Saturday, December 9, 2023

Extremus: Year 69

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
This isn’t the first time that the Extremus has had to deal with an uploaded intelligence that is out of control. Or rather, it’s one that is not technically in their control. Thistle has so far shown no signs of going against their wishes, or of making any moves against the Extremusians. For now, he has agreed to keep himself quiet, and act like the original, totally obedient version of the AI. He responds to requests with little personality, and does not make any unprompted remarks. Only a few people are aware of his existence and presence on the ship. The people who know he’s there have agreed to be cautiously optimistic about it. The fact is that any superintelligence of any kind is capable of wiping out any isolated population of any size. That is the risk that researchers knew they were taking when they were first creating them, and that remains true here. It wouldn’t even have to be super to be dangerous. Perhaps subconsciously, that is why students learn so much engineering, and why the engineering section of the crew is so bloated. Humans may have to take over the ship almost completely one day, and while that is a scary thought, they will be prepared for that eventuality.
Tinaya is holding off on mentioning to anyone her plans to totally reform the civilian government, hopefully for the better. She is making those plans, though. Since the whole point is that it’s not that hard to run the government anymore, she finds herself with a lot of downtime, so that’s what she spends it on. This is an election year, thusly an inappropriate time to be making waves. She’s going to introduce this new legislation sometime during her third term, assuming she’s reëlected, of course. Even then, she may campaign for the changes as a private citizen, because she feels that strongly about it. She hasn’t finished figuring out how it’s all going to work, but basically the proposal will call for an abolishment of the Chair system. The council has been doing a pretty good job of running things. It could always do better, but the foundation has been laid. Maybe there should be different criteria for determining who ought to be on it, or the number of them should be raised or lowered. The means of bringing business to the meetings may need adjustment. There are all sorts of ways they could do this. She just needs to keep working on the plan.
Because of all of this, it’s more important than ever to Tinaya that she maintains her position. It’s still against the law for an incumbent to campaign, but she’s going to use every weapon in her arsenal to keep herself at the top of the polls. That’s one reason that she and Arqut are getting married; emphasis on the one part. They really do love each other, and they really do want to do this. They were methodical and patient about it over the course of the last nineteen months. She first procured an exception with the council to allow Arqut to move in with her to the First Chair Stateroom. Several months later, they applied for a partner privilege license. This is a long and arduous process, as one might expect. It gives each partner power of attorney, and medical rights, and all sorts of other things. The government has to make sure that both parties know what they’re getting into, and what could happen if things go wrong.
Eight months ago, the two of them stood side-by-side at a press conference, and announced their engagement. While weddings are rare on Extremus, elaborate ones are even rarer. They did not originally plan to have one as grand as it has become, but the people called for it. Well, some of the people called for it. Others believe this to be nothing more than a publicity stunt. They’re only half right. That is indeed what they’re doing, but again, it’s more than that. It’s real.
The ceremony is taking place in the hyperspace bubble of the Forest Attic. Tinaya and Lilian came up with the idea when they were first drawing up their plans for the new section, but it never made it into the final design. Cainan found the old sketches when he was reorganizing the project files, and resubmitted the proposal. They finished construction a few years ago, and it’s already one of the most popular venues on the ship. The bottom half of the sphere is underneath the ceiling of the attic, providing a birds eye view of the forest below. The top half extends above the top of the ship, giving an extremely modified view of the space that they’re flying through. The doppler glow makes it impossible to see anything but a blinding light while the ship is traveling at maximum reframe. A special coating on the diamond viewports deletes the glow, and replaces it with a beautiful display of swirling colors. Hyperspace isn’t real, but this is similar to how it’s portrayed in science fiction. It has a calming effect on most. If the Extremus were still traveling within the boundaries of the Milky Way Galaxy, it might be showing them distant stars instead, but out here, it’s mostly nothing but blackness.
This has become the event of the century. Over a hundred people have been invited to be present in the bubble, and it is obviously being broadcast to whoever cares to tune in. It’s not going to be as big as the famous Mateo Matic and Leona Delaney wedding, but it’s not too shabby. Thousands of people can watch, and it might even qualify for beaming status. The repository of data that comes from all over the populated regions of the galaxy holds information that comes from Extremus too, but only for people authorized to access it. Even then, not everything is delivered back to civilization. Most logs are kept private. This, however, might be worthy of semi-public knowledge.
Lilac is best for Tinaya’s skin tone, so that’s the color of her dress. She loved it when she picked it out weeks ago, but she’s not so sure anymore. Fortunately, she’s standing in front of a time mirror. It’s not the same as the one in the Mirror Room. It just shows people what they would look like in different outfits and accessories. Augmented reality technology in the 21st century was capable of this too, but this isn’t a computer generated approximation. This actually extracts an image from a possible future, and uses it to replace the view of the present. It’s the only form of time travel—if you can even call it that—that’s allowed for unsupervised use. But it’s limited to the executive crew, high government officials, and one public-use mirror in one of the inventoriums. That last one is nearly impossible to sign up for, it’s so coveted. Tinaya gets her own in her room. “I don’t know...”
“Okay, which one looks better to you?” Her stylist, Servaos has been working with her pretty much since right after the announcement. He teleported to her after she and Arqut left the stage, and practically begged for the job. He dresses her now, not only for the wedding, but for all public appearances...whether she wants him to or not. She should have been more firm about her boundaries from the beginning, like Arqut was. “One, or two?” He switches from one alteration to another, and back again a few times. “One, or two? One...or two?”
“Two. Wait, no! One!”
“Okay, “one, or three. One...or three.”
They go through this for the next fifteen minutes, masterfully boring all of her honor attendants who are being forced to stay with her at all times until the ceremony is over. It takes that long for them to just decide that the original cut of the dress was always fine, and the only thing missing was a collection of three peonies in three different shades of color to stick in her hair. It will take about a half hour to print them on the biosynthesizer, which is another highly regulated piece of technology, but this is her special day, so no one is going to refuse her.
There’s a knock on the door. “Can you get that Lil?”
Lilian Diamond is serving as her Chief Attendant. She stands up to answer the door. Obviously Tinaya can ask Thistle to open it automatically, but Lilian isn’t there for manual labor. She’s the gatekeeper, in case the person on the other side of it is someone that Tinaya doesn’t want to see. That’s not the case this time. It’s Arqut.
“Arqy!” She runs up and gives him a perfectly present company-appropriate peck on the cheek. Then she remembers that it’s okay for her to be selfish, so she gives him a not-so-appropriate kiss on the mouth with tongue.
“I come bearing bad news,” Arqut says, unwrapping her arms from around his neck. “It’s your opponents. They’re running a roast commentary show on our wedding.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“A roast is a performance where you make fun of someone you like for broadcast, but thy honoree is meant to laugh about it too. The top three candidates that you’re running against have banded together to run it simultaneously with the real show. They have their own cameras, and they’ll be making what they believe to be funny comments about us; you more than me, I’m sure.”
“Why are they doing this? What’s the point?”
“Well, they’re playing it off as something that you’ve approved, and are happy with. The real reason is to gain points for themselves by making you look bad. By joking about how this wedding is fake, and stuff like that, they don’t have to take responsibility for their words, but those words could have the same effect on voters. It will still probably portray you in a negative light.”
“So, what do we do? Do I publicly condemn their choice, and make it clear that I’m not in on the joke?”
“I don’t see any other option,” Arqut says.
Tinaya sighs, and then checks her watch when it buzzes. There’s a coded message on it. “Could we have the room, please?”
“We can help,” Lilian offers.
“We need to talk in private, but thank you. Thank you for everything so far today, and for the rest of the day, and..just...everything.” She waits for her honor attendants to leave the room before saying, “Thistle, you had an idea?”
Do you know who this woman is?” A holographic screen appears showing a group of young adults dancing on a roof, featuring one woman in particular.
“No. She lived on Earth?”
Yes,” Thistle answers. He appears next to the screen as his own hologram. “Roughly 300 years ago, she was a civil servant. An opponent of hers released this video of her dancing with her friends in the hopes that it would turn voters against her.”
“Isn’t that the plot of a movie?”
Thistle waits to answer. “Kind of. This isn’t Footloose. This really happened. And since dancing isn’t actually evil in the real world, it had the opposite effect. Her popularity only rose after that. One of the most powerful ships in your universe at the time of its construction was named for her.”
“I see. What does this have to do with me, though? There will be dancing at the reception, is that what you’re talking about?”
“Your opponents are going to turn your nuptials into a game. Your strategy of announcing that it’s not a game will probably only result in you losing the game. They’ll still treat it as such, and you could drop in popularity.” Thistle waves his hand and switches the screen to the same woman. She’s dancing again, but is wearing a business suit this time, and is inside. “She took control of the narrative, and leaned into the perception of her being an actual human person who liked to experience joy. This served to prove that her opponent was nothing more than a cynical asshole who couldn’t relate to normal people. He was like the reverend in Footloose.”
“So I should take control of my own narrative? We’re already planning to broadcast the ceremony. How do we compete better?” Tinaya asks. “Extra dancing?”
“That was a joke.”
“Yeah, jokes too.”
“You want us to dance and joke?” Arqut questions.
“I want you to put me in your ear,” Thistle begins, “and let me drive the ceremony for you. I’ll keep an eye on the other broadcast. Whenever they say something untoward about whatever you’re doing in that moment, you can respond in realtime. It will throw them off psychologically, and they’ll start having trouble keeping up with you.”
“Are you sure this is going to work?”
“I’ve done it many times,” Thistle insists. “Well, not exactly like this, but I’ve Cyranoed a number of people in multiple universes.”
“I don’t know what that is, but I suppose I’ll trust you. Arq?”
“Sounds like fun,” Arqut agrees.
Thistle opens a finger, and conjures the image of a small grayish disc that hovers over it, no matter how he moves. “You can install this comms disc behind your own ear, which will allow us to communicate without anyone knowing. It can even read lips by measuring micromovements of the jaw, so you don’t have to say what you need out loud. It is not telepathic. Printing them on your industrial synthesizer will only take a few minutes. They’ll be done before the flowers are.”
Tinaya and Arqut exchange a glance to make sure they’re both on the same page about this, which they are. They have to do something to counteract the bad press. They install the discs and the pretty flowers, then they make some other final adjustments to their outfits, and head for the venue. They walk there physically, instead of teleporting, because that is part of the message that they want to send to the voters. The ceremony is beautiful and fun. The roasters crack a joke about her falling while walking down the aisle, so Arqut trips on purpose, and then wiggles his butt playfully. They make a comment about how they’re not really in love, so Tinaya slaps his butt affectionately, deftly modifying her vows to account for it. A lot of it is about butts.
At first, the opposition broadcast draws more viewers than the regular one, because everyone wants to see what all the hype is about. As the jokes wane, however, the audience does too. They switch back to the authorized stream, or they just tune out, because wedding ceremonies are boring. Still, the opponents continue to believe that this has given them an edge, so they feel confident going into the race while Tinaya is on her VR honeymoon with her new husband. A month later, she wins again in a landslide.

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