Saturday, July 17, 2021

Extremus: Year 1

It’s launch day. The crew has been working towards this goal for the last fourteen years. It’s only an interim goal, though. Their final destination won’t be reached for another 216 years. Captain Halan Yenant won’t be alive to realize the dream, but he still wants to do it. He wants to push forward, and find a new home on the other side of the galaxy. People often ask him why he would attempt such a thing. It’s not particularly dangerous—at least not compared to what his parents went through to flee to this universe in the first place—but the rewards are impossible to know. What’s out there? Is there a planet hospitable to human life? Is it any better than what could be discovered in the stellar neighborhood, or maybe just a little further out? A hundred and fifty-thousand light years is a hell of a trip when you don’t know what you’re looking for, and don’t much care. They’re doing it because they can, and because they couldn’t do it before. Yenant’s ancestors lived in a tiny universe, populated primarily by white monsters who would rather see the humans dead. Now that they’re here, they have room to spread out, yet they’ve not done it. Every single one of the eleven billion refugees—and all their recently born descendants—still live in the Gatewood Collective. There are no terrestrial planets here. They orbit the host star in gargantuan centrifugal cylinders. They’re great; they have everything they could ever need, but they aren’t natural, and Halan never considered them to be his home.
When he was a boy, Halan was hanging out in his parents’ lounge when a man walked in with an interesting idea. A friend of his thought it might be cool to send a spaceship from here, to the outer edge of the outer ring of the Milky Way galaxy. Of course, there are plenty of stars beyond this imaginary border, but if they were going to do this, they ought to place the destination somewhere. The man, who named himself Omega, was a clone of an engineer. Omega was created to be responsible for a modular spacecraft destined to connect every star system in the galaxy. He had abandoned his post, but was seemingly trying to make up for it. He thought Project Extremus sounded nice, but the two people in charge of the solar system scrapped it, believing it to be too outrageous, and possibly unethical. Halan knew better, so he dedicated his life to learning everything he could about space travel, so he could one day fulfill the hypothetical mission. He never thought he would be leading it, though. He couldn’t do it on his own, and plenty of other people thought it was a nice idea too. He was chosen to be the ship’s first captain, and he is planning to honor that by being the absolute best possible.
Most of the people going on this journey with him have already been living on the ship. It’s just as comfortable and spacious as their original homes, so they figured there was no point in waiting. Some may have been worried about being left behind if they didn’t wait there for a few months. The pre-launch inspection has already been done, so right now, Halan is standing at the entrance, watching the stragglers arrive, along with the last of the cargo. Captain Kestral McBride and Lieutenant Ishida Caldwell come up last, after everyone is in. They run the entire solar system. The refugees from Ansutah have their own form of government, which runs things on a day-to-day basis, but anything that impacts a greater region than a few sections of a centrifugal cylinder has to go through the two of them. No one elected them to this position, but they were the ones who built the cylinders in the first place, and facilitated the people’s rescue from a dangerous home universe. Since the arrival, no one has questioned their right as the ultimate leadership.
The two of them had to sign off on this entire project, though going against Halan’s people’s wishes probably would have caused more problems than it was worth. They want to leave, and that should be respected. They engineered their own ship, so little should be in the way of them realizing their goal. Even so, Team Keshida, as they are collectively called, are still not extremely jazzed about this situation. They have always been rather adept at hiding it. “Do you have everyone and everything you need?”
Captain Yenant’s lieutenant, Rita Suárez comes up to his side, holding a tablet. As she can trace her family tree back to one of the original members of the group of humans who first lived on Ansutah, she’s a bit of a celebrity. She doesn’t like the notoriety, though, which is why she’s leaving. The reality is that this decision has only made things worse. She taps on her pre-launch checklist. “The last of the biomolecular synthesizer back-up parts have been loaded up.” She checks it off the list. “We should be good to go, sir.”
Captain McBride smiles. “There’s one more thing that’s not on your list.”
“There couldn’t be,” Rita protests. “I was very thorough—”
“It’s not on your list, because it wasn’t decided until this morning,” the other Lieutenant, Ishida interrupts. She taps on her wrist device. Omega suddenly appears next to them. “He’ll be going with you.”
“I must voice my concern,” Rita continues to argue. “I was not made aware of this, and he is not on the manifest. You cannot simply add whoever you wish to be rid of. This in an internal matter—”
Ishida interrupts again, but this time with merely an authoritative wave of her hand. “We are placing him on this vessel to be rid of him, yes, but we could have just as easily dispatched him to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, or Teagarden. We’re sending him with you, because he went against my wishes, and told you about this idea. These are the consequences for his actions. If he thinks it’s such a good idea, then he can see it through. I don’t really care whether you have anything to say about it, or not. You can shoot him out an airlock once you take off, for all I care. I literally have a million more just like him.”
“Ain’t nobody like me,” Omega contends.
Ishida taps on her cuff some more. Omega’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and he faints, but before he hits the floor, he disappears. “I’ve hidden him somewhere on the Extremus. You can either waste your time trying to find him, or you can just stick to your schedule.”
Halan looks over at the other Captain. Kestral looks back. “Don’t expect me to argue with her. Her title may make it sound like she’s my subordinate, but she’s actually my partner. If she says Omega stays on the ship, he stays on the ship.”
“Very well,” Halan decides.
“Sir,” Rita presses.
“We will launch on time, and then we will search the ship for him. Don’t worry, Rita. I’m sure we’ll find some use for a brash and disgruntled clone of an engineer.”
Rita is not an unreasonable person. She knows when she’s been beat, and she will concede graciously. “Very well, sir. You have five minutes until you need to speak to the passengers. I’ll prep the crew.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’ll be up there in a minute.”
“One more thing,” Kestral says after Rita leaves. She takes out a small roundish object, and hands it to Halan ceremoniously. “This is a recall device. If you hold the string, and press the top button several times, all of this will be undone.”
“What do you mean?” Halan questions. “All of what?”
“The mission, the trip,” Ishida clarifies. “It’s a reset button. If something goes wrong, and you have no other options, this will reverse time, and put everyone back here instantaneously. It will have quite literally never happened. Once your tenure is over, you may pass it on to your successor. But I wouldn’t tell anyone else about it, If I were you.”
A confused Halan stares at them. “This is a generation ship. What if something goes wrong in a hundred years? They’ll just be erased from existence?”
“The captain won’t,” Kestral says. “Or rather, whoever pushes the button. They’ll be returned with all these people, even if they haven’t been born yet now. They alone will survive that paradox, should it come to that.”
He keeps watching them with that look. Then he drops the device on the ground, and stomps on it. “I won’t allow that. We live and die together. That’s why we’re doing this.”
“Very well, sir,” Kestral echoes Rita from earlier.
“Good luck, Captain,” Ishida says cordially.
“Thank you.”
“You better go.”
“Close it up,” Halan says as he’s walking up the ramp. The ship’s AI seals all entrances. Halan transports to the bridge, where the crew is working on prelaunch. “Everything on schedule?” he asks them.
“Yes, sir,” replies the Executive Bridge Officer.
“Keep at it. I need to address the passengers.”
“Of course, sir.”
Halan steps into his bridge quarters. He readies himself with a good glass of water, and some speech warm-ups. Finally, when it’s time, he approaches the microphone. “Passengers of the Extremus. Some say that our journey to this day began fourteen years ago, when a man came to us with an idea his superior came up with about traveling across the galaxy. Others say that it truly began once we were rescued from our home universe, and brought here, back in 2230. I wasn’t around for that, but I am grateful for it. Still, there are those who claim the journey actually began centuries ago, while our ancestors were struggling on the human continent of Ansutah. However you look at it, I’m not personally concerned with when the journey began. What matters is where we’re going, and how we get there from here. We are about to launch from the Gatewood Collective, and fly at reframe speeds, across thousands of light years. It will take us two hundred and sixteen years.
“We do not possess the kind of longevity technology the rest of the stellar neighborhood does. We live day to day, and we do that for about a hundred and twenty years. Not one of us will be alive to see our new home. This is your last chance to avoid the truth that you will die in space, far from any star. We’ll be taking off in eleven minutes. That should be enough time to make it to the nearest airlock. Anyone inside of one of these will be teleported out of the ship with no questions. I hope none of you do, but that is your choice, and I will understand. Our numbers are great now. We started out with a few hundred hopefuls, but have since grown to the thousands. I find that impressive. Like I said, none of you will see the planet we are destined to name Extremus, and that is the bravest thing I’ve seen anyone do.” Halan clears his throat. “If you are a member of the crew, please take action stations. If you are a passenger, and you haven’t already, make yourself at home, and enjoy the ride.”
Minutes later, they’re gone.

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