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Saturday, April 2, 2022

Extremus: Year 38

Rita was exhausted as she tried to continue her story, so Kaiora escorted her out of hock, and up to her new cabin. After she slept, Rita was still unable to continue with the story. Explaining as much as she did proved to be more traumatic than she thought it would be. It was tough, reliving the experience. After about a week, she felt comfortable restarting the process, but only with a therapist, who was trained to converse with her in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. Of course, the therapist did not reveal any details to Captain Leithe, or anyone else, but she was able to report that Rita’s truth would not endanger the Extremus mission, or the people. So nobody else had to know anything about it if Rita wasn’t willing to tell them herself. Even so, she could tell them, because others having this knowledge would also not threaten the mission. Until then, they moved on, and slowly reintegrated her into society. She no longer had a responsibility on the crew—nor did she want one. And for the most part, the other passengers weren’t pushy about her giving them answers.
To be honest, Kaiora hasn’t thought much about it for the last 21 months. She wasn’t even born yet when Rita disappeared. And as a Lieutenant, Rita didn’t make too much of a mark on the mission, since she spent so little time on it. She’s important, no doubt, and Kaiora’s glad she’s returned, but if she doesn’t want to talk about it, she doesn’t have to. The Captain has a ship to run, and that’s what she needs to focus on. As interesting as Rita’s tale might be, her therapist was quite clear that it’s not relevant to the ongoing operation of Extremus, so that means it’s personal. And Kaiora doesn’t have time for personal.
The door chirps. A very well dressed Dr. Daud Kreuleck is on the other side of it. “Is there a science awards event tonight?” Kaiora asks him.
He briefly doesn’t realize what she’s talking about. Then he looks down at his garb. “Oh, no. I was...uh, on a date.”
“Oh. Did it...not go well?”
“It went great,” he answers.
Awkward pause.
“But you needed to leave, and come to me for something?”
“I did,” Daud says with a nod. He’s acting really weird, like he’s just on autopilot, and doesn’t know what he’s going to do next. “His name was...”
“His name was what?”
Daud remembers, “Yusef. It was Yusef, sorry. We had a great time. As it turns out, we have a lot in common—”
“Why are you telling me this, Dr. Kreuleck?”
“Can I come in? I would like to come in.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“I just was hoping for some privacy.”
“Okay.” Kaiora selects a contact on her wristband. “Lieutenant Seelen, could you please jump to my cabin as soon as possible?”
Corinna appears in the room behind Kaiora. “All right,” the Captain says to the scientist as she’s stepping back. “Come on in.”
This is privacy?” Daud questions.
“This is what you get when you ask for privacy with a captain who’s in charge of a spaceship of thousands of people.”
“I’m just.” He growls. Then he walks in, and sits down. “Sorry.”
Kaiora sits down across from him. Corinna remains standing off to her Captain’s flank.
Daud takes a breath. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “This is all making me sound like a creep, and that is the furthest from what I mean. I’m trying to tell you that, while the date was perfect, I just kept seeing your face on his head.”
“I thought you were trying to not be creepy,” Kaiora points out.
“I just mean, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“Well, that’s understandable. Like I just said, I’m the leader of a ship.” She looks up at Corinna. “I’m sure there’s some kind of psychological complex going on there?”
“Yes, sir,” Corinna agrees insincerely, trying to remain detached from the conversation. She’s not there to listen, but to protect her superior officer. It’s still not clear if that’s necessary, and the longer this goes without an answer, the riskier the situation becomes.
“It’s not because you’re the Captain, I don’t care that you’re the Captain. I mean, of course I care that you’re the Captain. I just mean—it’s you. It’s just you. I care about you. I’m falling for you. There’s chemistry between us, and you can trust that that’s true, because I know chemistry. You have to agree that there’s something between us. You’re nice to everybody, but you’re particularly nice to me. If you could—”
“Daud. Daud, Daud!”
“Stop talking.”
“I’m sorry.”
“You keep having to say that.”
“I’mmmm...” He stops himself from the irony.
“Dr. Kreuleck. I am not interested in your company on a nonprofessional level. I respect you as a scientist, and a member of this crew. But I will not be pursuing a relationship. I apologize if anything I did, or said, led you to believe that there was anything between us beyond mutual professional respect.”
Daud can’t stop fidgeting. He’s heartbroken and upset, but he will get over it. This was the best way to break the news to him. It would be so much worse if Kaiora tried to talk about it, or let him down easy. The hard truth was the only way through. He leans his head back against the top of the couch cushion, stuck in a daze. “Could you please just spirit me away to my cabin? I know you don’t use your teleporter for that kind of thing, but—”
Kaiora does as she’s asked. She sighs once he’s gone.
“I thought you did like him?” Corinna reminds her.
“Fleeting thoughts,” Kaiora dismisses. “Besides, it’s not like I can be with anyone, whether I find someone I truly like, or not.”
“Why not?”
“I’m the Captain, as we established.”
“So what?”
“So the captain can’t be in a romantic relationship. It’s a conflict of interest, or something.”
Corinna frowns. She fiddles with her watch, and uses it to project a hologram of the book of Extremus laws. “Show me in here where it says you can’t be in a relationship.”
“Well, it doesn’t explicitly say that, I mean, but come on...”
Corinna closes the book. She wasn’t expecting Kaiora to literally look for the law. Because it’s not in there. It can’t be. “I’m not saying you should go after...that guy, whoever he is. But if you meet someone, or you’ve met someone, don’t let your job get in the way of that. You are entitled to happiness, and having a responsibility doesn’t mean you lose that. Yeah, it’s true that there are some things you can’t have because you’re the leader, like a completely private or anonymous life. Love isn’t one of those things.”
“Halan never pursued anybody,” Kaiora points out.
“Halan is aromantic. That’s why they chose him.”
“Obviously it’s not the only reason they chose him—or even necessarily the deciding factor—he’s absolutely qualified for the job, but he was a great candidate, because they didn’t want him to be distracted.”
Was that true? That might actually be true. It would have been almost impossible to pass any laws restricting anyone’s right to love and partnership, so they may have decided that their best alternative was to find someone who wasn’t looking for that. “So you’re only proving my point. Whether it’s an actual law, or not, it means I don’t have time for all that.”
“No, because those people aren’t here anymore. They’re all dead. Well, I think that one of them might be still alive, but he wouldn’t matter. That was their sneaky way of protecting the ship’s interests, but they weren’t infallible. You make your own choices, and when it comes to your personal life, no one can stop you from doing whatever the hell you want. Again, I don’t know who that guy was, but do what you want, and don’t fret over other people’s reservations. You’re not Halan Yenant.”
Kaiora takes a moment to think about Corinna’s words. Hoping they’re true, she reaches over, and selects a destination point on her wristband.
“Are you...going to someone?”
“Thanks, Lieutenant. You’ve been a big help.”
“Squee,” Corinna squees.
Kaiora teleports herself to the executive infirmary, specifically the Chief Medical Officer’s office.
Dr. Holmes is staring at some x-rays on the wall, and looking at a chart on her tablet. “Captain, is there a problem?”
Kaiora gently takes the tablet away from Ima, and replaces it with her hand, to get a feel for it at first.
Kaiora doesn’t say anything. She just holds the doctor’s hand with her own, caressing her thumb carefully.
Ima reaches up with her other hand to match and begins to breathe heavily. “Captain,” she repeats for the third time.
“I would like to kiss you.”
Ima continues to try to steady her breath. “I’m thirty-four years older than you.”
“Is that right?” Kaiora lays her forehead against Ima’s.
“Actually, it’s...thirty-four years...three months, and six days.”
Kaiora doesn’t let Ima pull away. “You’ve calculated it.”
“Yes,” Ima whispers.
“You don’t know the hours and minutes?” she whispers too.
“One hour, eight minutes,” Ima says, barely audibly.
Now Kaiora pulls aways, and backs up a few steps. “I’m going to stand here. Ten seconds after I stop talking, I’m going to pucker my lips, and kiss. That might mean I’m kissing the air, or I’m kissing you. You will have to choose which.”
Unable to last ten seconds, Dr. Ima Holmes lunges forward, and initiates the kiss. They hold it forever before letting go, each taking a half step back again. “Why did you come here?”
“I had to.”
“This isn’t appropriate.” Ima steps back even farther.
“Yes it is.”
“You’re a baby.”
“No I’m not.”
“I mean I saw you as a baby. I didn’t deliver you, but I’m good friends with the doctor who did. I lived so much before you even showed up.”
“I don’t care about any of that.”
I do.”
“If you thought you couldn’t get past it, you would have let the ten seconds run out.”
“Ten seconds isn’t enough time to make an informed decision.”
“Ten seconds is sometimes all you have, and I don’t know how many ten secondses either of us has left, but I don’t want to spend them unhappy.”
“I’m going to die comparatively soon, whether we pursue this, or not, and you will have a lot of ten secondses without me.”
Kaiora shrugs. “That’s what you did. You had thirty-four years of ten secondses without me. Calculate that.”
“I didn’t know you. I didn’t...know your smell.” She finds herself walking forward again. “I didn’t know how your bouncy brown hair frames your face, or how my heart flutters when you come into the room, but calms when I hear your soft voice. I was so ignorant back then. If this is mutual, and you feel anything for me like I do for you, I don’t want you to lose it, because I know how I would feel if I lost you.”
“I would rather have and lose you than not have you at all. The distance between us feels like a firestorm, and the closer we get, the cooler it becomes.”
“People will talk,” Ima laments.
“I’ll order them not to,” Kaiora jokes, but she’ll do it for real if she has to.
“I won’t be anyone’s secret. If we start something, we have to go public right away. Can you handle that? Can the mission survive that?”
Kaiora doesn’t wait long to answer, “yes.”

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