Trouble in Paradise: ANTARIS - Destiny

Friday, May 24, 2019

ANTARIS - Destiny

The boy stuck around, first for a few days, then a few weeks, then a few months. He learned all kinds of things; how to fix an anti-grav hover-craft, the finer points of calculus, coding, and the design and AI of droids. On the other hand, he also learned more about the history: why people saw the need to go out and explore the galaxy back in the 2050s. Even though Antaris had been colonized over two hundred years ago, its history sometimes seemed in need of a larger narrative that stretches back further in time.


The time that deep space exploration really took off was a time when the global community seemed to be recovering from another economical crisis. The recovery was a hoax, like the whole economy itself at that time and the recession stretched out for the better part of the next fifty years. What had gradually happened since that pivotal year 2000 was that life had become more expensive for everyone who operated within the system. And since it’s sometimes impossible to see what’s going on when you’re inside something, there wasn’t anyone that took notice and was able to provide a narrative that people were willing to believe. 
There was a narrative though, but not a hopeful one and certainly not one that was geared towards the future in any long term. All over the globe populism started popping up, blaming some minority for the nations misfortune, but without any plans or visions for the future the traction that these populists generated was used by right wing politicians to promote their agendas. They easily lured the populists into a coalition under the promise of lowering taxes which would leave people with more money. 
Maybe the populists weren’t as cunning or they had never been aware of that simple credo that most career politicians adhere to – always exploit a good lie. The lower taxes were a lie and what in fact happened was that taxes were slightly increased, more taxes were introduced and all this money was used to make deals with large corporations, under the guise that they would employ people and generate wealth for everyone. 
It wasn’t what happened. These corporations only hired people that they could use and they hired cheaper workers from other countries, or they moved their operations abroad and they heavily invested in robotization of whatever they were doing. Any kid with a two-bit common sense could have foreseen that it was a sliding slope, but still people kept voting for populists. They preyed on sentiment and it kept working for the simple reason that it’s easier to believe that an evil minority is responsible for all misfortune, rather than the big brother that’s supposed to look after all of us. 
Or maybe people at that time had already become those empty vessels, brainwashed by too much television and too little literature and good fiction. Maybe they were sitting ducks that were willing to give their vote to anyone who tells a story that they can live with, a story in which they are the good guys and victims of circumstances, and that a solution is not hard work, perseverance and working toward a greater future, but instead the solution is removing some foreign entity. 
It almost brings to mind this politician on Rokset Island that used to barhop and buy beers for the hardcore clientele, while subtly angling for votes. When those same folks came by his office to hold this politician to his word later on, he simply pressed a button under his desk that alerted security of intruders. Officially it was illegal to buy votes with money or liquor and it even was a contradiction in terms, since at that time votes didn’t matter any more. The best deals were shady and made behind closed doors in smoky rooms between men that were blinded by power. 


Five decades after 2000 there was a new hope: the story of minorities no longer stuck – mostly because life had drawn to the big cities, which had become the dominant communities that were by definition mixed of many cultural groups that coexisted. The reason those metropoles worked was that there wasn’t one dominant culture like there had been before that demanded of minorities to give up their identity and to be assimilated. There were laws of course that were strictly enforced and those were the straightforward laws as they applied to any civilization. There were a few settlements outside of the cities where some bad elements flocked together, but they didn’t have much power in the way of numbers. 
Droids had become a reality and they had become servants in every capacity. They most notably served a function in providing healthy and nutritious food produce of labor intensive agriculture. They had entered the police force, entering bad neighborhoods and enforcing the law. They performed surgeries. And they were employed in space exploration. 


On September 1, 2039, the centennial of the beginning of ww2, basic income was instated in all countries that were part of the United Nations. The basic income in all those countries was exactly the same and at the time there was a temporary migration to countries where this basic income could be stretched further. 
The basic income had been possible, because of all the work done by droids, and because of the basic income, working weeks rarely stretched beyond 20 hours per week. This meant that the general population had a lot of free time. It became a time when people began searching for a larger narrative and very quickly the fascination with what lies beyond the stars caught on. 
Reaching beyond the stars took more than those 20 hours per week: it required dedication to the point of obsession. This spur had its effect on all levels of the global society and it was one of the first occasions that there was a unity that was more than a monetary agreement.


The short story was that more public money was spend on space exploration. A public fund was started with the same goal in mind. By 2060 the first shuttle with an army of 500 droids was send to Antaris to prepare for the arrival of 700 colonists by the year 2080. 
It was a leap though for those 700 souls. Because the space-ship neared the speed of light, the nature of time changed: it sped up. Even though two stable wormholes were discovered that cut the journey to less than a fifth of what it would have normally have taken. If they were to return to Earth via the same route, 200 years would have passed on earth, while they would only have aged 10 years. 


Cody Watts was born on January 5, 2300. He was the fourth generation of his family that was born on Antaris. 


Mack Daniels was in his early thirties and he had been working as an engineer for the better part of ten years. Over the years he had become disgruntled by the ultra-conservative attitude in most of the settlements that had been established in the early days. 
Most communities on Antaris rarely exceed 500 hundred individuals and they were spread out over the deserts, high plains, arctics and jungles. There were of course communications between settlements on the planets, but in all it was a stark contrast to the massive nature and the kind of energy of the metropole on earth. 
The only way that Mack Daniels could explain the ultra-conservative attitudes that he ran into in all of those settlements was because of a lack of input ideas, experiences, hopes and dreams. The ultra-conservatism is reactionary inthat it provides security despite the stuff that makes life interesting: because of the lack of new ideas it seems reasonable to assume that the past and the future would be much of the same thing. 
It worked for some and by much of the same token the individuals for which it worked might have been cut from the same cloth as those who eagerly voted for populists over two hundred years ago. For those who were not susceptible to ultra-conservatism things weren’t always easy, because in a way they were the same type of minorities against which those populists raged. The only difference was that back in those days, the majority was non-conservative (but ignorant) and the minority was extremely conservative. 


The first time that Mack Daniels had heard about Free Town he had dismissed it as just another story. The narrative was much like you’d expect it to be: a settlement that was started by a few disgruntled individuals that had enough of the conservative regime: an artist, a writer, a painter, a musician, a philosopher, a movie-maker and some wondering souls that hadn’t found their way yet. They simply wanted less rules and regulations, while carving out a life of their own. That, in so few words, became the only jurisdiction in Free Town.
It had been four years ago that Mack Daniels had heard the story. When he actually found out that it was a real place, it didn’t take him long to pack his bags and wonder off to that promise of a town. He didn’t have much that held him in any other place: he was a minimalist by principle, there were women here and there, but none that had managed to keep him in any place for long.
Time in Free Town was of a different quality and the two years that he lived there felt much shorter. That’s just how it is when we’re happy and at ease: things go smoother, included. As time he passed he also realized that much of the stories that he had heard were more fact than fiction: it was much like what Katie Tucker had shown Cody Watts when he had come walking in from the primitivist settlement. Free Town was welcoming to strangers and they had mostly one thing in mind: a free spirit and not too much rules and regulations. 
Then there were the stories about the parties out in the desert in that settlement that seemed to be build exclusively for that. 


Mack Daniels had reluctantly taken Cody Watts under his wings. His girl kept nagging that he should and that it was the right thing to do. It just didn’t seem that there was much to go on: a young boy of 18 that might have some technical skills. What Mack Daniels didn’t know was that it was more than some skills, since Cody Watts had undergone extensive engineering training in VR. He had passed all practical and theoretical exams, but what he lacked was real-life experience. 
Mack Daniels’ girl by the name of Colleen Sherman had gotten air of this young boy of 18. She had confirmed with another friend who knew Katie Tucker. Colleen Sherman figured that it might be good for the young boy, but that mentoring might also be something that Mack Daniels might enjoy. He had always been a man with ideas that were bigger than those of the average man. Colleen had figured that mentoring might help him to tone it down a notch. 


So you’re that snot-nosed little kid,” Mack Daniels said when the boy had come in and introduced himself.

Katie Tucker who had walked Cody Watts to Mack Daniels’ workshop whispered, “He’s just joking.”
He is?”
I ain’t,” Mack Daniels said and he gave the anti-grav hover-craft a good smack, “This goddamn piece of junk!”
Cody here build his own droid,” Katie says, “Rusty.”

Rusty took it as a cue and he jumped center stage yelling “He, he he...”
That’s cute,” Mack Daniels says, “Why don’t you hand me those pliers.”

Out of a pile of about twenty different ones, Cody Watts managed to picked up the right one. 
He can stay,” Mack Daniels says. 
Ok then,” Katie Tucker says, “You two have fun….”
You checked the coupling coil?” Cody asks.
No damage, no rattling,” Mack Daniels says, “The battery gives a steady hum, circuitry is not fried, so I figured that it might be the alignment coils.”
Or the stabilizer,” Cody says, “Although that’s a secondary system and you should have seen more action thus far.”
Right,” Mack Daniels says, cleaning his hands with a cloth, “I need some water first.”

The bigger problem is the dust,” Mack Daniels says. 

Mack Daniels takes a few gulps of cold water.
My girl told me that you just came into Free Town.”
The journey,” Cody says, “I turned 18 a week ago.”
When you’re 18 you don’t know nothing,” Mack Daniels says, laughing, “When you’re 32 you don’t know nothing.”
What are you saying?” Cody Watts asks, “Knowledge is futile?”
Noooh….” Mack Daniels says, exaggerating, “I have seen too many folks those that just rolled into an easy engineering job right after finishing their VR-training and 6 months internship…. Then you just become this tiny part in this whole machine here on Antaris…. Then that’s it for the next fifty years.”

Cody Watts looks questioning.
A job is good,” Mack Daniels says, “Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not everything.”
Right,” Cody says, “I guess I’ll understand in a few years, huh?”
There are plenty that don’t….”
So then what made you come out to Free Town?”
I guess it’s all in the name,” Mack Daniels says, “I heard the stories for years wherever I was. It were these talks about a settlement out in the desert that was created by dissatisfied settlers from all over Antaris. What they basically wanted were less rules and regulations.”
A Free Town.”


It was immediately clear that Cody Watts and Mack Daniels connected. It made the apprenticeship easy and they talked about much more than just engineering.
Why do you think that Antaris is still under military control?” Mack Daniels asked one day.
After two hundred years?” Mack Daniels says, “There hasn’t been a single hostile act. No revolt of the masses. No mass crime. No invasion from outer space.”
But still we are under military command.”
You get the picture, right?”
You mean: why there’s no democracy on Antaris?”
I can understand that they didn’t send career politicians here in the first place, because many of the problems on our home world were caused by bad politics but at some point politics are unavoidable to get a society that’s more than a research station in the arctics or a rig drilling for oil.”
Then if the military are in control, then they are ultimately the ones that can decide on the ruling and the faith of Antaris.”
You see my point….” Mack Daniels says, “Then the question is: why are they holding it off?”
Status quo?” Cody Watts asks, “Maybe people are content with the way things are?”
Because they were born into it and don’t know any better….?” Mack Daniels says, “No: too easy. We all have full access to the VR and movie archives. There’s more than enough evidence out there that military rule is not the preferred option.”
Then what?”
Then it’s the same question of motive: why are they holding it off?”
Maybe those in power like it the way it is,” Cody Watts says.
That, or they’re plotting something,” Mack Daniels says, “There’s only so much training, marching and parading that you can do.”
You think that something else is going on.”
Yes,” Mack Daniels says, “It’s like the colonization of earth back in history: conquest and conquer.”
Conquer what?”
Deep space.”


Mack Daniels usually talked about his theories little by little, because he knew from experience that what he ultimately believed was too much to digest at once. Unless it was one of those nights when drinks and stories flowed limitless and the boundary between reality and fiction seemed to go up in thin air. Because what he believed sounded more like fiction than reality and that in itself might be much of the reason why the military command had gotten away with so much for over two hundred years. 
Nights of boozing, fun and games were usually the nights that theories like those of Mack Daniels were discussed. In the minds eye those nights were all about the darkest hour of the night that seemed to stretch out without end into a kind of black hole. During nights like those, preferably after midnight and first having relayed the story of Cotton Charlie the story about that simple soul that was tormented and ultimately lynched by a mob that had initially paid to see him fight. That mob had first made him crazy and then murdered him in the most horrible way. After midnight Cotton Charlie could be summoned with a simple riddle. 
It’s one of those stories that just doesn’t work in the daytime, because it’s at night that our thinking changes. That’s where black holes come in and where it absorbs everything, even light itself. Our thinking patterns become unhinged from our everyday norms, we seem to be less tied in the present, but more connected to a sort of collective subconscious as it was theorized at the turn of the twentieth century by psychoanalysts.
The kind of story that Mack Daniels usually told well after midnight, or on the n-th time that certain things were discussed, was the story of what he believed was the motive for the military still being in control of Antaris. Over the years he had become more and more convinced that there’s a conspiracy going on: it is believed that the military is building a drone army in a facility on the nearby planet called Lithios. 
This planet is named after the element that can be harvested in abundance: lithium. This metal is used to build batteries and shielding of droids. Materials used to build the electronics and other parts are also harvested on that planet. The drone plant on Lithios doesn’t limit itself to droids, but it also builds space-ships that carry weapons of mass destruction. The conspiracy hangs on this thin thread that the military is just waiting for the right opportunity to engage in their imperialist conquest. 

Whyis usually the first question that people ask when Mack Daniels talks about the theory.
Motive, opportunity and means,” Mack Daniels usually responds, cooly, “To get bigger and more powerful.”
I used to say: why not?” Mack Daniels says, and then he usually pauses mysteriously, “But I have come to believe that it’s inevitable, because we simply need sense and purpose in our lives. And I believe this is it in this day and age. Just imagine the opportunity: we conquer some alien worlds, give it a few decades and then we turn that conquest into an alliance where this historical move of ours will always give us the upper hand.”
No peace treaties?”
Nature doesn’t work like that. It’s more primitive and more raw. It has more to do with overpowering,” Mack Daniels says, “Then later on those treaties will follow.”
How do you know all this?”
By looking at the past and the fact that we haven’t changed all that much.”


Cody Watts had discussed the theories many times with Mack Daniels and it tended to make sense every time he heard about it. It was the combination of motive, opportunity and means combined with logic, history and a keen insight in human nature. 


The months flew by until there was a night when he was in bed with Katie Tucker. They were watching a movie and out of the blue she had sensed what Cody Watts was planning to do next.
You want to leave,” she said, without him having told her anything as such. 
You’re tired of me.”
Not of you.”

Cody Watts hesitates and he thinks: maybe that was on the tip of my mind all along.
You can come with me,” he says finally, “But I have a feeling that you won’t do that.” 
It’s ok,” she says, “You know where to find me.”


The next day Cody Watts prepared to walk to the next settlement. He gathered water, dehydrated food and the experiences of the last months that were recorded in the VR-logs. 
It was a mixed feeling to walk out of Free Town. In that town was the first woman that he shared a bed with, but it was also the town where he learned that there’s always more that meets the eye. 

The distance to the next settlement was over 200 kilometers and it would be more challenging than the first leg of his journey. For the next weeks he would sure balance on the brink of exhaustion and dehydration. There would sure be moments when he wanted to return to Free Town, back to the warm bed and the loving heat of the girl, back to tinkering with this and that, back to those endless nights out in the desert.
Then there was this nagging feeling that Free Town wasn’t the place to stay for too long. It felt more like an extended summer vacation and the girl had been his vacation fling.
The thought that hadn’t reached his consciousness yet was this: if there’s any truth to that droid army, then I need to find a way to stop them. Given Cody Watts’ skill and knowledge it should be possible; if he could get close enough. Science still hadn’t found a cure for the common cold and with droids becoming much more like us that might be exactly what could put sand in their engine. Then there was this dream that he had always had: to serve as a pilot in the military. 

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