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Saturday, August 5, 2023

Extremus: Year 51

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
It’s graduation day. Unlike traditional schooling, or the regular education system on the ship, not everything about today is a given. For most people, the ceremony is to mark and celebrate an event that is already happening. Other students already have their degrees, and will move on from here based on whatever life has in store for them, which is based on whatever they have accomplished, and the promise they show for their future. The kids studying ship administration are in a special situation, though. Part of that comes from the circumstances they were born to and grew up in, and part of it is from their natural talent, but the majority of it is choice. They chose to place themselves on the captain’s track, and while of course not all of them will become captain one day, not all of them will end up on the executive crew in any capacity. They may not even make it to the crew, full stop. Hell, they may not even get into the college that is required to even have a chance.
There are two universities on the Extremus. One is the general university, where people study whatever it is they wish. The other is the University of Crewmanship. Within each of these two schools, there are separate college programs, and one of these is called The College of Executive Administration. This is the big time, and no one is guaranteed a spot in the program; not even Tinaya Leithe, legacy. It’s highly competitive, and the number of people currently graduating tertiary school who will be accepted is absurdly low. Standard practice dictates a student apply to a program elsewhere, and most have done that. If they did, they already know whether and where they were accepted. Despite the competition, there is a place for everyone. Education is a right, not a privilege; it’s just a question of what any given individual will be educated in. Today, everyone in Tinaya’s graduating class will learn whether they made it into the CEA, or if they’ll have to fall back on whatever their second choice is. It’s not just a graduation ceremony. It’s an acceptance ceremony, and the whole ship gets to watch.
Lataran is more solemn than usual, and Tinaya is trying to be supportive of her without sounding like a condescending bitch. “It’ll be okay. Whatever happens, it’ll be okay,” she claims, obviously not knowing if it’s true.
Lataran shakes her head. “You don’t understand, you never have. If I don’t get into this, I’m not going to college.”
“Your parents are letting you go to college. I’ve spoken to them on it many times. We agreed that if not Lieutenant, you would be best suited for civil service studies.”
“Yes,” Lataran confirms, “but you’re missing one half of the formula, which is desire. I don’t want to be a civil servant. If I can’t work on the crew, I don’t want to do anything, because I don’t have any other choices.”
“You have other choices. You could study philosophy. You always liked asking the big questions.”
“I can’t. That’s what I’m trying to explain to you. My parents gave me two choices; executive or civil service. I have to be a big name on this rustbucket, and if I try anything else, they’re going to disown me, and I’ll end up...a freeloader.” A freeloader isn’t as bad as it sounds. As with education, everyone alive is entitled to work. You get, and you give is sort of one of the state mottos. But you’re not required to participate in either of those things. You can drop out of school when you’re fourteen, and you never have to work a day in your life if you don’t want to. Some people do this. They just live here. It’s conventional for such people to focus on propagating the species, so that their descendants will one day make it to the Extremus planet, but that’s not required either. Some people just...hang out. They’re not socially shunned, but in practice, they have trouble making friends with anyone who isn’t like them. So they tend to stick to their own kind. There’s even a section where most of them live. This is not because they were intentionally segregated, but because they wanted to form a subculture. And also, they’re entitled to a certain level of accommodation, while those who contribute to society are entitled to a little more; nicer cabins, better facilities, etc. So there is a little bit of segregation going on, but it has more to do with their choice than anything.
“Well, what would you do if you could do whatever you wanted.”
“Whatever I wanted?” Lataran questions. “Temporal engineering.”
Tinaya is still trying to be nice. “I meant...”
“You meant, whatever I wanted that I could actually do.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Lataran sighs. “A freeloader.”
“What happened to your ambition?”
“I still have it, but only for this. Tina, I don’t have high marks. I’m barely graduating. I’m not gonna make it into college. That’s why I’ve been so grumpy lately. The first couple years of tertiary school were okay, but my struggle really caught up with me this last year.”
“You don’t know that you’re not getting in, and even if you don’t get in...”
“Even if I don’t get in, what?”
“I can choose whoever I want to be my lieutenants. I can pull from any workforce, any walk of life, including freeloaders. So if this doesn’t work out, and that’s what you want to do, then you’ll live in my stateroom with me, and when the time comes, I’ll appoint you as my First L-T.”
“That will make you look so terrible.”
“No, it won’t, because you’re not just gonna sit around all day. You’ll be doing an independent study. The library is free for all. We’ll work on my home assignments together. It’ll be like you’re in the college anyway, and we’ll make sure people know that. This is all assuming you don’t get accepted yourself, which I’m still not convinced you won’t. They’ve not even started the opening speeches.”
As if on cue, Captain Soto Tamm steps on stage and approaches the podium.
“He’s not in the program.” Lataran flips through it.
“Why is he even wasting his time here?” Tinaya asks rhetorically. The man is everywhere. He’s setting himself to make more public appearances during the first quarter of his shift than the other three previous captains ever did combined. The captain is meant to be available and helpful, and that doesn’t mean parading himself in front of an audience. That’s something a figurehead would do. Is he just a puppet? Is something rotten in Denmark? It’s too much. He shows his face too often when he should really be doing his job. At least this particular event makes sense, but still. Aunt Kaiora rarely had anything to do with the students when she was Captain, and Halan only ever went to one graduation; the first one on the ship. Tamm is still trying to play it cool around her. As he’s giving his opening remarks—explaining that he was asked to step in for the dean, who generally does this, but is busy with a situation—he looks each one of the graduating students in the eye, except for Tinaya.
Captain Tamm finishes his words, and then sits down so the ceremony can continue. Finally, the moment arrives when they’re announced in alphabetical order, and at the same time, declare which university they will be going to, or which college. Anyone who doesn’t get accepted into the College of Executive Administration will be listed with their second choice, if they only applied to the one. If they applied to, and were accepted into, multiple programs in either university, they now have a choice to make, and today, they will only hear their name associated with the particular university in general.
“Elowen Isenberg, College of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.”
Elowen frowns, then stands up, and walks across the stage to accept his degree. Her parents look proud of her, not disappointed.
“Lataran Keen, College of Executive Administration.”
Lataran exhales sharply.
“I told you that you would be fine.” She accepts a hug from her friend, then urges her to go across the stage, so they can continue.
Finally, it’s her turn. Principal Hampton clears her throat, and looks worried. He hesitates, but decides to continue anyway. “Tinaya Leithe.” And then he shuts his mouth, not saying another word. The room freezes. She always knew that there was a chance she wouldn’t get into the program, but she should have been accepted into something. She applied to seven other programs; four of which were in the other university. This doesn’t make any sense at all.
Tinaya stands and approaches the podium slowly. She’s actually lifting her hand to accept the diploma. She’s doing that slowly too, but she’s still doing it. Then she stops. She drops her hand, and makes a sudden turn downstage as if she was trying to introduce herself to a celebrity, but chickened out at the last second. Instead, she hops off stage. It’s a doozy, but she lands on her feet, and keeps walking like an action hero, doing everything she can to ignore the stinging feeling presently running up her legs. The audience is still stunned. They turn their heads to follow her as she walks up the center aisle, and through the doors. She falls to her knees, and begins to hyperventilate. This can’t be happening. It can’t. Again, eight programs. Everyone is guaranteed a spot somewhere. If nothing else, general education should have let her in. It’s never happened to someone on the captain’s track before, but they could theoretically hear those two words come after their name. Tinaya didn’t even get that. She didn’t get anything. She’s not even a freeloader. As least that would have been her choice.
Someone’s feet appear in the corner of her eye. “Stand up.”
“Why?”
“Stand up and I’ll tell you.” She doesn’t recognize the voice.
“I don’t mean why should I sta—”
“I know what you’re asking. Stand up...and I’ll tell you,” he repeats.
She regains control over her breathing, and complies. She doesn’t recognize the man’s face either. “Who are you?”
“I am Avelino Bridger.”
“Avelino Bridger,” she echoes, “of the Bridger section?”
He shakes his head mildly. “It’s not a section.”
“I know. It’s a ship.” There’s another ship that’s following the Extremus about a light year away from here. It’s one of the things she learned when she hacked deep into the secret files as a kid. She’s not supposed to know that much about it. Everyone else knows that it exists in some form, but that’s it. “Why?” she repeats herself.
“Because we need you...for something bigger.”

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