Saturday, July 24, 2021

Extremus: Year 2

Captain Yenant pulls a chair over, and sits down in front of Omega. He closes his eyes, and massages the bridge of his nose. He’s been through this before, and he’s sick of it. He’s in charge of the crew and the ship itself, and not so much the passengers; they have their own leaders. Omega is more of  a stowaway, though, and that kind of falls under Halan’s jurisdiction. “Why am I still dealing with you? It’s been eight months.”
“I was just trying to boost our speed,” Omega answers with a shrug.
“We’re going at maximum reframe. It doesn’t get faster than that. Technically, we’re not exceeding the speed of light. It’s more like we’re going back in time while moving forward.”
“Yes, but if we go back in time faster then we’ll get to our destination earlier.”
Halan gets this close to putting his face in his palm. “We’ll get there earlier, so what? That’s not faster. It will take us 216 years, whether that’s 216 years from the day we left, or 216 years before we left. That doesn’t help anything.”
“The faster I get you to your precious planet, the faster I can get back to my life on Gatewood, and I would like to reappear the second after I last left, so I’m actually trying to send us back more than twice as fast as we are now.”
“I won’t allow that.”
“I’ll do it anyway,” Omega contends.
“You are not entitled to persistent longevity treatments. You’ll die here, like everyone else. I’ll see to it.”
“I don’t need those treatments anymore,” Omega claims. “I make my own.”
“Not in the hock, you don’t.”
“You can’t keep me in hock for the whole journey.”
Halan stands up, and carefully places his chair back where he found it, randomly towards the back corner. “Watch me.” He walks towards the door, but addresses the guard first. “Do it.”
“No!” Omega cries. “You can’t do this! I’ll stop, just don’t lock me away!” He’s probably expecting the Captain to stop, and prove that his words were only an interrogation tactic, but Halan doesn’t need anything from him. He might as well be in hock, at least he can’t cause any more trouble. He’ll leave him in there for a year, and then reassess.
Halan walks down the hallway, and back onto the bridge. He finds Rita by the viewscreen. “Is he ready?”
Halan checks his watch. “He’ll have to be.”
“You could always just do it yourself, like you have been,” Rita suggests.
“The passengers have to see that this is not a one-man show. We’re all in this together. He’ll do it several more times before his shift ends. He might as well start now.”
“He’s still practicing, even all this time. That does not suggest a lot of self-confidence.”
“All right, well I’ll get him to that point. I’ll go in alone, so he’s not intimidated.”
“Are you calling me intimidating?” Rita questions, offended.
“I just mean he’s better one-one-one. But if you wanna be the one to coach him through it...”
“No, no, no. That’s fine.”
Rita walks the other direction, while Halan steps into the PA room. A young technician stands up quickly, like he was bitten by a toilet snake. “Good evening, sir.”
“As you were, Tech.”
“Thank you, sir.” He does not look well.
“Breathe with me.” Halan sits down, and begins to breathe deeply and deliberately. “In. Out. In. Out. Make sure you get oxygen to your brain.”
“Thank you, sir,” the boy repeats.
“You can do this. You’ve done it a million times by now, I’m sure.”
“Not when people could hear me.”
“Just pretend they can’t. There are no hecklers here. There’s no feedback. As far as you can tell, when you push that button, it does absolutely nothing. Then just...say your lines, like you have been all day.”
“Is it really that easy?”
“It can be.” Halan checks his watch again. “It’s time.”
The boy breathes a few more times. “Okay.” He tries to convince himself that it is indeed okay. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Halan nudges the microphone a millimeter closer. “You have the floor.”
He clears his throat, and begins. “Uhh...attention all passengers. The bridge crew of the transgalactic generational colony ship Extremus would like to thank you for another lovely day. We are eight months, two weeks, and one days—I mean, day—from launch.” He sighs. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, just keep going,” Halan assures him, not sure whether his own words make it into the microphone.
“Today marks a special occasion. We are now five hundred light years from Gatewood, an amazing feat by all accounts. The Captain wishes to extend his gratitude towards all of you for agreeing to join him on this unprecedented adventure. This would be neither possible, nor meaningful, without each and every one of you. His door, as always, is open to all. Here’s to another two!” This motto refers to the number of light years Extremus is able to cover in the span of about a day.
Halan pats him on the back. “Great job.”
“I messed up.”
“That’s all right. We do this every single day. No one’s gonna remember this one time, and you’ll get better. It won’t be as scary next time, I promise.”
“Thank you, sir.”
An alert from Rita comes up on Halan’s wrist device. “I gotta go try to fix a crisis. You can still handle the calls?”
“Yeah, I can field the one-on-ones. That I have no problem with.”
“Wonderful.” The phone begins to ring just as Halan is leaving the room. He goes all the way to the other side of the ship, where his lieutenant is waiting for him.
“It’s not terrible, but it’s not great.”
“What does she need now?” Halan asked.
“She’s demanding we make it bigger.”
“Bigger? The airlock?”
“That is a service airlock. It’s just meant for robot EVAs. We can’t make it bigger. The robots are being serviced on either side!”
“Well, actually they’re not. That whole section has been essentially shut down for her. I mean, it would be tough, but I spoke with some engineers yesterday, and they said it’s technically possible to break down one of the walls, but only the one.”
Just before launch, Halan made an announcement that said everyone who had second thoughts, and wanted to leave the ship, could do so simply by entering an airlock. Captain McBride then teleported them out of there, and back into the main Gatewood cylinder, where they could do whatever they wanted with their lives without having anything to do with the mission. One woman thought the service airlock counted, but only the ones near the passenger sections were being monitored for this courtesy. She shouldn’t have been anywhere near this area. Halan partially blames himself for not being one hundred percent clear, but mostly blames her for having wandered off to a restricted section. Well, it was never technically restricted, but everyone else knows where they don’t have any business being. The five other people who chose to jump ship at the last minute certainly knew.
“I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with her tonight, so...”
“I’ll take care of it,” Rita says, “again.”
“Get a second opinion on that wall,” Halan says as he’s walking away. “And remind her that she may return to her quarters whenever she wants. Psychotic break or no, staying in the airlock permanently is not going to help her get home. That was a one time offer!”
“I’ll say it just like that, sir!”
“Thanks! I’m gonna go check in with the Old Man!”
Halan makes his way back to the other side, then down towards the stern. He finds the oldest engineer this vessel has to offer in his lab, tinkering away at his little contraptions. “Ahh, you’re here. Good. Could you place your finger right here?”
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Please,” Old Man begs.
“Are you gonna shock me again.”
“Probably not.”
Halan scoffs, but does as he’s been asked. With the one piece of metal firmly in place, Old Man can now line it up with a second piece of metal. He drips nanosolder between them, and announces that Halan can let go. Halan looks around. “Where is it?”
“It’s over on that table there.”
Halan glances over. “It looks finished.”
“Oh yes,” Old Man agrees. “It’s been repaired.”
“So, it works.”
Old Man lifts up his lenses. “It can do what it was designed to do.”
“That’s not what I asked of you,” Halan reminds him. “I want you to make it do something else.”
“It’s not that easy. The device is tethered to a moment in time. Everything that existed in that moment has to go back where it was. You, me, some rando on Teagarden. Everything just reverts to that moment. It’s a reset button, not a teleporter.”
“She said that if someone who hasn’t been born yet pushes that button, they will return too. They won’t revert to their non-existence, and they’ll retain their memories.”
“Yes, and I don’t know how that works. That is what I am trying to figure out now. It will take time. We can’t mess this up. There is no way to test it. If I do something wrong, that could be the end of everything. It could send us back to the stone age, for all I know. I’m not a time travel mechanical engineer. Now, if you would let me build a new device that’s only been inspired by the original design...”
“No. There is a reason I chose you for this project. I don’t want this technology left on my ship. I want two people to go back to Gatewood, and only those two people, and I want them to take the only device that can do it with them.”
“Yes, and I will soon be dead, unlike someone better suited for this research, so the secret dies with me, I get it.”
Halan knocks on the table twice. “I hope you do get it, because I need this done. I cannot take another day with a self-obsessed narcissist who thinks he’s entitled to modify this ship as he pleases, and a deranged Karen, who thinks she’s entitled to have a team of crew members wait on her hand and foot.”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about, sir, I just work here.”
Halan’s watch alerts him to the next issue. He starts to back out of the room. “I have to go put out another fire. Finish whatever that thing is, and then get back to my recall device.” He opens the door to exit.
“Certainly, sir. It’s a consciousness uploader.”
Halan turns back around. “What?”
Old Man has returned to work, and acts like he’s barely noticed that Halan is still there. “Oh, this will upload someone’s consciousness into a reserve, where they can witness the arrival on Extremus, even if they die before we get there.”
“Who asked you to do that?” Halan questions.
He takes off his lens gear, sets it on the table, and interlocks his hands next to it. “You will.”
“I will?”
“No one wants to die, and certainly not the people on this ship.”
“We agreed it would be generational. That was decided a long time ago, before they even made me Captain. Do you know something about the future that I don’t?”
“Goodnight, sir.”
Halans wants to argue, but he’s too tired. He still apparently has to speak to someone about a possible radiation leak on the observation deck. He can tell by Old Man’s progress that this mind uploader is nowhere near finished, so there will be plenty of time to argue about it another day. “Get back to the recall device. Now.”
“Very well.” He knows how important he is, at least until the device is complete. He might be worried about what happens to him after that, though, which is why he’s really building the uploader. In all honesty, Halan can’t be sure the man shouldn’t be worried. It is not off the table to tie up all loose ends.

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