The familiar hum of repulsors working hard to stay in the air, echoed through the cabin of the airship while Olivia Sun sat, patiently waiting, flipping through the first few pages of a novel published recently in the Lower Level. She had intended to read it on her trip to the Upper Level, but she’d been rather distracted with the constant turbulence that rocked the vehicle.
She was aboard a flying machine named the Intrepid.
It was a unique creation, having originally started its life as an aquatic vehicle that roamed the seas. After being fitted with cutting edge repulsor technology, the vehicle found a second life as a flying exploration vessel.
She placed her hand on the glass directly in front of her and wondered about the many places this ship had been. A man named Ronin had used it to travel all over his own World Ship, and then eventually traveled all the way here. So many stories were locked away within the compartments of this ship, and Olivia was jealous of it.
“Alright,” the voice of the ship’s pilot tore her from her thoughts. David Nash was smiling as he looked at her. “We’re beginning our initial descent into the city. You’ll be able to see it soon.”
He had changed so little, and yet so much. It had been years since she’d really had a chance to talk to him, and she wondered if he still thought about those days, when they would spend hours together at Mission Control.
She peered out of the vehicle, looking toward the ground, and when it came into view she nearly gasped. She had expected to see something worthy of being called a city, but the Hub was larger than she had expected. There were tall towers and sprawling gardens, with a large river that ran through it all. The waters were covered with ships that carried supplies into the large harbor at the edge of the city, or sailing beyond to the great sea of the Upper Level.
The Intrepid jostled, and Olivia watched as David made a few adjustments to the flight controls. He noticed her weary look and waved, jokingly, at her. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of a little turbulence? Has Olivia Sun gone soft?”
“I like data,” she replied. “You know that. All these controls you’re using are relatively new to me. When I’m uninformed, I can be a bit nervous.”
He chuckled. “Same ol’ Olivia.”
“I’m glad to see you’re still out and about,” she said. “Exploration was our dream.”
His expression shifted, not to one of sadness, but more contemplative. “I don’t get to explore very much these days,” he said. “The truth is, with the formation of the city police and the unrest in some parts of the Hub, I feel like I’m more grounded than ever.”
“You blew the lid open on a lot of people’s minds when you showed up from another World Ship with refugees in tow. The story spread like wildfire, even up here, and it created a lot of discussion with the citizens.”
“People felt safe,” David continued explaining. “Now, they don’t. There’s a lot of unease about things, especially in the city. A lot changed really quickly for them, and it’s still changing.”
“I can relate to that,” Olivia replied, reflecting on the recent events that had upended her own life. “Is this why you asked Elsie not to let me come up here?”
David frowned. “In a way. Look, the citizens up here might not know all the details, but news travels fast. People know Olivia Sun is a special person. It doesn’t seem like a good time to parade you through the city.”
“I just want to see the solstice celebrations,” she said. “No one has to know that I’m Olivia Sun. I learned from visiting my old home that I can’t put off something that I want to do. I don’t know when the world might change.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” David said, turning his attention back to the controls.
Olivia considered stopping there. She didn’t have to tell David Nash anything else about her visit, but the truth was that she was uncomfortable lying to him, and he had long been one of her strongest allies. If anyone could aid her in her quest, it would be David Nash, especially since he was now the Police Chief.
“There’s also someone here I am trying to find,” she added.
David groaned. “I figured.”
“My life is complicated,” she started. “I learned a little bit about my past from Thresher, and Ronin seems increasingly uninterested in talking about his own journey after he thought I was lost. Thresher said my best bet was to travel here, and find someone named Anton Mertens.”
David groaned again.
“I figured I could meet with Bainbridge and start my hunt there,” she explained. “I promise I’ll stay out of your hair and I really am going to see the festivities. I just—”
“I can save you a lot of time,” David said, his voice colder. “Bainbridge left the Hub after getting command of the Ulysses. You won’t find him in the city. Meanwhile, if you can find Anton, let me know. I’ve been looking for him for about six months now.”
“What?” she asked. “They’re gone!? Doesn’t Anton have a bait shop or something? Thresher told me he’d be easy enough to find.”
“He would have been,” David agreed. “The problem is, a few months ago, he left his shop and we haven’t heard from him since.”
“Did someone… you know… is he…”
“No,” David replied. “If he had died, we’d know.”
David scrunched his face, then relaxed it again. “It’s complicated.”
“I bet,” she grumbled. “So, the one person that had answers is gone.”
The Intrepid’s communicator beeped loudly, and a woman’s voice rumbled through the speakers. “Intrepid. Welcome home. We have dock number fifteen prepared for your arrival. Follow the approach path over the harbor for landing.”
“Thanks, Harbormaster,” David answered. “Beginning our landing.”
The vehicle slowed considerably as the repulsors powered down, allowing gravity to take hold and pull them. David lowered the Intrepid until it gently settled on the calm waters next to the city docks. He flipped a few controls and began steering the ship more like a boat, and less like an airship. “Well,” he said, pointing them toward the great city. “Welcome to the Hub, Olivia Sun.”
On the dock, two uniformed police officers were waiting patiently.
David ignored them until he and Olivia had climbed from the Intrepid, and then he gave each one a firm handshake and gestured toward Olivia. She was introduced to them, Trevor Arkly, and his older sister, Annie Arkly. They seemed pleasant enough, and after explaining a few things about the city’s interior and traffic patterns, David Nash bid his farewell and climbed back into the Intrepid.
“I have a few more errands that need to be done,” he explained. “These two will take you out and about, then drop you off at the arranged hotel.”
“Of course,” Olivia said, suddenly feeling hurt. The entire way up from the Lower Level she had assumed she would get to spend some time with David Nash, and now she was instantly aware that this would not be the case. “Fly safe, Nash.”
“Always,” he said, winking and then climbing into the Intrepid.
Olivia turned to look at the siblings and they smiled warmly.
“Okay,” Trevor said, slapping his hands together. “So, Olivia Sun, what do you want to see or do first? David told us a little bit about the Lower Level, and we are very excited to show you the unique things that this city has to offer.”
“Food,” she replied. “The trip was longer than I expected. I am starving.”
“Excellent. There are a lot of food types that we grow and harvest in the Upper Level that I don’t believe you have available where you are from. We can give a few of those a try and see how it goes. The street vendors near the gardens always have something delicious to cook.”
Olivia wasn’t sure she cared for the idea of going on a trip through town with officers in uniform, but she was also quite confident that she had no idea how to travel through the Hub or interact with even basic vendors. She had no currency, and with David’s latest development, no real plan.
“Sure,” she said at last. “A good meal will do wonders to lift my spirits.”