outside. Most of us call the ship Lamppost. It looks like one, or at least we think so.”
“Are those all names for parts of the ship?”
“Yeah. The Garden is the one we’re most excited about. It’s an entirely open jungle ecosystem. It has its own weather, animals, all sorts of stuff. There is even a massive lake too. It’s bigger than our whole town!”
“That’s impressive. Have you explored all of the areas?”
“We wish,” Flynn replied. “We’ve barely scratched the surface. We mostly just poke around the lower levels as of late, but we’re working on a way to get to the Upper Levels.”
“What about the Garden? Why not explore that?”
“It’s behind pressure sealed doors. We don’t know how to open them.”
“You can’t open the doors?”
Flynn shook his head. “We don’t know how to control them. The ship uses its own computer systems. Without some way to bridge our two communication systems, we can’t talk. It’s gibberish.”
“I understand,” John said. “Two people talking in different languages.”
The helicopter spun to finish its landing and Flynn nodded in response as he looked out the left window. “Alright, let’s get you to Olivia. She doesn’t care for long waits.”
If Olivia didn’t like long waits, she certainly didn’t mind making others wait for her. John had been outside of her office for over an hour when she finally opened her office door, looked him over for a long moment, and then finally said, “Well, come on in.”
Inside, he took his place across from her while she put her hands together and placed them across her desk, very proper and rather suspicious.
“So,” Olivia started, looking over John’s latest reports. “I hired you to be my correspondent with Rayland and the others. I thought I was keeping you busy, but I heard you are publishing newsletters now?”
“That’s right,” John said. “You’ll see I haven’t slowed in my work. Your notes and messages are being sent as they were before. My writing project shouldn’t impact anything related to my workload.”
“Well, all I can say about your work is… thank you. Your efforts to temper my prose has led to marked improvements with my communications in town. I think most of them prefer to speak to me through letter now rather than face to face.”
“I’m glad I’ve been helpful.”
“So, what is it that brings you here today?” she asked. “Business or newsletter?”
“Maybe a little bit of both,” John answered. “Olivia, you have a really great operation going on here at the Grid. You’re learning new things about our home, finding new places that we can explore, and all kinds of other cool stuff. The problem is, no one in town knows anything about it. You’re kind of a mystery to them. The citizens already have enough mysteries to deal with, so I was thinking we might use my writing abilities to do a little bit of public relations.”
Olivia sat silenty, so he continued.
“Did you read my first piece?” he asked. “About Bryan Steeles?”
“I did,” she responded. “Not very informative if you know the man.”
“Sure,” John agreed. “There is the problem. Most people here don’t know him. Did you know they call you guys the main six?”
“So, you have heard it before?”
“In passing,” she admitted.
“You’re like a mythological group to most of the citizens. Oliver feeds the masses, Samantha nurtures them, and you… you’re living away in seclusion. That needs to change. If you did read my piece about Bryan you saw his opinion about forming a government and creating leadership roles. The people love the idea. It’s not a matter of if, but when. You can’t risk getting left behind.”
“So your solution is an article… about me?”
“Exactly. Bryan really opened himself up in my first piece. The citizens feel like they know him and they feel like they can be a part of his plan. He got support for his ideas and you need that too. You can get people excited for the exploration missions!”
“Do you plan to write one of these for all of the… main six?”
“That’s right. I already have Bryan published and Oliver has volunteered as well.”
“I doubt Rayland will be interested.”
“He already agreed.”
Olivia frowned. John knew she would use Rayland as a defense against letting him write. That was why he had gone to the older man first. It was true that Rayland had agreed to do the interview and let John write about it, but only if Olivia agreed to as well. He hoped his omission of that fact wouldn’t come back to bite him.
“Alright, John. If you think this is the right move, then I’ll give you a small amount of my trust. If you’re wrong, then I suspect it won’t matter much.”
“I’m not going to take no… wait… what?”
“I agree to your plan,” Olivia said more clearly. “Make me appealing to the masses, Mr. Davis.”
“Oh, well… wow.” John was flabbergasted. He had come in expecting a fight from Olivia, not a few questions and then a quick agreement. He was happy for it, of course, but when you have prepared for something so thoroughly and it just doesn’t happen, it can be a shock.
“Trouble?” she asked.
“No no. I’m happy to hear it. Did you want to schedule a time or—”
“How about now?”
Again, John was surprised. “Now? You don’t have other things going on?”
“I’ll always have things going on, John. Does this work for you?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Okay then, let’s get to it. What have you got for me?”
John fumbled over his notepad and flipped to where he’d been jotting down his initial questions for Olivia. They weren’t complete, but he’d have to fly by the seat of his pants to get this done, so he just scrolled through until he found the one question he knew he needed an answer to if this was going to work.
“Okay,” he said slowly. “This one is going to feel like prying.”
“Try not to get angry.”
Olivia pursed her lips, but said nothing.
“Bryan Steeles may or may not have let it slip during his interview that you’ve been requesting a lot of material movements here. He thinks you’re working on something… big. So, what is it?”
John could have started with a softball question, maybe about Olivia’s origins or how she came to manage the entire exploration team, but those were all questions he could get answered easily enough. This one had been bothering him since Bryan mentioned it. He wanted to know.
Olivia betrayed no emotion at first, but then she let out a long breath of air and gestured toward the door of her office. “Right, let’s go.”
John wasn’t sure how far they walked before they reached the first lift. Olivia pressed a few buttons and they lowered down to the next level. At this point, John noticed a lot of people running back and forth, some of them covered in grease and others in sweat. There were a few different types of vehicles, each of them hovering without touching the ground. He had heard about the “repulsors” from Ruby. These vehicles were used by the personnel here to sometimes move around quickly, or lift heavy loads. They weren’t built by us, but rather re-purposed from autonomous machines that worked endlessly in the Grid.
“Everyone seems busy,” he noted.
“Look at what they’re doing,” Olivia said.
John looked back out over the platform. At first he saw nothing. There were plenty of supply crates being pushed back and forth, but nothing of note. He was just about to ask her again what he was looking for when he spotted it. It looked like a large airplane in the distance.
He looked to Olivia and she gestured toward the vehicle. He stepped off the lift and rushed down the platform until he had passed the last of the big crates and could get a clear view of the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
“Is that… a spaceship?” he asked.
For the first time since they’d met, John saw Olivia really smile. There was an excitement there that had been absent in all of their other interactions.
“You wanted to know what we are working on. Well, there you have it. We call her Explorer One and she’s going to discover more than we could have ever hoped.”
“Why have you been keeping this a secret?” John asked loudly.
“A number of reasons,” Olivia answered. “We weren’t even sure it would fly at first. Our research on the repulsor technology is limited at best. There’s a lot of gambles involved in making it work the way we want.”
“Is this really going to fly?” John asked, turning from the craft to Olivia.
“It’s really going to fly,” she answered.
“This is going to change everything,” John stated, looking back to the vessel.
“I fear it will.” Olivia’s responded firmly. “Everything.”
“So none of the others know?”
“Only those I assigned directly to the assembly efforts,” Olivia said. “So when you write your article and publish your next newsletter, you’ll be informing everyone in town.”
John felt his gut clench. He hadn’t published anything so significant. His article about Bryan had been more of an appeal to the masses. Olivia’s story would be more… dangerous.
“Okay,” he said, turning back toward her office. “We have our explosive twist. Now it’s time to go back and learn more about you. That’s what this article will focus on the most. The person behind it all. Olivia Sun.”
Olivia’s joy was sapped almost immediately. “Yes, of course. Let’s go.”