Living in the Hub was a foreign experience.
David Nash stood on a small wooden dock and watched the thick morning mist roll away from the harbor. He could already tell it was going to be a clear day. There was a system to all of this… a pattern no doubt implemented by the World Ship’s original designers ages ago. For the people in the Hub, this was just the daily weather. For David, it was a mechanical work of art. The Upper Levels, this area in particular, was so drastically different from the calm and quiet of town. It was like another world.
Above him, the sound of seagulls squawking interrupted his thoughts. They flew around the docks all hours of the day, but they would get particularly excited when they saw boats approaching. It was a chance to steal some fresh food, if they were lucky.
From the edge of the receding fog, David caught sight of a small boat heading into the harbor. As it drew closer, he was happy to recognize the man rowing it. The old man of the sea never tried to mask his identity or carry any mystique. He paddled toward him in a yellow rain coat and hat that stood out brightly. Anton, owner of the one and only bait shop and outpost.
David waited until the boat was just feet away from the dock before he stood and held out his arms. Anton tossed him a rope, and he pulled the boat the rest of the way, securing it to one of the dock posts while Anton climbed out of the vessel and patted David on the back.
“Good to see you again,” David said as he finished tightening the rope. “I take it things are still okay at the bait shop?”
“Okay isn’t quite the right word. The citizens are scared. It’s hard to know what might happen these days. There’s a real sense of vulnerability among the populace, particularly those that live and work beyond the protective mists. ”
“Thresher’s people haven’t made any moves in nearly a year,” David mused. “They still regularly patrol the waters, but there has been no hostility or any apparent attempts to search for the Hub.”
“That’s why I came, actually,” Anton said, pulling some keys from his belt. “We need to know more about Thresher, and lately I realized we may have a way learn all about him.”
David raised a curious brow. “By all means, tell me.”
“Not tell,” Anton said. “Show.”
Anton led David through the city, crossing streets and canals as he made his way to one of the more decorative buildings. There was only one point of entry, which required them to climb a ladder, and then open a few locks. Anton opened the door at last, and gestured for David to enter.
“After you,” Anton said, gesturing inside as he opened the door.
David walked inside, and with the light pouring in from a large window, he saw rows and rows of drawers. There was an entire wall filled with cabinet drawers, all of which meant nothing to David.
“What am I looking at?”
Anton smiled. “Open the drawers.”
David did as instructed. Each drawer was lined with books. The books were mostly the same size and shape, but in some of the drawers things were a little more varied. The only truly common characteristic was that they all had the same numbering along their spines. It was a gold stamping of some kind, which proudly displayed 2296.
“What is this place?” David asked.
“This is Ronin’s journal room. He called it the archives.”
“Why are these books all labeled the same?”
Anton moved over and picked up one of the books, pulling it out from its drawer and handing it to David so that he could flip through it. The pages were all handwritten, some of them in dated entries, while others were just scribbling of formulas or little doodles of schematics and creatures alike. It was, no doubt, a very personal collection of writing.
“The numbering is… well, it’s a bit of a story.” Anton tried to explain it, though David could tell he was struggling to find the right words. “The truth is, the numbering comes from Ronin’s old home.”
“What do you mean? Where did Ronin live before the Hub?”
Anton thought about this for a moment. “You see, David, Ronin is not exactly from our World Ship. In fact, our World Ship is designated flight number 3069. The journals you see in these drawers all come from another World Ship.”
David had been suspicious about Ronin’s origin for some time now. Still, if he was honest, he expected to be told many things, but the revelation that there was another World Ship was not one of those things. Still, he didn’t want to seem entirely confused, so he tried to form a followup question. “So,” he mumbled. “Ronin came to our World Ship. The question I have to ask is… how?”
“I wish I could give you that answer,” Anton replied. “Well, in a way, I am giving you the best answer I can possibly hope to give. These books… the personal journals of Ronin… if anything on this World Ship can tell us about Thresher, Ronin, or anyone else, it may well be these innocent logs of one man’s life.”
Anton knelt down to one particular drawer and pulled out a few other journals, but these had a different number stamped on them… 3069.
“These are Ronin’s latest pages. He has kept these since coming to live here.”
“How can these books teach us more about Thresher?” David asked, flipping through more pages. “Did Ronin…”
Anton didn’t need to explain. David realized almost immediately that the answer was clear. Thresher was not from this World Ship either.
“Okay, wait a minute,” David added. “How did they get here?”
Anton seemed to have been waiting for this question. He had moved across the room and uncovered a final book, this one weathered and worn far more than any of the journals. He placed it on a table and gestured for David to get closer. David looked at the cover and saw the gold stamped lettering. This book was called The Travelers.
“What is it?” David inquired, cracking the book open slightly.
“I know very little,” Anton admitted. “Ronin once told me that the Travelers are what brought him here, but how they work or what they are, I cannot say. This book explains them, I assume, but I was sworn to keep it secret. He told me that the knowledge within this book can bring about the destruction of a World Ship, and that we must never attempt to mess with the Travelers.”
“So we should avoid that one then,” David said firmly. “I doubt Thresher is in it anyway.”
“Agreed. Instead, we should parse these journals, as numerous as they may be, and try to understand Thresher’s motives. The man is a mystery to us, and the behavior you describe seems to show more to his character than just… vengeance. Ronin’s life was deeply connected to Thresher, so he must have written about the man.”
The rest of the day was spent flipping through page after page of journal entries from Ronin. The books did not appear to have a chronological order, which meant that trying to pinpoint any flow of time was difficult.
It became clear, from what David did have access to, that 2296 had functioned much like their own World Ship. They had their version of the Core, where new citizens awoke and were integrated into the populous. They had a town, which they had formally named Shiloh, and Ronin had served primarily as a member of their police force, protecting citizens from the dangers that loomed all around them, though it later evolved into the Guardians.
At some point, the technology level in their town jumped significantly. Ronin’s life evolved from driving a police patrol car to hovering over the city in a large vessel. The citizens of Shiloh had mastered repulsor technology, and they were reaching out to all areas of their World Ship to unite their citizens.
There was also a love interest.
Ronin had fallen in love with a woman named Scarlett. It was unclear what her origins were, as David only found one entry that appeared to discuss it, but she was mentioned to have an extensive background with pirates.
He found no mention of Thresher, or any real insight into the man’s motiviations.
“Any luck?” he asked Anton as he flipped through the mess of scribbles.
“No luck,” Anton answered, setting aside a pile of journals he had been browsing.
“We can pick it up again tomorrow. I need to head over to the Communications Tower. I am hoping that Annie was able to get something figured out.”
“Very well. I think I’m going to stick around for a while longer. If you need anything, I will either be here or at my apartment.”
“Alright,” David confirmed. “Don’t stay too late.”
The Hub was always bustling with activity, no matter the hour. While the citizens in town seemed to favor sleeping at night, it felt like many of the people here craved the night life. As he made his way to the canal at the base of the city, he could smell fresh noodles and hear the laughter of a few folk in a nearby restaurant. The sounds of chaotic good had become something he craved these days. He honestly wondered if the silence of the town streets would be overwhelming to him now.
He reached the radio room for the tower and, as expected, found Annie covered in wires and dust as she continued to unbolt and mess with just about every piece of equipment she could get her hands on.
“Late night tonight?” he asked as he approached.
“You could say that,” she grumbled. “I think we have a problem.”
“What is it? The tower not working?”
“No,” she answered. “The tower is working fine. That’s the problem. The signal is here. The tower is broadcasting just like it’s supposed to be. The lines that Ronin connected to the ship’s internal communication system show an output from our end. David… we’re one hundred percent operational.”
“That’s great news! We could—”
“That’s terrible news,” she said, cutting him off. “You aren’t hearing me. Our output to the ship’s system is working. The ship isn’t getting anything on our end. It’s not offering us any data in exchange, either.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We’re locked out,” she said flatly. “There is nothing to fix. We’ve been locked out of the ship’s systems. We can’t communicate with your town. We can’t even communicate with our own network. We’re back to long range radios and nothing else. All communicators are offline past the locals.”
“What caused this?”
“I can’t be sure, but I’ve got a good guess,” she said, looking at him with a raised brow.
“It’s the only logical answer. Thresher could have damaged enough equipment in our section to cause the network to drain for repair.”
“Why would he keep us locked out?” David asked. “I mean, what does he have to gain?”
“We’re two towns, each with our own powerful tools. He might not want us getting united and overpowering him.”
“That’s possible, I suppose,” David admitted.
“The ‘why’ doesn’t really matter,” Annie pressed. “The fact is… someone is blocking us.”
David nodded, not really knowing what to say or do. Thresher was at work, that much was clear, but what he was after, David had no idea.
Deep beneath the water, Thresher stood in a large hangar, looking at photos of wreckage from the facility where Ronin had worked so hard to keep him at bay. The Hub still eluded him, but he was closer now to having what he wanted. All he needed was one set of coordinates, and the final pieces would come into place.
“Bring him in.”
The door to the hangar creaked open, and an individual was escorted inside, a bag over their head. When they were seated, the guard left and Thresher stepped over to remove the bag. “Good to see you again, Michael,” Thresher said calmly. “I was told you had something you wanted to share.”
The young man looked conflicted, but he nodded. “I can tell you where to find the Hub.”
Thresher squinted as he looked Michael over. “You don’t feel coerced into giving this information? You’re unharmed and well fed?”
“Why are you ready to tell me what I want to know?”
“The clock is ticking against me,” Michael answered. “You’re going to find the Hub sooner or later. You told me, back when you took me prisoner, that if I helped you… you wouldn’t harm anyone.”
“I stand by that. Not a soul.”
“Okay,” Michael said. “Then I’ll tell you what you want to know, but I want more.”
“You have to tell me your plan.”
“My plan?” Thresher asked. “All of it?”
“You want the Hub, but why? If you’re not going to hurt anyone, why are you so eager to get there? What could we possibly offer you that—”
“I can explain everything,” Thresher said calmly. “If that’s what you want… or, I can offer you an alternative option.”
“What could you possibly offer me?”
“Freedom,” Thresher answered. “No strings attached. No mess. No fuss. You tell me the coordinates for the Hub, I will verify them, then you’re free to go. When I arrive, I promise you that I will harm no one. I won’t be able to let you return to the Hub before I complete my task, but you’ll make it home unharmed.”
“But you won’t tell me your plan?”
Thresher looked him over for a moment. “If I tell you my plan, my full plan, then you cannot return home.”
Michael seemed to struggle with this for a long time.
“Freedom in exchange for the coordinates,” Thresher repeated. “It is not a bad deal.”
“I’m not debating that,” Michael said. “I just… I want to know why.”
“Curiosity can be a dangerous thing,” Thresher said. “If I tell you my plan, then you become one of us. Do you understand? Once you know what I intend, your options are far more limited. You are a danger or you are an ally. There is no in between.”
“And if you tell me, but then I refuse to help you?”
Thresher rolled his eyes. “Then I imprison you here until my plan is complete.”
“So, I can choose freedom or prison.”
“That’s right,” Thresher said. “Either way, I will find the Hub.”
Michael nodded firmly. “I have to know the plan. I have to know what drives you. If that means imprisonment, so be it.”
Thresher lifted his radio and changed the channel a few times before finally settling on one of the signals. “Come in, Number Two. Status update?”
The radio crackled with static, then a gritty voice replied loud enough for Michael to hear. “Everything is in motion, Thresher. We have successfully seeded the Grid with everything they need to access the Garage. They assume it’s David providing the details, so they are blindly doing as we tell them.”
“Good,” Thresher said, turning to look at Michael. “So, all we need now… is the coordinates.”
Michael closed his eyes and tried to make peace with himself. “Twenty-eight point six, negative eighty point six.”
Thresher smiled. “You get that?”
There was a long moment of silence, then the gritty voice responded. “Got it. Our nearest probe does confirm increased thermal activity in that direction.”
“You know what to do,” Thresher said.
He cut off his radio and looked at Michael with a small smirk. “Okay Michael, it’s time you know the plan. All of it. From the beginning to the end. You’ll know the truth of Ronin, the truth of me, and by the end of it I hope you’ll understand better the pointlessness of all your resistance.”