Saturday, January 8, 2022

Extremus: Year 26

It was a nice memorial service, but it wasn’t elaborate, or particularly well-attended. Vice Admiral Thatch was liked well enough, but he wasn’t the most popular member of the crew, and many civilians had never heard of him. It was about as one would expect, and he probably would have found it fine. Vice Admiral Belo was the most upset about it, but not because she had any strong feelings about the man. He was the only other admiral besides her, and she was relying on him to help her do her job well. Halan was meant to help with that, but she can’t rightly go asking him for advice while he’s in hock. Even if he does get out one day, it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll get his rank back. At best, he’ll be thrown in with the fringes of society. No, Olindse is going to have to figure things out on her own. She took over Thatch’s office when he died, even though she was assigned her own. He had terrible organizational skills, but she thought she might find some key information somewhere in the mess. It didn’t matter. Captain Kaiora Leithe was doing great on her own, and never asked Olindse for any advice. While the latter was captain for longer so far, there was a reason they chose her as interim, and not as a permanent replacement.
Olindse is currently sitting in her office, doing nothing, and waiting for her lunch date to arrive. He’s unusually late.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Yitro says as he steps in. He sets the food tray on the desk. “The Captain wanted to speak to me.”
“She’s speaking to you?” Olindse questions. “She wants your advice?”
Yitro is aware that it’s a sensitive subject. “Oh, no, no, no. She just wanted to offer me a job.” Since his shift ended, he’s had nothing to do. Unlike a former captain, a former lieutenant is meant to just kind of return to civilian life. They’re free to select a new occupation, if they want, or they can just retire and relax. They generally retain some privileges, like access to the crew mess hall, but it’s unclear if they’re allowed to join the crew in some other capacity.
She looks disgusted. “How’s that now?”
“Yeah, she wants me to command The Perran Thatch.” The Thatch is a new vessel that’s actually a combination of two preexisting ships. When Ovan Teleres tried to take over Extremus, Admiral Thatch heroically transported the bridge to the future, where they coincidentally ran into the time shuttle that Omega and Valencia were using to investigate what they would come to learn was the Feizi problem. Engineers have since integrated them together into a new ship, so it can go off on tangent missions without disrupting the Extremus’ flight path.
“You? They asked you?”
“Olindse,” Yitro began to argue, “you already have a job, and a lifetime rank. Captain Leithe couldn’t have asked you. It doesn’t mean I’m better than you. It’s more that I’m available.”
“I thought Valencia was Captain.”
“Not really, she was just the best of two options. She and Omega will have more than enough work to do without having to worry about the ship itself.”
“So now there are two captains on this ship, and neither one of them is me. I feel...” She couldn’t come up with a word that didn’t make her sound like an asshole.
“Cheated?” Yitro offers.
“That’s so stupid.”
“It’s not. It’s a perfectly legitimate response to your situation. Captain Yenant served in his role during what was basically wartime. We didn’t know it back then, but it’s the best description for it in hindsight. You know, you were there; you were also a wartime leader. Kaiora isn’t like that. We’ve been on this ship so long, everyone knows what they’re supposed to do. There isn’t a lot of conflict.”
“What exactly is your point?” Olindse urged.
“The Captain isn’t asking for your advice, because she doesn’t need any, not because she doesn’t respect your opinion.”
“Great. How does that help my situation? What am I supposed to do?”
“Find a way to make yourself useful, like Thatch did when he took over the lights.”
“That trick won’t work a second time,” she contends. “Now everyone knows how powerful that workstation was, and they’ve reengineered it to get rid of all those secret subroutines.”
“I mean, something like that,” he tries to clarify. “The admiralty has no job description. Unless otherwise specified or vetoed by the current captain, you’re free to make up your own responsibilities. Be proactive. Find a cause, or a void.”
“What, like starting a health program in the rec room?”
“Sure, why not, if that’s your thing?”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“You’re some whose food’s getting cold.”
She had been listlessly playing with her salad, flipping most of the lettuce off of her plate without realizing it. She placed a tomato on her fork, and flicked it, hoping to hit Yitro in the face. He caught it in his mouth, and played it off like it wasn’t totally a happy accident. “I don’t know...” Olindse says unenthusiastically. “When do you ship out?” she asks, changing the subject slightly.
He certainly takes his time answering. “Tonight.”
“Tonight?” she questions. “The Captain asked you to command a new mission the day that it begins?”
He waits so long this time that he doesn’t even end up answering.
“You’ve known about this for a long time,” she’s realized.
“I didn’t know how to tell you.”
She stands up. “Well, I’m glad you finally figured out how to vocalize thoughts with your mouth. I wouldn’t have wanted you to try to captain a ship before you learned toddler-level communication skills.”
“Olindse...” he says with no clue how to form the rest of the sentence.
She begins to walk around her desk.
“Don’t leave.”
“You’re right, this is my office. Thanks for lunch, get the hell out of here.” Without giving him a chance to leave on his own, she shoots him with a teleporter gun, and sends him back to his own stateroom. It’s an abuse of power, and a punishable offense, but they both know he won’t report her. She sits back down and reaches over to eat the rest of his food. It’s the least he can do for her.
 A couple of hours later, Olindse reluctantly but dutifully requests permission to enter the bridge. It’s fuller than usual. The crew of the tangent ship Thatch is preparing to take their leave. They’ll take it into the past, because that’s the only way they’re going to make it all the way to their destination in time. Destination is a bit of a strong word, however. Project Stargate utilizes a highly modular ship. It was gigantic when it was first constructed, but has been slowly losing parts of itself as smaller ships fly off to reach the star systems on its way. By now, they wouldn’t be looking for one ship, but thousands of them, spread out for maximum efficiency. It would be foolish to send two modules to two stars right next to each other. It makes much more sense for one to land amongst a group of several to a couple dozen star systems, and build a new mini-fleet from there. The True Extremists want to stop the vonearthans from spreading beyond the stellar neighborhood, so every one of the modules is a threat to them. They have the numbers that Yitro’s team does not. Nonlinear time may be the only weapon in their arsenal.
“You came,” Yitro points out the obvious. He’s separated himself from the group photos, annoying their photographer, September.
“You’re my only friend. I can’t let our last interaction be the last,” Olindse says.
“I’ll be back,” he assures her.
“You can’t promise that,” she warns.
“Trust me.”
“When you do, will you be, like, thirty years older?” she asks.
“It would be closer to fifty,” he explains. It took them 25 years to get here from Gatewood, which means it would take just as long to get back. They were traveling at maximum speed. “The technology we will be using is unlike anything we ever have before, and it’s classified. As a captain in my own right, I’m afforded some level of discretion even against Leithe’s eyes. I would tell you, but...”
“I get it. I’m proud of you, Yitro—I mean, Captain Moralez.”
“I’ll always be Yitro to you,” he corrects her.
“Could we get back to it?” September requests. “I need one of just the two captains, and then just the Captain of the Thatch alone.”
“How about three captains first?” Yitro says in the form of a question, even though it isn’t. Halan was never referred to as a captain after he was promoted to admiral, and the practice will probably continue to be rare, but technically it’s not like other ranks. A Senior Hospitality Officer who was once a Junior Hospitality Officer isn’t still considered a Junior, but once a captain, always a captain. It’s more like how a mother who becomes a grandmother is still a mother. Olindse Belo is still a captain, and as such, it’s acceptable to address her as such. Again, it won’t likely become common practice, but most won’t bat an eye if someone uses it, unless doing so creates ambiguity.
September bows graciously, and invites them over to the wall. The rest of the crew steps aside.
“You know we won’t be able to show anyone these photos?” Kaiora asks through her smile. It’s fake, but only because she hates photos, not the company.
“One day, this will all be a matter of historical record,” September believes.
“What does one day mean when time travel is involved?” Omega poses.
September reaches down her shirt, and retrieves a metal necklace of some kind. She removes them from her neck, and ceremoniously dangles them between her and Yitro. “If you’re wearing this, nothing you do can be undone unless you want to leave the timeline fluid.” When Yitro reaches out to take the necklace, she pulls it back. “This is one of the most powerful tools in histories. It’s usually used as a weapon. I’m trusting you to use it wisely.”
“Where did you get something like that?” Kaiora asks.
After September lets Yitro take the necklace, she snaps one more photo, this time of only him and Olindse. “Aw, that’s a good one. Hashtag-best friends.”
“Who are you again?” Kaiora presses. She never chose to memorize the entire ship’s manifest, like Halan did in her position.
September ignores her, and addresses Omega. “Number 83, does that mean anything to you?”
“” Omega questions, confused.
“If you had your own number—one that uniquely defined you—what would it be?” September asks like a primary school teacher.
Omega frowns, and peers back at her with his face turned towards her flank.
September winks at him. “Happy hunting,” she says to the lot. She looks down at the preview screen on her camera, scrolls to a different image, and then disappears. Someone like that shouldn’t have been granted access to a teleporter, and anyway, they didn’t see her use one.
“I think I know who that was,” Valencia reveals without elaborating.
“Have you given any thought to what you might want to do?” Yitro asks Olindse, shaking off the strange conversation with the stranger, and tucking the necklace into his uniform.
“Yeah, I believe I have an idea,” Olindse answers.
“What is it?”
“I think I’ll call it...reintegration.”
Yitro smiles like he knows what she means by this. He may indeed.
After some salutes and farewells, the tangent crew enters the Perran Thatch Detachment Ship, and launches into their secret mission.
“What is this about reintegration?” Captain Leithe asks Olindse.
“It’s something that I’ve just come up with today,” Olindse answers. “Let me work on it in private, and then I’ll get back to you before I actually do anything.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Kaiora says, sitting back down in her seat. “Plot a course to Extremus. And...engage,” she orders the bridge crew.
They all look over at her, very confused. “Sir?” one of them asks.
“I’m kidding,” she defends. “Just keep going forward...and try to lighten up.”

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