Saturday, October 9, 2021

Extremus: Year 13

The election is over, and there is no going back now. Ovan is going to be smart about his takeover of the ship. He isn’t going to suddenly start trying to order the security team around. He drops a few hints here, makes a quippy remark there. Everything he says out loud says fine when you first hear it, but if you think about it too hard, you realize how some people could interpret it to mean that the passengers should become hostile towards the crew, probably without even realizing it. He’ll grow bolder as his plans begin to bear fruit, but right now, Halan has other things to worry about.
“How do we know he’s not one of them? He and Vesper could have been working together,” Omega suggests.
“We don’t, but I’m not getting the sense of that,” Halan says. “I feel like Ovan, and his drive to take over the ship, is completely separate from the people trying to kill me. Getting rid of one Captain is not going to do the passengers any good if they have a problem with the entire crew. I’ll just be backfilled by the Admiral, or maybe even the Bridgers. No, Ovan wants this to become a fully civilian operation. More to the point, he wants to be in charge.”
“Why didn’t he just get on the Captain’s track?” Omega questions.
“He’s not the right age. It’s a timing issue, you see. It’s the reason why the crew shifts in and out at different times. My shift lasts for 24 years, but if everyone was like that, everything would have to change hands all at once. That’s a logistical nightmare. By staggering them, we allow for people to apply for positions even when they come of age in the middle of a cycle. Still, on the individual level, this can potentially exclude a lot of people. There is no law that says a 32-year-old can’t become Captain, but it’s unlikely he would ever get the job, since he’ll be in his fifties by the time he’s done.
“That’s not that old,” Omega argues. “I’m 64 if you count my rapid aging as part of my lifespan, rather than just subtracting this year from the year I was manufactured.”
“True, it’s not,” Halan agrees, “but if there is a single worst character flaw that Ansutahan humans have, it’s probably ageism. Life expectancy used to be a lot lower for us, since medical science was stunted by a number of factors, all stemming from the fact that we were constrained to one continent. Younger people have always been better at securing leadership positions, and then they are strongly urged to step down when they get too old.”
“Why does that same unwritten rule not apply to Ovan’s position as Passenger Chair?” Omega asks.
“It’s a shorter term. Even the term limit is shorter than a captain’s shift. Anyway, he might not have known what he wanted until it was too late. Captain’s track starts in the single digits. There’s a decent chance that my successor was born here. Now let’s get back to Vesper’s co-conspirators.”
Omega nods, but still isn’t convinced that they should be focusing on this. Yes, the extremist group hiding in their midst is a greater threat, but they don’t know where to begin. At least the anti-crew movement has a face. And a punchable one, at that. Even so, he keeps his mouth shut, and concedes to the Captain’s decision. Most problems need to be solved either way. “Indeed,” he says simply.
“So,” Mercer begins after having been silent most of the time. “Omega’s right about one thing.”
Halan gets it. “We still don’t know how to find these true Extremusians.”
“First order of business, I believe, is we should try to come up with a new name,” Mercer decides.
“Agreed,” Halan replies. “We are true Extremusians. If anyone on this ship is under the impression that they are somehow special, and different from the lot of us, then this misunderstanding must be rectified. Henceforth, in all reports, they will be known as...” He trails off, not knowing what would be a better word to use.
It is then that Omega realizes that he already came up with a name for them in his own headcanon. “True Extremists,” he offers.
“Hm.” Halan considers this. “I imagine that could be quite insulting to them. It is close enough to what they apparently call themselves for us to pretend our words are an accident, but different enough for them to know in their hearts that we do not respect them.”
“Perfect,” Mercer says. “To begin again, how do we root out these True Extremists? We must get them to reveal themselves without realizing they’re doing it, and without alarming the rest of the ship.”
“Right,” Omega says. “And why exactly can’t we tell the ship that they’re out there?”
“For the moment,” Halan explains, “they appear to be rather contained. I do not think there are very many of them, and I do not think they are recruiting. Vesper strongly suggested he was from a planet that they consider to be Extremus. I don’t know exactly how they arrived there, but they take a strong disliking to everyone else. Still, we don’t need to turn anyone to their side, and the only way to do that is to prevent any would-be sympathizers from finding out they even exist.”
“Well, it’s not the only way, sir,” Mercer clarifies for him. “It may be the best, but honesty is always an option.”
“I am aware of that, Lieutenant, thank you.”
Mercer knows he’s being sarcastic, and to combat that, he closes his eyes and nods respectfully so as to make it look like he’s taking the response sincerely.
Halan moves on, “any ideas?”
“The Elder Shuttle,” Omega says cryptically.
“What about it?”
“Advanced, powerful, compact. Time travel-capable, self-sustaining...and coded to my DNA.”
“Where would you take it?” Halan questions.
“May 29, 2272,” Omega answers.
“We are nearly 7,000 light years from their position,” Halan argues, “and we still don’t know where they were teleported to. You would have to hunt for them, and who knows how long that could take?”
“That’s the self-sustaining part. It was engineered with something that I haven’t mentioned yet, because it’s dangerous technology, and Veca and I agreed it would be best if no one else knew. But I suppose now is the right time.”
“What?” Halan prompts. “Some kind of highly destructive weapons system that would be capable of taking out our ship?”
“Nothing like that,” Omega assures him. “It has no weapons at all. It does, however, have—”
“A quantum replicator!” Valencia has since retired from her position as the temporal engineer. Unlike other jobs, however, it’s important that she remain available in case they need her for an emergency. Just about anyone can learn engineering, but people like her are rare, so while August Voll has taken over as head of the department, Valencia still helps out. She’s more like a consultant now.”
“How did you know?” Omega asks.
“How did you get in this room?” Mercer asks.
Valencia is the one who designed the teleportation systems on this ship, and all the ways they can control who has access to what sections, and when. If she wants to bypass a restriction, she will, and she’ll do it with her eyes closed while she’s composing a new sonata. Knowing this about her, Omega rolls his eyes, and emphasizes his own question. “Did Veca tell you?”
She smiles, and removes something from her ear to present them with it. “It’s a sangsterbud.”
“What the hell is that?” Halan doesn’t like people inventing things without him knowing about it.
“Simple tech,” she says. “All it does is transduce future soundwaves—in this case, from about five seconds—and plays them for me to hear.”
“Why are you wearing it?” Halan presses. “Knowing what people are going to say just before they say it isn’t that helpful unless you want to prevent them from saying it, or in this case, show off what you can do.”
“I’m just tryna figure out who I am now that I’m no longer Head Temporal Engineer,” Valencia says.
“I offered to extend your shift,” Halan reminds her. “Now that Vesper turned out to be a mole, we’re down one member of the already small team anyway.”
Valencia shakes her head. “August needed the job. She deserved it. I just underestimated how bored I would be. Now I see there’s more for me to do. I can go on this mission with Omega. Together, we can find out what happened to Rita, and those other three people who we don’t really care about personally.”
Omega shakes his head too. “No, the mission could take years. I can go, because I’m immortal. You don’t wanna die out there, in that tiny little ship, with dumb ol’ me.”
“I’m immortal too,” Valencia reveals.
“You are?” Halan asks. “Extremus is generational. We all agreed...”
“Yeah, I broke the rules,” Valencia confirms. “I guess you better kick me out, and force me on the Elder Shuttle.”
“Can we come up with a better name for that too?” Mercer poses.
“What kind of upgrades do you have?” Omega is pleased to finally be around someone else like him again. No one else on this ship understands him, and they never will.
“Cellular countersenescent.”
“How do you accomplish this?” Omega is even more interested now.
“Antintropic technology that I invented myself. I got the idea from my refrigerator.”
“Holy shit. Is it a constant process?”
“As we speak.”
“Holy shit,” he repeats.
“Could you dumb it down for the rest of us?” Halan requests.
Omega opens his mouth to explain, but realizes that Valencia should do it. He gives her the floor.
She begins. “When your cells lose the ability to replicate themselves, they become senescent. They are essentially dead, but they’re a problem, because they sort of just sit there in your body. On the whole, this is what causes you to degrade and age. It’s obviously a complex process, but the most important aspect of longevity treatments is our ability to reprogram the body, and command it to undergo a process called transdifferentiation, which basically means the organism reverts to a less mature state. That’s what allows the vonearthans to live incredibly long lifespans.”
“So that’s what you did to yourself,” Mercer figures.
“No. I’m not allowed to do that. I’m not even allowed to access the research that allows the vonearthans to do that. But I did do something similar. I’m a temporal engineer, so what I do is command my cells to become young again, but by essentially reversing the flow of time for them. This creates issues for the natural laws of entropy, but it’s fine on smaller scales, like my tiny little body. It wouldn’t be okay to do that to the whole universe. Anyway, when a cell of mine begins to deteriorate, it releases a chemical, which triggers something I’ve deemed a tempomere to activate the countersenescence. So you see, I’m perfect for this mission. I don’t belong here anymore, and I won’t age out there.”
“What does any of this have to do with that quantum regulator?” Mercer questions.
Replicator,” Omega and Valencia correct in unison. She continues alone, “it’s exactly what it sounds like. Place one grape in there, push the button, and you’ll have two grapes. It’s technically the same grape, but one of them was stolen from an alternate reality. Now put those two back in the replicator, push the button, and you have four. Rinse, repeat, and eat as many grapes as you’d like. As long as you got power, and at least one copy of something that you need, you got as many of that thing for replacements.”
“This one has a fairly extensive database,” Omega adds. “We can spontaneously generate an object without ever actually bringing it on board. Evidently, Old Man spent a lot of time encoding everything he could get his hands on.”
“Great,” Valencia says. “Even better. Does it have ice cream?”
“Hold on, I haven’t agreed to anything,” Halan warns the both of them. “If we’re doing this, we have to be careful. We can’t let anyone else know about it, not even Old Man. If you show up in the past to meet him before he has a chance to invent the damn thing in the first place, it could cause a paradox. It could cause one even if he has already invented it.”
“So we’ll modify it,” Valencia promises. “It shouldn’t be too hard to make it look like something completely different, and alter its specifications. I already have some ideas on how I can improve power efficiency, and safety protocols. Old Man obviously didn’t give that sort of thing much thought. It’s a time machine, so it doesn’t matter how long it takes us.”
“I will...remember that when I’m making my decision. For now, we should all return to our duties. Now that you’re in the braintrust, Miss Raddle, I trust you understand not to tell anyone about any of this?”
Valencia zips her mouth shut, locks it up, and throws away the key. Then she leaves with Omega to begin making the modifications. But first, they have to find a way to get the thing out of the cargo bay, and into a secure area.

No comments :

Post a Comment