Elsie Lamarr was young, intelligent, trustworthy, and hungry for recognition.
Today she would claim her place among the most revered in town. With her revelation, she would turn the entire town away from the Explorer One incident and toward a future of understanding. She might even become more famous than Olivia thanks to all of the hard work she had done. The long nights of reviewing files, the endless evenings of checking and double-checking her work.
It all came down to this.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” she said, standing before a fully populated Mission Control. “In a few moments, I am going to present to you the greatest breakthrough that we’ve had since we first discovered this town.”
Her opener was strong. A few of the engineers leaned forward with an interest in what she had to say. Others still looked unimpressed, despite her excitement. Those would be the ones that she would trim away from the organization once she had control.
“For years, Olivia Sun has tried to unlock the secrets of our living conditions. Now, thanks to the work that I initiated with David Nash, we can finally have some real answers.”
She clicked her remote and the large screen was suddenly filled with formulas. She waited a moment, letting the audience look at her data. Most of them didn’t understand what they were looking at, but a select few among the group seemed to get more and more interested, leaning ever closer to one another, passing whispers to others.
Yes… they were starting to understand.
“When I was working through this data, I realized that the data originally transmitted to the Explorer One on its maiden mission would change everything. For it had something we had never been able to get on our own.”
“What does that even mean?” one of the snarky engineers, Steve Watkins, asked from the back. “Cut to the chase, Elsie.”
“The data was broadcasting the same message to us. Endless streams of numbers and letters. There was nothing specific, but clearly formatted for us to read, in our own coding language. Alone it would be useless to us, but coupled with the second transmission, it meant we could finally achieve something we thought impossible.”
“What was the second transmission?” another asked, this one unfamiliar to Elsie.
“The same information, but compiled in the coding language used by the world ship.”
There were audible gasps now. Elsie couldn’t help but smile.
“So… you can cross the two messages to start basic translation?”
“Already did that,” Elsie confirmed. “We’re not one hundred percent yet, but the fact of the matter is, we can now interpret data from the Grid. We have taken our first steps toward understanding all of the aspects of the place we call home.”
A few engineers looked like they may actually faint from the news.
For the final flourish, she added. “We have taken control of our destiny.”
The room burst into applause. Most of the engineers gave a hearty clap and went to reviewing her work, no doubt looking for some way to prove her wrong, but a few had even offered her a standing ovation. The praise was everything she had hoped.
No one would forget her name now.
Her eyes scanned the room. There was one particular person that she wanted to see revel in her discovery and fear her competition. She scanned each row until she’d covered the whole room. That was when she finally realized there would be no final victory today.
Olivia Sun hadn’t even bothered to show up.
Inside Town Hall, Rayland, Oliver, Bryan, and Olivia had all gathered. The mayor liked to have these meetings every now and again, to assess the situation across town and beyond. He always invited the main six, and while Flynn had rarely attended before, not having him here now was a bitter reminder of the incident.
They all took their places at the conference table, and Rayland passed out his own printed itinerary for the meeting. Olivia checked the bullets and rolled her eyes as he announced that she would be going first.
“As I’ve said before,” she grumbled. “The search for Explorer One has yet to find the craft. The lower levels are quite large. The helicopter was only recently able to begin its search of the area.”
“What of John and Ruby?” Bryan asked. “They were scouting some things initially, after the crash, right?”
“That’s correct,” she replied. “Their search was inconclusive.”
“Can you elaborate on that statement?” Bryan asked. “Did they find anything or not?”
Olivia frowned. “They found the left wing, the long range radio antenna, and the left fuel pod. All three parts appeared to have been… forcibly severed from the rest of the vehicle.”
“The theory,” she explained, “is that the ship collided with something. They were moving at such an extreme velocity that the impact ripped through the craft, like piano wire through a candle.”
“So they found physical evidence that the ship had indeed suffered the critical damage that your data reported in Mission Control?”
“That’s correct,” Olivia replied. “That is why we had Rayland move forward with the announcement that we had lost the craft.”
“Why is the helicopter out searching then?” Oliver inquired. “Isn’t it a waste of time?”
“We should assume they’re still alive,” Olivia answered. “If they had died, it’s likely we’d be dealing with an entirely new problem.”
Everyone in the room was silent. The situation she spoke of was limited to only the individuals in this room. They all knew of what she spoke, but none of them wanted to face that truth. They’d worked hard to keep it hidden away.
“Are we working on a solution to that problem?” Oliver finally asked. “Assuming they aren’t dead now, what happens when they finally do meet their fate up there?”
“For the time being, I am personally monitoring the Core. Should we have any new arrivals, I will personally handle their recovery. We will deal with the problem if it arises. Until then, however, we should be planning a rescue mission to prevent our—”
“A rescue mission?” Rayland asked, sounding dumbfounded. “We don’t have the means to actually send anyone to go find our missing people. What rescue can we possibly hope to provide?”
“I have my best people working day and night on finishing Explorer Two. As soon as we can launch, we’ll travel to the Upper Levels, locate the crash site of Explorer One, and bring our people home. End of story.”
“Not quite,” Bryan Steeles spoke up.
She looked at him, her face stern. “I’m sorry?”
“Oh come on,” Bryan said. “The crashed spaceship at Willow Creek Farms?”
“Strange that you know about it,” Olivia countered. “It’s supposed to be a secret.”
“I have sources,” he answered. “Someone came here from up there. So, what exactly do you plan to do when your rescue mission suddenly has to face off against unknown forces in an alien environment?”
“We will deal with the situation if it comes up. We’re hopeful that the crashed ship might provide us some insights on what we could encounter in the future.”
“Have you uncovered anything so far?”
Olivia felt there was little point in lying. “The ship we found is made from a metal alloy we can’t produce, it houses a power system unlike anything I have seen since arriving here, and it is far superior to anything we have on hand. It is an entirely foreign vessel to us.”
“Why are you keeping this a secret?” Bryan pressed. “This isn’t right. The people of this town deserve to know the truth.”
“If only it were so easy,” Olivia mused. “Bryan, there is more to this than you understand. The pilot, for example, appears to be human. There’s others like us up there, maybe just this one person, or maybe hundreds.”
“Is the ship still at the farm?” Bryan asked.
“For now,” Olivia said. “Of course, it won’t be long before people start to snoop.”
“That’s right, we’re going to move it here,” Rayland explained. “ We can put it in crates and bring it to Mission Control for further study.”
“How big is it?” Bryan asked.
“Single seater,” Olivia said. “Small.”
“I hate to agree with deception,” Olivier quipped, “but I am in favor of keeping this a secret until we know more information.”
“Agreed,” Olivia replied. “This could change our world. It will unnerve and confuse a lot of people in town. If we hit them over the head with this, they won’t be ready. Not yet. We just need more time.”
“Well you’d better find a way to lock it down,” Oliver said, gesturing to Bryan. “At least one person is out there sharing details already.”
“Duly noted,” Olivia said. “Now, are we done with my talking points?”
After the meeting had concluded, the members went their own ways. Bryan went back to the bank, headed up to his office, and turned on the fireplace to comfort himself with its crackling flames. As he took a seat in his chair, he noticed a figure sitting in the corner across from him.
He nearly died from the panic before the light switched on to reveal Samantha Valentine.
“Good gracious,” he said, clutching his chest, “you scared me.”
“I was curious to see how the meeting went,” she said, a sinister smile on her face.
“Well, you were wrong about some of the details,” Bryan said, “but the information you gave me definitely threw Olivia for a loop.”
“So did she spill her guts?” Samantha asked.
“She told me enough,” Bryan replied. “Enough to buy my silence. Yours too.”
“What? People should know the truth! She’s covering up the Explorer One crash and no one knows about it!”
“It’s not quite like that,” Bryan explained. “Besides, John Davis is out there right now. You think he isn’t going to publish a full cover story for his newsletter once he gets back to town? Be patient on this one, and don’t go spreading any misinformation.”
Samantha waved a dismissive hand. “Ah well, fair enough.”
“Now,” she said, leaning forward, “ what about your end of the bargain?”
“Yeah yeah,” John said. “I’ll get you into the blueprint files tomorrow. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just ask William to take a look at the new buildings. I’m sure he’d be happy to—”
“It’s like an audit,” Samantha said, repeating what she had told him earlier. “I just need a quick peek at the papers to make sure our architect is sticking to the agreed designs. In and out. No problem.”
“Yeah yeah, alright. Get on out of here. I already feel like I’m doing something wrong and I don’t need you sneaking around my office in the dark to make me feel any worse.”
“Fair enough,” she said. “You get some sleep, Bryan, I think we’re going to be busy for a while yet. I’ll need you nice and rested.”
Bryan rolled his eyes. “Yeah, okay. Come on, out we go.”
He led Samantha down to the exit and, once she had left, he locked the doors and started toward his own home. The street was dark, with only the lamps to light the way. He thought of how this was really a darkness of choice. Out there, right now, a light switch could be pulled that would make it as bright as midday.
This place wasn’t real.
The facade was nice, but once anyone scratched at the surface, the truth was right there, ready to show them all how foolish they were for playing town when they had no idea what was going on around them.
Alien ships. Shady deals. He wasn’t a fan of secrets or lies, but somehow he’d gotten himself saddled with two of them in one night.
He took a deep breath and tried to force his panic aside. Everything was going to work out. Soon enough, things would get back to normal and he could get back to worrying about his precious logistics.