Saturday, August 12, 2023

Extremus: Year 52

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
“You need me for what, exactly?” Tinaya asked.
“It’s not yet time,” Avelino answered. “You have to stay on your current path. You have to live in the humiliation. Breathe it, bathe in it.”
“That doesn’t sound like my idea of fun,” she told him.
“It won’t be,” he admitted, “but I promise you, it will be worth it. And it will all make sense. Can you do that? Can you trust me?”
“I will trust you,” she replied. “Whether I’m right to will not be decided today.”
Tinaya has been living in the profound humiliation of not getting into even a single college program for the last several months. Her plan to let Lataran live with her while she studies at college is precisely what they’ve ended up doing, except the other way around. It is Lataran who is the student, and Tinaya the freeloader. The Bridgers have a plan for her, this much is clear, but Avelino does not make contact often, and she has no way of reaching out to them. Nor is she meant to try. This is her life. She has to live it. Things will reportedly change in the future. She doesn’t know when, but Avelino all but said that it will result in Tinaya ultimately becoming captain of the Extremus, which was always the plan. It’s hard to see how that could possibly be true at this point, but apparently all she has to do is least for now.
As for the lifestyle, it’s hard to argue with it on principle. This time without any responsibilities has given her the freedom to think about what she wants, and what she values. Education, contribution, leadership. These have been instilled in her since before she can remember. But they’re not inherent. Not everyone has to care about such things, and not everyone who does has to care about them to such a high degree. It’s altered her perspective on the other passengers, particularly the other freeloaders. Perhaps that’s all that the Bridgers are trying to do. Has every prior captain’s weakness been a lack of patience and understanding with enough of the people here? She has been taught that they were all great, but they were not without their scandals and problems. Halan broke a major law, Olindse was only interim, and then she disappeared one day. There are rumors that her Aunt, Kaiora had issues that caused the crew to lose trust in her by the time her tenure ended, but all of those files are classified, so it’s unclear what happened there. Then you have someone like Soto Tamm who couldn’t garner the respect that the other three had—without even trying—to save his life.
Tinaya is trying to look at her new circumstances positively. The first two months were the worst. She was holed up in Lataran’s cabin nearly that whole time, leaving only once in the middle of it. That was the worst day of her life so far. It was the cacophony of responses that she received from the passersby that made it unbearable. Some pitied her, others were embarrassed to be breathing the same air. Some were annoyed at how depressing she was, wandering the halls, unkempt as she was, and a few were quite vocally angry with her. She only lasted an hour before she couldn’t take it anymore. It was five more weeks before she tried again, and by then, another big news item was spreading through the ship. Some engineering apprentice that she hadn’t heard of made some huge mistake with the reframe engine, and delayed the journey by just over one week. The Extremus was never dead in the water, but they started the trip going 99.9999% the speed of light, and they don’t like changing that plan. That’s why they arrested Admiral Yenant, and why he died in hock.
Things are okay now when it comes to Tinaya’s relationship with the other young adults her age. They’ve gotten used to her situation, and no longer make her feel like shit every time she walks into the room. Still, it’s never going to be like it was. She went from hero to zero in a matter of seconds on that stage at graduation, and the only way she’ll live it down is if Avelino holds up his end of the bargain, and redeems her in some fantastic fashion. Today’s not great, though. Probably the biggest impact Vice Admiral Olindse Belo had on this ship was her introduction of holiday observances that prior generations of Extremusians and their ancestors never celebrated. She researched Earthan traditions, and taught the crew and passengers how they worked, and what they were for. There were tons of them. The first few years were pretty chaotic with how many events they held, trying to pack them all in without anyone fully understanding what they truly meant. Over time, factions and families have chosen their favorites. Now, just about every holiday is still observed by someone, but none by everyone. Unfortunately, the Leithes have decided to adopt something called Labor Day.
Back when this began, honoring the working class people of the ship for one day seemed like a no-brainer. Now it’s the most uncomfortable one they could have picked, because of Tinaya’s whole situation. She has never had very close relationships with her family, and her failure has, of course, only made things worse. Her parents can barely look her in the eye, which is generally okay, because she doesn’t have to see them very often. This started when she was a child, and was done by design. This expectation that she would one day lead the crew was evidently something that they fought against before she was born. They’ve since gone so far in the opposite direction that accepting that maybe it actually won’t happen has just pissed them off. Now they don’t know how to be her mom and dad. They thought they were doing right by her by being cold and distant. Does that even matter anymore? By law, she’s an adult now anyway, so they haven’t bothered trying. Except for today. They are Labor Day people. That’s what they’ve chosen to focus their traditions on, just like the Arbor Day people spend their special day in the arboretums, and the Cinco de Mayo Day people do whatever it is they do. It’s dinner time, and she has to be there.
“We can skip it,” Lataran offers as they’re walking slowly. She hails from a family of Picnic Day observers, which originates from some place called Australia. Tinaya can’t recall whether that’s a country or a continent. They had their day of relaxation and games a month ago. Tinaya attended it with them, and found herself easily forgetting about all of her problems. It’s not going to be so easy today, but they can’t skip it.
“What’s going to be my excuse?” Tinaya posed. “That I’m busy with my studies?”
“You are studying.”
“Yeah, and you’re my teacher. They know it’s not real.”
“It’s real.”
“I know. I mean, they think they know it’s not...real.” Tinaya sighs. “I have to go. But you don’t. You’ve not been charged with the crime of being a waste of carbon scrubbers.” That’s a common phrase on the ship.
“It’ll be fine. I’ve decided to tell them my theory.”
“No, you can’t, Lata. They don’t know what I told you about the Bridgers. I don’t believe I was supposed to tell you. Avelino didn’t specifically say not to, but it’s kind of implied that we’re doin’ somethin’ secret here.”
“I won’t tell them everything; just about you and me.” Lataran was really struggling with her grades in the last year of tertiary school. They did some math together and realized that there was basically no way that she should have been allowed to stay on the captain’s track for college. The hypothesis is that she was given Tinaya’s slot, possibly even as part of the Bridger’s grand plan. But that’s just between the two of them. Again, no one else can know about that.
“You can’t separate the two secrets. You’re in college because I’m not allowed to be there? There’s no reason why that would be a thing unless there was some conspiracy behind it. Plus, we don’t even know that it’s true. The University has its academic requirements, but you would not be the first student they made an exception for. History on both Earth and Ansutah is littered with stories like yours. Maybe they just know how smart you are, and that you just needed a second chance. Maybe it had nothing to do with me. Don’t try to tell my parents anything. I’m gonna suffer through it. I would love for you to be by my side, but our friendship does not depend upon it.”
“Okay. But I’m gonna defend you.”
“Hopefully you won’t have to. We’ll talk about innocuous things, like the weather, and the next professional sports competition.”
“Extremus has neither of those things.”
“Maybe I should change that.”
“Hm. You wanna make a sports team just so you don’t have to talk to your family about the important stuff?”
“I was thinking about finding a way to use science to create bad weather, but your idea sounds easier. Anyway, we’re here, so...we ought to go in.”
“Only if you want to. There’s time to back out.”
“I’m sure they can see us on the camera. And hear us.” Tinaya waves. “Hi, mom.” She then waves again, but this time closer to it, so the sensor can see. There’s a little chip in her hand that gives her access to this cabin without knocking and being let in. She’s done it a million times, not just with this door, but many others. The door has always split down the center, and pulled away to either side. That’s how interior Extremus doors operate. This time, it goes up into a pocket in the ceiling. On the other side of it is not her family’s cabin, but a long dimly lit hallway.
“Are we in the wrong place?” Lataran questions.
“Impossible. That’s where the Mastersons live. They have their Rush Hosannah decorations up, or whatever it’s called.” Not many people observe holidays like it. Some of the ones they tried to borrow from Earth seemed a little more like cultural appropriation than others. Even so, there are those families who don’t seem to mind.
“I think I know what’s on the other side of this threshold,” Lataran points out.
“Yeah, it’s probably the Bridger section. You should go back to the cabin.”
“No,” she says with a shake of her head. “The system knows that I’m here. This door wouldn’t open if they weren’t inviting me too. It’s not your call.”
“I’m not trying to make a call,” Tinaya insists. “I’m trying to protect you.”
Lataran steps into the magical hallway, and turns around to face her friend. “I don’t need your protection. I’m going to be on the executive crew of the Extremus one day.” She turns around again, and begins to walk towards the only other door they see.
Tinaya follows, but quickly passes to make sure she’s in front. There’s probably not a bear on the other side of it, but she still feels more comfortable being the first one through. On a lark, she waves her hand at the sensor, and the door opens for them.
Avelino is standing there in the darkness. “ Year 217.”

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