Episode 11: The Garage (Part 1)

          The launch of Explorer Two was nothing to write home about. Over the last year, the coming and going of the large vehicle had dulled even the most excited explorer’s interest. The ship flew as smoothly as Ruby Rose remembered, banking easily through the clean air of the Lower Level. She took her time running through all the checklists, making sure she hadn’t missed a single detail. Olivia was doing her part too, recording their health readings and checking their environmental suits in case they needed to switch on personal life support.

Explorer Two takes off from the Grid.

           There was a clear amount of tension from Elsie as she had them reading aloud their progress. She was measured and professional, sure, but her voice was slightly higher than usual. She was nervous. Ruby admitted to herself that was only fair. For all the missions Elsie had overseen, none had reached the level of popularity as this one. Even when the Explorers had first ventured into the Garden, they hadn’t been worried about a catastrophic failure that might eject the entire vessel into the void.

          Ruby realized, at that thought, that her own hands were shaking a little.

          “There’s no need to worry,” Olivia said, glancing at the pilot’s trembling digits.

          “Easy for you to say,” Ruby replied.

          “All systems look good,” Olivia continued. “The ship is in great shape. I’m going to give Elsie clearance to have the Engineers open the bulkhead. Keep us on current flight level and heading.”

Ruby (Center), Olivia (Left), and Ronin (Right) prepare for their mission.

          Ruby did as she was told without hesitation. The ship leveled out and continued down a corridor of the Lower Level they had once called the “hallway.” It was here, in a narrow, canyon-like area of the World Ship that the large bulkhead leading into the Garage was found.

          “Just like that,” Olivia said. “We’ve received word from Elsie. The bulkhead is opening.”

          Ruby acknowledged, but she didn’t need to hear any confirmation. In front of her, a massive crack was opening in the wall of the World Ship. She could see that it was dark just beyond the threshold, but the light from the Lower Level was spreading quickly as the door opened.

          “Approaching bulkhead threshold,” Ruby announced. “No major changes in pressure or temperature. Honestly, this seems smoother than when we went into the Garden.”

          “Maintain course,” Olivia ordered. “Updating flight path to power station.”

          Ruby waited a second while her flight computer updated, noting a new path for them to follow. She had seen the course a hundred times before, in training, so she knew that everything was going according to plan so far.

          “3… 2… 1… Confirmation. Explorer Two has entered the Garage.”

          “Well, that’s new,” Olivia said.

Explorer Two enters the Garage.

          The Garage was a new sight to see. So far, every part of the World Ship that they had explored was designed to minimize its science-fiction appearance. They had fake skies, painted tree-lines, mountains, dirt, grass, everything and anything that masked the true nature of their world. The Garage, however, made no such effort. This place was cold, metallic, and vast. The floor appeared to be metal plating, the walls were beams and plating interwoven with one another to make some kind of space tapestry. The western wall, according to their cardinal directions, housed plenty of computers and large pieces of machinery. It looked like a far more rugged and industrialized version of the Core. To the east of that, the Garage was one giant space. It wasn’t empty, either. Taking up most of the space were two independent and frighteningly large spaceships. Each one had a strange mixture of unique characteristics and striking differences. One was colored a dark grey. It looked shorter, but wider. The other was a glossy white oval, taller and narrower. They looked… beautiful… especially compared to the pale and gray surroundings of the Garage.

Explorer Two gets their first look at the Travelers.

          “Those are the Travelers,” Ronin spoke up over the radio. “They are the lifeblood of the World Ship.”

          “How so?” Ruby dared ask, her mind already overwhelmed with what she was seeing.

          “They come and go from the World Ship to gather and harvest. They bring anything and everything that the World Ship, or its citizens, needs. If you ever wondered where William Everett gets the metal he uses to make his railroad, now you know.”

          “Impressive,” Olivia said. “The power station is our focus this trip, however, so let’s not get off topic. The schematics we analyzed imply it’s part of a structure not unlike the Grid. We should scout it out and see if there’s a place to land.”

          Ruby nodded and went back to monitoring her controls, trying to ignore the Travellers just outside of her view. They were massive, too, each one could easily hold the entire town with room to spare. Their presence dominated her mind as much as they did the Garage itself.

          They hit the last marker on Olivia’s updated flightpath, and Ruby clicked her radio on.

          “This is Explorer Two. We’re not picking up much out here. We are at two kilometers past the threshold. It’s pretty spooky in here.”

          “Don’t add unnecessary commentary,” Olivia said.

          Ruby was about to respond, but her radio crackled with a wave of static instead.

          “Ouch, what was that?” she asked.

Ruby reacts to violent static on the radio.

          “Radio interference,” Olivia replied. “Ruby, check your radar.”

          Ruby did as she was asked, and she felt her stomach clench when it showed, with no room for error, another large signal in range.

          “What am I seeing?” Ruby asked.

          “You see it too? I had hoped it was just mine,” Olivia said.

          “What is it?” Ronin chimed in. “What’s going on?”

          “We have an unidentified vessel closing on us. It’s in the Garage.”

          “It has to be Thresher,” Ronin said. “It’s a trap.”


          The Intrepid was flying fast toward the edge of the Upper Levels. David saw them kicking up the gray dust of the plateau, and he had a hard time remembering how long it had been since he trudged through that dirt.

          “When we drop off the edge, it’s going to feel rough,” Annie said over the radio. “Our repulsors work the same as yours, but our ships are different. The Intrepid doesn’t have wings to maintain lift, so we’re going to drop like a rock. The repulsors will be working to keep our speed down, but it’ll still feel like a freefall.”

          “I won’t panic until you tell me to,” David said. “You ready?”

          “Ready.”

          “Alright. Hang on!”

David Flynn pilots the Intrepid to the Lower Level.

          The ship hurled off the edge without pause, and for a moment, nothing really changed. Then, the ship angled down, and it felt like David was being thrown at the ceiling. His restraint kept him pinned in his seat, but it was definitely a rough ride. The Intrepid wasn’t exactly aerodynamic, so the wind and air caught and tumbled them as they fell. The repulsors did their job, constantly straightening and slowing them, but Annie was right… they were in free fall.

          As they got lower, David could make out Willow Creek. He also saw what looked to be dozens of farms and crops dotting the landscape, and he wondered how much development he had missed out on while he was away.

          “Feeling nostalgic?” Annie asked as they rocked.

          “A little bit, yeah,” he answered. “How’d you know?”

          “Heart rate changed.”

          “Right.”

          The hum of the repulsors grew louder, and David’s butt started to settle in his seat again. Their speed slowed substantially, and Annie gave a small cheer as it became clear they would not be colliding with the ground below.

The Intrepid plummets to the Lower Level.

          Then, static erupted over the Intrepid’s speaker.

          “Whoa,” Annie said, slapping the controls. “Sorry about that. Looks like we’ve got a lot of radio interference down here.”

          David clapped his hands. “Exactly! The radio!”

          “Come again?”

          “We can call the Grid and warn them.”

          Annie smiled. “Right! The ship-wide is jammed, but local open air comms are still up. All I need are the frequencies and I can get us talking.”

          “Okay,” David said, typing the numbers into the ship’s computer so Annie could see. “The Grid uses a special frequency for its missions. I can tap into that one, as it should be monitored all the time.”

          “Got it. Patching us in.”

David attempts to contact the Grid.

          The static cleared and David got a green light on the signal. Before he could speak, however, he received a broadcast.

          “This is Explorer Two. We’re not picking up much out here. We are at two kilometers past the threshold. It’s pretty spooky in here.”

          “Who was that?” Annie asked.

          David recognized the voice as Ruby. He didn’t answer Annie, though, instead opening a broadcast that anyone could hear. “To everyone out there. This is David Nash. Do you read?”

          “Nash?” Ruby’s voice crackled through the static. “What in the world?”

          “Ruby,” David said. “I don’t know how much time we have. Where are you?”

          “We’re about two point five kilometers inside the Garage. You should see us.”

          “You are inside the Garage?” David asked. “Why are you… nevermind. Turn around right now. You have to get out of there. Is there anyone at the Grid listening in on this?”

          There was a long moment of silence.

          “It appears we lost contact with them,” Olivia reported at last. “It could be signal interference.”

          “No,” David said. “It’s Thresher. You have to get out of the Garage right now.”

David talks to Explorer Two.

          “Is that you on our radar?” Ruby asked.

          David grimaced. He was too late. “No, I’m not in the Garage!”

          “What’s the situation, David?” Olivia asked, her voice still calm.

          “Thresher is here to steal a Traveler. You are in grave danger.”

          “We understand,” Olivia added.

          “We have a new problem,” Annie chimed in. “The bulkhead is closing.”

          David checked his console, and his heart sank. Thresher and Olivia were inside the Garage, and now the door was closing. With the Grid’s signal blocked, that meant he wouldn’t be able to get it open again.

          “Olivia,” he said, feeling desperate. “He is going to open the Garage. It will vent you into the void!”

          “Don’t worry, Nash,” Olivia replied. “I know what to do. Ruby, veer left ninety degrees and set our throttle to max. David, if you can hear me, we’re going to… then…”

          The signal faded, then dropped entirely.

The Intrepid is cut off from the Garage.

          “The Garage bulkhead just sealed,” Annie announced. “David… I’m getting error messages on the ship-wide system down here. One of the Travelers just reported unauthorized access.”

          “We’re too late,” David said. “Thresher has what he wants. He’s stealing a Traveler!”


To be continued…

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