Saturday, May 14, 2022

Extremus: Year 44

Cloning and self-duplication are not illegal in the stellar neighborhood, which serves Earth at its center. It’s not even technically illegal on Extremus, but it’s effectively so, because some of the technology required to make either of such things happen have indeed been outlawed. Kaiora jumped through a lot of legal loopholes to institute the Clone and Consciousness Transference team within the secret quarantined section of the ship that she’s been working with. It’s all above board, though of course, not public knowledge. She originally authorized it in order to study the impostors that are running around unchecked, but she made sure to have the ability to use it herself should the need arise. Hindsight being what it is, she’s convinced herself that this was probably her plan all along. She always knew she was going to pretend to have an impostor. It’s an incredibly risky plan, as the whole idea behind the secret quarantine in the first place is to keep it...well, secret. She doesn’t want to cause a panic, but this may be the only way. Elodie’s duplicate detection program using the security cameras will only supposedly find two copies of the same person. It won’t help them understand where the impostors are coming from, or who’s responsible. It won’t even work at all if the impostor killed or stashed the original.
The scientists have been hard at work, ensuring that the technology they’re using is sound and safe. Just like everyone else on the secret team, these are not the best that Extremus has to offer. All of those people are busy being rock stars who would look quite appetizing to a group of impostors looking to disrupt the status quo. Still, they’re good enough, and it only took them the rest of the year to be confident enough to let Kaiora create a copy of herself. This copy is not an automaton that’s just going to stand there and take orders. She is the real Kaiora, as the original is also real. They both carry the same memories, the same personality, and the same claim to the captain’s chair. Again, duplicating itself isn’t against the law, but in this case, it might as well be. Even suggesting that they’re both in charge of the ship and crew is basically blasphemy. Can you imagine how dangerous it would be if this got out of hand? Kaiora could copy herself dozens of times, outman the rest of the crew alone, and use their position to take over completely. No, no one will be able to let this stand. She’s about to lose her job, but it will have been worth it if it works. She doesn’t know if Halan would be proud, or disappointed that she followed in his footsteps towards a treasonous act.
It’s March of 2313 now, and the two Kaioras have been successfully running the show in tandem with each other for the last four months. No one has noticed. Elodie’s detection program has caught them perfectly every day, but the public hasn’t spoken up about any discrepancies. They’re not even working that hard to make sure they avoid running into each other. They do, to be sure, because a real impostor would do just that, but she was worried over nothing about how difficult that would turn out to be. She probably could have entrusted the mission to any idiot. The hope is that only another impostor—or someone else involved in the impostor insurrection—will take notice before anyone else, and pull them aside quietly. This is why they can’t force an encounter with each other. They have resigned themselves to the possibility that someone else will realize instead, and make a big stink about it. That might still give an impostor the opportunity to step in, but Kaiora’s career will have been ruined regardless.
The impostor hunting team has no normal way to reach out to Kaiora if they need to speak with her. The entire purpose of the quarantine is to keep them isolated from society. If they can communicate with people on the outside, the integrity of the mission is lost. Still, Kaiora needs to know if there’s an emergency, so she’s decided to trust one person. Mediocre hacker, Elodie Seabrooke has control over all of the ship’s cameras, which she uses to look for duplicates. These cameras do not have speakers, or blinking lights, but they do have apertures.
When this aperture is adjusted, it makes a very faint noise, just as you would expect. Any given camera has no reason to adjust the aperture, because it operates best at a wide angle to close blindspots. They were only designed this way because it was a cheap and easy feature that they would rather have and not need, than need at some point, and not have. By opening and closing the aperture of the nearest cameras to Kaiora, Elodie can signal a return to base. This happening once means nothing, as it could simply be a normal security officer who is bored sitting at the monitors. But if the aperture noise makes a distinct pattern, and keeps happening with other cameras as Kaiora moves, then it means something.
Kaiora cancels her next meeting, which is fortunately not too important, and since it’s with her girlfriend, Ima will understand. Dr. Holmes doesn’t know anything about this. She knows she can’t know everything that the Captain deals with. Kaiora heads for the secret section, and opens the interior door.
Dr. Malone is there, just like he so often is. “Captain, I need to speak with you.”
“Did you summon me here?”
“No. How would I do that?”
“So you’ve just been hanging out by the door, like I’ve asked you a million times not to do.”
“It’s really urgent.”
“What’s really urgent is protocol. You’re making me think that you’re trying to look for a way to escape. There’s a reason I have to unlock two doors to get in here, and there’s a reason there’s nothing of note at the entrance which might excuse one of you ever being too close, and there is a reason we built a special hock in this section. Are you understanding me?”
“Sir.”
“Bye,” she says coarsely.
“Bye,” he echoes bitterly.
Kaiora enters Elodie’s room, and shuts the door behind her this time. It’s cleaner now than it was a year ago; organized and well lit. There’s a pleasant smell. “Please tell me you reached out.”
“I did, thanks for coming so quick,” Elodie replies.
“Did you find a duplicate?”
“More like a single-cate,” she says, knowing it’s a dumb joke. She navigates to the right screen, and turns the monitor so that Kaiora can see better.
Kaiora leans in close to get a good look. It’s an empty hallway at first, in what she knows to be a vacant section. It hasn’t been populated yet, because they don’t need the space yet. Then the door opens, and a figure steps out. His back is turned to the camera at first, but then he spins around. It’s Yitro Moralez. He has been on a mission off-ship for the last thirteen years. “Is this the first time you’re seeing him?”
“It’s the first time that I’m seeing him. I don’t know if the cameras spotted him before. I didn’t program them to flag other unusual activity; just duplicates. Once a week, I run a diagnostic on every single camera the ship has, even the dormant ones. It turns them on for several seconds if they aren’t already on. He just happened to step outside, and get flagged by the regular security system which checks for movement in dark sections.”
“Are those cameras back on now?”
“Yes,” Elodie answers, “but the feed is flowing directly through me. Security doesn’t recognize them as active.”
“But they saw him during the diagnostic. They saw those few seconds.”
Elodie waits a moment. “The system saw him, I don’t know if a human did. People use those sections all the time; teenagers wanting to fool around in private, people on long walks. Especially since you shut off all teleportation, people do have to cross out of an in-use area to get to one of these places, which means each subsequent camera can flip on to follow them. Lieutenant Moralez has to have been there for a very long time if this is the only camera that ever clocked him.”
“He’s a captain now,” Kaiora says. “Or he was, or he will be. We don’t know who that is. He could be a duplicate, or he could be here as a time traveler. We don’t know anything. All we know is that an entity who resembles him was at that very door in that very moment, for a few seconds. He could have his own form of teleportation that I don’t know about. That’s always been a possibility.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Your system is ready to flag him again if he ever shows up, correct?”
“Correct,” Elodie confirms.
“I’m going to investigate personally.”
“Are you going to tell the other you?”
“No, let her run the ship for now.” Kaiora leaves, and heads back for the exit.
Dr. Malone is waiting in the hallway yet again. “Captain, it’ll only take a second.”
“Guard!” Kaiora calls.
The one security officer she’s quarantined, runs up, wiping crumbs off of his lips.
“Place him in hock.”
“For how long?”
“Until I come back and change my mind.”
“Please, Captain! No!” Dr. Malone struggles, but is no physical match for the largest guard Kaiora could find. He never even trained for the job. His size and strength are the only reasons he’s here. The other subjects are finding this isolated life to be difficult, but he has thrived. It’s pretty easy to keep him happy.
Kaiora leaves the secret section, and heads for the other secret section. It’s been unused for the whole year, since the only purpose of it is to house the time machine, which they never intended to use again. Greenley is already there, like she’s been waiting. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to talk you out of it.”
The Captain points an accusing finger at the head temporal engineer. “You’re colluding with a seer.”
“I wouldn’t use that word,” Greenley defends. “It’s not nefarious. We’re trying to protect you. This machine is extremely dangerous. We’ve never seen anyone come back out of it. I wish we had never built it in the first place. Don’t..do this.”
Kaiora fumes. She has to go back to earlier today to intercept the supposed Yitro. It’s a necessary sacrifice. “I’m doing it. So turn it on, and do your job. That is an order.”

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