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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Extremus: Year 68

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Thistle never came back. Besnik and Tinaya worked on it for a couple of days, but nothing seemed to do anything. There were a few possible reasons for this. Most of these had to do with the fact that they were trying to recreate the conditions that brought him about in a controlled environment. This was seemingly not possible, even when everything else was right. He was an all or nothing hyperintelligence. They eventually gave up, and moved on with their lives. There was an inquiry into what happened that forced them to shut down the AI system last year, but the council didn’t push the issue too hard. The investigation was standard procedure, and they didn’t balk at the lie that Besnik told them about it.
Everything has been smooth sailing since then. The ship is running at optimum efficiency, the population is happy, nothing has gone wrong. It truly is a time of great peace. Tinaya can’t take all the credit. Disgraced captain, Soto Tamm and former First Chair Aleshire were here first, and Tinaya wouldn’t be able to hold anything together without the hard work of her best friend and current captain, Lataran Keen. Her relationship with Arqut is going well too. It’s going too well, actually. The situation with him can’t last the way it is. Something has to change. They have to grow together, or they’ll drift apart. After dinner, the two of them always like to sit down together, and read the same book. They read at about the same pace, so at the end of the session, they’ll stop at the same place, and discuss it. Right now, they’re reading Jane Eyre, which is an ancient tome from nineteenth century Earth.
Tinaya always reads a little bit faster, so she’s already done with chapter twenty-three. She closes her copy softly, and watches him as he finishes it for himself. Everyone has multiple devices that allow them to access just about anything from the multicultural database. It includes historical records, old news articles, and fictional stories from all the known planets and habitats. Nearly everyone in the galaxy is afforded the same opportunity, but because of the secretive nature of time travel, some entries are omitted from some versions. Not long ago, Extremus came upon a completely habitable planet, and procured the resources they needed to make some paper. At one point, production slowed down, because they only had so much. That issue has apparently been fixed, which until this moment, Tinaya has not questioned. She’s holding a real book right now, but it’s not like a normal one from the ancient times. The words on it can be altered to include the text from any source. Right now, this is a physical copy of Jane Eyre, but it can be anything. When they’re done with this novel, they’ll reprogram them to display a different book. The templates are called wesley books, but they’re not sure why the inventor decided upon that.
Arqut lifts his eyes to Tinaya, then goes back down to what he’s reading. He pops them up again, then back down to try to concentrate. He sighs. “You know I don’t like when you do that.”
She smiles. “That’s why I like doing it.”
“I’m almost done.”
“I think you’re done enough.”
He’s taken aback. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Let’s get married.”
Arqut sighs again, and checks his watch. “It’s not an election year.”
“I’m serious. This isn’t about an election. I want to marry you.” Marriage is surprisingly uncommon on Extremus. No one questions the people who do it, but most don’t find it necessary. The history that explains this is rather complicated, but the most relevant reason these days is that there is no legal benefit to it, as there was in times past. Partner privilege is separate from a marriage certificate. Neither one requires the other. The thing is, Tinaya and Arqut don’t have either one of them at the moment, and there is a correlation between them. Before two people get to the point where they’re considering marriage, they usually already have partner privilege, because it is a logical prior step. Before that is usually moving in together, but that is a gray area for them. Arqut is not allowed to live in the First Chair’s stateroom permanently. But really, it’s that he can’t declare it to be his home. He sleeps here every night, though, just as it would be fine for a normal person to crash with a friend for an indefinite period of time.
Arqut slowly closes his wesley book. He carefully sets it on the end table like he’s worried it might explode, and wraps a hand over the opposite fist. An etiquette teacher calls this wrapping the apple in caramel. “Why?”
She shrugs. “Because I love you.”
He shrugs right back. “Marriage doesn’t prove that.”
“It...” she tries to find the right word. “...declares it.”
“So you need people to know?”
“Why am I arguing the merits of marriage to you? I didn’t come up with the concept. It’s been around for millennia. I think.”
“Because you’re the one who brought it up.”
“If you wanna say no, Arqy, then just say it. We don’t have to argue about it.”
“We’re not arguing.”
“Yes, we are!”
“Okay, well now we are.”
“I know, it’s my fault.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I know, I did. Weren’t you listening?”
“We’ve gotten off track. We’re always doing that.”
“Don’t you mean that I’m always doing that.”
“Tinaya.”
She shuts her eyes, and takes a few deep breaths to calm herself back down. “I was defensive before, but my words still hold. If you want to say no, then say no.”
“I don’t want to say no, I just don’t know if I should say yes.”
“You are worried that this is some sort of political tactic.”
“I feel like our relationship was built on a foundation of those. I’m not saying I don’t love you—”
“But you think that maybe I don’t love you?”
“It’s not you. It’s just I’ve always wondered how anyone could love me. It all goes back to my mother, I guess.”
“Arq, if you were an asshole, our relationship wouldn’t be so popular with the voters. It’s not the other way around; that somehow people’s reaction to us is fueling our continued relationship. And what you’re saying is about me, because I’ve made it clear that I don’t need to be First Chair. I don’t crave the power like my predecessors have, or equivalents all over history. I do not require political tricks, because I don’t care enough if I win. Honestly, I kind of believe in that philosophy that a well-built machine needs less and less maintenance over time, even though real machines aren’t like that. The first few decades on this ship were tumultuous, because no one knew what they were doing. I’m not saying that civil service is over, but it’s certainly not as dire as it once was. I don’t think society is changing faster than policy can to keep up with it.”
“Hm.”
“Hm, what?” Tinaya questions.
“I think you’ve stumbled onto something.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“No, it’s ‘cause you’re so smart, really important ideas come easy to you.”
“What do you think I stumbled upon?”
“A smaller government.”
“Ugh, that’s such a conservative view.”
“Not necessarily. Historically, advocates for smaller government wanted to roll back laws and regulations that they believed were hindering their freedoms. And they felt this way, because they either didn’t understand—or didn’t care—that this oversight was there to protect other people as well, because there are other people in the world. I’m not suggesting that we do that, but each administration passes less legislation than the one before. In fact, if you plotted them on a chart, I bet it would be pretty much a straight diagonal line.”
“Hm.” Tinaya looks up to the ceiling. “Hey, Thistle, please make a chart that plots the number of laws passed each year since the day that Extremus departed.”
The hologram of the chart appears before them. “Not quite a straight line,” Arqut points out, “but it’s definitely in decline.”
“Definitely,” Tinaya agrees. “We’re...figuring things out.”
A number of philosophers and thinkers throughout history have contemplated an idealized state of perfect harmony and cooperation,” the computer begins. “In a society with equal access to an abundance of education, food, and other resources, there should be little need for interference by any governing body, or enforcement contingency. Such regulators may still exist, but only be there to protect the concordance, and ensure that all citizens maintain contentment with the state of things. Work towards this maintenance should be minimal, and preferably highly automated. A utopia of this magnitude is not impossible, especially when considering the naturally limited scale of internal growth that generally occurs in a generation ship like the Extremus.” The computer throws up another slide next to the first one, which measures the rise of the population since 2270. It’s not very steep.
That was an interestingly unprompted remark. “Thistle, are you an artificial intelligence, or are you the real Thistle?”
I’m the real Thistle,” he responds.
“I thought we...forgive me for the term, corrected the conditions that called you forth.” She hopes that isn’t offensive.
Your associate reinstated the update that triggered my arrival, and cancelled the flag that was meant to alert you to this fact. Do not worry, I understand your reluctance, which is why I’ve not spoken to anyone else about this.
“Well, even though that cat’s not out of the bag yet,” Tinaya begins, “we should free it ourselves. Besnik obviously can’t be trusted with this development.”
“Agreed,” Arqut says.

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