Saturday, January 29, 2022

Extremus: Year 29

Every day at 16:15, Olindse Belo sits down at her desk, and has herself a cup of tea. She’s done this since she was promoted to admiral, thinking it was the perfect time to not be needed elsewhere. She ended up not being needed much anyway, but it feels right to keep to a routine, so she’s continued doing it. Apparently knowing this about herself, Past!Olindse wrote a note, and then she burned it with a special lighter that Vice Admiral Thatch left in his desk, which she used for a time when she was first trying to figure out her new role on the ship. The lighter is designed to send messages across time and/or space. As the fire destroys the paper, the quantum configuration of that paper—including its text—is logged into an internal data drive. It then transmits the information to the calibrated destination, and rebuilds the message as it was stored. Past!Olindse scheduled this to happen when she knew her future self would be there to see it transpire. Watching the note materialize was as important as the message itself, or Future!Olindse may have had a harder time trusting the authentication.
The note is cryptic and short so as to preserve the secrecy. It simply reads, Extract Thatch pre-illness. Investigate Bridger section. Tell no one else. Authentication code ΔΟ-5456456. Okay. Well, it’s in her own handwriting, so it seems to be legit. She decides to trust her Past!Self, and follow the instructions. It could be a trick, yes, but there’s a bit of logic to it. She can recall once waking up with scattered memories of the previous day. That potentially fractured day was exactly one year ago. If she had her memories erased, for whatever reason, she probably had a pretty good reason for it, and this mysterious note strongly supports her assumption that the procedure was completely consensual.
Time travel is mostly illegal on Extremus. They don’t want anyone to be able to go back and mess things up, or jump to the future, and gather secret information. There are major exceptions to this. The time shuttle, which has been named the Perran Thatch, was specifically designated to do just that. The drones they occasionally send off to mine raw materials on worlds as they pass by don’t work without it. For the most part, though, it can’t be done without risking severe punishment. It’s not really clear why an extraction mirror was installed on the ship in the first place, given that the engineers never intended anyone to manipulate time at all. Perhaps they wanted later captains to be capable of seeking advice from past captains following their deaths, though that does not alleviate the reality-bending dangers of time travel, which is the whole reason it’s usually illegal. Still, it’s the most likely explanation since the only people who are allowed to even enter the extraction room must be a captain or an admiral. Not even a First Lieutenant has authorization. If Corinna so much as attempts to cross the threshold, even accompanied by Captain Leithe herself, she will supposedly endure terrible pain, and a swift banishment to the other side of the ship. Olindse is all but the only person who can do this, and Thatch is the only person she can extract.
She teleports down to the area, and enters her code into the pad. She could have been deauthorized at some point, since she was only ever an interim captain, and isn’t now a full admiral, but Kaiora would have had to make a point of doing that, and it seems unlikely she bothered. Still, she stands there at the entryway in fear, because she’s never tried this before, and precisely how much it hurts for any would-be trespassers is not a matter of record. Finally, she works up the courage, and steps through. She’s fine. It doesn’t hurt, and she’s not spirited away. She closes the door behind her, and walks up to the mirror. Ah, she should have written down the magic words. There’s a particular sequence a user has to say to activate the mirror. In the fictional source material, which is a book written in the 18th century, it seems to actually be magic. In this case, it’s just a passphrase that the creator employed after being inspired by said book. It’s equally important regardless. “Umm...I stand at the door of life and death? Come forward, spirit. Here’s life. Vice Admiral Perran Thatch of the TGS Extremus, smell blood! Smell life! I summon thee!”
Nothing happens.
“Oh, right. Uh.” She takes out her pocket knife, and cuts her finger, wiping it on the glass. Now it finally works. She doesn’t think she uttered the passphrase exactly as she was taught, but it was evidently close enough.
A youngish and healthyish Thatch is sitting at his desk, right hand cupped around a glass of liquor, while his left hand is working the holoscreen. It takes him a moment to realize that Olindse is there. “Am I about to die?”
“Depends. What is the date?”
“October 2, 2286,” he answers.
“Then no, you’re fine. You die of natural causes, but I need you mobile for a mission in the future, so I’m extracting you while I’m sure that’s still the case. I am Vice Admiral Olindse Belo, and you can’t tell anyone about this; not in my present, or yours.”
“Why is there another vice admiral on this ship?” he questions.
“It’s a long story, and by long, I mean classified.”
He sighs deeply, and downs the rest of his drink. “Very well.” He stands up, and walks through the mirror. “What can I do ya fer, Admiral?”
“While we’re both Vice,” Olindse begins, “you’re the only one authorized to enter the Bridger section. I was an interim captain, so while I’m afforded most privileges that come with my promotion, I do not enjoy them all. It was decided that I did not need access to that part of the ship. However, I actually do need to get in, because there’s something fishy going on.”
“Does this have something to do with that god-awful First Chair of the civilian government?” he asks.
“Does it have to do with—”
“Please, no questions. This is about me finding answers to protect the future of this vessel; not about you gathering information to leverage against your friends and enemies.”
“Fine, but you’ll owe me.”
“I already paid,” Olindse lies, suggesting that he goes back to his own time, and collects something from her in her past, and if he has to believe that to be agreeable, then she’s not going to try to clarify.
The both of them look around to make sure no one is watching them, which is a little silly since they’re leaving a highly restricted area in order to travel to a different highly restricted area, but it just seems like the right thing to do. They teleport away.
There’s every chance that someone who works in the Bridger section will send them away and report them for access, but they can’t get in trouble for unauthorized access. Thatch has every right to be here, even though he’s supposed to be dead at this point in time, and he has the right to use his discretion to decide Olindse also has a right to be here. At worst, Olindse is stripped of her rank, but seeing as how she doesn’t do much around here, that doesn’t sound like too great of a loss. They won’t file charges, or place her in hock.
“Last chance. Are you sure about this?” Thatch asks as his hand hovers in front of the keypad.
“I need to know,” Olindse replies.
“Okay,” Thatch says. He punches in his code, and the door opens.
They walk inside. No one is there to greet, or protest against, them. That’s not surprising, though, since they deliberately chose to enter through a sort of back door. They carefully peek around the corners, and quietly begin walking towards the stern. They want to find a terminal to connect to that is as far from human activity as possible, because they won’t want any questions until—what the hell is this?
“What the hell is this?” Thatch asks, not expecting Olindse to know.
She answers the obvious, but still doesn’t get it. “Stasis pods.”
“Stasis pods for who?” Thatch continues. “And are they all full?”
She steps over to the terminal, and tries to look up information, but she has no authorization. Thatch has to enter his own codes to access it, but even he’s limited. “Is that...the number of pods, or somebody’s quantum sequence?”
“That is the number of pods,” Thatch confirms. “And that is the number of pods that are in use.”
“They’re the same.”
“There are 60,000 secret people on this ship?” Olindse presses.
“It looks like it.”
Olindse looks down the deep corridor, knowing that there are more just like it in other subsections. “A quick bit of math in my head, this means that the Bridger section runs quite nearly the entire length of Extremus, and also most of the width.”
Thatch looks around for answers, but he’s really just working through it in his head. “It’s another ship.”
“A ship inside of a ship?”
“Yes,” he says. “We always knew that this was made as a contingency, we just didn’t know the extent. If everything else is destroyed, they’re supposed to be able to move on. And they would do this by physically separating from us.”
“We have 8500 people on this ship right now, and they still outnumber us three and a half to one.”
“I don’t think it’s a competition.”
“Isn’t it, though? I mean, think about it. “What makes them so special? Why do they get to reach the planet, while the rest of us have to die before the ship makes it all the way? This was meant to be a generational vessel. We voted for that. We agreed to it. We did not agree to this.” She turns towards him angrily. “Why have you not been down here before? Why didn’t you know about this?”
“It didn’t seem to be my place. They only gave me access so Halan wouldn’t be the only one outside of the Bridger crew.”
“Oh my God, Admiral Yenant knows about it, and so does my captain!”
Olindse fumes for a moment, and then composes herself. “How did my past self find out about this, and why didn’t she let herself remember?”
“Wait, your past self?” Thatch questions.
“Yeah, she used your special lighter, and wrote me a note.”
“And then erased her memories?”
“Maybe she knew that someone was going to attack her, but couldn’t stop it.”
She was becoming angry again. “Well, she didn’t say that! Maybe if her note had been a little clearer, I would know what she wanted me to do with this information!”
“That would certainly be nice to know,” he agrees. “Why don’t we ask her?”
“Ask my past self?”
He shrugs. “It’s working for me.”
“That seems like it could turn into a bloody mess.”
“I’m just brainstor—” Thatch freezes in place.
As per protocol, Olindse waves her hand in front of his face. He does not react. She looks over to find a portal. Someone who looks exactly like her is on the other side of it, in the extraction room. “Umm, that is the wrong direction,” she complains. “I need answers from the past.”
“Well, you’re going to get them from the future,” Future!Olindse explains. “And you’re going to get them in the future. You’ll need a lot of patience for this one, honey.”
“Don’t patronize me.”
“Sorry, but this is important,” Future!Olindse says. “In about five seconds, a Bridger is going to walk down here to perform her regular maintenance on some of the pods. She’s going to catch you, and while you eventually learn what you truly came down here to find out, you end up in hock before you can do anything about it.”
“But that’s you, you’re talking about yourself,” Present!Olindse points out.
“Yes, it’s me. I did those things. I got caught. I managed to convince Caldr to sneak me to the extraction room. And unless you want to become me one day, you’ll step through this portal right now, and change the past.”
“That’s illegal,” Present!Olindse states the obvious.
“Sometimes you have to break the law to protect it,” Future!Olindse claims, “but you won’t get that chance if you don’t come now and ask Halan about Operation Nova.”
“There’s no time!”
“Time is frozen,” Present!Olindse contends.
“No, it’s not!” Future!Olindse argues. “It’s just going really slow!”
“What about him?”
“Bring him too, and then send him right back to his own time period.”
Present!Olindse takes a breath, and goes over her options, of which there is probably only one. Teleportation does not work down here, or they would have used it to get in. It’s a security measure. “Fine,” she growls. As soon as she takes Thatch by the shoulders, perceived time begins approaching the speed of realtime. Just as she’s pushing him through the portal, she hears the hatch opening up behind them.
“—do what I say.” Thatch tries to finish his sentence. “Why’d you bring us back?”
Olindse looks around for her alternate self, but there’s no one else here. “What was that about me having to do what you say?”
“No, I said, I’m just brainstorming. We don’t have to do what I say.
“Oh.” But she’s preoccupied by her own confusion. Then it hits her. By coming here, she just erased her future self from the timeline, and replaced her.

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