Elsie Lamarr found herself leaning over a young technician’s desk. She noticed his nameplate… Evan Garrett. She had not yet had a chance to tie back her hair, and it fell across his desk, prompting the young man to look at her like she’d just spilled her coffee on his workstation.
“Sorry,” she said, pulling the strands back over her shoulder. “What is it?”
“It’s what I was telling you earlier,” he grumbled. “Look.”
He held his finger up to his display. There was a large assortment of measurements and readings displayed. None of them had any markings or points of reference for her to even begin understanding.
“There,” he said adamantly. “Did you see it?”
“No,” she replied. “What are you trying to show me, Evan?”
“Alright. Watch that line. That’s a seismometer.”
Elsie watched, and soon enough she saw it. There was a clear change in the readings, one that occurred every twelve seconds, like clockwork.
“What are we looking at?” she asked.
“You see the seismic vibrations every twelve seconds?”
“Now, look at this,” he added, moving his hand to another measurement readout. “This one is our power output for the Upper Level Section 07.”
She waited, and sure enough, every twelve seconds it seemed to drop then rapidly spike again.
“Okay. So, regular intervals.”
“Not just that,” the technician added, moving the data around. “The two alternate every six seconds. We see a power fluctuation, then a vibration, then power, then a vibration. There’s a cadence there.”
“So it’s mechanical?” Elsie asked. “Maybe something is wrong with the system?”
“Not sure,” the technician admitted. “It could be a power surge. The vibrations appear to be coming from some kind of physical impact. The Grid is reporting damage conditions coming from the same interior bulkhead where we’re getting these readings.”
Elsie sighed. “Maybe something physical broke loose?”
The technician shrugged. “I don’t have any idea.”
“Excuse me, Commander Lamarr?”
Elsie stood up and looked to see another technician had approached. He was holding a paper in one hand and a communicator in the other. She nodded toward him, indicating that he could speak.
“I think we could get a look,” he said. “The damage is minor inside the bulkhead. The World Ship isn’t designed for citizens to enter, but the repair drones do it pretty regularly. We could attach one of these video communicators to one of the drones and send it in there.”
“Don’t the repair drones have cameras on them already?” Elsie countered.
“Yes, but they’re not for recording. They’re used by drones and not us.”
“Right. Well, I don’t see why we shouldn’t try. Get to it… eh, what’s your name?”
The young man smiled. “I’m Felix.”
“Alright, Felix. Get to it.”
Elsie turned back to the first technician, Evan, and saw him still pouring over the data. He noticed her looking at him and turned to directly face her. “So, long and short. We know there is a cadence. More importantly, thanks to the compiled damage reports, we know that it’s moving upward.”
“We issued a warning to the Upper Level,” she said. “Continue to monitor what you have found. See if you can extrapolate a predictable path based on the cumulative data. If we’re going to send a camera into the bulkhead, we’ll need to know where it should go. Can you pinpoint where these problems started, Evan?”
“Oh sure, that’s easy enough,” he replied, typing on his keyboard and pulling up the past logs. “Yeah, so the first damage reports are coming in from the Garage. Looks like there might have been… wait… this shows a breach in the bulkhead. The alert went out hours ago.”
“A breach?” Elsie asked.
“I don’t understand it,” Evan said. “Maybe there was an explosion or something in the Garage. Shouldn’t the ship’s monitors have alerted us sooner?”
Elsie frowned. “I don’t know. Evan, this is good work. Keep working on it. Let’s try to help Felix get a video monitor inside the bulkhead. I want to get a look at whatever is causing all that damage.”
Evan went back to work, and Elsie stepped away feeling anxious. It was bad enough knowing that there were predictable and consistent failures occurring, particularly when it could endanger the safety of the citizens. Still, there was something else nagging at the back of her mind that made all of this feel more serious.
She made her way to the roof of Mission Control, and when she was confident that no one was around, she pulled out her communicator and searched for the one contact she knew could tell her what she needed to know.
Ronin the Lightbringer.
Once upon a time… a hero.
Now, Ronin wasn’t so sure what he was. A relic, perhaps.
“You know,” a woman’s voice made him jump. He turned to see Katherine Willow walking his way, a bowl of vegetable soup in her hands. “I got to tell you, Ronin, if you worked as much as you sit there daydreaming, we might actually have my farm rebuilt by now.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, sorry, Katherine.”
“You got your ship working yet?” she asked.
“No,” he admitted.
“What’s it missing?”
“My focus,” he joked. “The power crystal housing is working. I just…”
“Not ready to take the wheel yet?” Katherine asked. She always had a way of cutting to the point. “I suppose if you fly out of here, you’ll have to face that whole complicated mess with your daughter, right?”
“Hard to believe Olivia Sun is your kid,” Katherine chuckled. “You can’t be more than a few years older than her.”
“I know,” he agreed. “The World Ship—”
“I don’t have any interest in hearing about the Core, or cryogenics,” Katherine interrupted him. “I get it. It’s just hard to believe.”
“It’s harder to believe that the two of you aren’t glued at the hips,” the woman added. “Heck, if I found out I had a living relative? I’d never leave their side.”
“I’m sure it is,” Katherine said, rolling her eyes and finally handing him the bowl of hot soup. “Here, have some lunch.”
Ronin thought about turning down the offer, but the soup smelled wonderful, and it had been hours since he’d had a bite to eat. He felt guilty taking such a generous helping, especially knowing that there was still a scattering of food shortages around the Lower Level, but the supply lines were stabilizing, and soon enough everyone would be eating big meals again.
“Any word from them, by the way?” Katherine asked. “She’s sailing around in the Upper Level, right?”
“That’s right,” Ronin answered. “No word yet.”
“How about your friend? The shark guy?”
“Thresher,” Ronin said, smiling. “I think folks just call him Geoffry now.”
“Where’s he staying?”
“Winter Village,” Ronin answered, looking at Mount Machina in the distance.
“Ah, if there is ever a place to find a new start, Winter Village is the one.”
“That’s what they say.”
“Alright, Ronin. I’ll come right out and say it,” Katherine huffed. “You’ve been really welcome around here, and I’m glad for the help you’ve provided, especially with that little flyer of yours, but I’m not super interested in having a permanent roommate, and I wondered if you’d be getting back up to the Hub soon to be with your friends… maybe even finally talk it out with your own child?”
Ronin paused and looked up at Katherine.
He wondered… Did he really have any friends?
There were the Protectors. Those young kids he’d taken in as protegees to help him keep the Hub safe from Thresher, but so much had changed since he’d come falling down into the Lower Level. Would they even remember him? Would they want to be friends with him now that the truth had come out? Thresher had been the hero of the story, not the villain, so what did that make Ronin?
“Are you asking me to leave right now?” he inquired.
Katherine sighed. “No. Of course not.”
“I’ll get my affairs in order,” he said. “Once I line up—”
His communicator buzzed loudly. He set down the bowl and pulled out the device to see that it was not who he had hoped. Instead of his daughter, it was Elsie Lamarr.
“Hey, Elsie,” he said, answering the device. “What can I do for you?”
“Ronin. We need to talk.”
“For the first six months after you came home, you and Thresher were making trips to the Garage. Sometimes you went for days on end, flying back and forth. You always said you were checking the Travelers or monitoring material transfers. I always knew you were up to something, but I figured I’d let you have your secrets.”
“What has happened?” Ronin asked.
“Damage reports from the Grid,” Elsie responded. “A breach in the Garage and some kind of power surges that seem to be making their way through the actual interior bulkhead of the World Ship.”
“When did this start?” Ronin asked.
“A few days ago. We’re getting reports that—”
Elsie went silent. Ronin heard someone talking to her in the background. They sounded panicked, like something big was happening. Ronin felt the food in his stomach turning sour as his own fears began to build.
“Elise… what is happening?”
“Power outage,” Elsie answered. “Upper Level Section Seven that’s causing rolling blackouts across the Grid.”
Ronin darted away, Katherine calling after him. He rounded the backyard of Katherine’s house where a small yellow and black vehicle sat waiting. The Sprinter, a crystal-powered flying vehicle, the same one he had crashed to the Lower Level years ago. The repairs were far enough along. He could get it to the Upper Level if he pushed it. His daughter was up there, and power outages on the water… well it could be a disaster.
Katherine was right behind him, jogging along looking particularly frustrated.
“So that’s it?” she called. “Are you just running off?”
“Olivia’s in danger,” he replied, climbing into the cockpit and starting the power cycle. “Besides, you said you wanted me to go.”
“So dramatic,” Katherine scoffed. “Go help your family.”
“Ronin, we don’t know anything yet,” Elsie chimed in, still on the communicator with the sound of people clamoring around her. “I’m trying to bring power online right now, but without a signal up there we won’t be able to communicate. Do you know something about this? Is this because of whatever you were doing?”
“I have to help my daughter,” Ronin said as his small flyer lifted from the ground and started moving upward. “You want answers? Find Thresher. He knows. We’ll deal with this when I get back, but I’ve got to keep Olivia safe.”
“Ronin. I understand you—”
He cut off the device and pressed hard on the controls. The hum of the power crystal was only slightly concerning. The small flyer wasn’t a large power draw, and this newly-grown power crystal should be more than enough to get him to the Upper Level.
“I’m coming, Olivia,” he said quietly. “Hang in there.”