Saturday, June 4, 2022

Extremus: Year 47

Kaiora Leithe isn’t usually nervous. It’s unbecoming of a captain. She has to be strong, confident, and prepared for everything. But there are powers at play here that even she can’t overtake. Yes, she’s in charge of the crew, and the entire ship, but what most people don’t know is that there are, in fact, two ships. She’s sitting at the entrance of what’s called The Bridge. Yes, it’s confusing, or at least it would be for any normal person. But the only people who know this thing exists are completely comfortable with the ambiguity. This is more of a bridge than the bridge that helps them navigate space. It’s where the two vessels connect to one another, and I’m not talking about something physical. It’s a portal that can transport a user to the maximum range of one light year.
The receptionist looks up from her work. “You may proceed now.”
“Thank you,” Kaiora responds. She stands up, takes a deep breath, and crosses over.
Her key contact is standing on the other side. Avelino Bridger is regarding her with his best poker face, as he always is. He’s completely unreadable. And yeah, the Bridger Section was named after him. It’s this whole thing. “Thank you for coming.”
“Well, I’m the one who requested this, so...thank you for having me.”
“I wanted to accept your request earlier, but this is not a dictatorship.”
“Isn’t it?” she asks, one-fourth jokingly, three-fourths yeah, it’s a dictatorship. It’s the most efficient way to run a ship, and the only reason they don’t do it on the Extremus Proper is because the passengers outnumber them by orders of magnitude.
“This meeting will be exclusively between you and me,” he tells her as they’re walking towards the meeting room. “Nothing we say today will make it beyond that relationship. No one else on the board, no one else on the crew, no one else in the civilian government, will know what we discuss. Is this acceptable? I expect you to remain as confidential as I’m promising to be.”
“I accept,” she responds as he’s letting her in the room first. “I assume it’s clean?”
“It’s timelocked,” he answers. “We’ve taken all the necessary precautions to make sure no one can intrude in the present, but also from the future, or the past, or any other dimension.” He reaches up to the sconce by the door, flipping it upside down to engage the special lock. He sits down on the couch after she situates herself on the chair.
“Someone I care very deeply about has...uncovered information regarding Operation Plan Z.”
“I gathered. That’s not why we’re here, though.”
“Not entirely.”
“You just want me to promise to leave her out of it, and to not go after her?”
“See, now I’m worried, since it sounds like you know who it is.”
He nods gently. “I know who it is. We traced her.”
“Captain, this is an ongoing, massive issue. She’s not the only one we’re tracking. Nor is she of the most concern?”
“It’s worse than what my niece did? She downloaded consciousnesses from your database.”
“We’re aware. But...”
“But what?”
He was scanning the floor, but now he looks back up. “As she is a future Captain of Extremus, we are letting it go, because we don’t see time linearly. She would have been read into the situation anyway.”
“I see. So it’s true. You have the whole future mapped out.”
“Again, you’re thinking linearly. Mapping time is not as simple as just seeing what happens, and writing it down.”
“I bet.”
He clears his throat. “I assure you, as long as Miss Leithe reveals no secrets to anyone else, we’ll leave her alone.”
“But you already know whether she does or not.”
“Once more, it’s not that simple.”
Kaiora looks away and nods. “How bad is it?”
“We don’t know.”
“Ya know, from what I remember from Halan’s era, all the breaches have come from your side. He didn’t break protocol, and neither have I.”
“You’re right. We have leaks, and when we plug one up, another pops open.”
“So what are you going to do about it?”
“We’re killing the civilian program.”
“You are?” That’s a big step.
“It is no longer a viable option. Ovan Teleres got too close to us, and what little we divulge to the government has put this mission at too much risk. So from now on, the captain will be our only connection to Extremus Proper. Your successors will carry that burden amongst yourselves, as you will for the rest of your life.”
“Oaksent was not a member of the government. How did he find out anything?”
“That is a temporal problem; one which our map does not account for.”
“I see. So you can timelock this room, but not the Bridger Section as a whole.”
“Who was Fake!Rita Suárez?”
“That is above your clearance.”
“So, you know who she was?”
He takes a long time to reply. “It’s above your clearance to know that we have no fucking idea who she was, or where she came from.”
She nods understandingly.
“Nor do we know whether the Yitro Moralez that your alternate self saw is the real deal, or another impostor.”
“I didn’t know that you were cognizant of him.”
He clears his throat again. “Dr. Malone works for us.”
“Dammit! I worked so hard to find the most random, inconsequential, ineffectual professionals Extremus had to offer. How did you manage to get him into my personal secret section?”
Avelino breaks his poker face to reveal a smirk, but it barely lasts a decisecond. “Honestly, it was a happy coincidence. We picked him for the same reason you did, because no one would suspect someone like that would matter much. People still share secrets with him, though, and more importantly, other therapists do it. We don’t know why, but we are using it to our advantage. He has no idea who he’s channeling information to. He could become a liability, actually.”
“Is that why he keeps trying to get a meeting with me?”
“Yeah, we think he wants to spill the beans about what he’s done.”
“What’s going to happen to him?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you going to kill him?”
“Why would we do that?”
“Are you going to kill the members of the civilian government who are already aware of the nature of the Bridger section, and its true purpose?”
“Why would we do that?” he repeats.
“Bridger. Start talkin’. I need to know if there are going to be any deaths under suspicious circumstances on my ship.”
He shakes his head. “The circumstances will not be suspicious.”
Kaiora sighs.
“It’ll be fine,” Avelino tries to assure her. He might be a sociopath, so his words are not very convincing. “You’re fine, your niece is fine, and anyone else who has been granted access to the hidden partition of the database is fine. We’re only going to go after the people who deliberately exposed our secrets. We have to find that leak. Speaking of which, I ought to be getting back to it, and you need to be getting to MedHock.”
“Medhock?” she questions. She wasn’t expecting that to be brought up. “Why?”
“According to our map...your Captain dies today.”
“How, uh...?”
“How mutable is this eventuality?” he figures. “Not at all. It’s over.”
She gestures to the ceiling, indicating the Bridger Section in general. “No, it’s not. He’ll survive this. We already know what his answer will be.”
We know what his answer will be. You don’t.”
“What are you talking about? He said yes the last time, he came back.”
“When he died the first time, he asked to come back because he had more work to do as the Captain, and more importantly, as Admiral. We’ve plugged that leak already. Old Man’s loophole is not going to be resurrecting anyone on your side of the bridge again. Admiral Yenant told us that he was only saying yes because of that loophole. He has no intention of being a permanent upload.”
Kaiora looks away in sadness.
“Hey. There’s a reason we give people a choice. “You’ll have to make the same decision when you die.”
“You’re right, I will. And truthfully, I don’t know what I’m going to say yet. It’s not even that long off for me, and I still haven’t figured out my answer. Halan has had a lot of time to change his mind.”
“Well. As long as you timelock MedHock, you can ask him yourself.”
“How would I go about doing that?”
Avelino stands up, and turns the timelock sconce back around. He then removes the artificial candle from its holder. He twists the bulb off of it, and hands the rest to her. “Light it. It will timelock an area for the duration of the burn. And I mean that. If you blow it out before it gets to the bottom of the wick, the timelocking power will burn out with it, and you’ll never be able to use it again. It’s a one-time use whether you maximize your productive time, or not.” So maybe not so artificial.
“Thank you for the opportunity.”
He nods once, then opens the door to let her out. She leaves the Bridger Section, and teleports to her mentor. The Hock Watcher lets her in. She finds the MedHock doctor at a desk. “Is he stable?”
“For now,” he answers.
“He’s stable, but that doesn’t mean—”
“Get! Out!”
He leaves with a protesting attitude.
“Final lesson, don’t treat people like that,” Halan advises.
Kaiora places the naked candle on the table, and holds it up between a tablet, and a keyboard. It’s a fire hazard, but whatever. She lights it, then turns back to Halan. “I’ve just come from the Bridger Section.”
He turns his shoulders away as much as he can. “I don’t wanna know about it.”
“You have to, because I have to talk to you, and it’s my last—”
I don’t...want to know,” he maintains.
“You’re going to listen to me, because I’m the Captain, and you’re just a prisoner.”
He twists his neck, but keeps his shoulders pointed away. “That’s cold, Kaiora.”
“That’s cold—?” She holds there with her mouth open, waiting for him.
“That’s cold, Captain,” he amends.
“Thank you. Now...get back into a comfortable position.”
He readjusts.
“Avelino told me that you plan to say no to The Question.”
“What do I have to look forward to?”
“Once you die, since no one knows you’ll still be alive, I can set in motion a series of events that will lead to your posthumous pardon.”
“That’s dirty pool, Captain.”
“It’s necessary, and it won’t be political suicide anymore. The people will be overwhelmingly in favor of it since there won’t be any consequences; at least they won’t think so. I’m going to do it whether you like it or not. You won’t be able to stop me, because of the whole being dead and dormant thing.”
“Also cold.”
“Please. Say yes. Stay alive.”
“I’ve never agreed with The Question. I was young, and ambitious, and I wanted the job, so I didn’t argue, but I wish I had. I wish I hadn’t let them create the Bridger Section at all. It goes against everything this mission stands for.”
“Don’t you see, that’s what The Question is for? Anyone who wants to hold onto their principles has every right to do so. All they have to do is say no.”
“Then let me say no.”
“You’re an exception.”
“Because I love you!”
“Everyone is loved by someone. Death is a part of life. I accept it, as should you.”
“No, I’m not going to let you just—”
“The candle’s burned out,” he interrupts to point out.
She looks over at it incredulously. That was far too fast. Avelino did that on purpose. He knew the conversation couldn’t last long. “God! Dammit!”

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