The bright blue water of Willow Creek felt like a long distant memory.
The deep blue, almost black, water of this World Ship was the only reality now.
Olivia continued staring at it, silent and unmoving, while Ronin was fishing around inside the abandoned restaurant. He was mumbling to himself, nothing coherent, but mumbles all the same. She wondered what he might be discussing in his mind as he tossed things around in his quest for a power supply.
“I don’t understand it,” he finally said aloud, stepping out onto the dock with her. “This place always had a few power crystals laying around. I guess it’s possible that other survivors picked it clean as things got worse in town.”
“So we’re without a boat now?”
“We can probably keep pushing it downstream,” Ronin said. “It’s a long trip, and we won’t be able to get back without some kind of power supply.”
She stepped away from him, looking away from the dark waters at last, and her eyes focused on a blue vehicle behind the restaurant. It looked odd compared to the restaurant, as though it didn’t belong here, but she couldn’t tell why. “I don’t suppose that could be of any use?” she asked, pointing to it.
He stepped over and looked where she was gesturing. He looked equally surprised to see it, and then mumbled some more before heading toward it. Olivia, curious now, followed.
“This isn’t right,” he said at last. “There’s no vines… the tires aren’t rotting…”
He climbed inside the open cabin and smiled. “It’s got fuel.”
“So we could siphon it into the shrimp boat?” Olivia asked.
“No need,” he replied. “We can just drive this back to town. I can get a power converter from the old workshop and bring it back with us for the boat.”
“Are you not concerned about the fact that this vehicle seems out of place?” she asked.
Ronin squinted for a moment. “I am curious, but not worried.”
“So, what are we going to do about it?”
“I’m going to assume the most logical situation,” he replied. “Thresher is here, right now, on this World Ship. The fact that we’ve found a working vehicle, this close to town, means that he has probably been here. It’s the only scenario that makes sense.”
“Are you sure this World Ship is abandoned?” she pressed.
“I am confident that this World Ship is incapable of supporting life. Listen, if there were people here, driving this vehicle around, then why is the shrimp shack abandoned?”
Olivia wasn’t quite satisfied with his response, but she saw no point in debating it. She nodded slowly and then started to climb into the vehicle behind him. “Get us to town, then.”
The vehicle that Ronin and Olivia borrowed was much faster than the boat they had been on before. The road to town, while overgrown and cracked, was still smooth and clear enough to allow them a straight shot. The woods on either side of the road seemed old, rotten, and lifeless, but as they drove, Olivia saw more and more patches of green pushing up through the soil. It was like they were traveling closer to a source of life, and Olivia was less confident in Ronin’s original analysis than ever.
“There it is,” he finally announced, slowing the vehicle down. “We’re here.”
She looked ahead and saw home.
It was a main street, not unlike town, with shops, homes, and old vehicles that lined the street leading up to a large brick structure that must have been their version of town hall.
“Unbelievable,” she said.
“Believe it,” he replied, steering them up onto the curb outside of a coffee house near the red brick building. He shut the power off and jumped out, turning to help her climb out too.
“This is unbelievable.”
“It’s different though, you can tell.”
“Sure, in plenty of ways, but in others it’s so similar.”
“Come on,” he said. “We don’t have to stay long.”
Olivia didn’t respond to that. She started to follow, but she bit her lip in telling him that she didn’t actually want to leave. This place was a treasure trove of adventure and mystery. She wanted to set up a camp here and send explorers to every end of the World Ship.
Ronin led her up a set of stairs and through a busted door. The inside was a standard townhome. It looked abandoned, just like the shrimp shack, but this one had been emptied in a much more orderly fashion. The bookshelf was empty, but the shelves had been cleaned off, not picked clean, and no books were left strewn across the floor.
Ronin was opening drawers, one at a time, and each empty revelation made him groan.
“It’s all gone,” he said at last, turning to Olivia. “All of her notes are gone.”
“So, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that the only way to fly that Traveler is if we find my wife’s research. The only way to do that is—”
There was a thundering hum that echoed outside, and Olivia knew right away that the Hammerhead had arrived. She and Ronin dropped to the floor, more out of instinct than anything else, and waited there as the building vibrated from the vehicle’s presence.
Oliva scooted over to a nearby window and lifted her head enough to peek outside. The large vehicle had reached the end of the street, just outside of town hall, and it began to power down. As the front cockpit opened, Thresher emerged, shouting something back inside, and then jumped down onto the street and started making his way to the far side building.
“Where’s he going?” Olivia asked.
“Home,” Ronin replied. “Come on.”
Ronin hit the street corner at a run and crossed in front of the Hammerhead in a dash. Olivia was close behind, but she moved ever so slightly away from the vehicle as she ran, rather than dare step close.
The two reached the other sidewalk, and Olivia saw they were in front of a cute toy store. The shelves inside were still stocked with a variety of trinkets and gadgets for young children. In an instant she was reminded of her friends and family back home, and she swallowed her fear, racing after Ronin as he climbed a set of nearby stairs.
The pair reached the second floor together, walking through another broken door and into another generic townhome. This one, unlike the last, looked like it had been utterly ravaged by a deadly earthquake.
Standing in the middle of the wreckage, Olivia spotted Thresher.
“I wondered if you’d come here,” Thresher said calmly. “We saw your vehicle when we were leaving the Traveler.”
“You know me,” Olivia answered. “Always the Explorer.”
“I was talking to Ronin,” Thresher corrected, taking off his protective gear and turning to face the pair that had followed him up.
“I told you there was nothing here,” Ronin said. “I told you it was dead.”
“You left us here,” Thresher said, his voice rising. “All these people depended on you, and you left them all. You left your wife and your unborn child!”
“You know that’s not what happened,” Ronin replied, his own voice suddenly louder as if to meet his accuser. “I was sent on a mission of desperation! I didn’t abandon them, Thresher, I tried to save them.”
“And what a good job you did,” Thresher replied, gesturing all around him.
“I failed my mission,” Ronin confirmed. “I know. That’s why I’m here now, Thresher. I’m here to make sure Olivia’s World Ship doesn’t end up like this one.”
Thresher looked at Olivia, as though he was really only noticing her now. “Her World Ship will be fine.”
“My home will die if I don’t bring our Traveler back,” she said, trying to be the voice of reason between these two. “We need the Traveler to survive.”
“I’m not going to let your home die,” Thresher said with a sigh, his voice sounding tired. “I came here to save my people. I came to take them back with us. I came to finish the mission that Ronin was too scared to do himself. We’re all going back to your home once I’m done here. I’m just trying to save people.”
Olivia was caught off guard. She’d spent so much time thinking of Thresher’s misdeeds that she hadn’t really considered what he had planned beyond stealing the Traveler. She felt a wave of hope ignite within her gut. “Okay. Then this doesn’t have to go any farther. We all agree that this place is—”
The loud blast of an air horn outside ended her sentence. A light flashed into the broken windows of the room where they were standing, and they all stepped over to see what the source of the noise might have been.
When they reached the windows they looked down to see… people!
“Who are they?” Ronin asked.
“They aren’t mine,” Thresher replied.
A voice boomed from a megaphone, interrupting their surprise. “Okay, we’ve had enough fun. How about y’all come on down out of there and we introduce ourselves?” It seemed to be more of a demand than a request.
Thresher’s radio beeped, and he activated it. “You guys okay?”
“They’re trying to get in,” someone reported.
“Michael?” Ronin asked. “Michael, is that you?”
“Ronin?!” the voice asked.
“Don’t let them in,” Thresher spoke over the two. “If they start to breach, you fly away without us. Do you understand? The Hammerhead is not to be compromised.”
“Alright, awaiting further instructions!”
Thresher turned off the radio and looked at Ronin. “I’ll explain later.”
The voice on the megaphone interrupted again. “Come on down, now. Don’t make me lose my patience.”
“Is that who I think it is?” Ronin asked.
Thresher nodded. “I think so.”
“Who exactly?” Olivia asked.
“No one you would know,” Ronin assured her. “We’ll just call him trouble for now.”
“What do we do?” Thresher asked.
Ronin shrugged. “Go say hi.”
When Olivia, Ronin, and Thresher reached the front of the toy store, they got a better view of the situation. The Hammerhead was surrounded by men dressed in uniforms, but they looked like old uniforms, almost historical in nature. One man in the street was wearing something a bit more ornate, and he was holding the megaphone, which made her assume he was the leader. He stood in front of the Hammerhead looking their way.
“Who do we have here?” the man asked as he walked closer. “I recognize the Hammerhead, so I assume Geoffrey is here?”
“The name is Thresher,” Thresher said in reply.
“Your silly nickname means nothing,” the man replied. “So what—”
The man stopped. He looked from Thresher to Ronin, then to Olivia, and his face drained of all color. It was like he had seen a ghost, or at least someone he had not expected to see ever again.
“So… you found him,” the man said, his voice quiet.
“I did,” Thresher replied.
“He doesn’t look like he’s aged much at all,” the man added.
“It’s complicated,” Ronin said. “Good to see you again, Admiral Bainbridge.”
“I doubt that,” the man grumbled, turning to Olivia. “Who’s this? The daughter?”
“What daughter?” Ronin asked, before Olivia could give her name.
“Your daughter,” the man said, looking at Ronin like he was a fool.
“I don’t have a daughter.”
The man paused, then gave Ronin his full attention. “That’s right,” he said, contemplating Ronin’s statement for a moment. “You were sent on your mission when your wife was with child. You never met your daughter, did you?”
“I had a daughter?” Ronin asked, stepping toward the man.
“You have a daughter,” the man said, waving a hand to Olivia. “She’s right here.”
“That’s impossible,” Olivia said. The words escaped her mouth before she knew how to stop them. “Ronin can’t be more than ten years older than me, and besides, I’m not from this World Ship.”
“Oh?” the man asked. “Are you not Olivia Sun, daughter of the Lightbringer?”
Olivia’s heart stopped.
A flash in her mind, a memory surfacing of her mother’s voice. Her name was Sun in honor of her father, a man who brought knowledge to those who had none, like Prometheus brought fire, or the sun sharing its light…
She felt woozy, lightheaded, and she stepped shakily toward the group. Ronin rushed to catch her as she fell. As her eyes closed, she saw in his own eyes the same fear and realization that she was feeling now.
He was her father.