Episode 77: Old Wounds

          Michael Jonas.

          David Nash met Michael as a young Guardian, one of the heroes of the Hub.

          The experience had not been enjoyable. After being kidnapped by the Guardians, David had been taken to an underwater facility where he was held captive by Trevor Arkly and Michael Jonas. Ultimately, it had all been a massive misunderstanding, and in the years that would follow, Michael and Trevor would apologize for their actions, but only Trevor had shown actual remorse. Michael, on the other hand, had betrayed the city and sold out the Guardians to Thresher.

          Of course, that was all water under the bridge now.

          Thresher, it turned out, was not the monster they assumed him to be.

          After Thresher’s triumphant return from his old World Ship, Michael had vanished from the Hub. David hadn’t bothered to keep tabs on him, assuming he might have settled down somewhere in the Lower Level or even with the refugees that had come to this World Ship with Thresher.

          Now it was looking like there was more to the story.

          Michael had arrived at the police station, unrestrained, and looking grumpy.

          Annie Arkly led him to the interrogation room while Trevor sulked in the corner of the office looking like Michael was walking across a white rug in muddy shoes.

          From what David understood, Michael and Trevor had been friends for a long time, and their differences in opinions had been so minor that they could eat one another’s meals without knowing if they’d mixed them up.

          That was, until Michael turned to Thresher’s side and Trevor had been left behind. The poor kid had worried about his friend, who he assumed had been captured and held against his will for nearly a year.

          Michael’s revelation of the truth had driven a wedge between the pair that David believed they might never be able to heal. Of course, Michael had tried to explain the situation, but it was too late. The damage was done, and the two had long parted ways.

          Now, Trevor looked revolted, and David wondered if that was entirely fair.

          There was bad blood all around this situation, and David really wished someone else’s name had come up in the file. Anyone with less of a controversial history would have made this next part a lot easier.

          Still, David had a job to do.

          He waited for a long time, then finally ventured into the interrogation room.

          Micahel looked up and saw it was David, recognizing his face immediately. His confused expression turned sour, and he looked toward the doorway to see if anyone else was coming inside.

          “This isn’t right,” Michael started. “You’re the guy interrogating me? Surely there’s some kind of biased situation here.”

          “Good to see you too, Michael.”

          “I mean seriously. This is like revenge, or something.”

          “I’m not interested in revenge,” David said, trying to assure him. “I want the truth.”

          “Is this about Benni?” Michael asked. “Do you guys have him? What happened? Did he get to talk to Olivia?”

          “Look, I’m not going to play games or waste time. We have Benni in our custody. We know he’s getting payments sent from you. They’re consistent, and they’re not insubstantial. You’re clearly his employer, and your own records show you have other employees. We’re aware you kidnapped Olivia Sun, and I want to know why.”

          Michael looked surprised, genuinely surprised. “I don’t—wait. What?”

          “I already said I’m not playing—”

          “No, stop,” Michael said, sitting straight up. “We didn’t kidnap anyone.”

          David rolled his eyes. “Let me guess. You just wanted to talk.”

          “Yes,” Michael said angrily. “David, you’re so behind on this one.”

          David opened his mouth to speak, but Michael held up a finger.

          “Olivia Sun is the daughter of Ronin,” Michael explained. “No one can find Ronin right now, so if we wanted to get a hold of him, we needed to work with Olivia.”

          Now David was confused. “Ronin? What’s he got to do with this?”

          “He’s buddies with Anton Mertens. The two of them know things, David. They know things we can’t even start to understand. That old man is a lynchpin to something big, and I want to know what it is.”

          David feigned confusion, but he understood more than he expected.

          The truth was that Anton did have secrets, and at least one of them was his ability to survive death. David had witnessed it firsthand. Not only did Anton’s body get recreated by the Core whenever he died, somehow he was also able to keep his memories, a feat no other citizen aboard the World Ship possessed. There was no doubt that the older man carried with him untold knowledge, about the World Ship, about the Core

          “I’m making a play here,” Michael said, leaning forward. “There’s more going on than you understand. We need Anton to tell us the truth.”

          “So what is it you’re after?” David asked. “What truth will Anton tell?”

          “There’s betrayal brewing aboard our World Ship,” Michael said, whispering so quietly that David had to struggle to hear him. “There are people at the top that aren’t who they say. We need the truth. I promise you. The truth will change everything.”

          David frowned. This conversation had not gone the way he expected. He let out a long sigh, trying to digest it all, then looked toward the exit. The larger conspiracy theory aside, Michael seemed to be truthful in his plans for Olivia. It was looking like the Truth Seekers hadn’t intended to kidnap Olivia after all.

          So where was she?

          “I’m not the enemy,” Michael said now, breaking David’s thoughts. “I wasn’t the enemy when I helped Thresher. I’m not the enemy now. At the end of this, you’re going to thank me, just like last time.”

          “What is Truth Seekers Incorporated?” David asked, trying to change the topic.

          “We’re Private Investigators,” Michael answered. “After what I learned from Thresher, I couldn’t go back to living in the dark. There is so much more out there that we don’t know. David, this World Ship… there’s so much we don’t understand.”

          The talk of mystery and investigation tickled a nerve within David that he nearly had forgotten. His own sense of discovering the new, the unexplored, the truth that laid in wait just beyond their current reach. It had called to him before, and he heard the faint whisper of it, even now. A small piece of himself that wanted to slam the door shut on the interrogation room so he could hear out all of Michael’s theories.

          Unfortunately, that small calling was stifled by a bigger urgency.

          “Right now, your theories mean nothing,” he said, standing and walking toward the door of the room. “Olivia Sun is missing. If you didn’t do it, then that means someone else is behind it. I can’t rest until I get her back to safety.”

          “Fine,” Michael said, leaning back. “Maybe when this is all resolved, you’ll hear me out. I promise, David, the truth is there. You just need to seek it out.”

          “I’m telling my officers to cut Benni loose. He’ll be free within the hour if you want to wait around. I’d avoid the Arkly twins, if I were you. No one needs a confrontation right now, and I’m sure you agree.”

          “Of course,” Michael replied. “I wish it were different.”

          “I’m sure we all do,” David mused. “Good bye for now, Michael.”

          “David,” Michael called as he stepped outside. David turned to look at him again, and the younger man rubbed his head. “Listen, my guys didn’t take Olivia, but we did chase her for a bit, trying to get her to listen to us. Not a smart move, I admit, but I imagine we can both agree we all made mistakes in this situation. Anyway, when they lost her, she was making her way into the Sentret district. We got into a second dust up with the Dragons. They knew she was running around on their turf. If you really want to find Olivia, you should check in with the Dragons. They’re the ones who saw her last.”

          David grunted, then left the room.

          Back in his office, David was chewing on a pencil.

          This was a behavior he had struggled with as long as he’d been here. 

          It wasn’t all the time, only when he found himself particularly stressed, but right now that was putting it mildly. The information that Michael provided put a spin on everything he thought he knew about this case.

          He had hoped it might be a cut and dry kidnapping, but the stories had all fit together. It seemed unlikely that Michael and his employees had thought this far ahead, and their blunt answers made him assume they were innocent of any greater crimes.

          He returned to his desk, deep in contemplation, and there he found a file. It had been delivered by Annie Arkly while he was in with Michael. It was a simple spreadsheet with bank account information, that of Michael Jonas’ transactions. There were the usual bank charges, nothing out of the ordinary. The only thing of note was the payments that Micahel was receiving. They were posting from a popular mobile payment app that folks used for personal business. In Michael’s case, every two weeks the same transactions for the exact same amount of money are posted in his account.

          Additionally, a sticky note on the file had a series of numbers, and a message from Annie scribbled on the front. 

          Bank Transfers approved from FBOLL.

          He had seen that initialism before. The First Bank of the Lower Level.

          So Michael was getting payments from someone in the Lower Level?

          David contemplated this for a moment, then grabbed his communicator and made a call. He knew an old friend that he could reach to resolve this one.

          The money man himself, Bryan Steeles.

          “Hello?” Bryan’s voice asked, sounding nervous.

          “Bryan!” Michael said, feeling happy to hear his old friend. “How are you! It’s David Nash here in the Upper Level!”

          “Oh, wow! David? What has it been… like three years?”

          “I know, buddy, I am so sorry for that. That’s on me.”

          “Well, obviously it’s fine,” Bryan chuckled. “It’s been a wild ride, right?”

          “It most certainly has. Speaking of which, I have an odd request for you. We’ve had a bank account up here that’s been giving us a hiccup, and it appears to be one of the accounts from your bank.”

          “Really?” Bryan asked. “Interesting. What’s the number? I’ll check it out.”

          David read off the account, and Bryan typed it in. A moment later, as he continued to work, Bryan started to talk about the bank, then the town, then the council and upcoming elections, and pretty much everything else that had occurred or was occurring since David had left.

          David wondered how he might segue from an old reunion to the business at hand, but he couldn’t think of a kind way to remind the banker that he wasn’t really interested in all the news.

          When David had lived in the Lower Level, he had often spoken with Bryan about the town and the citizens, while Bryan would then ask him about the Grid and the Explorers.

          Right now, David wanted to move on, and while Bryan went on about all of the happenings in his old home, David just sat at his desk, holding the communicator and chewing on his pencil.

          “Well, umm… interesting,” Bryan said, pausing in the middle of a story about the finer details of the currency exchange rate between the Upper and Lower levels. “I mean… huh…”

          “Care to fill me in?” David asked.

          “It’s nothing, yet,” Bryan mumbled. “The transfers definitely came through our system. It looks like they originated with Everett Industries. I’d say someone just made it look that way, but I’m checking approval codes, and they are high up the chain. It had to be Wiliam Everett or someone right under him.”

          “William Everett?” David asked. “The architect?”

          “Oh, right. I guess it’s been a while for you. Uh, William kinda runs the entire Infrastructure development in the Lower Level. He’s a great guy. We wouldn’t be half as far along as we are without him.”

          “Does his financial record indicate why he was sending money to the Hub?”

          “No,” Bryan admitted. “The last time he got in trouble for hush money, we found out he was building Winter Village. The guy has a heart of gold, David. Whatever he’s doing up there must have a reasonable explanation.”

          “I’m sure that’s the case,” David assured his old friend. “Listen, can you get me his contact information? I just need to reach out—”

          “How about you let me reach out to him first?” Bryan interrupted. “I’m sure he can explain it to me, and I’ll be able to get you a full report.”

          “I appreciate the offer, but it would be best if I speak to him directly.”

          “I’m telling you, David, he’s not a criminal.”

          “I didn’t say that he was,” David clarified. “I have questions, more than simply asking where the money came from. There’s more at play here, Bryan. Please, I need you to trust me.”

          Bryan hesitated. “I can’t just give you his information. Look, I’ll ask William to reach out to you directly. If he refuses, the council doesn’t have a precedent for forcing people to do something. I doubt we’ll be able to make him talk about any of this.”

          David felt the resistance. “Well, hopefully he won’t mind. I’m not looking to arrest him, Bryan. I just need answers, and he’s the next stop on the path.”

          “I’ll ask him,” Bryan repeated. “That’s the best I can do.”

          “Thank you,” Bryan.” David said.

          “Sure. You take care up there, David. I’ll be in touch.”

          The call disconnected.

          David set down his communicator and looked at the mangled pencil in his hand. 

          He was going to have to find another outlet for his stress… eventually.

          The frustration of Olivia’s continued absence rolled back in like a heavy wave of emotion, and David reached for a fresh pencil. 

To Be Continued…

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