Station Theta: Gamma by Jeremy Wells

The little river of condensation that ran down the side of his glass symbolised everything that was on his mind. Movement, life, health and happiness, clinging to the side of a glass of CO2 cooled Spitfire ale.

The beer was brewed by War Recreationists in the coastal region of Kent, a spec upon a spec on the far off planet Earth. It was shipped by Musk freighter all the way out to the asteriod belt. The Recreationists spent their days reproducing the food, clothing and lifestyle that existed during an ancient world war, the second of five he thought. Perhaps it was the first? Lifestyles barely changed between those two. Their idea was that by living that way, some of the values of that time would somehow rub off on them. Most people were skeptical, and even disapproving, but the Recreationists had done the best job so far reproducing the insanely popular Spitfire, so they bought it anyway.

It was the third world war that was the big one. Energy shortages were the trigger, but it was really a war over lifestyles. Bankers, faggots and foreigners, according to Recreationist historians. Whatever labels you put on them, it was over the right to be different. Differently rich, differently oriented sexually, or different from you religiously. That last one brought the other half of the world into the fight. For decades people murmered disapproval at each other, and sought to regulate each others lifestyle, stop you being too rich or too bigotted, or too tolerant, or too religious, or not religious enough.

Before the war some cultures had become egalitarian, and sought to impose a specific standard of living internally and then across borders, but the standard was always brought down. People struggled to cope with changable weather and hit out at people they blamed for pollution. They had thought of themselves as humble but assumed arrogantly that mankind had the power to change the climate by accident; in fact 75 years passed before the climate of Mars was successfully changed with a great deal of deliberate and very expensive effort, an effort that saw the asteriod belt colonised and mined. The job was not yet finished even now.

Quickly the egalitarians became the instrument of their own economic destruction, but by seeking to destroy the industry of more enlightened nations they brought an end to decades of peace. After the easy energy was gone whole peoples fought for fracking rights, seeking to maintain their petty empires by stealing the empires of others.

It was in the occupied states of the border areas that the most extreme religionists lost their patience and politicised their culture of intolerance, banning lifestyles of which they dissapproved. It made for popular policy and helped leaders to justify the privations needed to maintain a constant state of war. This was when the war against wealth that had become a war for wealth finally became a war for liberty.

Across the globe different strands of thought put aside their differences and focused on what they had in common. The theories of individual rights and self ownership were integrated formally, observations about economics, praxeology, and knowledge in a social context were reconciled with methodologically individualist epistemology. The “subjective” gave ground to the “contextual”. Ethics were refined and clarified and put in their proper place with regards to political science. An ideological committment to tolerance was not enough, it took a concerted effort to apply the ideas of good institutional design and reinvigorate theories of justice.

Meanwhile the various authorianians with their Oil empires stopped using the pursuit of their old morals as a justification for taking wealth. Instead they used a need for wealth as justification for a quest for the domination of their morals. Communist nations got in on the act and so the cultures of national and supernatural religion went to war with a new culture that seemed to have sprung from nowhere, a culture of people, of individualists and innovators: the little guys.

They won convincingly of course. It was now well established that a culture of free trading individuals was where wealth came from, the egalitarians and authoritarians and the religionists had all assumed that there was one true way, and failed to notice that wealth came from the constant discovery of new ones.

sci_fi_suit_by_randize-d5n2qjnThe final humiliation was at the Battle of Istanbul. Impoverished by their own policies, and military defeat, the retreating armies of religionists and Communists furnished their troops with clean cotton uniforms and bows made from sailing gear and industrial scrap. They went to war with a righteous mechanised army equipped with plasma rifles. The ancient vs the new. Energised particle beams flickered through dark smoke as the enemy cowered. At any earlier point in history the result would have been a massacre, but the New Model Army simpy obliterated every building and fortification until there was nowhere to hide. Casualties were minimal. Facing 18ft mech soldiers carrying rifles that had destroyed their fortifications had the effect of opening up a strange conversation. The armies sat down and discussed economics and ethics for a week and a day. No more perfect destruction of the enemy was required.

Freido looked up through the pain of glass in front of him, out at the vastness of space. He saw now miners dressed in mechanical space suits perched on the massive veins of a plasma catcher. The suits were leaner, stronger and moved more easily than their wartime equivalents. Data flickered on the miners’ arms as they watched a load coming in. They seemed to glow as the shadow of the asteriod passed over them and data feeds gave way to hi-viz yellow squares. Suddenly they leapt across the void to correct some tiny error in its trajectory, a simple effort of mechanical grace.

The Conference of Instanbul was brief, but it’s effects were explosive. An army of thousands left Instanbul knowing not only the humiliation of defeat, but the ideas that had caused them to be defeated and the warmth and benevolence of the soldiers that defeated them. As never before the link between ideas and life was laid clear. Run your society by the wrong ideas, and you will be defeated by those that run their society by the right ones, and the right one lets everyone get this wrong in their own way. It sounded like a contradiction, but people got it. Two thousand defeated soldiers ensured they got it.

Nation states protested, then whined, then bribed their populations in a desperate struggle to maintain their relevance. War was no longer tolerated. Athiestic libertarianism became mainstream, feeling to many like the obvious default in the new order. The minorities of religionists, both moderate and extreme clustered together in like minded groups and put up gates and fences around their homes and formed warm and prosperous communities away from sources of tension. Communists likewise retreated to communes, and stuck out a harsh living in the same old ways until technology – adopted second-hand – made it nearly impossible for them to starve.

These days the gates are mere decorated posts, an historic tradition, but the culture of groups defining their own spaces had stuck. Communities huddled inwards like children on a playground picking who was “it”; sometimes seeming unfriendly from outside but always vibrant within. Most of the fences were replaced by the contiguous walls of homes and business that once backed onto them. The walls softened and the security once acheived by physical bariers was now acheived by unity and cohesion. No longer did any minority believe it had the right to impose it’s views on the spaces around theirs. Communal zones are vibrant, sometimes rough, but usually civil.

The effort to make states irrelevant was a conscious project for many and this tended to happen in the communal zones where there was a boom in the Public Goods Industry. Insurance companies, medical charities and every kind of device for communal problem solving were established. The number of people employed in public goods rose, and working for nation states became frowned upon as the mark of weird ideological hold-outs. Free of politics the quality of social provision increased in transport, education, medicine, and art. Welfare for the sick and unfortunate was the last to benefit, exploited cynically by the bitterest of embattled nation states who threw away the last of their economic credibility just to make it stand still, while all the world accelerated away from them.

A vibration ran through the floor and the artifical gravity paused. The foamy surface of Freido’s Spitfire bowed upwards, stuck in the glass by surface tension.

“Yellow team will be the death of us. They think they are bloody ballerinas.” said an affable voice from behind him.

Freido turned to see Ginger, an historian and War Recreationist. His name his clothing and his manners were a throwback to the 1940s; two centuraries ago. He was surprisingly open minded, Freido knew, but that isn’t saying much for a Recreationist.

“Say, are you alright?” said Ginger, pointing. Freido checked himself and found a single drop of water on his cheek and a lump in his throat.

“My beer must have splashed” said Freido. Ginger said nothing and raised an eyebrow.

“Hmnn. Well I was watching Yellow team keep an eye on their load. They remind me of the time I piloted a suit like theirs”.

“Well. I suppose we might get on and talk about that, but I should say that frankly I don’t know why you chose to remember. You could be have been at rest 50 years ago. It’s not natural stretching yourself out for so long”.

“I am not wearing an evil ring, and do not feel stretched. I use the best life-extenders I can afford and avoid anything experimental. I feel great, physically”.

“Well, physically isn’t what I meant!” said Ginger, dressing his words as a joke. At 55 he was fraction of Freido’s age, but admirably direct. He occasionally did waste his breath on fake laughter but Freido expected he would save himself that courtesy by the time he was 70.

“You’ll be dead before me” said Freido, efficiently. The older man looked ten years younger than Ginger.

“Ha! I suppose I will. If you want to keep changing the subject, perhaps we can talk about the Conference first?”.

Freido regretted the double evasion, and how obvious it was to everyone but himself. “No”, he said, “to understand that you have to understand the battle, and the planning. Istanbul was not an accident”.

“I sort of knew that, but there has been a lot of discussion over how you managed it” said Ginger as he sat down and pulled out his notes.

“It was mostly luck, to be honest. We got intellegence that weapons were being moved away from the front to defend allied capitals. We’d have missed it except a freshman volunteer tuned into a datastream of plaintext intercepts. The rest of us were all focused on the 128ks”

“128ks?”

“That was the keylength they used for mid-level communication. The drummers gave us the highest levels in batches infrequently, but we managed to break the 128ks by observing patterns in recovered keys.”

“Yes,” mused Ginger. “But do you know how the patterns got there?”. Freido shrugged, he did not. “We believe the allied authorities introduced them deliberately, as a back door to spy on their own population”.

“They obviously couldn’t trust their troops to be as committed to their ideas as they were”, said Freido finding the notion ridiculous. “I guess they were proved correct, but they may not have been so humiliated if they had had more faith!” he laughed at the subtlety of the contradiction. Both men were familiar with the historical importance of faith, and they shared a wry smile.

“What was the freshmans name?”

“Bobby, I think. He was a bright chap, but like anyone on his first day in a war zone he was all over the place. It turned out fine though, you’ll agree. I think later joined the Recreationists, although he got on well with Gammans too, like yourself”. The Gammans were a later phenomenon; arch individualists uncomfortable with labels. United only by an intense passion for philosophy they chose a deliberately meaningless name and sought each other out in corridors transverses and accomodation pods designated G or Gamma. The Rose and Crown, where they were sat, was in pod Gamma of Station Theta – a cluster of pods around a large central facility where asteroids came to be ripped apart. The pods spun slowly, to create gravity, and the miners’ little slip earlier had caused the motion to slow.

“Bobby? Really?” said Ginger. He flipped through his notebook for a few moments and scribbed the name down on a separate page of writing. The name seemed to mean something to him.

“How did you get Johnny Foreigner to sit down and talk? You know many people claim you kept them prisoner, and worse”.

“I have heard the claims. Honestly I believe that they were in shock. At one time their cultures were not far behind ours, but they were impoverished and abandoned cobbling together weapons from scrap.”

“Not all of them carried bows though – right?”

“Correct. Many of them had rifles, and there was a little artillery, but very few rounds. About 30% had improvised various things, bows were popular with them. Many were focused on creating traps – exploding buildings and so on – but that made very little difference once we blew their cover. It was forgotten I guess.”

“Okay, go on.”

“We did have them trapped, and we gaurded them and kept them prisoner I suppose for a few days, but once we had said our prepared statements and conducted our exercises with them most of them stayed. We were feeding them, which helped, and we allowed them to speak to their families. They had been abandoned once already by their side so they were in no hurry. Many of them were simply very curious.”.

“Tell me about the temples”, a perculiar expression crossed Ginger’s face.

“That was a difficult problem. We did not want to destroy the temples. As you know two buildings of the kind were destroyed. Each time because troops had begun to move towards them. The policy of pepper spraying the others was effective”.

“Do you know anything about the children in those places” said Ginger artfully.

“You have obviously been doing your homework. Yes I do, for it was me that punched holes into three of those buildings and inserted the gas canisters. I’m happy to talk about this”.

“You don’t seem to feel bad about it.”

“I did, but a centuary later I got over myself. Life extenders are good for something. Some ghosts can be laid to rest.”

“How did you just get over it?”

“You know the answer. It was not the New Model Army that caused those deaths, although it was our weapons. There is no way that our gas weapons could have produced a death even in an infant if – if – the target was free to move or to be carried. With the fires that broke out it is impossible to prove, but I am convinced they were locked in. They must have been locked into the space directly behind the insertion point. I am not the person to ask why, but I have spent 50 years obsessed by that problem. There is no evidence to be gathered but I was there and the science that describes that gas is uncontroversial now. I have read all of it.” Friedo had spoken efficiently.

Ginger sat for several seconds observing Freido, appearing to think.

“What did you think of the religionists?”

“Sadly wrong. Tragically wrong, and the communists were no better. Wrong; but understandably so. We were desparate to explain to them what it was they were wrong about. It wasn’t us that started the shooting war but we thought we could end it, we just needed a captive audience. It worked.”

Ginger paused to mull over Freido’s words, his tone, his eyes. He sipped his beer before deciding to be frank.

“Sure, better than shooting the bastards I suppose…. Look Freido”, he hunched towards him and lowered his tone. His uneasiness came from the effort to sell his case. “You wanted me to tell your story, to get a book out. What is it that you think will be in the book to sell it? Sure, I can layout the facts and put in the ideas we have spoken about. I beleive them almost as strongly as you do, but the book will not sell without a new story to tell. If you sit there and tell me the conventional interpretation is correct then why would people bother to buy a new retelling of the same thing?” Freido knew Ginger was being insensere about his beleifs, but he knew Ginger was basically right.

“I was relying on you to answer that question.”

“Well I don’t have a clue. And the next Musk back to Earth is in a months time, so we had better find one.” The men sat and sipped their Spitfires for some time before speaking again. This was the tenth such meeting, the fifth stab at an inquistion over some controversy. Ginger was tired of it. They neded something new to talk about.

“When was it clear that the War of Ideas would become a hot war? Did you guess, before it happened?” asked Ginger.

“October 2013. I was sat in a pub, at one of these political events, and someone was arguing that the Industrial Revolution was the product of an ideological sub culture. This is accepted wisdom now of course, after the War, but it was new back then. People ascribed everything to economics, or natural resources, perhaps to religious philosophy, but not to philosophy per se. I figured if something good can come from ideological cultures then eventually something bad would come of it. The Industrial Revolution increased wealth in Britain by 1500% percent, a good thing that big…”

“You thought the pendulum would swing the other way.”

“I never thought history was that geometrical. That’s Marxist historicism talking – or poetry. No, but it did show the kind of massive change that ideas can make to life.”

They sat for a while longer. Freido turned back to the slowly spinning asteroid belt and just watched it for a moment.

Ginger picked up the thread again: “I asked by Grandfather the same question once, sort of, I asked him if people could have seen the wars coming. He didn’t know but he told me his father had thought it was obvious when C/2017 O3 hit the Sun that, I quote “all that green crap will be back now then”.”

“Ah.. the temperature changes”

“Yes exactly. And it seems he was right. I looked into it. By 2015 people were beginning to ask serious questions about the carbon theory. Temperatures were supposed to be up, but they had in fact crept down – within the margin of error – but you could see it on graphs. The archives are full of thousands of social media entries devoted to the topic. Eco-egalitarianism was waning as a philosophy and eco-egalitarian countries – mine included – were beginning to come under serious economic pressure. The kind of pressure that helps people change their minds. Then – boom! A comet whacks into the Sun and suddenly the temperatures are trending back up again. Of course, all the media and science content is focused on a load of new data about the composition and working of the Sun, and comet detection – that kind of thing. By the time the public start to think about climate the academic community have quietly forgotten there was ever a pause in climate variability and since everything is back on trend nothing changes. It’s spectacular that no-one put the two things together.”

“I remember people in the pub talking about this – same pub actually.” said Freido.

“People did. And the social data suggest people never stopped talking about it, but academia – silent. Then the politicians start to talk about how Johnny Foreigner is burning too much carbon and blaming Johnny Foreigner for trains and airports fouling up in the snow. Madness.”

Silence fell between them too. Freido contemplated how two people with very different views about how to live could end up with very similar views of history. He wondered if it was always that way.

Looking out through the glass he saw miners spin through the void outside the window and land gracefully on the plasma catcher. Red squares on their armour plates gave way to the familiar flicker of data. The shift had changed and another lump of rock and ice was on it’s way toward the facility’s gaping maw, ready to be split into ore for factories and gasses for the terraforming companies of Mars. The scale of the effort always amazed Freido.

“You know it is kind of geometrical.”, Freido blurted suddenly. “Sorry – history I mean. The Industrialists laboured out from the yoke of Tudor laws and society telling they were evil for wanting to do things quicker. Once they did it they improved lives for millions of people, but they let Corporatism and a dozen other silly ideas grow in the safety of knowing that times were good. People didn’t have to concrentrate on making sure things stay good. You know they didn’t even talk politics at dinner parties, it was taboo. Eventually, our new global order was tearing itself to shreds, letting it’s silly lazy ideas grind the world to dust and we had to labour out from under the yoke of bad ideas. We ended war – mostly – we ended poverty for pretty much everyone too and we persuaded people to respect ideas. For a century you couldn’t go anywhere without people checking you were sound. Thugs argued in dive bars over whether Mises, Menger or Hayek was the better economist. They don’t do that anymore, they argue about football. I haven’t heard arguments about football in bars for decades, more, it’s common now.”

“You’re worried something else is coming? Aren’t you?”

“I am. We are growing complacent. The Mars climate is half way there now and having a second planet to rely on is making us soft again. The Utilans think they have calculated that a docking tax will help people by subsidising work-clothes, and wet wipes. It won’t, it will just suppress demand for freighters and mess everything up again. This is why I came forward to create a book, with the amount of history I’ve seen I didn’t think I would need to worry about selling it.”

“I suggest we drink another one of these fine Kentish Spitfire Ales and see if two drunk bastards can’t think of way to do just that”. Ginger jumped up to go to the bar. “You want something else instead?”

“I’ve been drinking this since 2007, why stop now.”

“2007? Really? You drank original Spitfire in that pub of yours?” Ginger seemed unusually interested.

“In the Rose and Crown, sure. I’m in another old Rosie now, I guess nothing changes.”

“You’ll be surprised how many Rose and Crowns there were. Bloody thousands. But one that sold our beer in 2007? And you were there still in 2014?”

“Sure was, later than that even. Three landlords, one beer. Always.”

“Are you sure it’s a History of Ideas you wanted to talk about?”, asked Ginger, “I mean, we could work in some…”

“If you want to know why Spitfire is so ruddy popular, I can tell you. Libertarians drunk it until they wobbled responsibly home at an appropriate hour under their own steam. Now we’re mainstream, so is our beer.”

“I think you just solved our problems. Barman!”.

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