Long Shadows at Dawn
This is my first attempt at a fanfiction. Please crit brutally. You may do what you want with it as long as you respect the rights of the creators, copyright holders, and so forth of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.
Lucia Graves entered the office and was relieved to see that CEO Nwabudike Morgan was in a jovial mood. "Hello Lucia," he said. "Please have a seat, rest your feet, and tell me how the war against the worms is going."
Lucia sat down and said, "The war is going amazingly well, sir, especially when you consider how bad things were just a few months ago. Your idea of paying a bounty for dead worms has worked wonders. People who have the courage to stand up to the worms' psionic assault are cashing in, and there are no worm clusters left within striking distance of the base."
CEO Morgan nodded in satisfaction. "It is good for the populace to understand that courage is profitable," he said. "We shall have need of that commodity."
Lucia continued: "There has been one unforeseen development, however. A new company, Dead Worms, Inc., has found a way to process the worm husks into what they call planetpearls, which evidently have many useful properties. For a while we resold the worm husks to Dead Worms in order to make back the cost of the worm bounty. But lately Dead Worms has been contracting worm-hunters directly and bypassing our bounty program altogether. It wasn't planned, but since the worms are being killed anyway, I don't think we should crack down on them."
Lucia looked at CEO Morgan to see how he was reacting to her temerity in giving him advice and was relieved to see a broad smile on his face. Realization struck her. "You knew about Dead Worms all along!" she blurted out.
"I'm a shareholder," he said. "But even if I weren't, I'd be happy. Worm-eradication is now powered by the profit motive, and the bounty program will soon be obsolete. You have done well, Lucia. You are young and intelligent, and you understand something of the power of money. You are brave, too: it has not escaped my notice that you are one of the few who kept their heads in the first worm attacks. You are also ambitious for wealth and influence. I am relieving you of your post."
"Sir?" Lucia said. It took a fierce effort to keep the tears from her eyes. She had thought she was doing so well, and this blindsided her.
"Your new position will be as my personal assistant," said the CEO. "You will have a generous official salary and an even more generous unofficial one. Because you are young and attractive and will have little in the way of official duties, people will assume you are my mistress. Actually, you will be my probemaster."
CEO Morgan stood and looked out the window into the distance. "They are out there, somewhere," he said. "The other factions. Sooner or later we will make contact, and I will need the best possible intelligence on them."
A few days later, CEO Morgan addressed an assembly of the notables (i.e., the rich) of his society. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "we have overcome the first great threat to our existence on this world. Those horrid mind worms are now our prey, rather than we theirs. It is time to abandon our emergency government for a more permanent and profitable one. Derek Ho, Marie Gbalajobi, and Tim Sladek have performed the difficult task of writing a new civil code — one with a particularly lucid treatment of property rights and contracts. Let's give them a hand!" And from the podium CEO Morgan led the applause for these three heros of the law.
When the applause died down, Morgan continued. "I was inspired by their efforts to make my own contribution. I have made a draft constitution for your consideration. I have tried to make it simple enough for the present modest scale of our colony, yet flexible enough to adapt to a number of possible developments as our society grows, and it has been tested in a broad suite of computer simulations. Its principal novelty is that it reflects our social values by weighting votes according to a formula involving wealth — as measured by the taxes an individual has paid during the previous electoral cycle. The formula has scaled well in simulation, but undoubtably you will want to try out your own formulas and simulations.
"I am giving this assembly a fortnight to consider modifications to this constitution. If, at the end of that time, you have reached no consensus, I shall select whatever proposal seems best to me. I wish I could offer you more time, but the pace of events is pressing. Soon, perhaps within a month, we expect contact with at least one other faction. When that happens, we should have in place a system of government that is stable, rational, and profitable.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you are now the constitutional convention of the Plutocracy of Deineira. You are laying the cornerstones of our future. Until a fortnight hence, I leave you to your deliberations."
The assembly, now the constitutional convention, was so stunned that they didn't start to applaud until CEO Morgan had left the rostrum.
Back in his quarters a week later, CEO Morgan settled into a plush armchair. A floozy removed his shoes, and he set his feet upon a padded footrest. The floozy began to massage his feet. He gestured for the floozy to depart and addressed Lucia Graves. "Ah, Lucia," he said. "How many times have I wished we had settled a planet with lighter gravity."
Lucia Graves eyed the departing floozy. She wondered whether it would be wise to consolidate her position by becoming Morgan's mistress in deed as well as in rumor. Probably that wouldn't accomplish anything. Morgan would see through such simple attempts to manipulate him, though he would likely accept the offer.
Morgan smiled his plutocratically avuncular smile and said, "Report, probemaster."
Lucia said, "We have identified six localities on Chiron which are sources of low-intensity spread-spectrum radio signals. We cannot hope to read these signals from afar, not only because of encryption but because of the limitations imposed by Shannon's noisy coding theorem. But these are undoubtably the locations of the other factions. Their RF signatures are similar to our own, and they must also be aware of our presence."
Lucia pressed a button on her datek, and a slowly rotating holographic globe of Chiron appeared in the air between her and the CEO. The locations of the RF sources were clearly marked. Morgan got to his feet and examined the globe with interest. "We are fortunate to be on an island by ourselves," he remarked. "We must ensure that this good fortune continues. Do we have any idea which RF source corresponds to which faction?"
"Unfortunately not. Our records of the Unity breakup are incomplete and ambiguous. We can't tell which faction landed where."
"Very well, then, probemaster. Summarize what we can guess about the other factions: their strengths, weaknesses, and potential as trading partners."
"Yes sir. First off is Sheng-ji Yang's faction. If he is still alive, he is certain to be in control. He's not the type to lose control."
"From my own encounters with him, I'd say he is a lunatic. He seems torn between wanting to emulate Chairman Mao and wanting to emulate Fu Manchu," said the CEO.
"He may not be entirely sane, but he is highly intelligent," said Lucia. "The key to his character is his need for control, which practically amounts to paranoia. He hates democracy and will probably set up a police state as soon as possible. However, he is too cautious to launch wars unless he's fairly sure he can win, and he is likely to be reasonably honest in negotiations. Like Mao, he believes in the power of population, and we may expect him to try to gain a long-term edge by simply outbreeding everybody else.
"This need for control is sure to disrupt his economy, and we may expect his research to be laggard as well. On the other hand, he will be ideologically inclined to build up heavy industry, even where it makes no economic sense. This may give us an opening for some lucrative trade.
"In warfare, I expect his caution will lead him to shun brilliant tactics in favor of simple attrition. He will use raw numbers and industry to overwhelm his enemy. Therefore, if we fight him we must seek complications and avoid set-piece battles. We must keep surprising him — Sheng-ji Yang doesn't like surprises."
Morgan nodded and said, "An excellent summary, Lucia. I hope that Mr. Yang is associated with one of the RF sources on the far side of Chiron, but if he does turn out to be our neighbor, we should be able to deal with him. Who's next?"
"Next is the faction that was headed by Prokhor Zakharov. If he is still alive and in charge, he has likely organized his whole society along academic lines. His research will probably be in advance of ours for many years. We could save ourselves a lot of work by either trading for his technology or simply stealing it.
"A society run along academic lines is inherently elitist. We may expect disaffection among the vast majority of the population who do not have PhDs. The academic ruling class will be rife with professional jealousies and arcane academic feuds. If we find ourselves at war with this faction, we should be able to compensate for our expected technological lag with vigorous probe action aimed at stealing their tech and exploiting their social weaknesses.
"Prokhor Zakharov is likely to be reasonably honest in negotiations, at least with factions who show an appreciation of the value of research. Zakharov's academic vanity may be an exploitable weakness. He has high standards of academic integrity but a very low level of human empathy, especially for the uneducated. He might commit atrocities against his drones in the name of research, for example, forced medical trials, and if so we should be able to capitalize on the resulting resentment."
"Thank you, Lucia. Professor Zakharov will probably be a valuable acquaintance. At any rate, we will have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't build up an insurmountable lead in technology. Who is next?"
"Pravin Lal," said Lucy.
"A sanctimonious creep," opined CEO Morgan.
"Yes — that sums up my summary," said Lucia. "As putative leader of the UN, Pravin Lal will consider himself to be the only legitimate leader on Chiron. Agreements with him will be written on water. He will observe them only until he feels strong enough to break them. As with his hero, Jawaharlal Nehru, we can expect a lot of claptrap about the virtues of pacificism. And like his hero Nehru, who invaded Goa just because he could, he will feel no inhibition against launching wars in the name of unity whenever he thinks he can get away with it.
"From our records of the situation on the Unity, a fair number of intellectuals joined his faction, so his research shouldn't be too bad. However, Zakharov's faction and our own should still have a tangible technological lead.
"Some of his statements on the Unity and on Earth suggest he will aggressively promote a large-family policy. This gives him credibility as a long-term threat. Given the composition of his faction, we also expect him to be unusually adept at diplomacy. We might be the only faction to see through him from the start, and even so we will have to be alert to attempts to manipulate other factions against us.
"Militarily, we see no reason he should be especially strong or weak until his population growth kicks in. Overall, his faction seems to have no a priori weaknesses and limited a priori strengths. He should be a useful trading partner, but we must watch him carefully and never trust him for a moment."
"Thank you, Lucia. I agree with your assessment completely," said Morgan.
"Next is the faction led by Deirdre Skye," said Lucia.
"She's a ditz," said Morgan.
"Indeed, she does appear to be the least intelligent of the faction leaders," said Lucia. "However, she managed to convince most of the biologists on the Unity to join her. They will be the ruling class of her faction. Biology is perhaps the most critical branch of knowledge in the early stages of adapting ourselves to this planet, and there she will have a specialized technological edge.
"She professes pacifism but also a rabid hatred of capitalism. She is likely to be pacifist with everyone except us. Her status as a military threat depends on technological developments and on whether she is able to form a hostile coalition. On the face of it, she doesn't seem too formidable, but if her biologists cook up some nasty plagues, she might be dangerous indeed.
"Her ideology is confused and inconsistent, but fervently held. She has expressed both the desire to make a new Earth with the Unity's biosamples (which she stole before the Unity broke up) and also the need to defend the native ecology against human disruption. The lopsided nature of the faction, with its strength in biology and weakness in everything else, offers rich opportunities for trade.
"She should generally be reasonably honest in negotiations, but her hatred of capitalism could lead her to rationalize breaking agreements with us. If she goes to war with us, we should try to get a truce by striking at her territory and simultaneously lecturing her on the horrors of war."
"Thank you, Lucia," said Morgan. "A most thought-provoking assessment."
"Next is Corazon Santiago's faction. She apparently had the support of the security personnel who didn't go with Yang. In addition, she had a contingent of those who fancied themselves rugged individualists but didn't go with us. We expect her to try to develop a society based on the right to bear arms."
Morgan said, "That sounds like a pretty thin ideology. Rather like trying to found a society on the right to drive fast cars."
Lucia replied, "Yes, but perhaps that very ideological thinness gives them some flexibility. For example, they are not committed to a specific form of government.
"Santiago is known to despise the natural inclination to accumulate wealth, which she views as a weakness. She is intellectually narrow, but deeply versed in military history, and she is reputed to be a brilliant tactician. In diplomacy, she can be expected to honor her word, but she won't give her word easily. Above all, in dealing with her, we must avoid any appearance of weakness.
"If we find ourselves at war with Santiago, our strategy should be the opposite of our strategy for Yang. She will have a good military, but it won't be a big military. The first goal will be to limit her mobility and her tactical options. Then we should try to force her into a war of attrition. We could crank out a supply of warbots to grind her down. When the defensive front is stabilized, we should look for a victory somewhere, perhaps by seizing a lightly defended base. Then, having won her respect by beating her, we should offer whatever we have taken in return for peace."
"Thank you, Lucia. This is insightful analysis. I suppose Miriam is next," said CEO Morgan.
"Yes. If she turns out to be located near us, Miriam Godwinson is likely to be the greatest danger. She is a fanatic surrounded by fanatics, and ideologically committed to spreading her way of life everywhere. She is highly charismatic — her followers would literally worship her if she permitted it. Despite her religious blinders, she is intelligent and an excellent judge of people. She's more tolerant of religious variation than you might expect. She greatly enjoys theological disputation, and this might well have become the most popular entertainment in her faction.
"Her deep suspicion of science will probably cripple her faction's research, so she will have to steal or trade for most of her technology. This gives us commercial opportunities, but we will have to take care not to strengthen her too much if she is in a position to menace us.
"A society of religious fanatics has several military advantages. The universal religious fervor gives them a degree of immunity to espionage and probe activity, especially when the fanatics practice enough tolerance so that minority religious sects won't want to change colors. Such a society will also find it easy to get volunteers for their military. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a military of true believers will be willing to sacrifice their lives if necessary, and this gives them an edge over saner opponents.
"A war with Miriam Godwinson would be a desperate and damaging affair. She could certainly field a larger army than ours, one capable of suicidal attacks. But the willingness to die is mainly an offensive rather than a defensive virtue, so we should hit her hard in the field rather than wait for her to attack us. We must compensate for our smaller numbers by outsmarting her and subjecting her forces to hit-and-run tactics. Initially, we should make the most of our home-field advantage by disrupting her supply lines and by striking at her out of our bases. If she is close enough to us to be a perpetual threat, we might endeavor to conquer her outright despite the cost, because otherwise she might just attack us again and again. On the other hand, if she does not seem to be a perpetual threat, we should seek peace at the first opportunity.
"Miriam Godwinson could be a boon to us if she can be convinced to attack someone else who might be troublesome. Over time, we should have a substantial technological lead, and she could end up dependent on us to keep at parity with her neighbors. By feeding her tech at intervals, we can keep other factions off-balance and unable to threaten us. In summary, Miriam Godwinson would be a bad enemy, but she might make a good pet."
"Excellent appraisal, Lucia," said Morgan. "I particularly like the idea of a pet Miriam. We have one more faction to cover now."
"No, sir. That's all of them," said Lucia.
"Hardly," said Morgan. "What about us? I would like a similar summary of our own faction, to see how an intelligent external observer might see us."
It galled Lucia that she hadn't foreseen this request, which she could see was reasonable and intelligent. Not for the first time she wondered if she were really worthy of the responsibility that Morgan had entrusted her with. Fortunately, she was good at thinking on her feet.
"We hold the long-term trumps," she said. "We are the only faction with a thorough understanding and appreciation of economics. Ultimately, we will be so prosperous we will be able to simply buy an academia superior to Zakharov's or a military superior to Santiago's. Should we feel the need, I suppose we could also buy a religion superior to Godwinson's. In order to compete with us, a faction would have to become like us, and they would then merge into our economic system to our mutual benefit.
"But that is the long term, and in order to get there we shall first have to survive the short term and the medium term. It will be many decades before we can establish economic dominance. With the possible exception of Deirdre Skye, the other factions' leaders are intelligent enough to recognize our long-term economic potential, and we can expect them to take actions to limit our growth. They will note that of all the factions, we are the one least suited to war.
"The most obvious way to limit us is by conquering us outright. Any of the other factions would conquer us if they could do so safely, so we must make them understand that the price of war would be too high. We must have accurate intelligence on their capabilities and the disposition of their forces. The greatest danger would come from an invasion of several allied factions, so we should do everything we can to keep such an alliance from materializing.
"War is bad business, as you have said, so factions who fear our economic dominance will be tempted to war. Even if they are not strong enough to try to conquer us they may launch harassing raids to wreck our infrastructure. They may even try the Sword of Damocles strategy. This is to perpetually threaten us with war without actually launching one. The idea is to panic us into adopting an emergency defensive stance at a cost to the development of our economy. While we cannot allow ourselves to be vulnerable to conquest or recurring vandalistic raids, we must also be careful not to overreact to threats.
"Internally, we will probably have occasional drone trouble. There are always some malcontents who think the world owes them a living. They would be easily manageable, but they will be supported by hostile factions who wish to disrupt our society and economy. With intelligent political management, we should still be able to keep them from being more than a nuisance.
"Ideologically, we have the advantage of being the only faction that allows people to choose their own goals in life. For Zakharov, research is the only proper use of one's life, and for Miriam, a life should be spent in worship and good deeds. For Santiago, the virtuous existence is spent polishing one's weapons and being tough, while for Yang, the proper use of life is obedience to Sheng-ji Yang. For Lal, one is supposed to spend one's life promoting the brotherhood of man — under the auspices of the UN, of course — while for Deirdre one should be endlessly mooning about the wonders of nature.
"But in our society, one chooses one's own goals and tries to make money to achieve them. We really don't care if you spend your money on research or shiny weapons or nature-mooning or religion or admiring Sheng-ji Yang. This means we are a natural haven for refugees from other factions.
"In the medium term, the other factions will have a higher natural rate of population growth than ours. We could make up for this with immigration. Immigration always brings social friction, and a certain number of the immigrants will undoubtably be spies from other factions, but overall, immigrants and their children tend to be the most productive segment of the population. Provided we are realistic in our expectations and forestall social discord and weed out the spies, immigrants should be a substantial asset."
Morgan said, "Indeed, in the days of its greatness, immigrants are what made America great. But the Americans never fully appreciated the source of their vitality. I am not so foolish."
Lucia continued. "Because war is bad for us and because all of the other factions are potential threats, we might be tempted to an isolationist policy. But this would be a mistake. We need to develop foreign trade for our economy and we need a vigorous diplomacy to prevent coalitions from forming against us. We also cannot shut ourselves off from the progress of between 80 and 90 of the population of this planet and hope to maintain parity."
Morgan nodded and said, "I think of what China's policy of isolation brought it in the 19th century, and I concur that isolation is folly."
"The other factions will probably have difficulty understanding our society," said Lucia. "They simply don't know how to think in our terms. They will try to organize their society along tree structures of bureaucratic or military chains of command. From everything I've seen, the other faction leaders don't understand self-organizing social systems and they don't know the power of the invisible hand. Our society will be more resilient than theirs, and more complex than anything consistent with an imposed tree structure. But from their point of view, society is a tree structure, so they will look at us in those terms and see what their preconceptions have conditioned them to see. We should look for ways to exploit their misconceptions."
"That is an intriguing speculation," said Morgan. "And you have given a lucid overview of our strengths and weaknesses. I did well to choose you as probemaster."
Lucia said, "May I speak frankly, sir?"
Morgan said, "I insist that you always speak frankly when we are in private."
"Thank you, sir," said Lucia. "I was wondering what would become of me and my nascent organization. There seems to be no place for us in the draft constitution, and you are apparently retiring from politics."
Morgan replied, "You will continue to exist where you are now — off the books." Then he added in apparent irrelevance, "A constitution is a contract between a government and the people. I have great experience with contracts."
"Sir?" said Lucia.
Morgan said, "Often the most important part of a contract is written between the lines. What this constitution has between the lines is robust enough to survive our constitutional convention's tinkering. I will not be president of our plutocracy. I will not hold any significant official post. Others will govern. But, I assure you, I will still rule."
It was at that moment that Lucia Graves understood that CEO Nwabudike Morgan was the most cunning person on Chiron. He would need all of his cunning to ensure that he and his society survived.