The Admiral was lying.
Thresher had no proof, yet, but there was no denying it in his mind. After living here for over a week, Thresher had discovered that the Admiral had meant his word on the claims of no technology. The citizens moved about their day without the use of electricity, unless authorized for specific situations.
Vehicles were the exception, at least so far.
They ran on power crystals, which were easily harvested from the shallow waters of the river, and they grew in multitudes. The Admiral had authorized select farming of these sources of energy and only allowed their use in vehicles for transportation.
When he got passionate, the Admiral even envisioned a time when things had improved so much that they could use the power crystals for other systems, implying that his ban on technology was only meant to last until the World Ship had successfully healed itself from the crimes of the past.
The problem, however, was data.
So far the Admiral had nothing concrete to show for the progress he claimed to have made in repairing the World Ship. Every single thing he expressed as evidence was nothing more than anecdotal conclusions made with no real study.
On the second day in town, the Admiral had been walking with him near the river. He’d proudly pointed to the blue waters to show Thresher, who he regularly called Geoff, a fish in the clear water. “Look at that fish,” he said proudly. “Just a few years ago, you’d never find a fish this big and healthy.”
“How big were they?” Thresher had asked, innocently enough.
“Much smaller,” the Admiral answered. “Much smaller.”
“Aren’t you keeping track?” Thresher asked.
“Of course,” he snapped. “I don’t have the logs here right now, Geoffrey.”
From that moment forward, Thresher had started taking notes on every single claim or achievement that Bainbridge boasted about. He had already encountered inconsistencies and, no doubt, a few fabrications, but it was just yesterday that he had grown truly suspicious.
The day of the tremor.
It had lasted more than a minute, and it was not minor. No one else around him seemed to react to the vibrations that literally shook the ground beneath their feet. When it finally stopped, Thresher looked straight to Bainbridge, and the older man only smiled. “It happens sometimes. It’s likely the ship rebooting a system or something like that. Nothing to worry about at all.”
That night he met with Olivia and Ronin to get their opinions.
They agreed the tremors were suspicious, but what could they do?
“We need to get to the Grid,” Thresher proposed. “We need data from the mainframe.”
“How exactly do you think you’ll get access to the ship’s computer? The Admiral won’t even let us leave the square, much less—”
“Don’t worry about me,” Thresher said. “I just need to know you two have my back. When the time comes, you agree with whatever I say. Can you do that?”
Olivia frowned. “If we can hold out a little longer, Ruby will come looking for us. If we can escape on Explorer Two—”
“I don’t know if we have that long,” Thresher said, anxiously. “No one does. The Admiral is guessing about everything. This World Ship could shut down tomorrow, and Ronin, I don’t have to tell you the risks involved if that happens.”
Ronin looked as serious as Olivia had ever seen him, and that scared her.
“Okay,” Ronin said. “You get something figured out, and we’ll play along.”
It didn’t take long for Thresher to get to work. By the end of the same day, Olivia saw him approaching with the Admiral by his side, and she knew it was time to act. She waited for them to get close and then looked up at the pair with emphasized annoyance.
“You’ll see,” Thresher was saying as he walked over.
“I’m sure I will,” the Admiral replied, looking displeased.
“Olivia, I was just telling Bainbridge—”
“No,” the Admiral interrupted. “You told me the problem. Now she’s going to do the same.”
Thresher looked slightly panicked. It was clear to her that he hadn’t thought to arrange a cover story before trying to sell it to the Admiral. He’d no doubt spewed some kind of long verbose reasoning to Bainbridge in the hope that he would just go with it, and had probably planned on recalling most of it to Olivia so she could nod her head in agreement.
Despite his ignorance, the Admiral was smarter than Thresher realized.
Olivia had one chance to make this right.
“Well, Admiral, I don’t know what Thresher told you, because frankly I didn’t tell him anything about any of your problems.”
Thresher looked betrayed.
The Admiral brows furrowed. “I suspected—”
“I did tell him that I know where your earthquakes are coming from,” Olivia interrupted. “I also told him that I know how to fix them. I assume he gave you some kind of long-winded story about needing access to the Grid?”
The Admiral looked to Thresher, then back to Olivia. He was skeptical, but she knew that he was curious. He was clever, but he was clueless about the tremors, and if Olivia knew how to fix it, he would be remiss to ignore her.
“How can you possibly know the problem?” he asked, taking the bait.
“We had a similar problem on our World Ship,” she explained. “The quakes are a result of a power surge kicking back through the Grid’s back plane. Not only are you getting those intense vibrations, but you’re also losing energy in each surge. A lot of energy. To be frank, Admiral, if you’re having one of those quakes more than every three weeks, you’re losing too much potential power.”
Bainbridge chewed on her words for a moment, turning away briefly as though to dismiss the pair, then turning back again. “Assuming that’s true, how would you go about fixing it?”
“All you have to do is reset a single operation from the Grid. I need no more than twenty minutes at a Grid console. If I can find the system that’s causing the power surge, I can do a system reset and the tremors are gone for good.”
“Or,” Bainbridge mused, “all of this might be an attempt to escape.”
“Sure,” she replied. “I won’t lie to you, Admiral. I understand your skepticism, but if you ignore this problem, like you’re ignoring everything else, the World Ship will suffer.”
“See?” Thresher said, speaking up now. “I told you, plain and simple. If you want to save this ship you have to take us to the Grid.”
“Fine. I can arrange a vehicle to take you there. It’s not a short journey, so you’ll want to rest up.”
“No,” Olivia said.
Thresher looked surprised, and the Admiral looked annoyed. “No?”
“You’re keeping me prisoner,” Olivia reminded him. “I’m not very compelled to help you. My World Ship is on the edge of disaster without our Traveler, so why would I willingly help you?”
“I agree,” the Admiral said. “I assume you want something in exchange?”
“Yes,” Olivia said. “I want information.”
“Information? On what?”
Olivia looked at Thresher, then back to the Admiral. “Anything I choose. I need twenty minutes to fix the quakes, but I want another twenty minutes for my own research.”
He squinted his eyes for a moment. “Why?”
“You know what they say about curiosity…” he replied, letting his voice fade.
“Do we have a deal?”
He stood there for a long moment, searching her face for some kind of tell. He wanted to call her out for bluffing, but that was where she had him beat. This wasn’t a lie. She was fairly confident the problem was exactly as she had explained, and she did want to use the ship’s computer to research a number of topics. So, unlike Thresher, she had no lies to hide. He would see that in her face, in her eyes, and he would give her what she wanted.
“Okay,” he said at last. “You have a deal.”
The Hammerhead cruised through the air, silently crossing the marshy waters and slowly transitioning into the arid deserts that awaited beyond. This World Ship had a different layout than her home, and she soon realized it was fruitless to try and figure out where she was in relation to their town. Instead, she just sat in her chair and tried to think of her goals.
First and foremost, she needed to build trust. She would fix the power problem, silence the quakes, and make sure the Admiral saw her as an ally. The next step would be slipping a message to Ruby Rose on Explorer Two. The Grid mainframe computer would hopefully be similar enough that it used the same frequencies and communications. If that was true, she could easily inform Ruby of the situation, as well as give her a pickup location where they could gather and escape from Bainbridge. With that out of the way, the only thing left to do would be to browse for more information about the World Ship, her past, and her parents.
“We’re coming in now,” the pilot of the Hammerhead informed her. “I’m not up to date on this, so it might be a bit rough.”
She was going to assure him that wouldn’t be the case, but the vehicle then nearly plummeted out of the sky. They didn’t fall far, no more than a few hundred feet, but it was more than enough to make her stomach rise into her throat. They halted soon after, and leveled out again, leaving her to wonder if this had all been a big mistake.
“You do know how to fly this thing?” she asked.
“Not entirely,” the pilot admitted. “Hold on!”
The vehicle dipped at least three more times as it lowered onto the glossy black platform of the Grid. When they landed with a firm crunch, Olivia wondered if the Hammerhead had taken any damage from this pilot’s poor abilities.
“Alright,” he said proudly. “We’re on the ground. It’s your show now.”
She rolled her eyes, but stood up and made her exit from the side door on the vehicle.
The Grid was exactly as she anticipated. It looked like it had been copied and pasted directly from her own World Ship. Dozens of control rooms lined the halls, and rows and rows of computers were stacked into the air like skyscrapers.
The problem, however, was the lack of power.
Back at home, the Grid had hundreds of lights that illuminated passageways and access points, but here there was nothing. In fact, it looked like a massive portion of the Grid was powered down completely.
Thankfully, the pilot had been smart enough to land them near the illuminated area of the mainframe computer, so she headed that way, moving through the darkness until she finally reached an access terminal that still had a glowing screen.
She typed in the administration password that Thresher had shared with her, and the system booted right up, giving her full access to the server. She wasted no time in digging down into the power system, and that was when she was hit with the first of several error screens.
They all read the same: “Error 0131: Yunai Containment Failure Imminent.”.
She closed it out, and a new one would pop up, as though it was awaiting some kind of acknowledgement. She finally decided to ignore it, moving it to the side of the screen and accessing the system she wanted anyway.
Then, she gasped.
She was wrong. She was wrong about everything.
She flipped through the system, looking at each and every node to be sure. The reports were crystal clear. The power nodes weren’t just offline or damaged, they were marked as dismantled. She checked again, this time for life support, and she found the same results. The systems weren’t just turned off… they were gone.
“How goes it?” the pilot asked, just now arriving from the ship. “It’s already been ten minutes, so I’m hoping we’re free of our quakes soon?”
“What?” the pilot asked, looking concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“Your World Ship… just… come and see.”
She ushered him over and showed him the schematics. He looked at the images, seemingly oblivious to what she was showing him. He only shrugged in response. “I don’t understand.”
“Do you see those squares?” she asked, pointing out parts of the World Ship. “Those are all sections of the World Ship. Your town, and all the survivors, live here. Do you see?”
The pilot paused, looking at the screen longer. “Okay, yeah. So, then what’s all the blinking red stuff? Are those the areas that are trying to draw power?”
She shook her head. “No, those are areas of the World Ship that were… dismantled.”
“We need to get this back to the Admiral. We have to show him this.”
“I’m not following. You’re just here to fix the quakes.”
“No,” she said. “There is no fixing this. Your World Ship isn’t just dying. It’s dead. It’s been dead for who knows how long. Now it’s decomposing, or at least something similar. It’s taking itself apart, piece by piece… trying to conserve energy. It’s cutting away the dead sections, but it can’t keep up.”
The pilot lost all of the color in his face. “So you’re telling me…”
“The quakes are the result of entire sections of the World Ship breaking away, being broken down, every ounce of material consumed for energy.”
“Are we…” He couldn’t finish his sentence.
She chose not to answer the unspoken question. “We have to take this information back to your leader, right now.”