Saturday, December 25, 2021

Extremus: Year 24

Future!August did not survive the night, nor did she even wake up. According to Dr. Holmes’ examination, the injuries she incurred from knocking into the bench were not enough to account for her death. Not even the temporal displacement method she used would have led her to it. There were other wounds and broken bones, suggesting she suffered a great deal before she even left the future. Perhaps the Extremus experienced terrible gravitational destruction, and her last act as she was being crushed by it was to jump into a portal to warn everyone.
Present!August refused to speak with a grief counselor about her loss. She claimed to have no strong feelings about an alternate version of her dying in front of her. Captain Belo ended up having to order her two counseling sessions before she could return to duty. It took her a long time to complete them, so Kumara had to step up as the primary temporal engineer in the meantime. They needed it too, because they had to come up with a solution to the Feizi problem. That’s the name they settled on to replace Theia-2, since that one didn’t really make any sense. Of all people, Consul Vatal is the one who came up with it.
Right now, the right people are having a bit of an unofficial meeting of minds. Omega, Valencia, August, and Kumara have been trying to work the problem this entire time. They’ve been keeping the captains and admirals apprised of the situation as they do it, but they’re not usually in the same room together. Halan has taken the scientists under his responsibility, so the others can deal with other matters. Vice Admiral Thatch has retaken his place as the main goto source of advice.
While Lieutenant Moralez deals with ship issues, the four other executive leaders are literally sitting on the sidelines while the four engineers yell and scream at and over one another. Halan sighs, and lifts his hand. He places his middle and ring finger against his thumb, and raises his pinky and index fingers. This is called quiet coyote, and it’s usually used for children. The scientists accepted it begrudgingly, because they know that things can get out of hand when they try to work together. In this case, it’s a magic signal. Even if they’re not looking directly at their supervisor, they can tell when it’s happening, and they immediately go silent, almost like they can smell it. Kumara once accused Valencia of writing a time spell that forces them to go quiet when the hand gesture is present, but he’s never been able to prove it.
“Omega. You were saying,” Halan prompts.
“We have to vote on course correction. It doesn’t matter if they move the planet, we know where they are now, and continuing on this path is foolish.”
“The foolish thing is thinking you can outsmart them,” Kumara argues.
Omega braces to explain himself for the upteenth time. “I can plot a random course through interstellar space that approaches each star system that we pass.” They all start to argue at him again, so he raises his voice more and more to compensate. “Feizi is massive and dense, but it’s gravitational pull is still nowhere near that of a star! Therefore, if the Extremists try to get too close to one, they won’t be able to hold their weapon in place!”
“Basically, you want to avoid being shot at by the enemy but running real close to all the mines in the minefield on purpose!” Kumara threw back at him.
“Yeah, because we can see the mines! We can’t see the bullets!” The mines being the stars, and the bullets being the Feizi. It’s not a great analogy. It’s more like risking tripping the visible mines because the hidden mine can’t have been buried too close to any one of them. This theoretically gives you a dangerous, but possibly safe path. The possibly part is what concerns Halan the most.
“We can’t do that,” Future Captain Leithe contends. Kaiora has been taking on a lot more responsibility lately. She’s a few months away from taking over officially, so it’s time for Interim Captain Belo to take a backseat sometimes. “The course you think you can plot is obviously dangerous, and I’m obviously not one of the people who can explain why it’s dangerous. But I can tell you the politics. You would have to change course on the fly, in case something new comes up. The law doesn’t allow you to do that. We don’t have time to vote every time, and I don’t know how you change that law. That’s not up to any of us here.”
“Yeah, it’s up to the people,” Omega says. “So let’s not vote on a course correction. Let’s vote to change the law so the bridge assumes complete control over our vector.”
“Oh, and I suppose you’re gonna be the one driving,” Kumara spits.
“I never said that. I said the bridge. Most ships do it like that. I don’t know why we have this law.”
Halan is about to explain it, but Thatch stands up first, and walks forward. He waits to respond, first letting his gravitas draw all the words in the room to him, so no one else can use them to interrupt. “We are not headed to a planet. We are headed to our future. Our people voted on our literal direction before they stepped on board. Changing that direction would be like suddenly deciding to take your colonists to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida when they all agreed to go to Varkas Reflex. No one person has the authority to make that call. It’s for everyone to decide. That, Omega, is why we vote.”
Omega places a hand on Thatch’s shoulder, and speaks calmly, “fair enough. But I’m trying to save lives the only way I know how. I don’t hear any other good ideas. Because the truth is...dead people can’t vote.”
“Just because it’s the only idea,” Valencia begins, “doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Face it, there are too many variables. Stars are too far apart. There are plenty of opportunities for the True Extremists to move their rogue world where they need to. That’s what a rogue world is.”
Omega frowns. “What would you have us do?”
“Give up.” It’s Consul Dvronen Vatal. He’s on the top of the steps.
“This is a closed session,” Halan warns. Dvronen wields a lot of power, but he doesn’t have full privileges. He has no reason to be here.
Dvronen chuckles and begins to walk down slowly. Saunter, even. “I can see the eight of you are where you need to be. You understand our power. Well...” He chuckles again, but louder. “You don’t understand it, but you fear it. That’s all we’ve been trying to get you to do.”
Halan isn’t sure it makes sense, that this man would be a True Extremist. He got the Captain to step down, but he didn’t take all of his power away. He had plenty of times to kill him too, but never did? This must be the part where the villain lays it all out for them, so the final pieces of the puzzle will fit together. This is neither the time, nor the place, for this conversation. “August,” he orders simply.
She takes out a teleporter gun and shoots Dvronen with it. He doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed during the second he remains standing before he disappears.
Halan turns to Olindse. “I strongly recommend that all eight of us sync to that room to interrogate the prisoner. His words may help these fine scientists come to a real solution.”
The Captain reaches over to her teleporter, quickly calibrates the range, and transports everyone else to the hock. Dvronen is already sitting on the bench. In fact, he looks like he’s exactly where he wants to be.
The Captain looks at the engineers, and nods her head towards the bench on the side wall. They all go to sit down. They’re here to observe, not question. She bows a little, and gives way to Admiral Yenant. “It ought to be your show.”
“No,” Halan says. “It should be hers.”
They all look to Future Captain Kaiora Leithe. She’s anxious for a moment, but she doesn’t want to show any self-doubt. She performs the Picard maneuver on her uniform, and steps forward. Then she simply says, “report.”
“We are the oldest human civilization in the Milky Way galaxy of Salmonverse. We were building starships before your ancestors were building ocean vessels. We’ve since built an empire in our little pocket of space, and we don’t appreciate your interference.”
“But you came from us. We are your ancestors. You wouldn’t exist without The Extremus.”
“Which is why we let your ship take off. We were worried about the timeline. Some wanted to destroy you in the dock, but cooler heads prevailed. As it turns out, my side was right. We’re living in a stable timeloop, not an alternate reality.”
“Why destroy us at all? What have we done against you? Space is very big. You just wouldn’t believe—”
“Save the speech,” Dvronen interrupts. “It’s not about space. It’s not about resources. I was born on a planet called Extremus. We take offense to your mission to colonize your own world of the same name.”
Halan goes on autopilot, and can’t stop his lower brain from attacking. “That’s it? You tried to destroy this ship, and kill thousands of people, over a fucking name! Fuck, we’ll name it something else if you’re that pissy about it!”
Dvronen remains in control. “It’s not the name, it’s the principle. Our ancestors went to a lot of trouble to build our civilization. They went millenia into the past. We deserve both the name, and the recognition as the rightful owners of the galaxy.”
Captain Leithe takes the interrogation back. “You stole that from us. Quite literally. Oaksent stole embryos and time travel technology.”
Dvronen takes a moment to consider his response. “I know, from your side of the bars that makes sense. But you have to understand that none of us was there when that happened. Me, Vesper, no one was born yet. We get that we come from you. No one has ever tried to diminish or ignore that truth. I’m just telling you that we have thousands of years of history that tells us we are true descendants of the Extremus mission. And none of those people who first landed on that inhospitable planet—thousands of years ago, from my perspective,” he adds, tapping on his chest, “ever set foot on this ship. To us, you seem like invaders. We tried to stop you without shedding blood. We hired Old Man to repair the recall device, so it would send you back to Gatewood. He said he would, and then he betrayed us.”
“Betrayed us closing your timeloop, which is what you wanted anyway?” Leithe asks.
Dvronen picks a little at his cuticles. “Old Man, Rita, Oaksent, and Airlock Karen. They did not use the recall device to transport off this ship. They used a completely different invention, of incredibly similar design, but only superficially. If he did end up repairing the original device, it’s never been used. It could still be in his lab; I don’t know. Vesper was supposed to look for it. Perhaps he found it, and had it on him when he died. ”
“Why did he so desperately want me to touch it?” Halan asks. “If he had had his way, I would have gone instead of Rita.”
“Our assumption,” Dvronen begins, “is that Old Man knew that you were the only person in the universe who could have stopped Oaksent from realizing his dream of seeding a new civilization. He wanted you to stop us from ever existing.”
“That’s an interesting development, but it doesn’t solve our problem,” Kaiora goes on. “Bottom line, what do you want? What can we do to avoid any more conflict?”
Dvronen shrugs. “Turn around.”
“You want us to go back to Gatewood?”
“It doesn’t have to be Gatewood. Just go somewhere within Earth’s stellar neighborhood. We don’t want no trouble with them, so we’re leaving them all alone.”
“How are you dealing with Project Stargate, or Operation Starseed, for that matter?”
“You let us worry about that,” Dvronen answers cryptically.
Omega stands up, and approaches. “We can’t turn around. We have our own mission. And it was ours first. How dare you co-opt it just because you went back in time, and technically lived earlier? That’s so human of you. We’re time travelers, the lot of us. Time is not linear, therefore, we were here first by every single measurement of time, except for the one the people like us have no use for.”
“Oaksent traveled back with his embryos, to father us on the homeworld. No one has time traveled since then. in linear time.” Dvronen adjusts his position to look more serious. “This galaxy is ours. We’ll let you lease some space, just like we do the vonearthans, but if you don’t want to follow our rules, you can leave.”
“Leave?” Valencia questions, also standing up. “Leave the Milky Way? You’ll stand down, and not try to stop us if we leave the galaxy?”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Dvronen confirms. “Though the next galaxy over is thousands of reframe years away, so I’m not sure you can sustain your population for that long, but if you think you can, go for it. We won’t stop you.”
Valencia draws nearer. “Can you do that? Are you authorized to speak for your people?”
Dvronen laughs. “I know you don’t know who I am when it comes to respect on the real Extremus, but...that’s a riot. Yes, I’m authorized. I speak for all of us.”
Omega smiles. “I want that in writing.”
Valencia pulls Halan and both of the Captains over, and transports them to a secure location. “I have an idea, but it’s going to require us to go against that rule Admiral Thatch was trying to explain to my husband. We can wait for a vote, but I guarantee that we’re gonna lose. Now, Dvronen said that Project Stargate is in trouble.” She consults her watch. “In a few years, the quantum seeder ships are probably going to pass far enough out of the stellar neighborhood for the True Extremists to consider them a threat. Omega and I have to try to stop whatever evil plans they’ve cooked up.”
“Where are you going with this?” Halan questions. “You’re all over the place.”
“I know, just...” She sighs. “The Captain can’t make a course correction unilaterally. She would have to put that up to a vote, right?”
“We follow,” current Captain Belo says.
“But the Captain can also refuse to put it to a vote. The people can’t just create one out of thin air. You start it, they finish it, so all Captain Leithe would have to do is not let it come to a vote at all.”
Kaiora starts trying to work it out. “You want to change course, because once you do, you’re going to escape the ship anyway, and all I have to do is prevent a second course correction from undoing your decision.”
“Correct,” Valencia says.
Halan shakes his head. “I can’t let you do that, Valencia. You need to go help with Project Stargate. I understand as much. But you may one day need to return, and for the good of the ship, whoever is running the place at that point needs to be able to trust you. I, on the other hand, am actually expendable. I’ll make the course correction, against the reported wishes of everyone in this room, and in the hock section. I’ll suffer the consequences, and everyone else will move on.”
“But, Admiral,” Kaiora tries to say.
Halan holds up quiet coyote, and shushes everyone. Maybe it is magic, and maybe it works on anybody. “You’re gonna do a fine job.” With a fatherly smile, he taps on his teleporter, and jumps to the bridge. For his last act as a ranking member of this crew, he inputs his authorization code, and makes the ship teleport only an astronomical unit away. It’s the easiest way to point it in a different direction. It keeps going without missing a beat, but it’s now begun a journey into the void.

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