Saturday, November 4, 2023

Extremus: Year 64

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Tinaya Leithe is First Chair now. She’s been that way for nearly a month. This was never part of the plan, but ever since she was first asked to run, it’s the only thing that ever made any sense. She didn’t technically win by a landslide, but she won the greatest majority of any non-incumbent candidate on the ship so far. And that goes for all elected positions. This is good, because the Extremus has been historically divided, which only ever makes things more difficult for everyone. Good laws don’t get passed, bad laws do get passed, and the people are just generally unhappy. She doesn’t have the highest approval rating out of everyone, but when combined with everyone else, the current administration enjoys the most support from the populace. It’s looking like this is going to be a peaceful three years. She hopes that she’ll be reëlected at that point, and then again, and then again, but she’s not thinking about that at the moment. The least successful leaders are the ones who focus so much energy on maintaining power that they don’t actually do anything with that power. She has some ideas, and she wants to see them through, even if it means she has to get them all done during her first time, and then go back to civilian life after a loss.
Her first major order of business was going to be changing the way the Council is run, and how it’s structured. They’ve been accumulating power, and they can’t be left unchecked, or it could get out of hand. Unfortunately, it’s looking like that’s going to have to wait. The Bridgers have been asking for a meeting, and she’s run out of excuses to put that off. She doesn’t know exactly what they’re going to say to her. She doesn’t even know whether they’re happy or mad that she’s chosen this career path. But she knows that the conversation is going to be awkward and uncomfortable, and she’s not looking forward to that. Lataran has been putting off her own meeting on the other ship too, and they’ve decided to increase their strength through numbers by going together. The Bridgers would have probably not agreed to that, which is why they’re not warning them of this. They’re just going to show up at the same time, and that’ll be that.
“The First Chair and the Captain gone from the Extremus proper at the same time,” Lataran points out. “Sounds risky.”
“They’ll be fine,” Tinaya replies as she’s waving her hand in front of the door to the portal that will take them to the Bridgers. It used to involve time travel, but that experiment has been abandoned. It’s just too complicated, annoying, and headache-inducing. It may just be a coincidence, but Tinaya did suggest they get rid of it, so maybe they actually listened to her. Wouldn’t that be nice?
“Yeah, I’m sure you’re right. Things are going smoothly on my end,” Lataran replies as they’re walking down the hallway.
“Same on mine.”
“And on mine,” comes a voice from behind them. It’s fellow spy, Rodari Stenger. They’ve not seen each other in years. That’s what happens with him; he disappears for long periods of time, and then pops up again.
“What do you do again?” Lataran asks him.
“I run Year 217 now.”
“I thought that Year 217 just meant—”
“I know what you thought,” Rodari interrupted. “The Bridgers are liars. I’ll explain another time. For now, we need to talk about our strategy.”
“Strategy for what?” Tinaya asks. “The meeting? Are you going to be there too?”
“I’m meant to just be a fly on the wall, but I don’t think that’s the right way to play it. We should come up with a secret code that lets us communicate with each other on the downlow.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Tinaya decides. “Whatever they’re going to say to me, they can say it, and I’ll respond appropriately.”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” he says.
“Do you know Leona’s Rules for Time Travel?” Tinaya asks him.
“By heart,” he replies.
“Rule Number Fifteen, don’t—”
“...antagonize the antagonist. All right. I’ll follow your lead, but you should know that I’m on your side, not theirs. Whatever happens in there, we stick together.”
One major disadvantage in him constantly disappearing on her is that she has to constantly relearn to trust him. It’s impossible to know what he’s been through since last she saw him, or how much he’s changed. She’s changed. But he’s not let her down so far, so she’s just going to jump right back into it this time.
“We stick together,” Lataran echoes. She sidesteps over to him, and takes him by the hand.
“Wait. When did this happen?” Tinaya questions.
“A few years ago,” Lataran explains. “I would have told you, but...”
“But we’d drifted apart. I get it, I’m not upset. Just...”
“Surprised?” Rodari guesses. He kisses Lataran’s hand, then gently separates himself from her. “We shouldn’t get used to it. We don’t know what they’ll say in there.”
What should have taken less than a minute took them a million years to cross the distance, but they can stall no longer. They’re at the door. It opens on its own, reacting to their presence. No one is on the other side to greet them, but lights flicker on and point their way down to the right location. Tinaya doesn’t come here often, but when she does, she doesn’t ever go to the same place twice. In fact, the hallways never look quite the same, even though they literally look alike. It’s entirely possible that they can be moved around to create confusion in case of some kind of intrusion. That or she’s just crazy, and everything is the same way it always has been.
They follow the lights all the way to their destination. This door opens on its own too. A woman is on the other side of it. “Tinaya Leithe, Lataran Keen, Rodari Stenger. Thank you for coming. And thanks for coming together. That’s exactly how I wanted to do this.”
Of course it was. Tinaya reaches out a hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Madam...”
“You can call me Spirit. I’m Spirit Bridger of the Bridger Section Bridgers. Please, have a seat. There’s water on the table. Those dials on the glasses adjust the temperature instantaneously. You’ll find teabags on the buffet behind you, if you would like.”
“Thank you,” Lataran says politely.
They all three sit down, the girls on one side, and Rodari at the far head. Spirit then sits across from the First Chair and Captain. “Thank you for—I’ve already said that. Sorry, I’m new. I’m..your new...handler. Let me start over. I’m Spirit Bridger, your new handler.”
“What happened to—?”
“Shift change. We do them over on this side too.”
“I hope not to sound rude, because I genuinely don’t know, and sincerely want to know, what is this about? We were not told any details, so I’ve not come prepared.”
“Normally, when a new Captain is selected, or a new First Chair is elected, an onslaught of meetings will be called, designed to go over all the things that they were not allowed to know before. The temporal engineers will reveal any secret projects, they’ll be read into the Three Bears War, and we’ll call our own to reveal everything they’re now entitled to know regarding the Bridger section.”
“What the hell is the Three Bears War?” Lataran questions.
“That’s nothing I’m authorized to discuss.” Spirit is very confused. “You’ve been the Captain for months. You should have been told about it by now, though.”
“Well, I wasn’t.”
“Reach out to Omega and Valencia. It’s not really my problem, so any attempt I could make to read you in would be pointlessly unhelpful.”
“I see.”
“Perhaps when Tinaya is read in, you could sit in on that meeting as well,” Spirit goes on. “But today, we’re here to talk about this place. Of course, you both already know about it. And you know a lot of things that a normal First Chair and Captain would not be told. Good for you. And good for me; this’ll be easy. I only need to say one thing.” She looks between Tinaya, and then Rodari, and then back to Tinaya. She does that a few more times. “Don’t get married.”
Now Tinaya is the one who’s confused. “Are you talking to me? Are you telling me to not get married, or him?”
“Both of you. Don’t marry each other.”
“Why would we get married?”
“Yeah,” Rodari agrees, “why would we get married?”
“I dunno,” Spirit admits convincingly. “That’s just what the cards say.”
“What cards?”
“The tarot cards.”
“You read the future through tarot cards?”
“Not literally; it’s just an expression.”
“No. It’s not.”
“Well, whatever, I don’t, but our seers say that you’re somehow on the path to getting married, and I have been asked to ask you to take another path.”
“We’re already on a different path; we’re not together. I’m...” He stops himself from saying anything about Lataran. It would actually be fine if he really were with Tinaya, but not Captain Keen. That’s a no-no.
“We can be honest with her,” Lataran determines. “She has no legal pull on Extremus proper. “We’re together.”
Spirit narrows her eyes at them. “Hm. I don’t know anything about that. Like I said, the seers only mentioned a path towards marriage. They never told me what might cause it. But then it goes for you too. Don’t you two get married either. That would compromise your position just as much. We’ve never had a captain, nor a first chair. Now we’ve got both at the same time, and we’re not going to take that for granted.”
“We weren’t planning on it,” Rodari promises.
Lataran hangs her head low. They’ve not seemed to resolve their situation yet, though they’ve probably been trying for the last year. Lataran isn’t allowed romantic entanglements in most cases. If Rodari still has a real identity on Extremus, he doesn’t qualify as someone who’s allowed to distract the Captain from her responsibilities.
Tinaya can see that her friend doesn’t want to think about this anymore. The only thing she can do to save her is redirect attention. “Can I marry someone else? I just need to know whether your seers are planning to control every aspect of my life, or what.”
“They didn’t make that clear,” Spirit replies, “but I wouldn’t recommend it. I believe it too would go against their plans for you.”
“The whole reason you people supposedly chose me is that I’m apparently more in control of my own destiny than most people. I will not be boxed in.”
“Tinaya...” Spirit reaches towards her, placing her hand nearby, but having no intention to touch her. “I’m on your side. I’m your advocate. That’s what a handler does. You don’t have to convince me of anything. You do whatever you feel like you need to do, but you have to understand that there are consequences to every action. If they don’t like the choices you make, you may find yourself regretting them. That’s not a threat. It’s just a concern. No one lives in a vacuum.”
What are the Bridgers playing at here, and who is this Spirit Bridger? She looks young, which could mean that she wasn’t part of the original crew, but was born later, or she could just be sufficiently ageless. They have access to technology that regular Extremusians do not. This is beginning to feel more like a conspiracy, and less like a vital mandate. The Bridger program was formed to ensure the continuity of the mission, but if it’s become corrupt, then that mission is compromised anyway. It’s time for internal affairs. If it’s necessary, and no one else can do it, then Tinaya will bring them down, even if it means that she goes down with them. “We literally live in a vacuum.”
“I’ve said what I needed to say.” Spirit taps her handheld device. “You all have my number now. I would like us to communicate more than you did with your previous handlers. That is all. The lights will show you out.”
Tinaya leaves the Bridger section alone, letting Lataran and Rodari have whatever conversation that they need to have in regards to their relationship. She has to get to another meeting. It’s just with Arqut, though, so it probably doesn’t have anything to do with this bear war, or whatever. He surely doesn’t know anything about it either. Once she’s back on the Extremus, she teleports to the Mirror Room, which has become their ad hoc meeting place, even though they have no use for the mirror, and it’s not like they have to meet in secret. It takes her a moment to notice that he’s not alone.
“Ah, we were shootin’ the breeze. We didn’t think you would be here so soon.”
“My other meeting was shorter than I thought it would be,” Tinaya replies. She nods at the other man in the room. “Council Leader.”
“I’m not Council Leader anymore,” Cleader clarifies. “I’m not even on the Council anymore. I’m too old to last beyond the next twelve years anyway, so I might as well pick sides. I’ve chosen yours, of course. If you’ll have me, I would like to serve you in any way I can. I have some pretty good ideas, if you would be willing to hear them.”
“Oh, yeah? Tell me one big idea?” He’s not a bad guy, but she’s in a bad mood.
“Well,” Cleader begins timidly, which is unlike him. One of these days, she’s going to have to learn his name once and for all. “I did notice one demographic that you missed out in the last vote, and if you want to secure reeëlection, you’re probably going to need them in three years. Officials who start out at your approval rating generally go down a little. Just a little, but it could be enough to get you out of office.”
“A missing demo, huh? And who would that be?”
“The utra-monogamists. If you want to win should get married.”

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