It took a little time for Ronin to get power restored to his facility, but as soon as he did, the computers booted right up and he happily dusted off one of the screens to access the Grid. Their luck was holding, as the computer connected right away.
“We’re online,” he told Olivia, looking over his shoulder. “Now, let’s just access—”
“There,” Olivia said, pointing at the screen as the warning popped up again.
“Ah yeah, sure enough. Okay, so the Yunai shielding is losing power, we need to figure out where it draws that power. We’re evacuating now, so we can reroute pretty much all of the World Ship’s energy until we’re able to escape.”
“Does it say how long we have until the shields fail?”
He shook his head. “No, but I can find out easily enough.”
There was some furious typing and then Ronin groaned.
“How long?” she asked.
“Okay, so we reroute everything. We shouldn’t need more than a day.”
Ronin was already typing. She watched as he ran through command prompts and various system windows. He would stop every so often, grumble to himself, then slam the backspace key until he could start again.
“There,” he said at last. “Yeah, okay, I can get us a few extra hours, but…”
He stopped talking for a moment and then shook his head. “No, that won’t work. The only other systems online are the Garage and this section of the ship. If we kill power here we’ll be running in pitch black.”
“Fine,” Olivia said. “So we need to buy some time. How?”
“We need to distract the Yunai.”
“How do we do that?”
“We have to lure it away from the citizens.”
“Okay, sure. Is there anything the Yunai creature wants that we can use as bait?”
Ronin frowned, then moved over to some old aquatic equipment and started sorting pieces. “I have a plan. It’s hard to explain. Help me put this on.”
She did as he said, lowering the large helmet onto his body. He walked to the center of the facility and uncovered a large plate on the ground. When he lifted the panel away, it revealed an opening to what looked like an elevator shaft. He dropped down into the shaft, but when Olivia started to follow, he held up his hands to stop her.
“You should head back to town,” he said. “This is a long ride, and I’m not sure it’s a roundtrip kind of deal. Before we left town, I told Thresher to evacuate our people and get the Traveler out of here, with or without us. You should get home to your World Ship.”
“I’m not leaving you,” she said firmly. “I’m in the midst of the craziest adventure I could have ever imagined. You want me to turn around now? No, I’m coming.”
“It’s dangerous,” he said. “I can’t ask you to—”
“If I was worried about danger, I wouldn’t have created the Explorer Group,” she replied. “You said this is a long ride, right? That means you can explain the plan as we go. We’re going to deal with the Yunai?”
“If you’re coming, grab a suit. I’ll tell you as we go.”
She grabbed one of the suits and tossed it into the elevator, then climbed inside and waited for Ronin to push the button that began their descent.
“We want the Yunai to come to us when the shields fail,” Ronin explained. “I can make sure it does. This elevator will take us to the Core of this World Ship.”
“We’re going to the Core?”
“Yeah,” Ronin said. “There’s something there the Yunai wants more than anything else, but right now, it can’t get it. If we let the Yunai have a choice, there’s no way it’ll go after our people.”
“Alright,” she replied. “Sounds simple enough. Now, in the meantime, I want to know anything and everything you know about the Yunai.”
The sound of Explorer Two’s engine was music to Ruby’s ears. Thresher and his crew had already left the Traveler to go back to town. Thresher had ordered a young engineer named Michael to stay and help Ruby get the systems online. She had felt like she was being handed a babysitter at first, but she was soon thankful for Michael’s help. Getting the ship online was a two-person job after all.
“Okay,” she announced. “We’re online and ready to go.”
“Awesome,” he replied, taking his place in the cockpit. “Let’s go get some more folks.”
As the ship lifted off, Ruby turned them to face the World Ship and darted out of the Traveler at full speed. She was happy to finally be off the ground, and after days of waiting around, the adrenaline of this chaos was the adventure she had been craving.
“How long to get there?” she asked.
“Not long, hopefully,” Michael replied.
“So is this why you came here?” Ruby asked. “Thresher wants to save people?”
Michael was looking at some readings on the instrument panel, but he glanced at Ruby and gave a solid nod. “Yeah. It turns out he wasn’t quite the villain we all thought him to be.”
“You’re working for him,” Ruby said. “Why would you work for a villain?”
“I didn’t work for him until recently,” Michael clarified. “I actually used to work for Ronin, before he went missing a while back. After that, things got complicated. Thresher always seemed like the bad guy, but eventually I learned the truth. He just wanted to come back home. He wanted to save his World Ship, if he could, or at least the people on it.”
“I assume Ronin didn’t want him to come back,” she surmised.
“That was their conflict in a nutshell. Ronin knew how to use the Traveler, but he didn’t want to endanger your World Ship to come back. Thresher didn’t know how to use the Traveler, but wanted nothing more than to be here.”
“Well, I guess they both got what they wanted,” Ruby added. “Soon we’ll all be back home, survivors in hand, and we can put all of this nastiness behind us.”
“I suppose,” Michael replied.
“Well, hold on for now,” she said. “I’m pushing it into overdrive!”
When Olivia had demanded information on the Yunai, she had expected a tale of a mysterious creature that no one fully understood. Instead, she learned far more than she thought was possible.
The Yunai, it turned out, were an entire species of beings. They did not exist in the traditional sense. They lacked physical bodies or material forms, but instead seemed to live within the void itself, unable to coalesce in waves of light, but able to freely traverse through darkness. These beings were indeed mysterious, but they were also perceived as evil.
“There’s no telling how many worlds or civilizations they destroyed,” Ronin explained. “The history stored on this World Ship only says they were the most dangerous beings to ever exist. They would take control of hosts, like you or me, and use us to do their bidding. The problem was, the longer they controlled someone, the more it destroyed the physical body. Eventually they would have to abandon a dying host and find someone new. From what we understood, they ended up enslaving an entire race of advanced beings. They used their technology and knowledge to craft indestructible bodies made of metal and bio-materials. Some of the Yunai took on the form of humanoids like us, while others opted for massive creatures.”
Olivia couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Since her arrival back in town, Ronin’s crashed ship in the cornfield at Willow Creek was the closest thing to an alien encounter she had experienced. Now she was having him explain a far more terrifying threat than she could have ever imagined.
“Anyway, at some point in history, the Yunai were finally pushed back.” he continued. “They were wiped out, save for a few. One of the Yunai that survived somehow ended up here, on our World Ship. Our people never knew the how or why, but we know that at some point, the Yunai’s spirit was ripped away from its mechanical body. The body was hidden deep inside the World Ship, and the Yunai itself was contained in the Woods.”
“So this all happened before your people arrived from the Core?”
“That’s right,” Ronin answered. “We built our knowledge of the creature from the files stored on the mainframe computer, but our interactions with the Yunai are much more limited. If someone wandered into the Woods, it was unlikely they’d come back alive.”
“So, where are we going right now?”
“Well, we’re going to the one thing that the Yunai wants more than us.”
“The mechanical body?”
While the Hammerhead was being filled with the next load of survivors, Thresher made his way into Town Hall where the Admiral had last been spotted. He found the older man sitting at his desk, looking blankly at a painting of a ship sailing across ocean waters.
“If you’ve come to take me with you, I’m not going,” Bainbridge said. “This is my home.”
“Those people are your family,” Thresher said, walking over to him. “They’re going to need someone they can trust to lead them when we get to our destination. It’s not the same over there. They will feel isolated and alone. You’re going to have to be there for them.”
“Geoffrey… I mean Thresher… I’m an old man who was so stuck in his ways that I nearly led all of these people to their doom. You’re the one that came back to rescue them. You’re the one to lead them, not me.”
Thresher chuckled. “Maybe so, but even then, I’m going to need someone old and wise to point me in the right direction. There’s a lot of unexplored territory on their World Ship, and oceans as vast as you can imagine. Your sailing days aren’t over yet.”
Bainbridge’s eyes lightened up ever so slightly. “Oceans?”
“Oh yes. Far and wide.”
“I failed these people,” he said, his excitement fading again. “Who is to say that I wouldn’t fail them again?”
“Maybe you will,” Thresher said. “Or maybe your experience can guide us all so that we don’t fall victim to the same mistakes that you witnessed. Maybe you can be the light that keeps us from running onto the rocks?”
“You never liked me,” Bainbridge said, looking Thresher over. “Why are you trying so hard to save me now?”
“I always liked you, Admiral,” Thresher replied. “You and I didn’t see eye to eye, but I always admired your bravery, your courage, and your resolve. I wanted to be you, even if it was so I could make different decisions. You were, and still are, a source of inspiration. Now, come with me before it’s too late.”
Bainbridge looked like he was about to cry, but the older man closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again and nodded. “I’ll come with you.”
The lift stopped abruptly.
Olivia stepped outside as the door opened. They were deep inside a chamber, and it was dimly lit by red lights that made it feel much more sinister than she assumed it was meant to feel.
“Welcome to the Yunai Containment Chamber,” Ronin said, following her out. “I found it by accident once while we were trying to investigate the Core. We never were sure what we had found, but I knew it was important. Now… one second…”
Ronin pressed a few buttons, then smiled and started unlatching his gear.
He slid it over his head, set it on the ground, and motioned for Olivia to do the same.
“It’s safe,” he said. “Air is breathable.”
Olivia nodded, taking her helmet off and looking around. “This is… strange.”
“Oh, it gets better. Come and see.”
Ronin led Olivia down a set of stairs and into the large open space of the chamber. There, in the center of the room, was a massive structure. It looked like something out of a science fiction film, rather than the humble environments she had visited so far. There were tall red spires that jutted into the sky and a glowing orange energy barrier that seemed to be protecting a doorway.
“What is this place?”
“Storage,” Ronin said. “The Yunai’s physical body is said to be right in there.”
“So, what’s the plan?” Olivia asked. “Get the body and make a break for it?”
“No,” Ronin replied. “We’re going to lower this shield, then let the Yunai know that its body is waiting for it. That’ll buy them some time to get the last of the citizens out of town. We’re pretty far from town now. Even when the Yunai claims its body, they should have time to get the Traveler out of here safely.”
“How do we take down the barrier?”
Ronin shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s what we have to figure out, and fast.”
“Hey, I don’t have all the answers!”
“Fair enough. Right. Okay, not much time. We had better hurry.”