David Nash had recently finished another volume of Ronin’s journals. He had started reading them as a way of learning more about Thresher’s plan, but now he found that he simply enjoyed Ronin’s stories. It was clear from the long hours he had spent reading already, that Ronin was always embellishing details here or there, but the man writing these entries was also a man who loved everything he did. His words conveyed an exciting picture of life aboard this other World Ship, and it made David a bit jealous.
Ronin had been born and raised by parents living in a town not all that different from the one here, but they had discovered different population groups scattered in various other sections of the World Ship, many of which appeared to be purposely placed in different environmental living conditions, including technology and access to knowledge. The best example included the last few volumes of Ronin’s entries, where he spent over a year trapped in an ocean environment where pirates and musket-yielding officers fought it out for control of various islands. They sailed ships across the water, they fired cannons at their foes, and Ronin lived among it like a stranger out of time.
When lunchtime rolled around, David made his way to his favorite restaurant and found that Anton and Annie were already there. They welcomed him, and he quickly took a seat next to Anton with more questions on his mind.
“Did Ronin ever tell you about the Imperial Guard and the ocean biome that he had on his World Ship?”
Anton chuckled before taking a large bite from his crab leg. He munched on it for a moment before attempting to speak, which he did a poor job of accomplishing. “Kinda.”
“Why doesn’t our World Ship have something similar?”
“Different civilizations?” Anton asked. “Who knows? Perhaps this very place would have ended up with sailing ships and cannon battles, but Ronin was here first, and his knowledge of his own World Ship influenced how we progressed as a people.”
“Have you ever read his journals before?”
Anton shook his head, looking shocked. “Of course not!”
“He lived a very interesting life.”
Anton grunted, but it wasn’t a sound David interpreted as agreement.
“Unless?” David asked. “Is he going to come walking out of the Core too?”
“Ah, that’s impossible, I’m afraid,” Anton replied. “The Core only has the required information to recreate the members of its original manifest. Ronin didn’t come from our World Ship, so he can’t come from the Core. That’s why only a new Ruby arrived.”
“Wait, why didn’t a new Olivia show up?” David asked.
Anton didn’t respond.
“She’s not from this World Ship either?”
“No, she’s not,” Anton confirmed.
“But she did come from the Core.”
“The Core, like any other part of the ship, has sections. One is for cold storage of genetic material, namely, the genetic material used to create the assigned crew. That’s the part you know already, but there is another section, one that is used for storage of normal individuals, such as if you or I needed to be stored away right now. It was designed for emergencies, and in this case, it was used as such.”
“So how did they get from their World Ship to our Core?”
“I put them there, them and all the others.”
Anton grunted again. “It’s a long story, but the point is, anyone that came to this World Ship seeking asylum, well I gave it to them. This World Ship wasn’t ready for a seeded population yet, so I had to put them in storage until the World Ship was ready. When the time was right, the Core was activated and that kicked things into motion.”
“So all the people you gave asylum, they’re out there among our populations?”
“That’s right,” Anton said. “I designed the Core protocol to mix the populace at random. Anyone not from this World Ship arrives from the Core just like everyone else. They get a fresh start, as it were.”
“I don’t understand,” David said, trying to remember what he already knew about the Core from previous discussions. “I thought you said we don’t have our memories because we’re built inside the Core, more like a photocopy than a clone. What we do know comes from a planted set of data, right?”
“More or less.”
“So, why didn’t Olivia have her memories? Why aren’t all of these other refugees remembering their old lives?”
Anton grimaced as though the question personally wounded him. “I can’t say that I’m proud of all the choices I have made over the years…”
“What did you do?”
“I reversed the technology that we used to save and implant memories. Instead of saving Olivia’s memories, I overwrote them with blanks. It’s like recording over data on a magnetic tape with a fake data sheet that has no numerical value.”
“You wiped their minds?”
“I don’t think so, no,” Anton clarified. “I more or less broke up the memories in a way that their mind can’t piece them together properly, so it doesn’t try. It’s like any data erasure, you know, where not quite all of it gets wiped out.”
“So you removed their identity to make them like the rest of the citizens?”
“For the most part, yes, that’s one way of putting it.”
“What made you decide that was the best path?” David asked.
Anton didn’t respond to that one right away. He continued breaking some crab legs and working through his lunch before he turned his attention back to David. He seemed to really consider how to start his response, but ultimately, he decided to just respond.
“I didn’t at first. You see, Ronin was the first person to arrive at our World Ship. I hadn’t considered the possibility of another World Ship visitor, much less what to do with one when they arrived. I didn’t erase his memories, and he went into storage that way. Then, Thresher came, and I met a man who was angry… confused… he wanted revenge and justice. I tried to calm him down, but eventually I realized I wouldn’t be able to control the situation. I made him promise that, when the time came to wake up from the Core, he would remain silent of his past. No matter what he decided to do for his own agenda, the citizens must not know his true origin. He agreed, and I put him into storage.”
“So Thresher had all of his memories,” David surmised.
Anton nodded, breaking another crab leg open. “The next refugees came a few years later. They were a handful of survivors from an exploration mission that went awry. They’d been living on Travelers for years. They were brave souls, but they were tired and alone. They had lost so much, and I saw hopelessness in their eyes. I started to realize that I could give these citizens a clean slate. If they had no memories of their shattered lives, they would be just like all of us on the crew manifest.”
“You took their… lives from them,” David said, realizing how hurt he sounded.
“I did,” Anton said. “I would argue, though, that their lives had already reached a terrible conclusion by the time they came to me. I gave them new lives here, David, and I have watched them all grow and integrate flawlessly with the population.”
“Everyone except Ronin and Thresher…”
“A mistake I never should have made,” Anton confirmed. “I knew they would be a problem, but I couldn’t do anything about it. The only way to take them out of storage was to initiate the Core seeding program. So, I left them as they were.”
“Sparing their memories ultimately led us here,” David mused.
“Two burdens I carry,” Anton explained. “I regret the lives I erased, and I regret the two lives I did not erase. The fate of this World Ship rests on my shoulders.”
“That’s not what I meant, exactly…”
“Alas, it is the truth,” Anton said. “I tried to keep their past out of the affairs of this place. I had Ronin under control, but I never could reign in Thresher. He always wanted to go home. He always wanted to find his people.”
“Well, he got what he wanted, at the expense of everyone here.”
Anton gave a heavy sigh. “I suppose he did.”
“At the cost of three lives.”
Surprisingly, Anton grunted yet again. It was that same hesitant sound, like he didn’t agree. It made David feel grumpy, like he was being challenged. “You don’t think so?”
“They may not be dead,” Anton said flatly.
“Oh, now you’re really going to need to explain.”
“Thresher stole the Traveler, right? Well, Ronin isn’t a fool. He would have known what was happening. He would have known how to respond. We found no trace of Explorer Two when we searched the Garage, right?”
“The massive doors that open to the void would have worked like a vacuum,” David explained. “There would have been no sign of them, no matter what.”
“Perhaps,” Anton conceded. “We have to admit, however, that Ronin was the wild card in this situation. If he knew what was happening, I would be willing to bet my life savings that he simply followed Thresher’s lead and boarded the Traveler.”
“Okay, assuming I even entertain this theory, what difference does it make?”
“None, I suppose,” Anton mumbled.
That was the right answer, but it already made David’s stomach turn sour. In one moment, the idea that his friends might still be alive out there had been introduced, and it wasn’t an impossible scenario. He questioned internally if he could ignore the theory, and quickly determined he could not.
“If they were alive,” he mused. “Could we help them?”
Anton considered the question for a moment, then scrunched his face. “Potentially.”
“Well, we know that the Travelers can be borrowed. So, logically, if we were to take the remaining Traveler from this World Ship, we could go to Thresher’s destination and reclaim what he took from us. Assuming we found our allies alive and well, we could bring them home, too.”
“We don’t know how to take the other Traveler,” David pointed out.
“A minor setback. With all the resources we have at our fingertips now, I assume we could have that information in short order.”
“The only problem is the potential fallout.”
“That’s right,” Anton confirmed. “It’s easy enough to claim that we will fly off and find our friends, but without the other Traveler, our already dangerous situation would become unsustainable.”
“In truth, we’re not sure we can sustain it anyway.”
“Perhaps you are right. No doubt it would be a heavy burden for whoever was forced to make that decision.”
“What would you do?” David asked.
Anton looked the young man over for a moment and then returned to his food. “I would do what’s best for the World Ship. If we need the other Traveler, I would go get it. If we don’t… I’d let it go. I put years and years of my life into protecting this World Ship, her crew, and her objective. I could not risk it for three individual lives, no matter their position or relationship. The choice would be purely data-driven.”
“It could be done,” David said. “If we knew how. We could get our Traveler back.”
“You’ve given me a lot to think about, Anton. Thanks for that.”
“You should stop chewing on my words so much and start chewing some food!”
David chuckled. “I’ll consider it.”
Outside of the crab shop, David was walking while his mind swam in all of the information that Anton had casually discussed over his meal. He thought of the options that were now before him, and he wondered if he would have a chance to consider them all.
“Hey,” Annie’s voice interrupted his reverie.
“Oh, hey Annie.”
“I can’t help but have overheard some of that,” she said, smiling at him. “Do you think we could do it?”
“Find our Traveler?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think we should try,” she said firmly.
“I wouldn’t even know where to begin,” David replied. “Everything we know—”
“It’s time for a confession,” Annie said, looking slightly worried.
“I knew about Ronin’s journals. I knew about the Book of the Travelers. Ronin didn’t know it, but I made a copy of it ages ago. He always spoke about it like it was this treasured relic and I just… I didn’t want him to lose it.”
David looked shocked at first, but the shock changed to a realization. “That means we have the book, right?”
“I have it,” she replied.
“So we could take the other Traveler.”
“This changes everything.”
“So should I start warming up the Intrepid?” Annie asked.
David was about to say yes, but then he remembered Elsie Lamarr and all of the citizens in the Lower Level. He thought of the dangers they would face if he recklessly stole a Traveler, even if it was only for a short time.
“We’re going to need to do this right,” he said. “We need Elsie.”