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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Extremus: Year 3

The original idea was to have the captain of the Extremus make the evening announcements every day, as a way for the crew to stay connected to the passengers. After months of this, Halan decided to change this by having a different crew member do it every day. They created a randomized schedule, which wasn’t periodic, but was still designed to be even, so that no one member was doing it too often. The young tech who was first assigned this responsibility was nervous about the prospect. It wasn’t what he signed up for, and it wasn’t in his wheelhouse, so to speak. He didn’t feel the same way forever, though. The more that Eckhart Mercer did the announcements, the more he fell in love with it, and the more the people fell in love with him. He was charismatic, funny, and entertaining. They became a larger affair, about more than just reporting the general status of the ship. People started thinking about what they could do to end up on the speakers, by inventing a new game, or coming up with a fabulous recipe. Eckhart Mercer became a celebrity, and in the end, the general consensus was that they would be better off with him as their permanent announcer. It was more than that, though. He was responsible for keeping up to date on the goingson of the ship, and knowing what news was important. The Captain was happy to adapt the schedule to accommodate this shift in popularity. The rest of the crew seemed fine with it too.
True to his word, Halan left Omega in hock for an entire year. He approved all necessary organic longevity treatments, however, because he kind of had to. Omega is a different subspecies of human; one that was originally designed to last for tens of thousands of years. Ethical conventions are pretty clear that, when in doubt, the standard procedure when dealing with a socially disruptive entity, is to maintain life expectancy. In other words, he deserves to live indefinitely, because anywhere else, he would. And anything short of that is tantamount to capital punishment, which is illegal. There was a debate amongst the executive crew, as well as the security team, whether they ought to place him in stasis. That was, after all, part of the intentions of Omega’s genetic engineer, Saxon. In the end, they determined that this too would be unethical, as Omega deliberately broke free from his nature to lead a different life. The feelings of the individual in question can’t dictate their fate, but they have to be taken into account no matter what. They cannot just be ignored. So he has remained in there with all the luxury of a normal cabin, but none of the luxuries of public spaces. He can’t even hear the announcements from down there.
Airlock Karen continues to be a headache for everyone. They manage to avoid tearing down a wall for her sake, and eventually get her out of there completely. She was more than willing to relocate back to her cabin once Halan gave up, and threatened to throw her in the hock too. Now that she’s in the general population, it’s become clear just how delusional she is. She is completely convinced that the crew is out to get her, and the passengers are generally on her side. The reality is that no one likes her, and they always try to stay away from her. She’ll latch onto a large group when it forms, and outwardly fantasize about being the center of it. People ignore her as best they can, but she is obviously getting on their nerves, and Halan knows he has to be rid of her soon.
“It’s ready,” Old Man says, “but like I’ve been saying, “there is no way to test this. Even if we give it to your two...victims...?”
“Let’s just call them Gatewood-bounders,” Halan corrects.
“Very well.” Old Man goes on, “even if we give it to your two Gatewood-bounders, and they press the button, we’ll have no way of knowing whether it worked.”
“We’re operating at maximum reframe, which means it’s near-equivalent to realtime. I can send a message back to Gatewood to see if it worked,” Halan points out.
“True. In fact, you could send that message right now, because if it will work, they’ve already been there for three years.”
“Let’s not screw with causality just yet. You’re sure you’ve done everything you can to adapt it, right? Pushing that button will send them, and only them, back to 2170?”
“Again, not sure, but there’s no point in me trying to improve it. It either works, or it doesn’t.”
“Give it to me. I need to discuss it with them.”
“You’re going to ask them for permission?”
“No, but I don’t want to just spring it on them last minute, or worse, not tell them anything at all. They have a right to prepare themselves emotionally. Karen has been begging us to send her back this whole time, but she doesn’t know about the button. It’s entirely possible she just wants to be difficult. When I show her that there’s hope for her actually getting what she wants, she may realize she doesn’t really want that. The more I pass by that service airlock, the harder it is for me to believe she went in there for any reason but to draw attention to herself.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying.” It’s Rita, having come into the lab at some point.
“Good, you’re here. Please have security escort her to the lower deck. Quietly,” Halan requests.
“She’ll be suspicious,” Rita volleys. “We don’t want her causing a scene.”
“Good point. I’ll...invite her to dinner,” Halan decides. “You can take the device down to the interrogation room. Have Omega sent there too, of course.”
“Uh, I think I would feel more comfortable if the Captain handled this by himself.” Old Man lifts the device with two hands, and tries to hand it to Halan.
“Why are you wearing gloves?” he questions.
“Scientists wear gloves,” Old Man replies with a casual shrug.
“So Rita doesn’t need to wear gloves herself?” Halan tries to confirm.
“I really would rather you take it instead. It’s very delicate, and we only have one.” Old Man is insistent.
“Take off your gloves, Old Man,” Halan orders.
“Sir, it’s just...”
“Take off your goddamn gloves,” Halan repeats.
Old Man sighs. He sets the device down, removes his gloves, then picks it back up. He again tries to hand it to Halan.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Halan says to Rita.
“My pleasure, sir,” Rita replies. She’s confused too, but everything has worked out. She takes the device, and heads down to the lower deck.
Halan, meanwhile, goes up to the passenger section, where Airlock Karen is trying to yet again regale her tale of woe to the random people who have accidentally found themselves within her blast radius. He’s going to need to be as charming as possible. “Would you please join me for dinner tonight, Madam.”
The crowd is noticeably uncomfortable, but Airlock Karen is ecstatic. She tries to hide it. “How can I deny my Captain? I will be there in two hours.”
Halan clears his throat suggestively, and makes his eyes wander, almost like he’s looking for someone else to invite instead.
“I suppose I could eat a tad bit early,” she says. “Give me ten minutes to freshen up?”
“Certainly,” Halan says. He points to the nearest security officer. “She’ll escort you when you’re ready.” He turns to leave.
“Thank you,” Airlock Karen says. “I have some great ideas about how to run this place that I think you’ll really respond to.”
He doesn’t turn back, but he retches a little in his mouth. “I’m always happy to listen to my passengers.” He walks away, and heads for the interrogation room. The security guard knows what they’re doing, and what to do with Airlock Karen, even though he didn’t specifically assign her this task.
It was always bound to take longer than ten minutes for her to show up, so the three of them sit in awkward silence while they wait.
“So, how about that local sports team, eh?” Omega asks, evidently trying to break the ice.
“The what?” Halan doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“It’s an Earthan thing that people say.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“You finally figured it out, didn’t you?” Omega guesses.
“Pardon?”
“You figured out how to send me back.”
How does he know about that? “Who’s been feeding you information?”
“No one,” Omega replies, seemingly honestly. “You run a tight ship. I figured out what you were doing, because I’m a genius.”
“I never wanted you here, and neither do you,” Halan reminds him.
“I dunno,” Omega says, looking around. “It’s nice being outside the hock. Maybe I could be useful. I’m not the same man who went in there a year ago. I promise to be better. You have to understand that I grew up in a sea of other versions of me. We were expendable. Many of us died, I don’t think you wanna hear the statistics. I had no control over my life until I took it. I suppose it’s just been hard for me to take orders since then...it’s never done me any good before.”
Halan leans over the table. “If you can follow orders now, then follow this one. Go back to Gatewood. If I only send the one person back, it will look personal. It will look like I attacked her. If you go with her, I think it will smooth over any disagreements that might arise when this gets out.”
Omega smiles. “Yes, sir.” If he’s trying to find an angle, Halan can’t tell what it is.
Rita shows up with Airlock Karen, who doesn’t understand what’s happening, but she’s become suspicious. Dinner should not be all the way down here by the hock, she presumes. This doesn’t make any sense. “Why don’t you have a seat?” Rita offers.
“I’m not sitting next to him,” Airlock Karen declares. “What is this?”
“I’ll explain, but if you don’t sit down right now,” Halan begins to warn, “you’re going into the cell with him.”
She sits down right quick.
“Now,” Halan starts his speech. “Neither of you want to be here.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” Omega interrupts.
“I’ve not,” Halan says. “I still don’t want you here...either of you.” He nods to Rita, who removes the device from her bag, and sets in on the table in front of him. “This will send you back to Gatewood at the exact moment that we left. You will watch from the observation deck with all the others who chose to leave. You don’t have to push it right now. I’ll give you a day to prepare yourselves.”
“Why didn’t you give me this before?” Airlock Karen scolds.
“It hadn’t been invented yet,” Halan answers. She doesn’t need to know the whole history about it being adapted from the undo button. “I don’t need Omega off my ship as much as I need you gone. With him, we would have figured something out, he’s at least useful. I had my best engineer working on the problem...for you. So instead of being nasty, for once in your life, could you just be grateful that anyone worked as hard as we have to get you what you asked for. Keep in mind that, in this case, just shutting the hell up is a good way to show that you’re grateful.”
She clears her throat submissively.
Halan goes on, “all you have to do is pull the string, and press the button. You’ll be doing it together, though, as we only get one shot at this. Like I said, you’ll have a day. We’ll retrieve you tomorrow for departure. Omega, you’ll be released until then.”
Just then, they hear banging on the door behind them. They look back to see Old Man through the window, desperately trying to get into the locked room. “I couldn’t wash my hands! It’s not good enough! Don’t push the button!” it sounds like he shouts through the door, but it’s a little muffled.
“What is he talking about?” Halan questions.
“I have no idea,” Rita notes.
“Don’t push the button!” Old Man repeats.
“Screw that,” Airlock Karen decides. She stands up, grabs the device from the table, and takes several steps back.
“Wait,” Halan tries to reason with her. “I think something’s wrong.”
“I don’t care!” Airlock Karen screams. She pulls on the string. “I’m getting the hell out of here!” She presses the button, and promptly disappears.
So does Old Man.
So does Rita.

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