Olivia Sun was standing in a dark room; a room filled with tall windows and lots of chairs. The lighting was poor, no more than little cans sunken into a ceiling, and a red velvety material covered the walls. This place, like so many other things in town, had instant recognition in her mind. It was a movie theater.
This building was one of the few left on main street that didn’t have citizens crammed in every available room. The large empty space and lack of living facilities had made it a lackluster choice for homes at first, but Olivia assumed it would become that way soon enough.
Behind her, Jonathan Davis was rocking on his feet, clearly eager to hear her reaction.
“Why am I here, exactly?” she asked, turning to face him.
“Welcome to Mission Control,” John blurted with a smile. “It’s got everything!”
“Chairs,” she said flatly. “It has chairs and almost nothing else.”
“Hear me out,” John said, stepping closer and extending an arm to point across the room. “Just imagine this space. We could remove every other row of chairs and get makeshift desks in place. Get our computers and monitoring systems set up here instead of at the Grid. We could monitor every little detail of the mission.”
She paused, looked at the area again, and then her eyes came to rest on the large screen that loomed over the entire room. She knew what John was suggesting. She had been trying to figure out a way to construct a large area that could serve as Mission Control for the upcoming Explorer One mission. Unfortunately, while she had engineers that knew how to work on electrical components, she hadn’t found a citizen that was ready to tackle building an entire structure for her. Her alternatives had all been lackluster. In truth, John had found the perfect place, but she felt uneasy about putting her operation here in the middle of town.
Ever since John had started publishing his newsletters, which covered various townsfolk and activities aboard the world ship, the interest in her explorer missions had skyrocketed. Moving some of her activities back to town would no doubt increase her popularity, but it would also mean dealing with public relations.
She hated public relations.
Still, she wouldn’t have to continue dealing with Bryan Steele’s logistics for food and supplies, at least not for those working here. There were enough positives to give it weight. Instead of admitting that the writer had proposed a solid solution to her problem, however, she simply shrugged. “It’s a bit musty in here.”
“That’s your only complaint?” John asked. “Come on!”
She cracked a small smile for his sake. “I am kidding. I’m ready to concede. This would make a good choice for Mission Control. There is one major hurdle, however.”
“Anything,” John said. “I can tackle it.”
“If you can get Rayland to sign off on my team taking over the cinema, then we’ll do it.”
“Awesome!” John exclaimed. “I’ll have Rayland on board in no time!”
Rayland’s answer was short and expressed absolutely no room for debate. His forehead was creased with wrinkles when he said it, like someone tasting something awful and holding it in their mouth rather than spitting it out.
John had spent the better part of twenty minutes setting up the narrative, explaining the happenings at the Grid; the reasons they needed the cinema, and how they could use it to capitalize on the public opinion of the explorer missions.
The simple response wasn’t good enough. John wanted more than that.
“Ray,” he added, leaning closer. “We need this.”
“I doubt that,” Rayland replied, already trying to ignore John again as he shuffled through some loose paper. “The Cinema is potential living space for more citizens. We’ll need that room for new arrivals. End of story.”
“Is there no one that can build homes in the community?”
Rayland paused. “I… I honestly don’t know. No one has come forward with that skill.”
John was happy to hear that.
“I can find out,” he said. “I can help you. Let me find you someone that can help. Someone that can build us new homes and living spaces rather than trying to force people into an old movie theater.”
The older man, for Rayland was one of the oldest citizens, seemed to mull this over for a longer time than John had expected. Whatever resolve he had against the idea before appeared to be melting away from the heat of a potential political advantage. John wasn’t a particular fan of Rayland Walsh. He would be voting for Bryan Steeles in the election for mayor, but he also understood that Ray was liked by many of the citizens. He would probably win even without getting John’s help.
“Alright,” Rayland finally said. “I agree to your plan. You find me someone that can actually design or lay out building plans for our town and I’ll help support Olivia’s takeover of the old cinema.”
“You’re making the right decision,” John said, beaming. “But, uh, they need the building sooner than later.”
Rayland paused again. “Why do you need it now?”
“The Explorer One mission. We need Mission Control up and running before we start the final simulations and testing for the mission.”
“Fine, if Olivia wants the cinema, so be it. You, John, had better get me someone that knows how to design and build, or I will not hesitate to kick the entire explorer group out of the building, even if it’s during their precious mission.”
John felt a small bubble of anger pop inside his gut. His dislike of Rayland Walsh wasn’t going to change any time soon. He nodded at the threat and then turned and headed outside the building with a grin growing at every step.
He had done it. The cinema would be the new Mission Control.
This was great news.
“This is terrible news,” Ruby Rose said as she took her seat in Oliver’s restaurant. “Why aren’t we setting up at the Grid?”
“The town is the better option for visual range,” Olivia explained. “It’s a good decision. I’m thankful that John was able to secure the building for us. We can start moving in immediately.”
“We’ll need to move some stuff out first,” Flynn said as he leaned against a large supply crate. “At least some positioning.”
“There is certainly work to be done,” Olivia said as she spotted Oliver approaching. “That’s talk for another time.”
“What will you all be having?” Oliver Lafayette asked once he was close enough. “I assume the Vegetable soup?””
“I’ll have some of the seasoned chicken,” John said as he flashed a few bank notes at the Chef. “Assuming there is any left?”
“Indeed there is,” Oliver said happily.
“Soup for me,” Flynn said. “Saving up for the next time you have steak.”
Lafayette laughed. “You might find yourself waiting a long time. Not a lot of cows out and about these days. What about you, Ruby Rose?”
The younger girl was still browsing the menu of the day. She started to pick a few different items, but eventually just shook her head and said, “The soup is fine.”
When Lafayette turned to Olivia, she simply shook her head.
“Of course,” the chef said, rolling his eyes. “Okay then, I’ll get started.”
As he walked away, Flynn leaned over to Olivia. “Did you bring ration bars here?”
“I always have them on me,” Olivia replied.
“Why not eat the soup?”
“I know what’s in the ration bars,” she countered. “I don’t know what’s in the soup.”
“Vegetables,” John said. “It’s in the name.”
Olivia gave him a smirk.
“Ah well, your loss,” Flynn said. “It’s delicious. I don’t care how little Chef Lafayette thinks of his soup. It’s wonderful.”
“You haven’t eaten it twenty days in a row,” Ruby chimed in. “It gets old.”
“You can use some of your bank notes to pay for something else,” John suggested. “The chicken is amazing.”
Ruby shook her head. “It’s fine. I don’t want to eat anything heavy anyway.”
Flynn leaned forward against the table and put his palm atop Ruby’s head. “Because this little champion is cleared for piloting the helicopter. She’s up for the next run to the Core!”
“Congratulations,” John said rather loudly. “I know you’ve been excited about that.”
“I was,” Ruby replied. “Now, not so much.”
“Ah, you’ll be fine,” Flynn said, leaning back in his chair. “You aced the simulation for it.”
“So,” OIivia said, breaking the conversation. “What dark deed did you promise to Rayland in exchange for us getting the cinema?”
“I might have promised him an architect.”
Olivia raised a brow. “Can you fulfill that promise?”
John frowned. “I’m not sure yet.”
“Well perhaps we shouldn’t get—”
Olivia’s radio crackled, cutting her off. She grabbed it and pressed the button on the side. “This is Olivia, what is it Nash?”
“Signal alert. We have new arrivals at the Core.”
“Repeat that. Did you say, arrivals? As in more than one?”
“That’s right. Three people. All at once. Olivia, one of them is just a kid.”
Olivia paused and then looked to Ruby. “You’re up.”
“What?” Ruby asked, eyes wide. “I can’t pick up three arrivals by myself. Can’t Flynn come with me on this one?”
Flynn looked to Olivia, clearly interested, but she shook her head. “No, you wanted this responsibility and now you have a healthy dose of it. I can’t put two pilots on one ship.”
“I can go,” John offered.
“Thanks,” Ruby said, “Honestly, that would just make me feel like I’ve got four people I’m responsible for instead of three. Not to mention the helicopter’s weight limit would be close to max capacity with four passengers aboard.”
“You need to get started on that newsletter anyway,” Olivia chimed in. “You’re after an architect, remember?”
“Yeah,” John said, “Right.”
As Ruby stood from the table, John could see her hands shaking ever so slightly. Olivia must have spotted it too. She reached out, taking a gentle hold of Ruby, and the girl stopped. Olivia pressed the button on her radio again. “David, I’m going to have Ruby en route with the helicopter right away. Due to the unique nature of this pickup, I’d like you to ride along with her.”
“Seems reasonable,” David replied. “I’ll be waiting at the pad.”
As Olivia lowered the radio, Ruby said, “Thank you. What about the weight?”
Olivia shook her head. “The helicopter can handle it. I’m confident.”
“That’s the kind of stuff we need the public to see,” John said, breaking the moment between the two. “You’re tough, but caring. Great leadership skills if you ask me.”
Olivia watched Ruby leave the restaurant and then turned to look at him. “You’re so bent on convincing the citizens to like me. Why?”
“It’s easy to get caught up in our town. We’re playing with money and opening shops and trying to get houses and whatever. It’s just easy to forget the reality of our situation. You’re the anchor that we all need. The reminder that this, despite its appearances, isn’t home.”
Olivia frowned at his words. “That seems… bad.”
“You represent gravity, even if it’s just a little pull. You keep us grounded.”
She pursed her lips. “Alright, enough tomfoolery. I’ve got a mission to prep and you’ve got an architect to find. Let’s get to it.”