Saturday, October 2, 2021

Extremus: Year 12

The cat was out of the bag, but only a few people saw it. Word spread to the rest of the crew that someone was trying to kill the Captain, and that Mercer had taken his place in order to root out the culprits. Vesper was proof that this was a real threat, and this was the silver lining, for if that proof did not exist, Mercer would probably be in a lot of trouble. Halan himself would have completely understood, and devised the protocol for such an occasion. Others might not have been so kind. It would look like an ironic power grab.
The investigation continued, but quickly hit a dead end. They had more people working the problem, but doing so risked further exposure. So far, the passengers still don’t know that anything is amiss—Mercer’s impersonation was successful—but it’s probably only a matter of time. The good news out of this reality is that the people responsible for the assassination attempts probably already do know that the crew is investigating them. They would be pretty dumb not to, now that Halan has survived so much. The problem is now getting more information. Omega did the right thing by transporting their own suspect to the vacuum of space before he could activate his suicide bomb, but now they have no suspects, and the trail had no choice but to grow cold.
Captain Yenant has been trying to take his mind off the problem, and just focus on his responsibilities. Catching killers is not in the job description, and he has plenty of other things that he is expected to be worried about. It’s been eleven years since Extremus departed The Gatewood Collective, which means it’s time for new passenger leadership. They hold elections for the major offices every three years. Each position comes with a four-term limit. Satyria could have been replaced already, but she’s been a popular incumbent, so she’s been able to hold her seat the entire time. Everything good must come to an end, and she is no longer eligible for reëlection. It has so far been a surprisingly intense campaign season.
While this is the first time the Chair has been anyone’s seat to lose, it is generally accepted how important the ship’s captain’s opinion matters. Halan has yet to endorse a candidate, and his choice could prove to be the unofficial deciding factor. Current shift crew members can’t vote—though apprentices retain this right—but passengers still want to know what they think of the civilian government. Perhaps it’s even more important than voter opinion, since public endorsement is the only way their voices are heard in these matters. It is no shock that the captain’s voice carries the most weight of all. In the past, Halan was able to say little, and let voters interpret his carefully curated words however they wanted, whether that meant believing that he still backed incumbent Ebner, or he had changed his mind. The luxury of avoiding taking a clear side is over, and he’s been forced to spend the day speaking with each candidate, so they can plead their case to him.
Ovan Teleres is the last in a long line of hopefuls who have so far made Halan want to float himself from the Karen airlock. Still, “thank you for coming,” he says politely. He just has to get through this, and then he can ask his advisors which one he should choose to support. Because honestly, none of them seems to be better or worse than the rest. If they didn’t look like different people, he would swear the same individual just came into his office five times. They all pretty much said the same thing, and he has no reason to believe that Ovan won’t follow suit.
“No, sir, thank you for having me.”
“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?” Halan begins.
“Well, I was born on Gatewood Three. I studied Earthan anthropology, and historical extrasolar migrations, including the move from Durus to Ansutah, and the Dardieti timeline rescues. I graduated from college last year in the middle of my class, and I’m ready to serve my community in the best way possible.”
“You just graduated?” Halan echoes.
“I may be young, but that just means I won’t croak before the job’s done.  I assure you that my social skills are more than enough for me to understand the needs of the passengers on this ship, as well as how to fulfill those needs. I know that I can make this ship a better place. I wouldn’t have come this far, with the highest number of ballot access signatures, if I wasn’t good at convincing others that I can help them get what they want.”
Halan can’t help but laugh. “I don’t doubt your potential. This is just about getting to know you.”
Ovan nods.
Halan goes on, “so you studied migrations? I suppose joining the mission was the ultimate hands-on experience. I can’t imagine how excited you were when we first announced it.”
He takes a moment to respond. “Can I be frank with you, sir?”
“I wish you would.”
“I didn’t wanna come here, not at all. I wanted to live on a planet, and I do not take comfort in knowing that my children’s children’s children’s children’s children get to realize that dream, but that I will be long dead.”
“Why did you come? You mentioned Durus. Plans were being drawn up to migrate to our ancestral home.”
“I was seven years old, I didn’t have a choice.”
Halan balks at this. “There was no minimum age of consent for the mission. If a toddler could vocalize their refusal to come, their parents would not be allowed to force them.”
“That may have been the official stance, but not every family listened to their children. It was strongly suggested to me that I...keep my reservations to myself.”
“If you never wanted to come, why do you want to be Chair now?”
“I’m here now, so I can at least make this a great place to live.”
“There’s also no statute of limitations for breaking mission laws. I could arrest your parents for breach.”
Ovan shakes his head. “That was twelve years ago, I’m over it. I’m not gonna cause a scandal now, and it’s not gonna get me to Durus.”
“I must say, your honesty is refreshing.”
“Getting a lot of brown-nosing?” Ovan asks with a smirk.
“I cannot comment on my private interactions with other candidates.” He takes a beat. “I’ll only say that not everyone would be willing to admit they want this place to change.”
“Is that what I said?”
“I would not have come this far, having been selected as First Captain of Nine, without being able to see people for who they truly are, and not simply who they want me to see.”
“What does that mean?” Ovan questions. “Would you endorse someone like me, or not?”
“I’ll announce my final decision tomorrow, as I have been asked.”
“Can’t give me a hint?”
“I have not been revealing which way I’m leaning as it will unduly impact a fair conclusion, and could cause undue hostility after perceived premature victory.”
“What does that mean, literally?”
“Whatever I say, my words may be interpreted any way that suits a candidate’s own biases. They may believe that they have won because I complimented them on their shoes, or that I have written them off because I mentioned not liking the same foods as they. I urge you to take nothing I say as confirmation one way, or the other.”
“You have already made similar remarks to me.”
Halan leans forward. “Which is precisely why I did not want to have these conversations. I’m telling you this now so you’ll understand that I have not yet made a decision, and that your chances of winning have neither gone up, nor down. I have never placed much stock in polls and rumors. As far as I’m concerned, the six of you are presently in a seven-way tie.”
Ovan closes his eyes and nods respectfully.
“Thank you for coming in,” Halan says. “I have a lot to think about tonight.”
He replies with a quick, “sir,” and leaves the office. Most of the conversations ran longer than this, but Halan realized that he had to cut this one short. He already said too much. Ovan is the type of person who will take every syllable a person utters, and twist it to his advantage. He is a dangerous man, and the more he sat before him, the more uncomfortable Halan became about him. Yes, he speaks the truth, but that doesn't mean he's being honest. It's not bad that he didn't want to be here at first, or that he wants to change the government. It's that he loathes the crew. No, he hasn't said so, but Halan can see it in his eyes. If allowed, that man will destroy this vessel, and everyone on it. He cannot be allowed to sit in the chair.
Halan leaves his office to express his concerns to the rest of the executive crew, including Dr. Meziani. There are other members of the mental health team. She’s only supposed to be the grief counselor, but Halan has found himself not being able to trust anyone else with his secrets, so she agreed to do more sessions as a side hustle. She’s having the hardest time understanding Halan’s reasoning out of everyone.
“I am not confused,” Dr. Meziani contends. “I recognize where you’re coming from, and I appreciate your perspective. I’m just not sure I believe that your interaction is enough to prove one way or another what kind of leader Mr. Teleres would be.”
“You didn’t see him,” Halan says for the third time during this discussion.
“Yes,” she says, “his eyes. He was regarding you with contempt.”
“It was all he could do to prevent himself from crawling over the table and strangling me in my chair.”
She doesn’t let him say things that he can’t prove. “You don’t know that.”
He doesn’t respond to this, and everyone else manages to stay quiet.
Dr. Meziani clears her throat. “Leave us.”
Omega stands up from his chair, but then he sees that everyone was too scared to move in real time. They activated their emergency teleporters. “Okay,” he says awkwardly. “Uhhhhhhhh...bye.” He teleports away as well.
She continues, “I believe that your recent trauma has clouded your judgment, and caused you to see enemies where there are none.”
“Dr. Holmes figured out that the paranoia I was feeling was chemically induced, not psychological.”
“Psychological processes are chemical, and while Holmes cleared you for duty, that does not mean there could not be any residual effects of the poisoning.”
“My interpretation of Ovan’s intentions comes from my intellect, not from my feelings. I assure you that I know how to compartmentalize.”
“You don’t have to assure me. I’ve spoken to you enough times to know what you’re capable of. What I’m saying is that you have not spoken to him enough times to do the same.”
“I’m not going to talk to that man again. I have to do everything I can to keep him out of office.”
“Please, Doctor. Halan.”
“Halan,” she agrees. “I need to know what the word everything means to you.”
“I’m not going to kill him, if that’s where you’re going with this.”
She looks at him above imaginary glasses.
“I’m not going to have him killed either. That wasn’t a semantic trick. I have been asked to endorse a candidate, which I will. I have not been asked to censure any of them, but there is nothing in the bylaws that precludes me from doing so.”
“May I suggest that you not go down that road?”
“My worry is that it will only serve to hasten, or even precipitate this divide you think may exist between the passengers and crew.”
“I can’t let him be Chair, Itri. I wish you could have been in the room. He’s...”
“He’s a danger,” she says, trying to calm him down. “I understand. And I’m...willing to trust your judgment. But you have to promise me that you won’t do anything unethical, even if it’s not specifically prohibited in the bylaws. If you really want to, I will back your decision to both endorse a candidate, and disapprove of another. But you are not joining the campaign trail. You may mention your opinion precisely once on a public platform, make it clear that you will not elaborate on your reasons, and then you must agree to accept the results regardless.”
“Okay, I can do that.”
She isn’t done. “You must also accept the fact that people are going to continue to push the matter, and ask you for details. You cannot give in to those demands, even just to shut them up. If you’re willing to shoulder that burden, then fine, I won’t stop you. You still have plenty of time to change your mind. No one else knows what you’re planning to do, so you have to hold onto some kind of prideful commitment to this.”
“I shall consider it. I value your counsel.”
“Thank you.”
In the end, Halan decides against condemning a candidate, but three weeks later, he comes to regret that concession. His chosen candidate comes in second, which means he’ll be Second Chair, but it probably won’t matter. Ovan Teleres begins a path towards stripping away everything that makes Extremus the beautiful ship that it is, and covertly and subconsciously turning his people against the crew.

No comments :

Post a Comment