Saturday, February 19, 2022

Extremus: Year 32

When Olindse recovered from her bender, Kaiora asked her where she was while she was missing for eight months. The former chose to keep quiet, invoking her right to privacy as an admiral. Something happened while she was struggling through the alcohol poisoning. She couldn’t recall precisely what she experienced, but when she awoke, she had an epiphany. She wasn’t going to be ignored or dismissed anymore. She was so determined to alter her image that she refused to be known as a vice admiral anymore. Of course, this wasn’t something she could simply declare, but the crew could vote on it. Kaiora would have to put it up for a vote first, but after a speech or two, Olindse was able to convince her to do as much. It was unanimous, and she was promoted to full admiral. This gave her a little more autonomy, and allowed her to run certain aspects of the ship, with the Captain’s blessing. The prisoner rehabilitation program was going strong, and operating self-sufficiently. Olindse wasn’t really qualified to be too heavily involved in it, even though she was the one who came up with it. So she needed something else to preoccupy her time. She settled on holiday planning.
The crew and passengers nearly all descended from the universe-slash-planet of Ansutah. Only Omega has no ties to this world, but no one has seen him in years, so he barely counts anyway. Ansutah was populated by monsters, so it was a very dangerous place to live. Their ancestors relegated themselves to an entire continent, which the Maramon revered as a holy place that no one was allowed to visit. The humans kept themselves hidden by remaining in vast cavernous complexes, and under dense rainforest canopies, and by throttling their own technological development. Travel throughout the continent was limited, because they couldn’t invent airplanes, even though historical records showed that it was physically possible. Even above ground trains and vehicle roads were too risky. Boats were mostly pointless, because there was no reason to traverse the ocean. There were some bodies of water, of course, but they would be too exposed to satellites, and the like, so they went straight to submarines, and used them sparingly. But mostly they got around via a network of subway tunnels.
Besides the technological restrictions, there were some things they didn’t have because they didn’t want to be found out by the white monsters. Holiday celebrations were one of these things. They did observe a few important anniversaries, like the birth of a respected philosopher, or the invention of one of those pivotal technologies that made their lives more convenient while maintaining their high level of secrecy. Even so, they didn’t hold parades, or throw large parties, or put on live concerts. Music was not non-existent, but it evolved quite differently than on Earth, because they were just too afraid that a Maramon fishing boat would come a little too close to their landmass, and hear the ruckus. People had fun, and they enjoyed their lives, and though they lived under constant threat of being found out, they didn’t suffer from paranoia every second of every day. But they also valued quiet simplicity, because it was the best way to prevent things from getting out of hand. When the human refugees escaped into this universe 71 years ago, they held onto this value, because they didn’t know how to break free from it. They didn’t understand how parades came about, or how to promote a live concert. Very few people are alive who still remember Ansutah, but that doesn’t mean they’ve come up with their own holidays. And so Olindse and her new team has mostly been replicating Earthan observances. Today, that changes.
“Didn’t we just celebrate that, uh...” Kaiora snaps her fingers, trying to remember.
“Thanksgiving, yes.”
“That was yesterday, yeah. I have to start planning for the next one now. Traditionally, Christmas preparations begin about a month prior.”
“Oh, Christmas? I didn’t really care for that one” Kaiora says.
“I want to do something different, which is why I’m asking for approval,” Olindse explains.
“Very well, what’s your pitch?”
“This time of year has a long history of being stolen by other cultures, and of various cultures celebrating their own holidays around the same time,” Olindse begins. “According to the ancient texts, it was once called, umm...” She has to consult her tablet. “Saturnalia. It was first commemorated by a group of people called...pagans? Christians took it to honor the birth of their god’s hooman son, who was probably actually born in spring. Then the corporations took it from them to rejoice in their capitalism. Other religions have done their own, unrelated things.”
“Which one did we do last year?” Kaiora asks.
“Well, we did all three of the main ones,” Olindse answers, “but we focused on the last one, because it demands the least amount of cultural appropriation.”
“And which one are you doing this year?”
“We’re continuing the tradition of stealing the day for our own purposes by honoring something else.”
“Which is...?”
Olindse waits to answer for dramatic effect. “Forgiveness.”
“Oh my God, this is about Halan Yenant.”
“You’re trying to get him out of hock.”
“What are you talking about? No. What? No.”
“Yes, you are, this is your plan.”
“What makes you say that?” Olindse asks. How did she guess?
“Because I know you. The theme is forgiveness? Oh, come on, you think I’m an idiot?”
“Don’t you want this too?”
“Of course I do, but I can’t just let him go. He committed a crime.”
“He’s been doing very well in his counseling sessions.”
“And I’m happy for him, but...”
“But what?” Olindse urges. “He’s 56 years old.”
“What does that have to do with anything? Do you think that’s old?”
“According to history.”
“Yeah, on Ansutah. You’re getting confused. He’s fine, it would not be some kind of mercy release. He has many years ahead of him.”
“Not if he stays in there. Studies have shown that incarceration takes two years off of the life expectancy of an individual for every year behind bars.”
“That’s sad,” Kaiora agrees, “but the law is the law, and I am bound to it more than anyone. I have to maintain an example. If I try anything untoward, I could end up in the cell right next to him.”
“At worst, they would strip you of your rank.”
“Well, I don’t want that either..Olindse! Jesus!”
“All right, all right, all right,” Olindse says. “So let’s talk about it. You can’t release him for good, but we have to make a grand gesture in order to exemplify the spirit of forgiveness. People are expecting it.”
“Who’s expecting it? You just came up with this new holiday.”
“I’ve been talkin’ about it, just not with you.”
Kaiora sighs. “What did you have in mind?”
“A year.”
“A year, what?”
“Release Admiral Yenant for a year.”
“Civilian Halan Yenant,” she corrects. “You want me to let him go for a year, and then put him back in his cell after that? That would make us look worse than just leaving him in there for good. It would be so bizarre”
“Oh yeah, hmm. So, what’s your counter?”
“I didn’t know we were negotiating.”
“I’m always negotiatin’, baby”
Kaiora sighs again. “An hour. He can come out for part of a party.”
“A month.”
“A whole party; not just an hour of it.”
“A fortnight.”
“A day.”
“A week.”
“Okay, fine. A week.”
“A salmon week.”
“What the hell is a salmon week?”
“Eight days.”
“Some salmon have an extra day between Saturday and Sunday.”
Kaiora itches her cheek, and then it just snowballs into her massaging her whole face with both hands. “Very well, one salmon week.”
Olindse smiles, pleased with herself for managing to negotiate up to what she wanted all along. “I’ll go tell the party planning committee.”
“You’ll be making the shipwide announcement regarding this decision.”
She smiles wider. Even better.
“And you’ll be telling them that all of the prisoners will be temporarily released for that period of time.”
“Excuse me?” Olinde's questions.
“I mean, we can’t just let Halan go. That would be unfair. We obviously favor him, but if this—nay, your—holiday is about forgiveness, then we don’t really get to choose who we forgive, and who we don’t. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“You want to let a mutineer and a terrorist go free for a week?”
“I don’t want anything. This is all” Kaiora doesn’t expect Olindse to change her mind due to this mandate. It’s a reasonable condition, and she knows this. What Kaiora wants is for the Admiral to take responsibility for this decision, so it doesn’t blow back on Kaiora, or the rest of the crew. It’s fine if she wants to do this, but she doesn’t get to do it free of consequences. If Halan is released alone, it will undoubtedly go well, and Olindse will be able to use this as evidence that he ought to be released permanently, and perhaps even reinstated as an admiral himself. But the poor optics will do lasting damage to the passengers’ confidence in the crew to remain impartial and unbiased. By packaging him with Ovan and Dvronen, Kaiora has ensured that Olindse’s objective is not realized too easily. Yes, the Captain does ultimately want Halan to go free too, but while most of the ship agrees with them, there is a significant population which does not. Favoring one prisoner over the others threatens the stability of society, and risks the crew crumbling to the whims of a hypothetical new government administration that builds itself upon a foundation of integrity and justice. Ovan and Dvronen will almost certainly screw this up, but it will look fair, and that’s really all that matters, politically speaking.
Olindse straightens herself out, and nods. “Excellent idea. I shall prepare a statement.”
Vice Admiral Thatch yawns before he can get a word in. “Sorry. That story wasn’t boring, I’m just very tired.” Two years ago, Olindse returned to the extraction room, and summoned Thatch again to ask him for advice on what she should tell Captain Leithe about where she had been for the previous eight months. It was he who suggested that she had every right to just say almost nothing at all. Time travel is a tricky thing, and while it is possible to exploit this for personal gain, or personal agenda, it’s entirely rational to demand secrecy in these matters. For instance, Thatch now has a decent idea of when he’s going to die, and what kind of relationship he’ll have with his captain when it happens. This gives him a little insight into the future, but he knows that saying too much to others could jeopardize the timeline. Olindse was able to claim to know enough about the future that explaining her absence might do the same. It didn’t necessarily have to be true. She just had to convince Kaiora that it wasn’t worth this risk. This tactic worked, and ever since then, Olindse has continued going to Thatch for guidance. To communicate, they no longer use the extraction mirror, but a different time mirror, which Old Man gave to him long ago, and which was still in a secret compartment in his office. They’re both using the same exact mirror, but Thatch is in possession of it in 2286, and Olindse has been using it in the present.
“Do you want me to call back later?” she offers.
“No, I’m all right. But, uh...was there a question in all that?”
“How do I justify releasing the other two prisoners, and how do I keep them in line for the eight-day period?”
“Why would you want to?”
“Well, if they cause trouble, the good prisoner is at risk. People won’t want to see him released one day if they think something like that could happen again.” She’s not naming names, again to protect the timeline.
“Not if you frame it right.”
“How would I frame it?”
“Don’t just let the two mystery bad prisoners you told me about agitate the status quo. Actively encourage them to do it, but...ya know, covertly. This good prisoner that you like will then be able to step up, and be the hero that saves the day. I know that’s not your strong suit, but with my help, you’ll be able to manipulate them to do what you want.”
“That may be so, but I could never trick the good prisoner. He has too much integrity. He would stop it before anything happens, and then your whole gambit doesn’t work.”
“Trust me, you wouldn’t have to manipulate Halan to do the hero thing. It’s in his nature. All you have to do is worry about the other two. He’ll react accordingly on his own.”
“I never told you that Halan was the good prisoner.”
“I read between the lines,” Thatch admits. “The way you talk about him, that only describes one person in the whole universe.”
“You can’t say anything,” Olindse reminds him.
“Literally, I can’t.” Thatch holds a little green plastic bottle in front of the mirror. “These eye drops will erase my memories. I won’t remember any of this.”
“Won’t you experience missing time?”
Now Thatch pulls a bottle of liquor into frame. “I lose chunks of time all the time. I learned long ago to just let it go. If whatever I did while I was blacked out doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass, then I obviously don’t have to worry about what it was.”
“That’s a scary way to live your life, man.”
Thatch shrugs, takes a sip, and sets the bottle back down. “It works for me.”
Olindse nods, not in understanding, but understanding that he believes as much about his own lifestyle, and that that’s never going to change.
“So how ‘bout it, Full Admiral Olindse Belo? Want me to teach you how to manipulate a couple o’ bad guys?”
Olindse thinks about it for a moment. There are some pretty problematic ethical implications for trying something so shady. Still, Halan must be set free, and if this is one step towards that goal, she has to do it. She has to do whatever it takes. “Teach me.”

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