Saturday, September 11, 2021

Extremus: Year 9

The fire was not without its consequences, obviously. Omega was placed in MedHock for his actions while an investigation went underway. As for the raw materials, they were fine, albeit a bit melty. They were going to be moulded and adapted as needed anyway, so the Frontrunner project was able to continue, mostly unimpeded. A body was recovered from the shuttle that appeared in section four of the cargo bay. A simple DNA test showed that it was Elder Caverness, presumably having returned from wherever it was he went six years ago. There was no telling how much time had passed for him, or where he had been. And since he was dead, he couldn’t tell them what happened to Rita, or Airlock Karen. No other remains were found inside the shuttle.
Omega was not in some kind of catatonic state, but he remained completely silent for nearly a year. Halan came up with this idea to have the robot who delivered him food refuse to let go of it unless Omega verbally asked for it, but that didn’t work. Omega kept his mouth shut, and just began to starve. He was too traumatized by what he did. Today, they try a different approach. They need answers, and there may only be one person in the universe who can get it out of him. It’s probably going to traumatize him more, but it’s their last resort. A hologram of Old Man appears in Omega’s cell. It doesn’t say anything, and finally, Omega speaks. “You’re old again.”
“I am as I was when I died,” Hologram!Elder explains.
“You’re the one who killed him,” Omega contends. “Don’t act like it bothers you.”
“I did not kill myself,” Hologram!Elder argues. “You engaged the scorch protocol.”
“Because you told me to!”
“Why would I do that?”
Omega considered the possibilities. “I imagine you didn’t want any competition. You probably saw him as a threat to your survival. If the real Elder returned, what would he do to the uploaded consciousness he left behind?”
“Uploaded consciousness!” Halan shouts. He rounds the corner, and approaches the cell. “What is this about an uploaded consciousness?”
Omega literally slams his lips shut.
“No,” the Captain says, hovering his finger over his watch. “You keep talking, or I’m transporting you to the vacuum.”
“You would never,” Omega insists.
Halan sighs with relief. “Now we don’t have to find out. Explain. What uploaded consciousness are you talking about?”
Omega points to what he still doesn’t know to be a hologram. “I know you can’t see him, but Old Man is standing right there. He’s inside my head. He’s actually inside the computer system, but he appears to me, because I altered my DNA to match his. I was hoping he would go away when I changed my DNA back, but he’s returned anyway.”
“Computer, end program,” Halan orders, causing the hologram to flicker and disappear.
Omega regards the space he was once occupying in horror. “That wasn’t really him? It was just a simulation?”
“Correct,” Halan confirms. “I thought that you might choose to communicate with the person you killed. I had no idea that he was the one who convinced you to do it in the first place. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“He finally explained who he was at the launch,” Omega reveals. “I got caught up in his claims about something dangerous coming from the section four mission. I thought it was gonna be some kind of contagion from the planet the drone landed on. I thought I was saving us. Now I realize he just didn’t want the real version of him to come back to Extremus.”
“Why did you not recognize him immediately when the hallucinations first began?” Halan questions.
“He didn’t look like himself,” Omega clarifies. “I’m sure he did that for this very reason, so no one would be able to help me.”
Halan shakes his head as he’s processing this new information. “I wish you hadn’t changed your DNA back. There’s a genetic lock on that little ship. Only Old Man is able to access the logs. We need to figure out where he was, and how he got back.” He waves his watch in front of the cell lock. The gate slides open. “Now that I know the truth, I can help you.”
“I’m not forgiven,” Omega says, not in the form of a question. “I still killed someone, unusual circumstances notwithstanding.”
“As Captain, I have every right to pardon you. You were under the influence of a powerful external entity. We’ll get rid of him soon enough, but only after he explains himself further. Rewrite your DNA for us yet again, and let that be your first step on the road to redemption.”
“I don’t know if I can do that.” Omega curls up tighter on the bed, even as the door remains opened.
“In hock or not, you are still under my command, and that is an order.”
Omega lays down and rolls over to face the back wall. “I’ll need a few days to make the transition. I’m more comfortable here than I ever was in my original quarters.”
Over the course of the next three days, engineers attempt to look for this uploaded version of Elder in the system, but they come up with nothing. He’s probably keeping himself contained, rather than spreading his consciousness out. It’s harder to find the code when it can move around to avoid detection. He likely doesn’t have any intention of taking over the whole vessel, but if he ever tries, they will be ready for him. Now that Omega is sufficiently Old Man on a genetic level, Halan goes back down to MedHock to retrieve him. The door was left open, but still, Omega never left. He continues to do the right thing, and since he’s become aware of how susceptible he is to persuasion, he plans on being particularly leery of others.
Lead Engineer Veca Ocean is sitting in the shuttle in her hazmat suit. She’s not wearing protective headgear, or a respirator. It’s mostly just to keep her clothes clean of the soot and ash. The internal computer system appears to be fairly intact. It’s a sophisticated ship, meaning it took time and resources to complete. As Omega enters the hatchway, it begins to power up on its own, responding to his presence. “Welcome back, Dr. Caverness,” the AI says.
“On screen,” Omega orders. The main menu of the computer appears on the HUD. “Date of manufacturing.” September 9, 2273 appears on the screen. “Power specifications.” Antimatter drive for propulsion, fusion for internal systems, and temporal energy for temporal displacement. “What is your personal timeline?” The shuttle went from October 31, 2273 to March 18, 2272, and then it continued on in realtime from there.
“So he did go back in time,” Veca noted. “It was a year and a half before he built the shuttle, so he had to take it at least that far back to make it to the rendezvous point in enough time. He was probably flying just ahead of us this whole time, and we didn’t even know it.
“Why did he wait to show up now?” Halan asks. “He could have rendezvoused with us essentially instantaneously. Hell, he could have crossed his own timeline.”
“Computer, answer his question,” Omega commands.
Unknown,” it answers simply.
Veca takes it upon herself to look through the logs manually. Then she gets up and paces while she thinks it through. “So he lands on a planet. It’s either habitable, or he has some way of surviving using that bag he was carrying at the time. At some point, he builds a shuttle, probably using nanotech in his bag. He integrates it with a time machine so he can get back to Extremus, but he doesn’t do so for another five years. What was he doing all that time? He was the only one in here, so if the other two survived the initial transport, they didn’t come with him. What happened? Did he do something to them? Did they catch a cold and die?”
“Computer, answer her questions,” Omega repeats.
Unknown,” it repeats.
“Keep digging,” Halan orders. “I’m going to go monitor the final Frontrunner launch. We’re doing them with a lot less fanfare than the mining automators.”
“Thank you, sir,” Omega says genuinely.
He stops and looks at Omega, unsure whether he should try to give him some advice, or what. Instead, he nods professionally, and moves on.
Omega steps down from the shuttle, and watches the Captain leave, waiting to make sure he gets all the way out of earshot. Then he turns back around. “Is this vessel reparable?”
“You’ve spent time assessing the damage. Can you make it work again?”
“With Valencia’s help, probably, why?” Veca says.
“We may need it in the future.”
She squints her eyes, and looks at him with suspicion. “What do you have planned?”
“Nothing. Very much so nothing. Until I can be sure that this Old Man program is outta my head, I can’t be trusted with anything. I’m going back to my cell.”
“Not so fast,” Elder’s avatar says, appearing before him. “You have to stop the Frontrunner launch.”
Ansutah was first formed thousands of years before the humans living there managed to escape back to their home universe. In that time, a lot less had changed than people might expect. The human population began when a handful of them found themselves stranded. And it was those castaways that held the traditions of before together. They maintained written records of Earthan history, and passed down all the knowledge they kept with them to the later generations, eventually numbering in the billions. Some information was lost, yes, but most of it remained intact. It was important to them. It was important that they not forget where they came from, or what it took to get there. English never fell out of favor, and neither did American Sign Language. Unlike on Earth, it was a mandatory skill that every child studied, and this standard remained even after the great migration to Gatewood. Being a genius, Omega managed to learn it fairly quickly, even though he had no obligation to.
He signs behind his back as he speaks to the Elder program, hoping that Veca is watching from inside the shuttle. This is their chance to capture the program, isolate it from the rest of the system, and prevent it from causing Extremus problems. She must see his warnings, for she activates her emergency teleporter, and jumps to the bridge.
The Elder program chuckles. “I know what you just said to your little friend in there. Come on out, Veca. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
Confused, Omega looks back into the shuttle. No, she’s not there anymore. She left. “Can she hear you?”
“I can always make anyone hear me. Did you think you were special? No, I just chose you because your altered DNA gave you some permissions other people don’t have, and you were susceptible to my manipulation.”
“So what you’re saying is I am special.”
He smiles sarcastically. “Right. Seriously, Veca, everything will be all right.”
Now Omega is the one who chuckles. “Elder, there is no one in that shuttle.”
“I saw her go in there,” the program argues. “You and the Captain followed, and then the Captain came out, and then you came out. But she never did.”
“Can’t you tell that she’s not in there?” Omega questions, trying to understand.
The program doesn’t answer.
“You can’t,” he realizes. “It’s shielded. The real you shielded it from you.”
He’s getting angry. “I am the real me!”
Omega steps back onto the ramp, but sticks his head out. “Can you see me now? Do I just look like a floating head to you? I saw a meteorologist do this once with a green dress.”
The Elder program purses his lips, not wanting to confirm his limitations, but confirming them just the same. “Whatever. Minor blindspot. What are you gonna do, transfer ship controls to this little shuttle?” he asks with a yawn. Generally speaking, computer programs don’t need to yawn.
Omega steps back down the ramp. “No. I’m just the distraction.”
The program begins to nod off, not understanding what’s happening to him. “What did you do? I feel...trapped.”
“We’re not gonna kill you,” Omega promises. “You just can’t be allowed to go wherever you want anymore.”
“No.” He’s struggling to stay awake. “You can’t do this. I haven’t told you yet.”
“Told me what?”
The Elder program gets down on his hands and knees, but he’s only staving off the inevitable. “I figured out why my corporeal self tainted the recall device that was supposed to send you and Airlock Karen back to Gatewood.”
“You can tell us later,” Omega says. “As soon as we’re sure you won’t be able to access anything we don’t want you to.”
“You silly fool,” the Elder program accuses. “They’re not sedating me. They are killing me. I’m trying to hold on, but I’m losing control. It’s almost over.”
“I didn’t know,” Omega assures him. “I’m sorry.”
“I die...knowing that you will never know...who hired Old kill the Captain.” He falls to his virtual face, and disappears.

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