Saturday, October 14, 2023

Extremus: Year 61

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
The Attic Forest is a beautiful place. It is, in fact, the most beautiful place on the ship, though that’s not saying much, except when remembering the first time you were in the engine room. It’s not just Tinaya, Lilian, and Cainan anymore. A whole team works shifts, gardening, maintaining the atmosphere, giving tours, and performing other necessary duties. That’s not even counting the events that are held here. It’s a hot venue that people use for concerts, poetry readings, and the like. The section is frequented by a great deal of people every day. It’s hard to tell how much the Extremusians love to visit, but anecdotal evidence suggests an undeniable success.
Last year, Tinaya was able to finish the coding for the giant sequoia in the basement. It’s currently around a half meter tall, and the growth rate will increase year over year. Still, very few people know about it; only the essential members of government and crew. Most of these positions won’t even maintain the secret to future administrations. When they leave their positions, they won’t pass the information on to their successors. There is presently no strategy for announcing it to the public. The specimen is still so fragile, and that’s what they’re most worried about. It’s better to let it grow big and strong before they start letting people see it. One day, though. One day.
Today, Tinaya is in another meeting. She attends these from time to time when someone comes up with a new idea of what to do to make Attic Forest better, or at least what they believe could accomplish this. Most of them are stupid or bad, but others are not so terrible. They would just be really difficult. Extremus did not simply wave goodbye to Gatewood, and fly off into the space. The ship contains data upon data upon data. Earthan history, Ansutahan history, philosophical papers, cooking recipes, all kinds of entertainment; basically the scope of Earthan and vonearthan knowledge. While they do not maintain constant communication with anyone back in the stellar neighborhood, Team Keshida sends periodical updates with new information. It’s just about possible to know everything that everyone in the galaxy knows. Part of this data includes genomic databases for every known species on every planet.
If you wanted to know what the DNA double helix for a penguin looked like, you would be able to look that up. For the most part, that’s all you would be able to do. The people who came up with the idea of this mission didn’t accumulate most of this information for any specific purpose. It just didn’t make any sense not to have it, and it’s not like virtual storage space is a precious commodity. Now the bioengineering scholars have other ideas. They’ve become inspired by the Attic Forest project. At the moment, plants are the only things that have been grown from their genomes, but they could take it further. They’re interested in trying to develop animals now, starting with fish. It took a long time to get this project off the ground, so to speak. This next stage—if it ever happens—will surely take even longer. The ethical questions are so much more plentiful for this proposal, and it’s not something that Tinaya or Lilian can help with. Even so, they have to be at all the meetings, because they’re in charge of the biome. Today is different. This meeting isn’t with the bioengineers.
The Resource Allocation Team: RATs, as they’re called by people who don’t like them. And most people don’t like them. They’re a weird little bunch. They’re responsible for handing out things like watches and tablets, and teleportation devices—which are against the law for now. If you want a new set of clothes, you go to them. If you want a new couch for your room, they have to approve it. Everyone has a horror story about going to Allocation for something they need. Capitalism was mostly vanquished centuries ago, and replaced with something better, but elements of it are kept alive on the ship, and it’s all thanks to the RATs. It’s not really their fault. There’s limited space here, and therefore limited resources. Even the time traveling excursion ships can only do so much for them. There is no trade with any other culture, and there are no takebacks. So they have to be careful with what they give, and who they give it to. They pay close attention to the contribution points market, which is the best approximation of a currency here, and that can lead them to making a lot of decisions that people don’t like, even if those decisions are reasonable, or at least unavoidable. People’s perceptions of them aren’t all rational, but human beings are not rational. The question is, what the hell do they want with the Forest Guides?
“We would like to make more paper.” Oh, yeah. They’re the ones who used some of the trees they found on the verdant planet they came across a ways back for paper.
Lilian stares at them dumbfounded. “Really?” More paper? Why has the novelty of this not worn off yet. A computer will let you write and overwrite the same space virtually countless times. What’s the point of not being able to do that? And anyway, it goes against the whole purpose of this project. “You wanna kill my trees?”
“Not all of them,” RAT Two tried to clarify for his partner. “One tree can make a lot of paper.”
“And what are we doing with all this paper?” Lilian presses.
“We’re...writing books...and sharing leaflets. I mean we’re not doing it. We’re just providing the materials that are needed.”
Lilian sighs. “We survived on this tin can for sixty years without a single sheet of paper. Before that, we were in the Gatewood Collective for forty years, also without paper. It wasn’t even that common on Ansutah. There is a reason that Earth was able to move away from it as it advanced technologically. Why are you so desperate for it now?”
RAT one and RAT Two exchange a look. RAT One clears his throat. “Honestly, Madam Diamond, we have no clue. Like he was saying, we’re not doing anything. It’s the people who want paper, as stupid as it sounds.”
“Let’s stop beating around the bush,” I jump in. “Pun intended. You have a public image issue. You’ve had it since departure day. Well, you probably lasted a few days before the first generation started realizing all the things they could never have, because they were stuck on a spaceship in the middle of nowhere. But ever since then, you’ve been fighting to look like the good guys. And the truth is, you’re okay. Your job is important.” I tap on my chest. “And individually, most people know that. “Our world would be chaos if everyone could just go take whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it. We’d run out of paper in half a second. You found something that works. As you said, it’s stupid, but it’s fun, so you want to capitalize on that success. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to. That is not what the forest is for.” I stammer a little. “That sentence doesn’t really even do it justice. It’s for...very much not that. That is to say, we didn’t just build it for something other than making paper. We did it to show the value of life in its (albeit relatively) natural state. Earth long ago had a huge problem with the amount of wood it was using. Everyone knew it, no one knew what to do about it. Eventually, however, they figured it out, and we have reaped the benefits of that struggle without actually going through it ourselves.
“On my grave will I let you send us backwards! I don’t care what people think of you, we’re not making any more goddamn paper! We’re not making any handcrafted chairs. We’re not not making any fucking bonfires. We’re not doing any of that. The Forest stays as it is, and we won’t tolerate its destruction, or even just talk of destruction. If you breathe one word of this to anyone else, and make anyone believe that there is a remote possibility of this happening, I will float you myself. I’ve been in hock, it’s not that bad. I will gladly die in a cell to stop you from peeling one piece of bark from one tree. Is there any confusion about what I’ve just said?”
The RATs exchange another, very uncomfortable look. I turn my head to share one with Lilian, worried about her being disappointed in me, but she’s not. She actually looks proud. The allocators are scared out of their minds. They are not going to call her bluff on the whole homicide thing that she threatened them with. “In that case, would you consider...”
I tilt my head, prepared to go to war, showing them that I still mean business. What could they possibly ask after my speech?
He takes a breath, so he can keep going. “...working for us.”
What? “What?”
“You hit the nail on the head.” RAT Two avoids looking Tinaya in the eye. “We have an image problem. The Parks Department had one too, didn’t it? It didn’t have any image to speak of. No one thought about it. No one cared about it.” Now he makes eye contact with her. “You changed that. You joined the team, and suddenly it’s a real thing. You built all of this.” He spread his arms to indicate the forest. They’re sitting in something they call The Fishbowl. It’s a glass structure somewhat close to the center of the Forest, where meetings like this can be held. Of course, there’s no weather in here, but it’s nice to have for privacy’s sake. It’s completely soundproof.
“You want me to fix the RA—” She stops herself; they don’t call themselves that. “...the Resource Allocation Team?”
“It would really help us out,” RAT One said with a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
I look over at Lilian again, who frowns at me, but very softly. She looks to the men. “Would you please give us the room? You too.” There is a fifth person in the room. He is a representative from the government. Someone like him always sits in on these meetings in order to advocate for the best interests of the Office of First Chair. He bows slightly to her, but deeper to Tinaya, and then leaves quietly with the other two.
“Uhh...I don’t know why they would ask that,” Tinaya says to Lilain. “It’s such a dumb question, right?” She laughs. “Right?”
“It’s really not,” Lilian counters. “They’re one hundred percent accurate about their assessment of you. You inspiration. I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. You are like the Goddess of Inspiration. You make things happen, and you make them better, and I would be selfish to keep you.”
“What are you saying, Lilian? Are you firing me?”
“If that’s what it takes for you to realize your potential, then yeah.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.”
“I don’t really mean that. If you want to stay, I’m not going to force you out, but I think you should go on your daily walk, and really think about whether you belong here still. You will always have a home with me, but the rest of the ship needs you, and I can’t believe it took those guys to make me realize it. Just...look into your heart, and think about your future. Even if you would rather stay, is that really what’s best?”
Tinaya isn’t sure. Is it?

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