Saturday, December 18, 2021

Extremus: Year 23

Things have been going incredibly well. The crew has fallen into a nice rhythm. Shifts are lasting as long as they should. The Captain garners the respect she deserves, and the Future Captain is learning everything she’ll need to know to take over when the time comes. Even Second Lieutenant Callaghan is doing okay, and has accepted his role as the primary liaison between the crew and passengers. Speaking of the passengers, things are going well for them too. The government was duly elected, and is making reasonable choices for the people. They live in a time of peace. Tensions between the two camps have abated, and the risk of civil unrest has been thwarted. There is still the looming threat from the True Extremists, who have yet to make a move since Vesper tried to kill then-Captain Yenant. At least they’ve not made any noticeable moves. Perhaps they’re slowly replacing every person on this ship with a robot, but so far, all evidence is to the contrary. The Admiral filled Olindse in on all of that, but until they come across some new information, there is really nothing anyone can do about it. That is about to change. The original bridge section has been returned home.
As the Earthans were first beginning to sail away from their homeworld, and visit other planets in person, the Four Pillars of Spaceflight were devised. They were Safety, Compartmentalization, Redundancy, and Modularization, and known as SCR&M for short. This is how Vice Admiral Thatch was able to send the entire thing into the future without disrupting the rest of the ship in the slightest. It was relatively easy for the engineers and their vacuum bots to replace it without so much as stopping for supplies. The new one looks exactly like the old one, except in one major way. They constructed a special platform on the bottom of it, which was designed to allow the old one to return at some point, and reconnect. When teleportation and time travel are in the mix, you can’t assume that something, or someone, that disappeared won’t one day come back to you. The Earthan researchers who came up with SCR&M didn’t include this kind of contingency in their paper on the subject, but the crew of the Extremus knew that it was a fair possibility.
The idea was to have any visitor or returnee come in through the quarantine, but seeing as both Omega and Valencia are temporal engineers, it isn’t that hard for them to break through teleportation restrictions, and jump right onto the new bridge. Security surrounds them with weapons immediately. Captain Belo stands from her seat. She spends more time on the bridge than Halan ever did, and a lot of that is thanks to the Second Lieutenant, who deals with a lot of the issues Halan always had to handle personally. Olindse knows who these three are, and expects to be able to trust them, but she can’t be sure, and that’s not protocol. “You were meant to go straight to quarantine,” she argues.
“We don’t have time for that,” Omega contends.
“This ship is about to hit a brick wall,” Thatch reports, knowing a real explanation is needed quickly. “You are on a collision course towards a planet roughly the size of Mercury.”
“How do you know this?” Olindse questions.
“We’ve seen it,” Valencia explains. “We were there, in the future. We couldn’t save the Extremus in time. There was no way for you to course correct, so we decided to travel back in time, and warn you now.”
“Are you sure you are not subject to fate?” Olindse presses.
“Pretty sure.”
“You don’t have much choice,” Omega argues. “You’re headed for a darklurker, which has been deliberately shielded from the void telescopes, and all other sensors. It’s massive, and extremely dense, like a planetary neutron star. We barely made it out of its gravity well. It interferes with our teleportation drive and time drive. If you don’t alter course now, we’re all done for. We have already made the calculations for you.” He tries to hand her his handheld device. “All you have to do is input them.”
She looks at the device like she just saw him come out of the bathroom, and knows he didn’t wash his hands. “That is not procedure. Major course correction requires a shipwide vote.”
“We don’t have time for that!” Omega raises his voice just a little too much to be respectful. “Where is the real Captain?”
“I am the real Captain,” Olindse fights back. “You will have your opportunity to speak with Admiral Yenant, but we are following procedure. We shouldn’t even be talking to you right now.”
“He’s being dramatic,” Valencia says, trying to calm the room. “You have time for the vote. All it means is we have to change the specific calculations to account for the time difference. But do understand that we cannot just wait and see if anything changes. Someone put that rogue planet there, and they did it on purpose, because they know our route. All of those meteoroids we kept hitting, those were just the foreguard; a...side effect of the massive gravitational disturbance that Theia-Two is producing.”
“Theia-Two?” Olindse questions.
“Historical reference, it’s just a placeholder. You can call it whatever you want, because no matter what word you use, you’ll have to spell it D-E-A-T-H.”
Captain Belo takes a regal deep breath. “Take them to quarantine. Callaghan, please covertly find out if any of the passengers noticed their return. I’ll alert the Admiral. The rest of you...?”
Everyone freezes in place, nervous.
“Not a word. Everyone in this room just signed a new NDA. You may not remember, but trust me, it happened, and trust what will happen to you if you break it.”
Two weeks later, the executive crew has convened for an official briefing in what was designated as the crew courtroom, but it’s never been needed. It’s kind of the best setup they have, especially if they want to remain covert. Omega and Valencia are leading the presentation. Before them are the two captains, the First Lieutenant, Admiral Yenant, Dr. Holmes, Temporal Engineer August Voll, Future Temporal Engineer Kumara Bhasin, and Head of Security Armelle Lyons, along with Passenger First Chair Nuka Bloch, and Second Chair Poppy Ogawa. Second Lt. Callaghan is busy running the ship while the rest of them are busy with all this. He has a small case of FOMO, but he’s mostly excited to pretend to be completely in charge, at least for the next few hours. Vice Admiral Thatch is sitting on Omega and Valencia’s side of the room, but he’s not really part of the presentation, because he mostly served as an auxiliary crew member on the bridge ship while the smart team investigated the gravity problem.
Most of the crew have already heard nearly everything about what the team went through, but they have to go over it again in an official capacity, especially for the Chairs, who had heard very little. Now that everyone has some perspective, they just sit there, unsure how to proceed. Halan knows what to say, but he feels like he needs to stay quiet. The pause is taking too long, though. “Thank you, Valencia and Omega Strong. That is quite a tale. We will do everything we can to get you back to your son, should you so wish. Until then, we still need you.”
“Thank you, Cap—Admiral,” Omega has to correct himself. In the rest of the galaxy, admiral is a more respectable rank than captain, but on Extremus, it just means they have less power, so Omega feels guilty for the mistake. It’s the way things are, and it’s the way they should be, so each next captain can have uncomplicated control over the ship, but everyone here got real used to considering Halan their leader. The transitions should get easier as time goes on, but for now—for most—it’s surreal...even after three nonconsecutive years without him. Dwelling on all of this, Omega has forgotten what else he was going to say, or even if he had anything more at all.
“Until then,” Halan goes on, “we have to deal with this brick wall problem. We always knew that rogue worlds could be in our path, because they’re so hard for the void telescopes to detect. So what steps did we take for our original flight path that were designed to insulate us from accidental collisions?”
“Hold on,” First Chair Bloch jumps in. “We’ve yet to see any proof that this isn’t an accident.”
Omega rolls his eyes, but doesn’t even get the chance to open his mouth before his wife stops him with a hand on his arm. She knows him well enough to know when he’s about to find himself on the wrong end of an HR report. “We found the rogue planet 683 light years from our present location after studying the gravitational disturbance the Extremus has been fighting through for two decades. Space debris is unpredictable, chaotic, but it is relatively uniformly distributed, congregating only when a significant source of gravity attracts a solar system?” She takes out her hologram pen, and begins to draw a visual aid in the air. “They don’t form lines like people at the post office. Here’s the planet. All of this is the debris. You see how they kind of form a trail? It stretches thousands of light years across, and we’re flying right through it. There is nothing in the universe like that. Quite frankly, sir, I don’t see how anyone could look at this image, and see anything but an unnatural attack by a shadowy enemy.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Second Chair Ogawa points out. “This meeting was not called to discuss how we’re going to deal with the True Extremist problem at large. We’re only here to vote on releasing a referendum for the general public to vote on a course correction to protect ourselves from an impending collision. It’s irrelevant how the planet got there. It’s there, and we have to do something about it.”
The first chair is probably going to be their one holdout. That’s okay, it doesn’t need to be unanimous; just a majority. “I’ve not heard how much this is going to add to our flight time.”
Admiral Thatch literally slaps his face with his palm. “This is a 216-year mission. We’re not going to a specific planet. We always talk about there being nine captains, but we’ve always known there would probably be ten—or now eleven.” He indicates the interim captain, who changed the math. “The last one is going to be responsible for the search for our descendants’ new home. There are a few ways they might do this, but my point is that the course correction doesn’t add any time to the journey, because we don’t know what we’re looking for. We’re merely assuming that there will be a hospitable world out there, somewhere. It might take this ship a little extra time to find it, but the course correction has nothing to do with that.”
“Very well,” Chair Bloch concedes. “I’m ready for a vote when you are.”
“Thank you for your permission,” Omega says with snark. He can’t just leave well enough alone.
Before Captain Belo can call for the vote, a person flies out of a violent portal, and slides across the room, stopping quickly when the justice bench gets in her way. Dr. Holmes, more spry than one might think for her age, hops over the railing, and kneels down to tend to her unexpected patient. Everyone else crowds around to see what’s going on. The doctor carefully rolls the young woman to her back to straighten her spine. Upon seeing her face, they look up at the Present!August Voll, who is not particularly surprised at seeing her alternate self. Time travel is illegal on the ship except for vital purposes, such as needing supplies from a star system that’s going to be too far away within minutes, or in case of emergency. If anyone’s going to use the technology for the latter, it should be the temporal engineer, who understands the dangers and consequences.
Alt!August opens her eyes.
“She’s hurt,” Dr. Holmes says, “but probably just needs pain meds.”
“First,” Alt!August manages to say, “I have to warn you. Don’t bother voting on the referendum. A course correction is not going to work.”
Valencia kneels beside her, and takes her hand in both of her own affectionately. “Why not? What happens?”
“This isn’t protocol,” Captain Belo argues. You don’t just ask a time traveler what happens in the future. The conversation on the bridge when Omega, Valencia, and Thatch returned was a bit of a gray area.
“Shut the hell up...Captain.” Good save.
Alt!August closes her eyes for a few seconds, like she’s about to fall unconscious, but she pushes through it. “They just move the planet. They have all the time in the universe. We’re doomed.” Now she really does passout.

No comments :

Post a Comment