Saturday, May 21, 2022

Extremus: Year 45

The Kaiora Leithe that is still around and running Extremus is technically eighteen months old. She was cloned into existence back in December of 2312. But of course, that’s not how it works; not in this case. As she has all of the original’s memories, she’s actually 41 years old. This is where the problem lies. Cloning is a delicate process. The safest and healthiest way to do it would be to let the body grow at its normal rate. It’s generally accepted that a biological human specimen is at their peak physical condition in their twenties. At least that used to be the standard. With life extension technologies, and other biomedical advances, that number is essentially meaningless, but all things being equal, this is when it happens. Present-day culture tends to favor age 24, so that’s become the sort of default target for most of these such endeavors. Life expectancy runs to about 108 these days, which means if an individual wants to survive by transferring their consciousness to a clone, they should begin the process by the time they’re 83, to account for prenatal development. And some people do do this. In lieu of transhumanistic implants, they choose to stay young by body-hopping, which is perfectly okay if that’s their thing. But again, the best way to do it is by waiting patiently. Kaiora did not have this luxury.
They needed a way to draw at least one of the impostors out, and their means of accomplishing this was to turn Kaiora into one of them. Or a pair, rather, because both of them were legitimately real. Their plan did not work. No one revealed themselves as impostors, either because they knew this was all a trick, or because they didn’t realize there were two Kaioras. Or maybe they just needed more time, which the original Kaiora wasn’t able to give them. Kaiora!Clone wasn’t able to get any decent information out of Elodie or Greenley, but her original disappeared, with the implication being that she was never going to return. So the clone took over all duties, and basically went back to the way things were. Except it hasn’t been that easy. Kaiora!Clone is sick, and it’s because she was produced too quickly, and possibly also because the people who did it do not stand at the top of their fields.
Dr. Ima Holmes stares at the results, baffled and horrified. This is the woman she loves. They’ve been together for the last six years. How could she not know? How could she not have realized? She doesn’t have a normal weapon, because this is an infirmary, but she does have binding gel. It’s a special solution that seals up wounds, and fosters a rapid healing process in patients. It’s perfectly safe to use anywhere on the body...except for the eyes. She picks it up, and trains it on Kaiora!Clone’s face. She has to stand real close, because the delivery instrument wasn’t designed with distance in mind. She’s also not a fighter, so her hands are shaking, and she probably doesn’t have the nerve to do it. After all, this faker looks exactly like her girlfriend. “Who are you?”
“Ima, relax.”
“If you were my Kaiora, you would know that I hate when people tell me that!”
“Please quiet down, someone will hear you,” Kaiora begs.
“And what would be so bad about that?”
“They wouldn’t understand. I’m hoping you will.”
“Who...are you?” Ima repeats.
“I’m a duplicate.”
“No doy.” That’s a funny thing for a doctor to say.
“I mean...I’m a copied consciousness,” she clarifies. “I am Kaiora Leithe.”
Ima loosens her elbows, but doesn’t drop the impromptu weapon. “How do I know that? How can you prove it? Say something only she would know.”
“That test doesn’t actually work,” Kaiora explains. “If you have the ability to map and copy a person’s mind, you necessarily have the technology to read it, and capture any data you need to impersonate the victim. You taught me that.”
Ima loosens up a little more. She did say that to her at one point. “Okay, then why. Why do this?”
“Because there are impostors on this ship, and we’re trying to root them out.”
“You and the other you are doing this?”
“Us, and a secret team of quarantined experts. Though, expert is a strong word.”
“Obviously! Look at you, you’re dying!”
“Don’t shush me. You’re not Kaiora.”
“I am.”
“Identity means one.”
“I think we both know it’s more complicated than that. Are you the same person you were fifty years ago? Five years? Five seconds? Everyone is always changing—”
“...down the river of uninterrupted experience and atomic transposition. Yes, I taught you that too. I just...feel violated.”
Kaiora takes Ima’s hand in both of hers, but makes no move to take the binding gun. “I remember when we met. I remember when I professed my love to you. I don’t mean I recall the story. It happened to me, and I still feel it. I’m just in a new body, that’s the only difference.”
Ima gently pulls away, and carefully sets the gun down. “Where’s the other one? Where’s the one who’s in the body I’m familiar with?”
Kaiora hesitates to answer.
“Tell me!”
“I don’t know! She disappeared. She went off on some secret mission.”
Ima begins to pace, and itch herself out of stress. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“She didn’t tell me where she was going, or even that she was leaving at all. I only found out because I went back to the secret quarantine section for a periodic check-in, and realized that something was up. She had been gone for a week by then.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Fourteen months.”
“Jesus Christ. My girlfriend’s been dead for over a year, and I didn’t know.”
“We don’t know that she’s dead. And I’m your girlfriend. I’m just as much her.”
“Oh, yeah? You’ve been sleeping next to me for fourteen months, right?”
“I have.”
“And what about before that? Did you two share me?”
Kaiora hesitates to answer again.
“This isn’t gonna work if you’re gonna hold things back. Spit it out.”
“No. I...I didn’t touch you. Our cabin door is a portal. If I punch in a special code, instead of unlocking it, it will open that portal, and transport me to a dark and unused area of the ship. Even someone in the hallway watching me step over the threshold would think I just went inside. But I slept elsewhere, alone.”
“So for however long after you were created, we weren’t together. And then you assumed the responsibility of being the love of my life, only because you happened to be the only one left.”
“Well, yeah, if you wanna twist it up like that, you can make it sound horrific.”
“It is horrific! My girlfriend is dead, and I barely know you.”
“That’s not true. I explained, I’m a copy.”
“But when we had conversations that stemmed from moments we shared months prior, you didn’t know what I was talking about, so you had to guess.”
Kaiora sighs. “Yes, there were times I was a bit lost, and I had to use context clues to fill in the blanks.”
“The first time we met, our relationship started with a lie, because you told me the reason I hadn’t seen you in a week was because you were so busy with confidential stuff in the Bridger section.”
“Again, that’s not when we first met.”
Ima starts to shake her head. “I knew this wouldn’t work out. You’re too much younger than me. You’re too young. And now it’s even truer, because you’re, like...” She looks back at the results real quick. “Eighteen months old. My God, I’m a pedophile.”
“Don’t say that, goddamn. That’s not how it works, I’m not a baby!”
“That’s something a baby would say.”
“No, she wouldn’t!”
Ima takes off her reading glasses, and rubs the bridge of her nose. “I know. This is just...a lot.”
“I know,” Kaiora echoes.
“I feel like I just lost someone. The fact that you’ doesn’t mean I didn’t lose her.”
“I know,” she repeats.
“Will we ever see her again?”
“Looking at the future is illegal.”
“So is this.”
“It’s not,” Kaiora assures her. “We covered our asses.”
“No, you didn’t,” Ima counters. “Kaiora Leithe was selected as Captain of this ship, based on that river of uninterrupted experience we were talking about earlier. When she was cloned, her river continued as it normally would, but you’re not on this same river. That moment was a conflux, which branched out into something new. You are not the captain.”
“I would hardly think of it this way.”
“The crew might disagree.”
“Well, then it’s a good thing you’re going to tell anybody about it.”
Ima shakes her head at the tablet. “I have to report this. You’re not fit for duty until we figure out how to repair the cellular damage. Normally, doctor-patient confidentiality would allow me to get by without explaining thoroughly, but what little information I’m obligated to disclose is probably enough for them to figure it out. This level and type of degradation really only has one cause.”
“What exactly is that cause?”
“Kaiora, your body is aging rapidly. Outside, you’re still fine. For some reason, the epidermis is hardier than other organs. But inside, you’re about my age.”
“Perfect, that’s what we always wanted.”
“Don’t joke about this.”
“What’s the prognosis?”
“Kaiora, you need—”
“What’s the prognosis?” Kaiora interrupts. “Clone or no, I’m entitled to bodily self-determination, and I deserve all pertinent data to make informed decisions.”
“With proper treatment, ten years, but you would have to step down in order to undergo such treatment. It’s pretty intense and involved.”
“What kind of treatment can you give me if I don’t step down?”
“Kaiora—” she tries to answer incorrectly again.
“What kind of treatment!”
“With regular injections, you could keep going for half that. You’ll be dead in five years.”
Kaiora slides off the table, and strips off her gown. “I only need three years and seven months.”
Ima tilts her head to consider this number. “No, you’re not going to just stay alive until you can finish your shift. We’re fighting this. I might be able to get more than ten years out of you, especially if we can find your original. She can help. I mean a kidney transplant alone could give you another extra year.”
She stops putting her clothes back on, and wraps Ima in an embrace. “I don’t need eleven years. I need four. That’s all that matters.”
“Kai-kai, I can’t...outlive you?”
“In a couple, someone always outlives the other.”
Ima begins to cry. “But it’s not supposed to be me. I’m more than three decades older, that’s preposterous.”
“You have more than eleven years out of you anyway,” Kaiora reasons.
“I really don’t. Especially not now. You know how many people decline and die of a broken heart? It’s a lot more common than you think. The loss of a significant other reduces life expectancy by an average of five years.”
“Five plus five is barely less than eleven. And let’s face it, we’re not finding my original. So it’s back down to ten, so we would go out at the same time.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Ima argues, “and these are just numbers. You don’t have exactly ten years. I need to run more tests, and you have to not give up. That will kill you faster than anything.”
“I love you too,” Kaiora says.
“I’m not there yet. This is still hard.”
“I understand.”
Kaiora puts her clothes back on and leaves the executive infirmary. That went better than she thought, but it’s not over. No one else can find out. She’ll be fine if she can’t be an admiral, but she can’t lose her seat before her time. She can’t let what happened to Halan happen to her. It would be a political tragedy. She realizes as she’s walking down the hallways that there’s something very important she needs to start thinking about now. Even if she weren’t dying, it’s about time for her to consider who will succeed her. There are surely any number of amazing candidates at the academy, or recently graduated, who would be great for the role. She’s not been paying much attention to them, though, which is just another way she’s not lived up to Halan’s example. It’s okay, she still has time; very little of it after the diagnosis, but enough.

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