Saturday, November 11, 2023

Extremus: Year 65

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
The peacetime has persisted. First Chair Aleshire was anything but a lame duck during his final term. He left very little for Tinaya to have to accomplish, especially since she had her own—now completed—list of things she wanted to get done before she was even elected to the highest position. More meetings. That is what she spends her days dealing with. There is a committee for everything on this ship. There has to be, to keep people gainfully employed, so their contribution scores can stay high. There is only so much work that actually has to be done to keep people alive, so they contrive some jobs that aren’t absolutely necessary. And the First Chair is required to be at every meeting that doesn’t conflict with the time of a different one. In such a case, there is a priority list that dictates which one takes precedent. And yes, there have been meetings to make sure that the priority list itself is reasonable, and still makes sense. She has had to go to those ones too. They’re at the top of the list.
She needs a break, so she went to bed really early last night so she can have some time to herself, and of course, she’s going to do that in Attic Forest. It’s still a very popular hangout spot, but she wants to be alone. As First Chair, it’s hard to do that. Even when only a few people are around, they like to crowd her, so the best time to go upstairs is when everyone is asleep. They tried to institute visiting hours up here, because people kept sleeping in the grass, but they proved to be quite unfavorable. Instead, they made sleeping against policy at all hours of the day, and civilian security patrols the grounds to prevent it from happening. That’s something they never thought they would need, but natural forests have uneven soil, creepy critters, and bad weather. This is a highly controlled environment, making it a great place to sleep. But if they let anyone do that, they would have to let everyone, and it would fill up quick.
She steps through the entrance, and is surprised to see a number of people already out and about. A couple is walking by with their robot dog. A family is enjoying breakfast at a picnic table. If there are this many people this close to the entrance, who knows how many there are total? No, this won’t do. She’ll have to find somewhere else. Fortunately, there is still one perfect spot that nearly no one knows about yet. She quietly backs away before anyone sees her, and heads downstairs. It has been five years since she planted the Central Sequoia on the lowest level. It grows faster than a normal giant sequoia, so it now stands at five meters tall. There’s less room to move around, but she can sit on the floor, and lean up against it. Plus, there’s no policy against sleeping here—because the general public isn’t meant to know about it yet anyway—so if she falls under, it’ll be okay. But this chamber isn’t empty either. Senior Forest Guide Cainan Suárez is already here, but not for the same reason. He appears to have brought a girl.
“Since when has she been authorized?” is the first thing that Tinaya says.
“Madam Chair!” Cainan and his partner scramble to put their clothes back on.
Tinaya doesn’t mind the sex in an inappropriate location thing, but not in this particular location with whoever this young woman is. “Who are you?”
“This is Dominica. Dominica Bravo.”
“Can she not answer for herself?”
Cainan taps on the girl’s shoulder. When she looks back at him, he lifts both palms upwards, presses one palm towards her, and then taps his two first fingers together in the shape of an X.
Dominica faces Tinaya again. She sticks her index finger in the air, and holds her other three fingers against her thumb. She taps it upon her chest, then drops her hand down diagonally, and taps the opposite side of her torso.
“D-Lord; Dominica,” Cainan interprets. “That’s her sign name.”
Someone whose knowledge Tinaya absorbed when she and Lataran had that mishap with the mind sharing machine that Omega and Valencia built knew sign language. So she knows it too. She pops her index finger upwards out of her fist, and rubs her fist against her chest. “I understand. Sorry.”
Dominica opens her hand, and taps her thumb against her chest to say, it’s fine.
Tinaya signs everything she says from now on. “You two really should not be in here, especially not if you’re going to do that. Don’t you have your own cabin?”
“I wanted to take her someplace special,” Cainan explains, also translating everything into ASL.
Dominica signs, I’m sorry.
“It doesn’t sound like it’s your fault at all,” Tinaya replies, “but please tell no one of this tree. It is going to be a surprise in the future.”
I understand. I’m good at keeping secrets.
Tinaya looks up at the security camera. It’s showing a solid red indicator light, rather than a blinking one, which means it’s been tampered with. “What did you do?”
“It’s just a simple loop,” Cainan clarifies. “Three hours long, during a period where no one was here. No one will suspect a thing.”
Tinaya checks her watch. “The system is going to start watering the tree in an hour, and if the camera doesn’t see it happen, it will trigger an alarm.”
He smirks. “I factored that in. The loop perfectly matches the watering schedule.”
Dominica scoffs, and smacks Cainan in the shoulder.
“I mean Dominica scheduled it. She’s the computer genius. I’m just the tree guy.”
I’m not a genius. I run the graphics for most of the daytime game shows. Some of the most iconic game shows that Earth ever created have been replicated here on Extremus, like Jeopardy! and Password. Someone keeps requesting to make a version of Survivor in the Attic Forest, but it would require cutting down trees, and somehow digging a miniature ocean in the corner, so that’s not gonna happen. If they wanna do that, they can code it in virtual reality. That’s not technically beyond Tinaya’s jurisdiction, but she has no control over what people do with their own minds, and VR is considered predominantly an extension of personal thought.
“She’s just being modest,” Cainan counters. “Her job does not exemplify the limit of her skills.”
Dominica turns away bashfully.
Tinaya nods and sighs. “Go back to the residences.”
“Separately, errr...?” Cainan asks.
“I ain’t your mama. Just don’t break any more laws, okay?”
Thank you, Madam First Chair.
After the younger ones are gone, Tinaya stares at the spot where they had spread out the picnic blanket. It didn’t look like they had, uhh...finished, but it still no longer felt like an acceptable place to sit and relax, which was the whole point of coming down here. Perhaps it won’t seem as strange after enough time has passed, but now she’ll have to find yet another place to be alone, besides her own stateroom. That’s not a good choice, though. There’s a reason she doesn’t do that. That’s where she experiences stress dreams about all of those meetings, and she sometimes takes work calls there. It’s not particularly calming for her anymore. Her best hope is going to the spa. It’s not open 24/7 for most people, but it is for people like her. She tries not to take that kind of thing for granted, but desperate times...
A man is chuckling from behind the tree, which is just wide enough to obscure her vision of him. He quickly steps out from it, though. It’s Arqut Grieves. “Kids, right? They are unruly in any culture.”
“They’re both in their twenties, as am I for the next few months. They’re not kids anymore. How did you know they were here?”
Arqut reaches up as high as he can on the wall, and taps what at first appears to be nothing but air, but a secret invisible camera appears for half a second each time it’s touched. “Redundancy. They’ve been coming here for weeks.”
“You’ve been...watching them?”
“Heavens no, I’m not a creeper,” Arqut defends. “The AI watches them, alerting me to when they arrive, and when they leave. Then it erases its own memory. It’s not just them either. It watches for any visits. You come here about once a month. Lataran and her guy have been here a few times, just talking. That’s it, though. The four of them loop the regular camera. You’re the only one who just turns it off.”
“I need access to that camera,” Tinaya contends, pointing towards where the invisible one is. “Along with any others. And I need to know any other secrets that you’ve been keeping from me.”
“Consider it done,” he promises. He looks at her funny.
“What is it now?” she questions.
“You always come here alone.”
“So you do watch me.”
“No, but I notice your arrivals. You never come with your security detail, which you’re not supposed to do. I’m very protective of you, and it was hard to not do the math, and recognize that you’re the only one who doesn’t use it as a makeout spot.”
“Is this about the marriage you want me to go through with to boost my approval ratings?” She nixed that suggestion from Cleader last year, yet he keeps pushing for it. He’s actually planned a lot, even though she doesn’t even have a partner. It’s very weird and awkward, and it makes her uncomfortable. Obviously, she doesn’t want to have to do this. She doesn’t want to get married, and even if she did, she would want to fall in love first. Not only that, but she doesn’t want to worry so much about reëlection. That is not what civil service is about. “I keep having to tell you that I am not interested. If I get the vote next year, that’s great, but if not, that’s okay too. All I care about is trying—”
“I love you.”
“Sorry, I know that sounds like I’m suggesting that I be the one who you marry but I’m just confessing. I love you. I always have. This place has a magical power. I couldn’t help myself but to tell you. I’ve been keeping it to myself, but I felt...compelled.”
He suddenly looks like a deer in the headlights. “Never mind! I’m just joking! Ha ha ha!” He teleports away.
What the hell was that?

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