Saturday, January 1, 2022

Extremus: Year 25

Vice Admiral Perran Thatch stands at the podium. To his right is the newly appointed captain, Kaiora Leithe. To his left is the first lieutenant she chose, Corinna Seelen. Flanking them is Second Lieutenant Lars Callaghan, who will continue in this role until his 24-year shift is over. Also on stage is Kumara Bhasin. The crew voted on a new shift strategy for the head temporal engineer position. It is now scheduled to last 28 years. The education program is too long and difficult for them to have to worry about cycling a new person in every 12 years, and the additional four beyond the captain’s shift is there to allow for some continuity. It’s not technically the longest shift, though. The admiralty is a lifetime appointment, whether at the vice level, like Thatch and Belo, or full admirals, of which there is now none. Executive medical positions, like Dr. Holmes’ Chief Medical Officer, can last a lifetime as well. However, she is entitled to retire whenever she wants, as long as she secures a replacement. She is presently still active as the longest-serving member of the crew, and will probably die at her desk. She too is sitting on stage, next to Vice Admiral Olindse Belo, Former First Lieutenant Yitro Moralez, and the first two civilian Chairs.
The auditorium is full. Nearly every member of the crew is here, except for a skeleton crew left to monitor the ship. Some key civilians are here as well. The rest of the seats were filled by lottery. The whole ship can watch its broadcast, and only a handful of people are too busy, or don’t care enough to do so. It’s time for Thatch’s speech. “Normally, the previous captain will be where I am right now. In 24 years, a full admiral by the name of Leithe will pass the baton to her own replacement. Until then, I have been asked to introduce her to you. I’m sure it’s not necessary, as you already know her, because she’s been working on the crew for the last few years. Still, it’s my honor to officially acknowledge her role as the new Captain of the TGS Extremus. Hm. TG, transgalactic. We may need to change that name. Fortunately, that’s not up to me. Nor is it up to Captain Liethe.
“We are living in a democracy, run smoothly by a joint executive force of crew and government. Some of the latter are here today to witness the occasion. We welcome them, and recognize their authority...” He pauses to let the words soak in. It was the government that decided what to do about Former Admiral Halan Yenant’s actions. The crew was prepared to pardon him completely, but theirs was not the only voice of importance. He broke a shipwide rule, and for that, he has to suffer the consequences. Not everyone agreed with it. Thatch finally goes on, “as they recognize ours.” Subtle. “My point is that Captain Leithe is now your leader,  but she is not a dictator. Everyone has the right to their opinion, and the freedom to exercise it, within a set of acceptable parameters.” He gives Consul Keone Biskup a dirty look. She replaced former Consul—and True Extremist—Dvronen after he was sent to hock. She is not a terrorist, and no one thinks that, but Dvronen isn’t here to accept Thatch’s ire, so he’s misdirecting it. “Anyway, I have every confidence in Captain Leithe to fulfill her duties honorably, ethically...and justifiably. Members of the crew, citizens of the ship, I give you...Captain Kaiora Leithe, Third of Ten.”
The crowd claps and cheers. Kaiora and Thatch try to shake hands in the midst of it. Kaiora looks at her hand in confusion. “Just go with it,” he says quietly, before spinning around to shake Corinna’s. She’s equally confused. Before Kaiora can take the mic, he leans back over to it, “And don’t forget First Lieutenant Corinna Seelen!” The cheering had begun to die down, but now it returns to full volume.
“Thank you very much! Thank you, thank you,” Kaiora says when it’s her turn to speak. “I’ll keep my speech short, so you can all get to the refreshments in the mess hall. I have a meeting immediately following this, so I won’t be able to attend, but I hear they made some very nice Glisnian delicacies. I’m not sure what Glisnians even eat, but I’m excited to find out, so save me some. I’m also excited to begin my work on this ship. We’ve had some pretty rough times, but I for one believe that we are past the worst. We are...free and clear, so to speak.” This is a reference to their recent unauthorized course correction. “To that end, I would like to address the rumors that I will be proposing a vote on returning to our old route, or something similar. This is a divisive issue, and I currently have no intention to make any further change to our new vector. I will continue to listen to the advice of my admirals.” She gestures towards Thatch and Olindse. “And I will listen to the wishes of the crew, and the people. I will not let anyone bully me into a decision; on this matter, or any other.” This is a reference to the current civilian government administration.
She continues, “I plan to be a fair captain, and a patient one, and I hope we can keep moving forward. To another two!” The crowd echoes her. This is a reference to the approximate number of light years the ship travels in the span of a day. Kaiora steps back from the mic so they can still hear her, but not well. “I-S-W-Y.” This is an acronym for I Stand with (Halan) Yenant, and has become a not-so-secret signal to indicate one’s support of Halan’s unilateral decision to reroute the Extremus under threat of annihilation. It’s a bold statement, and could cost her her own support from others, but she has decided to take a stand, because she believes it’s the right thing to do. She leans back in, and finishes with, “thank you again.” She steps away, and walks towards Vice Admiral Thatch. They suddenly teleport to the hock together, as planned. The audience is left to sit with whatever interpretation of their speeches that they’re formulating.
The hock watcher—which may be the funniest sounding job on the ship—smiles proudly. “Captain,” he says with a nod. “Admiral.”
“Turn off monitoring, please,” Kaiora orders.
“Sir,” the hock watcher replies respectfully as he follows through. He then unlocks the gate, and lets them in.
The hock is the most secure section of the ship, for obvious reasons. If seen as a cross section above, it resembles a hexagonal flower, with smaller hexagons inside of the petals. The central area is where the hock watcher works. It’s raised above the cells. Lift platforms lead down to the center of a block of six cells, which could potentially accommodate two people each. Hopefully they would never have more than 72 prisoners. There has never been much crime here. Only three cells are occupied. True Extremist, Dvronen Vatal is in one. Regular extremist, Ovan Teleres is in another. Disgraced former admiral, Halan Yenant is in the third. Kaiora looks back at the hock watcher. “Unlock his door, and double check the soundproofing.”
“Sir,” he repeats.
The cell is much smaller than where Halan was used to living before he was placed here, and he is never allowed to leave, but it has everything he needs. He has his own toilet, sink, and shower. He has a closet with a few choices, and a laundry terminal. He makes his own food with a synthesizer that is reloaded with cartridges by a robot on the other side of the wall. It’s programmed with all known recipes, which is a privilege that he enjoys, while the other two do not. Similarly, they are allowed to busy themselves with computer games, like RPS-101 Plus, but they don’t have access to the interstellar repository of knowledge, nor networked media. Halan can look up anything he wants, but information is one way, and is only updated weekly. It does not include current events on the Extremus, except for very key developments, such as the induction of a new captain. He has no means of reaching out to anyone on the ship, or anyone else, for that matter. He’s fine here, he’s fine. Kaiora, and pretty much everyone in the inner circle, are worried about him, but he’s fine. “Congratulations.”
“I ordered them to let you watch, were you able to watch?”
“Yes,” Halan says. “It was an interesting ceremony.”
“We’re with you,” Thatch explains. “Just say the word, and you’re on that time shuttle with Omega and Valencia.”
Halan smiles. “No. I’m where I belong. These are the rules that we set forth—”
“Don’t quote me the handbook, Hal, this is bullshit.”
“This is how it has to be. The ship had to go into the intergalactic void to avoid crashing into Feizi, but that choice was never going to come free. My new digs is the price we paid, and I pay it gladly. Better me than someone else, or worse, the mission. Please don’t try anything.” He looks now to Kaiora. “And don’t think that you’re going to be coming here for my advice, like Olindse did. I was an admiral back then, I’m not anymore.”
“No one has to know if we talk,” Kaiora argues.
“They’ll find out,” Halan contends. “Remember what I taught you?”
“Don’t let Callaghan near the PA system?”
“The other thing.”
“Three things cannot long be hidden,” she begins. “The sun—”
Halan says the second word with her, “the moon—”
“They all three say the third, “and the truth.”
“Why do we still say that?” Kaiora questions. “We don’t have a sun, or a moon. I’ve never even seen a moon.”
“Because we still have the truth,” Halan answers. “One day, our descendants will understand why I did what I did, and many will be grateful. Others won’t agree, but they’ll all. Know. The truth. That’s what’s important. This job is often about secrets. We withhold information from the public, from the crew, even those closest to us. You won’t get through the next 24 years with radical honesty. But you can certainly live with genuine honesty. Always remember that. Your second duty is to the mission, but your first is to the people. They’re the only reason we’re doing this.”
Kaiora inhales deeply, and exhales abruptly. She nods in acknowledgement, but not in full agreement. She was the first baby born on this ship, and she grew up with this man as her hero. Seeing him in this room is sickening, and she can’t promise she won’t eventually find a way to pardon him, and bring him back into the braintrust. The current First Chair of the civilian government isn’t going to be sitting down forever. That’s the whole point of the uneven shift schedule. As the old saying goes, if you don’t like the people in charge, wait five minutes.
“Very well,” Halan says, accepting her concession. “I would like to speak with Admiral Thatch in private, if that’s all right with you, Captain.”
“Of course,” Kaiora says, bowing out of the room.
Halan goes on, “you once told me that I would one day learn to trust you, but that it wouldn’t happen until after your death. You were wrong. I realized I should have trusted you all along when I saw you make that speech.”
“That’s not what I said,” Thatch disputes. “I said that it would be the day that I died.”
“You’re not dead yet,” Halan says, smirking.
Thatch smiles back. He waves his arm out, and lets it pass right through the door, as if it weren’t there at all. “Yes, I am.”
“Thatch...”
He tips an invisible hat. “Have a drink for me, won’t ya, kid?”
Back in Thatch’s office, his nurse turns off the virtual hologram projector, and then she turns off her patient’s life support.

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