Saturday, September 23, 2023

Extremus: Year 58

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Lilian Diamond’s job in the government is neither glamorous, nor revered. By most, it’s considered unimportant, and even a waste of space and resources. But it actually is important, and it deserves a lot more respect. Extremus is made of metal and metamaterials. For half a moment, the original designers considered going extremely creative, and making it organic, but they decided against that. They didn’t know at the time that the temporal engineer would come up with a way to repair the ship with time traveling shuttles, but even if they had, finding organic material out here in the galaxy would have proven difficult at best. A lot of people who came aboard could remember living on Ansutah, which was—though not lifeless—sparse with flora. It had just about  no fauna besides the humans and the Maramon. The humans survived by farming and harvesting what few edible plants there were. It’s a wonder they survived, but however they did, they seemed to never develop an appreciation for wildlife.
This mentality carried over into this universe, where they lived in gigantic rotating habitats. The majority of such cylinders are planned with plenty of forests and parks. And why shouldn’t they be? The climate can be controlled perfectly. As long as water is handled correctly, there’s never any drought, or hurricanes, or blight. Being in nature is easier in a place like that. But the four cylinders that the Ansutahan humans lived could not afford to waste space on these luxuries. They have to house billions of people in the most efficient way possible. There are rooftop gardens, but most of them have died, because no one tended to them, because they don’t care. This mentality was carried over again to Extremus. Space is dedicated to housing, and food production. The latter is green, but it isn’t beautiful. Once again, it was made to be efficient, and not worthy of visiting. They simply could not have installed anything larger than a small park, which almost no one ever visits. Lilian’s daily responsibilities mostly involve lobbying for more park space, and encouraging residents to visit the one that they have. It is a lot of work for nearly no gain. But what could they do?
“I have an idea,” Tinaya says.
“Let’s hear it,” Lilian replies
Tinaya has been Lilian’s assistant for months now, writing up proposal after proposal, and making sure the park stays alive in this pretty hostile environment. They’re the only two people who work in the park, and it’s almost not worth it. A few people do come; the regulars, they call them. They’re outliers who actually do appreciate green spaces. But they are pretty much the only people this park can accommodate. This is the dilemma that Lilian faces. She wants more people to come enjoy it, but they can’t all do that. Maybe if more people were interested, she would be able to convince her superiors to dedicate more space to greenery, but which comes first, and how does this work? There’s plenty of room on this ship right now, but in 150 years, they’ll be reaching capacity, because they’re supposed to be nearing their destination. “Expansion.”
“Expansion, how?”
“Let’s make the ship bigger. You keep asking for a second park at the edge of the presently uninhabited section, or a few other spots. Have you ever thought about asking to build an entirely new section on the back of the ship?”
“Is that even possible?” Lilian questions.
“Absolutely, it’s possible. Before either of us was even born, a devastating micrometeoroid strike destroyed almost the whole engineering section. They rebuilt it, which means that they could do that again, but instead of a rebuild, it would just be a first build. I’ve been working on some designs that I didn’t want to bring to you until I was satisfied with them. I think my best one is a forest that spans the entire length and breadth of Extremus, right on top of what’s currently the top level.” She turns her tablet to show Lilian what she’s come up with.
Lilian turns her head away instinctively. “I’ve been asking for another little park for years. It would, at worst, prevent three families from being able to move in over a hundred years from now. Now you want me to multiply that by...honestly, I don’t know how big the ship is, but that sounds...crazy, right? It’s crazy.”
“I don’t think so. It wouldn’t halt the population growth at all. In fact, it would promote it. You’re the one who’s always talking about the mental health benefits of having access to forestland. Our ancestors understood that, and if they didn’t have powers, patterns, or afflictions that they had to get rid of, they never would have gone to the desolate deathlands that was Ansutah. They just had no choice.”
“We wouldn’t have existed if they hadn’t done that.”
“I know. For centuries, our people have lived in stone and dirt and metal. We have the chance to change that. I believe in the mission as much as the next girl, but what are we waiting for? None of us is going to be alive to see the Extremus planet. We’re just...incubators, here to protect the future peoples who will enjoy the fruits of our labor. But that doesn’t mean that we have to suffer. Why not build a giant forest on the roof? Why not plant a thousand trees to sit under and daydream? Why limit ourselves to one park that no one goes to?”
“Exactly. No one comes here, so what makes you think they’re going to come to this hypothetical indoor forest?”
“Because they’ll be the ones who built it.”
“I don’t understand. Why would anyone have to build anything? That’s why we have robots.”
Tinaya swipes over to a different app. “I’ve been...seeing someone who works for the citizenry administrator.”
Lilian smirks. “Tinaya Leithe, are you in love?”
“Stop. It’s not that big a deal. We mostly talk about work, and he showed me some stats.”
Now Lilian accepts the tablet. “What am I looking at here?”
“You and I met because I was having trouble with my contribution score. As it turns out, I’m not the only one. They’re all going down. Everyone’s fine, everyone’s alive, but they’re not working, and they’re not enjoying life.”
“The civilian government has almost been cut in half since Extremus launched. Half! And the population has been rising, like it’s supposed to. Well, I mean, it’s actually a little slower than they predicted, but that’s why we need mental health programs, like the attic forest. I just now decided to call it an attic, instead of a roof. That makes more sense. Anyway, people need jobs. They don’t need them, but they need them.”
“Yeah, my brother just had to let someone go because the spa doesn’t get as many visits as it once did, which means her score also went down...assuming this is why there’s been a drop in patronage.”
“Lilian, the government isn’t supporting the people, and the people aren’t supporting the government. Nando thinks—”
“Nando? His name is Nando? Do I know this Nando?”
“No. He thinks this is the start of a huge problem. Because take a look at this one.” She reaches over, and swipes the tablet for her. “There was a suicide last year.”
“Oh, dear.”
“Now, you can’t multiply by zero, so there’s no real number that tells us how much the suicide rate has gone up. The percentage of increase from zero to one is undefined. But mathematically, it’s an increase to infinity, because it’s the first one we’ve ever had. And it’s because of a general decline in mental health. It— could just be the first of many. We need the forest more than ever, and we need to get people involved in the project.”
Lilian stares at the suicide rate for a moment. “Why didn’t I hear about this?”
“It was buried in the news,” Tinaya explains. “It wasn’t covered up, but it wasn’t covered much either. The headline that day was about a little boy who won’t eat unless he’s dressed like a cat, and his plate is placed on the floor for him.”
Lilian is perturbed but not surprised by this. She sighs, and swipes back over to study the forest design. “You can’t have these close together. The black walnut will kill the tomatoes. I’ve told you this. You don’t always listen.”
“I did that on purpose as a prank,” Tinaya explains with a smirk. “There won’t be any black walnut in the real design. Walnuts, and their trees, are terrible.”
“It’s gonna take forever for these trees to grow. I mean, we can ask people to crouch on the ground and plant them, but they’ll die before the trees get big enough for the people who did that to enjoy. Except for the bamboo. The bamboo will be fun.”
Tinaya nods. “There’s a way around that.”
Lilian looks at her incredulously.
“Heh...time, right?”
Lilian sort of rolls her eyes. “You wanna create a time bubble so it grows literally overnight. Isn’t that illegal?”
“I’m sure we could figure it out,” Tinaya says with a shrug like it’s no big D. “I can talk to the Captain, you can talk to the First Chair.
Lilian scoffs. “I don’t get audience with the First Chair.”
“Well, I’m sure you can make your way up high enough to get things going. We can do this, Lilian. We can make this happen. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s gonna be a shit-ton of work, but what’s the point of living if you don’t do stuff? I may never become captain, but if we pull this off, we’ll both go down in history as heroes.”
“Is that why you wanna do it? That’s not a great reason.”
“Who cares what my motives are if it happens? The result is what matters. The trees and the plants and the fruits and the vegetables are what matter. You taught me how great it feels to take that first bite into a tomato that I planted and picked myself. If you want everyone to feel that, then let’s give them the chance. Not everyone can work for the best civil servant in the world.”
“That’s sweet,” Lilian says with a smile. “Okay, but we’re not talking to anybody else about it until we get the design perfect. Let me work on it myself. We gotta get rid of those black walnuts.” She shakes her head.
“All right, but let me talk to Valencia and Omega. If we’re going to use a time bubble, they’ll be the ones to do it.”
“No, don’t do that. They don’t work for the ship anymore. Reach out to Atkinson.”

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