Elsie Lamarr watched as the helicopter lowered its latest load of building materials, detaching as it had done so many times now, and then flying off for one more run to the Warehouse. Citizens of every background stepped in to start unloading the materials, mostly for standardized building units, and she couldn’t help but be impressed.
The work that Flynn Brickshelm had done to keep the people busy was paying off. The new farms were already being planted with seeds from the last harvest. Many of the crops that had been washed down the creek during the flood were pulled from the mud, and some of them were being replanted as well.
They had a system up and running, and while it would no doubt be tight in the months ahead, it looked like they might actually pull it off. The World Ship would stabilize, and they would survive this tragedy as they had done before.
Her communicator began buzzing in her pocket, and she retrieved the small device, thankful to be free from the burden of the old radios and their bulky shapes.
“We have a problem,” one of the engineers said. “Unidentified vessel approaching.”
“Approaching where? The Grid?”
“No, the World Ship,” he replied. “Something is coming toward us.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“Alarms are going off all over the place. Proximity alerts and… wait… we’re getting a new notification. Elsie… it’s ours. Oh… wow… the Traveler is back!”
She didn’t know how to respond. She wanted to jump for joy and shout the news to everyone around her, but she was also terrified of what this news might mean for them all. They knew that Thresher had stolen the Traveler, so did that mean he was back too?
“What do we do?” the engineer asked, clearly seeking direction.
“We stay quiet. I’m calling David Nash right now. We’ll need to assess the situation.”
Life in the Hub had been relatively quiet, if not mildly concerning. The drop in the water levels had spooked many of the citizens, but over time they had come to terms with their new surroundings. The fishing boats docked a little further out, and some temporary buildings were set up where the waterline had once been.
Food was still plentiful, and the biggest issue David struggled with was how he could transport supplies to the Lower Level without impacting his own needs in the Hub. Meanwhile, without the threat of Thresher around, many of the citizens had started to relax a little, and there were far more celebrations and activities going on around the city.
In all, it was a good time.
David had nestled into Ronin’s old library where he had pulled down one of the many journals that lined the shelves. He liked to read through these every now and again, as it was the doorway into the adventures of another man’s life that he could never live.
A call from Elsie Lamarr ended his quiet time.
“Hey Elsie,” he said, answering the call.
“We’ve got a situation. We need the Intrepid.”
“What kind of situation?”
“The Traveler is back.”
She didn’t have to say another word. “I’m coming now.”
The actual docking of the Traveler took far longer than Elsie or anyone else had expected. By the time the World Ship signaled the Traveler had successfully docked, she had managed to gather every able-bodied Explorer for an “unplanned” mission.
The Intrepid stood guard at the massive bulkhead that led to the Garage.
Elsie Lamarr had joined David aboard his ship, unwilling to sit this one out.
Everyone waited with increasing anxiety as the minutes ticked past.
“Open the doors,” Elsie ordered at last.
“Opening now,” an Engineer shouted. “Here we go!”
At the massive bulkhead, there was a hissing sound that increased as the door began to slide open. The winds outside picked up for a moment as the atmosphere between the two areas struggled to equalize, but after a moment it quieted down.
Elsie wasn’t sure how to proceed.
She could have sent the Intrepid inside, but she feared that the door might…
“We’re getting a signal!”
“Put it through.”
“— hear us? Repeat, this is Explorer Two to the Grid. Can you hear us?”
The voice of Ruby Rose was unmistakable. Elsie felt her emotions taking control, and she struggled to hold back any tears that might escape. “Answer them,” she said, her voice shaking.
“We acknowledge,” David Nash answered. “Explorer Two, we hear you loud and clear.”
“David?” Olivia asked. “I’m so glad to hear your voice. Listen, we are all safe, but we’ve got some friends. We’re going to need help with transportation.”
“Friends?” Elsie asked.
“It’s a long story,” Olivia replied. “The takeaway is that we have roughly one hundred and twenty three more people than we left with, so we’re going to need some help.”
Elsie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “How many?!”
“We hear you,” David said, speaking over Elsie. “The Intrepid is at your disposal.”
“Good. Let’s not waste time, the sooner we get unloaded, the sooner we can get out of the Garage.”
Rayland Walsh and Johnathan Davis were standing outside of Town Hall, discussing the next moves for the strategic placement of a new community when something very strange happened. The light above them seemed to grow marginally brighter. At first, John squinted in response and then went about his business, but after a minute of standing there, he couldn’t help but feel like something had changed.
“Do you feel that?” he asked, looking at the mayor. “Is that… a breeze?”
Rayland lifted his head, just now breaking from his focus on the map of the Lower Level. He looked to a nearby tree, saw its leaves rustling, and nodded. “I think it is.”
“We haven’t had wind since…”
Rayland already had his radio in hand. “Elsie, tell me what’s going on down there.”
There was a series of beeps, and then a connection. Elsie’s voice came through the speaker sounding rather distorted, but still audible. “What is it?”
“Something is happening in town. The sun is brighter now, and we’re feeling wind again.”
“That sounds right,” she replied. “Rayland, I’m pleased to tell you that the Traveler returned to the World Ship. I’m just hearing initial readings, but it looks like things are going back to normal operational status. In other words, we’re saved.”
Rayland smiled. “This is excellent news.”
“Rayland, that’s not all,” Elsie added. “We’re currently transporting refugees from the Traveler. There’s at least a hundred of them. Citizens from a different World Ship that had ceased to function.”
“Elsie,” John interjected before Rayland could respond. “The Traveler came back, but does that mean…”
“Ruby Rose, Olivia Sun, and Ronin are all accounted for and doing quite well,” she answered his unfinished question. “She’s safe. She’s alive.”
John felt like he might pass out from sheer joy.
“Where do we send the refugees for now?” Rayland asked.
“We’re going to move everyone to an unpopulated area of the Grid for the time being,” Elsie replied. “We want to do a quarantine and make sure that no one is carrying any kind of unfortunate illnesses that could spread amongst our population.”
“Of course,” Rayland agreed. “We can talk about further integration with the citizens once we get past that. Elsie, I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear this news, all of it, including the safe return of Ruby Rose.”
“I’m sure you’re quite happy,” Elsie said. “Now, I’m focusing on my efforts here, Rayland. I’m sure you’ve got plenty on your plate as well.”
Elsie ended the call.
John thought he might burst from the excitement. Ruby was alive!
“Permission to take the next helicopter ride to the Grid?” he asked.
Rayland smiled at him and nodded. “You don’t need my permission, John. Yes, go and see her. I suspect that will be quite a reunion.”
“Thank you,” he said happily. “Keep up the good work!”
Hours after the effort began, the Intrepid, Hammerhead, and Explorer Two had successfully transported all of the refugees to the Grid. In the bright lights and clean space, Olivia only now got her first good look at the citizens that she had been living with for the last few weeks. Their uniforms looked dirty and torn, their frail bodies showed signs of malnutrition that had likely been the norm, and most of all, many of them looked lost and tired. No one more so than Admiral Bainbridge.
He stood at the head of the group as they huddled to maintain their warmth, and as Elsie approached, it was Bainbridge that moved to speak with her.
“Hello, everyone,” Elsie said loudly. “Welcome to World Ship 3609. My name is Elsie Lamarr, and I will be your primary point of contact over the next few days as we iron out some details about your arrival here.”
“Excuse me,” the Admiral said. “I understand you’re just trying to explain the situation, but I feel like I need to do the same for you. Our world just ended. Literally. While you figure out the details of our arrival, we’re going to need some things. First, beds, or something soft, for these tired souls to sit on. Food and water, if you have it available, and blankets to keep them warm.”
“Of course,” Elsie replied. “I can organize all of these things. You understand we’re creating a quarantine zone, so—”
“I understand you’re keeping your citizens safe,” the Admiral said. “I am too.”
PHOTO: Admiral Bainbridge takes a firm stance, introducing himself to Elsie.
Elsie decided it was best not to fight with the man, so she nodded instead. “I’ll get you what you need… I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Admiral Bainbridge will suffice,” he said proudly. “Thank you.”
“Of course. Well, Admiral Bainbridge, I will see that your requests are handled as quickly as possible and then you and I can discuss what other things we can establish to meet the needs of your citizens.”
“I appreciate it. Thank you.”
Ronin had stayed with the refugees for most of the moving process, but now that things had calmed down he made his way over to the landing field where the Hammerhead and Intrepid were sitting side by side.
“It’s a nice ship, right?” David Nash asked when he spotted Ronin had stepped up to the Intrepid’s hull. “I think it was originally designed as an aquatic vehicle.”
Ronin nodded silently.
“The owner modified it to fly at some point, threw on some powerful repulsors and a flight system. Overall, I’d say they did some awesome work.”
“Thanks,” Ronin said, speaking up. “I appreciate the compliment.”
“The name is Ronin,” he said, extending a hand to David. “This ship, the Intrepid, I helped build it.”
“You’re Ronin!?” David exclaimed. “Wow! I’ve read so much about you!”
Ronin frowned. “You read my journals?”
David froze. “Well, yeah… I mean… we were trying to—”
“I’m kidding,” Ronin said with a smile. “I’m glad to hear someone likes my writing.”
“You and I are going to have to talk about a lot of stuff,” David continued. “I have a million questions for you, not just about this World Ship, but World Ships in general, you know? I mean, there’s a lot. Your journals… well…”
Ronin looked past David as he spoke and caught sight of Olivia. She glanced over at him, then quickly looked away again. He grimaced at the reaction, but he knew where it was coming from. The past few days had brought a lot of revelations about Olivia’s past, and Ronin was struggling with it too.
It would be an interesting time to come, that much was certain.
Over at Explorer Two, Ruby was already running through all of the system checklists to make sure the vehicle was powered down safely. After the engine flameouts, the repulsor hiccups, and then the general stress they’d pushed on this poor airframe, she wondered if the vehicle would ever really be flightworthy again. She placed her hand on the white exterior and gave it a silent word of thanks for sticking together through that wild ride.
Then, she heard his voice. “Ruby?”
She spun around to see John standing not far away. He looked disheveled, but he was wearing the biggest smile she had ever seen. Her own joy erupted as a response, and the two rushed toward one another.
They collided rather forcefully, and they had to laugh at the moment as they struggled to avoid falling over. Then, they pulled one another close and shared a monumental kiss. They had warned John about contamination and how he would have to be quarantined, but clearly he didn’t mind the situation enough to resist.
“Oh Ruby, I thought I had lost you,” he said at last, looking at her and smiling again. “I am so happy to see you.”
“I’m happy to be back,” she replied. “John, I’ve seen things that I never thought possible. Monsters, mayhem, and desperation. I want you to know, I’ve made up my mind. I’ve had enough adventure to fulfill a lifetime. All I want now is a nice life with the man I love. We can get a little place out by Willow’s Creek and start up a farm. That’ll be nice, right?”
John laughed and nodded wildly. “It will. Though, we might have to reconsider where we settle down just a little bit.”
She tilted her head. “Why?”
“I’ll explain everything,” he replied. “Right now, let’s just enjoy the moment.”
As the Explorer group began working with the settlers, Elsie Lamarr turned her attention back to the Garage. The bulkhead remained open, and the Traveler, while it had returned, had not come back unharmed.
She decided to utilize Thresher and his Hammerhead vehicle, under the recommendation of Olivia. No one seemed very interested in talking with Thresher at this time, and he didn’t seem too keen on getting involved with the excitement at the Grid.
He agreed to take a look at the damage report, asking Ronin to come along too.
The pair headed through the bulkhead less than an hour later, ready to scope out any potential problems that they might find.
“It looks like dings and scratches,” Ronin said, reading the report from the Grid.
“Normal wear and tear?” Thresher asked.
“Yeah, at least most of it,” Ronin said. “The World Ship should be able to patch it up in no time according to these estimates. I mean, if we—”
Thresher’s voice was icy cold. Ronin looked up, confused at first, and then the same cold shock settled in his gut. The two of them sat there for a long moment, staring out, hoping that they could be wrong.
“I see it,” Ronin finally said aloud. “Large fissure near the tail end of the vehicle.”
“Those look like…”
“Claw marks,” Ronin agreed.
“Can we determine when the Traveler received the damage?”
“No. Nothing noted here. No alarms, no data. Just a hole in the ship.”
Neither of them wanted to say it. Neither of them wanted to admit the reality of what they were looking at here. The tearing patterns, the jagged metal, bent this way and that like something had ripped its way into the Traveler.
“Do you think it’s the Yunai?” Thresher asked.
Ronin didn’t respond. He continued staring at the hole for a long minute, and then he gave Thresher one slow nod.
“Well… that can’t be good.”