Mount Machina, four years prior, had hosted a campsite and a scenic picture stop for brave adventuring citizens to explore if they dared. It was, quite literally, a mountain built inside of the World Ship, with snow-capped peaks and dangerous stone cliffs that could prove fatal if poorly traversed.
William Everett had built his vision of a resort town here on the gentle slopes near the base of the mountain, and Winter Village had quickly grown into a place where all citizens could come to see some kind of escape from their daily lives.
When the refugees from Ronin’s old home arrived, it was William that had jumped into action and welcomed them into the village and built them homes where they could find a chance to start over.
Many of those refugees had adopted the kind of over-the-top winter vibe that this town had to offer. There wasn’t a single day that someone wasn’t spotted in a winter-themed outfit. It seemed like everyone was always attempting to spread cheer and kindness in some form or another.
That wasn’t how Thresher felt.
He’d cast off the old moniker and reclaimed his birth name. Thanks to the fresh start offered by William Everett, almost everyone in Winter Village knew him only as Geoffrey. He was just another man, out here to live his life.
That suited him well. As Thresher, he had terrorized both the Hub and Town. There didn’t seem to be a single citizen that didn’t recognize him when he traveled there, for better or for worse. There he was someone, but here… here he was just Geoffrey. He owed William Everett a lot for that opportunity, and William was never one to hesitate about calling in a favor.
So that’s how Geoffrey found himself in his current situation.
Here he was, standing at the front door to the mansion of Lady Seda Kuna. She, like Geoffrey, had come from World Ship 2296. Unlike Geoffrey, however, Seda had focused almost entirely on embracing her old legacy, even managing to rebuild her family manor here so that it was shockingly similar in design and materials.
Despite her interest in the past, Seda had found lucrative work here as a research scientist. She spent most of her days locked away doing whatever she pleased with a laboratory fully funded by William Everett.
She was, in his opinion, a disaster waiting to happen.
William must have thought so too. Geoffrey had received a call from Everett this morning asking him for a favor. He needed someone to check in on Seda and make sure she wasn’t doing any unauthorized work. Apparently, there was some trouble with power management on the World Ship, and Lady Seda was notorious for drawing more power than she was relegated to have. Surprisingly, William didn’t just shut her down himself but instead asked Geoffrey to simply check in and make sure everything was alright. William knew that Geoffrey and Seda were from the same World Ship, so he incorrectly assumed that the pair liked, or ever even really interacted beyond the brief encounters they had in their old lives.
Still, Geoffrey did know Seda’s family and her legacy.
If anyone was going to try to rein her in, it was going to be Geoffrey.
The door to the manor swung open, and the eccentric looking woman smiled at him with blindingly white teeth.
“Thresher!” she said with a forced excitement. “We finally meet… again.”
“As I said last time, my name is Geoffrey,” he grumbled. “This is the third call this week, Seda. You’re really pushing it, even with William.”
The smile faded.
“What?” she asked, more seriously. “I haven’t done any power draws since the last visit. I assure you. William said to shut it down, so I shut it down.”
“The blue glowing aurora last night?” Geoffrey pressed. “Was that you?”
Her face scrunched. “Okay, that was one of my experiments, but that’s a project Everett has me working on separate from anything related to your recent complaints. It’s basically a light show for the citizens. He wants to put a camping site further up the mountain, and he’s been wanting some kind of attraction to draw people there. I was inspired to create something that would wow a crowd with little need for maintenance.”
“That’s great, Seda. Listen, I need you to cool your experiments for a few days. Grace got word from the Explorer Group that power fluctuations are being detected and monitored. I don’t want you setting off any false alarms.”
“I assure you, I’m already shut down. My light project is unrelated to anything on the power system. You have nothing to worry about.”
Geoffrey sighed. “Fine. I’m willing to buy that.”
“Good. Now, is your name really Geoffrey?” Seda asked.
“Did you think it was really Thresher?”
“You had quite the reputation,” Seda replied. “My dad never called you Geoffrey.”
“Yeah well, your dad probably…” Geoffrey stopped talking. At first, he thought Seda had something inside her home that was making noise, but the sound was getting louder. “It’s the helicopter,” he said, looking to the sky and spotting the approaching vehicle. “You have company coming?”
Seda scoffed. “Do you think I moved to the farthest and highest point I could get so that I could invite people here?”
Geoffrey smiled at that. “Okay. So, if it’s not here for you…”
The helicopter was getting louder, and Geoffrey watched it approaching from the east. It was making a turn straight for them. There was no doubt that the pilot was coming this way. His stomach started to churn. If they’d come out here for him, maybe that meant the citizens of this World Ship weren’t so ready to forgive and forget.
The chopper swooped in, lowering itself into the soft snow with only a light bounce. As the blades started to spin down, the pilot climbed out, taking her helmet off to reveal long red hair. He recognized her immediately. That was Ruby Rose.
Ruby approached the two, looking up at Lady Kuna’s manor as she walked.
“Hello, Thresher,” Ruby said flatly.
“See?” Seda said, making a gesture toward Ruby and displaying a pose that expressed how vindicated she felt about his name. He rolled his eyes in response to her movements, then turned to Ruby.
“My name is Geoffrey. How can I help you?” he asked.
“Elsie Lamarr sent me. She wants me to bring you to Town.”
“Elsie Lamarr?” Geoffrey asked. “Isn’t she the Leader of the Explorer’s Group? What in the world does she want to talk to me about?”
“We’re all hoping you might be able to tell us what’s going on with the power fluctuations. We were going to talk to Ronin, but he rushed off to the Upper Level. He said you’d be able to shed light on the situation.”
Geoffrey nodded solemnly. He turned to Seda and pointed at the single power cable that ran to her home. “Stay off the power systems, Seda. I mean it.”
“Right,” Seda said with a smile. “Go on then. Conspire with your friends.”
Geoffrey turned back to Ruby and nodded toward the helicopter. “Alright. Let’s go.”
The helicopter lifted off, carrying Geoffrey away from Mount Machina. He pulled out his communicator, which had a direct connection to the Hammerhead, and started gathering all the information he had on the last six months of studying the power systems. As he worked, he noticed Ruby glancing back at him every so often. She said nothing, but Geoffrey could feel the energy building. She was sitting on a million questions, and the ride would take some time.
“If you want to have a talk,” he said without looking up from his communicator, “now is the time to go about it.”
Ruby didn’t respond right away, so he quietly waited.
She lasted five minutes.
“Okay,” she finally blurted. “So, I don’t know if you know this, but—”
“You’re the pilot that went to World Ship Two-Two-Nine-Six. Ruby Rose.”
Ruby nodded. “Right.”
“You did good,” Geoffrey said. “A lot of my friends owe you their lives.”
“Thanks for the compliment. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
Geoffrey looked up at her for a moment. “Like what?”
“Oh, I dunno. How about an apology for almost killing me in the Garage, then leaving all of my friends in danger while you rushed off to take care of your own personal business?!”
Geoffrey grimaced. She was right, of course. He’d acted foolishly with his plans. Thousands of people could have been hurt, or lost, because he was so focused on his own goals. “You’re right, Ruby. I am sorry.”
“Oh. Wow. I… didn’t expect that,” she said. “I uh… I guess I forgive you.”
“Really? It was that easy?”
“No, but Grace has said good things about you, and she’s always been honest, if not bluntly so. If she says you’re good, then I suppose you’re good.”
Geoffrey didn’t respond for a moment. He wasn’t sure how to go about it. “Thanks.”
“What’s all this about, Geoffrey?” Ruby asked, using his proper name.
“Do you remember the Yunai?”
Ruby’s smile faded. Geoffrey had read the report about the Yunai chasing after Explorer Two. Ruby had barely managed to get the last of the refugees aboard the Traveler when they fled the other World Ship.
“I remember,” she said at last. “I try not to.”
“When we returned to this World Ship, Ronin and I discovered damage to the Traveler. We feared the Yunai might have reached up before we escaped and stowed away. We kept our eyes on it for months, but the Yunai never showed up, so we assumed we were wrong.”
“But you weren’t wrong?”
“Ronin must not have thought so,” Geoffrey answered. “I have been living in Winter Village since our return. I’m afraid I don’t know much more than that.”
“That… thing was monstrous,” Ruby said. “If it is here on our World Ship, what are we going to do? Can we stop something like that?”
“I don’t know. I… I always had a plan to save my people, but I never thought the Yunai would be a problem. When I was growing up on my World Ship, mythology talked about the black dragon and how my ancestors imprisoned the creature, but it’s all anecdotal. It’s not like the stories were historically accurate.”
“So, what are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m reading mythological stories. I pulled up the files from my ship, the Hammerhead. Now that I know the Yunai really was a creature that my ancestors defeated, maybe the stories will make more sense, or maybe we can glean some truth from the fiction.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Thresher smiled. This pilot was a unique character.
“Maybe,” he said. “There’s a lot of history here, and I read these stories so many times I’m likely skipping over details. Maybe a fresh set of eyes will help us spot something we can use.”
“Done… once I get us to Town.”
“Listen,” she added. “When we get to our destination, you’re going to have to be the authority figure for the council. We’ve never faced anything like this before. I can help them understand with my own account, but they’ll be scared at what we have to tell them. They’ll need a plan, and you’re our best shot.”
Geoffrey nodded. Ruby was right. He’d put years into bringing his people here, and now all of that work would be undone if the Yunai was here. There were a lot of unknowns about the creature, but there had to be a way to overcome it. The Yunai had been contained at least once before. He just had to figure out how to do it again.