Saturday, September 9, 2023

Extremus: Year 56

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
They did not have much time to listen to Nerakali Preston explain what she meant when she claimed that she died and lost all of her powers. They could hear a security team coming down the hallway. Rodari switched off the mirror quickly, so that when the guards opened the door, it looked like they were still trying to figure out how to work the thing. Tinaya was grateful for his quick thinking. There was no way that they weren’t going to get caught, but at least now no one knows that they were trying to reach out to Nerakali. Their lie was that they were trying to contact Captain Halan Yenant. It was believable and not unreasonable. Tinaya wanted to be Captain some day, and even though that dream seems to have fallen right back into the valley of implausibility, it made sense that she would seek counsel from the first Captain.
It’s been nearly a year now. They were all sentenced to as much time in hock for unauthorized entry into a restricted area. The court was not cruel, though. Instead of keeping them locked up separately, they lived together in a sort of prison suite. They had their own rooms, but also a communal area. It was during this time that Tinaya and Rodari got to know each other better as they worked together to take care of Omega and the others. Though Valencia and Lataran grew more independent by the week, being locked up was not doing any favors to their recovery. Today is the day that they’re going to be released, and Captain Soto Tamm himself would reportedly like to come down to see it happen in person.
“Can we talk?” Rodari asks.
“Yeah, is everything okay?” Tinaya replies.
“I wanted to, uhh... I wanted...”
“What is it, Rodi?”
“He shuts his eyes, and breathes out his nose. He starts to whisper, “Bridger spies are not allowed to fraternize.”
“Right,” she agreed. “We’re just friends.”
“Are we, though?”
It is an unwritten rule that Captains do not get themselves into romantic relationships. It’s a sacrifice that they’re all expected to make. Aunt Kaiora broke this convention with Chief Medical Officer Holmes, but they never really made it official. Candidates for the civilian government tend to do better in the elections when they can parade around their spouse, but the crew—particularly the executive crew—is the opposite. It just seems to everyone that it should be like that. Tinaya cares about Rodari, but she made the choice to not even consider dating when she was a child, for this very reason. So it really doesn’t matter how she feels, and it doesn’t matter how he feels either. Then again, everything Avelino supposedly did to restore her reputation appears to have been reversed by the mirror room incident. The chances that she actually does make Captain one day have only gone down. He’s no better off. “We are.” She tries to sound certain, but the expression she slips into at the end of the sentence betrays her.
He pretends not to notice. “You deserve to be loved, Tinaya, on a personal level. You don’t have to be all things to all members of the crew, and residents of the ship. You’re allowed to have your own life.”
She breathes in deeply. “No. I’m not. Captain Tamm is coming today. I have to show him that I’m worthy. Now, my stint in hock does not look good on my record, but I’m not going to stop going for this. I’m not gonna quit. Someone will be replacing him in seventeen years, and I won’t stop fighting to be that person until someone else sits down in that seat.” Ugh, she doesn’t have time for this. They still need to figure out how to fix their neurological issues. She’s been spending a lot of her time organizing the knowledge that she absorbed from the others. Now that she has the tools in her brain, she needs the tools to get back into the Bridger section. They still don’t know who did this to them, but she is pretty sure that she can trust Rodari. They just need to make sure that no one else catches them. The first step is getting the hell out of here, and the last one is total domination. Getting a boyfriend is decidedly not a step on the task list. 
“I understand, I just...wanted to get us both on the same page.”
She nods once respectfully, as if they have just finalized a modest real estate deal.
Tao Li approaches them from the hallway. They don’t even lock the door anymore. None of them is going to try to escape, and even if they did, they would have to get through several more doors before they reached any semblance of freedom, and even then, they’re stuck on a spaceship in the intergalactic void. Where would they go? Tao became Hock Watcher years ago when the first one, Caldr Giordana retired a week before he died. Fortunately, as his health was beginning to decline, he took on an apprentice, so Li knows what he’s doing. “Tamm isn’t coming.”
“Let me guess,” Rodari says with a chuckle. “He’s busy dealing with the longest stretch of peace that this ship has experienced since it first launched?”
“That’s not for me to know,” Li replies, “and it’s certainly not for you to know. Anyway, he has sent his lieutenant in his place. Allow me to introduce you to Second Lieutenant Athan Velitchkov.” He steps away to reveal the man behind him.
Tinaya resists her urge to crack a joke about not being able to swing the First Lieutenant. “Lieutenant Velitchkov,” she instead says with an outstretched arm. It’s nice to meet you.” Second Lieutenants can be touchy about their position. It’s technically more correct to address him with his full title, but leaving out the second part is more likely to make him happier.
He smiles, and shakes her hand. “We’ve actually met, but I doubt you would remember. You were about three at the time.” Every important member of the crew has a reputation that goes beyond what people know for sure about them. His reputation is that he’s quiet, nice, and as sharp as a whip. He’s also known to be a lot more competent than his bosses, though it’s unclear how he feels about that, or about them. He smiles even wider, and faces Li. “Thank you, Hock Watcher, you may go now. You as well, Mister Stenger. I would like to speak with Captain Leithe alone.”
She looks bashfully at the floor. It’s fine when her peers joke about her already being the Captain, but when a real member of the crew says it, it rings a little differently.
He wraps his arm over her shoulders, but does not actually make contact. He just starts walking away for a private conversation, and allows her to follow. “Can you keep a secret, Captain?”
“I would ask you to stop calling me that, sir?” she requests.
“Can you keep a secret?” he repeats.
She nods.
“I’m calling you the Captain, because I know that you’ll be the Captain. I even know when. And I know this, because you and I went to the same school.”
Her eyes widen, and she looks back at Rodari.
“Yes, I’m aware that he too attended said school, but I still wanted to speak with you alone. If you would like to share what we discuss with him later—if you trust him enough for that—spy to spy, then I’m not gonna write you up. I just wanted to touch base with you, because this experience in hock has been what I’m sure you believe to be a setback, but I promise that it is anything but.”
“Sir?” She doesn’t understand.
“Tamm hasn’t gone through anything. He was born to a lot of privilege. He’s never suffered, he’s never lost, he’s never had to work for anything. People are going to get sick of that, if they haven’t already. What you’ve gone through is not what’s going to stop you from making captain, it’s what’s going to get you into that seat. Make no mistake, no one is doing this on purpose. We just see the future, and we’re allowing it to happen. We could stop it. We could protect you. And you would still become Captain. But you wouldn’t be respected, and that’s what we need. That’s what our future needs. Let me ask you this, have you ever heard of the term Eighth of Eight?”
“No,” she answers truthfully. “But it sounds like something that I shouldn’t hear about. It sounds like a temporal issue.”
He nods. “Yenant, Belo, and Leithe were all great leaders. Tamm is an okay guy, if you get to know him. Honestly, your two successors are up in the air, though. We don’t know how they’ll fare, because the future keeps shifting. You keep shifting it. You’re making decisions outside of time that we don’t understand. Now, I’m not going to try to explain it to you.” He looks over at Valencia. “I’m sure you have the knowledge somewhere in there yourself. But what I can tell you is that the eighth not shifting. That asshole is written in stone, and it’s looking more and more like there’s a reason for that. Like...another force at play is making him evitable, despite the fact that he hasn’t even been born yet.”
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
“As I said, he’s inevitable, but you can alleviate the problem, by being the best Captain this ship has ever seen, and making the next two after you even better. People will fight for Eighth of Eight, but they’ll surely win unless people also fight for you. You will become a symbol, an historical figure, whether you want to be or not. The future leaders will cite your tenure as the reason for whatever they think that future should be. You can either let the good guys of that future cite you for your successes, or the bad guys cite you as a failure. The Bridgers, they—we brought you into this; we created all this drama surrounding the years leading up to your rise to power, hoping to make you strong. Now you can give up, and just rest on your laurels, or you can be the source of inspiration for the next generation, and the next. That could be what makes Eighth of Eight’s reign of terror ultimately short-lived, and corrected infinitely afterwards.”
“You’re somehow telling me too much about the future while not really saying anything about what I’m supposed to do about it.”
“That’s my strength as an orator. That’s why the Bridgers chose me, and why Tamm chose me too. I was gonna be Captain myself, ya know. The Bridgers kept trying to put one of their own in that chair, until they realized that their safest bet was to find someone who was destined to sit there anyway.”
“So they chose me? I’m a puppet.”
“Everyone is a product of their environment and upbringing. That’s why I’m here, to give you the scissors to cut your strings. But it has to be a choice. Cutting all of them means cutting yourself off from the only people on your side.” He hands her her skeleton key. “Leaving at least one on, at least lets us keep helping you.” He walks away coolly.

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