Saturday, September 18, 2021

Extremus: Year 10

When a Captain’s shift ends, that doesn’t mean that their responsibilities are over. It is a lifetime appointment, it’s just that their duties shift. When the 25th year of the journey begins, Halan will hand the reins over to someone else. This change in power is a complicated one, which involves a vote from the crew, a vote from the passengers, and Halan’s final say. Not everyone’s vote is equal, and the result can change even after an appointment has supposedly been made. There is a probationary period of one year, where the new captain must prove themselves capable of handling the job on a day-to-day basis. It is believed to be the best solution to the problem of there being no such thing as a captain’s apprentice, unlike other roles. Even then, Halan will not be finished. During that year, he will be known as the Admiral Pro Tem, and at the end of it, he’ll be automatically promoted to full admiralship. He will advise and guide the captain, and should he still be alive when the third captain is chosen, he will continue to serve the ship in this capacity. He’ll reserve the right to resume power if the circumstances deem it necessary. Multiple simultaneous admirals could mean multiple people fighting for this power, but the hope is that it will never come to that.
Halan will not be the first admiral that Extremus sees. There is already one in that position right now, who was sort of shoehorned in so that the First of Nine would have someone to consult in the way that he one day will himself. His influence over the crew is limited; more so than it will be for Halan in fifteen years. He’s not even allowed to interact with them very much, and his ability to assume power is far weaker than it will be for the same rank later. For this reason, Admiral Perran Thatch is rather bitter and grumpy about the whole situation. He wouldn’t have wanted to be captain himself—and was, in fact, unqualified, due to his age—but he expected a much higher sense of reverence from others than he’s been receiving. This is the first time Halan has stepped foot in his office since the day before launch ten years ago.
Alcohol isn’t very common anywhere in the stellar neighborhood. Earth never technically outlawed it, but it fell out of favor decades ago when healthier, and more sophisticated, ways of destressing became available, such as virtual relaxation therapy. The Asutahan humans developed no such luxuries, as they had to deliberately temper their technological advancement in order to avoid being detected by the white monsters. Still, relatively few people on this ship are old enough to have begun drinking by the time they were rescued, and returned to their home universe. Adhering to Gatewood’s dry policies was fairly easy for the majority of the population, and the practice has largely been eradicated here as well. Admiral Thatch is a major exception. He’s almost never seen without a drink in his hand.
He pours another glass, and tries to hand it to Halan. “Your father was a bootlegger.”
“He kept a bottle of bourbon under the counter for special guests. He didn’t drink himself, and neither did I.”
“Take it please.”
Halan reluctantly takes the glass, but just sets it down.
“If you’re here, it must be wildly important. Can’t hack it, can you? Micrometeoroids won’t stop knocking you down.”
Halan leans back in his chair to avoid showing the man any level of respect. He sighs, and waits to respond. “Was it you?”
“Was what me? The one who sent the meteoroids on a collision course? I dare say, I’m not that potent.” He smiled sinisterly.
“Were the one who tried to have me killed?” Halan clarifies.
Thatch is in the middle of attempting to take another sip, but it doesn’t reach his lips before he stops. “Who tried to kill you?”
Halan doesn’t want to answer, because he still doesn’t know the answer to his own question. This isn’t a formal interrogation, though, so he has to make it look like a moderately cordial conversation. “Old Man.”
“Old Man is gone,” Thatch states the obvious.
“I just found out that he may not have been working alone. Someone put him up to it. I don’t know what they offered him, because I don’t know who it was. Was. It. You?”
Thatch closes his eyes and scratches between his eyes too rigorously. “What would I have to gain by having you assassinated?”
“Perhaps you believe you could run this ship better than me?”
“My dear boy, you know the rules. Nothing would change about my job. I would just be reporting to someone else.”
“Maybe there’s someone else you would rather be reporting to.”
“I don’t much care for the announcer boy either.”
“Rita was my lieutenant when this happened.”
Thatch nods and watches his bookcase remain motionless. “Oh yes, I did like her quite a bit. She would have been a better choice for the seat all along, don’t you agree?”
Halan sits back up, and rests his elbows on the desk. “Maybe. We’ll never know, because she’s gone, and I’m still here, and I still don’t know who is out to get me.”
“You sound paranoid.” Thatch resumes his drinking.
“Paranoia is a delusion. I’m operating on facts. And the fact is that Old Man tried to hand me a tainted time traveling device, which would have banished me to who knows where. Now, we were not the best of friends. At the time, I considered it some kind of personal grudge. Today, the facts say otherwise. I have been quietly looking into the matter, speaking only to a few trusted individuals. I’m beginning to branch out to people I can’t you.”
Thatch isn’t perturbed by the old news that they do not like each other.
Halan goes on, “I am going to ask you again, and I want an actual answer; not a deflection.” He stands up and holds his fists against the desk, like he might try to push it through the floor. “Did you try to have me killed?”
Thatch sets his drink down, and stands to meet his accuser’s eyes. “”
Halan takes a moment to study Thach’s face for any signs of deception. He’s not a particularly adept poker player, but he wouldn’t have been assigned this job if he weren’t at least somewhat decent at reading people. He sighs and steps back. “I almost wish it was you.”
Thatch picks his drink back up, but doesn’t sit down. “Why is that?”
“Because I would be confident in the belief that the conspiracy would end with you, on account of the fact that you’re not super popular around here. Anyone else who’s behind it is not working alone. I will never be able to trust anyone again.”
Thatch switches his glass to his left hand, so he can extend the right. “You can trust me, sir.” He sounds rather genuine. “I may be a bastard, but I’m a loyal bastard.”
Halan waits for a moment before taking the hand, and shaking it. “ on the lookout for anything suspicious, or any whispers. I don’t need you going around asking questions. You’re about as subtle as a Maramon in the short grass.”
“Will do, boss.”
Halan leaves the room, only to experience the actually paranoid, possibly misguided, belief that Thatch immediately took out a communicator, reached out to his co-conspirator, and started discussing how they were going to handle this new complication. He keeps walking down the corridor, doing his best to convince himself that none of this is true, that Thatch was being sincere when he said he was on his side. Suddenly, a passenger appears from around the corner, freaking Halan out, and forcing an embarrassing sound to come out of his mouth.
“Terribly sorry, sir,” the passenger says. It’s Riltren Takeda. Halan doesn’t know that much about him, but he remembers how nice he was to Airlock Karen. He never could tell whether Rilten agreed with her anger about the mixup, or if he was just really good at pretending. He seems to be being nice right now, but is that an act. Is he just being polite so Halan doesn’t figure out his true intentions? What is he doing up here?
“What are you doing up here?”
“I was just on a walk,” Riltren answers.
“The track isn’t good enough for you?”
Riltren looks at his watch. “It’s pretty crowded this time of day, and I like to be alone. If I just wanted the exercise, I would probably use a stationary machine.”
Nah, he’s up to something. Nobody should be in this section of the ship unless they need to talk to Thatch, and no one needs to talk to Thatch unless they’re hatching a scheme together. Thatching a scheme. This is all very sus. Halan can’t trust anyone.
“Are you okay, Captain?” Riltren asks.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Halan shoots back at him.
“Forgive me for saying this, sir, but you don’t look so great. Why don’t you let me take you to the infirmary?”
“I’m not going anywhere with you!” Everything went black.

Lieutenant Eckhart Mercer is standing over his superior officer, watching him sleep. He actually looks rather comfortable, despite what must be a busy and tormenting nightmare. According to his neural readings, his brain is extremely active at the moment, but he is showing no such signs on the outside. “What the hell is wrong with him?”
“Frankly, we don’t know yet.” Dr. Ima Holmes is the Chief Medical Officer of the Extremus. Her duties are primarily administrative, despite what science fiction would have you believe. She’s only chosen to return to practice right now because it’s the Captain. “What unusual signs was he exhibiting before he collapsed?”
“I don’t know,” Mercer replies. “I wasn’t there, but a Riltren Takeda was the one who brought him in.”
“I’ve spoken with him. He believes the Captain was acting irrational and paranoid, but admits that he does not know the man personally, and can’t speak to the difference between usual and unusual behavior.”
“Why is the sedative not working? It should be calming his mind, as well as his body.”
“It should, yes. If this were purely psychological, that wouldn’t be possible, which is why I’m running a tox screen right now. The truth is that he’s out cold primarily due to whatever is causing this.”
“How long will this take?” he asks.
“Impossible to tell as of now. It could be permanent.”
Mercer breathes deeply, and continues to watch his boss not move a muscle. There’s nothing he can do about it. “I have Takeda locked in an interview room.”
“Okay...” Dr. Holmes begins, not sure what he means by that.
“If you could erase his memories, that would be great. I can work around it, but it would certainly make it easier.”
“Make what easier?” Now Dr. Holmes is worried.
“Did the Captain ever talk to you about something called The Façade Contingency?”
Dr. Holmes contorts her own face. “He had me look into the technology a few months before launch, which I complied with, but I took it as a joke. You’re not seriously suggesting...”
Mercer shakes his head. “The crew needs a captain. Whether they would believe it or not, so too do the passengers. If only his body were damaged, we could surrogate his mind into an android substrate, but since it’s his mind that’s the problem, someone is going to have to go out there and lead this mission...until you can bring him back to us.”
“Are you trying to seize power?” Dr. Holmes questions, this close to calling in a security team.
“Lieutenants are not the next in line for the job. The position was designed as temporary backfill.”
“Exactly,” she agrees. “Which is why this is highly irregular.”
“If Second of Nine were lying there in that bed, Halan himself would be able to step in and take his place, but we cannot trust the current Admiral to do the right thing. Someone has to take the Captain’s chair, and unless you can tell me he’ll be up and about by tomorrow morning, it has to be me, and it has to be right now.”
“Why can’t we tell people the truth?” It sure sounds like a reasonable suggestion.
“Because someone is trying to kill him, and until we figure out who, we need the guilty parties to expose themselves by trying again. I am a great decoy, because I already know what’s going on, and honestly, I’m more expendable than you might think. So strap me into whichever one of these machines is pertinent right now, and make me look like Captain Halan Yenant.”

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