Saturday, June 11, 2022

Extremus: Year 48

Former Captain and Admiral Halan died shortly after his conversation with Captain Leithe. Funny enough, the last person on the vessel still alive who could remember living in Ansutah also died that very same day. There were probably many others back on Gatewood, but this felt like a somber milestone. It was overshadowed by Halan, and everyone’s reaction to losing him. There’s a saying on Earth, don’t speak ill of the dead. This sentiment has held strong here. Even some of his most vehement opponents now have nothing but nice things to say about him. That should be a good thing, but his loyalists, like Kaiora, can’t help but feel bitter about it. He died in hock, unfitting for a man of his greatness, and those who truly loved him will never forgive these fair-weather friends for that. At least his persistent detractors hold to their own convictions. At least Kaiora can respect them for that. What she can’t respect is what has happened recently. It was all planned out, but now it’s all ruined.
Future Captain is not just something people call who they think the next captain will be. It is an official title that comes with responsibility and even a tiny bit of power, mostly involving new access to certain sensitive data. Trudie Haynes was already in this position, and had been there for two years when the council pulled the rug out from under the both of them. They have apparently decided that they need to drain the swamp. Halan picked Kaiora, then committed a crime. While Kaiora has given them no reason to not trust her judgment over the course of the next two and a half decades, they think it’s best that they handle this one. It’s not just about the captain’s seat either. Almost everyone on the crew will be dismissed at the end of this year, whether their shifts should be over at that time, or not. They agreed to a few exceptions, such as Hock Watcher Giordano, and thankfully, Chief Medical Officer Holmes. The council and civilian government justify these decisions by the new policies they devised a few years ago, which resulted in Calixte Salmon being appointed the first—and maybe only ever—Superintendent. The fact that he turned out to be a treasonous murderer is clearly lost on them.
Kaiora has been investigating this development as a possible coup, but has seen no evidence of that so far. She’s beginning to think that this is simply annoying bureaucracy at work. Besides, her medical condition is declining. She is finding it harder and harder to put as much effort into the job as she used to. First Lieutenant Lars Callaghan has been handling many of her normal duties, and he has really stepped up. Kaiora can’t help but feel proud of him. She knew there was a reason Halan and Olindse picked him to be on the team in the first place. His original position was never backfilled after Corinna disappeared, but the new crew will reportedly include a Second L-T. They say they like that it’s a thing now, and honestly, it’s one of the few things they and Kaiora can agree on. While Halan initially instituted it to control Ovan Teleres’ power, having an extra hand has served the ship nicely since then.
It’s May 19, 2317. The Captain is sitting in her office, pretending to do work, even though there’s no one else in the room to perform for. She’s just bored, which is something that happens from time to time. There are days when nothing goes wrong on the ship, and there aren’t any fires to put out. Mostly she feels like a lame duck. The transition is still months away, but it already feels over. She releases an exaggerated version of her signature sigh, but before it’s over, First Lieutenant Corinna Seelen appears out of nowhere, and takes a step towards her. “Cori! You’re alive.”
“No shit. Let’s go.” Corinna takes her captain by the arm, and transports them to Council Chambers. The council is a loosely defined collective of crewmembers and government officials who make sure everyone is doing their jobs correctly. They have been slowly accumulating power, even though their original mandate was to appoint the first crew members of the mission, and then do pretty much nothing else. Is this them? Are they the traitors? Corinna is sure staring at them with contempt. But no, Kaiora ruled them out years ago. They were the obvious suspects—especially since most of the council disappeared alongside Corinna, and had to be replaced—but they’re all clean. Kaiora’s secret investigative team has been watching them particularly closely, and has found nothing.
De facto leader of the council before the incident in the time lab, Esmee Newport is already in the room, having apparently transitioned back from wherever they were separate from Corinna. She clears her throat authoritatively. “Esteemed members of the council, after years of transdimensional investigation, we have finally figured out who has been sabotaging Extremus in multiple facets of the mission.” She steps aside, and presents the empty space behind her.
Another member of the older council teleports in, holding none other than Ovan Teleres by the chains.
Esmee continues, “Ovan Teleres, you have been charged with high treason. What say you in this matter?”
Ovan is sneering jovially. “You’re all under my spell.”
Yitro comes out of a shadow, presumably having teleported there as well at some point. “Not anymore.” He’s holding a...machete? What the hell is he doing with a machete? Ovan’s head rolls off in one quick swing. Oh, that’s why.
The current de facto leader of the council stands up angrily. “Explain!”
“Hock prisoner, Mr. Teleres,” Yitro begins, “has been infecting people’s minds with an illegal breed of nanites, which manipulate the victim’s thoughts, movements, and emotions. He controls—controlled these little buggers from inside his cell, and he was doing it for years. That’s why Rita seemed to go crazy. That’s why the Superintendent switched sides. They were all infected. They were all innocent.”
“So, wait. There are no clones?” one of the other council members asks.
“There had to have been,” Kaiora argues. “I saw the other me in the timelab. She tried to kill Greenley Atkinson.”
Corinna places a hand on Kaiora’s shoulder. “That was not a clone either. That was the real Kaiora Leithe. We think that she was the first victim.”
“No, but I’m...” Kaiora starts to say, but then she remembers. “I’m the clone. The original went back in time.”
Corinna closes her eyes solemnly, and nods slightly. “That’s right.”
“I did this. I caused all of this.”
“No,” Esmee contradicts. “Victim is not just a word we’re throwing around. It’s what your alternate self was. It’s what all of them were. Nanites are invisible to the naked eye, and undetectable when dormant. Anyone could have been infected. We still don’t know how many were, in fact. Every single civilian and crewmember will now have to get tested, even though the master is now dead.” She grimaces at Ovan’s head on the floor.
“Forgive me for the brutal violence,” Yitro says. “It was the safest way to sever his connection to all of his victims at once. Like she said, we don’t know who’s been infected. I couldn’t risk the possibility that one of you might have stopped me.”
The council leader sits back down calmly, and composes herself. “Until your story can be verified, you will all be placed in hock, including the captain.”
Yitro laughs. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”
“You have no authority here, Captain Moralez of the Admiral Perran Thatch Detachment Timeship. You shouldn’t even be on Extremus Proper right now.”
That’s when Omega and Valencia appear behind the council’s backs. “Neither should we,” Omega declares. One by one, they tap on the council member’s heads as if playing Duck, Duck, Goose. As they do, the lot of them disappear, probably to hock themselves.
Kaiora slowly backs away. “Now I can’t trust anyone.”
“Captain, you can trust me,” Corinna insists.
Desperate, Kaiora snatches Ovan’s head up from the floor. “We’ll see about that.” She teleports away, but not all the way to her secret section, worried that someone might be able to track her there. As quietly as possible, she runs the rest of the way, and slips inside, checking to make sure no one is watching her. “Daley!” she cries out once she’s fully inside the section.
Nurse Daley McKee jumps into the hallway in front of her, ready to help.
She hands him Ovan’s head. “You’ve been looking for a subject to test. Here ya go. Tell me what you find.” She passes him, and heads for the office she keeps down here, and doesn’t use much.
“Where’s the rest of him?” Daley asks.
“The rest was too heavy to carry!” she shouts back.
“So you hacked it apart!”
“Uhuh!” she lies.
“What am I looking for!”
“I’m not tellin’! You should find something, and if you don’t...either you’re lying, or the person who served him up on a silver platter is! Just do what you’ve been waiting for years to do!”
About thirty minutes later, hacker Elodie Seabrooke knocks on Kaiora’s open door. “Captain?”
“Have they found anything?”
“I don’t know. I came to let you know that I watched the footage. I know how you got that head. And I also want you to know that I’m not going to tell anybody. I understand why you don’t want to contaminate the results with preconceptions.”
“Thank you. Is that all?”
“Also, I’ve been doing a little math.”
“Your specialty.”
“There’s a reason the transdimensional investigators showed up on this day.”
“And that would be?”
“If they went back in time in the reverse dimension as far as they were planning to, they were gone for as long as it took them to get there.”
“When the machine turned on, you were expecting the other investigators to use it to travel back about six years.”
“That was about six years ago.”
“So...once they exited the dimension, they had to wait twelve years to return?”
“I think they went to another dimension first; another observation dimension, that is, which parallels ours in direction. And yes, I think they were stuck there for twice as long, for whatever reason. It’s the most logical explanation for why they showed up today, and not anytime earlier.”
“That sounds stupid,” Kaiora spits. “Who designed that?”
“God?” Elodie proposes.
She nods. “Anything else?”
“If this is true, then...”
“Then it’s not over. If Kumara and Errol eventually caught up with the rest in the past, they’ll have to be there for even longer, and won’t return until...”
“Around November 9 of this year. But that’s assuming they all entered the second observation dimension at the same time. They might have gone back further in the timeline, or they came out sooner. Or they died...”
“How would any of this explain how my original self went back, and somehow got out of the reverse time dimension without having to go to this second observation dimension?”
“That I can’t explain,” Elodie answers. “Maybe she escaped completely.”
They hear someone else coming down the hallway. Elodie steps inside to let Corinna in the room. “How did you get in here?” Kaiora demands to know.”
“We were in an observation dimension,” she confirms, apropos of the conversation. “It was my job to watch over you. It was a sick assignment, really, since I couldn’t do anything to help.”
“Is it true, you were stuck in there for eighteen years?”
“Don’t I look it?” Corinna asks.
Indeed. She looks like she’s in her fifties, when she should be in her forties. “Yes,” Kaiora answers truthfully.
“It was rough,” Corinna agreed, “but we survived, and we learned so much.”
“You being here does not change the fact that I still can’t trust anyone,” Kaiora acknowledges. “In fact, it probably makes it worse.”
“I’m going to the lab now, so they can test me too.”
“What would they look for?”
“Anomalies. There shouldn’t be any, but...there might.”
“Assuming you are who you say you are, and you’re still on my side,” Kaiora begins, “then you must know if I can trust them.”
“You can,” Corinna replies. “You did well. You picked a good team. The whole ship has been compromised, including the Bridger Section, but excluding this tiny little isolated area. I was in charge of watching over you, but Esmee took responsibility for these people even while you weren’t here. She knew that Dr. Malone was working for the Bridgers, and I think she only told me.”
“I see.”
“This is all gonna work out, Captain. You’ll see that too.”
“Thank you. You’re both dismissed.”
Once they’re gone, Captain Kaiora Leithe, Third of Ten goes down for a nap, and she never stands up on her own again.

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