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Saturday, August 14, 2021

Extremus: Year 5

Captain Halan Yenant is standing at the head of the table, while the rest of the group is seated. To his left is Lieutenant Mercer, who is one of only three people who know what’s going on, and why this meeting has been called. Most of the rest are clueless. “To begin, I’ll do introductions. You may all know each other, but let’s do it anyway. I’m Captain Yenant, first of nine. This is my Lieutenant, Eckhart Mercer. Over here we have Lead Engineer, Veca Ocean, who brought the issue at hand to my attention. Next to her is another engineer, Omega Parker. He’s here, because he’s the clone of a very clever man, who was partially responsible for much of the technology that we take for granted on this vessel. I have recently named him Head of Special Projects, which is what I believe this will be, if it isn’t already. Back on this side is Head of Security, Karson Gideon. He’ll be present for every meeting henceforth, and will be largely responsible for the secrecy of this committee’s mandate.”
“What is this committee’s mandate?”
“I was getting to you, Satyria,” Halan says. “I guess I’ll skip over these others to introduce you to Satyria Ebner. She’s Passenger Chair. While I am still demanding that this project be kept secret from anyone outside this room, she has the right to be included. Coming back this way, Lead Mechanic Corey Holgersen. Across from them is our one and only Temporal Engineer, Valencia Raddle, plus her apprentice, Augustina Voll.”
“I—”
“But she goes by August,” Halan added before realizing that she was trying to say that herself. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine, I didn’t know you knew that. It’s not in my file.”
“It is now.” Halan points down to the end of the table, past Satyria. “Those two down there are The Bridgers.”
The crowd looks down at them, surprised to see them here.
“I know,” Halan says, holding his hand up. “They’re not supposed to be out in public, but it’s too important. This project is long term. It will probably last the entire trip. If word gets out that this committee has formed, or why it has formed, anyone here is subject to profound disciplinary action, including me. I could be deshifted for it, it’s that serious. Anyone who reveals anything about the Bridgers, however...will be executed, because it’s even more serious. No one can know who they are, or that they’re here. Does everyone here understand this? I need verbal confirmation from every single one.” He received it.
“They probably won’t say anything,” he goes on, “and you won’t need to say anything to them, and you don’t need to know their names.” The Bridgers are a mystical and mysterious class of people. They live in a secret section of the ship, and don’t participate socially. They are immortal, having undergone transhumanistic upgrades to keep them from dying. Over time, either their current bodies will be modified, or their consciousnesses will be transferred to new bodies entirely, just to better ensure their anonymity. Now that this meeting has been called, only eleven people in the universe know anything about them, including Rita, and their personal doctor, who lives with them. The next administration will be read-in when the time comes for transition.
The Bridgers were created to maximize the chances that this project will succeed. If something goes wrong during one of these administrative transitions, they can assume authority, and put a stop to any conflict. If something goes wrong with the entire mission, they are expected to survive, along with embryos that are being stored in their secret section. If no one else survives to reach the Extremus planet, hopefully the two of them will, along with a new generation of human descendants. They can’t let this all be for nothing. Of course, this is only a last resort, but the original engineers, some of which ultimately decided to not even come along, felt it necessary to stack the deck in their favor. The very idea of the Bridgers was spread throughout the passengers and crew as a way to frighten those who might go looking for proof of their existence, while maintaining the very real possibility that there is no proof, and that it’s all just made up.
Halan regards the people of the committee, looking for anyone who wants to ask a question, but is too afraid to. He doesn’t plan on answering such questions, but he needs to know if they’re there. “Okay. I’ll cede the floor to Mrs. Ocean, who first came to me with this problem.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Veca says. “As he said, we have a problem. It’s not one we didn’t see coming, nor are we completely unprepared for it, but it is worse than we thought it would be, and it will probably only grow worse as we approach Sagittarius A*.” She places her tablet in the center of the table, and activates the hologram. “This is a rough map of the Milky Way galaxy, based on readings taken from Earth over the last several centuries, the stellar neighborhood from the last several decades, and Projects Stargate and Topdown from the last few decades. Right now, we’re here, and we’re headed to somewhere around here.” She points. “Between us and our destination are stars, planets, and even asteroid belts and shells, but this map is missing a key component. It’s impossible to map to any significant detail, and difficult to illustrate in general, but it’s there, all around us.”
“The interstellar medium,” Corey guesses.
“That’s right,” Veca confirms. “It’s composed mostly of gas and dust, but larger micrometeoroids take up a greater share than we ever knew. The center of the galaxy is denser than the outer arms, therefore, we assume there will be even more micrometeoroids.” She brings up a data table. “Over the last five years, we’ve noticed an increase in field collisions. So far, it’s held. It teleports any incoming matter to a random spot anywhere between a few hundred meters to an AU away. Again, everything is fine. The field has never failed. We want to solve the problem before it fails, though, because that is not an impossibility. However remote, the chances are not zero. This committee was formed in order to make sure it never happens.”
“All of you need to know about this eventuality, but no one else does,” Halan says, retaking lead. “I’m not saying that we won’t ever bring in others, or even make a public announcement. It’s just not in the plans right now. I want to see if the people in this room alone can come up with a viable solution before we start getting inundated with other opinions.”
“If I may make a suggestion on how to proceed?” Omega jumps in.
Halan merely nods.
“When I was working with Team Keshida, if they ran across a problem, they would separate from each other prior to any deep discussion. It was each of their responsibility to come up with ideas without being distracted by other ideas, kind of like what you’re saying with the public. It seemed to work well with them. I propose we adjourn immediately, so each of us can return to our lives for at least a week. Then, we come back together, and present our solutions.”
Halan thinks this over. “The ship is not going to explode in the next week, and if it does, nothing we decide here today will be able to stop it. I accept the proposal. Mrs. Ocean will provide you with the relevant data. If, during the week, you think you need more than what she provides, come to me, and I’ll see what I can do. Sound fair?”
They all seem to think it does.
“Thank you,” he ends. They all get up to leave. The Bridgers activate their teleporters, so no one sees where they go. Only Halan, Mercer, and Omega remain. “Thank you, Lieutenant,” Halan says. “I’ll be fine.” He knew Omega would want to speak with him privately. That was the point of the whole weeklong recess thing. Once Mercer leaves, he turns to the engineer. “What’s your plan?”
“I don’t have any specific ideas,” Omega explains. “I just want to do something I’ve been asking for for the last two years.”
“You’ve been asking for a lot for the last two years,” Halan volleys. “You’ll have to be more specific.”
“I think maybe someone’s already come up with a solution to this, and we just don’t know it.”
Halan shakes his head slightly, and tries to think. Then he realizes where Omega is going with this. “You mean Old Man.”
“We have no clue what’s in his lab. We don’t know what prototypes he’s made, what working machines he was using, what designs he’s drawn up. Frankly, it’s irresponsible to not look. Maybe there’s a timebomb in there that’s scheduled to go off in a week. Somebody should look, it doesn’t have to be me.”
“But you’re the most qualified, aren’t you?”
“Saxon was smarter than Veca ever will be. Yes, I’m the most qualified.”
Halan breathes deeply. “I supervise, and I’m putting cameras in your own lab. If I find out you’re trying to create something unauthorized that’s even so much as inspired by Old Man’s work, I’ll banish you to the Karen airlock, and I won’t even let you have a wristwatch. Those are my conditions.”
“I see no problem with that. I don’t want to engineer something if you haven’t asked me to.”
“Thanks. I’ll be reporting this arrangement in the transition file I give to the next captain.”
The two of them go down to Old Man’s old lab, which has been locked and off limits since he disappeared in 2272. It looks the same as it did before, which is good. He was always half-worried that Old Man was actually still around, and secretly hatching schemes down here.
Omega slowly scans the room. “This could be awhile.”
“If I need to leave to handle Captain’s duties, you’ll leave too. We’ll come back as often as it takes for you to get what you think you need.”
“I’ll start with the main computer.” He sits down, and gets to work.
Halan looks over his shoulder for a bit, just to make sure he isn’t trying to access the self-destruct sequence, or navigational controls. Then he starts to look around on his own. He doesn’t fiddle with any of the weird inventions lying around, but he does open cabinets and drawers. One drawer appears to be DNA locked, which means it’s the one he needs to get into.
“Oh, I, uhh...” Omega starts when he sees Halan trying to break in.
Halan rolls his eyes. “What?”
“I can...get into that...for you...probably.”
“How so?”
“I’m not just a clone. I can alter my DNA at will.”
“Why would Saxon build you to be able to do that?”
“Diversity. Each clone was assigned a different module in the Project Stargate ships. Once we were done with our shifts—as you would call them—we would be allowed to go off, and live wherever we wanted. In order to sort of make it less weird, Saxon gave us the ability to change our DNA, so it wasn’t like he was trying to take over the whole galaxy with his own copies. He didn’t want to be seen as some kind of conqueror. The only reason we were clones was because otherwise, over a million people would have to volunteer for the job.”
“So you can make yourself look like anyone?”
“Not superficially. I’ll still look like me, but I can change the blood in my finger long enough for the safe to register as belonging to Old Man.”
“Do it. But just this once.”
“You’ll have to give me six hours. That’s how fast my body can replace a sufficient number of neutrophils. It would take longer if we wanted it to be permanent.”
Six hours later, the DNA safe is open. Halan reaches in to find a stack of letters that were once held together by a now deteriorated rubber band. There are also a couple of ancient storage devices called flash drives, what appears to be a really old cell phone, and an envelope full of hard copy photographs. “What is this? Who is this kid? He’s in nearly every photo.”
“Hmm.” Omega takes one of the better photos, and sets it on the table so he can scan it into the computer. Once the image appears on the screen, Omega commands the computer to age the subject. “Just as I suspected. It’s Old Man. It’s...Young Man. What is his real name?”
“That name is in his official records. I never questioned whether he legally changed it at some point, or if his parents were just weird.”
“He’s from Earth. I recognize this place,” Omega says, picking up one of the other photos. “He’s at the Mauna Kea Observatories, which were decommissioned in the late 21st century.”
Halan shakes his head. “No, I spoke to the other older people here. I wasn’t probing, but they talked about knowing him from before we were rescued. They definitely saw him on Ansutah. He was there.”
“Well, he was also on Earth...about two hundred and fifty years ago, back when they were still using actual film cameras. These sure look like it’s where he grew up, and not just somewhere he visited as a time traveling universe-hopping kid.”
“Who was this guy?” Halan asks, mostly to himself.
Omega flips the photo over. “Elder Caverness, 2005.”

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