Episode 92: Never Go Home

Ronin returns to the Hub.



         How could there be nothing?

         Ronin scanned the area again. He widened the visual range and waited as the ship’s computer parsed the calm ocean waters looking for any sign of debris, wreckage, corpses, cargo… literally anything.

          The Ulysses was simply gone.

          Ronin moved his right hand to a second monitor that had a direct link to the World Ship’s monitoring systems. He scrolled through the power outage warnings until he found one of interest. A bulkhead had opened and then resealed after the power went out. It was a standard reset protocol, but funnily enough, it shouldn’t have opened at all. According to the Grid’s reporting data, Section 09 was uninhabitable due to environmental failure and venting into the void. If that were true, however, the World Ship would have completely locked down the bulkhead rather than simply closing it.

          “Computer,” he spoke aloud. “Run bulkhead simulations if the water level inside Section Nine is lower than the water level outside. What would happen?”

          The computer beeped. “Massive displacement of water into Section 09 would likely pull any nearby vessels, wildlife, and any other loose materials through the bulkhead. It would be difficult for any vehicle to push against such a strong current.”

          “Okay,” Ronin said, chewing on his thoughts. “So the Ulysses got sucked into Section Nine. That’s the easiest theory. Otherwise, we would have found something by now. All scans continue to show no signs of the ship?”

          “Correct,” the ship’s computer replied. “There is, however, one marker that is not native to this World Ship.”

          “I’m listening.”

          “An extremely high spike in harmonious radiation, usually produced by an Evercrystal.”

          “Can you isolate the source?”

          “No,” the computer responded. “The energy dissipates quickly. If an Evercrystal was here, it must have been moved.”

          Ronin contemplated this for a few minutes, then sighed and started to turn his vessel toward the Hub. The mystery of this sealed section was larger than he initially thought. If there was another Evercrystal aboard the World Ship…

          He wrenched the controls of the Sprinter, the same flying vehicle that he’d crashed in the Lower Level all that time ago. It wasn’t quite as fast as the Intrepid, but it would get him where he needed to go. He was going to have to talk to someone in the Hub.

          It wasn’t until Ronin had cleared the final atoll leading to the Hub that Ronin started to think about his situation. He had once been the de facto leader of this city, having led all of these people to become the powerful city-state that they were. When he had crashed to the Lower Level, his world had been turned upside down. He hadn’t expected a population center to be in the Lower Level, and the immediate threat of Thresher’s influence had required his immediate attention. Of course, he hadn’t expected to be a prisoner for a while either, but there was that too.

          Still, the brief interaction he’d finally had with his old home had been a single use of a communicator to confirm that the Emperor still held his position and that Anton was safely hidden away from those that might exploit his knowledge.

          He had become a stranger to his own home.

          As he broke through the thick fog and crossed the harbor of the city, he was overwhelmed with a sense of pride. The city had grown in the time since he’d been gone. The docks were bustling with activity, and folks flocked through the streets in an array of vehicles and transports. It looked wonderful. In the same way that Town had offered him a rural peacefulness, the Hub offered vibrant energy.

          A lot of new ships were moving in and out of the harbor, fewer with sails than there once were. It looked like most of the ships had steam motors now, with white puffs of steam chugging out of tall metal pipes. The artificial sunlight was low on the horizon, with an orange hue cast over the entire city.

          He started his descent but noticed a new skyscraper was being built where he used to land. The ship’s computer beeped a moment later. “Incoming contact from Harbormaster.”

          “Let’s hear it.”

          “Unidentified Pilot,” the gruff voice said. “You are traveling through restricted airspace! Identify yourself and return to the harbor area until you are authorized to approach the city proper.”

          “This is the Sprinter,” Ronin announced. “I am Ronin! I’m requesting permission to land… wherever I can.”

          “Ronin?” the voice said, his voice sounding doubtful. “Really?”

          “Check the ship’s identifier. It’s really me.”

          There was silence from the Harbormaster for several minutes. Ronin was about to ask if he had hung up, but the man returned and informed Ronin that regardless of his identification he was being instructed to land at specified coordinates, which were then sent to the Sprinter’s computer. The ship switched to autopilot and glided into the city, slowly lowering toward the most rectangular building to be found in the city. It looked like something cut right out of Town in the Lower Level.

          He saw the police shield and name plastered on the building’s front and groaned. The Harbormaster had sent him to the police. This could be problematic. If he got himself thrown into another jail cell he’d have a hard time making any progress here.

          The Sprinter set down with a rather hard thud, and Ronin hoped the building’s roof was made to handle the weight of something as hefty as the small flying vehicle. He waited as the repulsor engines quieted down and decided he was safe enough to get out. He opened the cockpit and started to climb out just as several folks arrived on the rooftop. A few officers stepped aside, and Ronin saw one man in a crisp blue uniform that proudly differentiated him from the others. That would likely be David Nash. He looked young enough to fit the descriptions he’d been given.

          “Ronin, I presume?” the man asked, stepping forward. “My name is David Nash.”

          Two young officers flanked David. Ronin recognized them immediately. It was Annie and Trevor Arkly. Annie looked excited, smiling widely and bouncing lightly with each step, but Trevor looked like he might take a swing at Ronin if he could.

          “Hey, guys,” Ronin said, suddenly feeling a wave of guilt.

          “You finally came back,” Annie blurted, rushing forward and hugging him tightly.


          “I knew it,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “I knew you would come back.”

          Ronin nodded and waited for Annie to finish her hug, then looked to Trevor. The young man stood back, his face scrunched as if he was holding back a slew of unkind words. Ronin knew he’d hurt the young man, but the amount of anger surprised him.

          “Hey, Trevor,” he dared to speak. “Long time no see?”

          “At least I know you won’t be staying long,” Trevor replied before he turned around and walked back through the roof access.

          “Don’t mind him,” Annie said. “He’s not over the fallout with Michael.”


          “Michael joined up with Thresher. He betrayed the Hub, and we all fought against them, but then… Thresher kind of turned out to be the good guy, right? So, what did that make us?”

          “Thresher attacked our city, stole the Book of the Travelers, and endangered thousands of people all across this World Ship by taking one of the Travelers to another World Ship. I wouldn’t call that being the good guy. If his plan had gone wrong, it could have ended in tragedy.”

          “Sure, but in the end, it didn’t go wrong, and he came back a hero. No one got hurt. The Hub was safe and sound. Trevor blames the loss of his friend on you. He feels kind of like you set him on the wrong path…”

          “Maybe I did,” Ronin replied. “I haven’t been the best when it comes to decision making. I’m sorry it took me so long to get back. I’ll talk to him soon.”

          “I hate to interrupt the reunion,” David Nash spoke up again, moving forward enough that Annie realized her place and moved away. “Ronin, you sent a message ahead of your arrival. I’ve taken the measures you requested. Anton is here.”

          “He is? Now?”

          “Yes,” David said. “He lives in the Danketsu district, so it was easy enough to get a hold of him and ask him to come in.”

          “The Danketsu district?” Ronin asked. “Isn’t that Karushi’s territory?”

          “The Dragons of Sentret provide Anton with protection,” David said, leaving the rest of the answer unspoken.

          “Alright. Let’s go.”

          David turned and led Ronin through the roof access and into the main police headquarters. The interior, much like the exterior, spoke of inspiration from David’s past. While many things in the Hub were angular and without exact specifications, this building was perfectly square in every way. It was measured with precision, much like the rectangular buildings in Town. It stuck out like a sore thumb here, but perhaps that’s what David wanted. After all, the police were supposed to provide folks with a sense of order and safety. What better way to manifest that message than an orderly building in a sea of chaos?

          The interrogation room looked small, but it was comfortable enough for the five of them to fit inside. David, Ronin, Anton, Karushi, and a burly bodyguard all huddled around a table.

          “Anton,” Ronin said. “We need to talk about Section Nine.”

          “Sealed off,” Anton mumbled. “The Grid says—”

          “Stop lying,” Ronin snapped.

          Anton raised a brow.

          “Did you give Bainsbridge an Evercrystal?”

          “No,” Anton replied. “It’s here in the Hub.”

          “When did she get here?”

          Anton groaned, then closed his eyes. Karushi seemed to be enjoying the reaction, leaning back in his small plastic chair like a child eagerly awaiting a reward.

          “Scarlet Sun arrived almost two decades after you went into storage.”

          “She brought an Evercrystal with her,” Ronin said.

          “I didn’t realize it at the time. The World Ship wasn’t looking for harmonic radiation, and there was no need to assume she had something so potentially dangerous. You had told me that you and Thresher’s vessels were the only ones with the crystals, and I had stored those away.”

          “So when an entire section of the World Ship suddenly went into lockdown you didn’t even consider that it might be someone up to no good?!”

          “Of course, I considered it,” Anton shouted back. “I was confident of that from the very first day, Ronin! What was I to do? Would you have me crack the door open to take a peek and make sure? I made a judgment call. I decided if someone wanted to be locked in there, so be it. I helped modify the Grid to imply the section was damaged. That way, none of the seeded population would try to get inside. I, quite wrongly, assumed William Everett was the culprit. It wasn’t until I learned he was already in the Lower Level that I started to suspect it might be Scarlet.”

          “Anton, you have no idea what this means for our safety. You have to help me get that section unsealed. The entire population of this World Ship depends on it.”

          “I hardly think—”

          “There’s a Yunai on board,” Ronin said angrily.

          The room went quiet, which actually surprised Ronin.

          “Are you sure?” Karushi asked, leaning forward as though he’d just heard the most exciting news of his life. “A real Yunai? Is it in spirit form or is it one of those terrifying mechanical bodies?”

          “Uh, terrifying body,” Ronin replied. “How… how do you know about the Yunai?”

          “Karushi has been compiling stories and data for years now. He’s not from this World Ship either,” Anton explained. “That’s why he was always fascinated by you, me, Olivia, or anyone that seemed to break the mold of the World Ship’s intended crew.”

          “I’ve learned quite a bit about the Yunai,” Karushi explained. “Most of the information I get comes from people’s dreams, which are just sliced-up fragments of memories that got left over when Anton wiped our lives away. The problem is that it’s hard to separate dreams and reality sometimes, especially when the person recalling the dreams has no idea any of it was real.”

          “Well, the only thing that matters about this Yunai is that its mechanical body requires a large amount of power to operate. It’s going to try to claim one of the Evercrystals. Geoffrey and I have ours locked down and monitored, but if Scarlet brought the third one here, the Yunai can get to it without anyone knowing that it’s coming.”

          “I don’t know if I can open the section,” Anton said. “Surely the Yunai can’t either?”

          “The Yunai has a dark metal exoskeleton and patience. It’s currently chewing its way through the bulkhead that separates the Garage from Section Nine. If I had known it had another food source, we could have isolated it ages ago.”

          “The bulkhead opened when the power flickered, is that correct?” Anton asked.


          “So, we can make the power flicker again. The door will open, and we can get inside. I can figure out another way to open it in the long term, but if that gets you inside, then you can help secure the third Evercrystal.”

          Ronin nodded. “Alright. Yeah, that makes sense. Call Elsie Lamarr in the Lower Level, and tell her we need to initiate a power outage like the one before. I’m going to call Geoffrey and get the Hammerhead involved.”

          “I love this,” Karushi said aloud, causing everyone to look at him. “I don’t mean the imminent danger of a mechanical creature that wants to consume power and destroy our World Ship… I just mean… There’s a lot of great energy here. It feels like one of those superhero stories they always talk about in the city.”

          Anton and Ronin rolled their eyes at Karushi.

          “Come on,” Anton said. “I know where we can get a communicator.”

To Be Continued…

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