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Saturday, December 23, 2023

Extremus: Year 71

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
The answer was obvious. It has been right under Tinaya’s nose the whole time. It wakes up next to her every day, and it does this thing where it puts her clothes on for her in the morning. Obviously she can do that herself, but Arqut did it to be romantic and chivalrous one morning during their honeymoon, and it just sort of stuck. Now she sits there like a doll, and lets him move her around as needed. Unless she’s in a hurry, then she turns into a real girl. But the point is that he’s the one who should be Ship Superintendent. He knows just as much about the new form of government as she does, and contributed to the initial concept a great deal. She wants to leave a life of service behind, or at least take a break from it. In a few years, she may decide that she wants to go back to Park Management, or just work in the Bridger section. But soon, it will just be time for her to relax. She believes that she’s earned it.
“We don’t want to appoint a superintendent,” Council Leader Addison explains to her. “We want it to be an elected position this time.”
“I see,” Tinaya says. “What’s the term limit?”
“No term limit. The winner should expect to remain available for a lifetime. Their duties will wane in such times that they are not needed, but should they be called upon later, they will return to the conversation.”
“I see,” Tinaya repeats herself. “Well, on a personal level, how do you feel about my idea?”
“I think Arqut would do a fine job,” Addison replies.
“But what?”
“But nothing,” Addison says. “Why does there have to be a but?”
“There’s usually a but.”
But...” Addison begins.
“Here we go.”
Addison continues, “...I think we should stop saying the word but.” She smiles. “I really mean it, that’s a great idea. I have no issues with him, and I have no conditions to place upon it. If he can secure the vote, he can have the job.”
“I figured you would have someone else in mind, like perhaps someone who would turn out to be a traitor, and then I start to suspect that you’re a traitor too, and by the time I realize that you’re not, you’re kill in a semi-heroic act of self-sacrifice?”
“You’ve been watching too many Earthan movies.”
“More like reading the historical records of this very ship.”
Council Leader Addison nods, and then it looks like she’s had a new thought.
“Oh, no, what is that face all about?” Tinaya asks.
“But...that rule against an incumbent campaigning still applies here. The Superintendent is obviously not the same thing as the First Chair, but I still think you can’t advocate for your husband. I think you must distance yourself from the whole thing. If he wants to run, he’ll have to do so without you. Or me, for that matter, because it would be almost as much of a conflict of interest.”
Tinaya nods, and then looks over at Arqut. “What do you think?”
“I think I don’t love people talking about me as if I’m not in the room,” he says.
Tinaya puts a quizzical look on her face, and turns back to Addison. “Did you hear someone say something?”
“I don’t know that I did.”
Arqut rolls his eyes.
“Seriously, what do you think? You seemed amenable to the idea last night. Were you just saying that to appease me?”
“No, I think it’s a decent idea too,” Arqut answers. “I’ve always felt like I could do more. It wouldn’t be dissimilar to what I did before, when I represented the government during discussions between two or more departments.”
“You certainly have the necessary experience,” Addison agrees.
Arqut thinks about it some more. “Okay, I’m in.”
“Great,” Addison decides. “Then you need to leave. Or I do. We have to let you fly on your own, little bird.”
Arqut nods. “I know some people who might be able to help run my campaign. I don’t have to move out of the stateroom, though, do I?”
“It’s perfectly fine to live with your wife,” Council Leader Addison clarifies. She taps on her watch, and disappears.
“I have to get to a thing, but I’ll see you tonight for dinner, okay?”
“Okay.”
She kisses him on the lips, and then teleports away too.
When Tinaya crosses over to the Bridger section, her handler, Spirit is waiting for her. “I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”
“Where, the entire Bridger section?”
“Yes,” Spirit says. “They’re mad at you.”
“For getting married?”
“No. Well, yes, but we’ve already talked about that. They’re mad about you dismantling the Chair system. They’re not finished with you.”
“Well, I never learned about the Three Bears War, so I guess the Bridgers and I are even.”
“It was not our responsibility to tell you that. It’s the crew’s. You know how it works. How many secrets did Captain Yenant keep from First Chair Ebner, or especially Ovan Teleres?”
“I don’t know how many. They’re a secret!”
Spirit nods. “Look. We can’t stop you from coming over to this side. Once we gave you access, you have it for life, unless you do something so bad that you’re locked up in hock for the rest of your life anyway.”
“Okay...”
“But you are no longer welcome here. I’m sorry, you’ve been kicked out of the program. You’ve been a great help to us. You’ve given us solid information, and helped protect both ships, ensuring the safest of its passengers, and the continuity of the mission. Unfortunately, your services are no longer required.”
“Good.”
“This is what you wanted,” Spirit states.
“Yes.”
“But if no one here trusts you, except for me, you won’t be able to investigate it for corruption anymore.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Don’t be. Some of our best spies have been suspicious of our intentions. We encourage them to question authority. Ever since the Bronach Oaksent incident, we’ve been a lot more suspicious of ourselves. We don’t want people who will just blindly follow every order to the letter. You’re supposed to make your own decisions. But there is a limit to that flexibility. According to the high officers of the Bridger section, you’ve crossed beyond the boundary. Congratulations, you’re free to relax now.”
“Thank you?”
Spirit smiles, and holds up a tablet. “I think you’ll be fine. You’ve reached 101% contribution. This means that your score is the highest it could possibly be, and can never go back down. It’s locked in place, even if the government later adjusts the parameters. You’re safe...unless, again, you do something so unforgivable it lands you a life sentence in hock.”
“Cool beans. So this is it? We’ll never meet again?”
“I’m sure I’ll see you around.” Spirit steps into the corridor, and lets the hatch close behind her.
“I didn’t think you left the Bridger section. Avelino only did a few times.”
“This is true, but I’m no longer employed by them either. I quit.”
“You quit? Why?”
“I told them that I would if they let you go.”
“Why weren’t you bluffing?”
Now Spirit smirks. “A seer told me to leave. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m never going back in there.” She jerks her head towards the hatch. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. I’m as sick of my current life as you always seem to be. I’m ready to go try something else.”
Captain Lataran Keen suddenly steps up to them from down the corridor. “Good, because I got somethin’ for you both. We have a hostage situation.”
“A hostage situation?” Tinaya questions. “Where?”
“Verdemus,” Lataran answers. She tries to take Tinaya by the hand.
Tinaya keeps her hand away just in time. “What is a Verdemus?”
“It’s the gateway planet,” Lataran says before adding, “the one where we’ve been getting all of our paper?”
Tinaya looks over at Spirit, who grimaces slightly. “I told you, there are things that the crew doesn’t let you in on. It’s tradition to leave the civilian government in the dark about things that don’t happen in the residential sectors.”
“I’m different.” Tinaya faces Lataran again. “I’m different,” she repeats. “We’re friends. You could have told me that we left people there.”
“Sorry. There’s no excuse, but you’ll have to yell at me later. I really need you right now. The hostage-taker will only speak to the First Chair.”
“Where are we going?” Tinaya demands to know, still not taking the Captain’s hand. “How do we transport back and forth from this Verdemus place?”
“The Mirror Room,” she answers. “We installed the backup mirror on the other side, so the portal is open all the time, unless we need the main one for something else.”
Tinaya never knew that there was a backup mirror either. She thought she knew pretty much everything, because of her connections. If she didn’t find out about something by being a spy, then it should have been from her time as the First Chair, and if not then, then she could have uncovered any missing information from all of her unauthorized hacking. She’s slipping...or maybe she’s never been as good as she once believed. “Fine. I’ll meet you there.”
Just before Tinaya teleports away, she hears Lataran start to ask, “Where are y—”
She’s back in her stateroom. “Arqy.”
He turns around. “Hey, hon. That wasn’t long.”
“You were right, we still have access to the planet. They call it Verdemus.”
“Because it’s green?”
“I’m about to go find out. Someone’s been taken hostage, I guess. They’re asking for me. I never thought I would go off world, but in case it ever happened, I’ve been prepared.” She walks over to her dresser to open the bottom drawer. “I swiped these from the Bridger section. I don’t think anyone noticed.” She reaches deep into the back, and unlatches the hidden panel. When her hand comes back out, she’s holding two flat fern green cases. She holds one of them tightly between her middle and ring fingers. She holds the other one loosely between her thumb and index finger, and shakes down to let the glass slip out into her other hand. “Time signal mirrors,” she explains. She hands Arqut the other mirror, so he can take it out. She holds her own in front of herself so he can get a look at her pretty face. “You can’t turn them off. It always shows you what the other mirror is seeing.”
“What is this for?” Arqut peels a thin film off of the back that Tinaya has never noticed before. She didn’t spend that much time with them. They were always meant to be used in an emergency, like this. He swings the film over, and sticks it onto the other side. The image from its partner mirror is gone. Now it’s just a regular reflection.
“Oh. I guess they can be turned off. But there’s no sound either way.” She peels her own lid off, and flips it over to the other side. “I’ll just say it’s a makeup mirror.”
“You don’t wear makeup.”
“Please.” Tinaya frames her jawline with the back of her fingers. “No one believes that about me, even though it’s true.” She starts to take her clothes off so she can put on something more durable and outdoors-worthy. She’s been to the Attic Forest a million times, but she’s never truly been outside. Almost no one on this ship has. She’s only learned survival skills academically. School teaches it because, even though no one alive today will ever reach the Extremus planet, they’ll need to be able to effectively pass this knowledge onto the next generation, and not because they will see the planet either, but because eventually, someone will.
“I love you,” Arqut says to her once she’s ready to go.
“Love you too.” They kiss. He grabs her ass for luck. She disappears.
The guard in the Mirror Room does check her for contraband. He doesn’t find the time signaler, though. Tinaya remembered that her coat has a hidden inside breast pocket dimension. The zipper is invisible to anyone unless they hold a particular shade of green light up to it, which she can generate on her watch. It’s called a spectral lock, and as soon as she gets the chance, she’ll change it to color combo, instead of singletone. No weapons, she’s good to go. The mirror technician, which is a job that didn’t need to exist before, reaches behind the mirror to activate the portal. When she gives Tinaya the go-ahead, Tinaya follows the security team through. Spirit crosses over behind her.
Extremus has lighting, of course, but it’s never brighter than it needs to be to see. Energy isn’t as precious of a resource as it was on Earth in the 20th century, or the early 21st century, but there’s no point in wasting it. Studies have shown that a lightly used corridor only needs about 100 lumens to navigate, and rooms need less than 200. Until paper was developed here, no one ever raised the brightness above that, because devices all produce their own lighting. The host star is extremely bright compared to what she’s used to. A security officer notices how much Tinaya and Spirit are struggling. He takes out a spare pair of sunglasses to give to Tinaya, and elbows his teammate, who takes out a pair for Spirit. They help her immediately, and as the group is carefully heading towards basecamp, the gradient adjusts accordingly until they’re barely dim at all. It’s probably not that bright by a normally evolved human’s standards.
The officers tense up as they approach the camp. They’ve built up the infrastructure quiet a bit. An electric fence surrounds the whole area, which a gatekeeper has to open for them. There must be dangerous animals around here. They keep going until they’re in the middle of town. The grounds are completely empty, except for one woman standing patiently in the middle distance. When Tinaya gets closer, she sees that the woman is chained up with a line that goes all the way to the building behind her, and through the doorway. “Report!” the team leader orders.
“I speak for Ilias,” the woman replies. Where has Tinaya heard that name before? The woman taps on an earpiece in her left ear. “I mean that literally. I have to say what he says, as he says it. I’m wired up.” Tinaya does see a wire threaded through the chainlinks. “I’m even saying what he’s saying right now. This woman is a stupid bitch.”
Tinaya seethes through her nose. “State your demands...Ilias.”
“First Chair Leithe. Thank you for coming. I have immense respect for you, and I regret having to involve you in this. You were always really great to my father, and he needs you now more than ever. I want a posthumous pardon for him.”
“I can’t unilaterally make pardons,” Tinaya replies. She remembers who this guy is now. Or rather, kid, because he can’t be older than twenty at this point. It’s Ilias Tamm. Disgraced former captain, Soto Tamm was his father. “Even if I could, your dad was a member of the crew. That’s a whole separate thing.”
“I understand that, but I need you to advocate for him. Please, you’re my last resort here. I have exhausted all other options.”
“Violence was a bad choice,” Tinaya warns him.
“I’ve not hurt anyone yet,” Ilias explains. “I’ve only threatened. And that’s as far as it will go unless I don’t get what I want. Soto Tamm did nothing wrong, and it’s time that the ship knows that. It doesn’t matter that he’s already dead. His good memory deserves to be restored.” Soto Tamm died in hock a couple of years ago. No one but his family went to his memorial service.
“When I give the signal,” Spirit whispers, “I need all four of you to run towards that building to the right as fast as you can, brandishing your weapons.”
“He’s in the mess hall,” the team leader argues. “We’ve confirmed that.”
“Exactly,” Spirit replies. “Three..two...one, go.”
Not knowing exactly what the plan is, but trusting Spirit Bridger, the guards run off like they’re about to attack someone who doesn’t exist.
“Where the hell are they going?” Ilias questions through the hostage’s voice.
Spirit teleports a few meters forwards holding what kind of looks like a shovel. She jams it into the chain, which hopefully cuts the electric wire. “Go get him, soldier!”
Tinaya teleports into the cafeteria, and spots Ilias. She barely recognizes him from the one time she saw him years ago, but he’s holding a gun, so it’s not that hard to tease him out of the crowd. She teleports a second time, and wraps her arms around his shoulders, then she teleports one last time. It’s a blind jump, which means she has no idea where she’s going. She’s just trying to get as far away from the building as possible. It’s far enough. In fact it’s too far. But it’s still close enough to see. A mushroom cloud rises to the sky after a huge explosion. Shit. He was on a dead man’s switch.

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