That’s more than just a line from Star Trek. That’s the essence of collectivist philosophy. Whether the “many” are called the Proletariat, Volk, or “working class” the needs/wants/desires of the individual are to be subordinated to the needs of that “many”.
In reality it’s remarkable how the needs/wants/desires of that many map to the needs/wants/desires of the “Party” leadership (just ask them; they’ll tell you). And the needs/wants/desires just happen to be whatever it takes to keep the Party leadership in power. Funny thing that.
The excuse given, when this blows up and produces widespread shortages and misery is “that wasn’t real socialism/communism”. Socialism and communism of course are the only forms of collectivism that get that pass. Nobody makes that claim about fascism and Nazism).
But even that’s beside the point. At it’s core the collectivist vision that takes “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” can be shown to be despicable in itself.
Consider a healthy young man. Shoot that man and, if one is careful about shot placement, you’ve got two kidneys, a heart, a liver, lungs, intestines, pancreas, thymus, eyes, bone marrow, many things that can be used to safe a dozen lives and improve the quality of life of a dozen more. If “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few” is axiomatically true then it must be moral to sacrifice one life in order to save a dozen or more others.
Very few people, of course, would accept this as the case. The needs of the many does not automatically outweigh the needs of the few, or even the one, in every case. Once you accept that, it becomes possible to start exploring the limits of such “outweighing”, when if ever it is valid and when it is not.
It also means that you can’t just throw out “the good of society” as a reason to restrict individuals in pursuing their own needs, wants, and desires. You have to make a better argument.
I propose that the needs of the many are best served by upholding the right of individuals to pursue their own individual needs, wants, and desires as they see them so long as they do not forcibly infringe on that same right in someone else. Indeed, this is what we see when we look at cultures in general. There are very few exceptions to that principle. Generally speaking the greater a society does so, the better off even the masses within that society are. The more a society enforces subverting individual wants and needs to the collective, the worse off the masses within it are. It takes very careful cherry picking to try to present those collectivist societies as “better” in any meaningful way than those with a greater respect for individual liberty, personal and economic.
It may seem, perhaps, a paradox, but as the late economist Milton Friedman observed in a different context: “The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both.” This is a much more generally applicable concept than equality vs. freedom. It is simply that people serving their own self interest will often end up serving the common interest as a side benefit. It was not through any altruism that John D. Rockefeller made kerosene for lighting far cheaper than it was previously. It was not through any noble motives of help to the masses that Henry Ford made the automobile cheap enough for the “working class” to afford them (as opposed to just being toys for the wealthy). They did it to make money and in the process bettered the lives of millions–billions if you consider second and third order effects.
Thus, the needs of the many are best served by respecting the needs of the few, or the one.
So, there’s a new spending bill which provides some money–not all that was asked for but some–for Trump’s border wall. In return, Trump declared a “National Emergency” in order to spend military construction budget on said border wall. And in return to that Pelosi, “suggests” that the next Democrat President (fate forfend) can use a declaration of national emergency on the subject of gun violence (presumably eradicating the 2nd Amendment and going whole hog on gun confiscations).
Wow. That’s a lot.
First off, I’m of mixed feelings about this border wall, not because it’s “useless” (every builder of fortifications throughout history would laugh at the blanket “walls don’t work” claim–they do work as a force multiplier. They have to be defended but they mean that existing forces on our border can be more effective by complicating the problem of those trying to cross illegally) but because the resources being spent there might be better spent in other ways to reduce the problem of illegal immigration. Things like aggressively checking that people who get government assistance are actually citizens and not providing said assistance to those who are not. Things like actively seeking and censuring companies that employ illegals, with penalties strict enough to discourage said hiring. Remove the incentive for people to come here illegally and much of the problem will be self correcting. OTOH, I don’t have enough information to determine which would be a more effective use of resources and with a number of cities and even states actively working to undermine those laws shifting the balance… Like I said, mixed feelings.
As far as the national emergency goes, some people complain that it sets a bad precedent. While I may be skeptical that this is the best way to accomplish things, that ship has sailed a long time ago. And just like we’ve seen how empty “I’ll give you a concession Tuesday for a concession today” has been, so too is “If you don’t use this today, I won’t use it tomorrow” is a thin reed indeed to hang on. If they really thought they could do it (that “national emergency on gun violence” bit), then they’d do it whether Trump used it now or not. They’re already all-in on gun banning and will use any tool they think will work toward that end.
There is just one problem with this hypothetical future president declaring a “national emergency” on gun violence and using his pen and phone to ban guns. That would be “go time” on something no sane person wants. Oh, some may think they want it but that’s because they have unrealistic expectations on the results. I don’t want it. After all, I like to think (YMMV, of course) that I am reasonably sane. The immediate results would be horrific and the final result? Unlikely to be good.
But I keep watching those in power flirting with triggering just that result by pushing people into situations where “unlikely to be good” is still the best option they have.
It occurred to me this morning that our concept of love might be struggling to go back around to the historical mean — and not the sensible part of the historical mean — but the easier, and less civilized part.
Look, our entire concept of romantic love as shaping and creating your entire life was partly a construct of the same wonderful Rousseaunian philosophy of the “natural man”. If you’ve ever read Tess D’Ubervilles, not to mention suffered through Effie Briest in German with a slightly deranged teacher, you are aware that the “natural” philosophers of the 18th century more or less invented the concept that you should abandon everything for love and reshape your whole life around it. Also, that there was only one true love, and you couldn’t really have another.
I’m not a hundred percent sure who came up with the idea of soul mates, because mostly…
Ten minutes later, Li sat at the con on the bridge. The icon for their remaining opponent floated in the main holotank. Numeric values floated next to the icon indicating estimates of mass, acceleration, and bearing. A red fog filled a roughly spherical area indicating likely future positions of their opponent. A yellow fog filled the area indicating where it could possibly reach, given what they knew about the ship.
At Li’s left, the nav repeater was set for holocom and showed Coll, down in Nav, overseeing Small’s work on the navigation and tactical system. The Jin Long was only armed as an anti-piracy measure and did not have a dedicated tactical station. Navigation would have to serve that purpose.
At Li’s right, the engineering repeater displayed a schematic of the ship in green. Battle damage that they had not had time or facilities to completely repair glowed in yellow, as did the starboard wormhole trap with its fuel-eating flutter.
“Brenda,” Li said, “Tell me again about these second claws.”
“They’re similar to our own pirate chaser craft. Very long-legged, but they trade armament for that. If they’re the generation I think they are, they’ve got three phased tunnel cannon turrets to our one, but we outrange them, maybe ten percent.” Coll tapped on her keyboard and in the main holotank in front of Li, two spheres appeared around the opposing ship’s icon, one representing the Second Fang’s expected tunnel cannon range, another representing the Jin Long’s.
“So, we can hit them from beyond their range?”
“We can, but they’ve got missiles which we don’t have. Probably a quad- or an oct- fixed mount. The missiles outrange our tunnel cannon by about two to one.” A third sphere appeared around the Second Fang.”
“Who’s on our cannon?”
“Ephraimsen. He’s done the best on sims.”
“I know, but that’s the best we’ve got.”
“Remind me when we get back to port to hire at least one former gunner’s mate for the crew.”
“Yes, sir,” Coll grinned. “I’ll remind you…again.” She looked down at Small’s display, then looked back up. “We’re closing to his missile range. Two minutes.”
Li nodded then thumbed the communicator switch. “Engineering, Li.”
“Engineering, Skipper. Orders?”
“We’re about to start maneuvering. Keep the limiter on our top pseudo-speed from down there. I don’t want to have to think about it while I’m trying to maneuver so keep the lid on until I give orders otherwise.”
Li switched back to Coll.
“What do you think, Linda,” Coll was saying as the holo came back to life. “Single shots or will they flush the tubes?”
“Single…missile inbound. Single round.”
Coll turned, her hand reaching out for her own communicator. She stopped when she saw that it was already active. “Incoming, Skipper.”
“Tunnel cannon on defensive fire,” Li said. “Your discretion, Brenda.”
Li gestured, drawing with his fingers in the holotank. While he tapped commands into a keyboard with his right hand, his left sketched out a course that would keep the Jin Long outside the Second Claw’s tunnel cannon range, remaining just inside missile range. If he could encourage them to fire off their missiles at extreme range…
A second missile icon erupted, then a third.
A fourth appeared just as the first winked out.
“Good shooting, Guns!” Coll said from navigation. “Now if we can just.. ”
The starboard wormhole trap in the engineering schematic flashed red. The holo tank blurred then redrew dizzily as the Jin Long’s pseudo-speed dropped.
“Oh, shit,” Li whispered.
Li noted with satisfaction another icon on the engineering schematic. Engineering had responded to the failure of the starboard wormhole by dropping the limits he had ordered placed on the drive. Initiative. And the right call despite his earlier orders. He had available all the pseudospeed the remaining wormhole trap could provide. The ship was almost as fast with a single trap as with both. Almost. She just burned through fuel to do it.
“Guns, drop those missiles now,” Coll said, anticipating Li’s order. “Skipper, I think I’d better get to damage control.”
“Agreed.” Li’s right hand beat a staccato pattern on the controls while his left drew a new course into the holo tank, trying to delay the now inevitable moment when they would enter the Second Claw’s tunnel cannon range.
“Small,” Coll said, “Tac is yours.”
Two more of the missile traces vanished from the display. “Ephraimsen,” Li whispered, “if you keep shooting like that, I’ll restore every centicred of your pay, and throw in half of mine.”
Two more missile traces appeared, replacing the two Ephraimsen had shot down, just as the Jin Long crossed the line indicating that the oncoming Second Claw was within the Jin Long’s tunnel cannon range.
Li reached for the communicator to remind Ephraimsen to stay on the missiles, leave the second claw alone for now, but saw there was no need. One missile icon winked out, then another. A moment later and they were within the other ship’s tunnel cannon range.
A terajoule of energy burst past the Jin Long, close, but not close enough to damage her. The ship trembled as it passed through the tunnel cannon’s wake in wormhole space. One of the oncoming missiles in passing through that wake veered off course while Ephraimsen’s gunnery accounted for another. The sixth arrowed in and Li overrode the computer-generated course, pivoting the Jin Long through a sharp angle and driving the Jin Long at the fastest pseudospeed her damaged drives could achieve.
The maneuver was not enough. The missile detonated, the detuned particle generator in its warhead erupting in more power than should be possible in so small a package. The Jin Long’s realspace intersection clipped the effect zone of the missile’s warhead, dragging superhot plasma with it into wormhole space. Yellow and red spattered over the engineering schematic at Li’s right.
“Coll,” Li said into the communicator, “status?”
“Multiple hull breaches,” Coll said. “External comms down. Fuel seven streaming to space. Remaining wormhole trap good. Tunnel cannon good. We can still fight and maneuver, Skipper.”
“All right,” Li said. The holo display showed no more missiles. “Ephraimsen. Hit that ship with everything you’ve got.”
“On it, Skipper.”
Li pivoted the ship again, trying to keep the already damaged fuel tankage turned toward the oncoming Second Claw while still giving Ephraimsen a field of fire.
More red blossomed on the ship schematic. An angry red boil marked navigation and the holo display winked out.
“Dammit,” Coll said. “Johnson, get the secondary nav up now!”
“Captain,” Ephraimsen’s voice broke into the comm. “If you can hold her steady, I’ve still got the gun’s sensors. I’ve got a shot.”
“Do it,” Li said and locked pseudospeed and bearing. The ship trembled under the outgoing wake of Ephraimsen’s fire.
More red blemishes appeared in the display. Fuel three. Crew quarters. Officer’s Mess. But the remaining wormhole trap, and the tunnel cannon, remained green.
The holo flickered to life, resolution down from normal but functional.
“Captain, we’ve got secondary nav up. You should have a display.”
“Got it, Brenda,” Li said. “Any word on primary nav?”
“Not yet. I’ve got a crew cutting through now. The shot to crew quarters got Hitchens and Blake. Small’s status is unknown.”
“Understood,” Li said, “Ephraimsen. You good?”
“Still here, Skipper. I read increasing range to target.”
Li read the icons in the holo tank. The Second Claw was falling behind. “Confirmed, Ephraimsen. I’m going to try to keep us at extreme range. Keep shooting.”
“You’ve got it, Skipper.”
Somehow, Ephraimsen had managed to do enough damage that the Second Claw could not keep pace with the Jin Long. Even with the Second Claw’s greater weight of gunnery, the accuracy Ephraimsen and the Jin Long’s computers had shown gave the Jin Long the edge in a long-range duel. So long as Li could keep it at long range, it was just a matter of time.
Li set the parameters he wanted into the computer and sat back to observe.
“Just breaking into Nav now, Skipper and…damn.”
“We lost Small. Looks like debris from the hit tore open her suit.”
“Any other casualties?” Li asked softly.
“Hitchins, Blake, and now Small dead. Aside from that, minor bumps and bruises.”
Li pressed his lips into a thin line and shook his head. Space combat was like that. Wounds were rare. A hit either killed you outright or left you with no worse than a shaking.
Behind them the Second Claw continued to limp after them, slowing perceptibly as Ephraimsen hammered at it with the tunnel cannon.
Form follows function, Tanaka thought as he watched the giant bulldozer crushing trees in the Jakakalat game preserve. The control cabin fit Eres rather than human shapes and a free-radical fuel cell rather than burning hydrocarbons powered the engines but the basic design would not have been out of place five centuries before on Earth.
The heat and the rising humidity, had passed uncomfortable and were racing toward oppressive. To the west, clouds loomed, heralding the approach of a storm that meteorology claimed would not arrive for several hours yet.
Standing on the top of his floatcar, Tanaka winced as another stand of timber fell to the dozer’s twenty-meter wide blade. In another part of the former park, construction crews were erecting blocks of temporary housing. The Eres were converting this park, which had been wild lands since before Humans had tamed fire, into a giant refugee camp. Considering the religious reverence with which Eres treated hunting, and hunting spaces, they must be feeling a great deal of pressure.
The other explanation, proposed by bureaucrats back on Earth, was that the Eres were preparing another Great Hunt against which this park was a small price indeed. That explanation did not feel right to Tanaka.
He turned at the sound of another floatcar’s approach.
Sheshak stepped out of the floatcar. “I greet you, Tanaka Captain,”
“I greet you, Lesser Stalker,” Tanaka replied in return. “You picked a strange place to meet.”
“I know.” Sheshak gazed at the destruction of the park for a moment. “I wanted one last look at this place before it was completely gone. Many siril fell to my claws here when I was young.”
“It’s a sad day,” Tanaka said.
“Sad indeed. But the times are the times.”
Tanaka hopped off the floatcar, landing lightly on the forest loam that released a scent reminiscent of roses of all things as his feet struck the soil. “I asked to meet because I got an answer from my government.”
“They have answered our proposal?”
Tanaka nodded. “There was great concern. You offered too much, too fast, leading a lot of people to look for the trap.”
Sheshak touched his tongue to the upper teeth. “’When the tunok reveals himself to your blade, look for the mate to lie hidden.’”
“Exactly. In the end though, they agreed.”
“I am glad. It is past time we ended the conflict between our people. As I come to know you I see the attraction of the Jekat, the ‘not-prey’ sect.” He swept one arm outward, taking in the park and its destroyers. “Would you watch with me a while, and weep for the loss of this place?”
“Of course, Lesser Stalker,” Tanaka said. “And I’m honored that you ask.”
“I fear that many more such places will soon be lost.” Even the vocoder conveyed sadness in the tone. “And there will be no one to properly mourn them.”
President of the Terran Confederation, Hukmi Bhatti looked across his desktop screen to his visitor. “What do you make of this latest report, Tom?”
Thomas Little Bear, Terran Minister of Defense leaned forward in his chair. “Sixty percent drop in contacts along the border; Evidence of extensive ship repairs at Chakentak. No report yet on what those repairs might be but about the only thing that can put that many ships into the docks without prior warning is battle damage. Add in that the Eres are tearing up major game preserves to build low cost housing for thousands of refugees. I think we’re looking at a civil war.”
“That’s not supposed to be possible. The Eres pack structure…”
“Lots of things aren’t supposed to be possible. Eres weren’t supposed to be able to see other species as anything other than competing predators or prey. But here we are.”
“Civil war, huh.” Bhatti leaned back and chewed on his index finger—a nervous habit he had never been able to break. “I’m glad you brought this to me privately. I can’t say I’m unhappy about anything weakening the Eres, not after the last war, but…” He stood up and walked to the balcony. A plassteel dome provided security but the balcony provided the illusion of openness as he looked out over the city.
Bhatti leaned against the railing. Only a few floatcars were visible in the streets below at this time of night. The various offices of government, such as there were, had closed hours ago but the business of government continued behind closed doors. “Too many politicians would welcome an Eres civil war for exactly the wrong reasons.” He sighed and turned back toward the office, leaning against the railing, his shoulders just brushing the plassteel dome. “You fought them in the war. What do you think?”
“About what, Mr. President?”
“Civil war. Are they really capable of it?”
Little Bear drew a deep breath and blew it out, puffing his cheeks. “Last war they finally stopped having ‘honor hunts’ with prisoners…mostly. And as best we can tell, they’ve stopped such hunts of sophonts within their borders…mostly. If they can amend such a deeply seated imperative, what else can they amend? Hell, maybe the two are connected.”
“They are driven to hunt in a way humans are not. If they’re suppressing that hunting instinct when it comes to us, maybe they’re turning it on each other.”
“So, we could be looking at a breakdown of Eres society, all caused because we got them to stop hunting us?”
“Could be. Or maybe not. We’re speculating in the dark here.”
Bhatti nodded. “How long can you keep this private?”
“Not long. A couple of weeks at most.”
Bhatti nodded. “Keep it private as long as you can. In the meantime…”
The silence dragged for several seconds before Little Bear said, “In the meantime?”
“We need more information. Have some deep recon ships tasked with penetrating Eres space.”
“Hukmi? That’s a blatant treaty violation.”
“Yes. Yes, it is. But we have to know what’s going on before we go public with this.”
“That will be all, Tom.”
Little Bear nodded, stood, and turned to the office door. “You sure about this, Mr. President?”
“We’ve had three Eres wars so far,” Bhatti said. “I don’t want to be the president that led us into another one. Some folk would use this as an excuse to do just that. While they’re fighting among themselves…”
“Understood, Mr. President.”
“I need to know what’s really going on over there.”
“We’ll find out for you, sir.” He nodded and left.
Bhatti turned back to the view from the balcony. The Eres had been opponents for much of the past three centuries but they had always been constant. If they were fighting a civil war, if they could fight a civil war, then that constancy was gone. He did not know what that meant for the future, but it was unlikely to be good.
“Look, Doug, you know the rules.” Li Zhang, owner and commander of the free trader Jin Long leaned back in his chair and looked past lowered lids at Doug Ephraimsen, one of the ship’s maintenance crew.
Ephraimsen stood slouched in front of Li’s desk, his hands clasped in front of him and his head bowed. “Skipper, I…”
“Moderate drinking is permitted off duty,” Li leaned forward and tapped one finger in the center of his desk. “Falling down drunk in the messroom is not.”
The desk, and the small office in which it stood, was the one luxury Li allowed himself aboard ship, and that was a luxury with a purpose. His sleeping quarters were no larger than any other crewperson’s, but the job of running the ship, of arranging cargos, of dealing with customs and tariffs, of managing fuel and other expenses, all required workspace and could not be done in his bunk. And dealing with crew discipline problems required privacy.
“Yes, sir,” Ephraimsen said. “I understand, but…”
“But I didn’t order a BAC test, is that it?”
“No, I didn’t. But is there any doubt what one would have shown?”
Ephraimsen slumped farther. “No, sir. Guess not.”
“Since I didn’t,” Li said, “I don’t have to charge you with drunkenness. That means we don’t put you ashore at the next port. Considering that we’re deep in Eres space and our next stop is the Eres colony Chiktaka, I would think you would thank me.”
Ephraimsen looked up, meeting Li’s eyes for the first time since Li had called him into the office. “Sir…thank you.”
Li nodded. “That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. We still have disruptive conduct. For that, I’m docking you two week’s pay. In addition, you are forbidden to drink alcohol during the rest of the voyage. Are we clear on that?”
“Yes, sir.” Ephraimsen nodded. “No drinking. Two weeks’ pay.”
“Cheer up,” Li said. “With this cargo the bonus will be enough to more than make up the pay. Stay dry. Stay clean. And you can finish your contract with a clean record.” He stood up. “Break my rules again, however, and…”
“No, sir. You can count on me, sir.”
“Good.” Li held out a hand. After a moment’s hesitation Ephraimsen took it. “Back to work. Dismissed.”
After Ephraimsen had left, Li turned his attention to the other occupant of the room. “Well, Brenda, what do you think?”
Brenda Coll, engineering officer and first mate on the Jin Long snorted. “You’re getting soft in your old age, Zhang.”
“He’s young. First offense. I think he’ll make a fine crewman once he settles in and learns that the rules are there for a reason and I expect them to be obeyed.”
“Like I said, you’re getting soft.”
Li’s lips twitched in the hint of a smile and then his expression turned serious. “That aside, I’m a bit concerned about your latest engineering report.” He pointed with an open hand at one of the wall seats before lowering himself into his own chair.
Coll folded a seat out of the wall and sat. “Thought you might be. We’ve picked up a flutter in the starboard wormhole trap.” She held up both hands. “It’s not critical, not even dangerous, nor is it likely to become so, but it is increasing our fuel expenditure.”
“Four percent,” Coll said. “We should be okay but that cuts into our reserve more than I like. I recommend we refuel before returning home.”
“That means paying Eres prices for fuel.”
Coll nodded. “Better than paying for a tanker to come get us.”
“Agreed. Anything else?”
“One of the water recyclers is down. I recommend a first level water restriction until we get it fixed.”
The communicator next to Li’s bed chimed. He wiped sleep out of his eyes with his right hand while pressing the comm switch with his left. “Li. What’s up?”
“We’re passing the Chiktaka outer beacons, Skipper,” Linda Small said from the bridge. “You wanted to be called.”
“Thank you. I’ll be up shortly.”
First level water restriction meant no shower, so Li wiped down with an anti-bacterial cloth before dressing. Less than five minutes passed before he entered the bridge.
The bridge was small, no more than five square meters of floor space. A holotank occupied one wall, currently displaying their approach to the Chiktaka system. To the left and right, consoles containing engineering and navigation repeaters stood convenient to the ship’s watch officer, a role Small currently filled.
Linda Small sat back in the watch seat. Although people still said one “stood” watch, procedure was to be seated and strapped in during watch. Even from behind, Li could see that her gaze was intent on the holotank and the ever-changing numbers that floated next to each of the various icons within it.
Small was of average size, about 168 centimeters tall, and 60 kilograms. She kept her dark brown hair short in a style that feathered back from her face in a wedge shape. She had olive skin and tended to favor dark colors in her dress, like the black pants and dark gray tunic she currently wore.
Coll, the only other occupant of the room, stood close behind Small. She looked back at Li. “Just in time, Skipper. We’ll be dropping sublight soon.”
Li nodded. “Report?”
“Wormhole density is falling off as we near Chiktaka’s primary. Standard falloff rate for this class star. We’ve reduced pseudospeed to maintain fuel efficiency.”
Small had been with the crew for about a year, working nav, a steady, competent worker. Coll had recently started putting her on bridge watch.
“Standard profile. Standard approach,” Coll said softly.
“Standard profile. Standard approach, sir.” Small said with exaggerated confidence.
“Thank you,” Li stepped closer and looked up into the tank. His practiced gaze took in the readings and confirmed Small’s report. “Time to sublight?”
Small looked up, glanced at the nav repeater to her side and said, “Coming up on the mark…now.”
As always, there was no discernable change as their pseudospeed dropped below the speed of light. Some people claimed to be able to feel the transition. Li thought those people were deluding themselves.
“Hail the nearest comm repeater,” Li said. “Let them know we’re here.”
“Yes, sir.” Small spoke softly into the microphone at her seat.
“Recorded message back from the repeater,” Small said. “We’re to proceed straight in to Chiktaka. We’ll be hailed as we approach the planet.”
Coll looked down as Small then back to Li. “That’s…different.”
Li agreed. Previous ventures into Eres space always had control directing them to a specific approach vector and warning that a customs boat would meet them. He sighed. “Well. Whatever’s going on, those are our instructions. Make it so, Ms. Small.”
Starships do not run on Helium three, Li thought, but on paper, or rather its electronic analog. At least the three hours he’d spent in his office had allowed him to finish the various forms he would need on arrival at Chiktaka, including fuel usage reports, a note on the wormhole trap flutter and the effect it had on fuel use, pingback readings from various navigational beacons along their route, all to show that they had not deviated from their flight plan.
The Eres did not want outsiders wandering. The headaches were why most small traders preferred not to deal in Eres space.
The comm on his desk pinged.
“Li,” he said.
“Coll, Skipper. We still haven’t heard anything from Chiktaka since the recorded message. I’m getting a bit concerned.”
Li glanced up at the chrono. “I can see why. Any explanations?”
“I kind of pointed our sensors insystem.”
“Uh, Brenda, Eres policy? You want to bring a Lesser Claw down on our heads?”
“Passives only, I swear. The primary shows signs of recent flare activity which could have affected in system comms but…look, could you switch on your office holo and let me slave it.”
Li tapped a few keys on the computer console built into his desk and the front half of his office filled with a holographic display.
“That’s a lot of traffic,” Li said as he read the various icons. “More than I’d expect from what I know about Chiktaka.”
“More than that,” Coll said. “Let me put up the extracted course data.”
Coll had served as an engineer in the Terran fleet during the last war but had experience as a Tac officer as well. She knew how to squeeze information out of a ship’s sensors.
Lines extruded from the icons representing ships. More than half of those ships were headed outsystem, not just outsystem, but…
“They’re heading our way.”
“Not exactly,” Coll said, “but contra-parallel to our course. Now look as I project forward…”
The icons moved; the seemingly random positions and speeds coalesced into a clear formation by the time they reached…
“They’ll have us surrounded.”
“Yes, sir.” Coll paused. “Skipper, maybe I’m overreacting, but may I suggest we get the hell out of Dodge?”
“Thank you, Brenda. I think you’re right.”
Li tapped on the comm unit. “Bridge, Li.”
“Bridge here, Small speaking.”
“Bridge, I want a reciprocal course now. Maximum speed we can maintain at this wormhole density.”
“Skipper, Eres traffic regs state…”
“They can fine me. We are leaving.”
Li sighed. “Linda, either something very bad happened here or we just dropped into the opening of a fourth Eres war. Either way, our first priority is to get home. Clear.”
“Clear, Skipper. Um, do you want to take the con?”
“I’ll be there shortly. I want to consult with engineering first.”
Ndereba’s, located just off the main shuttle station in Jakakalat, the capital city of Chakentak, served the cuisine of a dozen worlds with an emphasis on the food of sub-Saharan Africa. As one of the few restaurants run by offworlders, this made it popular with visitors to the Eres homeworld.
Tanaka sat at a booth near the entrance sipping an iced tea. The privacy screen, another of the features that made Ndereba’s popular, was currently turned off.
“Hey, Captain Tanaka.”
Tanaka looked up. The large figure of Captain Bill Jeffers loomed in the midnight blue of the Terran Space Fleet; the wide grin that Tanaka thought was a permanent feature splitting his face.
“You forget how to read rank insignia?” Tanaka wiggled his wrist, flashing the braid of a Commander.
“We got the list before coming out. It’s early yet, but you made it. Congratulations.”
Tanaka smiled and waved at the seat across from him. “Join me?”
“I’d love to, but I’m meeting the Captain of the Cuyahoga. It’s been more than a year since we last had a chance to talk.”
Tanaka laughed. “Talk, is it? Just because I was a year behind you at the academy doesn’t mean I didn’t know what was going on. Yes, I know who’s got the Cuyahoga.”
Jeffers’ laugh matched his grin, big and loud.
“Seriously, have a seat. You can give me the news from home before she gets here, and you get caught up in your…talk.”
“I’ll have you know that the bar just received a shipment of Earth stock bourbon.”
Jeffers dropped into the seat opposite Tanaka with an audible thump. “You’ve talked me into it.”
Tanaka grinned and thumbed the booth’s privacy screen active. At the same time, he activated the portable unit at his belt.
The smile on Jeffers face faded a fraction. “What’s up? I really do have a date with Elaine, so…”
“You did a border sweep before coming here. Anything odd on that?”
“Only if you count boring as odd,” Jeffers said. “We didn’t even ping any Eres ships.”
Jeffers shook his head. “Not a one. That mean something?”
“You’re about the fifth ship that reported that in the last month. One, maybe two, without any Eres contact would be normal, but five? Either the Eres are concealing themselves from routine scans in that area or…”
“Or they’re not there. And if they’re not there, they’re somewhere else.”
“Then the other half of my report might make more sense.”
Tanaka tilted his head and waited.
“On the way in, we ran a full passive scan. Every single repair or construction dock in view is occupied. Every single one. And it’s not new construction, it’s repairs. There’s also some new base construction in the outer reaches of the system. They may have thought it was beyond our detection range, but my sensor tech is good. It looks like they’re building new docks, a lot of new docks.”
“What do you think it means?” Tanaka had his own ideas but wanted to hear Jeffers’ thoughts.
“I think that we’ve fought these guys three times. It looks like it’s somebody else’s turn. I do not want to do it again.”
Tanaka laughed. “That’s a good point, a very good point indeed.”
“How much longer?” Li shouted over the sound of the welder. The temporary patch was holding, and air had been restored to this part of the ship. Once they had the plate welded into place they’d be secure again.
“Another ten minutes, Skipper,” Tom Jeardine, the engineering second shouted back. “We won’t be factory spec, but she’ll hold against anything but another direct hit.”
“It’ll have to do,” Li said. “Good job.”
He paused then said, “Bridge, Li here.” The communicator clipped to the collar of his tunic immediately connected him to the ship’s bridge.
“Li, Coll. Go ahead.”
“How are we doing up there? Still keeping ahead of our shadow?”
“Yes, sir,” Coll said. “But we can’t keep up this pace for much longer. Fuel use…”
“I’m aware of that, Bridge. We’ll take ten more minutes to repair battle damage, then bring us around. This time let’s take the fight to them.”
Coll’s warning, and Li’s order to flee, had almost been in time. Most of the ships that had been attempting to englobe them had fallen behind as the Jin Long went to maximum speed. Two of them, however, had held on. Coll had identified them as the Mark VI edition of the Eres Second Claw class ship. While they couldn’t quite match the Jin Long’s top speed, they had longer legs.
With fuel already depleted, the Jin Long did not quite have the speed to get out of sensor range before she would run low on fuel and have to slow anyway. Li had kept their speed a bit slower than the Second Claws’, allowing them to slowly catch up.
One of the two had sprinted ahead of the other and opened fire with tunnel cannon. In a brief engagement the Jin Long had managed to damage the drive of that ship, forcing it to drop away. Li had ordered the Jin Long to accelerate, still not at her fastest possible speed, but enough to pull away from its single remaining pursuer.
“Listen, Brenda,” Li said. “I’ve given some thought to your suggestion.”
“That they’re not Eres over there?”
“Either that or they’re first year cadets or something. Letting us catch one of them alone was stupid.”
“Book taught,” Coll said. “They’re good at prepared maneuvers like that englobing attempt but not at making decisions on the fly.”
“We can’t escape this guy by running. Our only choice is to fight. He outguns us quite a bit, but if he fights stupid like the other one…can we take him?”
“Like you said, Skipper; it’s our only choice. We’ll take him.”
The most dangerous post in the fleet was military liaison for the Terran Embassy to the Eres. Humans used food and drink to smooth negotiations. The Eres used hunting. The more important the topic, the more dangerous the prey and the more primitive the arms they would use to take that prey.
Sweat tickled the end of Commander Nobuta Tanaka’s nose. He would much rather discuss the proposed treaty over tea and pastries, or in deference to the Eres, tea and steak. But they had to do it the Eres way. At his side, Sheshak, Tanaka’s host, stooped to examine the pile of dung left in the trail beaten down in the waist high pseudo-grass.
A kashek, Sheshak had called the beast they sought. An herbivore, to be sure, but an herbivore the size of a Terran white rhino, combining the worst elements of wild boar and Cape buffalo. To slay the beast, Tanaka carried a spear. A fifteen-centimeter crosspiece was bound to the shaft with sinew half a meter behind the chipped obsidian point. As protection, he wore nothing but sandals, a pair of neocotton shorts, and a light coating of sunscreen.
At least during the war, he had had a destroyer surrounding him when he faced an Eres hunter-killer fleet.
Hunting preserves covered fully half of Chakentak, the Eres homeworld. The Eres kept them pristine for their various ritual hunts. This region, in the equatorial area, most closely resembled the savannah of Africa. The leaves were more blue than green, the sky more purple than blue, and the sun a harsh white dazzle in the sky with no hint of Sol’s friendly yellow.
Sheshak served as Lesser Stalker to the Great Pack Leader, a position combining duties of a Deputy Minister of State and of Defense. He set off at a slow trot, following the trail of flattened grasses. Tanaka followed in his wake, grateful for the muscle booster treatments, much safer than an earlier generation’s steroids, that allowed him to keep up in the heavier gravity of Chakentak.
In moments of dark humor, Tanaka thought the Eres resembled nothing so much as a cross between a small Tyrannosaurus Rex and an ostrich.
Stalker Sheshak was large even for an Eres, standing two and a half meters from the top of his head to the ground. A truly lipless mouth split the ovoid head, forever baring triangular teeth in a mirthless grin. A sinuous, half-meter-long neck connected that head with its powerful jaws to the bulbous forward-leaning body and its short arms and thick, stubby tail, perched on legs with backward pointing knees and heavy, clawed feet.
They had been following the kashek since picking up its trail shortly after the rising of Chakentak’s F5 sun. Tanaka had spotted droppings that smelled like boiling cabbage. Sheshak pointed out three-toed prints spanning half a meter each in the muddy ground near a small spring. Tanaka noted furrows where the kashek had used its tusks to root for edible tubers, furrows as neat as any autocultivator could make. In its passing, the kashek flattened bushes and tore strips of bark from the occasional small tree.
The sign became fresher as the sun passed zenith. They were getting closer.
At a small stand of brush, Sheshak stopped and made several gestures in the Eres hunter’s sign language. Tanaka ostentatiously touched tongue to upper teeth in the Eres gesture of agreement.
Sheshak drew a twenty-centimeter obsidian dagger from the belt supporting the Eres version of a loincloth and began to circle slowly to the right in an effort to get upwind of the prey and flush it toward Tanaka.
Tanaka licked his lips as he crouched in the stand of brush. The spear seemed feeble indeed against a three-ton monster. Even that was more than Sheshak would have if the kashek chose to charge into the Eres’ scent rather than fleeing it.
Some minutes later the sound of a large body pushing through the brush told Tanaka that Sheshak’s ploy had succeeded. A few seconds more and the beast hove into view.
Tanaka lunged from his place of concealment, driving the spear ahead of him and into the flank of the kashek. The razor-sharp point bit deep and Tanaka continued to drive it forward until the crosspiece slapped against the beast’s side.
The kashek howled, a surprisingly high-pitched sound from such a large animal and twisted its stubby neck to reach the pain in its side. In so doing it spotted Tanaka. The spear nearly jerked out of Tanaka’s hand as the kashek charged. The spear point continued to tear the monster’s insides. The kashek was effectively dead, but that did not mean it could not kill Tanaka in the process of its dying.
Clinging to the spear shaft, Tanaka skipped backward at almost a dead run. Were he to lose his grip on the spear or make one misstep, he could be trampled under the beast’s feet, gored on its horns, or gutted by its tusks—so many ways to die.
Almost as the thought crossed his mind a root caught Tanaka’s ankle, dumping him to the ground. Somehow he clung to the spear as the kashek’s attempts to reach him shoved him along the ground. Pain lanced through his back as rocks and branches tore at his flesh.
Unable to regain his feet, Tanaka had just wrapped his legs around the spear when Sheshak appeared and leaped on the beast’s back. Sheshak’s clawed feet dug into the kashek’s sides, anchoring him in place. His powerful jaws gripped the back of the kashek’s neck while he drove the obsidian dagger over and over into the beast’s throat.
The kashek bucked in rage at the new torment, finally jerking the spear from Tanaka’s grasp. Tanaka rolled to his feet and backed slowly way from the weakening kashek.
The kashek sank to the ground and shuddered in the final weakness before death took it. Sheshak stood, blue-black blood dripping from his jaws. Sheshak drew the spear, its shaft now shattered, from the still quivering beast and drove it one more time into the kashek’s side. The kashek shuddered a final spasm and then was still.
Sheshak turned to Tanaka. “Your people have asked for a drawdown of forces along the border.” The stilted Terranglo came from a vocoder implanted in Sheshak’s jaw. “We will reduce our forces there by eighty percent. For verification, you may place an observer, a proven hunter, at each of our bases within fifteen of your parsecs of the agreed border and on each of our ships of third fang class or heavier serving in that region.”
Tanaka stared at Sheshak in shock. He had just preempted what was to be Tanaka’s own opening bid in the negotiations. “I will have to check with my government,” he said, “but I think they will agree.”
Sheshak jerked the spear from the now dead kashek and held it out to Tanaka. “Good.”
Something was very wrong, Tanaka thought as he took the spear. Something was very wrong indeed.
Since Eres hospitals were not equipped to handle humans, the Terran embassy had its own infirmary, capable of handling most minor illnesses and injuries. More serious cases, they stabilized then transferred to one of the Terran naval ships usually found showing the flag at the Eres capital.
Tanaka lay face down on a bed in one of the infirmary’s rooms. Pain killers had numbed his back so that only a hint of discomfort remained, enough to remind him to be careful of his injuries while regen stimulators did their work. A couple of days would suffice to heal the wounds from his brush with the kashek and within a week even the scars would fade. In the meantime, the doctor had told him to rest. Here. In this room painted in Institutional Green.
With a slight hiss, ventilator fans drew in outside air, partially suppressing the smell of antiseptics. Tanaka only wished the sound would drown out the room’s other occupant.
“Are you listening to me, Tanaka?”
Tanaka turned his head to face the other person in the room. Clad in a color Tanaka knew as Anthracite Gray, Bryon Andersen, the nominal Ambassador to the Eres, frowned down at him. “Do you expect me to believe this?”
Tanaka frowned in turn but could not invoke the energy to get angry. “Do you think I’m lying?”
“No.” Andersen sighed then sat in the chair next to Tanaka’s bed. “No, it’s just completely unlike them. They never agree to terms so quickly. Never.”
Half an hour. It had taken half an hour of ranting before Andersen had reached this point. At least the regen stims had left Tanaka too drained to be tempted to throttle the Ambassador.
“It was a good hunt,” Tanaka said.
“Even if it were the greatest hunt in the history of the Eres, they wouldn’t agree so quickly, or so thoroughly. No. There’s something else going on.”
With great effort, Tanaka turned on his side to face Andersen. “Agreed. The question is what? And since they’re offering everything we asked for, can we really say ‘no’?”
“I want to,” Andersen said. “I really, really want to. This deal smells to high heaven of a trap but…”
“Pass it up the chain. It’s above my pay grade.”
“’Above my pay grade.’” Andersen grinned. “I like that.”
Andersen stood and smoothed down the front of his gray formal tunic. “You just get well soon. Out there, you might be able to find out what’s behind the Eres’ most generous offer. In here, that’s not going to happen.”
Sheshak, Lesser Stalker to the Great Pack Leader, tilted his head back in the traditional Eres gesture of obeisance. “Great Pack Leader, I bare the throat.”
From behind the computer workstation where he carried out the business of State, Krashnark, Great Pack Leader of All the Eres, raised one hand in greeting. “Peace, Sheshak. This is no formal hearing.”
“As you will, Pack Leader,” Sheshak said. His gaze flicked to the left where Greater Stalker Stakak, Sheshak’s nominal superior, stood stiffly, his hands clasped before him, his tail braced against the floor and supporting part of his weight—an informal-formal posture similar in intent to the Terran military’s “Parade Rest.”
The office was stark, even by Eres standards: Krashnark’s workstation, a few comconsoles, a kiton wood table for larger meetings, and a bare handful of trophies commemorating a few of Krashnark’s successful hunts. Most notable of the trophies was a Thisok tooth from Krashnark’s Greater Thisok Hunt. Krashnark had taken that tooth from the Thisok, using no more than a bone dagger, while the beast was still alive. After the hunt the Thisok had been released into the wild, to hunt, and be hunted again.
“The hunt went well?”
“The hunt went well,” Sheshak confirmed. “The beast was dead on its feet when I fell upon it. Honor to the Terran Tanaka.”
“You overleap,” Stakak said. “It is not your place to grant honor to Terrans.”
“As do you, Greater Stalker,” Krashnark said. “If one in my presence is to be called to bay, I shall do it, not you.”
Stakak tilted his head back, “I bare the throat.”
Krashnark flicked his tongue over his teeth. “This is not the time to fight among ourselves. Stakak, you are a great hunter and have earned your place here. No one questions this. But Sheshak knows Terrans like no one else. He knew them as predator and prey in the Great Hunt, and he knows them as…not prey, now.”
Stakak’s head swiveled to face Sheshak. “I did not know you are of that sect.”
“I am not, or, not exactly,” Sheshak admitted. “They have given me much to think on since the Great Hunt.”
“Much to think on? They are weaklings who forget what it is to be Eres.”
Krashnark slapped a claw on the table. “Peace!”
“I bare the throat,” both Sheshak and Stakak said.
“Better,” Krashnark said. “I am your pack leader. Unless you are ready to challenge me, you will heed my words.”
Again, two voices spoke as one. “I bare the throat.”
“Good.” Krashnark stepped away from his workstation and circled his desk to stand before Sheshak. “I need to know, will the Terrans agree to our request.”
Sheshak hissed softly in Eres laughter. “Oh, they will agree. They will debate and seek the trap in the request, but they will agree because what we ask them is what they wish to ask us.”
“But will they act as they have agreed?” Stakak asked.
“They will. They will reduce their forces on the border if we show them that we are reducing ours.”
Krashnark tapped his teeth together in thought. “That is good. That is very good. Is there anything we can do to encourage them to haste?”
“Speak, Lesser Stalker,” Krashnark said.
“If we could begin to reduce our forces, even before they agree, they will hasten to show that they, too, desire peace between us.”
“Nonsense!” Stakak said. “They are predators, as are we. If we show weakness to them, they will fall upon us like a thisok on a wounded gliktar.”
“They will not, at least not soon,” Sheshak said. “They are predators of a sort, that much is true, but they are…a strange kind of predator that feels compassion for the prey.”
“And I pray to our ancestors that you are right, Lesser Stalker,” Krashnark said, “for we must pull back those ships regardless.”
Even since finding my “inner Goth” I’ve been looking into getting involved in the Goth Scene. As I described elsewhere, when I first started looking I could only find one event, a “Goth night” in Broadripple (a neighborhood in Indianapolis with a cluster of entertainment establishments including clubs, bars, and restaurants). This Goth Night was on Thursday nights and…well, at my age an “all nighter” when I have work the next day isn’t a challenge, it’s a mistake. As the years creep up, you really start to appreciate a full night’s sleep.
For a long time I stopped looking in large part because I was married to someone who just plain did not understand. I don’t intend to go into that here–nobody needs the blow-by-blow down-and-dirty on that–but that’s only a small part of why I’m single now. So, I started looking again and this is one of the two events–both on Saturdays–I found going on in the Indianapolis area.
Kept it short that first night. Stayed just under an hour. Wanted to leave while I was still having a good time and well before I “ran out of spoons“. I’d checked out the music of the performer they had scheduled and it was…different. Folk who’ve been following this blog (or search “Musical Interlude” in the search box to the right) know what I like This was decidedly different but interesting enough that I was willing to give it a chance. The music did grow on me as I listened at the event. I’ll be honest. It’s nothing I’d want a steady diet of, but it’s an interesting change of pace. All told and fantasies aside, I accomplished everything I set out to accomplish.
I was the most “dressed up” person there. It was billed as a “Goth night” and some people did sport a goth look. Others not so much. Again, I was the most “dressed up”: black dress shirt and tie. Black slacks. My boots (some of you have seen them at LibertyCon). The purple tail coat. A black top hat. And a walking stick with a large “glass” (actually acrylic plastic) knob on the end. Very “Victorian Goth”.
This is a pretty big step in my dressing up and I was a bit nervous to start–I mean, I liked the look and thought the outfit looked pretty good, but being in public… Remember “crippling social anxiety.” By the end of the time I was there, I was quite comfortable with it. To be honest, nobody really paid much attention, positive or negative. For a guy with the issues I have, this was a big plus.
It wasn’t a very large group there…enough to put me out of my comfort zone but not enough to send my social anxiety into screaming fits.
I did not get much of a “mingle and meet new people” vibe at this event. I could be wrong (see “doesn’t get social cues” once again) but from what I saw people were present in small clusters and I didn’t really see any crossing between the groups. While “exceeding my comfort zone” was one of my goals, trying to introduce myself into an established group where I don’t know anybody and may or may not be welcome was definitely a bridge too far. It was a dozen bridges too far. So “have a drink, listen to the music, and people watch”. Mission accomplished.
Beverage choice was limited. I had asked ahead of time and and so I knew that going in. I asked about a dry wine but the only ones they had to hand were sweet. I am aggressively low carb because I’m diabetic and trying to control as much with diet as possible. Every gram of digestible carbohydrate turns into sugar in my body and I have to crank out gallons of insulin before my body says “oh, we need to do something with this” (Type II–Insulin resistant).
The place is a brewery so of course their main emphasis is on beer. I was not going to do light beer–as “Fuzzy Pink Niven’s Law” put it, “Never waste calories” (I.e. don’t eat soggy potato chips and the like; if you’re going to imbibe calories, imbibe the good stuff). I tried a cider they had and figured if I sipped it slowly it probably wouldn’t spike my blood sugar too badly. It was tasty and I made the glass (guessing about 12 oz) last 40 minutes. And, indeed, when I got home just under an hour after I finished, my blood glucose was 117 so it looks like we’re okay.