Saturday, May 7, 2022

Extremus: Year 43

Finally finished with her regular duties for the day, Kaiora leaves the bridge, and heads for a secret section of the ship that almost no one has access to. It’s not technically part of the Bridger Section, but it’s close, and just as hidden. Temporal engineers, Kumara and Greenley are already there, along with Kumara’s husband, and the current Head of Security, Errol. This is the braintrust at the moment. No one else knows what they’re doing, and no one else has been in here for the last six months. They rebuilt their time machine from scratch, believing that to be the better choice than to try to figure out how the first one was sabotaged. The secondary mission is to investigate the origins of Fake!Rita Suárez, but the primary is to rescue the people who were sent to the reverse time dimension without their consent or foreknowledge. They will starve to death unless someone enters the dimension now, and goes back with supplies. Everyone has their fingers crossed, hoping that nothing goes wrong this time, because if it does, all will probably be lost, and whoever was responsible for the sabotage in the first place will likely destroy everything.
Speaking of which, Kaiora’s been quite busy with other things. The executive civilian government package had to be replaced, but as Captain, she had to decide not to tell anyone exactly what happened. This proved to be a very unpopular decision, but there was nothing she could do. The saboteurs placed her in such an awkward position. Either she was honest, and caused a shipwide panic, or she kept quiet, and risked losing their confidence. There was every chance that her shift would end prematurely because of this, just like Halan before her. Maybe no captain would be destined to serve as long as they were supposed to. Maybe this whole experiment was a failure, and it was only a matter of time before the consequences reached critical mass. It seemed like such an easy concept. Take a generation ship to the other side of the galaxy. Everyone here volunteered to come, even the children. Why have there been so many obstacles? Why have they accumulated so many enemies?
“We’re ready, sir,” Greenley says.
Kaiora sighs, and stares at the new machine. She looks around, in the direction the observation room would be if they were doing this in the same lab as before. There’s nothing there. That doesn’t mean that nothing can go wrong, though, and she’s been fending off her paranoia since August; perhaps even longer. “Are you two ready?”
“Operation Tenet is a go,” Kumara confirms. It wasn’t until after the first attempt at this that someone pointed out that the reverse time dimension is very similar to a plot point in an ancient movie from Earth Apparently, the idea of moving backwards in time isn’t the main point of the story, but rather what would happen if you were shot with a bullet going in the wrong direction. Obviously the real answer is, just like a regular bullet if you happened to be facing the other direction yourself, but whatever.
“Don’t call it that,” Kaiora orders.
“Sir.”
“Proceed when ready,” Kaiora says. “Take your time.”
“We know you have other places to be,” Errol says as he’s checking his inventory one last time, and stepping into the chamber.
“I appreciate that.”
Kumara shuts the door behind them, and returns the a-okay gesture when Greenley queries him with it. Greenley then looks over at the Captain.
“I’m fine,” Kaiora assures her. “If it’s sabotaged a second time, then nothing matters. Just do it.”
Greenley casually salutes her boss, then presses the button. The two rescuers disappear. And they don’t come back.
“Shouldn’t they have returned by now?” Kaiora questions. “I mean, it’s time travel. Nothing should be able to hold them up, except for death.
“That is the most likely explanation,” Greenley agrees.
“So, they are dead?”
“Probably.”
“Corinna, and the rest of them; they’re dead too?”
“Probably,” Greenley repeats.
The Captain sighs again, and pinches her nose. “Congratulations, Greenley Atkinson. You are now Head Temporal Engineer for the failed interstellar mission known as Project Extremus.”
“Thank you, sir,” she answers just as unenthusiastically. “I’ll try to hold it all together for as long as I can before the walls come crumbling down around us.”
Kaiora starts to walk out. “Yeah, unless you find something better to do, in which case, I say go follow your bliss. I have to see if we can detect impostor clones...for all that that’s worth at this point.” She exits, and heads for another secret room.
Dr. Malone has clearly been waiting at the interior entrance impatiently. “Captain, please, I need to talk to you.”
“You’re not why I’m here today,” Kaiora warns him. “Don’t linger by the door either. It’s not protocol.” She keeps walking down the hallway.
“I’m sorry, and I understand that, but it’s really important.”
“Has one of the subjects come to you with some specific issue?”
“Well, no, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing okay.”
“Of course not, but it’s not your job to break them out of here. It’s your job to make them comfortable during their stay on a psycho-emotional level. I have given you more than enough resources to help them. What could you possibly need beyond that?”
“I think if they just got a few minutes on the outside, it—”
Kaiora stops shortly. “No. The point is to keep you inside, and isolated. You take one step out that door, and you’re compromised. I can’t be sure that the person who walks back through is the same one that left. Now. Is this about the other guests, or is this about you?”
“We’re all in this together.”
“No, Dr. Malone. I’m in this alone. You’re all here to help me get through it. Where’s Miss Seabrooke?”
“Where she always is,” Dr. Malone answers. “I still wanna talk,” he adds as she’s leaving him behind.
She ignores him, and enters the Seabrooke Lab. It’s an absolute mess. Meal bar wrappers all over the place, cans of civilian grade soft drinks at varying degrees of crushedness piled in the corner. There’s a smell. “How’s it coming?”
“Slow,” Elodie Seabrooke replies. She doesn’t turn away from her screen.
“That’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. I’m doing my best, it’s just not good enough.”
Kaiora sits down in the other chair, and turns Elodie by the shoulders. She has to wave her gaze forwards to make eye contact too. “I didn’t want to say this before, because I didn’t want to make any of you feel bad, but judging by the looks of this place, it may be time for the last resort.”
“What last resort?” Elodie tries to look back at her computer, but accepts it when her Captain pulls her back into the conversation by the chin.
“Do you know why I selected this team? The researchers, the second level research subjects?”
“No, I’ve been wondering why. None of us isssssssssss...particular good.”
Kaiora lets out an unfortunate sigh, like she always does. She once caught a crew member calling her Captain Sighmaster “That’s why I chose you. The imposters are taking on the forms of people at high levels. They want to be captain, and first chair, famous scientists, engineers with high clearance. You’re not unimportant, Elodie, but you’re not the best computer engineer this ship has, and that’s what makes you perfect for the job. I don’t know how long it’s going to take you to figure this out, but I’m patient, because if I chose a colleague of yours who graduated top of their class, they may already be compromised. Again, I didn’t want to say this, but look at it this way; there are advantages to living under the radar. If this team solves this problem, your mediocrity will drain away, and no one will ever forget the name Elodie Seabrooke.”
Elodie holds her breath, then spits it all out at once. “Oh, that is such a relief. Oh my God, it’s like the anxiety squeezing me has finally let go. I thought you had just made a terrible, terrible mistake, and I was desperately trying not to disappoint you.”
“I don’t want you to worry.”
Elodie leans the back of her leg against her chair, and stares up at the ceiling. “Now it all makes sense. Have you met Malone? Man, he’s terrible. He never makes us feel at ease. He’s the most maladjusted, neurotic, disquieting therapist I’ve ever met.”
“You’re gonna have to cut him some slack. He has a job to do here too.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
They sit in silence for some time.
“What do you have for me so far?”
“Well, the facial recognition software is fine,” Elodie begins. “I mean, it’s as good as I can get without access to the real cameras. It successfully flags our two sets of twins, even when we dress them up differently. I’m still struggling with matching across time. If it captures one twin at 19:00, and then another at 19:05 on the other side of the section, it thinks that’s all right, because it’s entirely plausible that the same person simply walked over there. I haven’t even begun to think about how we might incorporate teleportation.”
“Don’t factor that in,” Kaiora says. “I’m going to ban teleportation for the next several years.”
Elodie is surprised. “Really?”
“Yeah, for this very reason. It’s just...there’s just too much data.”
“It shouldn’t be the hardest thing in the world. The impostor would probably be wearing the same clothes as the person they’re impersonating.”
“But they might, because they might have that data. We still don’t know who they are, or where they came from. Hell, they could be some kind of pure energy-based alien race who are just trying to study us.”
“Still haven’t captured one yet?” Elodie asks.
“Not a live one, no. The genetics team can’t move forward without them, so our control group has nothing to do. I need to find a way to draw them out.”
“I may have your solution to that problem.” They turn to find Daley McKee in the doorway. He’s a nurse in charge of caring for the genetic subjects in that capacity. Or rather, he would be doing that if they had any impostor subjects to compare to the control group. “I volunteer as tribute.”
“You what?”
“We’re looking for impostors, right? We’re looking for people who are so convincing that the alien contaminant detectors on this ship can’t...detect them. We think they’re clones, using DNA stolen from their victims in various ways. So why don’t we play their game.”
Kaiora finds herself looking back over to Elodie, who says, “don’t let him make you think he came up with this plan on his own. We talk about this over lunch all the time. If we were to create our own impostor, and then fabricate a situation where that impostor is outed, it might draw out one of the evil impostors.”
“Yeah,” Daley continues, “the evil impostor may try to help our plant—a.k.a. me—or they may be like, why the hell are you pretending to be the Captain? We never assigned you that role. Who are you really?”
“You want to impersonate me?” Kaiora questions.
“Or whatever.” Daley shrugs. “Probably not, actually, because then we risk the mob deciding that you might be the impostor instead. We should choose someone important, who you don’t like all that much, so if both the impostor, and the real person, are killed, no big deal.”
“In this scenario, are you still the good impostor?”
“Yes, but don’t you worry none about me. It’s like you were telling her, we’re not important.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Okay...but we’re not.” Daley crosses his arms. “Look, Cap...”
“Don’t call me that.”
Daley goes on without missing a beat, “...I would be honored to die for my ship...for the mission. Then I really would be important. We have to figure out who these people are, and if I don’t survive, at least I’ll know I did everything I could. It’s a good plan.”
“It’s not a plan,” Kaiora contends. “It’s an idea.”
“I’ve heard it both ways.”
Kaiora looks at Elodie again, who widens into a very fake and unconvincing smile.
“All right, I’ll authorize preliminary discussions into this potential plan. I make no further promises, though.”
“Great!” Daley says, legitimately excited. “I’ll go talk to the Clone and Consciousness Transference teams.”
Preliminary!” Kaiora shouts to him as he’s running away.
“Are you really gonna do this?” Elodie asks.
“I think we both know that it’s gonna happen, and that it’s gonna end up being me, because I can’t risk anyone else’s life.”
“You would still be risking Daley’s,” Elodie points out.
Kaiora shakes her head. “No, I won’t. Nobody’s going to be transferring their mind into a clone of me. I’m going to be duplicating myself.”

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