Saturday, March 19, 2022

Extremus: Year 36

At first, it was obvious what Captain Leithe needed to do. Dr. Holmes lied to her, claiming that she was trying to help her fix her memory problem when really she was the cause of it, at least part of the time. She had to go. People had to know that she was bad news so the dismissal process could be completed. It was going to be neither easy, nor simple, but it simply had to be done. As Kaiora pondered the proceedings that would follow should she choose to put this on the agenda, however, she had to acknowledge a big issue. Nearly everything would come out about her practice. Every procedure she performed, every medication she prescribed; it would all be out in the open. This information would not be attached to any names, of course, but it had to become evidence, because while it wasn’t all relevant, any of it could be relevant, and it was going to take a specially formed committee time to sort through it. At the very least, this was needlessly humiliating to a well-respected medical professional whose motives Kaiora was not fully cognizant of, and at worst, it placed Olindse in more danger, which defeated the whole purpose.
As it turned out, Kaiora didn’t know that much about what happened to Admiral Olindse Belo. She circumvented a direct order from her Captain to jump into a portal to the future. That’s really all she knew. She didn’t know why she had to go, or when she would arrive. Best practices suggested the best way to handle the situation, since the memory wipe didn’t really take, was to ignore the topic as much as possible. Throwing Dr. Holmes under the bus was not ignoring it, and it was not discreet. Temporal theory states that doubt about the path to reach a known future is tantamount to an unknown future. That is, Kaiora doesn’t know what the timeline is like when Olindse shows up in it, which means she has to assume that every choice she and the people around her make will lead to that future, rather than some random alternative. She’s not free to make any decision she would like, but she’s pretty safe making the reasonable ones since she has no reason to believe they would go against her hypothetical fate.
Still, trying to get rid of Dr. Holmes was a risky move by any standard, so she decided to let it go. The two of them didn’t talk about it for almost three years after that. When they passed in the corridors, or sat across from each other in the executive crew meetings, they exchanged knowing glances, but they did not address the elephant in the room, which they could both see. It was in both of their best interests to pretend it never happened, so that’s what they did. Unfortunately, as the time since has illustrated, it has not been that easy. The tension between them has proved to be a lot more obvious to everyone else. Apparently, there have been two elephants in the same room all along, with neither being mutually visible. It’s affected their work. Surely without coordinating, they’ve both begun to delegate a lot more work that they would traditionally do themselves, worrying their fellow crew members and friends. They never staged an intervention, but independently of each other, the head of surgery spoke with Dr. Holmes, and the Second Lieutenant spoke with Kaiora. That’s when the latter knew she was at her lowest, because if Lars Callaghan thinks there’s something wrong with you, there’s something wrong with you.
Something has to change about this dynamic, and if Kaiora isn’t going to step away from the captain’s seat, there is only one other option. They’re in a meeting now to discuss the future of this crew, and their respective responsibilities on it.
“I’m not going to do it,” Dr. Holmes says before Kaiora has a chance to speak.
“You’re not going to do what?”
“I’m not going to retire.”
While Hock Watcher can effectively be a lifetime appointment, Chief Medical Officer actually is. Dr. Holmes would have to do something pretty bad to lose her job. Premature retirement is even harder. If Kaiora wants to do this, she has to be careful. She has to convince her to make this decision for herself. “I never said that.”
“You were going to suggest it.”
“And how would you know that?” Kaiora questions. “Are you aware of future events in the timeline to which the likes of me are not privy?”
“Oh, here we go again.”
“What do you mean, here we go again? We’ve never talked about this!”
“I see the way you look at me.”
“I see the way you look at me!”
“Are you just going to echo everything that I say?”
“Are you not going to explain yourself? I want to know why you did it. Why did you fuck with my memories?”
“Why did you not question me before?”
Kaiora takes a moment before responding. She sips her tea in the meantime. “Do you know what this room is?”
Dr. Holmes looks over at the walls. “I’ve never been here before. I stay mostly in the medical section.”
Kaiora nods. She places a headband over her forehead. Then she reaches over to a gadget on a table next to her, and flips a switch. Everything changes. They’re still in the same room, but they’re joined by infinite copies of it now, along with infinite copies of Dr. Holmes herself. Kaiora is safe as she’s wearing the headband, but the doctor can see her own duplicates, sitting around her, above her on the ceiling, and below her under the now transparent floor. They’re all looking around at each other too, equally as confused, but each reacting differently to an infinitesimal degree. As time goes on, they begin to pop out of existence, only to be replaced by new copies.
“What is this?” Dr. Holmes asks, and as she does so, an infinite number of others do the same, each in their own special way, at slightly different times, tones, and speeds. The sound echoes unbearably throughout the infinite cosmic expanse. They continue to disappear.
Kaiora clears her throat, and switches off the machine. “This. is the Infinitorium. It’s sometimes known as the quantum duplication room, but to some, that implies the ability to cross dimensional barriers where that function does not exist. You can see and hear your alternates, but only one of you will survive any given moment. The rest are constantly being destroyed. You are dying an infinite number of times every moment of your life. This is the fact of reality, and what this chamber does is show you that, whereas most of the time, you’re free to move on with your life, blissfully ignorant of all the versions of you that didn’t make it. This was an experiment of Old Man’s. He thought the criminals on this ship might find it unenjoyable to be tortured in. See, now you’ve seen. You’ve watched yourself be wiped from existence over and over again, but here’s the catch.” Kaiora leans in. “That’s not what you learned today. What you really that the next possible version of you to die...could be you.”
Dr. Holmes shifts uncomfortably. “What do you want?”
“I want the goddamn truth. What did you do to my memories? This has been a long time coming.”
Dr. Holmes takes a breath, and does everything to recover from her recent traumatic experience, recognizing that she’ll probably need therapy after this regardless. “I did it to protect the Admiral. You came to me, and told me what happened, and together, we pieced together what you were missing. The memory drops were perfectly fine when they were manufactured. They’re a prescription drug, and I don’t know where Olindse got them, but like any consumable, they go bad. It was expired, Captain Leithe, and you should not have taken it. I keep telling my patients, read the label. Analgesic doesn’t mean what you think it means! Anyway, what your videos don’t mention is that the drug was having a negative impact on other parts of your memory, not just episodic. They were interfering with your ability to walk, and to remember words. You were making yourself look like an idiot, and people were strongly considering recalling you as the captain.
“I found myself incapable of fixing you permanently. The best I could do was give you that nose spray. What it does is sort of consolidate the apparently reproductive memory solution in your system, so it does what it was supposed to do, and only erase your episodic memories. It was a temporary solution, obviously. I never meant to keep you like that. I was working on something that could flush all of it from your body, but that was proving to be more difficult than I thought it would. I delegated my duties, and focused solely on the permanent solution.”
“I didn’t need you to synthesize a system flush,” Kaiora argues. “All I needed to do was stop taking the nose spray.”
“Yeah, I see that now, but since we kept having the same conversation every other day, and the same other conversation every other day, that didn’t occur to me!”
Kaiora took another beat before responding. “Once you realized I was back to normal three years ago, why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because you didn’t say anything. Your past self was trying to protect the Admiral, and I wanted to do the same. Yeah, it sucked that you kept erasing the day you just lived, but I believed you would agree that to be the lesser of two evils. I still don’t know what you know; what you remember about it. You never came to me to run tests, and I didn’t want any more damage to your psyche.”
Kaiora reaches up to massage her forehead, only now realizing that the control headband is still there. She pulls it off, and carelessly throws it across the room. “Shit,” she says loudly, but voicelessly.
“What was that a reaction to, the headband?”
“No,” Kaiora contends. “I messed up. I assumed the worst, and I didn’t talk to you about it.”
“I nearly retired because of what happened, Captain. I’ve never made a mistake like that. I’ve never been so reckless with someone’s neurology; someone’s life. I didn’t wanna say anything because...I was afraid to lose my job, and my reputation. As soon as they posted this position for the Extremus mission, I dreamed of dying at my desk. I wanted to outlast everybody, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a doctor it’s that patients benefit from continuity. What I did to you...and what I didn’t do, it threatened all of that. It threatened my legacy, and I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry,” Kaiora echoes. “I jumped to conclusions, and that’s not the sign of a good leader. Halan Yenant would never have done that.”
“Yenant is not without his faults. I mean, he’s the one in hock.”
“He shouldn’t be.”
“Yes, he should, and not because he broke the law—his actions saved the lives of thousands on board, and tens of thousands of our ship’s descendants, and countless generations beyond the realization of our mission. But the next guy won’t have such good intentions, and we can’t let that guy think that we’ll just forgive and forget. That was Halan’s true sacrifice, and we can’t rob him of it. I know you and Olindse have always wanted to get him out, but it can’t be done. He’ll die in there, just like I’ll die at my desk...assuming you aren’t still trying to get me out.”
“No, doctor. I was wrong.”
“Welcome to the club.”
While they’re sitting in silence, the doorbell rings. It’s excruciatingly annoying, and needlessly echoey. Kaiora stands up, and looks at the screen. It’s Lieutenant Seelen. “What is it, Corinna?”
“If you’re done with, uh..whatever it is you’re doing in there, the resupply team found something.”
“I’ll be right there.”
“Thanks, Captain, for understanding.”
“Thanks for protecting the timeline. That’s what I was trying to do too.”
They both teleport out of the room, but go to different places. Kaiora lands in the cargo bay. Nearly three decades ago, this team’s predecessors sent the first drones out to nearby planets in the past to mine precious resources, and return them to the Extremus. They’ve continued to do this on an as-needed basis, but the process has become more difficult since Halan sent them into the intergalactic void. There are worlds out here, but they’re incredibly dispersed, and hard to find, which makes every mission that much more important than before. If they run out, the mission will be a bust, and they will probably all die.
“I was told you found something.”
“Yes, Captain,” the cargomaster tells her. He escorts her over to a stack of raw materials that were in the middle of being sorted. He points down at a block of metallic hydrogen. On top of it is a clear box, not larger than a tall man’s fist. There is a life inside of it, which Kaiora has to lean in and squint to make out.
“Oh my God.”
“That’s what we were thinking.”

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