Saturday, November 13, 2021

Extremus: Year 18

It’s getting to be that time when the civilian government is preparing to elect the next administration of their civil servants. If tradition holds, Ovan Teleres will announce his intentions to run a third time for Passenger First Chair in about a week. Halan and Mercer decided to blitz him during this period, to give him enough time to not make such an announcement, but not so much time that others can talk him back into running. Here’s the deal. If Ovan joins the crew of the Extremus, he won’t be able to run for reëlection, because it would be a conflict of interest. He’ll technically be free to run for a civilian position after his shift ends, but only after a waiting period of five years, and by then, the electorate will have moved on. Now, Halan can’t guarantee that the following administrative changes will be any better than they are now, but his mother always told him, fight the monsters you can see before worrying about the ones you can’t.
The strategy for making this happen is simple, but it’s going to take both Halan and Mercer, and they’re going to have to be the best actors this ship has ever seen. They actually reached out to the Theatre Department Director for help. Yes, Extremus has a theatre department, so people have a little bit of entertainment while they’re waiting to die in a tin can in the middle of interstellar space. He was quite helpful, and while he doesn’t know everything about what’s going on, he’s politically unaligned with Ovan and his cronies, so he agreed to keep it hush-hush.
Right now, the two of them are waiting in Ovan’s antechamber. His assistant is on her computer, acting like she’s working on something important. In all probability, Halan is willing to bet she’s just playing Quantum Colony. The whole population is addicted. He’s considering starting a support group for the few who don’t play, but have to overhear the conversations about it all the fuckin’ time. They booked this meeting a month ago without telling Ovan completely what it’s about. All he knows is that they want to discuss crew-passenger relations, and based on the way they framed it, he’s probably expecting them to walk in there with hats in hands. Thinking he has the home team advantage, and the higher ground, he’s chosen to make them wait for it. That’s fine, there isn’t anything else to do today. Each of them gets time off from their responsibilities, and their vacation days don’t usually coincide, but it’s allowed to happen once per year in case the captain and lieutenant want to do something together. This bylaw wasn’t written thinking that anyone would use it for subterfuge, but it didn’t exclude it either.
Finally, he opens his door electronically, and the assistant knows to wave them on in. “Captain, Lieutenant! What can I do for you on this, the day of my daughter’s wedding?”
“Pardon me?” Halan questions.
“It’s a reference, sir,” Mercer explains. He’s playing his part well already, ashamed of needing to ask for help, and scared that his superior officer will forever look down on him for it.
“I see.”
“Please, have a seat,” Ovan says. There’s a difference between politeness and niceness, and they’re both wildly different from kindness. He’s very good at the first one, but he has no ability to conceptualize the last one. The second one is reserved for his so-called friends, unless they’re very good friends, in which case he’s meaner to them than anybody, because he believes their behavior reflects on him too much to let them be themselves. “Seriously, how can I help you?”
Halan hopes he can act as well as Mercer, but the theatre department director didn’t give him as much praise. He nods, and directs his attention to Mercer. “This is your show.”
Mercer looks back with puppy dog eyes, then clears his throat. “I need help.”
“With what?” Ovan asks.
“My job.”
“Just, in general, your whole job?”
“It’s too hard for ya?”
Ovan nods, desperately trying to hide his great pleasure at hearing this. “I’m sorry to hear that, but as you know, I’m obligated to the passengers. If you’re asking me to take on some of your duties, I’m afraid I can’t.”
Now Halan needs to take over. “Look, everyone knows you’ve been doing a great job here. Not to speak ill of the retired, but I would say you’re at least twice the Chair Satyria was.”
He can’t hide his glee this time. “I’m happy to hear you say that. I’ve never thought of you as...a fan.”
“It’s not something that has been easy for me to admit. I must..confess that, while I don’t hate the civilians, I certainly have always considered you...other. We’re not better than you, but I’ve probably run this ship with a little more...divide than there should be.” Using slightly improper grammar, and stammering, indicates that you’re not confident in your own words. You believe them, they’re true, but you don’t feel comfortable expressing them, and you’re worried about how you’ll be received, and perceived. Ovan has to feel the power here, so Halan has to fake submission.
“That’s very big of you to say. I’m sad to tell you that I agree. We are far more separate than is healthy, or prosperous.” He’s lying. He loves it.
Halan looks down towards the desk, and compresses the air above it with his hands, pretending to be searching for the words he practiced well, and has perfectly memorized. “My Lieutenant needs help. The crew needs a firm hand, besides myself. The civilians need a leader who understands both them, and that crew. I can’t make you my new lieutenant—I can’t decommission him—that would look awful. Fortunately, there’s a loophole. The bylaws included a special rank known as Second Lieutenant.” Special rank, that was Mercer’s idea. “If we institute it, it will greatly unburden Eckhart’s shoulders, and help us better communicate with the passengers. We already know you can do that. You’ve been proving it for the last six years. If you agree to this, the ship will run even smoother than it was before now, because you still hold power over those passengers, but you also have rank within the crew.” Within the crew, not over the crew.
He seems open to this idea, and his body language suggests that he wants to hear more.
Halan goes on, “you see, I’ve always wanted to command both.” This implies—but doesn’t verify—his own narcissism, which doesn’t exist, but Ovan thinks it does. “I’ve not been able to, because that’s not how we’re structured. It’s obviously a way to protect us from falling under a single authority, which could be quite dangerous with the wrong leadership. Like I said, you’re the loophole, because as a member of the crew, you don’t technically have control over what the passengers do, but as former Chair, people can’t help but listen to you.” He’s deliberately using the present tense in order to subliminally make Ovan feel like he has already accepted the position, and that the choice only exists in the future as a formality. This should still help things, even if he ends up not taking the job, because he’s just been told that he doesn’t have control, but it was framed in a nice, noncombative way, so Ovan isn’t compelled to argue, allowing this idea to germinate in his mind regardless.
Here’s the moment. Ovan’s first reaction can make or break this plan. If he so much as suspects that this is all just a way to get him out of power, it’s over. At that point, he could take the job, or leave it, but the ship would still end up pear-shaped. If he ever realizes what they’re doing, they’ll fail. He has to go on thinking that he’s won. They especially have to make it past the one-year mark, because if not, the government he leaves behind would likely allow him to forgo the five-year waiting period, and return to civil service. The bylaws are sketchy when it comes to who counts as a crewmember, and what happens if they quit before too long. He’s making them wait again.
Halan reaches down to the side of his knee on the sly, and gives Mercer a predetermined signal with his fingers, like a catcher at a baseball game.
Mercer knows what it means, and he begins to recite the contingent speech, “I can’t do this on my own anymore, and I don’t trust anybody else. I won’t lie to you, it’s a tough job, but you’re so much better with them. I thought I could learn, because I don’t have the natural talent. I can survive if you don’t want to do this, but...I would rather not.” This applauds Ovan for his skill as a leader without being obvious and brown-nosey. If it works, it will allow him to interpret Mercer’s perception of him just enough to push him off that fence.
Ovan sighs. “I won’t lie either, I’m leaning towards not doing this. I love my job, and I’m doing great things here.” What a douchebag. “I have seven more years in me no matter what. I imagine my shift would end when yours does.”
“That’s the thing,” Halan says, happy to have reached this part of the conversation. It’s a good sign. “It’s a standard 24-year shift, but it’s not attached to my rank, like his is. We didn’t start together, because Rita was with me first, but he’ll still have to retire when I do. You can just keep going under the new captain. To me, that’s even better than only having two more terms left.” This is actually the worst part about the whole thing, but if it doesn’t convince him to accept, probably nothing will.
“Wow, that’s pretty enticing; the chance to serve this ship longer than I ever thought possible.” That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s also sickening.
“This is good for everyone.” There’s that present tense again.
“Yes, Ovan agrees. He stares down into space, surely imagining what he’ll do with all his imaginary new power. “Okay,” he decides. Okay, what? “Okay,” he says louder.
“Okay, I’ll do it.” Holy shit, it worked.
“Thank you,” Halan says. “Lieutenant?”
“Thank you,” Mercer echoes.
“Thank you, what?” Halan urges.
He smiles with feigned admiration. “Thank you...Second Lieutenant Teleres.”
This is the most excited Ovan has ever been in his life. “So, that’s it?” he asks. “No ceremony?”
“Oh, there’s a ceremony,” Halan says. There’s not supposed to be, but there can be. Hopefully it doesn’t set a precedent. Holding a celebration for every commission or promotion would become tedious.
“I would say more like a parade,” Mercer half jokes, half wants to blow his own brains out.
Ovan nods and grins, showing only the top row of his teeth. “Cool.”
“We don’t need to wait for the ceremony, though,” Halan promises. “You’re already Second Lieutenant, and can already start working. Your Second Chair takes over for you immediately. This gives us time to plan something special.” Gross.
“Cool,” he repeats.

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