Saturday, September 30, 2023

Extremus: Year 59

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
It’s happening. Attic Forest is this close to becoming a real thing. It has been a grueling year and a half, but Tinaya and Lilian managed to amass enough support to get approval to build it. The Resource Allocation Authority was not easy on them, and put up every roadblock they could come up with. The two of them were required to include in their proposal every little detail, right down to every individual plant in its individual location, to the size of the screws that would be used for the ventilation grate that was in the portside corner with the stern. Even then, they weren’t allowed to just go do it unless they proved that the people of the ship actually wanted it. Well, it wasn’t the kind of thing that could be left to a popular vote. The level of support they were receiving for it was so subjective, and at the mercy of other people’s interpretation. They did interviews for the newspaper, and went on talk shows. Tinaya was more in charge of all that, since Lilian didn’t like the attention, but that was okay, because that was how they sold the story. Lilian was the genius behind the design. Tinaya was the face. They made it work.
Not everyone is as jazzed about this as they are, of course, but there are no unambiguous detractors. Captain Tamm has made a point of staying out of it. He claims that this is a matter for the civilians, and the civilian government, but that’s just political posturing. It’s a waste of his political energy too. He still lives on this ship, and could support it on a personal level. He’s trying to play both sides, even though there aren’t really two sides to the issue. There’s little opposition to it; mostly people who don’t care, or don’t think it’s necessary. It’s ridiculous, really, because he’s guaranteed the captaincy for the duration of his shift, unless he does something to lose the faith of the crew, government, or passengers. It’s not like he should be worried about reëlection. It’s ‘cause he’s an idiot. There’s no better way to describe it.
“Thank you, and welcome back. I’m your host, Zorion Azarola, and Over the Desk.” This is one of those talk shows now. Zorion Azarola is known for his stoic and serious demeanor while he lobs his guests softball questions. Exactly what his gimmick is here, no one really understands. Maybe he thinks he hits harder than he actually does, or maybe it’s all one big joke. Either way, this is their final unofficial hurdle before the  vote. Once it passes, construction can begin on the forest, and tonight is their last chance to convince the committee. That’s why Lilian is here.
Unlike other shows of this type, the view never switches to different angles, and the blocking is very simple. That’s partially because there is no crew to speak of. The apparent idea is to be raw and sincere. The camera is on a tripod, pointing straight forward from the edge of the desk. Zorion is on one side, and up to two guests can sit at his opposite. It’s been dressed up like an office, but the books on the shelves are fake, and the knick knacks scattered about likely hold no sentimental value to Zorion. He must think of himself as the college advisor type, and the guests as his students, who he’s trying to help reach their potential. Tinaya has decided to play into it. Lilian has decided to sit there like a block of ice. She really struggles with these things.
“Captain Leithe,” he begins. “Can I call you Captain Leithe?”
This would normally be the time where she replies with an absolutely not, and a little bit of attitude, but she has to look like a saint here; a saint who can play ball. Everyone is amazing, and all of the things they say are good, and not stupid. So what would be the most polite way to word this? “It is an inaccurate, and inappropriate, title at this time. Captain Tamm is the Captain. I am a Junior Forest Guide.” That’s a new title that they came up with, which won’t be entirely accurate either until there’s an actual forest through which to guide visitors, but it’s fine.
“All right, Guide Leithe. How excited are you that this measure is about to pass?”
“I’m very excited to see this project come to fruition. It has been a long road to get here, and I feel lucky to be a part of it. And that’s what I am, a part. If I owned the whole ship, I could do whatever I wanted, but we’re all living here, and none of this would be possible if the people didn’t want it. It’s important to note that the measure has not quite passed yet. The committee is yet to vote. We’re confident in the outcome, but whatever it is, we will respect their decision, because we trust their judgment.”
“Yes, the...” Zorion stops to check his notes, or at least pretend that he is. “The Committee for Special Projects. That’s a new one, right?”
“Yes, it’s composed of government leaders, respected community leaders, and a few crewmembers. I was not the least bit involved in creating it. Obviously, it would be a conflict of interest for me. So if you have any further questions regarding the matter, I’m afraid you’ll have to call some else into your office.” She said it with a smile to keep it light. But really, she’s annoyed, because people do ask her a lot of questions about the committee, as if she’s some expert on them just because she and Lilian are the ones whose request triggered its creation. What she just told Zorion is the result of her cursory research into the subject, and she refuses to compound it with further information. It’s not her job to know, or care.”
“Fair enough,” he replies with a polite smile as well, and a mildly defensive hand gesture. He flips through his notecards, which are made of paper. Paper is made out of the wood of trees. It’s this whole process that Extremusians have never used, but recent events have changed things. Out here in the void, stars are few and far between. They do exist. Despite what some believe, intergalactic voids are not totally empty. There are probably about as many celestial objects in them as there are within the boundaries of galaxies. It’s just that the voids are so much more vast, these objects are so spread out, and difficult to find. This is why Captain Halan Yenant knew that changing course into the void was not damning his descendants to the curse of never finding a home. It’s out here, somewhere; most people still believe that. But still, it’s impossible to know for sure, especially since—even before they started heading into the void—they had not found any habitable planets along their journey. This all changed last year.
In order to maintain the ship and its systems, the engineers send automated probes to star systems as they pass by them. Since Extremus literally never stops, the only way to make use of the data and resources found in these systems is to send the probes into the past, so that they’re actually waiting for them a minute or two after departing. They don’t have to do this all the time. In fact, the original designers tried to plan a trip that would require no side missions at all. But it was necessary to come up with a solution to a problem once, and now that they know they can do it, resources are being taken for granted, forcing them to continue doing it every once in a while. Now they send probes all the time, but usually for different purposes. The majority of them are simply cataloging what they’ve found. The discovery of a world with plantlife was the biggest shocker since Admiral Olindse Belo’s disappearance a quarter century ago.
Tinaya doesn’t have all the details, because she is not yet part of the group of people making decisions about this sort of thing, but the public was made aware of the discovery when it happened. And it was also shown samples of the plants they found, which an entirely different department from Lilian’s is handling. One thing they’ve done with their samples is manufacture paper. It’s a luxury that requires an extremely high contribution score to earn. Hosting a broadcast series is one of those things that can keep your score high enough for such luxuries, though, which explains why Zorion is making use of his stash of physical paper. Obviously Tinaya couldn’t care less about paper, but she’s interested in a day when the plants they found on that planet might one day become part of hers and Lilian’s forest. That would make the accomplishment all the sweeter.
He finishes flipping through the notecards. “Sorry about that, I’ve realized that a lot of the questions I was planning to ask you have already been answered.” He pauses for a moment. “Or at least they’ve been asked.”
Oh, no. Where is this going? He’s not wrong. She’s answered the same questions in these interviews multiple times, and it’s become annoying for her, but he’s the first interviewer to express any concern over it. How can she stop him from asking whatever he thinks he should ask her? “I suppose...” She trails off, but makes it clear that she’s not finished with her thought. She just needs to find the words. “It’s just...what’s happening here is quite simple. Parks and forests promote a healthy and satisfying life. All studies from Earth, its neighboring orbitals, and its colonies in the stellar neighborhood, have proven time and time again that stone, metal, and metamaterials just. Don’t. Cut it. Life wants to be around other life. It is a biological imperative, and regardless of what we have been forced to endure in our history, on Ansutah, in the cylinders, and yes, even on Extremus...we are still human. All life naturally evolved to thrive on Earth. Except for those aliens plants we found, I guess...and the ones on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. Earth is positively brimming with life. And that second exception only proves the point, because it’s just another example of how it works. Life craves life.
“It’s not so much that Lilian and I want this project to go through. It’s that the Extremusians need it. You will be so happy when you get to go there for the first time. Your brain will release chemicals that will make your heart and soul feel good. You’ll feel human again, and that may be hard to beehive now, because you don’t know you’re missing yet. But it will be there. Your life will improve, I promise you that. Everyone who lives on this ship will be that much happier for it...until we find our Promised Land on our ultimate destination. We’re not on our way to find some rock in the middle of nowhere, are we? Who needs that? We can find that anywhere. Who gives a shit how far from Gatewood we’ve flown? We’ve always been looking for the forest. We’ve always been looking for life. All we’re doing is...letting those of us who will not be alive to see the Extremus planet get just a small taste of what our descendants will know and love.” Tinaya turns to face the camera, which Zorion discourages, but this is too important. “For the members of the committee who are watching this, there is only one choice here. If Extremus doesn’t get its forest, it will die. I’m not just talking about contribution scores. Our success as a people; our mission...depends on it. If you don’t believe me, just go to the park that we do have. Multiply the feeling you get by a thousand.”
“Wow,” Zorion said. “Well said, Junior Forest Guide Leithe.”
“She’s a Senior Forest Guide, Mr. Azarola,” Lilian said after being silent this entire time.”
“Well.” He takes a breath. “I believe this is a good time for a break. We’ll return with our next guest soon.” With a smile, he lifts his remote, and switches off the camera.
The next day, the vote passes. Project Attic Forest is a go.

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