Olivia leaned heavily on the wooden bench, causing it to groan and creak from the shifting weight. A light breeze rustled the leaves on the nearby tree, and she couldn’t help but ponder on where the airflow came from inside the World Ship. Sitting next to her, Samantha Valentine was writing down copious notes on her pad of paper. When she finally stopped, she looked up at Olivia with a face that showed only genuine interest.
“You were saying?” she asked.
Olivia took a deep breath. She felt her knee bouncing and wondered if she should just get up and leave. The panicked thought vanished in an instant, and her resolve returned. She looked to the ground, and continued where she had left off.
“The memories come pretty regularly,” she explained. “In almost all of them, I see this woman. I can’t truly describe her to you. She had flowing hair, and a face that looked like it hadn’t seen joy in ages, but somehow could still express hope. I can’t hear a voice when she speaks… it’s more like I can remember what she said rather than hearing her speak.”
Olivia glanced at Samantha and saw she was busy writing again.
“I’m not writing anything specific down,” Samantha assured her. “At least, no details, as we agreed. I do want to be able to remember and think about what you’re describing though; I can’t take all this in one sitting.”
Olivia nodded, nervously. It was all a bit strange to trust Samantha with this, but honestly, who else could she turn to? Despite their differences, Samantha was a skilled therapist, and with the increasing flashes of memories, Olivia needed to talk to someone.”
Samantha looked over her notes and then took a deep breath. “Okay, so we know this woman is a key part of your… experiences. So, who do you think she is?”
Olivia offered a shrug. “I can’t say. It’s not anyone I know here.”
“I… I don’t want to speak out of my expertise, but if I was forced to guess, I would assume that you’re remembering your past.”
“That can’t be,” Olivia said. “No one in the World Ship has memories.”
“Maybe,” Samantha mused. “Maybe not. You might just be the first one to have brought your concerns to me. There could be a dozen others out there dreaming of their past and hiding it away for fear of being different.”
“I don’t know,” Olivia replied, contemplating the options. “I’ve had these thoughts for some time now. I think the first one was in Mission Control just after Explorer One returned from our very first big mission. We were wrapping up at our stations, and John said something to me that sparked the memory.”
“What did he say?”
“He said ‘all is well.’ Nothing more than that.”
“And what did you experience?”
“I saw the woman. She was looking at me and I could see… love in her eyes. She said to me, ‘all is well,’ just like John. It was just a fragment of my memory, if that even makes sense.”
“So, these memories aren’t always dreams?”
“No, sometimes they’re triggered by touch, or smells, or seeing something familiar.”
“An interesting mystery,” Samantha said, lowering her pen. “I admit that the whole notion is beyond my skills. I can try to walk you through your memories and get a better understanding of it, but I won’t be very helpful when it comes to understanding the origins.”
“Why that one woman though? Is my mind just… making someone up?”
Samantha shrugged. “I can’t say with any real accuracy. If I were to venture a guess, I would say this woman is someone that was integral to your past. It might be your mother, or a maternal figure? We must have all had parents, right?”
“You don’t describe her as a friend or lover, yet she has a deeply personal connection.”
“Could it be fake?” Olivia asked.
“It’s… possible,” Samantha admitted. “We all come out of the Core with some kind of knowledge tucked away in our minds. I know psychology, while Bryan Steeles understands math and logistics, and Elsie is clearly a master of mechanical engineering. The knowledge has to come from somewhere. If you consider your experiences to be no different from remembering the warmth of a fire or the sound of a gunshot, then you’re no different from the others in town. Maybe you’re just the first in line, and soon we’ll all remember too.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Olivia said.
“All things considered, I would avoid jumping to any conclusions. The memories are not impacting your day to day life, and I am here to help you work through any troubles you might experience. You are keeping your dream journal, so let’s keep talking about it for now.”
“I hope you’ll be able to keep all of this confidential,” Olivia said now, fear etching through her words. “I wouldn’t want the citizens—”
Samantha held a hand up to stop Olivia while looking at her notepad. “The way I see it, Olivia, we all need allies, not enemies. I made mistakes in the past, and I won’t be making them again. You have my word, Olivia, you will never have to doubt me or my loyalties again.”
Olivia seemed relieved by the words and nodded in response.
“Keep the dream journal going,” Samantha added as the pair stood from the bench. “If we talk you through it and keep a good log, we might find something that connects all of this together.”
“I will,” Olivia replied. “Thank you, Samantha. This means a great deal.”
Flynn Brickshelm was en route to the Grid.
After setting up an appointment at Mission Control, Elsie Lamarr had ended up busy with her work here and called to reschedule. Flynn had requested that he be allowed to visit. While it was an odd request, it wasn’t something Elsie was worried about. Flynn had taken the mantle of Protector, and he showed up from time to time to learn about this or that.
In this case, she assumed he might be coming to check up on the Explorers as a whole.
Since becoming leader of the Explorers after the schism a year ago, Elsie had been busy organizing a management structure that made sense for the teams. Under Olivia, there had only been one group, but now there were the Explorers, the Engineers, and the Operators. Each team had their own designated tasks based on interest and aptitude. Using this structure, they had achieved new milestones on every front. There were active vehicles, new software programs, and continual updates to their knowledge of the World Ship.
She was proud to have the chance to gloat a bit about her progress.
Unfortunately, when Flynn stepped off the helicopter, she realized that this was not going to be the pleasant opportunity to brag that she had hoped.
Flynn looked downright angry as he approached.
“Good to see you again,” she said, speaking loudly over the whirling blades of the helicopter. “Welcome to the Grid.”
“I wish it was under better circumstances,” Flynn said. “We need to talk.”
“We can head to the Launch Center,” she said. “We can speak privately there.”
Flynn nodded. “Lead the way.”
The Launch Center was where the Explorer vehicles were monitored during take off and landing procedures. Mission Control was in charge once the ship was on its way, but until they were stable and in the air, it was the Grid that ran the show.
Once inside, Elsie showed Flynn to a seat and planted herself next to him. “So, what are these unfortunate circumstances that bring you to me?”
Flynn didn’t speak. He pulled out several documents and handed them to Elsie. As soon as she saw the many rows of names, she knew what he had discovered.
“Ah,” she mumbled. “The cargo manifest.”
“Rayland Walsh gave it to me,” Flynn explained. “Of course, that was only after I found out about it from Leonard. After chasing those two around, I learned that you started all of this.”
“Careful with the accusations,” she said, her voice firm, but hopefully not aggressive. “You have to understand the context. I discovered the cargo manifest while I was parsing the data collected from the Upper Levels. At the time, I was very disgruntled with Olivia and how she was running things. When I realized that the list had the names of every single citizen in town, plus more, I knew I had struck gold. Figuring out that Olivia’s name wasn’t on the list was more than I could have dreamed. We were trusting her in a role of leadership, and she wasn’t even a part of our crew. I sent it to Rayland, privately, so he could stir up controversy like he always does. I had no idea he would escalate it into a full conflict.”
“You didn’t reveal it to the rest of the town council. Why?”
“Rayland suggested I let him do it,” she answered. “I just went along with my business. I hoped he would use it to my advantage, but when the schism happened, I realized I’d done wrong. At that point, revealing what I knew would not be beneficial to Olivia, so I stayed quiet.”
“That explains why you kept quiet during the schism, but what about after?”
“The citizens needed a break from scandal and fear. What good would it have done? Olivia stepped down from her position, so she wasn’t going to be in a position to exploit her secrets, whatever they might be. I didn’t see a reason to pursue it further.”
“Fair enough,” Flynn said. “So, why is Olivia not on the list?”
Elsie offered up a simple shrug. “To be honest, it could be anything. I can’t know if the list is even complete. Maybe she’s just not on there because we missed that data. Or maybe there are other manifests out there. Maybe her name isn’t Olivia and whoever entered it on the list didn’t know?”
“What about Ronin?” Flynn asked.
“Ah, I thought you might ask. No. He’s not on there either.”
“So we should assume they’re connected somehow,” Flynn said. “Good or bad.”
“Here’s the long and short of it,” Elsie said, relaxing now. “Olivia may not be on the list. We don’t know what that means. Is she an alien? Is she just a citizen with a clerical error? The fact of the matter is, it has little impact. If Olivia had ill intent, there was ample opportunity over the years to act on it. The dedication she’s given to keeping us all safe, and the amount of flak she’s taken for it, is commendable. So, for the sake of moving forward, I don’t really have any interest in thinking of all the bad things Olivia might be when I have a demonstrated history of the good things she already is.”
“Very kind words,” Flynn said. “I suppose I should take them to heart.”
“If you’re smart,” Elsie said. “Now, against my better judgement, Olivia has asked that I inform you of our next mission.”
“Why would you not inform me?”
“We’re sending Explorer Two into the Garage.”
Flynn stiffened. “Oh.”
“Olivia said that’s how you might respond.”
“Who will be the mission pilot?”
“Ruby Rose,” Elsie said. “She’s expressed interest.”
“I thought the Garage was off limits for exploration missions?”
“It was,” Elsie explained. “We’ve recently found a way to control the Garage entry hatch from the Grid. In truth, it’s all thanks to David Nash in the Upper Levels. That man found himself a treasure trove of knowledge.”
“A trove that Ronin highly disapproves of him sharing,” Flynn added.
“We have promised to keep our noses out of ship systems and other things that Ronin finds objectionable. We consult with him often.”
“Assuming we should consult with him at all?”
“We’re all on this ship together,” Elsie said. “We can’t go around suspicious of one another all the time, or we won’t get anywhere.”
“Does that satisfy everything?” Elsie asked.
“Just one more thing. Olivia told you how I might react to news about the Garage. Did she—”
“Did she tell me that you’re not the first Flynn to arrive in this town?” she asked, perfectly anticipating the question. “Yes, I know about your past. When I took over as leader of the Explorers, Olivia felt I should be informed of the Grid’s… abilities.”
“I meant to tell you, now that you’re in charge,” he said. “After the scare with David Nash, I thought we might discuss how we plan to handle any eventual casualties we might face.”
Elsie nodded. “I understand fully. We added new measures to our Core retrieval process that should help prevent any unexpected surprises in the future. I’d be happy to let you take a look at the changes in case we missed something.”
“If you don’t mind,” Flynn said. “I don’t doubt you’re covered, but I want to be informed if I can. The more in sync we are, the better.”
Elsie nodded. “I’ll have them send the process over to you as soon as possible. Flynn, we’ve met a few times now, over the last few months. I’ll get you a direct line to my radio, so that you can always reach me if needed. No need to keep you guessing on my location for when stuff like this comes up.”
“Should I expect more stuff like this to come up?” Flynn asked.
She smiled. “I hope not.”
He nodded and then said farewell and began making his way back toward the helicopter. Elsie watched him as he left. She liked Flynn. He was kind, honest, and had a strong dedication to whatever he was focused on. It was hard to dislike someone like that… someone that made you feel like you should be better.
She chuckled to herself at the thought of self-improvement.
There’d be time for that later.