Saturday, October 21, 2023

Extremus: Year 62

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
The Department Fixer. That’s what they call Tinaya now. The Resource Allocation Team was only the beginning. Well, the Forestry Department was the beginning of this new chapter in her life, but she didn’t realize it at the time. Since the RATs asked her to help them with their image problem, she has helped three other departments with their own issues. For the RATs, she first encouraged them to lean into their once-negative nickname. She conscripted a graphics designer to change their logo to a rat. She distributed materials about how great rats are in real life. Of course, the allocators aren’t actual rats, but that wasn’t the point. She wanted to make them look like a fun group of people who are in on the joke. She wanted to keep it light, and associate the department with something positive.
Next, she lobbied the government to relegalize teleportation for all with sufficient contribution scores. Not only were the civilians happy to receive new teleportation tech after all this time from the RATs, but it also served to increase Tinaya’s personal popularity. She wasn’t specifically trying to do that, but everyone knew that she was the one who finally made it happen, and they credited her for it appropriately. The fact that she accomplished it without wielding any real power was a testament to her value on the ship, and people were taking notice.
Immediately after this was done, the Civilian Engineering Corps asked for her help. These are different from the engineers that run Extremus. They manage inessential projects, such as remodeling quarters when changes are requested for a family’s living situation. They receive a lot of requests, but have to reject the majority of them for logistical reasons. They do lots of other things, though, which have nothing to do with the crew engineers. Most of the students who go to college to study engineering want to be on the crew, and when the slots fill up, a surprising number of them decide to pursue other interests. Even so, the CEC receives an excess of applications for employment, and has to make even more rejections. They don’t like doing this, and needed to expand their scope to new and original projects, which necessarily required raising their staffing limit. But that also meant figuring out how to get through all this red tape, which Tinaya was now quite familiar with. So she navigated it for them, and fixed that problem too.
Following that, Tinaya organized a Quantum Colony Tournament for the Recreation Department. It was not built as a player v. player game, so she had to devise an in-game competition from scratch. This meant that she planned everything in the real world, and in the virtual space. Her stint here was the shortest according to the calendar, but also the most time and labor intensive, so after it was over, she took a break from doing anything for a couple of weeks, and returned to the spa where Lilian’s brother welcomed her back warmly. When she was ready, she logged back into her account to find a couple dozen applications for her assistance. She did not create an official template for this process. Someone else did it for her, and dispersed it to the entire ship on her behalf. If she knew who it was, she might have scolded them for doing something like that without her permission, but honestly, it was making her life easier. The applications were clear, easy to read, and most importantly, easy to filter out.
There was only one application that she was willing to accept, which was for Captain Soto himself. She didn’t choose him because she liked him, because she doesn’t, but she wanted a challenge. That is becoming increasingly important to her; being challenged. Like the RATs, Captain Tamm too had an image problem, and even though it wasn’t strictly necessary for him to be well liked to do his job, it helped to have his crew respect him. He also needed help communicating with the civilian government. Tinaya was not a miracle worker, so he was never going to be as belovèd as Halan Yenant or Kaiora Leithe, but she did her best, and saw markèd improvement in the man. He still needs more work, but her obligation to him is now over. She’s not a saint either.
This morning, she’s woken up to only one application in her mailbox, which is weird, because she had five in there last night which she had yet to find time to review. They were somehow deleted, or perhaps rescinded? All of her maybes were gone now too. Perhaps whoever generated the application form for her in the first place still had access to them in the system. Hmm. Last year, she tried everything she could to locate the source, but was never able to, and she can’t think of anything that’s changed since her initial attempts. All she can do now is pretend that she was completely mistaken, and there was only ever one in here. Let’s see what it’s about. It’s from Arqut Grieves. This is the guy who always has to attend Tinaya’s meetings. Well, not all meetings, but the ones that could plausibly impact how the government is run.
A representative from the Office of the First Chair is required to be at such meetings, but it doesn’t always have to be the same person. Yet it has been for the last year and a half. Arqut is always the one, whether that means he volunteers every time, or someone else assigns him to Tinaya’s projects. She’s never asked him. And he’s never asked anything. He’s remarkably quiet. Before he took over the job ad hoc, a few others filled the same role, and they were very concerned about how this would impact the government, or rather specifically the First Chair themselves. He didn’t seem to care. He let her do whatever. He was so mysterious. What could he possibly want from her now?
The application itself is filled out in a funny way—read: incorrectly. It’s not sophisticated enough to know whether a given input field has been entered appropriately. The only requirement is that something be in every box. Next to NAME, he put the word Dear. Then next to DATE, he wrote Tinaya, and for the TIME, only a comma. The rest of the fields add up to what look like a standard freeform letter, each field handling the next two or three words until the DESCRIPTION box finishes out the rest of the body in what has finally become easy to decipher:

Dear Tinaya,

Request that you provide your assistance with the following project. This is top secret. Extremus exists in a constant state of danger of being destroyed, and a new plan has been put in place to ensure the continuity of our people in a dire emergency. It is paramount that you share nothing of what you read here today with anyone, nor anything we discuss later in regards to this matter. A fourth ship is being designed upon the direction, and at the discretion, of the civilian government, somewhere in secret on Extremus proper. This emergency ship will be run by a shadow crew. This crew will ultimately be privy to every development that the current captain, Soto Tamm is made aware of. They will recreate the decisions that the real crew makes, and also run parallel simulations that imagine new solutions to these real problems. Should the worst happen, and Extremus is destroyed, this shadow crew will break away, and restart the mission using what will probably be determined to be new parameters. Again, tell no one of what you’ve just learned. You have been selected as a candidate for the first captain of this crew on a temporary basis. Your job will be to lead the simulated ship for a short time, and use your experience to select the new captain, who will continue on for the duration of the next real captain’s shift. Please meet me in the Mirror Room at 16:15 to discuss details.

The EXPECTED START DATE was Thank you, and the EXPECTED END DATE was Arqut Grieves. This is highly irregular, and super suspicious. It sounds like a coup. It sounds like the government making plans to overthrow the crew, and take over the ship for themselves. She has to tell someone. She can’t just take this man’s word for it that this is just some kind of simulation. They’ve barely spoken, she can’t trust him. She can’t trust anyone, though. So who’s the closest option? The Bridgers? She rarely makes contact with her spy handler. She can’t go to the Captain, even though she does have a personal relationship with him now. She obviously can’t reach out to the First Chair either. Basically anyone in the government is a risk. But this Mirror Room meeting is not an option. The Council. The Council sucks, but she’s gotta do it. If it’s come to the point where they are her only option, though, then nothing else matters. Because if they’re dirty, then the whole ship is fucked.
It was then that she noticed that there was just a little bit more text, which she originally ignored as some kind of short disclaimer, or something, but that’s not what it says. It reads, THIS DOCUMENT UTILIZES EYE-TRACKING SOFTWARE THAT WILLPRINT. Tinaya hates paper today as much as she always did, but the law requires that she make hard copies of every accepted application, so she has a ream of the stuff for such purposes, which she predicts she will never get through completely. She’s grateful for it now, because after the application is done printing out, she finishes the fine text in the footer, which goes on to say, TRIGGER A SELF-DESTRUCT ONCE THE INTENDED RECIPIENT READS IT IN ITS ENTIRETY, OR AN UNINTENDED RECIPIENT BEGINS TO READ IT.
True to its word, the application disappears from the screen, and all traces of it are removed from the system. Like the origin of the application template itself, she’s unable to retrieve it, or find any proof that it ever existed, besides this hard copy. She makes ten more copies of the letter, and teleports all over the ship to hide them in secret places. Then she returns to her cabin to get dressed for her impromptu meeting. Whoever is engineering this coup isn’t going to get away with it...or they will indeed upon her failure, which is a distinct possibility. Either way, she has to try.
The council used to be a loosely defined collective of crewmembers and government officials who were only there to make sure that everyone was doing their jobs correctly. It was more of a committee than a council, and the level of power they wielded was limited to how much, or how little, respect that a given person that they were trying to control at a given time had for them. This has changed over the decades as members have been turned over to those with greater and further-reaching ambitions. Now they call it The Council with a capital C, and if they make a decision, it’s pretty much final. It can be challenged by others, but most of the people with any real chance of overturning their decision are already on the council anyway. Checks and balances are more of a joke at this point, but don’t tell them that, because they’re the only ones who don’t find it funny. They’re also all full-time members now, except for the Captain, First Lieutenant, First Chair, and Second Chair. All they do is hear complaints and make executive decisions, like a king in open court. At least this works in Tinaya’s favor, because she knows where they’ll be, so she won’t have to ask for them to convene.
Dreading doing it, she takes the long way ‘round with good ol’ fashioned walking, instead of teleporting straight there. Today is a good day; the line is not very long. There are about eight parties ahead of her who seek audience with the Council, and they all make way for Tinaya. She’s never tried this herself, but she commands a level of respect enjoyed by few others. Again, she’s not exactly itching to get there, but she hates waiting, even if it’s for something she doesn’t want to do. So she accepts their gracious gesture, and jumps to the front of the line. When it’s her turn, she walks into the room, and heads for the center platform. The proctor who watches the line steps up behind them, and whispers something to Council Leader Whatever-His-Name-Is. She never bothered to learn it, because she doesn’t care. Let’s just call him Cleader.
Cleader nods, and sighs as he’s turning his head back to face Tinaya. “Miss Leithe, what can we do for you today? What is so urgent that you had to skip the line?”
“What the proctor might not have told you,” Tinaya begins, “is that they offered. I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want it, but refusing it would have been ruder.”
“Very well,” Cleader replies. “Proceed.”
Tinaya steps towards the dais. She places two hard copies of the suspect request form before Cleader, so they can pass them down each way. “I received a request for my assistance this morning in a most unusual manner. It deleted itself from the system as soon as I finished reading it, but I managed to print these out just in time. As you can see, I have been asked to serve—”
“That’s enough,” Cleader says to her dismissively. “I think you passed.”
“What? What did I pass?”
Cleader lifted his watch up to his mouth. “Teleport here at once.”
A second later, Arqut Grieves appears. “What is the about?” he questions.
“When did the message self-destruct?” Cleader asks Arqut.
Arqut checks his own watch. “Twenty-four minutes ago.”
“Who did you speak to about this before coming to us?” he now asks Tinaya.
“No one,” Tinaya answers truthfully. “I came straight here.”
“Why did it take you half an hour?” Cleader presses.
“Because I walked. I like to walk.”
Cleader purses his lips, and whispers something to the members on either side of him, which pass whatever message down the line. “Explain to her,” he orders Arqut.
“There is no secret shadow crew,” Arqut begins to tell Tinaya. “It was a loyalty test. We still need to verify your whereabouts after you opened the message, but I’m proud of you. You made the right decision, coming to the Council.”
“You should know, I hid more hard copies around the ship, so my location records will reflect that. But I promise, I spoke to no one.”
“That was smart,” he says nicely. He may actually be a decent guy, unlike the Council members.
“If I may,” Tinaya begins, “what was the point of this test?”
Arqut smirks. “Not yet, Tinaya. Not yet. Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’. Your real applications have been restored to your inbox.” He winks, then disappears.

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