Elsie Lamarr thrived under pressure. If there was some kind of force pushing against her, she always pushed back twice as hard. Nothing was more exciting than standing in a room of individuals and convincing them all that her way was the only way.
The key to walking away victorious in these situations, however, was believing every word of what she said. As she was looking over the proposed mission details, she was having a hard time swallowing one of the last minute changes to the crew list.
“You can’t possibly be serious?” Elsie asked, looking over the names. “You can’t expect the council to agree to this. I don’t even know if I would agree to it.”
She was referring to the addition of Ronin as a member of the crew.
“It’s a good decision,” Olivia said flatly. “He is more knowledgeable about the World Ship than anyone else. The Garage is a complete unknown to us.”
“Look, Ronin seems like a decent person, but don’t pretend he is anywhere near a level of trust with our people to be placed on a high-risk mission.”
“I believe he has earned our trust.”
“Maybe he has,” Elsie said, pinching her eyes shut as she tried to think of the right words to use with Olivia. “Let me ask… would that trust remain if Rayland Walsh tells the council that his name isn’t on our crew manifest?”
For a split second, Olivia’s resolve cracked.
“Or worse,” Elsie pressed. “If he revealed your name isn’t on the manifest.”
“I admit the town doesn’t need anymore controversy, but—”
“Then there’s Ruby,” Elsie added, trying her best to drive the point home. “After all, Ruby is not aware that two-thirds of the crew she will be partnered with are mysterious figures that we can’t actually identify.”
Olivia’s face hardened from her words, and Elsie realized she had pushed too hard.
“So tell her the truth,” Olivia said. “Tell them all. I’m not some kind of mystery to be whispered about in secret. Tell the council and be done with it.”
“You know that’s unfair,” Elsie said, attempting to recover. “The mission takes priority, and we can’t have your revelation causing a stir. We were in agreement about this before we started down this path.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“So can we please table this discussion until after the mission?”
Olivia seemed to wrestle with the idea, but finally nodded. “It is your call who comes with us, but Elsie, Ronin is the right pick for the job. No one else comes close. I don’t want the mission to suffer because we have secrets that need to be maintained. Not when we have so much riding on the line.”
“I’ll review the changes, I promise. That’s all I can give you for now.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with some uncomfortable citizens at Town Hall. Try not to cause a revolution while I’m gone, okay?”
Olivia offered her a lopsided grin. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Johnathan Davis was seated at the council table in Town Hall. He wasn’t a member, of course, but he had become the voice of the citizens thanks to his newsletter, which was now mostly out of his hands. Over the last year, several other citizens had stepped up to take on roles as writers, editors, and even a publisher. The newsletter had grown into a full print and digital distribution platform, and John was seen as the spearhead of the whole operation. The Daily Gazette was read by almost every citizen across the World Ship, including folks as far as William Everett’s Winter Village.
The town council had been growing and changing too.
Olivia had been replaced by Elsie Lamarr when she took over the Explorers. Oliver, who no longer represented all of the food distribution in town, had happily given up his place to Nancy Rizzo from the town’s diner. She seemed to be settling in well, and Oliver was happy to be free of it. Bryan Steeles still served in his position as the town’s logistical manager, and Flynn Brickshelm had been attending regularly as the leader of the Protectors. Rayland still sat at the head of the table as the town’s mayor, and that only left Doctor Caleb Vann, who was now serving as the head of health operations. As of late, the town’s ongoing… baby crisis… dominated the council meetings, but tonight the spotlight was on Elsie Lamarr.
The topic: a new mission for Explorer Two.
Unlike Olivia’s tenure, Elsie had worked hard to foster a relationship of open dialogue with the council. Whenever they had a mission on the table, Elsie would bring it to the town meeting, discuss the objectives, challenges, and anything else that seemed of interest. All of it had gone swimmingly so far, with the council feeling more involved and connected to the Explorers than ever before.
“Good evening,” Elsie said as she handed out her mission briefs to the council. “The mission we have on the table is designated as solely reconnaissance. We don’t intend anyone leave Explorer Two at any point during the mission, and we expect it to last hours rather than days. We’re opening a major bulkhead, but we don’t expect any complications there.”
“Is this mission going to the Garden like the last few?” Nancy asked, glancing over the briefing. “I don’t see the destination listed here.”
“No, I decided to discuss this in person,” Elsie said. “We are going to attempt to enter the Garage on this trip.”
Caleb, Rayland, and Bryan all leaned forward at the same time. Their eyes fell to Flynn, but he showed no surprise. Nancy, surprised by their reactions, looked at the others. “What are we missing? It seems the older members of the council know something we do not?”
“We once tried to enter the Garage,” Flynn answered. “It did not go according to plan.”
“That was a long time ago,” Elsie added. “Before we had Mission Control, the explorer vessels, or anything else that we have access to now. The only similarity between the two missions is the destination.”
“What is the purpose of the mission?” Bryan asked.
“For the last year, we have been in close contact with David Nash in the Upper Levels. As you have all been informed, there is a large settlement up there called the Hub. Ronin, the crashed pilot, originally came from the Hub.”
“How does that fit into this?” Caleb asked.
“The citizens in the Hub have a great deal of knowledge about our World Ship. With David’s help, we have learned more in the last year than we collectively gathered with the first arrival all those years ago.”
“I assume this is leading somewhere?” Rayland asked.
“Our World Ship appears to have sustained damage at some point in its history. In fact, we’ve created a kind of model of the World Ship…”
Elsie wheeled over a large white model that she and others at the Core had been designing for some time. It was, as best as they could demonstrate, the overall shape of the World Ship where they lived.
“Several systems powered down while they were being repaired,” Elsie said, gesturing to the front of the model. “Now that they have been fixed, the power needs to be restored to bring them online. According to David, and confirmed with our own team, the Garage houses a large power station where many of the breakers and controls for our ship systems are located.”
“So you want to scope it out and see about bringing those systems back online?” Nancy surmised.
“What systems, exactly?” Rayland asked.
“There’s a number of them,” Elsie answered. “The most important is the system that controls the Pantry. Right now we are left to our own devices when it comes to storing our excess foodstuffs. At some point the Pantry went offline, but it appears to be ready to reboot. If we can bring it online, we will solve a lot of problems for our farmers and their excess stock.”
Nancy looked excited. “I can’t argue with that. I approve.”
“Is this the only system you would bring online?” Rayland asked.
“We won’t bring any online until we have a full understanding of the power station and its capabilities. This mission is visual confirmation and photography of the target, nothing else.”
“That seems reasonable,” Bryan said. “I see no issues, so I approve as well.”
“Before we get too many approvals, there is one change I would like to discuss.”
“What is that?” Caleb asked, flipping the briefing card in his hand.
“You want to modify the crew list?”
“Yes. I’d like to add the pilot from the Upper Levels, Ronin, to the mission.”
No one spoke at first. Elsie considered backing down, but then Rayland cleared his throat to draw everyone’s attention.
“A lot of the data for this mission seems to be coming from the Upper Levels. I assume Ronin would be a valuable resource. Is that why you want him to go?”
“It is, yes.”
“I only see the value of that decision. At best, he will be helpful. At worst, he might be able to spot an unexpected dangers that we don’t know about. I approve.”
The others voiced their approval as well.
It was done.
The mission was a go.
As the meeting wrapped up, the other council members started to split off and go their own ways. Elsie packed up her briefings, but she held back until it was just her and Rayland. She stepped over to him and smiled. He raised a brow in response. “Yes?”
“You were the last person I expected to approve the mission so easily.”
Rayland smiled. “Really? Your brief makes sense, your choices over the last year have been exemplary, and I see no downsides.”
Elsie nodded and decided not to press her luck, so she made a quick exit to the hallway where she nearly collided with John as he waited near the elevator.
“Oh, hello,” she said. “It’s good to see you, John. I heard that you and Ruby have made your relationship public. That’s good news.”
“It’s bittersweet,” John said. “It looks like she’ll be going on a dangerous mission.”
“She will be fine,” Elsie said. “I assure you. It’ll be in and out.”
“What happens when she gets back?”
“After this mission, who will fly the next?”
Elsie shrugged. “I suppose we’ll train someone.”
“You mean Ruby will train someone,” John corrected.
“If she elected to do that,” Elsie said, feeling defensive. “I didn’t force her into this.”
“Does she really know the truth about the mission?” he asked.
“I… what?” she stammered.
“I hope so,” John added. “For your sake.”
The elevator dinged as it arrived, and the doors opened to an empty carriage. John gestured his arm for Elsie to go ahead. “I’ll wait for the next one.”
Elsie didn’t resist. She stepped onto the elevator and pressed the button that would close the door. As the lift took her down, she started wondering what John had meant about telling Ruby the truth. Had he figured out the manifest story? If so, why not just challenge her about it right then and there? No, he was guessing when he said that, but her initial shock would have given him the answer he wanted. There was something that Ruby didn’t know.
Now Elsie had to decide how she would handle that.
The elevator door opened, and she slipped on her sunglasses.
There was a lot of work to be done.