Rayland Walsh was in his office, sitting at his desk with a glass of water to his right and a pad of paper to his left. On the center of the desk, Samantha Valentine had just placed a pamphlet. It had a lovely picture of Jonathan Davis, as well as a big header reminding every citizen that John was running for Mayor. Rayland’s own name was there too, along with the time and date for their first major debate.
John was popular. John was smart.
Meanwhile, Rayland had lost his own internal confidence.
It seemed highly unlikely that Rayland would be able to temper the excitement that the citizens had built up around the young man and his mission of building a better tomorrow for the World Ship. Clearly, they felt that Rayland had failed them, and as he sat there contemplating the past six years, he had to admit that he had dropped the ball.
“We were safe once,” he said aloud, looking from the pamphlet to Samantha. “It wasn’t long ago that the idea of exploring other World Ships or even venturing off to the Upper Level would have been considered an unnecessary waste of resources. Now, my replacement bolsters the citizens with stories of exploration and new understanding that will usher in a golden era.…”
“I remember when we were safe too,” Samantha replied, her voice calm and measured, but somehow laced with mistrust. “I remember when we didn’t have these dangerous missions, these reckless adventures. I remember the day all of that changed too. Don’t you, Rayland? The day Jonathan Davis arrived from the Core. That’s where it all started.”
Rayland chuckled. “I hardly think John is to blame for—”
“For encouraging Olivia to push her missions forward? For stirring the citizens into thinking that it was safe to go beyond what we understood? I’ve witnessed his manipulative behavior. I’ve fallen victim to his tactics.”
“Are you talking about when you two went after George?”
“He went after George,” she countered. “I just got pulled along for the ride.”
“A little self-responsibility goes a long way, Ms. Valentine.”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t you understand, Rayland?”
“Not particularly,” he replied.
“If you want to win, if you really want to stay mayor, you need to aim for the parts of John that he can’t defend. You need to expose him as an inexperienced leader. He has a voice, but does he really use it for the betterment of our citizens?”
“I don’t know. Probably?”
Samantha groaned. “You can’t be turning into one of the nice guys now, Walsh.”
That caused Rayland to smirk.
“Tonight’s debate is going to make or break your campaign. I’ve put together the strong points and weak points in John’s plans. We want to break down what he is trying to clarify, but we don’t want to clarify our own responses yet.”
“Yes, right. Of course. Obfuscate what we can,” he said, rubbing his eyes.
“I’m going to help keep you in the game,” Samantha said proudly.
The mayor nodded, then checked his communicator for new messages. It had been nearly a year since the last of the flood waters had receded and the World Ship had been saved from destruction. For the longest time since Rayland could remember, things had been… normal. As he flipped through his messages, he saw a new one had filtered in from Elsie Lamarr. He saw the word urgent in the message and felt a small flicker of excitement.
He opened it up, quickly parsing the message, only to be disappointed.
“Power fluctuations again,” he grumbled, leaning back in his chair. “Could that be something? We’ve had those before without an event.”
Samantha shook her head. “Are you like, looking for a crisis?”
“I wouldn’t say I’m looking,” he countered.
“Here,” Samantha said, slapping the pamphlet on his desk again. “This is a crisis! You are this town’s best hope of a stable government, and John is about to take it from you. He’ll destroy our town, Rayland. Why can’t you see that?”
Rayland groaned. “This is all a bit dramatic, Samantha.”
She frowned. “Perhaps. I hoped it might work.”
“He’s a good man. He has the backing of almost every council member, and he’s winning the people. I won’t compromise myself or my identity to try and sway the citizens. I won’t lie to them. That’s not who I want to be.”
“How altruistic,” she said, smiling now. “I’ll admit, I never expected to hear Rayland Walsh talking with sure pure intentions.”
“Well, never say never, I guess.”
Ruby Rose slowed her vehicle, pulling into a vacant parking spot and then looking up at the massive billboard at the edge of town. John’s face was slapped up there with a perfect smile, encouraging everyone to vote for him in the mayoral election.
“Cool, right?” John asked from the passenger seat.
“It’s over the top, but I want every citizen to see it. They need to be a part of the vote. I don’t want anyone out there saying they missed their chance or anything like that. If that means a billboard or two, so be it.”
“Sure,” Ruby said, smiling at him. “Did it have to be a big mug shot of you?”
“Well, I do want them to vote for me,” he added sheepishly. “Besides, who wants a big old picture of Rayland up there?”
Ruby laughed. “Not me.”
“Now I might have to do it to spite you.”
“Okay, cool your beans. Listen, I was talking to Flynn about the debate tonight. He’s had a look at some of the questions and he said they’re not going to go easy on you two. Are you sure you’ve thought all this through?”
“I’m going to run a clean race,” John said. “No attacks on Rayland. We can’t afford to be tearing each other down. I’m going to promote my policies and my plans for our future. If the citizens like it, they’ll vote for me. If they don’t, we’re stuck with Rayland for another cycle.”
Ruby looked restless.
“What is it?” John asked.
“Well, it’s just that… Rayland may not play nice.”
“Sure,” John said. “That’s practically expected at this point.”
“This isn’t going to be a game,” Ruby said more firmly. “You understand?”
John’s smile vanished. He looked out of the car at the banner and realized that was the issue. Ruby saw his tactics as playful. They weren’t serious attempts to convince the citizens that he was a better choice than Rayland Walsh, and if he couldn’t do that, why would they vote for someone new? They needed to be convinced that they were making an important change. They needed to believe they were picking someone that would make Rayland look ineffective.
“I understand, Ruby,” he said, sitting up straight. “I’ll study up on the notes we have and make sure I’m ready for the big night. We can’t see the questions in advance, so I’m just going to have to stick to our notes as best I can.”
Ruby smiled at him. “That’s what I like to hear.”
She pulled them back onto the road and continued driving toward Mission Control.
The debate was taking place at Mission Control, in the control center, which would allow for easy communication, some press attendance, and video recording equipment that would transmit the entire debate over an open signal that anyone on the World Ship could tune in to see.
Questions had come pouring in from all over the World Ship, and tonight the two candidates would be facing off without any pre-arranged context. Everyone hoped that their answers would be honest and that no advanced warning meant they only had moments to respond, increasing the likelihood that they’d get a truthful reaction.
By the time John and Rayland took their places on the stage, the room was already bustling with activity. The town’s increasing collection of journalists had already shown up, and Elsie’s engineers were working on getting the video feed online. The lighting in the room had been beefed up with some photography equipment, and John felt hot under the new light within just a few minutes of taking his place.
“You ready for this?” Rayland asked, checking his mic.
“I think so,” John said. “I hope… ah, listen, I know I am coming for your job. I won’t pretend I haven’t disagreed with you on almost every decision you’ve ever made, but I’m not doing this to steal your position. I want to lead. I think it’s right.”
Rayland nodded. “I believe you, John.”
The older man smiled. “Good luck.”
“Head’s up!” someone shouted. “Five minutes!”
In the room, near the back, Flynn Brickshelm was leaning against a computer desk while watching the two men stand awkwardly under the blazing hot lights. They looked like they’d be bright red by the end of the debate, from the lights if not the arguing.
Ruby stepped up to him with a raised brow. “What’s your outlook?”
“I don’t know,” Flynn replied. “Some of these questions…”
Someone started shouting down from ten and Ruby pursed her lips.
“Here we go,” Flynn whispered.
The moderator was a young woman that John had never seen before. Rayland stumbled over her name during introductions, so John assumed that the mayor hadn’t met her either.
“Citizens of the World Ship, let’s begin,” she said loudly, looking at a camera set between John and Rayland. The camera angled directly toward her for a picture-perfect zoom on her face while she spoke. “First question, directed to the Mayor. Do you enjoy your job?”
Rayland smiled. “I do.”
There was a moment of silence, then the moderator realized that Rayland had nothing else to add and quickly shuffled through her cards. She seemed to settle on one and placed it atop the pile, then looked up at the two with what nearly appeared to be a sinister grin.
“One World Ship,” she said aloud. “We’ve heard this term before. Candidates, explain to us what this phrase means to you. Mayor Walsh, we’ll start with you.”
Rayland nodded. “Quite simply, the phrase means exactly what it says. There is one World Ship, our own home, and every living person aboard is part of that.”
The moderator looked at John.
“Uh, I agree with Rayland,” John spoke up. “When I hear that phrase, I assume we’re talking about a community of individuals, all living together under one banner.”
“So, how do each of you view the role of this town council in the greater governmental structure of the World Ship?”
Both Rayland and John suddenly looked uncomfortable, but the moderator sat waiting, patiently, while they looked onward.
“Fine,” Rayland said at last. “I’ll try to explain it like this: Our World Ship is a single unit, and we all live here whether we like it or not. We need to work together to make this work. I see no reason why we should be fragmenting ourselves when there’s so much important work to be done.”
“So, Mayor Walsh, do you see yourself as the Mayor of all citizens?” the moderator pressed.
Rayland looked like he might not answer, but then his resolve strengthened. “I do. The council and I are working with all facets of our government to solve complex problems and improve the lives of all living peoples on this World Ship. That is my mission as Mayor. I am not attempting to stifle people or their freedoms, but if we’re going to keep moving forward, we have to do it together. A unified command structure makes the most sense for any vehicle, even one as large as our own.”
The moderator nodded a few times, then turned to John. “Do you, Mr. Davis, expect that your administration would continue on this vision for one World Ship government?”
John looked at Rayland, and the older man looked blindsided.
“Moderator,” John said. “I must admit I’m a bit caught off guard. To be frank, the topics of our town’s governmental reach as a council hadn’t been called into question until now. I don’t think Rayland is off base with his desires. We all stand a better chance of surviving as a community if we work together.”
“So, is it the opinion of both politicians that we must unite under one government?”
John knew he wasn’t supposed to give simple answers. He looked out into the crowd, hoping to see Ruby Rose, but the lights from all the reporters’ cameras were more blinding than the bright lights above him.
“I think you’re jumping to conclusions,” Rayland said aloud. “I don’t mean to sound confrontational, but the argument of the larger government of the World Ship is obviously a discussion that will need to be established down the road, rather than here and now on a debate stage. Less than two years ago, our town didn’t know another World Ship existed, and the Hub was something we only had a basic understanding of in the Upper Level. We can’t say how things will shake out or how we’ll govern in the long term. Right now, tonight, we’re debating who would make a better Mayor for the town council as it stands today, in the present. The advanced nuance of our future interactions is still years in the making. Perhaps we can move on to the next topic of the debate so that John and I can actually debate one another.”
The moderator looked at Rayland for a long moment, then shrugged. “Very well. I can do that, assuming John agrees?”
John nodded. “I’m afraid we’re both unprepared for the topic at hand.”
“We will move on then, but I caution both of you that you may want to reflect on the will of the people and your role as Mayor of this town. Over half of all citizens questioned for debate topics this evening cited the growing concern of the town’s role in the future of this World Ship and where the citizens will fit into that picture.To think that a topic so heavily on the mind of the citizens is not even considered by the candidates reflects a poor level of representation.”
“Your criticism is noted,” Rayland said, sounding genuine. “Perhaps we can talk about the second most important topic?”
The moderator nodded again. “Yes, okay. The second topic tonight is the name of the town. While many citizens simply call our home the Town, others suggest we need a name to identify ourselves in a growing number of towns. What are your thoughts on this? We’ll start with John this time…”
Ruby and Flynn sat in the back, watching as Rayland and John spent the next hour trying to recover from the blow they’d taken right at the start. In truth, Rayland fared much better than his competitor, only because he’d come to accept and deal with harsh criticism better than John. Even still, the two of them were sweating, they gave slow and methodical answers to all of the follow-up questions, and everything about them became almost… fake. It was sure to bode poorly for them both at the polls.
When the moderator finally said goodnight and the cameras stopped rolling, folks got up to leave and the room became chaotic as folks rushed down the stairs to get their latest scoop. Ruby remained against the wall, and Flynn looked over at her with a concerned expression.
“So, who won that mess?”
“I don’t know,” Ruby replied, “but I know two people who lost.”
“If it’s not too late, you can still ship John to the Upper Level to sail the ocean with Olivia. It might be better than trying to do this.”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “We’ll see.”