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Saturday, February 5, 2022

Extremus: Year 30

This is a new timeline. Olindse didn’t change her own past, but she changed the future when she skipped over however long it was, and came here. Thatch asks what’s going on, but she ignores his questions. She steps out of the extraction room, and looks at the keypad, because it’s the closest thing with accurate temporal data. “It’s February 26, 2299,” she says.
“Why?” Thatch asks.
“We were about to get caught. Future!Me showed up to save me. Now she’s gone, and I’m here, and I’ve been missing for the last eight months.”
“Oh boy,” he says. “We’re going to have to come up with a good lie.”
“Not we, me. You have to go back home.”
“You’re asking me to go back to my death.”
“You’re gonna die anyway...in seven years, and three months. That happens whether it’s in 2294, or 2306. It’s up to you whether you want to do it in hock, or if you’re going to have one last nice conversation with Halan Yenant before your nurse turns off your life support. Go back and do some good, or stay here and ruin everything.”
He frowns. “Do he and I really have a nice conversation?”
“The best,” she says, not really knowing exactly what went down that day. “The way he tells it, he wishes you two had had more like it.”
“Well...one is better than nothing, I guess.” He nods gracefully. “Do it.”
Olindse sends the only person on this vessel who understood what it was like to be a Vice Admiral whose advice nobody cares about back to the past. Alone again, she returns to her stateroom to take a shower. She’ll have to explain her absence eventually, but there’s no reason she can’t be well-rested and clean when that happens. When she wakes up from her nap, she forces herself to get dressed, and go out to face the music. She thinks she’s come up with a pretty decent lie. The only logical possibility is that Yitro secretly showed up and recruited her for the mission, and for whatever reason, deposited her back on the Extremus months later. Once the time shuttle finally does return, and Yitro is actually back to dispute the lie, things could get complicated, but she’ll burn that bridge when she comes to it.
It’s pretty late, so Captain Leithe probably retired to her own stateroom for the night. Even so, Olindse takes a quick look on the bridge to make sure, then she heads over to get this over with.
The Captain commands the computer to open her door. “Vice Admiral, hello. What can I do for you?”
“I would like to explain.”
“Explain what?”
“My absence.”
“You were gone?”
“What?”
“Olindse, if you need a break to go to the simulator, or the park, that’s fine, you don’t need to ask for permission, or apologize. I’ll find you if I need you.”
“You didn’t notice that I was gone?”
“Well. I’m a little busy.”
“Yeah, but...”
“Seriously,” Kaiora says, “you served your time as captain. Sure, it wasn’t a full shift, but you still deserve to be retired. You experienced the same rigorous coursework the rest of us did, and you were in charge during some of the most insane and stressful years this ship has seen. Just have fun and relax. Don’t feel bad about it.”
Olindse can’t help but grimace. Wow. Just...wow. “Um. ‘Kay.”
Kaiora nods. “So, I’m gonna work on my Quantum Colony planet for a little bit and then head to bed. You’re welcome to join, if you want...on the game, not...the bed.”
“That’s all right, Captain,” Olindse replies. “I’ll see you later.”
“For sure.”
Olindse steps away from the door to prompt it to close, and begins to hyperventilate. She teleports herself back to her stateroom so she can have her panic attack in peace. Eight months. Eight whole fucking months. She was gone for all that time, and no one noticed! How is that even possible? Do they really think that little of her? Is she really that expendable? All that bullshit Kaiora just tried to feed her about deserving to retire because of her prior work was just a lie. If she really felt that way, she would have realized that she hadn’t seen Olindse for the last eight goddamn months!
Olindse paces the room, trying to let go of her anger, but it won’t leave her alone. No, this will not do. Great, she doesn’t have to explain her absence, but that also means she can’t confide in anyone about this. She has to keep it to herself completely, and bottling up her emotions has never served her well. Resolved to get past this, she activates her teleporter again.
The journey to the Extremus planet will ultimately take 216 years. In that time, the population could grow as much as thirteen times its original complement. Until then, there are tens of thousands of unoccupied cabins that won’t see a resident move in for a long time. Some may never be inhabited, as the engineers obviously constructed more than they thought they would need to accommodate the full breadth of the mission. While spreading out is fine, there is a limit to where civilians are allowed to live. When children move away from home, they can put some distance between them and their parents to exercise some independence, but they can’t go all the way to the stern. Many sections are closed off for use, and will remain that way until such time that they are needed. One block of cabins is the furthest from anybody, and is being used for rage rooms.
Virtual reality is generally considered to be indistinguishable from base reality, but people still like being where physical laws are immutable, and where most of their actions cannot be undone. It’s possible to design a simulation where users can destroy objects without fear of consequences, and then logoff, and go about their day. That program probably does exist somewhere on the servers. People don’t really want that, though; not for this. They want to know that the things they’re destroying are real, and that there’s a chance that something they do in one of these rooms could potentially lead to someone having to go to the infirmary. It’s dangerous, and that’s what makes it so therapeutic. The bylaws did not originally account for this section to exist, so for now, it’s not illegal. For the most part, the government and crew turn a blind eye to it, but they could change their minds later, especially as the administration changes hands.
Olindse walks up to the counter, and demands an arsenal of blunt instruments, such as bats, golf clubs, and metal pipes.
“Okay, you’ll need some protective gear too,” the clerk says.
“No,” Olindse insists.
“I’m afraid it’s policy.”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Of course, Vice Admiral.”
“Then you know that I can have this place shut down by this time tomorrow. So go over there, grab me some instruments, and stay the hell out of my business.”
He hesitates to answer, but not too long. “As you wish, Vice Admiral.” He hands her the duffel bag.
“Thanks,” she says as she’s taking it from him. “Oh, and I was never here.”
“Of course, sir.”
Olindse walks down to her assigned room, and walks in. It’s full of absolutely ancient technology—some from Earth, and some from Ansutah before the evacuation. Computers, clocks, old media, objects so old that Olindse doesn’t even know what they were used for. There’s a piece of drywall leaning against the real wall, along with an uninstalled glass window. Bottles, cans, pots, and pans. Clothes to rip, and paper to shred. She looks the room over to see what catches her fancy. All of it. Every last object here is about to meet its end. When she’s done, nothing will be even moderately recognizable. She just has to decide where to start. “This’ll do.”

The door opens, and the lights come on. Olindse wakes up abruptly, covered in cuts, and feeling sick. She must have raged herself to sleep.
Captain Kaiora Leithe walks in and offers a hand. “What are you doing here, Admiral?”
“I don’t have to answer that,” Olindse contends.
“Can you at least let me help you up?”
Olindse squints at the hand. She reaches up as if to accept it, but slaps it away instead. “Go to the devil.”
“Are you drunk?”
“I think I found a bottle of something with alcohol in it last night. I don’t know why it’s illegal, I feel so good right now.” She throws up on her own chest.
Kaiora picks a bottle up from the floor. “Damn, Olindse, this liquor stuff is 277 years old. It was poisonous when they made it, and it’s even more poisonous now. It’s probably from the history museum.” She tries to take control of Olindse’s teleporter.
“What are you doing?” Olindse complains, fighting back.
“You need to go to the infirmary. I don’t know what’s gotten you so upset, but you’re gonna die if you don’t receive proper medical treatment.”
Olindse makes one last pull away from the Captain. “And who will care?”
“I will.”
“I was dead for eight months and you didn’t even notice.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Exactly.”
Kaiora looks away, and accesses her brain’s memory archives. “I probably haven’t seen you in eight months. Were you gone that whole time?”
Olindse shoves a finger in Kaiora’s face. “Bingpot!”
“Oh my God. What happened to you? Were you taken?”
“I think we’ve established that you don’t give a flailing fuck.”
“We’ll talk when you’re sober.” Kaiora remembers, as Captain, she has the ability to transport anyone she wants to anywhere she wants, without their permission, and using her own teleporter. She sends them both to Dr. Holmes.
Since alcohol is illegal and rare, alcohol poisoning is not something that happens on the ship very often. It does happen occasionally, and the medical team believes they encounter nearly every single time someone tries to drink, because the moron doesn’t usually have any experience, so the consequences are not something they can sleep off on their own. Admiral Thatch was perhaps the only exception. Earth once made a serious effort to develop a hangover cure to relieve drinkers from some of the harmful side effects of intoxication, but this was around the time that a state of abstinence was sweeping the world due to its rejection by younger generations. Legislatures quietly made the medical treatment itself illegal, so as to not encourage anyone to regress. A different administration may have handled things differently, but research halted, and the world moved towards the recreational drug-free condition it’s in today. The research was picked up again several decades later, and the dream was ultimately realized. By then, there weren’t many people around to need it, but it did come up sometimes when alcohol was forced upon a victim as a weapon, or a form of torture. Dr. Holmes keeps a stash of the stuff on hand.
She injects Olindse with the treatment, causing her to begin to fall asleep within seconds.
“How long will this take?” Kaiora questions.
“A few hours.” Dr. Holmes pulls Olindse to her side, and places a body pillow against her back. “If she were simply drunk, it would be quicker, but she’s on the verge of death, drinking something that old. You could not have brought her in too soon.”
“Call me when she’s awake,” Kaiora orders. “I’m going to retrace her steps.” Privacy is important on Extremus, but so is security. The ship logs the movements of everyone on board. It erases most people’s histories after a month, but VIPs are kept indefinitely for safety reasons. They’re harder to access, though, even for the Captain. She’ll have to file a formal request with current Head of Security, Ramiel Krupin.
“Are you sure about this, sir?” Ramiel asks. “I mean, an Admiral. That’s...”
“She disappeared for eight months, I need to know where she was.”
“Can’t you just ask her?”
“She’s sick. She’s...lost credibility.”
“All due respect, sir, that sounds like a contrivance. I’m going to need you to spell it out for me.” He hands her a tablet. “And I’m going to need you to do it in writing.”
“This is a matter of ship security. I need that information.”
“You need to have a good reason, or you’re not getting it.”
Captain is the highest rank on the ship, even against admirals, even against the civilian government. If anyone is in a position to declare this to suddenly become a dictatorship, it would be Kaiora Leithe. No one else comes close to having the power to pull that off, not even First Chair. She wouldn’t do it obviously, and neither will any future captain, or they would never be selected in the first place. That’s why Halan Yenant’s decision to alter course was such a terrible crime, because he abused his power to do it. Still, even with all this clout, there are precisely two ranks on this ship with the power to overrule anything a captain says. One of them is the Chief Medical Officer, and the other is Head of Security. “Fine. I’ll investigate this myself.” She storms out.

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