Saturday, April 9, 2022

Extremus: Year 39

“Good late night. My name is Taila March, streaming live from a secret section of the ship that you’re not allowed to go to. Pause of laughter. The time is midnight central according to the Earthan clock, on September 12, 2308, and you’re watching Extremus Measures. If you’re under sixteen, maybe you wanna shut your eyes, and cover your ears—or just go to bed—it’s about to get real.”
She walks up and over to her desk, forgoing her usual slew of topical jokes. It’s not the first time she’s done it. She alters the format when she’s going to be discussing some more serious topics. She sits patiently as the band completes its song, pretending to read through notecards and the show’s agenda. She goes on when the music stops, “tonight, we have two very special guests. The first is our very own Captain, Kaiora Leithe. This is a real treat, guys, I hope you’re tuning in. Traditionally, members of the executive crew don’t do civilian streaming, but she wants to clear the air on a few things, so she’s agreed to come talk with us. Second, former First Lieutenant Rita Suárez is here. She returned to the ship about two years ago after having been missing for over thirty years. She’s spoken up a little about what she went through in that time, and has suggested that she didn’t experience the same amount of time apart as we did, but tonight, she says she’s ready to provide us with a bit more information. I hope you all have, and will continue, to show her a warm and caring welcome. As always, this stream is live, and any form of recording is forbidden. We’re off the cuff here; unadulterated, unedited...and sometimes unprofessional, but always respectful.
“That all being said, please welcome my first guest, Captain Kaiora Leithe.”
The studio audience cheers.
Kaiora steps through the curtain, and waves to them as she approaches her chair. It’s true, being on this show is very unorthodox. But it’s not against the law, and as long as she doesn’t reveal any sensitive information, everything should be fine. She’s here to discuss her personal life. As the most famous person on the vessel, she doesn’t have the luxury of privacy. Sure, she has the right to keep some things to herself, but if the captain is going to be dividing her attention between the ship, and a love interest, it’s not outrageous for people to question her competence. She didn’t want to come on here and talk about it, but as the last nine months rolled by, it became clearer that the less she said, the more the public made up about her and Ima. It’s time to take control of the narrative. “Thanks for having me, Miss March.”
“Thanks for agreeing to meet with us, Captain, we’re all very excited.”
“Oh, please, we’ve known each other for over twenty years. Call me Kaiora.”
“Is that true? Do other people who happen to have known you for so long get to be on a first name basis with you?”
“That’s a good point. I suppose it will have to be more of just a you thing.”
“Hear that, kids.” Taila holds her cards to the side of her mouth. “Don’t call her by her name, or it’s off to the hock with ya! Oh, I joke, I joke. But seriously, Captain—Kaiora, you’re here to officially announce a personal romantic relationship, right?”
“Well, I think that ship has sailed,” Kaiora replied. “We’ve been open with everyone since day one. We didn’t hold a press conference, but it’s been out there.”
“But of course, this must have begun before. I mean, you didn’t just fall in love on day one. You had been working together for years.”
“No, it kind of was a sudden thing. The feelings were there, yes, and we exchanged some glances, but neither one of us had anything close to confirmation of mutual attraction. Then, one night, I had a hard conversation with someone else, and I just...felt like I had to take a chance. I raced over to Ima’s office, and we started talking. So it wasn’t love at first sight, but it wasn’t a long courtship either.”
“Is love the right word to use, or no?”
“It’s what we use, but not in the beginning. We both felt it was our responsibility to be honest with the crew and passengers regarding our connection. Not only was it better for the health of the mission, but keeping it secret would have made it—I think—less real, like we weren’t fully committed. So you’ve all been with us as it’s evolved. Though, of course, we do keep some things to ourselves.”
“Of course, of course. Now, you said you had a hard conversation, which somehow inspired you to have this epiphany. Can you tell us anything about that?”
No. She definitely can’t drop Daud’s name, but she doesn’t even want to give the audience a hint about what might have gone down. This isn’t about him, and he deserves to remain anonymous. “That’s internal, and classified,” she states simply, hoping to imply it was just some kind of random crewmember behavioral issue.
“Very well.” Taila clears her throat to continue. “I understand that Dr. Holmes is here with you tonight, but she won’t be coming on stage?”
“No, she has chosen to let me take the reins on this one. She’s here for support, but she prefers to stay off camera. I’m the one who signed up for public scrutiny.”
“Well, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to appear on screen like this. We all really appreciate the candor. Don’t we?”
The crowd claps at an appropriately subdued volume.
“Lovely. Perfect. Not to cut us off, but it’s time to bring out our second guest. We would like you to stay here, and keep talking, though. And obviously you’re always welcome to come back to the show anytime you want. Is that okay?”
“I blocked the time for it,” Kaiora replies with a half smile. “For tonight, that is.” She recognizes, however, that Taila is ending the interview before getting to the real questions, because it will prompt the audience to complain about it, forcing the Captain to return for a second interview. It’s just a coincidence that this will result in another ratings boost.
“Great, so that will be your new chair,” Taila says, pointing before turning back to the camera. “Crew and passengers of Extremus, please welcome Rita Suárez.”
The audience claps subdutifully again, giving Rita a standing ovation in deference to her. She comes out of the curtains unsmiling, and more slowly. Wearing a flowy, robey sort of outfit, she carefully climbs the two steps, and crawls into the chair like she’s worried it’s going to change shape on her. She had to notice Taila’s attempt to shake her hand, but acts like she doesn’t know what it means.
Truthfully, Kaiora hasn’t been keeping track of Rita’s life back on the ship. She’s really relied on the expertise of the people trained to handle this sort of thing. They never said she was a threat to the mission, so it wasn’t the Captain’s business. Rita hasn’t expressed a desire to be reinstated onto the crew, so the crew hasn’t needed to be involved. Even so, she seems different now, like she’s regressed. According to the limited psychological reports that Kaiora has received, she should have improved more by now. It’s been two and a half years, and nothing she’s heard would suggest she would behave like this.
Taila doesn’t seem to notice, though who knows how well she knew Rita before today? They don’t exactly run in the same circles. “Thank you for coming, Miss Suárez. How are you feeling?”
“I’m great,” Rita says unconvincingly.
“How have you been adjusting to life?”
“It’s been wonderful.” She’s saying the words, but she doesn’t seem to believe them. It feels like she’s reciting from a script.
Now Taila seems to be picking up on the same awkwardness that Kaiora is. “Care to elaborate?”
Rita runs her fingers through her hair as she looks up at the lights, as if she didn’t even hear the question. “No.”
“Okay,” Taila begins, hoping to salvage this interview. “Could you tell us what happened to you after you disappeared back in 2272?”
Rita smiles. “I saw the light.” She’s still literally looking at the lights, which is presumably why she finds her own answer amusing.
“You did? I was to understand that it was a harrowing ordeal, full of constant dangers, and even some near-death experiences.”
“Yeah,” Rita responds lazily. “That’s what happened, but it’s not what happened, ya know.”
“I’m afraid I don’t. I don’t understand.”
“I know.” Now she’s acting like a frustrated and sad child, but not angry. “No one understands. You haven’t seen the light.”
“Rita,” Kaiora steps in. “What’s going on?”
Rita jerks her face around to face the Captain, like she didn’t remember she was sitting next to her. “Everyone’s always calling me that. It’s dreadful, don’t you think? Rita Suárez,” she mocks. “It’s sooo...human.” She’s so disgusted by this.
Kaiora stands up. “Security,” she prompts rather quietly.
Rita stands up too. “Yeah,” Rita agrees. “The more the merrier, as you people would say.” She reaches up to her shoulders, and removes the outer layer of her clothing, revealing a suicide vest. Because of course there’s a suicide vest.
The three members of civilian security rightfully stop, and take a half step back in shocking unison. Without hesitating, Kaiora reaches for her teleporter, and tries to banish Rita off the ship, but she’s unable to. Something’s blocking her. She keeps pressing the button, but it still doesn’t work.
Rita turns around and smirks. “You think I didn’t prepare for that?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“This is exactly what I would do in this situation,” Rita contends. “You don’t even know me.”
“Rita,” Taila tries. “Please.”
“Stop calling me that!”
“Okay, what do you want us to call you?”
“I...” Rita takes hold of what’s most likely the detonator. “ Oblivion.” She presses the button with her thumb. Instead of her blowing up, though, she just disappears. Was that it? Was it not a bomb at all, but a bizarrely intricate transporter?
Kaiora looks over and sees Daud between cameras B and C. He’s holding a sort of tennis racket sort of thing towards the stage, and panting a little. “Did you do something?” she asks.
“Cut the feed,” Daud demands.
Taila swipes her fingers in front of her neck. The broadcast lights turn off.
“Report,” Kaiora says.
“You remember when we found her?” Daud asks as he approaches. “We finally figured out that she was in another dimension, which only made her appear to be a teeny tiny person?”
“Vividly,” Kaiora recalls. It was a traumatic experience.
He waves the weird racket thing around. “We also figured out how to replicate that.”
“Why? I didn’t give you authorization to conduct such research.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Kaiora says, changing her tune. “You just saved our lives.”
“Why did he need to do that?” Taila questions. “Why would Rita Suárez want to kill the two of us, and herself, and this randomly selected audience?”
It wasn’t her. It was just someone posing as her, so they could gain access to the ship, and move about at the lowest clearance level possible. And to what end? To assassinate the Captain? What would that accomplish, besides ushering in a new captain? If that’s the case, this secret organization—be it new, or still the same old True Extremists—would have to have a candidate in mind who would be more amenable to whatever insane agenda they have. Rita is presumably dead now, so they can’t ask her, but they will have to begin a formal investigation to make sure nothing like it ever happens again. People have always called Kaiora a peacetime captain, but now she’s starting to think that designation will have to be amended.

No comments :

Post a Comment