Saturday, September 2, 2023

Extremus: Year 55

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
The last two months have been hell. It turns out that the four-person mind blender machine did more than Tinaya first realized. She’s the only one who can function on her own. Lataran, Valencia, and Omega struggle with simple tasks, especially the latter, who can’t even feed himself. The entity formerly known as Lantaran does okay, which is why she helps him with things like that, but she makes mistakes, and can’t be seen in public. Tinaya can’t tell anyone what’s happened. Not only does their time in the Bridger section have to remain a secret, but either way, she doesn’t know who she can trust. Not her family, not the captain, and definitely not Avelino. Even Lataran herself doesn’t quite seem to understand that something strange is going on. To them, this all seems rather normal. So, really, she’s alone; forced to take care of all three of them all by herself. Which sucks, because it’s not like her life is perfect after all of this. She may have more knowledge than before, but practical application did not come with the package. She now knows everything that Omega, Valencia, Lataran, and probably other people knew and know, but she can’t organize the information properly. She’s learning, but it’s going to take time, and that’s been difficult, because again, no one is around to help.
There’s a knock at the door. Not a ping, or a cam notification. That’s quite troubling, because she’s relying heavily on a makeshift security system that she built herself. It’s entirely isolated from the ship, which is important, because of that trust issue. She and the others are staying in an isolated sector of the Extremus. It’s not totally hidden; she doesn’t have to climb through an air duct to get to it, but the population has not grown into this area yet, so no one comes down here, except occasionally on a walk/run to clear their heads, and get away from the madding crowd. She hears them pass by every once in a while, but they don’t knock on the door. Who is knocking in the door, and why the fuck?
It’s Rodari Stenger. She tries to shut it when she sees that, but he’s too strong. He’s desperate to get in, but the expression on his face is not what she would have expected. He doesn’t look menacing, or angry, or vile in any way. In fact, he looks rather kind. He looks...worried. “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Tinaya grabs the nearest weapon, which is a tiny screwdriver that she’s been using to engineer a new skeleton keycard of her own design, patent pending. “What did you do to us? Why?”
“I didn’t do anything to you except get you out of there,” Rodari claims.
She rolls her eyes and scoffs. “Really? You expect me to believe that?”
“Really, it’s true,” he answers, maybe sincerely. “I was trying to repair the memory absorptioner, but I ran out of time. I still don’t understand this stuff very well. Then Omega and Valencia ordered me to leave, and...this happened,” he says, gesturing towards her, and the other three behind her. They’re not as perturbed by this disturbance as she is. That’s probably for the best, or it would get real chaotic in here.
“What are you talking about? Please clarify.” The words are polite, the attitude is not.
Rodari sighs. “That thing was not going to do what you thought it was going to do, and not what it actually did.”
“What Omega and Valencia told you was right. They would have been able to share their memories with you, and yours with them. But it could also delete all your memories, or it could turn you into a psychopathic killer, or it could make you think that you’re a grouse in Labrador.”
“What is a grouse? What’s Labrador”
“The point is that it was not programmed correctly. Someone tampered with it before I got into work that day last year. They were trying to dumbify Omega and Valencia, and almost completely incapacitate you two. Well, it was more about you. It’s all about you, Tinaya. They only programmed it to affect the two of them so they couldn’t fix the problem, and I think Lataran is just collateral damage.”
“You think?” she questions. “You seem to know a lot, but also kind of nothing?”
He sighs again, but this time out of frustration. “The point is, someone was trying to get you out of the way, and prevent anything from being able to get you back in the way eventually. I still don’t know who it was. I wasn’t supposed to be in that room that day, but I was curious to learn more, because I have a thirst for knowledge, and I noticed that it was reprogrammed. So I tried to fix it.”
“But you failed, and now this is us.”
“Yes, it didn’t even do what the bad guy wanted it to do. It made this tornado of synapses instead. I have been looking for you ever since, hoping that one of you was still smart enough me figure this out. I guess it’s you.” He sounds quite apologetic.
“I don’t understand why you got us out. Why didn’t we all just stay in there to work through the problem?”
“I didn’t know what the endgame was. I still don’t. My thought was that the safest place for you was on the Extremus proper. I went back in to get supplies, and when I returned to the hallway, you were gone. You had shuffled them away. I had no idea where you had gone, and I couldn’t trust anyone enough to ask for help..”
Tinaya stares back at the poor saplings sitting at the table. “Is it possible that...?”
“Either Omega or Valencia, or both, are responsible for what happened with the machine. The thought crossed my mind.”
She turns back to him. “I don’t know if you’re lying,” she says as she’s shaking her head. She falls into a laugh, and not because it’s funny; ha-ha, but because it’s funny; goddammit. “I don’t know if you’re about to kill me. Or them. Or yourself. Or...a grouse! I don’t know anything anymore, which is ironic, because I know more right now than I ever thought I possibly could! I mean, did you know that all non-trivial zeros of the Riemann zeta function lie in the critical line of the complex plane real part one-half? Because I do. I know that. I don’t know what it means, but it’s rattling around up here, along every line from a clearly very stupid movie called American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules, the number forty-two—for some reason—and how many dimples there are in a golf ball...which I assume is from a game?” She slaps her head demonstratively as she’s ranting. “There’s so much in my head right now, but I can’t do anything with it, because there’s no organization. It all just got randomly dumped in all at once, and mixed together like a blender. My brain is trying to sort it out, but it’s too much. It’s too much, Rodari! It’s too much!”
Something clicked in Rodari’s head when she said that. “That’s it! The Blender.”
“Are you making fun of me now?” she questions angrily. She has trouble tempering her anger these days, and it always frightens the little ones, setting any progress they’ve made back by at least half a day.” She takes a breath, and tries to calm herself down, if only to make the others feel safer.
“I’m sorry. I did this to you. It wasn’t intentional, but I’m still at fault. If I thought that I could trust that it wasn’t either of them who messed up the machine, then I would have alerted them to it. But I got scared, and I ran away. Let me make it up to. You’ve given me an idea, but in order to implement it, I’m going to need help. You know this vessel better than anyone. How do I get into the mirror room?”
“The mirror room?” she asks, not out of not knowing what that is, but not understanding how it’s going to help them. The mirror has the ability to summon and extract anyone from any point in space and time. It’s generally used to pull people out just before they’re about to die, but that’s not a requirement. It can’t extract whole past consciousnesses, though. The mirror room is unguarded, but heavily fortified. Almost no one has access to it, and not many more even know that it exists. Tinaya only does because she’s a nosy hacker. The question is who does Rodari want to summon with it?
Hoping against all hope that this is not all an elaborate trick, the five of them sneak up to the mirror room in the middle of the night. It’s nice to finally have someone to help wrangle the saplings. Truly, unambiguously, hopefully he’s not lying to them. She uses her still-not-quite-finished skeleton keycard to break in, and they shut the door behind them. “Do you really think she can help us...and will be willing to? According to my temporal history classes, she’s not always good people.”
Rodari starts to slowly step around the mirror in the middle of the room, admiring its craftsmanship, and again, hopefully not planning something evil and twisted with it. It could be that all of this was to get Tinaya to let him into this room. “Nerakali Preston is a good person at heart. We will make sure to extract her later in her timeline, after she’s become friends with Team Matic. This will work; she can do this. It’s her whole thing.” He shrugs excitedly. “She’s The Blender.”
“Okay,” Tinaya agrees, still unsure. “But I’ll do it myself.” Rodari could hypothetically suddenly call upon Adolf Hitler or Elon Musk instead, and by the time the sound of his words hit her ears, it would be too late to stop him. She positions herself before the mirror and clears her throat. “I stand at the gate of life and death. Come forward, spirit, come forward. Here is life. Smell blood, smell life; I summon thee, Nerakali Preston of The Gallery Prestons,” she rattles off. The words are in her head because someone whose knowledge she absorbed knew them. Nothing happens, though.
“Once more with feeling,” Rodari encourages.
She repeats the words, but puts more umph into them, using dramatic pauses whenever necessary, and exclamation points where not necessarily necessary. Now it works. The glass shimmers, and shifts to a different place and time. A woman is standing on the other side, hovering over the body of another, who appears to be in a simulation of some kind. The supposed caretaker looks over when she realizes the mirror there. “Oh, hey. What’s up?”
“Are you Nerakali Preston?”
“I am,” she replies. She doesn’t seem evil, so it would appear that they have indeed summoned her at the right point in time.
“My name is Tinaya Leithe of the VMS Extremus. We have some people here whose brains would sure be better if you could blend them with their proper memories.”
Nerakali frowns. “Sorry, I can’t do that. I died. I don’t have my powers anymore.”

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