There are times in a person’s life when they reflect on the choices they have made and the paths they have travelled. During this time of contemplation, a person might find clear examples of wrongdoing or poor decisions, or they might give themselves a pat on the back and be proud of their efforts and achievements.
For David Nash, things were not so simple.
When he arrived from the Core, he had an immediate drive to explore. His skills in leadership were not quick to surface, but his desire to see and do things no one had ever done shone like a beacon for all to see.
A simple citizen, then explorer, and finally a mission commander.
Explorer One was the culmination of everything he had worked toward with Olivia Sun.
It only made sense that he would lead the missions.
Of course, those missions had eventually led to the Explorer One crash, his kidnapping at the hands of who knows who, his momentary freedom and near return home, followed finally by being stranded in a vast body of water all by himself.
His self-reflection told him one clear truth; he should have died ages ago.
He had passed out after two days of drifting in the water. When he woke, he was on land, stripped to his underwear, with bandages on some burns he had gotten during the crash. From what he was told, a fishing boat had found him not long after he passed out and cared for him enough so that he wouldn’t die.
They also mistook his yellow and black wetsuit to mean that he was a member of the Sharks, which was apparently the name of the people who followed Thresher.
Assuming that David was one of Thresher’s henchmen, these fishermen brought him to a small island outpost where they could hopefully turn him in for a bounty. The island was a dot in the landscape, with nothing more than a single building and a nice stretch of beach.
There was an elderly man who operated the outpost, selling and buying goods, trading materials for fishermen, day in and day out.
His name was Anton Mertens.
Despite his suspicions that David wasn’t actually one of the Sea Sharks, Anton gave the fishermen a handsome payment and took David into his own care. From there, Anton had taken care to tend to his burns and keep him hydrated until he finally woke up.
When David finally came around, Anton simply asked David for his story.
David considered the question, and perhaps contemplated fabricating some of it, but ultimately decided that it would be best to stick to honesty.
He told Anton everything, from his first day outside of the Core to the moment he woke with Anton’s scraggly beard looming over his face.
The old man sat back in his chair and rubbed his hair for a moment before nodding slowly and offering David a chance to start over. Clearly there wouldn’t be an opportunity to return home any time soon, so David took him up on that offer without hesitation.
The days and nights that followed were rather surreal for David. His escalation since taking off in Explorer One came to a grinding halt. He was no longer running from explosions or facing catastrophic crashes. Instead, he found himself running inventory on supplies and selling fresh lobsters to random sea captains. The world around him became less complicated, and while he had millions of questions about how he had arrived here, the lack of answers meant that spending time in contemplation wouldn’t lead to anything of value.
So, he adapted to the conditions and tried to blend in.
At the back of his mind, he knew he was still a prisoner… just in a much larger cell.
With his eyes closed, David sat on a beach and listened to the gentle lapping of the water as it rushed in and out over the sandy shores. He dug his toes into the moist sand and felt it swallowing his foot whole. He had curled his pants up as best he could, but he knew he would still be soaked. He smelled of the ocean almost constantly now, and the salt and sand made his skin feel coarse and unwelcoming. He was not one who settled into the notion of being a beach hermit with any level of desire or interest.
This wasn’t his home.
“I can hear your internal sulking from the shop,” a voice said, stirring him from his internal lament. He looked over his shoulder and saw Anton approaching. The older man’s beard was as white as a cloud in the clear sky above. His face was tanned and leathered from his time in the sun, and he almost always had a lopsided grin on his face.
“I’m not sulking,” David said, sitting up straight. “I’m thinking.”
“Thinking is a dangerous game,” Anton said as he reached David’s side. “I try to avoid it outright, if I can.”
“Were it so simple,” David grumbled.
Anton took a deep breath and looked out at the water. He didn’t say anything for a long time, long enough that David wondered if they were planning to have a conversation at all.
Finally, the older man gave a nod and turned to face David. “You don’t want to stay here and live the life that I have offered you?”
“I mean no offense, but no. I want to go home. Anton, I’m an explorer. I want to know more about the world ship, about how everything works. We’re on a beach, in an ocean, in an area of the ship that I think is somewhere above the town where I live. There’s so much mystery to this place, and I’m stuck here on a little plot of sand, missing out on everything.”
“So, can knowledge fill the void of this missing exploration?” Anton asked.
“What do you mean?”
“For example,” Anton continued. “If I told you the area where you’re sitting is part of the ship known as Section Eleven and is, for all intents and purposes, a massive water reservoir?”
David didn’t know how to respond. The information wasn’t shocking, or terribly hard to surmise, but Anton spoke with an authority that made the claim factual rather than theoretical.
“How do you know that?” David asked. “Assuming as it may sound… as believable as it may be… how could you know?”
Anton took a seat behind David on the shore and looked out at the water for a long time. When he didn’t answer the question, David let out a long sigh and shook his head slowly.
“You can’t just—”
“Ronin started it all,” Anton said. “You don’t know him… I doubt you ever will.”
“I’ve heard the name,” David said. “He was a guardian.”
“He was the guardian,” Anton corrected. “Ronin was the first to awaken.”
“Awaken?” David asked. “You mean, he arrived in the Core?”
“We call it the Room.”
“How did he get all the way up here from the Core?”
“The Room… our version of your Core, is located in Section Thirteen of this great vessel.”
David couldn’t believe it. Another Core? It was plausible, but he couldn’t understand why the ship would be designed that way. It created so many new questions and did nothing to sate his curiosity.
“Do you have memories?” David asked. “From before you arrived here?”
“Now you’re asking the right questions,” Anton said with a sly grin. “Ronin has all of his memories.”
“He had a troubled past filled with adventure, sorrow, and pain, but his memories gave him a great advantage in establishing our home and keeping us safe.”
“Tell me, what of his memories?” David pressed. “Where did he come from? Where did we come from?”
Anton paused and shook his head. “Not all of our mysteries are so easily solved. There is much that Ronin revealed to us, but there is much more that he did not.”
“So, when did you awaken?”
“I was the third,” Anton said. “Sophia was the second.”
“A child… a young girl. Ronin took pity on her when she awoke and took her under his wing. What a laugh he had when I was next. An old man and an innocent child were of no help to him surviving in our new world.”
“You seem to have gotten through alright,” David said. “How many of you are there?”
Anton gave a slight pause, perhaps a moment of internal conflict over answering a question like that to a complete stranger.
“I’m sorry,” David added quickly. “I don’t mean to pry.”
“It’s fine,” Anton said, his smile returning. “I don’t think we have an exact number, but at least a few hundred to be sure.”
“Fascinating. What do you know about the ship?”
“It’s a largely modular vessel. Thirteen habitable sections, some more so than others, and one massive area that houses the vessel’s main life support, propulsion, and shielding systems. We’re in the void, but not drifting. There doesn’t appear to be a trajectory, but we have a stable flight path and no immediate risk of harm coming from external sources. In short, we’re as safe as any planet out there.”
“You accessed all of this information. Okay, fine… how?”
“Ronin was able to interface directly with the vessel’s computer systems. We have control over most elements of our environment, though there are some things that are still beyond our understanding. There are other things that Ronin has forbidden us from accessing as it would be far too dangerous to alter them. This would include something like propulsion.”
“Wait,” David stopped. “The beacon. The signal that brought us here. Did Ronin put that in place?”
Anton nodded. “He did.”
“We were using the beacon’s data to start our own interface with the ship’s computer. Why would he provide us with that kind of knowledge if he wanted to lock it down?”
“Data?” Anton asked. “No, the beacon didn’t broadcast data. We had a message. It was a warning that told you all to stay away from the upper levels.”
“Impossible,” David countered. “We received tons of data. It had all sorts of code and information on how to translate and work with the world ship’s computers. We only know what we do because of that signal.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Anton replied. “Ronin wanted nothing more than to keep everyone away from the computer systems. The only person that would actively encourage you to mess around in the system would be…”
Anton’s voice wandered as he clearly didn’t want to continue.
“Who?” David pressed. “If not Ronin, who else has access to that kind of data?”
“Thresher? No. That guy saved me from the Guardians and tried to send me home. He expressed no desire to have us messed up in his business here.”
Anton scrunched his eyebrows together for a moment. “I know that you had an interesting experience with Thresher. I understand your viewpoint is biased because of that interaction, but I assure you, if Thresher wanted you to go home then it was for his benefit and not your own.”
“So sending us valuable information that has granted us knowledge about our home is somehow a nefarious plot as well? Thresher sounds like the good guy in this story.”
“I don’t know,” Anton admitted. “What I do know is that Ronin very specifically worked to stop people from having access to the ship’s computers. He said it would bring ruin and destruction to our vessel if we reached too far. If Thresher is sharing that information openly, it goes against everything Ronin has told me, and I owe everything to Ronin. My loyalty stands with him.”
“But he’s gone now.”
“Indeed, which means there is no one to shed light on our situation.”
“I respect you, Anton. I do. If Ronin didn’t want us playing around in the World Ship systems, if what you say about him is true, then I can convince Olivia and the others to stop their research into the data we captured. I just have to get home. Thresher had that power. Do you?”
Anton shook his head slowly. “I do not.”
“I see,” David replied. “That’s unfortunate.”
“Perhaps in time we can find another solution,” Anton added. “For now, I suppose I need to get back to the shop. We’re supposed to get a big shipment of lobster in tomorrow and we need to be ready.”
“Sure. Uh, hey Anton… when you’re available… can we talk more about the World Ship?”
“You want to know more?”
The older man nodded ever so slightly and then continued toward the shop. “I suppose a little knowledge wouldn’t hurt. We’ll talk again after our shipment tomorrow. Come and help me prepare.”
David responded energetically and rushed to keep up with Anton.
Anton was clearly a treasure trove of information about the world ship, and his knowledge of the mysterious Ronin meant there was plenty of exploration to be had right here at this small fishing store.
Maybe this simple life was exactly what he needed after all.