The afternoon air was humid and warm. The sound of wildlife echoed through the fading light, while a soft breeze rustled the nearby foliage. At the base of a long metal wing, Olivia Sun stood with her back to the light that poured over Explorer Two. The mechanical whirs and beeps of the vessel were subtle enough that they did not overpower her senses, but they were still there, ever present to remind her that she was not really in a rocky clearing. She was not really on solid ground with a warm summer star shining on her.
She was currently located in the Garden.
The Garden was a massive area of the ship that the Explorers had only recently started to… well… explore. It was a massive botanical bay, with hectares of uninterrupted jungle, forest, lakes, and animals too.
She heard someone approaching with heavy footsteps. She turned to see Ronin and Flynn carrying a large chest. They set it down when they reached her, and Flynn took a look at the watch on his wrist.
“You sure about this?” Olivia asked. “All the firearms we have?”
“You’re just gonna have to trust me on this one,” he replied. “I’ve talked it over with Ronin, and he agrees having these won’t do us any good if Thresher decides to go hostile. The only purpose they serve now is another risk to our safety.”
“Still, if a threat did emerge, I’d like to defend myself.”
Flynn chuckled. “Then you can fly out here and collect them when the time is right. Besides, despite the threatening nature, Ronin doesn’t think Thresher will be a risk for us any time soon.”
Ronin nodded a confirmation. “He won’t. Not unless we get in his way.”
“Which we won’t,” Flynn added. “Now, let’s get a move on. We have to be back en route by nightfall or Elsie will have our heads.”
As Flynn and Ronin marched off with the chest, Olivia returned to her musings on this majestic surrounding. Indeed, the Garden was amazing. It was a wild paradise compared to town. While much of the World Ship was manufactured landscape, the Garden was much closer to achieving an authentic feeling. It would take years to see it all.
The data that Elsie Lamarr discovered, originally collected by Flynn and David on the first flight of Explorer One, had taught the citizens of town a great deal about the World Ship that they call home.
For one, the Upper and Lower Levels were only a part of an even larger vehicle. In many ways, it had been described as resembling a horizontal lamp post. The Core, the Upper and Lower Levels, the Grid… all of these internal areas were located at the front of the ship in a large cube structure split over several layers. At the rear of that cube, assuming the cube was the front, was a large cylindrical structure, which easily ran ten times the length of the entire cube. The cylinder housed the Garden. A series of conduit and reinforced structures ran along the bottom of this cylinder, under the soil, down to the engines and the “dangerous” systems that kept the World Ship thumping along. It appeared to have been designed to keep as much danger away from the citizens as possible, shielded behind thick walls of dense matter.
At least, they assumed as much from the schematics.
No one had seen it yet.
They had made great strides in documenting the Lower Levels, but only recently, with help from David Nash in the Hub, had Elsie unlocked the secrets of opening and closing the major bulkheads that locked away these other areas of the World Ship.
The Garden would forever be Elsie’s legacy. An untouched wilderness utopia where future generations of citizens might come to vacation. Standing here now, Olivia felt both relaxed and on edge. It was a thrill-seeker’s gold mine.
She wasn’t sure if she sought a thrill or a quiet hiding place.
A little over a year ago she had stepped down as leader of the Explorers.
She was still figuring out her future, but for now, this was perfect.
Over her radio, she heard Ronin call up. “Hey, we found a good spot for storage. We also found… something.”
“I think it’s like… teeth.”
“If this is about George—”
Deep in the woods, far beyond the rocky outcropping where they had landed, a powerful roar rumbled. Olivia froze. She had heard rumors… but she’d ignored them. “Let’s wrap this up,” she said in a near whisper. “No need to press our luck.”
The air in town always changed when the massive bulkhead door that led to the Garden was opened by Mission Control. Johnathan still wasn’t sure how he felt about all of that, but he wasn’t one to push against Elsie Lamarr’s leadership. She had, for the most part, been exactly what the Explorers needed to get their organization moving with lightning efficiency.
There were entire teams running under Elsie’s direction now, the Researchers, that tested samples retrieved by various team members, the Explorers, who pushed the boundaries, and the Engineers, who focused on creating and maintaining the various equipment that was used by citizens all over.
Things were busy in town.
That was good.
The fight between Olivia and Rayland had been nicknamed “the schism.” John didn’t care for it, but he didn’t necessarily disagree. He was just glad it had been put to bed. In hindsight, it had served as a strong beginning for where they were now.
Today, John was visiting with Nima Patel, the town’s Obstetrician. She was leading an effort to promote health all across town, particularly for citizens looking to start a family. She had reached out to him as he was, after all, the bridge between the leadership and the citizens. In recent months, other writers had started to pop up, distributing their own news across the newly established World Ship Data Network. As a result of that, John had been formally promoted to the town press secretary, or something similar to that, anyway.
Nima was set to meet with him him at Oliver’s restaurant, so he waited for her there, ordering a simple coffee in the meantime. When she arrived, she didn’t seem interested in sitting.
“Hello, Johnathan,” she started, offering a gentle smile. “I am glad you agreed to meet with me. I’m afraid I can’t stay long, so we need to keep it brief if we can.”
“Of course,” John replied. “I’m happy to help.”
“Well, the truth be told, this is a rather sensitive matter. I suspect you’ll need to speak with the council about it before anything can be done.”
“I saw ten patients yesterday. Ten. In one day.”
“Business is booming?” John asked, trying to make some humor.
“Too much,” Nima answered without recognizing his joke. “I’m only one person, and many of my patients will have their children on a similar timetable. I’ve only handled a few births since my arrival. I don’t have anyone to help out, and I have no idea how any of us will handle under pressure.”
“What about Caleb?”
“Caleb has been tied up with his own problems,” she explained. “He has new arrivals to deal with, as well as farmers, Explorers, or anyone else who gets injured. The man has to carry his radio everywhere he goes. I saw him get called up while enjoying a cupcake at the square.”
John hadn’t considered this before. The Core, for better or worse, had increased the delivery of new arrivals in the last month. They had, each day, received at least one new citizen. Elsie had recently been complaining about the resources they were using to fly the helicopter in and out of the Core on a daily schedule. They had fuel, but the World Ship replenished the resources at a set limit. It was entirely possible to run out.
“Where do I come in?” John finally asked.
“We’re going to need a public awareness campaign,” Nima said. “Perhaps two.”
“Family planning for one,” the doctor said flatly. “I can only have so many patients at a time, at least until the Core gifts us with another Obstetrician or I can train someone adequately myself. That’s difficult in its own right, seeing as we don’t have textbooks on this material.”
“Elsie is working on that. The World Ship computers have a lot of informational materials that can help in the long run. I’ve heard she’s found a way that we might be able to produce books for citizens to read. William Everett has already started plans for a bookstore.”
Nima nodded. “Yes. Elsie is busy these days… I don’t suppose you can tell me anything about the rumors I’m hearing?”
“What rumors?” John asked, his voice nervous. He hated secrets.
“About the travellers?”
John frowned. “Where did you hear that?”
“It’s all over town. I assume it’s true?”
John didn’t know how to respond. The town didn’t have any kind of secret or classified information rules, but the recent discoveries at Mission Control were supposed to be limited to select individuals.
“We don’t know what we found, yet,” John answered diplomatically. “It would be wise not to help spread the rumors until we know more.”
“I don’t really care,” Nima assured him as she took a sip of her coffee. “My concern is for the citizens. I’d rather research our survival than looking for spaceships inside of spaceships.”
“I am happy to hear that,” John said, hoping she was truthful. “I will start work on some kind of public awareness campaign to distribute if the council agrees to it when we next meet.”
Nima nodded. “Thank you, John. I knew I could count on you.”
Flynn had just finished lowering the last boulder into the hole where he had hidden the large crate. Knowing how far they were in the Garden made him feel like it would be safe here, at least for now.
He stepped back and Ronin helped him climb over the last of the rocks where a smooth cliff looked over a massive body of water, likely large enough to be a sea. The two stood there, looking at out at the shimmering blue surface for a moment.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Flynn said. “Did you have this where you came from?”
Ronin nodded slightly. “A little different, but yes. We called it the Woods.”
“Listen, I know Elsie and David have kept pushing back the mission to get you home, and I know that’s annoying.”
“You don’t have to explain,” Ronin said. “The truth is, I’m thankful for everything. I don’t pretend to know the motives of your people, but I’m treated well. I’m following the rules and I have earned my place. In time, I’ll get home.”
Flynn nodded. “Well, once we have—”
A loud roar echoed through the nearby woods that made Flynn and Ronin freeze in place. Flynn twisted to look out at the treeline, but he didn’t see anything at first. Then, he felt it. There was a vibration in the ground that shook in his bones.
Something was coming.
Olivia must have heard the roar too. She poked her head out of Explorer Two and waved wildly at them. “Let’s go!”
The pair jumped up and rushed over to the ship, quickly climbing aboard and taking their places at the controls. Flynn and Ronin flipped through the startup sequence and the hum of the repulsors put their minds at ease. In a few moments they would be airborne, and whatever was coming toward them would be left in the dust.
Flynn started to push the throttle just as the creature emerged from the trees.
It was massive. It had thick leathery skin and a massive mouth that was lined with dozens of teeth. He didn’t know what it was, but he didn’t want to wait around to find out. He threw the throttle to max and lifted them off the ground as the massive animal marched across the rocks, eager to grab hold of Explorer Two before it could escape.
It covered the distance rather quickly, fast enough that Flynn stiffened in his seat while he pulled back on the controls.
“Are we good?” Ronin asked.
Explorer Two heaved into the air, clearly avoiding the large animal’s approach.
They climbed higher, leveling off and peering down at the animal as it circled below them, roaring once more, and then finally moving back into the treeline where it quickly vanished from sight.
“What did you guys think?” Olivia chimed in from the radio.
“I think we just saw a dinosaur,” Flynn answered.
“I guess that confirms the stories from the other teams,” Olivia added. “George is real.”
Ronin scoffed. George was the name given to a mysterious creature that several other adventure teams had supposedly spotted during their scouting or aerial mapping missions. No one had captured imagery or video of the monster, so Ronin had largely dismissed it. Now, he understood why one might not think to capture a video.
“Did we record anything?” Flynn asked, clearly reaching the same conclusion.
“Of course,” Olivia answered. “I had three cameras on just in case. We had to have caught him on one of them.”
Ronin smiled. “Guess we’ll need to adjust our safety training.”
Flynn nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I’d say we need to add monsters to the list.”