Saturday, May 28, 2022

Extremus: Year 46

Exactly twenty-four years ago, then-Admiral Halan Yenant introduced then-Interim Captain Olindse Belo to then-Future Captain Kaiora Leithe. A lot has happened since that day. They were so young back then, so naïve, and none of them could have predicted how much they would go through—together—but later so, so very apart. Halan is still in hock. Their dream of getting him out never materialized. Olindse is in the future, but Kaiora doesn’t know when, which is for the best. In honor of both of them, Kaiora has decided to choose her own successor on the anniversary of her own official appointment. Of course, she knew it was coming, as does Future Captain Trudie Haynes. Today was meant to be the day they made the announcement, and had a party. Unfortunately, Kaiora isn’t in much of a festive mood, so it will have to be postponed. Still, she needs to explain it in person.
The door opens upon command. Kaiora can see Trudie through it now. She’s sitting on her couch, legs propped up on the ottoman, watching something on her main screen. She’s stuffing her face with civilian grade bagged food. She jumps up, and brushes crumbs off of her sweatshirt. “Captain, I wasn’t expecting you. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” Kaiora answers. “Why aren’t you dressed?”
Trudie consults her watch. “Well, since the party’s cancelled, my day should be free. I don’t have class, or any meetings.”
“Who told you that the party is cancelled?” Kaiora questions.
“The logic ball.”
“The what?”
Trudie steps over, and removes a ball from its stand. It’s barely small enough for her to cup one hand around it. “You input data points with your voice, giving it as much context as possible, and it returns the probability of a given outcome, or a selected outcome. For instance..logic ball, what are the odds that Captain Leithe drops dead within the next five minutes?”
After she shakes it, the ball responds, “the chances are three to one hundred.”
“That can’t be right, that’s far too high.”
Kaiora points at the thing. “That has access to private medical records. Who gave you that?”
“It’s just a novelty item; anyone can get one. Why? What’s wrong with you?”
“Never mind. So you just guessed that I was going to cancel it?”
“Not guessing. Logic.”
Kaiora lets out her signature sigh. “If you’re going to become the next captain, you’re going to have to destroy that thing, and hope that no one ever finds out you once owned it.”
Trudie tilts her chin up to look at her Captain at a slightly altered angle. “Logic ball, what are the chances of someone discovering that—”
“No,” Kaiora interrupts. “No more questions. I came here to talk. I mean, I suppose that’s no longer necessary. I expected to find you here in full dress, perhaps hovering by the door.”
“Sorry, sir. I’ll try not to anticipate next time.”
“No, that’s...that’s a good characteristic in a leader. I’m just...I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Trudie assures her, “you’ve been through a lot. Do you...want to talk about it? I know we don’t know each other that well, but sometimes that’s what you need; someone whose opinion you don’t care about.”
“I care about your opinion. You’re the future captain of this ship. It’s time to stop underestimating yourself.”
“I understand, sir.” She widens her eyes to open up the floor for further discussion.
Kaiora realizes this. “No, I don’t need to talk. Really, I’m fine. She was old; old people die.”
Trudie nods silently.
“Well, I’ll let you carry on. I have to go be with my family.”
“Would I be able to attend the service?” Trudie asks more than offers. “That you want me there.”
“That would be great. She would have liked you.”
Trudie nods again. “Logic ball, what are the chances I vaporize the ship if I destroy you by setting you on fire?” she jokes as Kaiora is leaving.
It’s not great that this logic ball device has access to private medical data, but she doesn’t want to worry about it right now. She just wants to focus on her family. She has a right to climb out of the captain’s chair every now and then. Still, she can’t just let it go, so she sends a quick message to Lars to look into it for her. Then she takes the long way around to her destination. She retained teleportation rights after she blocked them shipwide, but she doesn’t use it.
Her brother opens the door by hand wave. He shrugs his shoulders, and stares at her a moment. Then they hug each other warmly. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Kaiora echoes. “How’s Tinaya?”
“Ask her.” He steps aside, letting Kaiora into the unit. “She won’t talk to us.”
She goes into Tinaya’s room to find her sitting on her couch, staring at her screen, much in the same way Trudie was. She’s playing Quantum Colony. While it’s more common to engage in it using virtual reality, a user has the option of interfacing using any number of means, even simply by text commands typed out on a keyboard. Her avatar is currently floating aimlessly in the vacuum. The image of the asteroid where her homebase is located is getting smaller and smaller. Life support readings indicate that her character is running desperately low on oxygen. “Are you going to do something about that?”
The controller is technically in her hand, but as her fingers are open, and she’s resting them on the cushion, she doesn’t have any real control over it. “I don’t see why I would.”
Kaiora has to resist the urge to snatch the controller from her, and jetpack back to safety. It’s her character, she can do whatever she wants with it. Instead, she just sits down next to her, and mimics the physical slump her niece is in.
“Don’t mock me.”
“I’m not. This is comfortable. That looks comfortable too.” The game is hyperrealistic, so the avatar is actually suffocating to death before their eyes...and ears. “You know, that’s not how she died.”
“Yes, she did,” Tinaya contends. “Everyone who dies of being an old fuck chokes on their own spit in their final hours.”
“Don’t call her that.”
Tinaya folds her arms, and mutters an apology, but it’s too uncomfortable with the controller digging into her underarm, so she opens back up, and hurls it against the far wall. Kaiora takes this opportunity to pull Tinaya into a hug. “No! No!” she fights, but it’s not really what she wants. She gives up quickly, and accepts the embrace. She begins to cry upon her aunt’s shoulder. “Goddammit. She was so old. Why am I so upset?”
“Because you were close,” Kaiora answers. “Because you loved her.”
“People like us, we’re not allowed to cry.”
“Why do you say that?” Kaiora asks, releasing from the hug only so they can speak face to face. “People like us?”
Tinaya tries to wipe the tears from her cheeks. “Captains.”
Kaiora tears up, but smiles. “Captains are allowed to cry.”
“No, you’re not.” In private, Kaiora is right, but in public, Tinaya is.
“Well, my mother just died, so—” Kaiora interrupts herself with her own tears. “So I think they’ll understand.”
Tinaya returns the favor from before by initiating a second hug. They hold there for a while before Tinaya speaks again. “Do you...”
They separate. “Do I what?”
“Do you wish you could talk to her again? Would that make you feel better, or worse?”
Kaiora looks for answers on the floor. “I honestly don’t know. I guess...if I had to choose between seeing her one more time, and never again, I would choose the former.”
Tinaya studies her face to see if she’s telling the truth.
Kaiora squints her eyes, confused. This doesn’t sound like a hypothetical. “Why? Do you have a—you couldn’t. You don’t have a time mirror, or something, do you?”
“No, no,” Tinaya promises. “It’s nothing like that.”
“What are we talking about, Ti-ti?” That’s her pet name for her niece.
“Just don’t freak out, Titi.” That’s her pet name for her aunt. Tinaya prepares herself emotionally, and then retrieves a tiny box from her desk. It opens to reveal something called a visitor’s pass.
For the most part, the people on this ship are just normal biological humans. They’re almost completely organic, with no upgrades or enhancements. Some exceptions to this aren’t even really exceptions. Their organs are stronger, and more resistant to disease. Their bodies age slower, and their chemicals generally stay better balanced. But this is part of genetic engineering that started before the ship took off to combat the couple thousand years of isolated evolutionary divergence that shortened human lifespans. No one here has been too drastically altered. Except that they have, because that’s what medicine is. And nanochips definitely qualify, because they provide everyone with the ability to interface with technology directly with their brains. Some use this more than others. Why, it’s what allows Kaiora to summon or banish people using teleportation. She doesn’t have to select on a screen who she wants to transport, or where she wants them to go. She just thinks it. This still requires a physical component, but it wouldn’t really work without the chip. Regardless, chip or no chip, people have a right to private computer processing. The visitor’s pass will allow Kaiora to access Tinaya’s personal data, and then Tinaya will revoke it simply by taking the pass back.
It’s a little gray transcranial electrode that attaches to the temple to minimal pain. Within seconds of attaching it, Kaiora has been transported to a quantum terminal. In the game, this is where access to each new star system begins. Players generally do not travel via ships, because they would be limited to sublight speeds. To get around, they quantum cast their consciousnesses from one terminal to a distant one, assuming they’ve been granted access. This must be Tinaya’s world.
I’m on my way back,” Tinaya says through the comms. She must have connected with her avatar, and is trying to return to base.
“Do you need me to come get you?” Kaiora asks.
No, it’s fine,” Tinaya replies. “I keep a drone nearby with extra oxygen. I just...didn’t use it. I’m using it now.
“Why don’t your characters have short-range teleportation capabilities?”
That’s not part of the game,” she explains.
Once Tinaya gets back, she has to inject herself with a stabilizer because of the amount of time her body went without oxygen. Apparently, players have the option of building themselves wholly organic substrates, wholly mechanical, or something in between. “That’s what I wanted to show you,” Tinaya says.
It’s only then that Kaiora catches herself in a mirror. She’s wearing her own face, rather than a temporary android’s. It’s not her regular face, though. It’s about half the age she actually is now. She gently places her hand on her cheek. “How did you do this?”
“DNA can be digitized,” Tinaya answers like it’s no big deal.
“Still, I didn’t...give you permission, or anything.”
“Yikes. Then you’re really not gonna like this.” Tinaya raises the transparency of a cryopod, and reveals another human figure.
The face is hard to make out, but then becomes clearer. It’s her mother—Tinaya’s grandmother. It’s a violation to create the likeness of someone without their permission, but Kaiora can’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to see her. She too is younger than she was when she passed a few days ago. This was how she looked when Kaiora was growing up. She snaps back to reality. “Why did you do this?”
“I was hoping you old people would join me one day. I have one for all of us. Mom, dad, even grandpa.”
“Why would you make one for grandpa?” Kaiora questions. “He was gone before you were old enough to play this game.”
“That’s what I’m actually showing you,” Tinaya says. “These are not just statues.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re dormant now, of course, but...they’re copies. I downloaded their consciousnesses from the database.”
“What database are you even talking about?”
“The database,” Tinaya repeats. “Of all the minds of all the people who live, or once lived, on Extremus.”
“Where did you find this database?”
Tinaya shrugs. “I dunno, I just linked with the ship.”
“Did you tell anyone else about this?”
“You said you wanted to talk to your mom again. Now you can. It’s actually her.”
Kaiora’s patience ran thin quite quickly. “Did you tell anyone about the database?” she asks once more.
“Good.” Kaiora sighs. “You weren’t meant to find that. I’m going to have to do everything I can to protect you from them.”

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