Elsie Lamarr was sitting at her desk, reviewing the latest reports from across the Grid. They had finished recording their supplies, including the rations and fuel stores that were maintained separate from town. She remembered one of Olivia’s long speeches on the importance of making the Grid into a sustainable holdout in case a crisis ever occurred. She had never thought the woman would prove to be so right.
She gave an audible chuckle as she looked out the large front window.
All this time she had believed Olivia to be her rival… an enemy in a fight for power. Now, she wished nothing more than to have Olivia here to help her through the bizarre turn of events that had taken hold in town.
It seemed as though the mayor, Rayland Walsh, had made some kind of power grab.
Olivia had been arrested.
Ruby Rose fled in the helicopter.
Now, a literal standoff had formed between town and the Grid.
At first, Elsie had assumed most of this was Olivia’s fault. Whatever tension had built up would be easily diluted and the mayor would welcome everyone back into the fold with no more hostility. Moreover, Elsie assumed it would be a great opportunity to transition Olivia out of the leadership position and claim it for her own ambitions.
Except, that’s not what happened.
Instead, Rayland told her there were no negotiations to be made. There was no conflict to resolve. As far as he was concerned, the Explorers were done. There would be no more missions. No more testing. As Rayland rambled on about his inner-hatred of Olivia’s missions, it became clear that Elsie had no choice in this situation.
When they first spoke, Elsie assumed good intent.
By the end of his demands, Rayland had hardened Elsie’s heart against him. She instead felt a new fondness of Olivia Sun and regretted all of her previous attempts to usurp or undermine her power.
Most importantly, however, Elsie knew she needed Olivia.
Just outside, Olivia heard someone approaching. She knew who it was, so she stepped outside to meet the visitor. The normally young and energetic Ruby Rose looked more sullen and sleepy these days, but she took her seat and looked to Elsie with a questioning stare.
Elsie decided not to dance around the issue at hand. “Our contact in town has assured us they can retrieve Olivia from the prison and deliver her safely to the edge of the main street for pickup. I’ll need to extract her with our helicopter. That means—”
“You want me to fly the helicopter in to get her,” Ruby finished her sentence.
Elsie nodded slowly.
“It could be a trap.”
“I’ve considered that,” she admitted. “The truth is, this is worth the risk. You’ll have to play the whole thing out by ear. If you think they’re going to try and capture the helicopter, you will be forced to abort the rescue.”
“Can I ask who on the other end is organizing this whole thing?”
Elsie shook her head. “I’d rather not. Truth be told… if you did get captured, it would be best that you not know anything that could be… extracted.”
“Jeez,” Ruby said with a heavy sigh. “The people in town aren’t our enemies. They’re not going to torture prisoners, Elsie.”
For a long moment there was silence. The truth was, Elsie had allowed her imagination to run wild. Mayor Walsh wasn’t a supervillain, but he certainly felt like one to her since she had been put in this position. Ruby was probably right. They might be holding Olivia as a prisoner due to her helping steal the helicopter, but that didn’t mean they had devolved into chaos.
“Alright,” she said. “Take a seat. This takes a little explanation.”
Jonathan Davis stood, relaxing as best he could, outside of his small studio. Next to him, Samantha Banks was nervously fidgeting, looking at him with a concerned expression. He wasn’t sure what she expected him to say. She’d arrived not long ago and filled him in on the most insane thing he’d heard since arriving in town.
He waited a little longer, just to be sure she didn’t have some explosive final detail before he shook his head. He wanted to ignore her bold statement, but it was clear she wasn’t going to let him.
“How are you going to pull it off?” he asked, looking down on main street.
“It’s quite easy, actually,” she explained. “There’s a terrible design flaw in the bank vault, one that will allow us to get in and out without anyone the wiser.”
John looked over to her. “You know this, how?”
“Trade secret,” Samantha replied. “Does it matter?”
“Okay,” he conceded. “Let’s assume you know how to get Olivia out of the vault… what next? We can’t very well hide her. Leonard’s security team will be crawling the place looking for her. Would we just put her in a vehicle and try to drive all the way to the Grid?”
“Better,” Samantha replied. “The helicopter will come pick her up at the edge of town. We’ve got it all lined up.”
“So, you’re working with the Grid?”
Samantha shrugged nonchalantly. “Maybe.”
John was suddenly far more energetic. “Have you talked to Ruby? Is she okay?”
Samantha couldn’t help but smile. The energy in his voice, the excitement at just a hint of possibility that he might hear one word about Ruby Rose… “A little excited, are we?” she asked, a small chuckle slipping through her words. “Someone has a crush?”
“I… well… I just…” he stammered.
“She’s fine,” Samantha assured him. “They’re actually doing well in the Grid and digging in for the long haul. That being said, they want Olivia out of jail and safe and sound away from Rayland Walsh.”
“So why are you working with Elsie?” John asked, his face dropping. “You’ve been in close ties with Rayland Walsh since I arrived in town. This seems… odd.”
“Rayland and I aren’t seeing eye to eye on this matter. I’m not a fan of Olivia Sun, but not even I can support Rayland’s rogue power trip.”
“Fine. Okay. Sure. Elsie wants Olivia out of jail, I get that. So what does that do to help resolve this situation?”
Samantha shrugged. “I guess Elsie wants to send Explorer Two to the Upper Levels. The plan is to find David Nash, return a hero, and in the process invalidate Rayland’s concerns about continuing the exploration missions.”
“That’s just defying Rayland,” John grumbled. “They won’t win him over that way. Besides, even if they have Olivia, I don’t see them getting around…” John’s voice faded and he looked nervous.
“What is it?” Samantha asked, “What do you know?”
“It doesn’t matter,” John replied. “Not yet. You say you have a plan to get Olivia out of jail, right? Well, I’m in.”
“I knew you would be,” Samantha said, smiling again. “So, let’s talk details.”
A short time later, Samantha had filled Johnathan in on the plan and then headed out for the day. She stepped into one of the alleys on main street and waited patiently until a figure approached from the shadows. The distant lights of the street beyond lit the approaching figure, but she could make out his shape enough to know it was Leonard Calgray.
“Did they take the bait?” he asked.
“Hook, line, and sinker,” she replied. “All we need to do is break in, free Olivia, and finish the real objective.”
“Then my people capture Olivia and Jonathan, head to the rendezvous, and secure the helicopter when it arrives to pick them up.”
“That’s right,” Samantha said, a look of satisfaction forming on her face. “Rayland will have his advantage, and Elsie Lamarr will have nowhere to run. Then, and only then, can we negotiate surrender.”
“That’s all well and good,” Leonard said, “but the best is yet to come.”
Samantha, surprised by his words, looked at him questioningly. “What do you mean?”
Leonard betrayed no emotions. “Once we’ve got Elsie dealt with, the only one left to take care of will be Rayland Walsh… then this town is going to get itself a new leader.”
“I don’t… what… what are you saying?”
“Don’t you worry about it,” Leonard replied. “Focus on the bank. Once that’s out of the way we can talk about the final phase of the plan.”
With that, Leonard stepped away, his face once again obscured by the shadows.
“Stay safe,” he added. “It can be a dangerous world out there.”
Then he was gone.
She remained still, standing at the edge of the light and the dark, looking into the shadows where he had vanished. His words had shaken her, more than she wanted to admit, and in an instant she had changed from the confident and powerful member of a secret plot, to that of a single pawn in someone else’s game.
Looking out of the alley, she could see the lights from Town Hall, where Rayland Walsh was no doubt still working at his desk. She wondered how he felt right now… she wondered if he knew that Leonard was planning something against him. She doubted it. Rayland was not a schemer. He was a man of action without thought. That was how he had ended up in this foolish situation in the first place.
Leonard, however, was a man of many schemes.
It was a truth she had learned far too late, or so it seemed.
She thought of her options and of the people that had now placed their trust in her. Olivia would be free, but soon recaptured. John, blinded by his concern for Ruby Rose, would help this whole plot, and Elsie Lamarr would learn an important lesson about trusting someone that did not earn it.
That was the dark truth here.
Samantha was about to make a very destructive decision.
Many people would pay for her actions.
She had known that, but that was when she knew the goal. That was when she assumed the outcome would be beneficial for the town.
Now she wasn’t so sure.