Saturday, July 29, 2023

Extremus: Year 50

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Captain Kaiora Leithe, Third of Ten of the Void Migration Ship Extremus, died nearly a week ago at the age of 46. She died as she lived: young. She was the youngest captain in history, which wasn’t saying much when she was only the third captain so far, but by the time this mission ends, she will likely still hold the record. The whole ship is in mourning, more so than they were for when Halan Yenant pass away, because she was a lot less polarizing of a figure. Due to her health issues, she was never promoted to the rank of admiral, leaving current Captain, Soto Tamm without an advisor. The admiralty has always come with an asterisk, and that will not end anytime soon. Tinaya Leithe doesn’t care about that, though. She’s not on the executive crew yet, and maybe never will be. While she’s on track to sitting in that seat, today she’s still only a kid. She’s a kid whose aunt has just died.
The family had a small funeral service two days ago to honor their loved one. Today is the memorial service, which while there is no single room on the vessel that can accommodate every crewmember and resident of Extremus, will be considered a shipwide affair. Everyone is watching; literally, because the service will be streamed. This isn’t something that Tinaya is interested in at the moment, not under these circumstances. She did fine in her Public Presence class, which teaches students how to deal with the spotlight, but it didn’t take this into account, and it was never the plan for any of them to actually have to deal with it this early on. Again, they’re just kids.
Tinaya is sitting in her room. Her game controller is on the bed next to her, and she’s been holding down the joystick, forcing her character to roll along the ground of a moon, doing cartwheels. Three years ago, when her grandmother died, it was Kaiora who caught her playing this game to distract herself. They had a moment, which was probably just a Tuesday for the captain, but to Tinaya, it was profoundly everything. It was the day she realized that every captain—every person—gets to decide who it is they’re going to be. There is no single definitive rulebook for how one is supposed to act. From then on, she’s been trying very hard in school, and branching out to lots of different subjects, instead of relying on this expectation that everyone seems to have that she’s going to win the captaincy, whether she tries or not. That’s not how it works, even if it looks like that from the outside.
Lataran is next to her. She was watching the cartwheels, but now she’s yawning over and over and over again, and scratching at chest, having had to resort to her itchy black dress this morning, instead of the comfortable one, because it is still in the wash from the first funeral. They've grown closer over the course of the last year. They no longer call themselves close enough friends, but true friends, who tell each other everything, and feel safe enough with each other to fart when no one else is in the room, and to cover for each other when it happens among mixed company. She yawns again.
“Go to bed, Taran.” Kaiora’s finger slips upon hearing the sudden sound of her voice, and her character misses the last cartwheel, falling on her face. Good thing it isn’t real. “You don’t have to be there. You were at the real one.”
“You’re confused, Naya, this is the real one. It’s the one that everyone knows. It’s the one that they will have watched. It’s the one they’ll talk about. It’s the one they’ll consider when they’re deciding who’s going to be your First Lieutenant.” Lataran long ago gave up hope of becoming captain herself, and has been vying hard for second position. It’s not just about serving on the crew with her best friend, but about getting as close as she’ll reasonably get to glory. She’s not the only one in the School of Ship Administration who feels this way, and that’s not a new thing. Plenty of people are more interested in other positions, such as Lead Engineer, or Chief Medical Officer. The boy who told the two of them about the protest against Captain Soto Tamm last year, Rodari Stenger is convinced that Hock Watcher Caldr Giordana is getting old enough to be vacating his position by the time Rodari is of age. That’s what he wants. The job comes with more power than it sounds like.
Think of the devil, and he shall ring the doorbell. Tinaya and Lataran see him on the camera. He’s standing moderately impatiently...twitchy, even. He’s wearing his extremely tailored—and extremely executive—black suit, and looking side to side as if someone he hates, but who likes him, is looming in the darkness, waiting to pounce with a bunch of questions that he doesn’t want to answer.
“Open the door,” Tinaya commands the system.
“Hey. You two look ready.”
“You look worried,” Lataran points out.
“This is my first public appearance. It’s our last year in tertiary school. People are noticing now. They’re going to parade us around the service auditorium like prize cattle. You should be worried about it more than any of us. Aren’t you worried?”
“I made a decision earlier in the school year that I wasn’t going to worry about how people perceive me,” Tinaya begins to explain. “I’m not saying that I’m above it, but the more I dwell on it, the less natural I’ll look. If I go out there, and just be myself, they will receive me however they will. Good or bad, I won’t change for them. That’s not doing anyone any good.”
“Sorry to say, Tinaya; I know you’re going through a lot today, but that’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard from one of the smartest people I know.”
Tinaya breaks into laughter. “What did I just say about how I’ll be received?” She pauses a moment. “I don’t care what you think.”
“Well. You’re number one.”
It’s true, Tinaya and Tao Li have been chasing each other for first on the leaderboards since the beginning, but the former has maintained her place at the top since the beginning of this school year. Whoever’s there when it’s time to transition to college level studies will set the tone for the next three and a half years. “For now...”
“So, what exactly does that mean?” Rodari asks. “You’re not on the program to speak at the memorial, but when they open up the floor to anyone who would like to say a few words, a lot of people are going to divert their attention to you.”
“I’ve decided that I’m taking it a step further for this particular occasion,” Tinaya answers. “I won’t say a word. I’ve already discussed it with my family. Mourners can try to talk to me all they want. They can tell me how great of a captain she was, or how I must miss her so much. I won’t respond a guilty man in an interrogation room.” People won't like it. It’ll probably just irritate them, but she’s not gonna do anything only to make others feel more comfortable. Aunt Kaiora wouldn’t do that. Even if it cost her the captain's seat, she would always be herself. She always was herself.
Rodari eyes her, and lifts his chin. “Hm,” he says, ever so quietly. “I can respect that. Halan was a man of few words. The words he did say came at a higher value.”
“I’m not saying that I would, or will, captain that way, but...I’m not here to placate. If they want me to be in charge, then they’ll have to accept what that means. I have no intention of tricking them into believing I behave like anyone but me.”
All three of their wrist devices beep. They didn’t all set their respective alarms to precisely 11:24. They programmed them to go off with enough time to walk to their destination, plus a padding of three minutes for one more trip to the bathroom, or to touch up their hair. If the auditorium were eight minutes away from wherever they were standing, instead of three, their alarms would have gone off at 11:19 instead. “It’s time to prove it.” Rodari reaches out to take Tinaya’s hand cordially. “One way or another,” he says with a positive shake of his head, “they’re about to see the real Tinaya Leithe.”
They walk to the auditorium together, then separate from there. Tinaya has to sit with her family in the front row, and as close as she is with Lataran, Lataran is not part of that. Nearly everyone else is already seated. Only a few other stragglers are dipping themselves into the crowd of a thousand faces. Former First Lieutenant Lars Callaghan is standing at the podium, waiting for the clock to hit 11:30 on the dot before he begins. He’s like a robot, completely motionless. He doesn’t look nervous, or saddened, or anything, really. He looks...professional, and ready.
He clears his throat. “People of the VMS Extremus, for those of you who don’t know,  my name is Lars Callaghan. I served under two captains, Admiral Olindse Belo, and the woman we are here to honor today, Captain Kaiora Leithe. I was the former’s second lieutenant, before transitioning to first lieutenant for Kaiora. She and I didn’t always agree with each other, but that is not the lieutenant’s job. I was there to make sure she was running the ship soundly, and to step up when there was too much work for one person to do. We had a respectful and professional relationship, and she asked me to give her eulogy, because she knew that I would be reverent, honest, and most importantly, brief. This is not an all-day affair, and she would not want it to be. There is so much work to do here, and she would want all of you to get back to doing it.” Much of the audience is made up of the retired crewmembers, most of whom served under Kaiora, but others served under Halan and Olindse, and are still alive. The current crew is predominantly not here at all, because they already are busy running the ship. The most recent shift has just begun, and they have not yet even begun to think about appointing apprentices for the next one. So in reality, nobody has to get back to work.
Lars goes on, “Captain Leithe had to deal with a lot during her term. When this mission was first being conceived in a little bar on a rotating habitat in the Gatewood Collective, no one thought we would suffer through all of this. I can’t get into specifics in mixed company, but we all know the pain we’ve experienced over the course of the last fifty years. We came to find our descendants a new home. We sacrificed our old home for that dream, and we’ve sacrificed more since then. No one knew that better than Kaiora Leithe. Love, death, war. She ran the gamut. She also saw birth, and growth, and heartbreak. She was steadfast through it all, and when she got sick, she stepped aside gracefully, and trusted in the rest of us to keep it together. We are at the very beginning of a new chapter in the Extremus saga. A new captain has stepped onto the bridge, and it is my honor today to introduce you to him, who is our next speaker. Crew and residents of the Extremus, please help me in welcoming Captain Soto Tamm.”
The people clap half-heartedly. He’s not a hated man, but he’s so far not become their favorite captain either. He’s just sort of blah. Tamm walks over to the podium with a smile. “Thank you, Mr. Callaghan.” It’s conventional to address someone by their final rank, as long as they were not dismissed dishonorably. He accidentally breathes into the microphone. “A Maramon, a choosing one, and a ship captain walk into a bar...”

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