Jonathan Davis was excited.
Today was a monumentally significant day for the town. After roughly three years of operating as a somewhat successful collective commune, the citizens were about to establish their own form of government!
Rayland Walsh was riding high on his perceived victory. Almost everyone favored the long time town supporter over the less enthusiastic and somewhat reclusive Bryan Steeles. While Bryan’s resume looked good, he had no real public image to capitalize upon. He had spent most of his time locked up in the town bank, both in the past as a logistics expert, and now as the town’s semi-official treasurer.
Ruby and John had decided to meet up at Oliver’s for lunch before she was set to go on another shift at the grid. She had taken on a lot of piloting responsibilities at the Grid since the Explorer One mission and now she also served as a trainer for other young pilots. That alone would have kept her busy enough, but she’d also let John in on a secret.
They had found another helicopter in the warehouse.
She already called it the “green beast”.
“I really can’t wait to get back down there and work on it,” she said excitedly just before taking a big bite of a chicken sandwich and quickly swallowing it without chewing. “Another helicopter will make things a lot easier.”
“I’m more eager to see this election results,” John said. “Helicopters are cool, but a new government structure? Who doesn’t like that?”
Ruby shook her head. “Nothing to wait for. It’s not like Bryan is going to win anyway. Rayland has always been one of the people. He’s the logical choice. It would take someone from the main six to throw the vote.”
“You think they have that much influence?”
Ruby laughed. “The main six? I mean, they were pretty much the government until now. I assume it still will be once the tallies are counted too. Just more official, I guess.”
“I suppose that’s possible,” John admitted. “When did you arrive here?”
“I was number forty-six.”
“I don’t even know my number,” John said. “I feel bad.”
“Number one hundred and eight,” Ruby said, shoving a handful of fries into her mouth and chewing only a few times before they disappeared. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
He laughed. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“First mission where Flynn let me have the stick for a bit,” she added. “So fun. It was a lot more fun back then when I was just a student. Being the teacher is terrifying.”
“I imagine so.”
Ruby reached for more food, but her hand came up empty. She glanced at the plate and saw that she’d cleaned it off. She frowned and checked her pocket to be sure. “Ah, no more Bryan bucks.”
“You have a nickname for everything?”
She grinned. “I try.”
“Do you have a nickname for me?”
“Obviously. We call you the nerd.”
“Ah, in a good way,” she added quickly. “I can always change it to bookworm.”
“Alright alright, enough of that,” John said. “I was about to buy you some more fries.”
“Then I’ll call you moneybags,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “How do you manage to get any money?”
“Government salary,” he said jokingly. “Writers have to eat too.”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “Make the fries large!”
Olivia had dozens of files scattered about the cinema. She was searching through all the schematics of the Explorer One, still trying to isolate the sudden power draw that had nearly killed the repulsors during the mission.
So far nothing had shown up.
Downstairs she heard the main door open and decided whoever was coming could see themselves up. Sure enough, a minute later Rayland Walsh appeared at the top of the stairs.
“You again?” she asked. “You must really like it here.”
“I don’t mean to bother,” he said. “It’s just that, with the election tonight, I was hoping to have all of the main six voice their support for mayor. It doesn’t have to be me, of course, I think Caleb Vann is supporting Bryan.”
“You called him a fake doctor once, if I recall,” Olivia said casually. “He never forgives.”
Rayland chuckled. “It’s just that your silence on the matter implies you may not support the whole thing at all. While that might have been fine a few weeks ago, the Explorer One mission has made you quite popular. We all really want this to work.”
“Of course,” she said. “You supported my mission. I see no reason I can’t support this endeavor in return. I’m not sure, however, who I would like to be our mayor.”
Rayland looked hurt for a moment. “Is it really a difficult choice? I’m in the process of getting us new homes, and worrying about the community culture, while Bryan is counting money!”
“From what I understand that money has made waves. Good idea from Bryan, wouldn’t you say?”
“So you support Bryan then?”
Olivia shook her head. “No, I don’t suspect I do.”
“So, are you just toying with me?”
“We have a write in option, don’t we?” she inquired.
“So, perhaps, if a popular person such as myself decided to campaign at the last minute, I might find myself as a viable candidate for mayor?”
Rayland suddenly looked concerned. “Are you serious?”
Olivia shrugged again.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Honesty first,” she said. “If I ran, right now, do you think I could beat you?”
Rayland swallowed hard, then nodded.
“Then take comfort,” she said. “All I ask is a small favor.”
“I never expected you to be one for bribes.”
Not a bribe,” she assured him. “A promise.”
“Support. The continued support from the mayor’s office for my missions.”
“Well, of course you have my support. I assumed that was obvious.”
“It’s easy to say that you support me now, Rayland, but I can’t promise that the next mission will be as successful as this one. I can’t tell you that we won’t lose people, or suffer a major setback down the road. So, I need to know the mayor’s office has my back when the people of town inevitably lose interest in our mission.”
For a moment Rayland looked conflicted, but then he took a deep breath and extended a hand to Olivia. “I promise you this,” he said proudly. “I do understand the importance of your work. So long as you aren’t reckless, so long as you aren’t wasteful, and so long as you are honest with me about any discoveries you make on your missions, then I will support you.”
“That’s all I needed to hear,” Olivia said, taking his hand firmly and giving it a shake. “I will cast my support for you this afternoon when I go to the bank to vote.”
“I appreciate it, Olivia,” Rayland said. “I hope this is the beginning of a solid working relationship between us. For now and as long as they let me lead.”
Olivia’s official support for Rayland made the election a landslide. Bryan did not seem bothered by his loss at all, proudly telling the community that he would continue to serve in whatever capacity Rayland saw fit for him.
Rayland wasted no time naming him as the town’s official Treasurer.
Long before the election, Rayland had laid out his plan for a city council, which he would oversee as mayor. The positions would be appointed by the elected mayor, and then the council would have veto power over the mayor so long as they all agreed to it. Otherwise it would largely be a council that could only influence the mayor and hope for the best. There were some risks to this approach, but almost everyone agreed it would be simple enough to oust Rayland if he got abusive and hold another election.
The results of the election were read aloud at Town Hall.
Meanwhile, the rest of the citizens had turned main street into a social gathering with people cheering and dancing just as they had done after the successful landing of Explorer One. John had been invited to join Rayland’s team for a celebration meal at Oliver’s, but he had slipped upstairs to escape the festivities and watch from the safety of his flat.
He had just about had enough people watching when he noticed that Flynn and David were breaking away from the party and heading to the cinema, where John assumed Olivia was still at work. He thought about staying put, but his curiosity got the best of him. He grabbed his notepad and rushed back outside into the chaos of the street party and over.
Olivia was just finishing her final pass over the power circuitry when Flynn and David came up the stairs to Mission Control. David looked as placid as ever, but Flynn seemed concerned. The fact that her star pilot had any reservations made her sit straight up.
“What is it?” she asked.
“The engineers figured out the power drain,” David said. “It was the radio.”
“It’s a mix, really. The radio was being overloaded with both communication and data channels. So, part of the drain came from the radio’s attempt to actually throttle the signals we were getting from the ground while it absorbed a separate data signal.”
“This is about the drive errors?” Olivia asked, looking for another page of reports.
“That’s right,” David confirmed. “The signal we got bombarded with up there, it gave us data. Tons and tons of data was being shoved into our system. There were at least thirty-three different broadcasts all coming through at the same time. It was like our radio was trying to drink from a fire hose at full power.”
“I don’t understand,” she said, trying to follow along. “I thought we had filtered out the various broadcasts that we get on this ship. None of the systems should have caused you any problems. I mean, we planned for that.”
The world ship was a massive vessel. All throughout, its systems communicated through a wide band of wavelengths that carried endless amounts of data. Olivia’s team had been forced to use a different set of frequencies to avoid all of the ship’s noise, but most of the open frequencies had poor strength at distance. To hear that the battery drain had come from radio problems meant something had failed on their end.
“We did plan for that,” David explained. “The problem is, we didn’t plan to get signal broadcasts within our frequency set.”
“They were our signals?” Olivia asked. “Did we bounce something inside the ship?”
“No, Olivia. This wasn’t us.”
“I’m not following.”
“We got signals from the upper levels. Someone else gave us this data.”
Olivia was silent for a moment, then nodded. “That’s… concerning.”
“You think?” Flynn asked.
“What exactly were they broadcasting?”
David held up a thick folder in response. “I dare say too much. It’ll take us ages to parse through it all. Olivia, this is a big deal. It’s going to change everything.”
“I agree,” Olivia said, her voice sounding tired. “I agree…”