Extremus Volume 1

Year 1

It’s launch day. The crew has been working towards this goal for the last fourteen years. It’s only an interim goal, though. Their final destination won’t be reached for another 216 years. Captain Halan Yenant won’t be alive to realize the dream, but he still wants to do it. He wants to push forward, and find a new home on the other side of the galaxy. People often ask him why he would attempt such a thing. It’s not particularly dangerous—at least not compared to what his parents went through to flee to this universe in the first place—but the rewards are impossible to know. What’s out there? Is there a planet hospitable to human life? Is it any better than what could be discovered in the stellar neighborhood, or maybe just a little further out? A hundred and fifty-thousand light years is a hell of a trip when you don’t know what you’re looking for, and don’t much care. They’re doing it because they can, and because they couldn’t do it before. Yenant’s ancestors lived in a tiny universe, populated primarily by white monsters who would rather see the humans dead. Now that they’re here, they have room to spread out, yet they’ve not done it. Every single one of the eleven billion refugees—and all their recently born descendants—still live in the Gatewood Collective. There are no terrestrial planets here. They orbit the host star in gargantuan centrifugal cylinders. They’re great; they have everything they could ever need, but they aren’t natural, and Halan never considered his home.
When he was a boy, Halan was hanging out in his parents’ lounge when a man walked in with an interesting idea. A friend of his thought it might be cool to send a spaceship from here, to the outer edge of the outer ring of the Milky Way galaxy. Of course, there are plenty of stars beyond this imaginary border, but if they were going to do this, they ought to place the destination somewhere. The man, who named himself Omega, was a clone of an engineer. Omega was created to be responsible for a modular spacecraft destined to connect every star system in the galaxy. He had abandoned his post, but was seemingly trying to make up for it. He thought Project Extremus sounded nice, but the two people in charge of the solar system scrapped it, believing it to be too outrageous, and possibly unethical. Halan knew better, so he dedicated his life to learning everything he could about space travel, so he could one day fulfill the hypothetical mission. He never thought he would be leading it, though. He couldn’t do it on his own, and plenty of other people thought it was a nice idea too. He was chosen to be the ship’s first captain, and he is planning to honor that by being the absolute best possible.
Most of the people going on this journey with him have already been living on the ship. It’s just as comfortable and spacious as their original homes, so they figured there was no point in waiting. Some may have been worried about being left behind if they didn’t wait there for a few months. The pre-launch inspection has already been done, so right now, Halan is standing at the entrance, watching the stragglers arrive, along with the last of the cargo. Captain Kestral McBride and Lieutenant Ishida Caldwell come up last, after everyone is in. They run the entire solar system. The refugees from Ansutah have their own form of government, which runs things on a day-to-day basis, but anything that impacts a greater region than a few sections of a centrifugal cylinder has to go through the two of them. No one elected them to this position, but they were the ones who built the cylinders in the first place, and facilitated the people’s rescue from a dangerous home universe. Since the arrival, no one has questioned their right as the ultimate leadership.
The two of them had to sign off on this entire project, though going against Halan’s people’s wishes probably would have caused more problems than it was worth. They want to leave, and that should be respected. They engineered their own ship, so little should be in the way of them realizing their goal. Even so, Team Keshida, as they are collectively called, are still not extremely jazzed about this situation. They have always been rather adept at hiding it. “Do you have everyone and everything you need?”
Captain Yenant’s lieutenant, Rita Suárez comes up to his side, holding a tablet. As she can trace her family tree back to one of the original members of the group of humans who first lived on Ansutah, she’s a bit of a celebrity. She doesn’t like the notoriety, though, which is why she’s leaving. The reality is that this decision has only made things worse. She taps on her pre-launch checklist. “The last of the biomolecular synthesizer back-up parts have been loaded up.” She checks it off the list. “We should be good to go, sir.”
Captain McBride smiles. “There’s one more thing that’s not on your list.”
“There couldn’t be,” Rita protests. “I was very thorough—”
“It’s not on your list, because it wasn’t decided until this morning,” the other Lieutenant, Ishida interrupts. She taps on her wrist device. Omega suddenly appears next to them. “He’ll be going with you.”
“I must voice my concern,” Rita continues to argue. “I was not made aware of this, and he is not on the manifest. You cannot simply add whoever you wish to be rid of. This in an internal matter—”
Ishida interrupts again, but this time with merely an authoritative wave of her hand. “We are placing him on this vessel to be rid of him, yes, but we could have just as easily dispatched him to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, or Teagarden. We’re sending him with you, because he went against my wishes, and told you about this idea...my idea. These are the consequences for his actions. If he thinks it’s such a good idea, then he can see it through. I don’t really care whether you have anything to say about it, or not. You can shoot him out an airlock once you take off, for all I care. I literally have a million more just like him.”
“Ain’t nobody like me,” Omega contends.
Ishida taps on her cuff some more. Omega’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and he faints, but before he hits the floor, he disappears. “I’ve hidden him somewhere on the Extremus. You can either waste your time trying to find him, or you can just stick to your schedule.”
Halan looks over at the other Captain. Kestral looks back. “Don’t expect me to argue with her. Her title may make it sound like she’s my subordinate, but she’s actually my partner. If she says Omega stays on the ship, he stays on the ship.”
“Very well,” Halan decides.
“Sir,” Rita presses.
“We will launch on time, and then we will search the ship for him. Don’t worry, Rita. I’m sure we’ll find some use for a brash and disgruntled clone of an engineer.”
Rita is not an unreasonable person. She knows when she’s been beat, and she will concede graciously. “Very well, sir. You have five minutes until you need to speak to the passengers. I’ll prep the crew.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’ll be up there in a minute.”
“One more thing,” Kestral says after Rita leaves. She takes out a small roundish object, and hands it to Halan ceremoniously. “This is a recall device. If you hold the string, and press the top button several times, all of this will be undone.”
“What do you mean?” Halan questions. “All of what?”
“The mission, the trip,” Ishida clarifies. “It’s a reset button. If something goes wrong, and you have no other options, this will reverse time, and put everyone back here instantaneously. It will have quite literally never happened. Once your tenure is over, you may pass it on to your successor. But I wouldn’t tell anyone else about it, If I were you.”
A confused Halan stares at them. “This is a generation ship. What if something goes wrong in a hundred years? They’ll just be erased from existence?”
“The captain won’t,” Kestral says. “Or rather, whoever pushes the button. They’ll be returned with all these people, even if they haven’t been born yet now. They alone will survive that paradox, should it come to that.”
He keeps watching them with that look. Then he drops the device on the ground, and stomps on it. “I won’t allow that. We live and die together. That’s why we’re doing this.”
“Very well, sir,” Kestral echoes Rita from earlier.
“Good luck, Captain,” Ishida says cordially.
“Thank you.”
“You better go.”
“Close it up,” Halan says as he’s walking up the ramp. The ship’s AI seals all entrances. Halan transports to the bridge, where the crew is working on prelaunch. “Everything on schedule?” he asks them.
“Yes, sir,” replies the Executive Bridge Officer.
“Keep at it. I need to address the passengers.”
“Of course, sir.”
Halan steps into his bridge quarters. He readies himself with a good glass of water, and some speech warm-ups. Finally, when it’s time, he approaches the microphone. “Passengers of the Extremus. Some say that our journey to this day began fourteen years ago, when a man came to us with an idea his superior came up with about traveling across the galaxy. Others say that it truly began once we were rescued from our home universe, and brought here, back in 2230. I wasn’t around for that, but I am grateful for it. Still, there are those who claim the journey actually began centuries ago, while our ancestors were struggling on the human continent of Ansutah. However you look at it, I’m not personally concerned with when the journey began. What matters is where we’re going, and how we get there from here. We are about to launch from the Gatewood Collective, and fly at reframe speeds, across thousands of light years. It will take us two hundred and sixteen years.
“We do not possess the kind of longevity technology the rest of the stellar neighborhood does. We live day to day, and we do that for about a hundred and twenty years. Not one of us will be alive to see our new home. This is your last chance to avoid the truth that you will die in space, far from any star. We’ll be taking off in eleven minutes. That should be enough time to make it to the nearest airlock. Anyone inside of one of these will be teleported out of the ship with no questions. I hope none of you do, but that is your choice, and I will understand. Our numbers are great now. We started out with a few hundred hopefuls, but have since grown to the thousands. I find that impressive. Like I said, none of you will see the planet we are destined to name Extremus, and that is the bravest thing I’ve seen anyone do.” Halan clears his throat. “If you are a member of the crew, please take action stations. If you are a passenger, and you haven’t already, make yourself at home, and enjoy the ride.”
Minutes later, they’re gone.

Year 2

Captain Yenant pulls a chair over, and sits down in front of Omega. He closes his eyes, and massages the bridge of his nose. He’s been through this before, and he’s sick of it. He’s in charge of the crew and the ship itself, and not so much the passengers; they have their own leaders. Omega is more of  a stowaway, though, and that kind of falls under Halan’s jurisdiction. “Why am I still dealing with you? It’s been eight months.”
“I was just trying to boost our speed,” Omega answers with a shrug.
“We’re going at maximum reframe. It doesn’t get faster than that. Technically, we’re not exceeding the speed of light. It’s more like we’re going back in time while moving forward.”
“Yes, but if we go back in time faster then we’ll get to our destination earlier.”
Halan gets this close to putting his face in his palm. “We’ll get there earlier, so what? That’s not faster. It will take us 216 years, whether that’s 216 years from the day we left, or 216 years before we left. That doesn’t help anything.”
“The faster I get you to your precious planet, the faster I can get back to my life on Gatewood, and I would like to reappear the second after I last left, so I’m actually trying to send us back more than twice as fast as we are now.”
“I won’t allow that.”
“I’ll do it anyway,” Omega contends.
“You are not entitled to persistent longevity treatments. You’ll die here, like everyone else. I’ll see to it.”
“I don’t need those treatments anymore,” Omega claims. “I make my own.”
“Not in the hock, you don’t.”
“You can’t keep me in hock for the whole journey.”
Halan stands up, and carefully places his chair back where he found it, randomly towards the back corner. “Watch me.” He walks towards the door, but addresses the guard first. “Do it.”
“No!” Omega cries. “You can’t do this! I’ll stop, just don’t lock me away!” He’s probably expecting the Captain to stop, and prove that his words were only an interrogation tactic, but Halan doesn’t need anything from him. He might as well be in hock, at least he can’t cause any more trouble. He’ll leave him in there for a year, and then reassess.
Halan walks down the hallway, and back onto the bridge. He finds Rita by the viewscreen. “Is he ready?”
“No.”
Halan checks his watch. “He’ll have to be.”
“You could always just do it yourself, like you have been,” Rita suggests.
“The passengers have to see that this is not a one-man show. We’re all in this together. He’ll do it several more times before his shift ends. He might as well start now.”
“He’s still practicing, even all this time. That does not suggest a lot of self-confidence.”
“All right, well I’ll get him to that point. I’ll go in alone, so he’s not intimidated.”
“Are you calling me intimidating?” Rita questions, offended.
“I just mean he’s better one-one-one. But if you wanna be the one to coach him through it...”
“No, no, no. That’s fine.”
Rita walks the other direction, while Halan steps into the PA room. A young technician stands up quickly, like he was bitten by a toilet snake. “Good evening, sir.”
“As you were, Tech.”
“Thank you, sir.” He does not look well.
“Breathe with me.” Halan sits down, and begins to breathe deeply and deliberately. “In. Out. In. Out. Make sure you get oxygen to your brain.”
“Thank you, sir,” the boy repeats.
“You can do this. You’ve done it a million times by now, I’m sure.”
“Not when people could hear me.”
“Just pretend they can’t. There are no hecklers here. There’s no feedback. As far as you can tell, when you push that button, it does absolutely nothing. Then just...say your lines, like you have been all day.”
“Is it really that easy?”
“It can be.” Halan checks his watch again. “It’s time.”
The boy breathes a few more times. “Okay.” He tries to convince himself that it is indeed okay. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Halan nudges the microphone a millimeter closer. “You have the floor.”
He clears his throat, and begins. “Uhh...attention all passengers. The bridge crew of the transgalactic generational colony ship Extremus would like to thank you for another lovely day. We are eight months, two weeks, and one days—I mean, day—from launch.” He sighs. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, just keep going,” Halan assures him, not sure whether his own words make it into the microphone.
“Today marks a special occasion. We are now five hundred light years from Gatewood, an amazing feat by all accounts. The Captain wishes to extend his gratitude towards all of you for agreeing to join him on this unprecedented adventure. This would be neither possible, nor meaningful, without each and every one of you. His door, as always, is open to all. Here’s to another two!” This motto refers to the number of light years Extremus is able to cover in the span of about a day.
Halan pats him on the back. “Great job.”
“I messed up.”
“That’s all right. We do this every single day. No one’s gonna remember this one time, and you’ll get better. It won’t be as scary next time, I promise.”
“Thank you, sir.”
An alert from Rita comes up on Halan’s wrist device. “I gotta go try to fix a crisis. You can still handle the calls?”
“Yeah, I can field the one-on-ones. That I have no problem with.”
“Wonderful.” The phone begins to ring just as Halan is leaving the room. He goes all the way to the other side of the ship, where his lieutenant is waiting for him.
“It’s not terrible, but it’s not great.”
“What does she need now?” Halan asked.
“She’s demanding we make it bigger.”
“Bigger? The airlock?”
“Yes.”
“That is a service airlock. It’s just meant for robot EVAs. We can’t make it bigger. The robots are being serviced on either side!”
“Well, actually they’re not. That whole section has been essentially shut down for her. I mean, it would be tough, but I spoke with some engineers yesterday, and they said it’s technically possible to break down one of the walls, but only the one.”
Just before launch, Halan made an announcement that said everyone who had second thoughts, and wanted to leave the ship, could do so simply by entering an airlock. Captain McBride then teleported them out of there, and back into the main Gatewood cylinder, where they could do whatever they wanted with their lives without having anything to do with the mission. One woman thought the service airlock counted, but only the ones near the passenger sections were being monitored for this courtesy. She shouldn’t have been anywhere near this area. Halan partially blames himself for not being one hundred percent clear, but mostly blames her for having wandered off to a restricted section. Well, it was never technically restricted, but everyone else knows where they don’t have any business being. The five other people who chose to jump ship at the last minute certainly knew.
“I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with her tonight, so...”
“I’ll take care of it,” Rita says, “again.”
“Get a second opinion on that wall,” Halan says as he’s walking away. “And remind her that she may return to her quarters whenever she wants. Psychotic break or no, staying in the airlock permanently is not going to help her get home. That was a one time offer!”
“I’ll say it just like that, sir!”
“Thanks! I’m gonna go check in with the Old Man!”
Halan makes his way back to the other side, then down towards the stern. He finds the oldest engineer this vessel has to offer in his lab, tinkering away at his little contraptions. “Ahh, you’re here. Good. Could you place your finger right here?”
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Please,” Old Man begs.
“Are you gonna shock me again.”
“Probably not.”
Halan scoffs, but does as he’s been asked. With the one piece of metal firmly in place, Old Man can now line it up with a second piece of metal. He drips nanosolder between them, and announces that Halan can let go. Halan looks around. “Where is it?”
“It’s over on that table there.”
Halan glances over. “It looks finished.”
“Oh yes,” Old Man agrees. “It’s been repaired.”
“So, it works.”
Old Man lifts up his lenses. “It can do what it was designed to do.”
“That’s not what I asked of you,” Halan reminds him. “I want you to make it do something else.”
“It’s not that easy. The device is tethered to a moment in time. Everything that existed in that moment has to go back where it was. You, me, some rando on Teagarden. Everything just reverts to that moment. It’s a reset button, not a teleporter.”
“She said that if someone who hasn’t been born yet pushes that button, they will return too. They won’t revert to their non-existence, and they’ll retain their memories.”
“Yes, and I don’t know how that works. That is what I am trying to figure out now. It will take time. We can’t mess this up. There is no way to test it. If I do something wrong, that could be the end of everything. It could send us back to the stone age, for all I know. I’m not a time travel mechanical engineer. Now, if you would let me build a new device that’s only been inspired by the original design...”
“No. There is a reason I chose you for this project. I don’t want this technology left on my ship. I want two people to go back to Gatewood, and only those two people, and I want them to take the only device that can do it with them.”
“Yes, and I will soon be dead, unlike someone better suited for this research, so the secret dies with me, I get it.”
Halan knocks on the table twice. “I hope you do get it, because I need this done. I cannot take another day with a self-obsessed narcissist who thinks he’s entitled to modify this ship as he pleases, and a deranged Karen, who thinks she’s entitled to have a team of crewmembers wait on her hand and foot.”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about, sir, I just work here.”
Halan’s watch alerts him to the next issue. He starts to back out of the room. “I have to go put out another fire. Finish whatever that thing is, and then get back to my recall device.” He opens the door to exit.
“Certainly, sir. It’s a consciousness uploader.”
Halan turns back around. “What?”
Old Man has returned to work, and acts like he’s barely noticed that Halan is still there. “Oh, this will upload someone’s consciousness into a reserve, where they can witness the arrival on Extremus, even if they die before we get there.”
“Who asked you to do that?” Halan questions.
He takes off his lens gear, sets it on the table, and interlocks his hands next to it. “You will.”
“I will?”
“No one wants to die, and certainly not the people on this ship.”
“We agreed it would be generational. That was decided a long time ago, before they even made me Captain. Do you know something about the future that I don’t?”
“Goodnight, sir.”
Halans wants to argue, but he’s too tired. He still apparently has to speak to someone about a possible radiation leak on the observation deck. He can tell by Old Man’s progress that this mind uploader is nowhere near finished, so there will be plenty of time to argue about it another day. “Get back to the recall device. Now.”
“Very well.” He knows how important he is, at least until the device is complete. He might be worried about what happens to him after that, though, which is why he’s really building the uploader. In all honesty, Halan can’t be sure the man shouldn’t be worried. It is not off the table to tie up all loose ends.

Year 3

Coming soon...

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