A story in the Proxima Shared Universe by Bjorn Townsend
She drifted a meter and a half above the bulkhead that she was presently referencing as the "floor", her
room pleasantly dark. The only light came in sparks of green and yellow, flickering like
static fireflies, as her fibernet hub traded packets with the rest of the station's
network. At moments like this she liked to meditate on the glowing patterns of light the
hub made, trying to see a pattern in the traffic. Idly she toyed at working up a randomness
algorithm which would model the chaos of network traffic, but decided eventually that there
were too many variables for her to do it in her head, and it was more fun to try to get the
pattern intuitively anyway. There was also the matter of school.
Sigh. "Computer: lights." Her voice was soft, full, and very British. An obedient beep,
and the florescents sprang jarringly to life, illuminating her room. She'd done what she
could with the place, with paint and computer-printed pictures and a half-finished Persian
rug her friend Mojan was weaving for her. The rug was tacked loosely to the "floor", and occasionally waffled up and down in the air currents. Her favorite part was, of course, the
window. Windows were rare on most habitats, but the station's designers knew all too well that humans needed space, and being cooped up on an asteroid only a few hundred meters in
diameter, with nothing but rock and metal around, would drive anyone batty after a few years. Therefore, expensive windows were sprinkled around liberally, made of nanotech diamond so
they wouldn't instantly shatter when a piece of ballistic rock hit them. The only problem was the fact that there was no way to make them radiation-opaque, so there were metal
shutters to go over them when the sun flared. More expense, but everyone agreed the view was worth it.
She spared the view one last glance, sighed, grabbed her laptop, and kicked off a wall. The
pressure-door slid aside for her and she drifted down the corridor, heading off to class.
"Now, you've established that true capitalism
isn't viable in our present situation, given
that we haven't got enough resources to survive the ensuing competition. Yet we still have
a barter system, rather than taking the Socialist planned-economy
route. We're not even
going to talk about Communism
, as we all know what happened to that idea." Doctor J
back at his students, who were nodding and rolling their eyes; they'd heard his Soviet Union
rant so many times they could recite it from memory. ("Blah blah blah Stalin blah blah
blah blah Cold War blah blah American imperialism blah blah Afghanistan blah blah hypocrisy blah blah blah economic collapse..."
"So," he asked after a moment, "why aren't we Socialists? We all share the same challenges,
living in the Asteroid Belt, which is a profoundly hostile environment, and having nothing
to do with the home planet, having done our very best to tell Earth to leave us the hell
alone. Once we've answered that question, we need to look more deeply at the present
situation: since we don't live in a corporate capitalist society, why off Earth are United
AeroSpace and Shinma Industries and the other corporates still around at all? And if they
are still around, why aren't they running everything, exerting their considerable influence
to create a situation of maximum benefit to themselves and their employees?"
The students, floating around Doctor J in a half-sphere pattern, their laptops projecting
brightly-colored holographic displays, were silent for a moment, thinking. After a moment,
one boy spoke.
"It seems clear to me, sir. We've looked at the economic summaries for the past ten years. The barter-prices have a very clear pattern; anyone who bothered to run the numbers would
see it. Take titanium ore; despite fluctuations in supply and demand as new stations are
set up and new ships are built or recycled, its price has remained comparatively consistent.
There has been variation, but it hasn't been so great that it impacts individuals too
drastically. Nobody's getting poor and nobody's getting rich. Someone is fixing the
economy, probably stabilizing it so that market forces don't go critical and cause famine or
societal revolt. Whoever is doing this realizes that market fluctuations could destroy Belt
society, and is working to prevent that by controlling barter-prices. We are living in a
Socialist economy, and we don't even know it."
Doctor J smiled. "Well done, Mister Kacirk. I take it the rest of you have arrived at
similar conclusions?" A pause, and reluctant nods. Doctor J smiled. They suspected, but
they hadn't bothered to do the work that young Jeffrey Kacirk had, so he uncovered a secret
they hadn't learned. The other kids were kicking themselves for not digging deep enough.
They would be more thorough in the future. It wouldn't cause a backlash against Jeffrey, of
course; he just jumped a few notches in the social pecking order. No doubt the corporate
computers at UAS would register a few more cracking attempts as the students tried to find
pertinent documents. "If any of you can discover why the corporations are doing this
secretly under the guise of a free market by next week, or at least come up with a workable
theory, I'll personally fly you over to Perihelion City for dinner, with real chicken, not
cloned stuff out of a vat."
There were predatory looks at this, and the holographic data displays blinked and shifted as
students ran scripts that tried to sniff encrypted network traffic. Doctor J smiled
faintly. He'd probably have ten reports in his inbox by night-shift. "That's all for today.
Please send proposals for next week's topics and areas of study by 2200 hours tonight."
And to think these kids weren't even in their teens.
"Computer: lights off. Project flatscreen. Media, play Delerium
, Track One, Karma
Volume setting five." The computer beeped compliance, the lights flicked off, a colorful
data display clouded into existence before her, and the gentle laughter of children on a
dusty African plain
filled the room. That was the image that came to her, at least, as she
listened to the opening of the album
. She could only imagine what it must be like to feel
dirt and sun and wind. She had lived in space for all her twelve years, and much as she
loved the Belt
, she wondered how the other eight billion lived. After the Exodus
course, the Belt society had cut off contact with Earth, its members trying to lock away the
stultifying lives they had led on the homeworld
. She had heard enough horror stories of
what people were like on Earth, and wanted nothing to do with them. But it sounded like a
beautiful place, full of wonders that a child of delta-V
could only guess at. Never having
to match velocities
; using wires to communicate rather than laser links; gravity everywhere,
with no need to spin up
the habitat; plants and green growing things ubiquitous
. And there
were the mysteries, the myths, the things that once made people afraid to go out at night,
before the human monsters made the night an even more fearful place. They were supposed to
be frightening, but she thought them wonderful. To think that there might be something
still beyond human ken
and impossible in human science, something so secret, gave her hope.
And therein lay her sadness: in the Belt, no one had time to dream. Everyone was too busy
surviving. She knew that dreams were the foundation of the Belt society, that its formation
had been driven by the vision and hope of a small group of talented romantics
She sighed, sadly and prettily, and summoned an email client. She typed:
From: "Rigel A. McCaffrey" (email@example.com)
To: "Doctor Fahd Jondhpur" (firstname.lastname@example.org)
They fool us to keep us free.
One day, we will walk again on the surface of a world, whether it is Earth or some other
distant planet. The romantics which founded the Belt society have a dream of a freewheeling
world, full of chaos, with the butterfly's wings flapping all the time. They want us to
live in an ever-changing place, full of possibility. They want us to remain accustomed to
economic freedom, so that when we again have the resources to make our lives more than a
matter of daily survival we will be better prepared for the shock of a free market economy.
I don't know exactly what they have planned, but they'll need a new world to do it.
It'll be a long time before the Belt is rich enough for us to have a free market, you see.
And Huntley, Weatheral, Sasaki and the others are afraid that we'll be too beaten down by
this daily grind, this constant fight just to breathe, in order to dream when we're done. I
see it happening to my parents. Back on Earth Father wrote beautiful books and Mother wrote
beautiful software. They went to parties and wore flamboyant clothes. They wove fantasies
together. I've seen pictures: they glowed with elegance. Now, they go out and mine iron
oxide so they can replenish the station air supplies. They collapse when they get home,
too exhausted to think. It makes me cry, sometimes, to think of what else they could be
doing with their lives.
We need a world. Not necessarily for all of us to live on, but something we can rely on and
draw from, so that we don't have to grow all our own food or make all our own air. Just
enough to make life a game again, a beautiful story like in the books I read, rather than
deadly serious. The Founders know this. They don't know where they're going to find a
planet, though, or how to get to one if we find one. I don't know either. I'm afraid we're
going to end up just like those poor, dull buggers on Earth, rather than the dreamers we
were meant to be.
"Come away, O human child, to the water and the wild
With a faerie hand in hand
For the world's more full of weeping
Than you can understand."
That's by Yeats. It's one of my favorite poems, and I hear it's one of Mark Huntley's
favorites too. I just hope there's still going to be a wild for us somewhere.
The reply came only moments later:
From: "Doctor Fahd Johndpur" (email@example.com)
To: "Rigel A. McCaffrey" (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: Re: Illusions
Well then for God's sake do something about it, Rigel.
Doctor Burroughs tells me you've already got a good grasp
of quantum mechanics, and, forgive my rudeness, but you're
only twelve. Back on Earth I had colleagues who weren't as
creative or as well-educated as you are now. You have
gifts, girl, as do your peers. You can affect your world;
this isn't Earth; the inertia isn't too great. Make life
what you want it to be.
Is everlasting fame and a life of adventure among the stars
enough extra credit to offer? Or do you want an A+ in the
class, too? ;)
-- Doctor J.
She read this, and smiled. Way ahead of you, Doc. "Computer, open file slip.gcad and
display. Media, play Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Track Two. Volume
/* Pink Floyd -- Learning to Fly -- A Momentary Lapse of Reason */
Copyright 2001 Bjorn Townsend. All Rights Reserved.