Olivia Sun pulled her head out of the small vessel sitting atop Mission Control and looked over at Ruby. The young woman offered her a sly smile in return.
“You’re sure it works?” she asked.
“We just need his passcode,” Ruby replied. “All his flight data… controls… everything.”
“Flight data that could lead us directly to David.”
Olivia smiled. It was the first time in a long time. Ruby had finally managed to power the foreign vehicle, and the computer systems had survived the impact. With just a small amount of information from the pilot, they might be able to find David’s location.
It was hope in a time when she had lost hope.
“Come on,” she said. “We’ll update the team on our status.”
The two walked down the stairwell to the main control room, but when Olivia saw her engineers, she noticed that they looked concerned. Her eyes moved from them to the next flight of stairs, where she saw Rayland Walsh standing with Leonard Calgray at his side. She felt anger spike within her, then panic, but she held it back and continued walking into the room.
“Rayland,” she said flatly. “What brings you here?”
“I think we both know the answer to that,” Rayland responded.
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
“Rumor has it you are continuing the Explorer Two mission preparation?”
Olivia nodded. “I am continuing to consider all our options.”
Rayland frowned. “I specifically told you that no other missions were—”
“You don’t really have jurisdiction over the Explorer missions,” Olivia countered. “You are the town’s mayor, but your power does not give you the ability to stop our work here.”
Rayland’s eyes went wide. “Excuse me? Olivia, I am charged with the safety of all the citizens, explorers or not,” he snapped. “You’re not stupid. You saw the thing that came into our town. You know it’s a threat, and sending up another ship is asking for them to come back and do what they could have done last time! I won’t allow it.”
“Regardless,” Olivia replied. “You will need the town council’s approval. I will take no less than all of their signatures before I take any action.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t see any benefit to giving you the opportunity to continue running unchecked while we wait for the council to hear about the situation. Until then, Leonard has taken the authority as our militia leader to assess the risk of your actions. He has agreed that we should shut down Mission Control immediately.”
Olivia looked to Rayland’s side, where Leonard stood with a smug look on his face. As their eyes met, he looked down and to the right, so she followed his gaze. She saw he had a large knife in his hand… nothing more than a large carving knife from a kitchen, but a weapon nonetheless.
“I see,” she said, looking now to the others in the room. They looked concerned, obviously having made their own conclusions about the armed security guard at the top of the stairs. Nothing like this had ever unfolded in town before. It was an escalation, to be sure.
“Very well,” she conceded. “Everyone, we’re going to temporarily shut down Mission Control. If you’d please collect your things, I’m sure Leonard would be happy to escort us out?”
“With pleasure,” Leonard replied, turning ever so slightly to hide the knife. As he did so, Rayland happened to glance down and see it as well. He frowned, clearly as surprised as Olivia had been when she saw it.
“We don’t need weapons here,” Rayland said angrily. “This isn’t a hostile situation.”
“You can’t be too careful,” Leonard replied. “We don’t want any resistance.”
“Well, clearly there isn’t any resistance,” Rayland said firmly. “Olivia isn’t without merit.”
Olivia was pleased to see the mayor flustered by Leonard’s display of aggression, but he didn’t seem upset enough to pause his plans.
“Anyway,” Rayland said, his voice settling back down. “We’re going to move your operations to Town Hall for now. The helicopter will be monitored by Leonard’s security team and only council-authorized missions will be allowed to proceed.”
“The council isn’t going to stand for this,” Olivia said. “You know that.”
Leonard chuckled, and Olivia looked over at him. “What?”
“The council agrees with Rayland. Your missions are dangerous. They all think so.”
“What matters right now is that we go ahead and shut down the operations here,” Rayland said, ignoring Leonard’s input. “We can get the council together and talk about the finer details of our future missions once we have all had some time to relax and think.”
Olivia turned away from the two and looked at the concerned exploration team. “Come on, everyone,” she said with an unusually cheery voice. “A temporary leave is in order. Go home and rest. I will be in touch with each of you in the coming days, I promise.”
Reluctantly, the team began to shuffle down the stairs and out into the street. Olivia returned to her desk and looked over the blueprint of Explorer Two. David Nash was still out there, still alone. She wouldn’t abandon him, no matter what Rayland wanted.
She checked the stairs. Rayland and Leonard were busy showing people to the exit and not paying any attention to her. She decided it was time to act on her gut instincts. She picked up her radio and pressed a few buttons.
“Olivia?” the voice of Elsie Lamarr came through the static. “What is it?”
“There is trouble here,” Olivia said quietly. “They’re shutting down Mission Control. Elsie, I’m going to be sending the helicopter to you. Starting immediately, you are in charge of the explorer missions.”
“What are you on about?”
“Ruby can explain when she arrives. Elsie… don’t let me down.”
Olivia shut off her radio and set it on her desk. By now, most of the others had left, leaving Rayland and her alone in the control room. He started toward her just as she set the radio down. He looked tired, but not necessarily vindictive or evil. She wondered if Leonard was carrying more of the weight in this action.
“You don’t have to do this,” she said, turning to face him.
“Neither do you,” Rayland countered. “I’m not the bad guy here.”
“David Nash might not agree.”
“David is a smart man. He knew what he signed up for when he got in that ship.”
“I won’t forgive you, Rayland.”
“I know that too. Now, come on. It’s time to go.”
Olivia walked down the stairs and started to the doorway where Leonard waited with a smile… no, a sinister grin. He was happy. This was his influence to be sure.
Outside, Ruby was waiting. The pair walked together a short distance until Olivia was certain they were away from Rayland and Leonard.
“We need a ride,” Olivia said. “Now.”
Ruby didn’t hesitate. She turned and stepped out into the road. A nearby driver was forced to stop, thankfully travelling slow enough that they could do so. Olivia was surprised by Ruby’s bold move, but didn’t question.
“What’s this about?” the driver asked angrily. “That was dangerous!”
“We need your vehicle,” Ruby said. “It’s an emergency.”
“Uh, no?” the driver scoffed. “Who are you?”
“I’m Olivia Sun,” Olivia said, stepping up toward the driver. “I have important information for our latest mission and it’s critical I get to the edge of town right away.”
“Olivia Sun? Like… the Olivia Sun?”
“The one and the same,” she answered. “Can you give us a ride, please?”
“I mean, obviously,” the driver stammered. “Come on. You can ride with me and your risky friend here can ride in the back.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said. “We’re immensely grateful.
The drive to the edge of town was fast. They reached the construction area for the new vehicle garage and the clearing next to it where they had started parking the helicopter when it wasn’t in use.
Unfortunately, at least two of Leonard’s security guards were already there.
“Thanks for the drive,” Olivia said as she climbed from the vehicle. “Head on out now.”
The driver shrugged. “Alright. Take care you two!”
As the vehicle sped away, Olivia turned to Ruby. “I’m going to distract those two. Ruby, when the coast is clear, I need you to sneak out and jump in the helicopter. Take it. Fly to the Grid. I told Elsie Lamarr she is in charge of the exploration team. Help her figure things out and go find David Nash.”
“Olivia… are you sure this is the right way?”
Olivia looked out at the guards standing near the helicopter and shook her head. “If we can get David back, then we can do whatever Rayland wants. Until then, we have to press on.”
Ruby, not really convinced, nodded. “I’ll do what you ask.”
“I’ll wait for your distraction, then I’ll grab the helicopter and head to the Grid. What about you?”
“Rayland will make a show, I’m sure. He’s not a monster, so I don’t expect trouble. Now go, the sooner you get to the Grid, the sooner we can get Explorer Two off the ground.”
Ruby nodded and then moved to the cover of the unfinished building.
“Please be careful,” she added.
Olivia came around the building and confidently began approaching the helicopter. She walked in a direction that would position her opposite of where Ruby was currently concealed, so that when the guards approached her, their backs would be facing the helicopter.
Sure enough, when they spotted her, they both started walking her way.
“Olivia,” one of them said loudly. “Olivia Sun?”
“That’s right,” she replied. “Your name?”
“I’m Grace Baker,” the guard replied. “This is Tom.”
“Nice to meet you,” Olivia said.
“Of course,” Grace said. “Listen, I wish it was under better circumstances. I respect all the work you’ve done, Olivia, but I’ve got orders not to let you near the helicopter.”
Olivia was careful not to break eye contact with Grace. Still, she saw the small blur of movement from the corner of her eye that signaled Ruby was on her way. The helicopter wasn’t quiet when it was starting up, so they would hear the blades when they started to spin.
“You know why,” Tom answered, his voice more aggressive. “We’re shutting down the explorer missions.”
“Sure,” Olivia said. “More reason for me to go to the vehicle. We will want to make sure—”
“You know I can’t allow that,” Grace pressed. “Please, don’t make this difficult.”
“Difficult?” Olivia asked. “You say that as though I’m responsible for this.”
“In a way, you are,” Tom said, stepping up. “I mean, if you did what you were told…”
His voice trailed off. The helicopter was starting up and he seemed to hear it. In a split second, he would turn and that would be it. Olivia clenched her teeth and prepared for the worst.
“Get out of my way!” she shouted, practically jumping at the pair, attempting half-heartedly to weave between them.
Grace was caught off guard and she actually got past, but Tom put out an arm and caught her across the chest, knocking her off her legs. She landed flat on her back and Tom was on top of her in a moment, rolling her over and pulling her arm back.
“Do not resist!” he shouted.
The helicopter was getting louder.
She wriggled and pushed, leveraging just enough to push Tom off for a moment, but he was quickly up and on her again, this time planting his elbow at the base of her neck and pushing her face into the ground.
“I said…” His voice faded as the sound of the helicopter became unmistakeable.
“Hey!” Grace shouted. “Stop!”
Tom jumped off Olivia, but she lashed out and grabbed his ankle, catching him off guard. He tripped and landed on the ground with a thud. Grace, on the other hand, had already broken into a run and was nearly to the helicopter when Ruby lifted it off the ground. The young woman bravely leapt for one of the landing struts, but the helicopter tilted away from her and she fell to the ground as it climbed away.
Olivia stood and, for a moment, considered making a break for it. Then Tom slammed into her with all his might. She hit the ground hard, and the wind was knocked out of her lungs. She remained there, struggling to breathe, as Tom stood up and looked down at her with a face unlike any she’d seen before. “You’re under arrest!” he shouted. “You try to move again and I swear it’ll be the last thing you do!”
“Jeez, Tom, calm down!” Grace said as she arrived. “She’s down. You got her.”
“Shut up, Tom,” Grace said, kneeling down. “Olivia, hey, you got your wind knocked out. Calm down and just try to relax. It’ll come back.”
Olivia did as Grace said and, slowly, she felt the air returning. She took little gasps, and with each new breath the feeling of suffocation retreated. “Thank…. you…” she rasped.
“Yeah, sure,” Grace said, her face looking sad. “I just wish it hadn’t come to this.”
“Me… too,” Olivia squeaked.
Bryan Steeles leaned back in his office chair.
All day he’d had the hardest time focusing. He’d heard about Rayland shutting down Mission Control. He’d heard about the concerns over Explorer Two, but since the building had been closed and locked, he hadn’t heard anything from Olivia. Rayland had requested no meeting of the council, no updates on his agenda, nothing.
He stood, finally deciding it might be time to go to Town Hall, when he heard the front door of the bank open. He rushed down stairs to see Leonard Calgray standing there with Olivia Sun. She looked like she’d been in a fight, and her hands were bound.
“What’s this about?” Bryan asked.
“Grand Theft,” Leonard replied. “Olivia helped someone steal the town helicopter.”
“What? Steal? Olivia is in charge of the helicopter. This can’t be right.”
“I want you to put her in the vault with the other one,” Leonard said. “Rayland’s orders.”
Bryan didn’t resist, but he was clearly unhappy. He gestured inside and Tom lead her toward the vault within. As they went inside, Leonard moved toward the door as well and Bryan stopped him.
“You don’t need to come into my bank,” Bryan said firmly. “Now, go get Caleb Vann. Let him know we have an injured person down here. If Rayland has a problem with that, tell him to come see me directly.”
Leonard smiled. “Right away, Mr. Steeles.”
Leonard walked away, whistling a happy tune as he went.
Bryn stepped inside the bank and waited for Tom to leave, while Olivia now stood inside the vault looking equal parts angry and sad. When Bryan was certain that Tom was gone, he turned to look at her with complete confusion.
“Good Lord,” he said. “Tell me everything. From the beginning.”