Episode 81: The Dragons

          Oliva’s mind was reeling from the news.

          Her mother had made it here. She had come to this World Ship.

          In that moment she saw flashes of the woman, her hair pulled back, her smile wide with excitement. She knew Scarlet. She had pieces of her mother in her mind. It was nothing more than empty screenshots, seconds frozen in a flash that she could always not quite see in her mind’s eye. Still, blurry or not, they were there.

          “Her army,” Anton added, looking at Karushi, “was made up of about forty refugees. Some of them were old, some were just children, but most were young adults that were full of life. They had fled, using an abandoned Traveler, to survive in the void. They were a ragtag team drifting through the void, looking for a new World Ship to call home.”

          “I was one of the refugees,” Karushi said slowly.

          “You, and your brother Kasuri.”

          “I’ve seen him,” Karushi said aloud. “I have seen flashes of his face.”

          “Those flashes are remnants of your memories,” Anton said.

          Karushi suddenly looked angry. “What did you do to us?”

          “I took your memories,” Anton answered, his voice somber. “I was so close to finishing my goal. The World Ship was repaired, systems were online, and all I had to do was wait out the final years. Scarlet’s arrival disrupted my plan. I couldn’t deal with more survivors or their potential drama. I had spent a thousand years working on my project. If the refugees carried their memories into the general population, it could disrupt the flow and balance of the seeding process. I had messed up with Thresher and Ronin, but they were just two people. I could keep them in check. It would be impossible with forty others. If they woke up, started spouting memories, they could throw a wrench in the entire design. Part of a successful seed is the bond all citizens share when they arrive from the Core. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Just as I could write memories onto my own mind, so too could I write over the memories of Scarlet’s refugees.”

          “It’s all real,” Oliva said, understanding once and for all the flashes of her mother, her father, the good and the bad… all of it. It was all real, and it was all part of her life. And it was all lost. “Anton, you have to restore my memories.”

          “I can’t,” Anton said, his voice as sad as ever. “The process was permanent, and I am sorry for that, but I needed to know that the refugees wouldn’t impact everything I had worked so hard to accomplish. It was the only path that I saw.”

          “Couldn’t you have just sent us away?” Olivia asked.

          “The Beacon of Hope, the Traveler your mother piloted, was damaged and limping along. I could have dedicated resources to fixing it, but your people wanted a home, and I offered them storage in the Core. They accepted willingly.”

          “They didn’t know you’d wipe their minds!”

          “No,” Anton admitted. “I have lived with the consequences of my decision ever since.”

          “You and everyone else,” Karushi said, his voice stern. “I started this collection of relics because I had seen them in flashes. I felt connected to them, and now I understand the truth. They were part of my life, they are part of my life.”

          “I have notes,” Anton amended. “I interviewed each of you before I wiped your mind. I can give you back your history, but not the memories themselves.”

          Karushi frowned. “I suppose that’s a start.”

          “Wait, that’s it?” Olivia asked. “You just wiped our minds and stored us away for the seeding process? What about my mother? Where is she?!”

          “I can’t say,” Anton replied. “She may still be in storage, not yet sent to the Core for seeding, or it’s possible she did wake and fled into unexplored areas of the World Ship.”

          “Without her memories? “Olivia pressed.

          Anton sighed. “Not exactly. Scarlet wasn’t a fool. She realized what I was doing before I was done. She approached me quietly to confirm, and when I admitted the truth to her, she tried to talk me out of it. Eventually, I relented. She had already lost her husband, and if her memories were wiped, she’d lose her daughter too. I made a promise to her that I would spare her mind, and I kept that promise. When she was stored, I left her memories in place.”

          “So she’s the only other person on this World Ship with her full memories?”

          “No,” Anton said, his voice sounding annoyed. “There was one other.”

          “Really?” Karushi asked. “Who?”

          “A very intelligent designer and engineer. He has had a few names over the years, but his manifest listing is William Everett.”

          “Impossible,” Olivia muttered, completely shocked. “He’s a refugee too?! I’ve worked with William multiple times. There’s no way he has memories.”

          “I didn’t catch it until they had all been stored away,” Anton replied. “You see, on William’s World Ship he served as a lead engineer. He had been trying to unlock immortality using a concept similar to my own eternal mind machine. He saw the system I had put into place to wipe his memories, and he bypassed it to save his own mind. He added his family to the manifest, and then put them in storage, but strangely enough, he allowed their memories to be wiped. I think he feared saving their minds might alert me to his plan. He sacrificed them, saving nothing of their past, aside from the strong connection of their family bond.”

          Olivia considered this. It did explain how William had figured things out so quickly. He had been an architect, but moreso, he had adapted to using the World Ship technology very quickly. In the last few years he had already figured out how to build railroads, establish entire towns, and who knows what else.

          “That’s the reason I’ve been laying low,” Anton explained. “William Everett is paying people to find me, and frankly, I don’t want to be found.”

          “What does he gain from finding you?” Karushi asked.

          Anton mulled it over for a moment. “I suspect it’s two-fold. I know he’s not a native to this World Ship. That kind of secret could bring down his empire in the Lower Level. Perhaps he just wants to silence me, but I suspect he’s after something bigger.”

          “Your immortality,” Olivia guessed. “The eternal mind machine.”

          “I can only assume.”

          “So then… why haven’t you confronted him?”

          Anton frowned. “He has a family, and he’s done good things. I had hoped if I left him to his devices he would leave me to my own. For a time that was enough. Unfortunately, he’s become more interested as of late.”

          “Well, it doesn’t matter,” Karushi said with a slap of his hand against his knee.

          “It doesn’t?” Olivia asked.

          “No,” he said with a grin. “William Everett, good or bad intentions, isn’t the one that got his hands on Anton first.That honor goes to the Dragons of Sentret. You’re going to stay here, Anton. You’re under our watch, and no one, including Everett, will be taking you away. I have far too much I want to learn about my own past, and I need your beautiful immortal mind to teach me.”

          Olivia considered this, then nodded slightly. “It only makes sense.”

          Anton bowed his head toward Karushi. “I am thankful.”

          “We’ll start with the others that arrived with Olivia’s mom,” Karushi started. “You said there were over forty of us. Can you identify them all?”

          “I could, yes.”

          “Good. There are a lot of citizens out there having flashes of memories, just like me. It’s terrifying. They sneak into your dreams, your brief moments of inner-thoughts… It can be overwhelming. They deserve to know why this is happening to them, even if it means revealing the truth to the rest of the World Ship.”

          Anton didn’t seem to care for the idea, but he didn’t speak against it.

          “Are they all out there already?” Olivia asked. “Those of us that came with my mother, I mean.”

          Anton shrugged. “When I placed everyone in storage, I incorporated their numbers with the general population. They would arrive from the Core just like all the others, in a completely randomized order. They may all be here, or they may still be sleeping. The only way to know for sure would be to check the cold storage units from the Grid mainframe, which I couldn’t get to if I wanted.”

          “Elsie would ask too many questions,” Olivia agreed. “That’s a no go.”

          “It’s possible they arrived through one of the other Core exits, but I thought that the low power mode of the World Ship had turned them off.”

          “I’m sorry?” Olivia asked. “More entry points?”

          Anton looked at her. “Do you not know about them?”

          “No,” Olivia replied. “We’re still locked out of many parts of the World Ship systems. Are you telling me there are more than two access points to the Core?”

          “Yeah,” he replied. “There’s one in section nine and another in section ten. They were considered optional, in case of required increases in genetic diversity. I thought they were both shut down, but it’s possible that they still operate.”

          “If that’s the case, then there’s potentially entire populations we haven’t met.”

          Anton nodded. “I suppose so.”

          Karushi was grinning again. “This is amazing. The developments you have revealed are just… overwhelming. Secret memories… lost civilizations… Can it get any better?”

          Anton looked at the young man and shook his head. “You remind me of Ronin. A younger and more hopeful version of him, anyway. Hope is dangerous. Pessimism keeps us safe.”

          “Speaking of Ronin, whatever happened to him?” Karushi asked.

          “He’s in the Lower Level,” Olivia answered. “He’s helping where he can with making sure our citizens continue to focus on generating more than we take. We want to maintain a healthy relationship with our World Ship, or else we risk a dark fate.”

          “Fascinating,” Karushi said. “I can’t—”

          The door opened, and a young member of the Dragons sped over to Karushi, whispering something in his ear and then stepping away once again.

          “Two interesting pieces of news,” Karushi quickly explained. “The first is that the police have finished their sweep of the Sentret district. They found no signs of you two, and they have moved on. That’s good news for us, because the second piece of news makes things more interesting…”

          “What is it?”

          “William Everett is being escorted to the Upper Level now.”

          “What? Why?”

          “David Nash suspects he might have something to do with your disappearance, and perhaps he’s onto something with Anton. Either way, the last thing we need is William up here in Danketsu. If everything Anton says is true, the best place for William Everett to stay is back in his winter village.”

          Olivia nodded in agreement. “I agree, and I might just have a way to make sure he goes back to where he belongs. Do you think you’d be willing to do a little roleplay?”

          Karushi offered her a smirk. “I’m listening.”

To Be Continued…

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