Saturday, January 15, 2022

Extremus: Year 27

Hock Watcher may sound like a funny position, but Caldr Giordana is responsible for the rehabilitation department of the entire ship. Here, rehabilitation is being used in its loosest definition. It’s a pretty simple concept. You break a law, you go in hock. If a ruling needs to be made beyond that, you go to trial, and either go free, or stay in hock to serve out a sentence. When you’re done, you go free. There’s no real rehabilitation, and there is no program for reintegration into society. It’s never been needed. Most crimes have been straightforward, committed by people who clearly made a mistake, but which can’t be categorized as menaces. Three of the men presently in hock are different, and more complicated, and Olindse Belo feels that something needs to be done to reform the system. She is not capable of doing this without the approval and aid of others.
The hock is a special department, which acts as an unlikely spot to bridge the gap between passengers and crew. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a civilian or a civil servant, if you commit a crime, you go to the same place as everyone. Hock Watcher is one of the most complicated roles to fill, and equally illustrates that bridge. First, the government nominates the most promising candidates. Then the passengers vote to narrow the pool further. The crew then votes for the winner, but the Captain is free to veto any decision, and restart at least part of the process. If that were to happen, there would be even more deliberation to decide how far back in that process the cycle has to restart. To get where he is today, Caldr had to really want it, and now that he’s here, it would be all but impossible to get rid of him unless he wanted to leave. He wields a lot more power than one might expect.
When Consul Vatal was discovered to be a True Extremist spy—or rather, outed himself to a spy—his job needed to be backfilled. He had his own sort of apprentice, who was prepared enough to take over, but the nature of his departure made that more complicated. For more than two years, the new Consul tried his best to carry out his duties, but everyone who required his services hesitated to reach out to him. The consul is not a lawyer. They are primarily an ethicist who understands the law down to the very last punctuation mark. By being untruthful about where he came from, and where his loyalties lay, Dvronen was quite ironically proving himself to be unethical at the highest order. If he’s the one who trained the apprentice, could that apprentice have good ethics himself? Well, probably, since he went through his own education, and had his own ideals, but we’re dealing with humans here, and humans are complicated. The crew, especially the Captain, found it difficult to trust him with their ethical needs. It essentially made it impossible for him to do his job, and he just couldn’t take the stress. He stepped down, and while quitting the crew is usually a complex process, Captain Leithe made an exception, and simply let him go. Any other member of the crew could have contested this ruling, but no one did, so it went through.
Renga Mas was fresh out of school, and didn’t think she was ready to take the job, but she was pretty much the only option. Others studied law, but they were predominantly on the other two of three tracks. One track focuses on civilian law, and that’s the route most students take. The other concerns itself with destination law. Such students are intended to become teachers, so they can pass their knowledge down to further generations. There are a lot of skills that people living on the ship won’t, or might not, ever use, but which their descendants will find critical. It would be irresponsible of them to let this knowledge disappear before the mission can be realized two centuries from now. If you want to take the third track, which prepares you to possibly become Consul, you have to complete an independent study program, and while Renga isn’t the only one who has done that, she’s the only one with sufficient competency. She likely would have apprenticed for Dvronen’s apprentice, and ultimately secured the job anyway, but the timetable had to be moved up. Today is her first major project.
“Okay, so,” Renga fumbles with the tablet before she realizes it isn’t even hers, so it isn’t signed into her account. That’s why her passcode didn’t work. “All right, I don’t think I need it. Is this being recorded? Are we recording?”
“We are,” First Lieutenant Corinna Seelen replies. Captain Leithe doesn’t need to be part of the decision-making process in this case, so Corinna is in charge. “Go on.”
Renga is responsible for running the meeting itself. “Great. Uh, that’s great.” She clears her throat. “Okay. This is the...hearing?”
“Proposal meeting,” Corinna corrects.
“Right, proposal meeting for the question of whether to accept Olindse’s—”
“Admiral Belo,” Corinna corrects her again.
“Admiral Belo’s prisoner reintegration plan. Thanks.” Renga nods sharply, proud of herself for managing to get through that, and forgetting for just one second that it’s literally only the beginning.
Corinna urges her on with her eyes, but no words. She may have to take over.
Renga continues, “Olin—Admiral Belo.” Olindse took Renga under her wing at school. They were studying completely different things, but they became friends, and the latter often mined the former for advice. It’s proven difficult to remember that she should not be so informal with this. “Please, begin your presentation.”
“Thank you,” Olindse says. “I’ve already given you my written proposal, so I won’t go into detail, but I’ll sum it up. I believe that our justice system leaves something to be desired. It’s far too simple. If you’re guilty, you go in hock. Maybe you’re given limited computer privileges, but for the most part, the severity of your crime dictates how long you’re there. Prisoners are not provided resources to help them rehabilitate, or later return to society. When and if they’re released, they’re just thrown back into the general population, where they have to move on on their own. Many will have been changed by the trauma, and their lives will be more difficult than necessary. I believe that this is unfair and unjust.”
Corinna holds up a hand, and closes her eyes, like it’s a performing arts audition, and Olindse’s minute is up. “Currently, the only prisoners in hock are...” She checks her tablet, but only to find the file for the least infamous prisoner. “A spy, a mutineer, a disgraced former officer, and a saboteur.”
“It was a prank,” Olindse argues, “not sabotage.”
“Tell that to the eighteen people who drank the contaminated water, and suffered from heavy diarrhea for the next three to four days.”
“No civilian charges were filed,” Olindse reminds her. “That’s not my point. I’m not here to argue if any of them deserve to be in hock, or not. I’m here to argue that we should be helping them learn from their mistakes. Egregious, or forgivable,” she adds before Corinna can debate the definition of a mistake, or contend that two of them did not simply make a mistake.
My point,” Corinna goes on, “is that only the...prankster will be getting out of hock outside of a body bag. The other three are enemies of the state, and will have to make their respective cells their homes for the next however many decades are left of their lives.”
“That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and compassion,” Olindse says.
“I’m not saying that,” Corinna claims. “Though, I don’t have any personal respect or compassion for two of them in there, and I don’t much care about the fourth. I shouldn’t have to name names.” She doesn’t. Everyone still loves Halan Yenant, and no one likes Dvronen or Ovan. “I’m asking why we should divert time and resources to helping people we know will never be able to reenter society. You even call this the reintegration program.”
“That’s a catchall term, but it doesn’t just address actually placing prisoners back in the general population. There are many ways to reintegrate,” Olindse explains. “Besides, as you saw in my proposal, I also discuss counseling for those who have been given life sentences. And as a side note, Admiral Yenant has not technically received a definite sentence. His potential for parole is always there.”
“Don’t call him that,” Corinna demands. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but we legally can’t call him an admiral. Right, Consul?”
“Right,” Renga answers uncomfortably.
“Who do you suppose will provide these counseling services for the prisoners?”
“Nearly every job on this ship has a surplus labor pool. It won’t be hard to find someone to fill this void,” Olindse figures.
Renga realizes she needs to speak up more, since this is supposed to be her show. “I didn’t see this in the proposal—even though I read it...” She eyes the Lieutenant.
“I’m busy, I skimmed it,” Corinna defends.
Renga goes on, “I didn’t see anywhere that dictates whether this new counselor will be a member of the civilian workforce, or the crew.”
Olindse nods and points, having predicted this would come up. “It’s not in there, because I wasn’t sure about that. I hoped we could work together to figure that out. My first thought is to make it a joint effort, like the Hock Watcher, but still appointed, rather than voted upon.”
“That is a tall order,” Corinna says. “We would have to all vote in order to make this new flavor of job even a thing. What say you, Hock Watcher Giordana?”
Caldr had been listening intently and respectfully to all sides of this argument. “To be honest, I wouldn’t mind having one or two other people on the team. It can get lonely down there. Also to be honest, I sometimes chat with Mr. Yenant because of it.”
“That’s not illegal,” Renga assures him. They actually did consider fraternizing with the prisoners completely illegal, because it could theoretically lead to a conflict of interest, and even possibly a prison break. They had to decide against such harsh rules, because it was more unethical to restrict who a resident of the ship could be friends with. They made it so hard to become Hock Watcher in the first place in order to lower this risk. Caldr bleeds integrity.
“Okay,” Corinna begins, “let me read the proposal in full. I’ll assign some duties to my Second LT to make the time. We will reconvene in two weeks to discuss this further, and hopefully come to some conclusion. Vice Admiral, create a list of candidates for this counseling job, and determine whether you want anyone else on this expanded hock team. Consul Mas, you can tentatively approve them. Does this sound fair?”
“Yes,” they all agreed.

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