Saturday, December 4, 2021

Extremus: Year 21

Three people are in the room with Halan. One is the ship’s primary counselor, the other is the Consul, and the third is Dr. Holmes. The Consul, who is generally responsible for maintaining the wall that separates right from wrong, is leading this phase of the review. He sets the video sphere on the table between them, and begins. “This is the one-year post-upload certification interview with Probationary Captain Halan Yenant. I am Dvronen Vatal. To my left is current ship counselor, Madam Thora Adebayo, and to my right is Medical Administrator, Dr. Holmes. This is the fourth of nine planned periodical check-ins, which are being used to assess the subject’s ongoing fitness for his responsibilities to the pangalactic generation ship known as The Extremus. They will continue for the next five years, or until such time that the subject is declared undoubtedly competent to continue his role on the ship, whether that be as Captain, as Admiral, or in any other capacity. Dr. Ima Holmes has already performed the most recent medical evaluation in private. Madam Adebayo will be handling the psychological phase immediately following the conclusion of this session, also in private. First of all, Probationary Captain, how are you feeling?”
“I thought you were going to stop calling me that.”
“You’ll assume your full rank after today, assuming this goes smoothly.”
“When does it ever not?”
“I’m just trying to do my job, sir,” Dvronen contends. “No one here has any personal bias against you.”
“Or for you,” Thora adds. She practices a thing called radical honesty, having decided during her studies that anything short of full transparency is conflict waiting to happen. She believes that the only reason anyone ever gets hurt is either because they were hiding something, or someone was hiding something from them. Halan is sure it’s more nuanced than that, but he doesn’t argue with her. It’s part of the reason he prefers to seek guidance from Grief Counselor Meziani, but Madam Adebayo doesn’t know that, because he’s not radically honest. As far as he can tell, this lie is not causing her harm.
Dvronen decides to go on, “I was informed that both you and Probationary Lieutenant Eckhart Mercer ceased your physical therapy shortly after your six-month certification.”
“We don’t need it,” Halan explains. “Physically, we’re fine.”
“But not psychologically?”
“Is anyone ever perfectly emotionally healthy? I was allowed therapy before my death.”
“I’m not judging,” Dvronen assures him. “I obviously cannot access your therapy records, so I’m asking you to provide as much information about that as you feel comfortable with. If that means nothing, then I can accept that. It might be easier to certify you for the next year, though. That will be the longest period of time without one of these interviews you’ve had since the incident. I need to make sure you’re ready.”
“I’m confident that I will be fine,” Halan says. “I’ve been doing the job, and no one has reported any incidents to you, have they?”
Dvronen looks just a tad bit uncomfortable, like he’s not sure he’s going to bring up whatever happened that has him so worried about Halan’s fitness as the Captain.
“Spit it out, Consul,” Halan urges.
“Tell me about December 4, 2289,” Dvronen prompts, still uncomfortable.
Halan has always had a very good memory, but he’s traditionally used it to recall people, rather than events in the past. If you know everything that any given individual has been through, you probably have a pretty good idea of who they are. Once there, you can start to understand them. You won’t ever reach a hundred percent understanding, but it should be enough to see their worldview, and appreciate their flaws. Halan can’t do all that, though. It would be an invasion of privacy, and impossible to try for everyone on the ship. Short of this full understanding, being able to remember too much of that past can actually be a hindrance. Yes, yes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, but it can also make it more difficult to move on. Halan hates to hold grudges, so when people around him screw up, it’s better for everyone if he distributes consequences immediately, but then forget about it, and not hold it against them later. Ovan was a huge exception. December 4, 2289. That was just over a month ago, and while that doesn’t sound like very long, the date doesn’t live in the front of his mind.
“Are you having memory problems?” Dvronen asks after it takes Halan too long to respond. He has his pen ready to take note of this in Halan’s personnel file, and his whole tone has changed for the worse.
“Just give me a second.” Yeah he remembers that date. It’s nothing. “It was nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“According to eyewitness accounts, a child asked you to marry her.”
“I’m the Captain, such sentiments are not uncommon. Children look to me as an authority figure, and they mistake respect for love.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Dvronen promises. “I’m questioning your response to her.”
“Well, she caught me off guard. We were in a room full of people, what did you expect me to say?”
“I don’t know,” Dvronen replies. He zooms in on his tablet. “But maybe not—and I quote—‘perhaps one day, when you’re older, and I haven’t aged.’ Do you still feel as if that was an appropriate response?”
“It was a joke, because I’m a clone now, and many people believe that I don’t age, when actually I still do. I’ll die at around the same time as I would have if I hadn’t been murdered.”
“Do you think the child understood such nuance?” Dvronen pressed.
Halan rolls his eyes. “Probably not, but when she does grow up, she will.”
“I’m not convinced that’s the case. This interaction concerns me.”
He rolls his eyes again. “Have you ever heard of Santa Claus?”
“Ancient Earthan superstitious figure. He gave people cookies, or something.”
“He gave presents, to children, who often gave him cookies.”
“Whatever. Where is this going?”
“Well, he was a lie, just like the Easter Bunny, and Jesus Christ’s ghost, and an honest lawyer.”
“Oh, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”
“My point is that that little girl might right now be dreaming of marrying the captain of the ship, partially because of what I told her, but then she’ll get older, and realize I wasn’t being at all serious. And she’s not going to hold it against me later, because she’ll be an adult.”
“Maybe not, but in the meantime, she’ll have trouble forming romantic relationships with others, because her heart will be with you until such time that she grows up,” Dvronen reasons. His tone grows graver still.
“You don’t know that,” Halan argues.
“Well, if you—”
Halan interrupts him, “You’re here to make sure that the transference of my consciousness to this new substrate has not negatively impacted my job here. It is not your responsibility to criticize my leadership style in general. I was selected as captain over two decades ago, so I must have done something right to prove to the council that I was the best choice. I feel like myself. I am myself. And I would have responded to the girl’s proposal the same way as I would if Ovan had never shot me. Well, I mean, it would have been a different response, because I wouldn’t be in a clone body, but it still wouldn’t necessarily have been something you would approve of. But I did not require your approval before, and I shouldn’t require it now. That is well beyond your scope.”
Dvronen tries to speak again, but can’t get a word out.
“Nothing has changed about who I am, and how I lead; nothing important, anyway. This is just a new body. I’m still the same person I’ve always been, in my mind, which is all that really counts. I even look as I did before I died. If you hadn’t made my condition public, neither the crew, nor the passengers, would have noticed a difference. The only reason the good doctor didn’t upload us two years ago is because it took time to grow the clones in the pods, and people noticed my absence, as well as the Lieutenant’s. Now, I’m going to keep coming back to these things every year, as I promised to. So unless you have some undeniably objective evidence that I’m not competent to continue, continuing is what I’m going to do.”
Dvronen takes a moment before replying, not out of respect for Halan, but as a passive-aggressive tactic to make sure he knows how little sense that little monologue made. “I have the power to strip you of your rank, and begin the succession process.”
“You can’t, she’s too young,” Halan contends.
“Who? The little girl who wants to marry you? She is not up for consideration.” Perhaps the Probationary Captain really has gone crazy.
You don’t have to consider anything, you’re just a lawyer. I’m talking about Kaiora Leithe.”
“I don’t know who that is,” Dvronen admits.
Halan goes on, “she was the first baby born on this ship.”
“Okay...what about her?”
“She’s on the captain’s track, but she’s too young. She won’t be ready until 2294, which just so happens to coincide with my planned retirement. If you force my replacement now, she’ll never get the chance.”
“Are you saying you’re going to rig the selection process?” Dvronen questions.
“I won’t have to. She’s top of her class, and has been the whole time. She’s forgotten more about this ship than I’ll ever know.”
“I don’t take comfort in that, if true.”
“It’s an expression. Even if she doesn’t get the job, she has plenty of competitors who are also too young, or otherwise not yet ready. You wanna get rid of me? I don’t like it, but I recognize your perspective, and the complexities of this whole situation. But don’t punish the people who are working hard to be worthy of the title one day, and hastily replace me with someone inferior.”
“We wouldn’t have to do that,” Dvronen says. He pulls the bylaws up on his tablet. “Interim leadership. We’re allowed to institute that for a maximum of four years, at which point a new full-shift captain can be found, just as it would be if you served out your own shift.”
“You’re trying to fire me,” Halan figures. That’s why his tone changed, because he was tired of pretending that this charade was anything but an extended exit interview. “Four year interim. You know how hard I would fight against it if we weren’t exactly four years away from my shift change. You’ve wanted this the entire time, but you also need my cooperation.”
The Consul drops all pretense. “It will be so much smoother if you just let this happen. I already have a short list, and since you know literally everyone on the Extremus, you can help us choose the right one. I’ll give you full veto power, and once it’s done, you’ll ascend immediately to the admiralty. We’ve been lacking in that department too. You can even be more involved than Thatch was.”
Dvronen’s logic isn’t bad, and Halan really does see where he’s coming from. Annoyingly, where he’s coming from has placed the Captain in a terribly awkward position, because if he fights it, he’ll look like another power-hungry tyrant, just like Ovan. He can’t simply dismiss this out of hand. There has to be some loophole, though. He wants to keep his seat until his shift is officially over. He doesn’t want there to have been more than nine captains before this is all over. He doesn’t want to step down. He doesn’t want to lose this battle of wills. The incident with the girl was obviously just an excuse for Dvronen to do what he’s wanted to do all along. Maybe Halan can turn things around, and use that against him. He knows what buttons to push. He doesn’t like manipulating people, but he’s done it before, and he can do it again.
“Well...?” Dvronen has to prompt again. Halan spends too much time in his own head.
He’s about to use his silver-tongue to his advantage again, but his words betray him. “Okay.” He can’t get nothing out of this, though. “But I don’t want any more evaluations. This is the last one, or I don’t step down.”

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