VIN 16- Musky Smells

The thing about Musk is: he could be genuine. Or, equally, yet another flunkie. More or less, an Antichrist for the postdigital liberties movements, coming at a time most detrimental and damaging. Why? Simple: Elon Musk is of the age, position, and personality type to affect great change. Many have been. The difference is his field of play.

He’s a postdigital child.

Whether he realizes it, lives it, accepts it, even wants it or not, he is a perfect example of a multi-faceted, system-oriented thinker, in a position of true power in economic, global, scientific, and innovative communities.

He is the elite, and appears to be playing for Sense, if little else.

But to do what needs be done for Humanity, truly, requires setting events in motion that would eventually destroy his own legacy through his effects– even those he as an admitted digital-child, cannot begin to foresee.

The problem inherent in this issue inevitably becomes foreseeing one’s own legacy and its demise, committing regardless.

But it is no different than accepting one’s memory, like oneself, will die out. Will it have been worthy of living, as one’s life should be, thus becomes the sole question. At the heart of this, like most things, is the binary issue of selfishness or not. In combination: Human behavior further dictates one cannot always be counted on to check one’s own greed.

At the helm of a mega-corp, that greed, can be astronomical. Literally. Musk wishes to capture the minds of Humanity and point them at Mars, but whose priorities are these? Are they his: the man of new-blooded money new to a game and ready to change it? Or are they the Corporations’: age-old ideals of what can be, for the moment aligned because of potential greed.

Leaving Earth for Mars is not to be taken lightly. We cannot begin to expand, to Mars or elsewhere, if we’ve not yet finished our foundational building, here. Death among the stars is no less death. Attempting otherwise will forever alter our history, our so-termed destiny or fate. Therein history will cease to write of Humanity’s story and instead begin to write of its demise.

All from the loss of a crucial moment of opportunity and understanding. That moment, one of decades and seconds, generally sensed by our species, told that only by growing closer could we understand this Universe. It cannot be done by individuals alone. Science and history dictate as much. Are the products of it.

Therefore, it is imperative it be carried out by a, if not unified, symbiotic society. Preferably, one seeking to establish its legacy and secure itself as a force in the Universe– as any multi-cellular organism is driven to.

Corporations, though also multi-cellular, are not organisms. This is a common misconception both perpetuated and ignored by those involved in their workings. Mostly, from fear of recognition that the great evil– Corporations– are really only bureaucratic systems. Not societies. Their utter lack of feeling, empathy, or sympathy, makes them such.

It is not a failing. Rather, a byproduct of a system’s design. It is not a character flaw or a personality trait: however seemingly alive, it cannot feel. It cannot think. It can only run. In most cases, only run toward output of money.

To further muddy the image, evolution implied through long-term PR and Ad department schemes of re-branding have become akin to cell-regeneration. Beginning with single-cells and dividing, replicating, and successively revising their internal structure, Corporations like societies and organisms too, ultimately appear to be evolving.

However, they remain unliving. Their own actions well-documented by themselves but maintaining the ignorance through ritzy glamours that hide their every, hideous deformity. Each one only so grotesque as is made by oneself when allowing it to fester.

Yet these are systems.

Countless generations of growth-fracture cycles have formed them. Rhythmic, steady, but always producing errors, detrimental or not. Those anomalies, better known as Mutation, form the basis for all adaptation and survival of known organisms. The same can be seen in Corporate consolidation, Dark-horse industries and leaders, and flash in pan billion-dollar ideas.

But Corporations are not ruled by these rules: they imitate them.

A Corporation has no fixed head. No fixed owner. It exists to exist. Not because nature intended it, but because it was willed into power by (mostly) intelligent beings. Yet, there is no-one behind the curtain. Not even for those involved. Certainly, predecessors and successors have come and gone, but there is no “heir” to a corporation. Heirs may inherit corporations, but Corporations whom inherit requires intangibility to be otherwise.

Corporations are systems. Socio-economic thought-systems. Series of processes for doing business, as software running transactions in an OS: a system within a system, but one nonetheless.

Now wrapped up in the face of a postdigital child, whose inheritance neither exists nor does-not exist. Like many things of the time Musk’s as likely a product of as he is of hope. Worse, postdigital child or not, not one of us is incorruptible. Humans have demonstrated this time and again.

Humans live only within comfort zones, or surrounded by familiar things, or supportive out of habit. So deep does this fear of unknown corruption go, we’ve created whole spheres of public, private, and provincial health and governance laws. All of it to combat corruption we’ve termed– through rational dark ages– evil, hate, badness.

But many things of their time, like Evil and Musk himself, are the manifestations of simple realities incapable of being ignored. Regardless of best way, his may be little more than a flag to show communication on matters (his, chiefly,) are now open. After all, it is only from fear of loss that watchers cry out.

Musk’s opportunity here will make him a place in history. Even if, as a passing memory of Humanity’s folly. Whether from reverence or regret, there’s no telling. Not yet. All any watcher can do is remain vigilant, make their call, hope they’re heard so tragedy can be avoided.

But being a postdigital child myself, I’m neither holding my breath nor putting all my eggs in one basket. Especially in space, that feels prudent.

Short Story: Ar-Mur of Ganymede

Arthur “Ar-Mur” Martin was the angriest-looking Chimpanzee the Evolved had yet to produce. Like most species, Contact had forever altered Ar-Mur’s people. Mostly for the primates, it just pissed them off– after mutating them into super agile, ultra-intelligent murder-machine adrenaline junkies.

They weren’t all that way, of course. Ever were the outliers– though even they were afflicted, however carefully restrained or reserved in their demeanors otherwise. The plight of the Evolved was really that most were still coming to grips with their own existences. To say nothing of the chaos of finding places in Solsian society.

Still, few were forced to come to terms with what their own cousins had done to them.

Humans had exacted the most terrible, irreconcilable and awful horrors imaginable on every species in their environment– and the environment itself at times. Everything from cannibalism to enslavement, with no modicum of depravity missed en-route. Their only saving grace was that they’d done all these same horrible things to themselves.

There was comfort in that for some, if not all. None would have entertained it in Ar-Mur’s presence. Even the most blithe, belligerent idiot would’ve gone silent with respect.

Ar-Mur was a chimp not to be fucked with.

Like similar-minded Evolved, Ar-Mur dwelt with a subset of dregs in one of Sol’s least orderly communities; Ganymede. His hard-won respect, wealth, and power there, stemmed from extensive mercenary and smuggler work. Highly skilled in martial combat, he’d procured every luxury one could desire– to say nothing of the vast necessities stockpiled for health and occupational-hazards.

Ar-Mur’s little corner of the Ganymeden skid-row was a compound disguised by foggy, sweat-lined streets and the general obscurity of poor infrastructure. It was anything but, and prepared for war by any whom might try take it. Whether the Cougar-fuck Saffron’s anti-wank goons or Emperor-Asshole himself, Lord Snow; he’d fight for what was wrongfully his.

Yet presently, a punk-kid stood before him. And wasn’t going away. Worse, a Human.

His tattered leathers said he knew all about the darker-side of Sol’s social necessities. And, Ar-Mur postulated correctly, knew all of the rumors about himself and likely many truths, too. The smug fuck was just standing there, grinning smugly.

A scarlet and teal mohawk stabbed the air with short, lethal-looking spikes. Ar-Mur’d hated the disproportionate state of the human-head already, never knew he could hate it more. Plus, the punk’s black-mirrored lenses hid his eyes, meaning– Ar-Mur guessed, he was technically blind.

The elective kind.

He’d have had his optic nerves re-geared for neo-vision. For punks and hackers, it was like seeing the world through a 3D matrix-space. The punk would see as a bot-might; digitally. Ar-Mur didn’t like it, but cared only that the punk had breached security. He’d made it in undetected.

That was bad. Catastrophically so.

Ar-Mur refocused; the punk’s hands were bound pointlessly behind his back. Ar-Mur’d already caught the gleaming chrome beneath the leather overcoat. More electives. The scent of new, illegitimate money was the only reason Ar-Mur hadn’t immediately killed him. He was up for hire.

Hiring was always better than murder, if only because it decreased turn-over.

“You gonna’ say sumfing?” The punk asked.

Ar-Mur’s head tilted sardonically, a corner of his mouth rose to bared a few disgruntled teeth. Enough to shut the kid up again.

He waited a few more minutes to say anything, allowing himself to indulge in a drink in the meeting room. It was a throne room, really; though Ar-Mur never called it that. Everyone else did. Probably, because it contained a single chair embedded with countless screen projectors, function switches, and plain ‘ol comfort.

It wasn’t a throne, Ar-Mur knew. Nor was Snow or his rivals’. They were simply the command-chairs for their armies’ compounds. From there a Commander was scanned, their genetic markers verified, and access granted or authorized. The actual workings were technical, and unimportant to the Chimp or Wolf commanding them.

The less he knew needlessly, the more he could devote to important matters. Chief among them, how the fuck this pip-squeak pissant creature’d found his way in completely undetected. He knew he had, too; that he’d only been caught from dumb-luck. Shianni would still be howling if a medic, hadn’t drugged her to sleep.

Lucky bitch.

Simple curiosity might have been enough to indulge in an interrogation– advanced or not. Curiosity came second to security though. He found his in. He’d get the truth out of the kid one way or the other.

“Perimeter sensors encircle our entire block, from sewer-to-sky. If an ant sneezes a thousand feet above me I know it.”

He rose from the throne on lean-muscled limbs, their speed and agility obvious even through the layered clothing, armor, and cloak he wore.

He stopped just before the punk, “I will ask only once or I will kill you; how the fuck did you get in here?”

He grinned from ear-to-ear, “Li’ kis.”

In a blink he was gone. Ar-Mur stiffened up, listening. No sounds. Only a vague, mammalian scent. Foreign. Nearby. Ar-Mur closed his eyes. A not-quite light enough step. Ar-Mur spun, grabbed the punk by his throat and threw him against the floor. Still invisible, the kid’s astonishment was mired beneath a choking fit and groaning pain.

Ar-Mur drew his plaz-pistol, leveled it on center-mass, “Shut it down.”

The phantom coughed and choked, but reappeared in a blink– as he’d left.

Ar-Mur began to circle, examining the kid as if seeing him in a new-light. He knew the kid was a hacker, had gotten past security by hacking it digitally or physically. All of it, and there was a lot, layered like clothing one atop the other, atop more, and so on. Each layer scanned for specific parameters; body heat, odor analysis, power, motion– so many in fact, Ar-Mur had lost track.

That had been his mistake. He knew it now.

“You’ve come all this way and survived. So, speak.”

“E’re comin’. Alluv’em. The Zelphod, the Anti-Humanists. Lackeys.”

“To Ganymede,” he surmised, circling back to his throne to stop before it.

The punk nodded, “Comin’ to take it. Know it’s a clutch. That Sol relies on its mines. That it may not soon, but this’ the best time to weaken it.”

“So these… intruders,” Ar-Mur crossed his arms. “Want it for themselves. They’ll have to go through me first.”

“They will,” the kid said, recollecting himself and rising once more. “Already got agents on-site. Been workin’ for months.”

Ar-Mur’s brow lifted, “On?”

“Puttin’ ‘emselves next to power-centers– you, Snow, gangers, HAA and ISC. Everyone.”

“And this intel, it is credible?”

At that he produced a small disk from beneath a sleeve, offered it to Ar-Mur. He took it, slotted it in his chair, and an encrypted communique opened to play to the almost-empty room. The holo-image immediately strained the Chimp’s self-control. His fury visible enough that even the punk cringed, stepping backward.

“Snow, Emperor-Asshole in the fur.”

“Ar-Mur, as my emissary has informed you, we have a problem.”

“I’m talking to it.”

Snow sneered, “We’ve never seen eye-to-eye on anything, save that maintaining Ganymede’s sovereign anarchy is best for us–”

“You’re about to propose an alliance,” he anticipated.

“I am,” Snow replied without missing a beat. Ar-Mur laughed aloud. “No matter what trickery you may think I’m playing at, bear in mind I am known as brutally and bluntly honest, even in murder.”

Ar-Mur said nothing, his silence agreeing and allowing Snow to continue.

“Ganymede is being infiltrated. Contact may have ended, but the war wages on where we cannot see it. Until recently, it was a pot warming over fire. Now, its contents are rising to a violent boil. If we’re to have any hope for Ganymede or Sol, Evolved or not, we must join together and prepare ourselves for what is to come. Only afterward can we return to civil matters, else there’ll be no home to fight over.”

Ar-Mur bared his teeth again, but remained silent.

“I bear no ill-will for your presence on Ganymede. Else we would war. Thus, this presents us an option; the enemy of my enemy is my ally, if not friend.”

“Or the one to put the knife in second,” he remarked.

Snow tacitly agreed, “Consider my offer, if only for your people’s sake. The Zelphod would see us all exterminated to take what is rightful ours. The same is true for all of Sol. I ask you humbly, consider my offer. I will return to Ganymede within the day to begin preparations. I hope you can put differences aside and aid me. If not, we may never survive what’s to come. Any of us.

Snow winked from existence. The Human watched Ar-Mur carefully, expecting an outburst. Instead he found a tired, Evolved Chimp running on less steam than even it realized. He needed a top-up.

“Why send you?” Ar-Mur asked finally.

“Knew a ‘uman would stay your hand long ‘nuff to lis’en. You torture, not murder ‘em.”

His upper lip curled satisfaction, “Very well. But I require your assistance and name.”

“Suus,” he replied.

“First, Suus, reply affirmative to Emperor-Asshole.” Suus nodded. “Then, show me everything you did to bypass my protocols.”

The hacker’s jaw clenched, “I can’–”

“Your only choice in this matter is whether you wish to be hired as a consultant, or murdered and burned to dust like a lame horse’s carcass.”

Suus swallowed hard, but he liked the sound of payment. Especially against death.

Ar-Mur closed his eyes, resigned to cleaning yet another bullshit-pile dumped on Evolved by Humanity. If it came to it though, Ar-Mur of Ganymede would die defending his home, his people. Obligated or not, his duty to his world and people was too central to his being to walk away.

So, they started off to retrace Suus’ actions… at least they wouldn’t be bored.

VIN 11: Postdigital Unity

As you age, you begin to see trends. Not the fads you saw in youth, but actual trends. They’re like fads but over long spans and incorporating them as well. They’re longer-form gravitations toward ideals. Cyclical recurrences of formerly-existent-but-now-refined ideas.

And the fact is, the vast majority of the first-gen postdigital kids (millennials?) are a bunch of weird creatures.

That’s not to say bad. Never mistake weird for bad. Gates was weird. Think he had it easy before he was making money? No way, man. He was fucking weird. Jobs was weird until he died. It was why he died; rejecting medical treatment in place of home-remedies and warm thoughts.

Fucking weird.

And it doesn’t just extend to intelligence types– though some call Jobs a con-artist before an innovator. That he was likely both is neither here nor there, as everyone’s the same in most ways. It’s merely context that changes. Humans have to be to survive. That’s Humanity. It’s adaptation. It’s Evolution; finding ways to thrive despite extreme, organic adversity.

Do not deny it’s truth. Rather, revel in it; first-gen postdigital kids, (millennials) are the weird generation.

Probably ‘cause we’re all prototypes raised dyslexic on television-frames and text flashing by at light-speed. By the time we’d finally taken our Ritalin and calmed down, it was lunch time and recess. After that, we came in exhausted, completely unaware of the world we were actually experiencing.

Once we came of age, we decided to slow down. Entirely.

Our generation has come to a screeching halt. Not only because of the economy, and external factors, which press in at us with each moment; but because of the sheer want to finally experience something without being forced through it.

This will hit deeper for some than others, but all of you know what I mean:

I recall being educated, but I do not recall my education.

A simple, yet resonant sentiment.

Thousands of years ago, when humans were first socializing into groups more complex than tribes, education was imparted through the same trial-error-observation platform used by all of science today. It was interpersonal in nature, but it was the same, conceptual idea.

Science as it is known today did not exist then. It could not. Not enough reference of civilization– or history– existed yet to be acted on by the call-function.

But now, times have changed. Technology has hurled us headlong. At speeds even we can’t comprehend. The issue is one of grasp; having any on the matters at-hand. As a civilization, Humanity is completely unprepared for the social requirements of a next-level society.

This is bad. Potentially, catastrophically so.

Historically, the less socially-prepared a civilization is to endure a change, the more likely it is to utterly collapse. Ultimately, Rome’s collapse was seeded by its inability to get anything done. Its politics and civics, until then its greatest strengths, began to collapse under the weight of their maintainers’ ignorance.

An innocent ignorance, to be certain, but one all the same. Worse, one no less harmful for it.

Likewise, the same is evident in Central and South Americas cultures whose great achievements rival that of the Pyramids. Ultimately, their culture died from failing to accept the very people they bled for the gods were the ones building their temples.

Eventually, something had to give. So it did. Simple as that.

Unfortunately, it also took with it much collected knowledge in the crossfire. Of all ancient cultures only the Egyptian knowledge is best kept, but notice their name absent above. Though the aforementioned are hardly the extent of cases, they are ideologically different. Egypt did not fall. It ceded its cultural prowess to Rome.

True, it did so largely as a result of decline, one culture’s decline is eternally another’s rise. A sentient species cannot exist culture-less. As postdigital humans can no longer exist information-less. Thus, culture moves always. And like all things, along paths of least resistance– and much too fast for any pre-digital age record-keeping methods.

It is only the postdigital world that can reconcile this; by becoming one culture, unified and constantly changing together.

VIN 8- Be Weird

Weird is the spice of life, and spices only come into play when food is guaranteed.

When something can be assured, but needs adding to, it is then at its next level of cultivation, evolution. It is at the precipice which is the most fragile but fruitful time possible. It is, in no lesser terms, at its Golden Age– at very least, one of them.

Life is no different.

So, be weird. Weird is generalized. Non-specific. It’s neither white nor black, but not exactly neutral either. Weird is brown; Earthen, the in-between. As is life; the in between unlife and death, nonexistence and unexistence, matter and decayed matter– anti matter, entropy, nothingness.

Life is the moment in which these unassailable forces are momentarily defied. To harness it is to recognize it is illimitable once properly understood.

It takes but a few to understand this, yet many more to make that understanding functional, useful– so that it may spread to all and affect them equally. However, beware those seeking benefit from evading Golden Ages, prolonging suffering-periods. Why, remains as ever the explanation of the species in question.

In the case of Humans, it is power. Knowing this, it is easy to see that labels grouping the powerless and non-power hungry then become categories for oppression.

So, if you must be anything, be everything. Be general, non-specifc. Be Brown. Be weird. Life is guaranteed, living isn’t.

Short Story: The Bovine Folk

Nobody ever asks about the Cows, the Bovine folk. Chickens, turkeys, sure; deer, yes. Bears and Tigers and Lions– well, the last ones speak for themselves. Literally.

Point is, nobody ever asks. Prob’ly, because those that know them know the truth already. Those that don’t, aren’t prepared for The Bovine Reality. All the same, where are they? What happened to them? Why? What the bloody hell could occur to an entire species that it was seemingly, however shoddily, scrubbed from reality?

Firstly, it’s not so much no-one knows as no-one wants to talk about it. The situation is yet another delicate, fractal-relic of the post human-dominance era. People– human people, don’t really know what to say. They’re just as perplexed by the whole thing as the rest of people– Evolved or not

Problem is, the only people that really might’ve ever understood some decisions are long dead and dust. Prob’ly less, now.

Digressions aside, Bovines had every reason, right, and allowance to leave, hate us, or war with us. For what little we know, they did, will. All of them. At least, if any stayed, they’ve kept hidden; prob’ly just to enjoy the peace, graze at-will.

But who were they, what did they look like? Like cows crossed with humanoid genetics. Like all Evolved.

They had more or less human features, save for the cases of all hoofed creatures– with mallets on the ends of their arms rather than dexterous digits. All of them adapted. Not a single Solsian creature living would begrudge another an opened door these days. Even less so for Bovines.

Not a single Bovine would ask.

Why should they? They were an entire species existing for no purpose but to serve another, superior one’s appetite. Once, anyway. Not so much anymore. People didn’t eat meat anymore. Meat was a luxury. Eating was utilitarian. Long gone were the days of meat and mead.

But that was okay. Because Sol, its peoples, had more than enough otherwise. If food was ever requested or desired, it was available. As for meats and their origins, in all but the seediest places it was the luxury it had become; expensive, complexly vat-grown, engineered for taste and satisfaction. It wasn’t meat. It was meat.

It was the connoisseur mindset for an aficionado niche. It was no more or less complicated than necessary. Food need only be guaranteed, not enjoyable– though preferably enough to hold off revolt. Anything more in the turbulent unrest after Contact was asking too much. Nobody denied that.

Contact and everything during, after– even a little before, was chaos incarnate. Its immediate echoes would continue resonating for generations, forever-after altering countless species and their futures.

Species aside, people needed some guarantees now; water and shelter were guaranteed by the simple immensity of the cos mos. Food wasn’t. Thus food was it. It was easiest conceit for all involved. Free food for all. Caches. Dumps. Drop-ins. Stamps. Every world, outpost, and settlement, no matter how big or small, played host to at least a few choices as to how and where to eat.

It was an imperative now, socially, that no-one starve. Food; guaranteed enough not to die between meals, was the conceit that united Sol.

Humans could never have done it on their own. They were too set in their ways. They needed a massive external lever, something to turn them away from being wholly-evil assholes their entire existence.

Contact threw a tens of billions of levers at-once.

While Contact did more good than the bad it could ever do, ultimately what mattered was, the good was in the universe was here to stay. At least for now. Sol, its one dwindling puddle of life, had surged, exploding like a geyser onto its surroundings. Earth-life took a foothold it wasn’t going to give up without one helluva fight.

Free food ensured it.

Then, the war ended. People were displaced. Society was upheaved. Food was guaranteed. Food! But food wasn’t all that should be guaranteed. Work. Want. Those were next. They came side-by-side with Earth-life’s expansion and transition into Sol-life.

Sol wasn’t like Earth. It was bigger. It stood for something. The flag of a Republic. Eight planets. A few dozen moons. Countless hunks of floating debris between to be mined– and well, mined– for resources and defense. When things came into order again, it seemed as close as people could get to utopia.

That was one thing even narrower-minded Evolved knew, if refused to admit: everyone owed Humanity for trail-blazing as the first, sentient, Sol-life. So far as it was known… or could be called such.

Chalking their failures up to an attribute of sentience than an Earth or Sol thing was likely for the best. If reality didn’t reconcile, so what?

People did go otherwise, though. Mostly, in the form of Anti-Humanists. Ironically though, so far as it’s known, not a single B’ohs risen in anger with these dregs. Arguably, they have the greatest motive, but absolutely zero capacity for contempt.

People– evolved and non-alike, believed them stupid; at that, they were likely of less-average intellect overall, but what people aren’t? It is always the outliers that dictate true capacity. As an old shuttle surpassing life expectancy by decades without a scratch or malfunction shows no signs of slowing.

B’ohs, like all Sentients, had their thinkers and their morons. Difference being, unlike most species, each had every right to be blood-rage furious. For no particular reason at all, if they felt it–

Yet none were.

Their species existed for the sake of Human sustenance. Thus, when no longer needed, they had no place in the worlds they’d suddenly been thrust into. Even if idolized and hoisted upward– that was worst of all for a species wishing for the peace of grazing verdant fields all day.

B’oh evolution had been so guided they’d no choice but to live as slaves or die on some butcher’s rack. Not exactly inspiring of poetical thought for a species newly granted it. So, what it came down to was need. A need to make their own way in the universe; their own story and path.

Sol would never have been capable of denying them that. It wasn’t Earth. It was bigger. Newer. Different. And undeniably better.

So, in herds, droves, pairs, and singles, the B’ohs set off for the unknown to settle and create their own future. No-one could begrudge them their one desire; to graze upon the universe’s endless verdant hills for eternity. After all, who wouldn’t want to?

Back in Sol Again: Part 15

15.

Decisions, Decisions.

Mataan had been socially castrated before her security escort, Captain Melchondo, and Niala at Snow’s hands. That she’d been willing to show herself at all after was a tribute to her character. There was no denying the undercurrent of resentment present, but some part of Mataan had become less rigid. She elected to use the personal exposure to better facilitate communication rather than stonewall those around her. At that, everyone currently on-site was present, prisoners excepted.

“I have reached a decision regarding how and when to make contact,” she began almost ceremoniously. It was discarded. “As Snow so graciously pointed out, it is best we not shit where we eat.” No one dared laugh. “In that spirit, and as Ambassador from Sol, I believe it in everyone’s best interests to make contact and admit the truth of our position.”

Niala was concerned, “Madame Ambassador, are you certain that’s wise?”

“Doctor?”

Niala stiffened. “I take it you mean you wish to inform them of our… precarious position.”

“Indeed,” she said with a slight regality. The question as to her wisdom was unanimous. Mataan rebutted, “Would you rather Anti-Humanists soil our first contact by moving against them? Or have the knowledge later arise that we knew of the threat and did not warn them?”

Again, silence.

Whoever she was, personally, it was clear Mataan was Ambassador for a reason. She had a clarity even Snow marveled at. Spitefully of course, but marveled nonetheless. More than that, Mataan had foresight. For any politician, that was worth preservation.

Indeed, for yet another universal truth is the corruptive and lobotomizing affection for power; or simply, corrupt, lobotomized politicians. Mataan was one of few, precious diamonds in that rough.

Or as Snow later put it, headed for the storage room; “Got two sets of balls, for sure. Had anyway. Seems I took the smaller ones.”

Simon sighed dully, tongue half-out in exhausted dismay.

“If Madame Ambassador’s instincts are half as good as she believes, we may come away from this with an ally.”

Simon was less hopeful, however dulled, “And if we start another interstellar war?”

He shrugged with an odd candor. “Frying pan. Fire. Sol knew this risk and sent us anyhow.”

Simon raised a brow at the tacit admission of collusion but sighed, “Let’s get it over with.”

He still wasn’t sure how he’d been picked for meal-detail. Snow made a certain kind of sense: he was strong, quick, and the captives already knew he was here. Mataan’s security or Melchondo’s crew might’ve been regardless of Mataan’s presence, but the prisoners still better off unaware of their true numbers.

Personally, Simon couldn’t remember his job description anymore. It’d been too many years. One too many knocks on the head. ‘course, the minor, subtle changes of his job itself made it impossible to know it word for word. It wasn’t really important anyhow.

However, he was certain nowhere in it was the phrase “Feed Alliance Prisoners.”

He might’ve been irritated could he feel much, but since the Ambassador’s arrival, he’d been incapable of sleeping. Amongst others, one security officer currently residing in the bunks with he and the others was Emile Cantu. He was an otherwise respectable hound, job clearly an extension of his typically-loyalist, Canid personality. Simon was pretty sure he loved him– platonically, of course, the rest otherwise reserved for Lina.

The problem was:

Emile snored.

A lot.

It was awful.

Evidently no-one else minded. Simon wasn’t sure how. Only during the deepest of sleep did it arise, but Simon couldn’t stand it. It jarred him awake, shredded his dreams to jagged reality with an angle-grinder that cut rebar beside his head. In fact, he was sure he’d have slept better with that than with Cantu’s long, deep fractures to the fabrics of space and time. Simon was convinced nothing short was occurring, nor could occur, to cause such violent disruption.

He was left exhausted. Slow. He’d have been outright pissy but between maintaining the station, trying to repair Rearden, and trying not to collapse, he had nothing left. He ate during repairs or maintenance, spoke to Lina over them, but was otherwise watching, reading, calibrating.

Or trying to sleep.

Trying.

In the four days since Mataan’s arrival, he’d gotten somewhere on the order of sixty-eight minutes of sleep. It was unnerving. Dangerous. He’d done all-nighters in grad school, rushed off to exams afterward still awake, but this was crazy. He needed sleep. For everyone’s sake. If he didn’t get it, he was likely to kill someone. Indirectly, or through a somnambulistic rampage. Only time might tell which, even if he hoped for neither.

He managed to escort each prisoner out with Snow, one-by-one, let them eat before heading back to monitor power. Before he could even sit down, Mataan was in the room, requesting he aid her in control. The next hour was spent troubleshooting an interface malfunction. For over an hour he sifted system logs, checked hardware statuses, and ran or re-ran diagnostics. In the end, the cuprit was a toggled setting on a hidden section of the UI.

The dreaded Techie Plight had caught him without his knowledge.

Part of him hated Mataan for that.

The rest took solace in the fact that he’d likely caused the problem himself, when flying over the console to tackle Rhein days earlier. No-one had used it since, but now was the time it was needed… and failed.

He slank back toward the power room, eyes half-closed. His brain discerned only vague shapes; blobs of various, metallic neutrals smudging into one another toward the power room. He flopped into his chair, hands working mechanically to grasp Rearden’s encased figure. Before he knew what happened, he was asleep.

Under the console. Clutching Rearden’s incapacitated figure as a child with a plush-toy might.

There, Lina eventually found him. Six glorious hours later.

She’d been preoccupied meeting with Mataan and Niala, and helping Melchondo and his limited crew examine and maintain their ship’s systems. It was trivial for someone as well-versed in tech, and as such, she’d readily volunteered for anything outside the monotonous rhythm.

She stepped into the power room, “Simon, I was–“

Empty.

She rubbernecked the room, catching the faintest whistle. Her ears strained for it.

Srreeeee.

Silence.

Again; srreeeee.

Silence.

She followed its rhythmic emissions beneath the console, found Simon. He had all the hallmarks of a child sleeping: drool along a corner of the mouth; a hugged robot in one hand, labcoat-blanket in the other, and completely dead to the world. The only thing that might’ve cemented the image further was a sucked thumb and a onesie.

His obvious exhaustion had claimed him so thoroughly she thought not to wake him, but her presence was more or less detected. He rolled toward her, head on Rearden, suckling back drool and wiping his mouth. His eyes fluttered against harsh-light, snapped shut again.

She knelt beside him, “Tired?” He grunted an affirmation. “I see that.” He grunted again, depressed. “No choice, huh?” He grunted a negative. “You’ve no idea where you are, do you?”

“Hmm?” He finally opened an eye to look.

Utter confusion reigned first. Then, his mind clawed into recognition. He knew of the power room, but it was different somehow now. Curiously tilted. Askew. His eyes fought for purchase. He knew then that gravity, however artificial, had made a fool of him again.

The second thing he recognized was the small, flexible optical sensor curled toward him from Rearden below. The incapacitated bot gazed dully at him from the curled sensor with no more life than a plush toy.

The final thing he came to recogonize– almost instantly with the first two, was an agonizing pain in his back and legs. It spawned from his neck, shot down through wrenched, knurled muscles, matched only by the stink he then fourthly recognized as his own.

He couldn’t help but cringe at himself. Then at pain. Then his surroundings. Then, finally, at the reality that encompassed them.

He was suddenly awake. He sat up. Banged his head on the console’s underside. Howled pain. He rubbed his forehead, slid from beneath the console. Lina fought back snickers.

“Funny, huh?” He asked sarcastically.

She smiled behind a hand. He stuck out his tongue in response.

“Careful,” she prodded. “Might get it stuck in an airlock.” He pushed himself up as she finally continued where she’d first began, “I was told to bring you to control.”

His shoulders slumped automatically, “Fine. Might as well get it over with.”

“They’ve made contact.”

He was suddenly pale. His spine turned first to jell-o then to steel rebar. “They made contact without us!?”

“No,” she calmed. “Not– Just c’mon.”

She drug him toward control. He wouldn’t have needed to be drug but his body had suddenly lost proper connections to its brain. Until now, he’d half-expected the expedition thus far to be some sort of fever dream. He couldn’t explain why, but he did.

In that moment, all he knew for certain was the Solsian history of First Contact… and the war that followed. And that he was suddenly being asked to be part of a First Contact delegation. And that He shouldn’t be. And that he knew that.

And above all, he knew that given his penchant for foot-in-mouth disease, and his unyielding lack of social and physical grace, there was no-one worse suited for the job.

Then again, he wasn’t sure anyone aboard was suited for it. Snow was an asshole. Niala was too unpredictable. Lina was almost as bad as he. Even Mataan, though proven graceful, could be easily inflamed given proper fuel. All that, to say nothing of the Anti-Humanists, Mataan’s security detail, or Captain Melchondo and his crew– all of whom were technically even less qualified than Simon.

Yet, he still found himself standing behind the main control-console, the rest of the unqualified present. The largest vid screen stared at them, blank, but waiting. The eerieness common to Humans at the cusp of profound moments came about Simon and Lina.

As noted, the Human species has a fickle reaction to profundity. This fickleness no doubt contributed to the madness of Zelphod First Contact. Those present then were equally as unqualified and prone to foot-in-mouthness as Simon, possibly even less so. No wonder it turned into interstellar war.

Not the greatest combination to foster peace and hope in the Galaxy.

Mataan stole his attention before he could think further, “We received this ten minutes ago.”

She lifted her hand to key a console. Simon cut in, “We!? They made contact with us!?

Mataan glared. “Watch.”

A vague image of what they’d seen before appeared on-screen; Stocky, muscled, and the color of tanned leather. The humanoid-creature was clearly armor-plated beneath its sparse, dark-metallic clothing, it spoke with the sort of guttural quality of a creature without olfactory openings, or of one with clogged sinuses.

“People of Sol, I am Ramla; First Matriarch of Vursara and Starborne Ambassador of the Vuur. Our Sages have foreseen your arrival. Now that our peaceful intentions are declared, and that we are certain of yours, it is my honor to welcome you to the Orbit of Vursara.”

“They speak English!?” Simon blurted.

The room shushed him at once. The creature continued on-screen, unabated. “–of importance. It is known to the Vuur you have found us as incidentally as is possible for the space-fairers you are. I am certain we have much to teach one another. Indeed, much to learn from one another.

“Under the Sages’ direction, several of us were prepared for First Contact. We know much of you, but not all, via the shakey, psychic power the Sages possess. Though some of it is likely misrepresented, we are fortunate enough to have learned a good deal of your language. Thus, we need not burden each other with the confusion common to new species.

“In the hopes of timely replies, we have sent a communication frequency. Our transmitter and receiver, though crude, appears to functional nominally. Please forgive any difficulties in the matter. We eagerly await your reply. May peace reign!”

Ramla’s bulky arms rose skyward as if praising the sun. Then, her hands met and her head bowed, as if a bird in full dive with its wings pinned together behind its back. The image cut out, returned to the idle, black screen.

The room was silent. No one breathed. No one moved. The moment was historical, profound. All Evolved life present sensed the Humans’-discomfort. It wasn’t their fault; they’d adapted too well to the retrospective disappointment they formed upon greeting new peoples– mostly, by just being disappointed in themselves to begin with.

But something more had frozen them all now. Whether or not anyone else knew what, Simon knew it exactly: the Vuur knew of them, had taken great pains to communicate an offer of peace and friendship as their first act.

And now the Solsians would be forced to reply with Anti-Humanism.

Back in Sol Again: Part 13

13.

Answers

Niala and Snow led Fera, shackled, from the storage room. Well-armed but regarded with both amusement and pity by her charges, Lina guarded the remaining prisoners. She found herself indifferent, largely due to the empowerment of her big, new gun. Meanwhile, Simon returned to control to monitor for the diplomatic communique and attempt minor repairs on some of Rearden’s circuit boards.

Niala kept Fera at arm’s-length between her and Snow. The trio single-file shuffled to the Galley, whose name made the pantry-closet of a room sound much larger and more important than it was. They sat Fera on one side of the jam-packed table, the edges literally touching the cabinets beside it, and placed food and water before her.

The She-Wolf snarked blithely, “A bribe? Gonna’ have to do better than that.”

Snow snarled. Niala remained neutral. “We’ve been instructed to do two things; treat you as a common, domestic terrorist– meaning you’re to be fed and treated with the same rights as any Solsian criminal.”

Fera’s brow cocked up, “And?”

“And, to get as much information from you as possible.”

Fera’s eyes skimmed theirs over a laugh, “You’re telling me this, why?”

“To offer you a simple choice,” Niala said, seating herself on the far-side of the table with an unfathomable grace. “You tell me what I want, when I want, and you eat, bathe, and sleep like any normal prisoner.

Or. Have every bone in your body broken, one-by-one, until I get what I want.”

Fera snorted incredulously, “You can’t. You wouldn’t. HAA regs. You can’t countermand a prisoner order without suffering a treasonous fate.”

Niala’s eyes narrowed, “You saw my strength. And yes, the ISC and HAA could punish me… but not Snow.”

He leaned forward, “And you bet your furry ass I’m willing to take you down a peg.”

Fera’s neck stiffened. She stared down her plate of food as if communing mentally with it.

Niala rose from her seat, “I’ll leave you to think on it.” She nodded to Snow. He nodded back. She hesitated at the door, “Better eat up. Don’t want it to get cold.”

Snow’s eyes flicked from Niala as she left, settled on Fera as she ate. He sized her up; the prisoners could say what they wanted of Niala’s confrontation, end of the day, he wasn’t shackled to chairs or wall-struts.

Fera snarled up at him, “So you’re Ganymede’s resident traitor.”

The corner of his eye pinched with sardonic distaste. “My reputation precedes me. But who do I betray? And for that matter, to whom?”

She snapped, “Same as every domess. Claiming peace to sell us all out.”

“I claim nothing. To you, least of all.”

Fera was silent. She ate, reluctantly. It was a full minute before she spoke again, a half-meal heavier. “The great warlord, Snow, errand boy for the Human-Animal Alliance. How would the separatists on Ganymede feel if they learned of your presence here?”

He leaned in, indifferent, “Ask them.”

She sensed his meaning: she wasn’t free to, wouldn’t be for a long time, if ever. She went back to eating, slower now. Every bite became as much a stall tactic as a feeble attempt to fill the void of her silence. It began to overwhelm her. Snow sensed it; the air around her was more desperate, more anxious. Were she not the glorious Wolf, Evolved and lethal in every capacity, she’d have looked more like her lame-brained cousin, the Chihuahua; small, bouncy, impotently aggressive. A far cry from her true nature.

He remarked as much, adding, “Whatever lies you tell yourself, you know the truth: I am not the traitor.” She spit air through her teeth, seething. He ignored it. “You claim I betray yet you ally yourself with creatures whose notions of honor and kinship are a fallacy to be used against them.”

“What would you know of honor!?” She growled.

He straightened, stiffened with a firm bellow, “I know many things you delude yourself into believing.” She sneered. “You are a Wolf. A genetic apex predator. A creature whose lineage dictates her allegiance be only to her pack– her people. But rather than follow her kind, she chooses to be a scared, confused pup.”

“I–“

“A Pup!” He barked. “Following a feline into battle– a cat.” Her fury began to bubble. He pressed her. “A cat! The most two-faced creatures short of the MeLons.” The slightest tremble outlined itself along her features. Snow’s eyes narrowed. “A Wolf! Following one. Into a battle it created, then fled from leaving her to suffer for his actions.”

She exploded, all but jumping from her chair. “We were all following orders. Shafer included. He did as he was told. As did I.” His brow rose. “What of you? Consolidating more domesticated power for the HAA?”

Snow threw a paw sideways, howled, “Where’s your honor!? Fighting a losing battle against your own people. You should be leading a planetary fleet. A General on a front-line. Instead, you’re down in shit-holes with Cats and Hogs too stupid to see their conquest is futile. That their battles are the last desperate gasps of their own ignorance.”

Her body flexed against her shackles, “What would you know of front-lines? Sitting high on your Ganymede throne, pissing on those below you. Killing those that disagree. Slitting throats of so-called peaceful, political opponents.”

He snapped back. “Retaining order is a consequence of power.”

“Order!? Is that what you believe it is?”

“And what do you believe, Fera Sattler? Do you believe Anti-Humanists will one day rule the galaxy peacefully? That the Zelphod will lead them there; rescue you from the HAA prison? Do you believe anyone in this universe gives one, infinitesimal whisker-twitch of a shit about you!?”

She exploded again, this time, pulling so hard at her shackles, even Snow worried for a moment– more that he’d have to clean and bandage wounds than anything.

“The Zelphod failed. We will not. The way forward is Solsian. We will soon make it known. We’ll put Humans and sympathizers in their place. When we do, the galaxy will know us. We will write history this time.

“Enough.” Niala cut-in from the door. “I’ve got everything I need.”

A resounding silence descended. The last of Fera’s re-spouted extremist rhetoric became like so much other propaganda through-out history; merely a ringing silence beyond lies. Nonetheless, she undeniably realized she’d given away something crucial. Judging by the growing satisfaction in Snow’s face, possibly everything, even if she still wasn’t sure how.

Snow grinned through her at Niala, “You’re certain?”

Niala sauntered in, “Positive. She’s passed knowledge, is regurgitating dribble now.”

Snow gave a slight nod; their coup as near-to perfectly executed as either could’ve hoped. Fera’s face might as well have been removed. She’d not only had the wind knocked from her sails, but her entire ship off-keeled and flooded. Her dullard look held as much animosity as shame and confusion. That is, it held nothing and everything at once. Fera was amid a complete-systems reboot.

“Let her finish eating then return her to storage,” Niala said, with a grateful nod. “And well done, Snow.”

“Thank you, Domess,” he said with a satisfied sarcasm. Niala left, in earnest this time.

A quarter-hour later, Niala and Snow stood with Simon and Lina in the control room. A wide-angle of the storage room glowed on the main screen so that each prisoner was visible. The present parties kept one eye glued on the screen for trouble– though none would come, even after Saffron awoke. Stubborn as they all were, at least the Anti-Humanists knew when they’d been beaten.

“What did you learn, precisely?” Simon asked, too tired from working on Rearden to pick out the information from the melange.

Niala began, “As suspected, Shafer was just leading the strike-force, was under orders to flee rather than allow capture.”

“For fear they might give something up,” Snow guessed aloud.

Niala nodded, “And given the Zelphod comments, we can assume if they’re involved, its much more secretly than anyone’s given them credit for.”

Lina’s eyes narrowed, “You mean, if they are, the anti-Humanists aren’t aware of it.”

“Not at this level, anyhow.”

Simon sighed, glancing sideways at the screen, “So they’re all just foot-soldiers?”

“More or less,” Niala confirmed.

Snow crossed his arms, “They were recruited for various reasons. But given their resentment, many are likely to have lost family to Human-allied groups. Or otherwise, to have been ostracized from groups as a result of Human dominance. Fera especially, fits the former.”

Niala agreed, “Shafer and Saffron fit the latter; both are recidivist Felons that come from poverty in human-run colonies.”

Lina allowed a hint of sadness to her tone, “Is it really so bad for the Evolved?”

“Not as much anymore,” Niala reassured her. “So long as Solsian society allows for it though, there’ll always be poverty. It was worse for us, the first generation of Evolved, when we were coming of age. Contact had only just ended when we were born. The Zelphod were still retreating. Sol was still in transition from colonization and the Apollo programs. There was great disparity. Even greater uncertainty.”

Snow remained light, however hard of a left turn he took. “But things have improved. No matter how many fish-brained morons forget that.”

Simon put up a hand. “We know they’re working for someone and why. What else?”

“It’s an organization operating outside the HAA’s sphere of influence.”

“Uh-huh,” Simon followed. Lina put a fist to her chin in thought.

“With Solsian political connections.”

“Hence the breach at the embassy,” Snow reminded.

Niala added, “And we also know a second attack is imminent.”

“We figured as much,” Snow said. “But knowing can focus us.”

Lina shook her head, mind clearly elsewhere. She eyed Snow, “How certain are you of your power-base on Ganymede?”

His eyes narrowed, “My authority is absolute.”

All eyes were suddenly on Lina. “How much do you trust the people you’ve left in charge?”

“Where’re you going with this?” Simon asked.

Lina’s eyes swept the others’ settled on Snow. “If I were looking to establish a power-base to oppose the HAA or the Federation, I’d look for a lawless– or mostly lawless– place to lay down roots. Then, I’d make sure its economy could remain independent of any leadership I sought to oppose.

“In short, I’d look for Ganymede.”

Snow’s eyes hardened. He said nothing, but about-faced and marched out. A moment later the distant sound of an airlock pressurizing to the station forced them to eye one another. The Wolf’s fury was obvious even from the distance.

The silence he’d left behind suddenly shattered with the chime of a console. Niala eyed it, then braced herself against there with one paw, keyed it with the other.

“Go on. I’ll handle this.” The pair departed and a Rat’s graying face appeared on the main screen, shoving the view of the prisoners aside. “Go ahead.”

“Matriarch Martin, I presume,” The Rat said with a stiff, military bearing. Niala gave a slight nod. “This is Captain Melchondo of Firestorm-class Cruiser Sentinel, informing you we’re within range of your station and plan to dock upon arrival. ETA Two hours.”

“Can you state your intent, Captain?”

“Only vaguely,” He said, hinting his fear of eavesdroppers. “I carry highly-sensitive cargo.”

Niala stiffened slightly. Given the circumstances, it meant only one thing; an HAA diplomat and a security team. She cleared her throat, “Very well, Captain. I will see to it accommodations are made. Crew size?”

“Six. Plus cargo.”

“We’ll prepare for your arrival. Light-speed to you, Captain.”

He gave a minor nod and disappeared. The prisoners retook their place. Niala stared at them, exhausted by the prospect of yet-more complications. She rubbed her eyes with her paws, drew a deep breath…

And blew a frustrated raspberry, flipping off the screenful prisoners.