“Has anyone ever told you how amazing these crab legs are?”
David Nash looked up from his seat to see an excited patron holding up a half-eaten piece of crustacean, waving it slowly toward the chef behind the counter.
“I mean, YUM!”
The customer was loud compared to most visitors. The restaurant, Jim’s Crab Palace, was the most popular restaurant in the entire Hub. Jim had been one of the early founders of the Hub and had been feeding the citizens ever since. David imagined it was similar to Oliver’s restaurant back home.
Today’s vocal guest was someone that David didn’t recognize right away. His voice wasn’t familiar, nor his appearance, but there were still plenty of people that David hadn’t met. While this character would have seemed out of place back in town, here in the Hub everyone was different. No one belonged here… and yet everyone belonged.
“You should start charging double for these,” the customer shouted again.
“Please,” Chef Jim said, still drying a glass behind the counter. “I appreciate your praise, but your volume must be lowered.”
“I’m singing your praise all day,” the customer said, only slightly quieter.
“Everything alright?” David asked, making sure to lock eyes with him.
“Oh, yes,” Jim said. “I just do not want our customers disturbed.”
The man at the bar gasped. “Me? Disturb the peace?”
“You alright, friend?” David asked, feeling suddenly suspicious. “You might—”
“I am just grand,” the man replied. “Now that my friend is finally here…”
The jingle of the doorbell drew David’s attention. He turned from the counter to the entrance and nearly gasped when he saw Thresher standing at the door, his hair a mess and his face sporting a sly grin.
A moment later, a whirring alarm started to sound outside. David had never heard it before, but everyone knew what it meant. The city had been found. They were under attack. As panic started to erupt outside, Thresher looked to Jim and the man at the counter quickly jumped over, pushing Jim against the wall.
Thresher looked back to David. “You want to sit down for a minute?”
“I’d prefer to stand,” David answered.
Thresher shrugged. “To each their own. My friend, I’m here because, obviously, I feel bad for you. After all that’s happened over the last year, you’ve obviously had your trials and tribulations. So, I thought, here on the day when I accomplish my greatest goals, I would invite you to return to your home.”
“These people are innocent civilians,” David said, his voice expressing his anger. “You can’t just terrorize this city and expect—”
“I’m not terrorizing anything,” Thresher interrupted. “I’m here to get one thing. That’s it. As soon as I have that, I’m on my way. This city, these people, I don’t have any interest in hurting them. They’re just pawns in Ronin’s game. They have no idea what’s really going on here.”
“I do,” David said. “I know you’re from another World Ship.”
“David, have you ever heard the phrase ‘tip of the iceberg’ in your town?”
David shook his head.
“Icebergs are big froken chunks of ice. When you see one from the surface of the water, it might look small, but underneath the water, it could easily be ten times that size.”
“What you know about me, well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
“I know enough,” David said. “I know I will protect these people.”
“Again with the people,” Thresher sighed. “I’m here for a book, David. That’s all.”
David didn’t speak.
“You don’t seem surprised. You’ve seen it then? The Book of the Traveller?”
“Ronin said the knowledge in that book—”
“I know perfectly well what happened,” Thresher snapped. “I’m not going to repeat the mistakes that Ronin made. I’m going to fix them.”
David paused. “What?”
“Oh? I guess you haven’t read all of his journals…”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ronin told you the book is dangerous, right? Well, how do you think he knows that?”
“Ronin is responsible for the destruction that he fears. He’s the monster in this story, David, not me.”
“So why do you want the book?” David asked.
Thresher closed his eyes for a moment. “You know, David, I wish I had time—”
Thresher’s radio buzzed, catching him by surprise. He lifted it and answered. The voice on the other end sounded… familiar.
“The library was locked. We broke in, but the book is missing. We believe Anton hid it.”
“Where is Anton?” Thresher asked.
“By the docks,” the radio replied. “We have him in custody.”
“Excellent. I’ll be down soon.”
Thresher cut off the radio and looked back to David. “I don’t owe you a story, David Nash. I rescued your friend. I rescued you, and yet here you stand, ready to defy me for no other reason than the words of a man you may never even meet.” He brushed his hand through his hair and stood up, looking tired. “Think it over. I’ll still take you home, if you decide that’s what you want.”
Thresher stepped out of the restaurant and turned left toward the docks. David was dumbfounded. No matter what he thought about Ronin or Thresher, the story always took another dramatic turn.
He did want to return home, but there was still more to the situation than Thresher let on. David had to see it through, not for Ronin, but for his own understanding.
First, however, he needed to help Jim.
He turned to the counter and saw that Jim was being held hostage by the attacker.
“Hey!” David called. “Back off!”
David rushed over and grabbed the attacker by the shoulders, pulling him up onto the counter and away from the defenseless chef.
“Thresher’s plan,” David yelled as he pulled on the man. “Tell me. Now.”
“Get the book,” the man replied. “Thresher already told you.”
“What is he going to do with the book?”
The man looked genuinely confused. “You mean… you don’t know?”
“The Traveler?,” the customer asked. “Nothing? Have you even read the book?”
David shook his head.
“You’re out of your league here,” the man said. “If you don’t even know what the—”
Jim came out of nowhere with a flat pan. He gave a guttural growl as he made contact with his captor’s face. The thud echoed in the room, and the attacker fell, unconscious, across the counter.
“Jeez!” David shouted.
“Had to take him down,” Jim said. “He was clearly distracting you.”
“He was explaining things to me.”
“I heard the radio. Anton is captured! You need no explanation. Rescue!”
As much as it pained him to admit it, Jim was right. Whatever the larger narrative was that fueled this entire event, David had a friend that was in trouble. He had to help if he could. He thanked Jim for his help and rushed out of the restaurant, bolting for the docks.
In the skies above the Hub, the Hammerhead loomed.
From the docks, the ship looked impressive and foreboding. Many of the citizens in the city likely hadn’t even seen it before, but soon they were going to fear the danger that hovered over them.
Thresher reached the docks where Anton was being held, and he approached the elderly man with a slow pace. “Good to see you again, Anton.”
“I wish I could say the same,” Anton replied wearily.
“I need the book, old man.”
“You cannot have it,” Anton replied. “You cannot go back. Ronin said it is only a wasteland now. He said the dangers there are—”
“I’m tired of Ronin,” Thresher growled. “Give me the book, Anton, or I will open fire on this place. I will burn it to the ground if I must.”
“Then the book burns with it,” Anton said flatly. “You won’t have it.”
“Fine,” Thresher growled. “I will occupy this city forcibly. No one eats until they turnover the book. We’ll see how long it takes them to sell you out when their children are starving.”
Anton raised his arms in defeat. “Alright, you got me. There’s a pottery store just a block away from the library. I carried the book there and left it in one of the store displays.”
“Anton…” Thresher sounded calm, but his voice was laced with anger. “You don’t have to lie to me. We saw you bring the book to the docks. We know you wanted to sail into the mist. You might have managed it too, if we hadn’t spotted you.”
“It won’t matter,” Anton said. “Once—”
With the thrust of his arm, Thresher stabbed Anton. The old man responded with a face of disappointment, rather than surprise, then allowed a grunt to escape his lips.
“How long will it take?” Thresher asked.
“You’re making… a mistake…” Anton said, grimacing.
“I doubt it,” Thresher replied, pulling the knife free. “See you later, Anton.”
With a small push from Thresher, Anton fell backward from the dock and splashed into the dark water of the bay. The old man vanished beneath the surface in an instant, and as Thresher put away his knife, he saw Michael, his newest recruit approaching.
“Michael,” Thresher said, welcoming him. “You bring news?”
“Wasn’t Anton here a moment ago?” Michael asked, looking around.
“He took his leave,” Thresher answered. “Do you have anything to report?”
“We have it,” Michael said cheerily. “We have the book.”
“Then our job is done,” Thresher said. “Tell our operatives to initiate the final part of the plan, and we can finish this.”
“What about the Hub?” Michael asked.
“They go on with their lives,” Thresher said, looking around. “I’m not here for them, just as I told you before. Once we—”
“Thresher!” David’s voice pierced the air and echoed across the water’s surface.
Thresher turned to face the approaching man and raised an interested brow. “Well, have you decided to come with me? I can drop you by your home before dinner.”
“Where is Anton?”
“Ah,” Thresher said, frowning. “He and I had some unfinished business. He’ll be back soon enough, no worse for wear. Are you coming with me, or not?”
“You have the book?”
“I do,” Thresher answered.
For a brief moment, Thresher thought David might see reason and come with him. That moment came and went in a flash. Instead, a new resolve swept over the face of David Nash, and Thresher knew that there would be no moving his mind.
“So be it,” Thresher said, not waiting for a reply.
The Hammerhead swooped down toward the docks, and Thresher climbed inside, taking one more look out at David and the Hub before the vessel closed its doors and began to dive into the water below.
David, alone on the docks, looked back to the chaos of the city and took a deep breath. He knew that he was where he needed to be. Wherever Anton was, he wasn’t in a position to help calm the panic that had swept over the populace, but David had a few ideas up his sleeves… and one of them required a radio.