Saturday, April 30, 2022

Extremus: Year 42

Ship Superintendent Calixte Salmon pings the door. “Thistle, please give us a moment,” Kaiora asks the computer, who relays the message to the hallway.
“I don’t understand why he has to be here for this,” Corinna complains.
“It’s technically a change in personnel,” Kaiora explains.
“It’s really not,” temporal engineer Kumara Bhasin argues.
“Something could go wrong, and he has to know about it,” the Captain continues, holding firm. “This has been approved across all levels of government...except him.”
“Very well,” Corinna says.
“Let him in,” Kaiora orders.
The door opens. Calixte looks around, intrigued. The Captain, the Lieutenant, the temporal engineer, and Head of Security Errol McLain. This ought to be good. “What’s this here?”
“Superintendent Salmon,” Kaiora begins, “this is a formal briefing regarding a new investigative initiative that has been approved for use by a team of two, which will be using a new brand of time travel technology to witness past events. The purpose of this mission will be to gather intelligence that will help us better understand the origins of the hostile entity known as Fake!Rita Suárez. To be clear, the two agents of time will not be able to affect the past in any way. They cannot be seen, nor heard, nor otherwise detected. They will merely watch the past events from a...unique observation dimension. We tell you this because there is a chance that something will go wrong, which could result in a shift in crew assignments. Engineer Bhasin and Officer McLain will be sent into the past, but once they have learned all they believe they can and must, they should return to this very moment. If they do not, we will have to assume the worst, and move on without them, and it will be your responsibility to backfill their positions. Do you have any questions?”
“Thousands,” Calixte answers. “But they extend beyond my purview.”
“All right, then,” Captain Leithe says. “You may go now.”
“No, thank you,” he says plainly.
“You are not approved for audience privileges,” Kaiora tries to tell him. “The launch does not require your attendance.”
“Yeah, but I wanna be here anyway.”
“Superintendent, please...”
“Captain, owe me,” Calixte says, widening his eyes suggestively.
Kaiora is literally taken aback. “That was two years ago.”
Calixte chuckles, and looks at his watch pointlessly, “the favor doesn’t expire.”
“This is all you want, just to watch this?” She reiterates. “Then we’re even?”
“Then we’re even,” he agrees.
“Fine.” Kaiora sighs, and looks over at the away team. “Are you two ready?”
“Very,” Kumara replies.
“Indeed,” confirms Errol.
“Greenley?” Kumara asks.
“Are you sure about this, sir?” Greenley Atkinson is Kumara’s current temporal engineering apprentice. There was one before her, but he wasn’t able to handle the stress, so she hasn’t been doing this for very long. He designed the machine that’s going to take him and his partner into the past, but she’s going to have to actually operate it. It should be relatively simple, but of course, that doesn’t mean she isn’t nervous. “Are you sure I’m ready?”
“I have every confidence in you,” Kumara says genuinely.
She nods, trying to express that same level of confidence in herself.
“Come on,” Kaiora says to Calixte as the time witnesses are stepping into the machine. “The rest of the leadership is watching from the observation room.”
“No, that wasn’t part of the deal,” Calixte contends. “I asked to watch from here.”
“You didn’t say that.”
“Well, I’m saying it now.”
Kaiora sighs again, and looks to Corinna, who has stopped midstride. “Go on. Yeah, it’s suspicious, which is why I’ll stay here too.”
“Okay,” the lieutenant accepts.
“So tell me about this technology,” Calixte asks as Greenley is running the final diagnostic on the machine. “You all act like it’s something weird and new. It’s not just regular observational time travel?”
“No,” Kaiora begins. “It’s a special temporal dimension. Well, it’s technically spatio-temporal, but its defining characteristic is that it runs in reverse. When the two witnesses exit the machine on their end, they’ll watch this entire interaction a second time, but in reverse. Then they’ll watch themselves go through the final briefing. Then they’ll watch their awkward conversation with the governmental officials. Then they’ll watch themselves walk backwards out of the room. They will continue like this for the next six plus years. Once they reach the moment the cargomaster discovered the box that the fake Rita was found in, they’ll follow it back to whatever celestial body it was retrieved from, and continue investigating until they get some answers.”
“So they can interact with the real world. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to teleport to the origin point,” Calixte points out.
“There are a few loopholes to the technology,” Kaiora admits, “but I would hardly call that an interaction.”
“If you say so,” Calixte says, unconvinced. “Anyway, they’ll have to interact in some way, or how are they going to eat for six years?”
The Captain’s eyes widen in fear. “Oh my God, you’re right. We didn’t think of that. Holy crap, we have to stop the experiment, they’ll die!”
The witnesses and Greenley stop what they’re doing, and stare at her.
“I’m kidding,” she says to them. “Carry on.” She rolls her eyes. “They’ll have plenty of food and water. We figured out how to reverse engineer Fake!Rita’s miniature dimension. We’ve stored a ton of supplies, and even living spaces, in their packs. Don’t worry, we have thought of everything.”
“I’m sure you have,” Calixte says insincerely. “I’m sure you have.”
She rolls her eyes again, and gives an a-okay sign to the witnesses in the form of a question. They return the gesture in the affirmative. Greenley shuts them into the machine, and initiates the launch sequence. “Eleven...” Kaiora and Calixte stand back a little more, but don’t leave. It’s not particularly dangerous to be in the room when it happens, but the observation room is certainly safer.
Kumara and Errol take each other by the hands. They’re not afraid of the tech itself. It’s been tested, and proven sound. They just have to prepare themselves for the long haul. They would have rather just jumped back to the time period of their choice, and entered a different observational dimension, in order to avoid messing with the timeline. Not only was it possible, but it would have been easier. That’s how they would have done it had Valencia not written a paper on this weird temporal dimension years ago. Still, if Kumara had to sit through all this, at least he was with the man he loved. Errol felt the same.
As Greenley begins the countdown, Calixte has one more thing to say. “One question—which actually does pertain to my job—do we think it’s wise to send a married couple on a potentially hazardous mission together?”
Kaiora looks over at him, and says in a clear and unambiguous tone, “yes.”
It’s immediately clear that something has gone wrong. They can hear the energy flowing through the machine, but nothing happens in the chamber. Instead, they hear a commotion in the observation room behind them. Kaiora and Calixte look up through the window. Electricity is arcing across the metal beams, freaking everyone out, and causing them to jump and crouch away in fear. One of them tries to get out, but the door won’t open. The energy builds, and builds, and builds. Corinna, being the smart one there, realizes what’s happening. She makes eye contact with her captain, and salutes her just in time before the power reaches critical mass, and spirits them all away.
“What the hell just happened?!” Kaiora screams.
Greenley shakes her head, petrified and confused.
“I think...” Calixte tilts his head. “I think that is the machine, and this is nothing.” He points to the observation room, and then to the machine that Kumara built. The two of them are still in it, and trying to get out, but their door won’t budge either.
“You don’t seem too upset about this,” Kaiora accuses.
He smiles. “Why would I be? I think we did pretty good, eh? Only missed one. Why wasn’t Lars here?”
“This was you?”
“It was us,” he corrects.
Kaiora’s eyes dart over to Greenley, who still looks horrified and sad.
“No, not me and her. Us!” He waves his hand back and forth between his stomach, and Kaiora’s.
“What the shit are you talking about?”
“Oh, come on, Captain, you don’t have to pretend anymore. We got ‘em. We got almost all of ‘em. They’re gone, they can’t stop us anymore.”
Kaiora’s hands shake as she’s reaching them up, desperately trying to hold herself back from strangling him right here and now. “I don’t know what you’re saying. I didn’t do anything! I don’t know how you did it, or who helped you, but I wasn’t part of it!”
“Yes, you were!” Calixte cries. “We’ve been working on this plan for two years!”
“Argh!” She moves past him, and steps up to the machine. “Can we undo this? Can we get them back?”
“I don’t even know if they’re still alive,” Kumara shouts through the little view window, which muffles it terribly.
Kaiora turns to Greenley. “Get their door open, and then all three of you need to report to hock. If you don’t, I’ll know you’re in on it?”
“Yes, Captain,” Greenley answers.
She spins back around. “As for you, I already know you’re in on it. So I’m just gonna send you there.” She reaches for her teleporter controls, but they don’t work. The screen is dead, and none of the buttons do anything. “Goddammit.”
“Oh, did you forget to charge it this morning?” Calixte jokes.
“It doesn’t have to be charged!” she shouts. “The ship charges it constantly! Argh!” she repeats. “Come on, I’ll escort you there myself.”
She places him in zip cuffs, and heads for the door. It opens before they reach it. Someone who looks exactly like Kaiora is standing there, holding some kind of gun. She could be from the future, or a mirror universe. Or she could be a clone, or a hologram, or any number of things. All the real Kaiora knows is that she’s fake, and she’s evil, and she was probably good friends with Fake!Rita.
“Oooooooooooohhhhhh,” Calixte lets out. “That makes more sense.”
“You are such an idiot,” Fake!Kaiora laments.
“You really thought I was plotting a coup?” Kaiora questions.
He shrugs innocently.
Fake!Kaiora shakes her head. “I told you to put me in the room too. The whole point was to get rid of her, so I could take her place. Now that’s going to be a lot harder.”
“Yeah, you did say that,” he utters apologetically.
“I can’t work like this.” Fake!Kaiora unceremoniously shoots him with the gun. He just disappears completely.
“An Ant-Man gun?” the real Kaiora guesses.
“Basically. It’s better, though, because we can replace him with one of our own.”
“Go on and get on with it,” Kaiora urges.
Fake!Kaiora laughs. “It’s not that easy. I know that captains have a failsafe. Your consciousness will just be preserved for future use.”
“Old Man did that to Halan against his will. It was a one time thing.”
“No, it wasn’t. I’ll have to find some creative way of dealing with you. But in the meantime, those three can die.” She turns her weapon, and fires it at Greenley.
The apprentice lifts her hands defensively, but not just out of futile instinct. The bullet doesn’t stop, but it slows to a crawl. They can see a wave of energy emanating from Greenley’s right hand, possibly ultimately originating from a ring she’s wearing on her middle finger. The left hand is farther out, like it’s keeping her steady. As she slowly pulls her right hand in towards her chest, she leans back at a slightly slower rate. She then curves the hand outward, which forces the bullet to curve too. Once it’s covered the curve, she pushes forward, sending the bullet in the opposite direction it was going. It heads directly for Fake!Kaiora, who—despite having watched it in slow motion with everybody else—doesn’t have time to dodge. It hits her, and she disappears.
“Is that just something you keep on hand at all times?” Kaiora asks her.
“Captain, you’ll forgive me, but there are just some things that I can’t tell you. It’s to protect my job, and yours. I promise that I didn’t know all this was going to happen.”
“You just theoretically saved the ship. So I’ll let it go, but if something ever comes up again that places your loyalties in question, I might not be as accommodating.”
“I understand, Captain.”
“Good. Now get them of that thing so you and Mr. Bhasin can figure out what the hell went wrong with it, and how it was sabotaged. Don’t think this mission is over. It’s even more important than ever. Someone has to go back in time and rescue our people.”

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