The Ulysses was, hands down, the most amazing vessel that David had ever seen. Every expectation he had about boats had been completely shattered. There were sophisticated weapon systems that operated behind the wooden hull, and computer guidance that interfaced with the ship’s map to keep them on whatever course they plotted. According to Trevor, who seemed to relish in showing David the various technological upgrades, the ship could even fly for short durations using repulsor technology identical to what Olivia and Flynn used on Explorer One.
In short, the ship was amazing.
They sailed away from Anton’s shop and, within an hour, they approached what everyone in the Upper Levels called the “threshold”. The World Ship, Anton explained, was broken into massive sections. Each section was able to be completely sealed off from the rest through various locking bulkheads that resembled massive doorways. Most of these sections remained open, but some were special, For example, the threshold that led out of this oceanic realm acted as both a doorway and a levee. It kept most of the water contained here, allowing only a controlled flow to pour out, which itself fed into Willow Creek in the Lower Levels. The World Ship was a sophisticated machine, to be sure, and David was now fully aware of how interconnected all of the sections really were.
As they continued, David couldn’t help but notice that their visibility was rapidly decreasing. A thick blanket of fog rolled in on them, and it was so thick that David soon couldn’t even see the deck of the ship in front of him.
“Is it like this all the time?” he asked Trevor, who stood at the ship’s helm.
“Yeah, that’s why Ronin picked this place for our home. The fog makes it almost impossible to navigate by sight. The water beneath is almost black as night too, without the light coming through the surface. It makes Section Twelve a safe haven for anyone trying to stay out of sight. In our case, it means Thresher can’t find us. The fog is our last line of defence.”
“So how do you find your way?” David asked.
“Trade secret,” Trevor replied. “Now, you might want to head below deck. Not much to see up here for a while.”
“Right, fair enough.”
Below deck, David managed to fall asleep. His rest was hardly restful, however, as he was soon stirred by the sound of a bell ringing on deck. He rushed out and saw that the fog had cleared around them. It hung in the air above and around them, like they had entered some kind of protected globe, and where they were sailing was clear as day. In the middle of it, there was a shoreline, and on that shoreline was a city. This place was not like town or anything else that David had seen before. It was a full-scale city, with towering buildings and a large dock with ships moving in and out of the bay.
“What is this place?” David asked.
“This is the Hub.”
“I… don’t understand. A full city?”
“That’s right. A city full of innocent civilians.”
“Are we going to dock? Can I see it?”
“Unfortunately, this is as close as we’ll be getting. Our mission lies back the way we came. We’re just here to trade supplies and swap vehicles.”
“Please. You have to let me—”
“No,” Trevor said, his voice firm. “Ronin wouldn’t have allowed it. I won’t allow it. You’re coming with me in Submarine Zero-Zero. We will take you home, find Ronin, and you can put all of this behind you.”
“You expect me to just ignore everything I’ve learned since I came here? The things I’ve seen can’t be erased.”
“They can be ignored,” Trevor suggested. “As you would be best to do once you’re home.”
“Sub incoming!” a voice yelled, pulling Trevor’s attention.
“Very good. We’ll transfer over in a moment.”
“Sir!” another sailor called out. “We have a transmission from Michael. He needs to speak with you right away.”
“Can’t it wait?”
Trevor frowned and then gestured for David to follow. The pair headed into the main cabin area where the sailor handed Trevor a radio before scurrying out of the room.
“What is it, Michael?”
“It’s Thresher,” Michael’s voice was cold and worn. “His whole fleet is at the threshold, Trevor. They’re pushing forward. We need zero-zero if we’re going to hold him off.”
“I have a plan to get Ronin back. I just need—”
“If you’re asking for time, we don’t have that,” Michael snapped. “Trevor, there isn’t anything Ronin can do for us right now. We need you and we need our submarine.”
“Yes, of course. I will be on my way as soon as able. Stay strong, Michael.”
The radio switched off and Trevor set it down on the table before turning to face David. “I guess,” he said calmly, “you will be the guest in our city for at least a few days.”
David wasn’t listening. He had been thinking about the radio that Trevor used and he was growing more curious by the second. “Trevor, how did you call Michael just now?”
“On the radio?”
“That radio is line of sight.”
Trevor glanced at the radio and nodded. “Right. They were line of sight. The Hub is connected, rather rudimentarily, to the World Ship’s internal radio systems. We can communicate almost anywhere as long as you have the radio set to the right channel.”
“We have those radios in our town,” David said. “We can reach them.”
“Let me broadcast to Olivia’s radio. I can reach them.”
“We would need to amplify the input signal,” Trevor mused. “I suppose… yes. It could work.”
“You have to let me try,” David pleaded.
Trevor hesitated, then looked to the city. “Fine. You’ll meet with Annie in the city. You do what she says, when she says, or you end up in jail. Do you understand?”
“Find out if Ronin is alive. Tell them we’ll come to get him and bring you home. Nothing else.”
Trevor nodded, then took a deep breath and headed out of the cabin. He shouted orders about taking the ship into the harbor and then started climbing over the side of the ship where submarine zero-zero had just surfaced. David got a good look at the vessel and recognized it as the very ship that had brought him here from the crash site of Explorer One.
“Come on,” he yelled to David. “We’ll get you to the docks then be on our way.”
When the submarine was reached the harbor, David was pushed out while a woman with dark brown hair and a familiar face approached them.
“You David Nash?” she asked him.
“Good. My brother said you’d be coming.”
“The one and only.”
“It’s good to meet you. I assume your brother also filled you in on what I’m doing here?”
“I’m taking you to old town to use our radio transmitter. That’s all I know.”
“I’ll work with that.”
Then come on. Time is wasting.”
David fell in line and followed Ellie through the city docks. As they shuffled down the narrow streets, past the food shops and street vendors, David had to admit he was amazed. Everything about this place stood in stark contrast to the town he had known since arriving from the Core. Steam rose from vents in the ground and water waved its way around the buildings that had risen up on the coast.
Ellie continued to take him into the city, but instead of going toward the shining shops and bright lights, they cut through alleyways and stone steps that took them into a dark area where exposed metal pipes groaned and rattled from the activities above. Older homes, some abandoned and others still occupied by holdouts, littered the area. Ellie made sure to steer clear of the people that chose to remain in this area.
“The old town is where it started,” she started to explain. “Ronin’s foundation for what would become the Hub. I imagine he envisioned a nice little city with apartments and restaurants, but as people continued to awaken, they all needed homes. It kind of just grew into a kind of mish-mash.”
“So why are we coming here?”
“One of the first things Ronin accomplished was the communication tower. The guts of that system still live down here. In fact, here we are.”
Ellie stopped and gestured at the doorway of one older home. David opened the door and found the inside to be rather dilapidated, but blinking lights on the equipment signaled that it was still functioning.
“Trevor told me I need to amplify the signal,” David said, looking around rather aimlessly. “Do you know how to do that?”
“I do,” she replied. “You can use the broadcast station to get your signal out. Do you know the channel that your people use?”
“Then give me a few moments and get ready to talk.”
David did as she said, taking hold of a radio and waiting for her signal. Annie moved between several control panels until she finally nodded to herself and then signaled to David. “On the count of three. I don’t know how long the tower will go before we overheat, so talk fast.”
“One. Two. Three!”
She flipped a lever and a low hum started growing from within the equipment. David didn’t need to be told twice, so he immediately started broadcasting.
“Hello,” he said firmly. “Olivia. Rayland. Anyone. Do you read? This is—”
“David?” Olivia’s voice crackled over the speaker almost immediately.
“Olivia,” he said, emotion welling up inside him more powerfully than he could have ever expected. “It’s so good to hear your voice.”
“I can say the same,” she replied. Her voice cracked, but David wasn’t sure if that was her or simply the poor connection. “Listen, we’re coming to get you. We nearly have Explorer Two ready to launch and—”
“No,” David said. “Do not come up here. I repeat, Olivia, do not come up here.”
“There’s more going on here than I can explain,” he started. “Listen, Olivia, after the Explorer One crash, did you guys find someone named Ronin?”
Olivia hesitated. “Why?”
“Tell him I’m in the Hub. I’m using his own radio tower to talk to you. His people want to know if he is alive.”
There was an awkward moment of silence, then David heard a new voice.
“This is Ronin. Is Trevor there?”
“No, Trevor is currently dealing with Thresher’s people. I’m supposed to tell you that we are coming to get you. As soon as we get through this latest situation we will send one of the vessels down. They’re going to bring me home. They’re going to take you home.”
“Music to my ears,” Ronin said. “Tell the kid to stay strong. We’ll get through this.”
“Just make sure Olivia knows I’m safe. Do not risk a rescue mission. I will get home as soon as we’re able. I promise.”
“Yeah, we hear you loud and clear. We’ll be expecting your arri—”
The room exploded in a bright flash of light and the hum died away as flames erupted from the computer system.
“Out! Out!” Annie called. “The transmitter is gone.”
“What do we do?” David asked.
“Get some water there,” she replied. “We need this fire out. Now!”
David nodded and went to work. Thankfully the water flowed freely in the canal and they were quick to extinguish the flames. As he raced through the motions, his mind was reeling with what he had accomplished. He had spoken to Olivia. She knew he was safe. She knew he was alive. He didn’t know how long it would be, but he knew now that he would someday get back home. He would tell his friends all about this amazing world of the Upper Levels. For the first time in a long time, David felt like he had a future.