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Saturday, November 6, 2021

Extremus: Year 17

The ship has been running smoothly for the last two years, though they remain short one Omega, and one Valencia. One thing that Ovan never counted on was the fact that Halan would be onto his plans, and thwart him at every turn. What Ovan wants is to create a divide between the passengers and the crew, and not really because of any particular hatred he has for people who are in service of others, but because those are the two most obvious camps on the vessel. Had he grown up on Earth, he likely would have done the same thing between organic humans and mechs, and on Ansutah, he would have incited premature war against the Maramon. He wants to create a stir—but not chaos—inside of a complex dynamic that puts him at the center of everything. No matter what happens; no matter who wins this conflict, he’ll be recorded in the ship’s logs as the primary historical figure. He knows he won’t live long enough to reach the Extremus planet, but if students one day learn about him, it’ll be like he survived. That’s what he really wants out of life, to be remembered, and if Halan is going to come out on top, he has to find a way to make Ovan think he’s achieved that without actually giving anything up.
He’s back in Perran’s office. This is their pattern, apparently, where the Captain seeks guidance from the Admiral only every several years. In the meantime, he’s supposedly just been rotting down here. There’s no rule against him mingling with the rest of the crew, or the guests, but he rarely does. The now pretty old man is tapping on the rim of his glass. He doesn’t act like an alcoholic. He gives Halan the impression that he pours one glass in the morning, and sips on it throughout the entire day. “I do have an idea, but you’re not gonna like it.”
“I...would not expect to,” Halan replies.
“A long time ago, on Earth there was a politician. I don’t remember his name, I’m sure the history warped his story anyway. No one took books to Ansutah, so everything was word of mouth until our ancestors could write things down again. So forgive me if you’ve heard this one, and know more about it than I do. But here’s how it was told to me. There was a politician,” he repeats. “He didn’t care about other people. He helped pass laws that supported the rich people who gave money to his campaign.  He had a weirdly open philosophical stance. He, for whatever reason, hated people with disabilities. People in wheelchairs, seeing-eye dogs, and the like. He didn’t simply not worry about making sure they were okay. He actively worked against their best interests, always trying to take money from programs that would help them, and reallocating it to those rich friends. I don’t know how he kept getting elected since he was such a clearly repulsive person. I suppose it was all that money.
“Anyway, one day, this unnamed politician gets into a land vehicle accident. He’s paralyzed from the waist down; has to sit in a wheelchair. Oh, suddenly these public welfare programs don’t seem so ridiculous. He does a complete one-eighty, and starts trying to make his life easier by requiring ramps be installed at certain facilities, and demanding car companies do more research on accessible operating technologies. He didn’t become a saint overnight, mind you. His priorities changed, because his own circumstances changed. He remained the kind of politician whose only concern was himself. Still, even though the only reason he switched platforms was to help himself, the results were the same. Businesses had to install ramps to accommodate all of their customers, and hand-operated cars were better than they were before. Everyone benefited because this asshole became one of them. So, Captain, that’s what you’ll have to do if you want to stop Ovan Teleres from turning the passengers against you. To stop him from taking the ship from you, you have to give it to him.”
“I have to make him one of the crew?” Halan asks, knowing the answer.
“You don’t have to do anything, but his platform will disappear from under him if he becomes one of the people he hates so much. He can’t convince others to rise up if he too lives on the top of the hill.”
Halan sighs, and can’t believe he’s actually considering this. “A member of the passenger government can’t be part of the crew.”
“Bonus,” Thatch says. “He can’t campaign for a third shift.”
“What role would I give him?” Halan presses. “I can’t give him power, because he’ll still do bad things with it, but if I make him a janitor, then he won’t really feel like he’s won.”
“What are your Lieutenant’s responsibilities?”
“I’m not making him my Lieutenant, that would be absurd. Mercer has been great, and Ovan certainly doesn’t deserve that. I just said he can’t have power.”
“I never said you should give him Mercer’s job. What are his responsibilities?”
“Well, he’s first line of defense for me. He responds to conflicts, and brings me in when they can’t resolve themselves.”
“He has power, right?”
“Yes, he can put people on suspension, or even in hock. He can alter work schedules, change a passenger’s living conditions, and give orders, to a certain degree.”
Thatch nods, pretending that this is all news to him. “Sounds like a busy man.”
“It’s the hardest job on the ship. Mine is considered more difficult because of the pressure of being in charge, but as far as day-to-day work goes, he definitely has more to do.”
Thatch nods again. “You know that I was on the committee that formed the structure of the ship’s crew, right?”
“Obviously. That’s why they selected you for this job.”
“What you may not know is that the original plan was to give you two people; one on your right, one on your left. The idea was to have a coordinator who responded to issues without being able to do anything about them themselves. If necessary, they would run it up the chain, and let the real Lieutenant make decisions. You were never meant to even be this involved, but in the end, we decided that this was unnecessary. It made the captain’s seat far too cushy, and kind of pointless. Still, we didn’t just make the lieutenant the captain, and the second lieutenant the only lieutenant. All of the second lieutenant’s duties were absorbed into the one lieutenant position, and the captain became more accessible to the crew, which is what has made your job busier.”
“Okay...” Halan says. “So you’re suggesting we vote to make a new second lieutenant rank?”
Thatch smiles and shakes his head. “You don’t have to vote. The framework for the second lieutenant is written into the bylaws. You can institute it whenever you want, unilaterally. You can give Ovan that rank without asking anybody for permission, and that rank will look like power, but not actually come with any power. Mercer would still have to be called in if the situation demanded disciplinary action, or some other decision.”
“How long is the second lieutenant shift?”
Thatch leans back, and acknowledges a problem. “Well, see, that’s the thing. It’s a sixteen year stint, designed to promote a little bit of continuity when the captain and first lieutenant both retire at the same time. That’s in the bylaws too, and you would not be able to change it without a crew vote. I wouldn’t recommend doing that, though, because then Ovan would sniff out your deceptive plan.”
“I just don’t know if I can bring myself to force Ovan Teleres upon the next captain.”
“You would still be there, to help them, like I’m helping you right now.”
“Well, if Second of Nine comes to me with their problems as infrequently as I come to you, then that probably won’t be good enough.”
Thatch takes the first sip he’s had since Halan came in. “Believe me, I know it, brother. There is a possible way to social engineer that problem away too, but you’re not gonna like it any more than my last idea.”
Halan chuckles and shakes his head. “What would that be?”
“Bring me into the light.”
“What does that mean?”
“An admiral can’t do anything without the captain’s invitation. If you put me on the bridge, and give me a fake job, it will set a precedent. Second of Nine will be more likely to do the same for you. Maybe even more so, since you have actual experience with their job.”
“Is this what you’ve been vying for, a job?”
“Yes it’s all part of my evil plan to assume control of the lights. You know that’s there, right? There’s a person on the bridge whose entire job is to make sure the internal lighting system doesn’t waste energy. That could all be automated with simple infrared sensors, but we chose to use a human. And do you know why we did that?”
“No, Perran, why?”
“So that you could assign that role to the dumbest person on the crew, which gives you one opportunity per shift to avoid firing someone without giving them any chance to fuck up anything important.”
“So you wanna be the lights guy?”
“It’s not for me, it’s for you.”
“Sure, yeah, sure.”
“The second captain won’t make you the lights guy. They’ll give you something meaningful, which keeps you in their ear, which is what you’re looking for. I know you don’t need much help from me, but your successor will quite likely need help from you. Isn’t giving me the lights worth the confidence you’ll have that you did everything you could to make yourself a real admiral?”
“Just to recap, you want to be the Lighting Technician, and you want one of the greatest threats to the prosperity of this ship to be Second Lieutenant of the crew?”
“Well, when you say it in that voice, it makes me sound like an ass.”
“It’s not the voice.”
“Ha-ha.”
“I’m gonna talk to Mercer about this.”
“I would hope so.”
“I’ll also be consulting with the Consul to make sure everything is legal.”
“Seems reasonable.”
“If this is some trick...”
Thatch looks genuinely offended by the accusation. “One day, Captain.” He stands up, and downs the rest of his drink. “One day you’ll see that you can trust me. And that will be the day that I died.” He then walks out of the office, and into his cabin.
Halan isn’t going to do anything if his real lieutenant, Eckhart Mercer isn’t okay with it. Like he was saying, his is the hardest job, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like it, or doesn’t want to keep it the way it is. He won’t force anything upon him, but he will still try to convince him that this is the right call. They’ve been dealing with Ovan for the last five years, and haven’t come up with any better ideas in that time. He sits his best friend down, and lays out the plan.
Mercer widens his eyes, and breathes in deeply, but it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. “Oh my God, yes.”
“Yes?”
“Yes! Why didn’t we think of this before? He can’t turn people against us if he’s one of us, of course! Plus, it will give me more time to play Quantum Colony.”
“Is that a band, errr?”
“It’s a role-playing video game that’s based on the whole galaxy. You start out on Teagarden, where your avatar has been given access to a quantum terminal, which will allow you to cast your consciousness to any world that has a Project Stargate outpost on it already. At this point in history, that’s only thirty-six light years from Gatewood, but it’s always expanding. Everyone on the ship is playing it, you’ve never heard of it?”
“What do you do when you get to these planets?”
“You explore, and you build structures, and sometimes you even have a population to take care of. But that’s pretty rare, and players who find those worlds are pretty protective of them. It operates in realtime, so not much has happened yet, but you can communicate with other planets, and establish diplomatic relations. Theoretically, you could also start a war, but I’ve never heard of any interstellar wars.”
“Hm. I don’t think that’s my kind of thing.”
“Well, I’m obsessed with it. Don’t worry, it doesn’t eat into my responsibilities, but honestly, I could do with a little more downtime. I think the second lieutenant rank is a great idea, whether we give it to our enemy, or not.”
“If you’re cool, then I’m gonna talk to Legal.”
“Definitely. Do you want me to come with you?”
Halan squints at him with suspicion. “I feel like you really just want to play Quantum Colony instead?”
“Not gonna lie, Captain.”
“Very well. At ease.”
Now they have a goal, but they don’t have a real plan. In order to pull this off, they’re going to have to strategize. That will take time.

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