Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The Star League Part 2
POLITICS OF COLONIZATION
If the urge to explore new lands and see new sights called men and women to wander far from Terra, the growing political chaos within the Terran Alliance was the force pushing at them from behind. The Terran Alliance, which was unprepared for the discovery or ramifications of the Kearny-Fuchida drive, was equally unprepared to govern people light years away from the mother planet. At first, there was not much problem. The early colonists were usually small groups so totally dependent on Terra for technical support that they willingly complied with any Alliance government demands.
As the colonies began to swell in size, it was inevitable that many became self-sufficient. This led to tensions between the colonies and the Alliance government over the issue of local authority versus allegiance to the power of the motherworld. The Alliance was victorious in the first skirmishes, mainly because it still controlled the colonists’ water supply.
That situation changed in 2177 with the formation of the Ryan Cartel and its fleet of iceberg-toting JumpShips. With a reliable source of water, frontier worlds could now support many more people and so quickly become independent of Terra. The tension and distrust between Terra and her colonies increased measurably.
In the Alliance capital of Geneva, the struggle eventually polarized an already weak governing body into two main political parties, the Expansionists and the Liberals, each claiming moral superiority for their position.
The Expansionists believed in the authority of the State over everyone, including men and women light years away. The development of the hyperdrive had swept their party into the Prime Ministry in the early 22nd century, and they had remained in power ever since. The Expansionists had no qualms about using force to achieve their aims and had often sent in the Alliance military to put down unrest in rebellious Terran nations.
The Liberals, on the other hand, were earning the reputation for being saints with horns. With every year spent out of power, they seemed to become more radical. Though they claimed to believe in the goodness of every individual, the Liberals gradually adopted the tough tactics of the Expansionists to regain power.
Opportunity knocked in 2236 when a coalition of colonies at the far edge of Human expansion declared their independence from the Alliance. The Expansionists wanted to severely punish the coalition, but unfortunately for them, the Alliance Global Militia was less an army than a heavily armed police. Only the Colonial Marines, a small branch of the Militia, was equipped with the resources for a journey to the rebellious worlds.
Undaunted, the Expansionists dispatched the Marines from Terra to punish the colonial rebels and to reestablish the Alliance’s dominance. Confident that the Marines could handle a few disgruntled rebels, the Expansionist government was staking all its credibility on the venture. Denebola, a distant colony that had been the first to declare its independence, was the first target on a long list of worlds that the Marines were to force back into the fold.
Eighteen months later, the Colonial Marines returned to Terra in disgrace. Where they had expected to find only a few disgruntled rebels, they had been met by large, highly motivated armies instead. Though not well-equipped, the rebel forces outnumbered and outmaneuvered the Marines, who often arrived at the rebel worlds without proper maps or other reconnaissance. Losses were high on both sides, but the Marines lacked the means to transport reinforcements or adequate supplies from Terra. Faced with the prospect of ignominious defeat, they withdrew.
The Liberals made the most of this catastrophic Expansionist failure by condemning their opponents’ foreign policy and challenging their right to rule. The Liberals quickly gained the support of other dissident groups and formed a coalition to take power away from the Expansionists.
Until now, the public had been apathetic about colonial events. Except for people who had relatives on the frontier, the colonies were of little interest except as a source of sensational stories about bizarre new lifeforms. That attitude changed quickly when the Liberal party made public a secret Expansionist memo revealing the government’s intention to severely restrict emigration to the colonies.
A few months earlier, most citizens had never even considered leaving Terra. Now many were frightened and angry that the government wanted to deprive them of the right. Many suddenly switched their support to the Liberals who now enjoyed an unprecedented majority.
The Liberals swept the elections of 2237. Though the Expansionist Prime Minister was not obligated to step down, the opposition was so overwhelming that she had little choice but to resign. For the first time in decades, the Liberals were in power.
They wasted little time in changing the direction of Alliance governmental policies. First, they granted independence to all worlds beyond a small sphere of space radiating out from Terra. The problem was that the party leaders did not stop to inquire whether many of these colonies actually wanted independence. Some Liberals felt a sense of righteousness almost akin to the abolition of slavery in earlier centuries, while others believed that the colonies should be responsible for their own well-being. By 2242, the borders of the Alliance had shrunk to a sphere with a radius of only 30 light years.
I’m just a ferry pilot for the Ryan Cartel. I take my iceship, the Loving Woman, and load up on pieces of ice that workers in mules break off from the main chunk that the JumpShip brings in. The ice is stored in my ship and I ferry it to the planet.
This trip, my landing point was Mucka Flats, the largest colony on Proserpina. I was a bit concerned that we still had not made contact with the planet by the time my ship was hitting the planet’s atmosphere. Most ports would at least come on and say hello before you started your reentry. Common courtesy, you know?
The landing itself was routine enough. The automatic pilot meshed well with the port’s automatic navigation systems and my ship hardly shuddered as it touched down. But then nothing. No one came with the cool-down tanks. No one came to begin unloading procedures. Nothing but silence…
We were walking close to the swamp’s edge, wondering what the hell had happened to the port crew when Michaels suddenly went ashen and pointed at something in the swamp. It was as though the swamp had begun to react to our presence. The waters gurgled and bubbled, while vague masses under the muck began to move toward us.
The first one was huge, about two meters in diameter. As its broad, chitinous back broke the water, the creature’s black shiny skin glinted dimly in the cloud-blocked sun. As it continued to rise above the surface, I saw three pairs of eyes reflecting a sick purple light, three armored and segmented legs, and three pairs of claws tipped with what looked to me like hypodermic needles meant for elephants.
My crew and I started to run toward the control tower. These things, whose shapes somehow reminded me of Terran limpets, began chasing us, but the big one’s size kept it stumbling in the mud. This didn’t stop the smaller ones, though. They had no problem speeding over the ooze and then over the tarmac of the port.
Mitchell, always the brave one, stopped and began taking shots at the little limpets with his pistol. Soon the limpets were all around him, and after a few moments one caught hold of his leg and began crawling up. Mitchell, try as he might, couldn’t shake it off, and soon others were latching onto his leg.
Though small, those limpets had steel-strong mouth parts. Within an instant, Mitchell was howling in pain as they sunk their needle mouths into his legs. Mitchell began running toward the rest of us, who were now in the control tower watching in horror. He barely made it in before the rest of those horrors caught up with him.
Mitchell was pallid. Three limpets were still attached to his legs and it took three of us to tear each one off. We killed the devils with the business end of a nine-kilo wrench we had found in one of the control room lockers.
At first we believed that Mitchell had been poisoned by the limpets, but by sunset of the fourth day, Yolers, Bassers, and Johnson were suffering from the same hideous blotches, delirium, and retching.
Now I knew why there was no one in Mucka Flats. Everyone had either died of this swamp fever or taken to the hills in panic. I guess the only thing living in this part of the world is myself and those creatures, which are still clanking and crawling around this building.
I imagine that after a few days the smell of fresh blood or the sight of body heat, or whatever it is these devils go for, will disappear. They’ll crawl back and sink back into that swamp. At least they’ll do that without my blood in their bodies, because from the fever and the nausea I feel, it looks like I’ve got the fever, too.
-From an account left by Captain Henry Devillers, quoted in Stories of the Frontier, compiled by Richard Sturgis, Alliance Press, 2399
It was not long before the Liberals’ isolationism put them once more out of public favor. In giving independence to the colonies and freeing them from the oppressive regulations of the Expansionists, the Liberals had replaced repression with total disinterest. Despite efforts by major Alliance conglomerates to assist the abandoned colonies, the people of the frontier suffered so severely that their compatriots on Terra grew sympathetic to their plight. Demonstrations against the Alliance government became common, as the citizens of the homeworld grew increasingly angry at the government’s obsession with transforming Terra, Mars, and Venus into space-Edens while the distant colonies starved. When the Terrans learned that one colony had starved to death because of a lack of food supplies, serious rioting erupted.
Seeing the growing discontent, the Expansionists fanned the flames of discontent and soon regained enough public support to rise to power in the general elections of 2242. This pattern of revolving governments continued for the next six decades, with the public becoming ever more apathetic. Election tampering was so rampant that even those who voted conceded that their votes counted for little. Indeed, the people’s votes were bought and sold in the back rooms of the Alliance Parliament. Without any restraint from the body politic, political fighting between the two major parties escalated to physical fighting and rumors of political murder.
The situation was so unstable that it set off a huge flood of emigration from Terra and other crowded Alliance planets during the latter half of the 23rd century. Later known as the Exodus, this mass movement was made possible by the earlier emigration policies of the Liberals. Millions of disgruntled citizens seized the opportunity to leave all the chaos and misery of Terra behind.
The large conglomerates’ efforts to transport these colonists while trying to supply the colonies with adequate food and water was creating an economic strain. Scientific research suffered as industries geared up to meet massive colonial demands. Scientific research on many colony worlds became equally impossible, for everyone was preoccupied with just trying to stay alive. Even research sponsored by the Alliance government was difficult because the political fighting was all-consuming. Even universities and other research institutions were split into Liberal and Expansionist camps.
It was not long before political warfare between the Liberals and Expansionists took its toll on Alliance society as a whole. The economy slowed. Social welfare programs broke down. Even so simple a procedure as obtaining a driver’s license became a nightmare of twisted laws and regulations.
The Alliance Global Militia, after its humiliation by the rebel colonies, decided to stay out of the political turmoil. All that its leaders wanted was enough financing to gradually upgrade the force while remaining aloof from the political maelstrom. Rather than risk the AGM’s anger, the Liberals and Expansionists cooperated. Thus did the AGM grow steadily stronger over the next decades, transforming itself into a true military once more.
During these years of Liberal-Expansionist political instability, the AGM built the first true interstellar navy and developed strategies and tactics that would become the basis of modern warfare. The renewed organization and quiet confidence of the AGM appealed to the public, who saw Militia service as a refuge from the chaos of the time. So attractive was military service that AGM recruiters were forced to turn away young male and female applicants.
Fleet Admiral James McKenna was the most famous officer during the last days of the Terran Alliance. A Canadian officer who had grown up in the wilds of the Yukon Territories, he would have likely been as comfortable with the life of a lumberjack as that of Admiral and empire-builder. Though McKenna did not begin formal school until age 12, he soon showed a remarkable aptitude for the sciences and history. He had never given much thought to military service, though, notwithstanding his family’s long history of service to the Terran Alliance and to the Western Alliance before that.
When the AGM offered the young man a scholarship to Annapolis Naval Academy in the United States of America, he decided, after some deliberation, to accept the opportunity for a fine education. During his years at Annapolis, McKenna seesawed between winning honors for his exceptional academic ability and threats of expulsion for his many misadventures.
McKenna eventually did graduate with honors, but his early career in the Alliance Navy was equally checkered. Though unsurpassed in his ability to handle space vessels, his outspokenness often led to trouble. In his first ten years of service, McKenna dropped in rank five times for bad conduct. He finally settled down, but never lost his tendency to question and challenge what everyone else took for granted.
After years spent expunging his former reputation, James McKenna attained the rank of Admiral and took command of the Alliance navy in 2295. With few superiors, he was able to undertake the construction of a true space navy. Until then, the Alliance Navy had been occupied mostly with transporting troops to and from worlds. Few in the Alliance foresaw either a need to build warships or a future that would encompass more than one interstellar power. Admiral McKenna was one of those few, and he set about developing the first and best space navy for the Terran Alliance.
The first true combat warship, the TAS Dreadnought, was launched in 2300. During the next 14 years, Fleet Admiral McKenna launched six similar vessels, as well as 20 lesser warships, from the shipyards orbiting Terra, Mars, and Venus. Though many assumed that these ships were costly playthings for the charismatic Admiral, fate would call them into action sooner than even McKenna himself expected.
INTERVIEW WITH THE ADMIRAL
As I floated through the hatchway into the bridge, I peered into the dimness but saw no silhouette that matched James McKenna's frame. When I looked up suddenly, I was startled to see the Fleet Admiral floating just above my head in his Captain’s chair. I had forgotten that in Zero-G the “ceiling” was just another stretch of deck to which chairs and instruments were bolted. It was logical but disorienting to see men and women sitting on the ceiling working instruments while the Admiral of the Alliance looked down into my upturned face. With his help, I floated up to him and strapped myself into a chair.
The Admiral was every bit as imposing as he appeared in the holos. He was tall and muscular, with long, unkempt blond hair that tended to float about him like a halo in Zero-G. He was gregarious, but it was easy to see the intelligence and calculation in his eyes.
MARTHA DEANS: Admiral McKenna, this is the most impressive vessel I have ever seen. But there are many people in the Alliance who wonder just why the Dreadnought was built. Weapons are usually built with a specific target or enemy in mind. Who or what is the Dreadnought’s target?
MCKENNA: Well, ignorance for one. People used to believe that it was beyond the abilities of man to build such a massive ship. I believed otherwise, and I wanted to prove it.
DEANS: Do you always act so forcefully on your beliefs?
MCKENNA: Of course. How will you ever know if what you believe is right unless you have to get out there and prove it?
DEANS: There are many who say that’s one of the reasons the Alliance is in such a political snarl.
They think that fanatical belief in such things as political parties is the cause of all mankind’s pain.
MCKENNA: I’m inclined to agree. Believing in a political party is not a sign of a person’s intelligence, just his willingness to be led about by the nose. Individual conviction and decisive actions are the signs of true intelligence.
DEANS: How do you balance your personal beliefs with your duty to the Alliance?
MCKENNA: It isn’t easy, and there are times when I seriously consider chucking all this for the Canadian wilderness.
DEANS: What keeps you here, then?
MCKENNA: I think the main reason for sticking around is in case fate steps in to give me and these ships an opportunity for action, or to do something that would improve life back on Terra and the other Alliance worlds.
DEANS: What would you do, given this opportunity?
MCKENNA: Now that depends on the situation, don’t you think?
-From Good Morning Canada, holonews broadcast, September 15, 2313
THE ZOLI AFFAIR
In 2310, a new political party was established in the Alliance. Called the People’s Independence Party, it claimed to be the voice of the forgotten. With unprecedented swiftness, the party attracted an enormous following among the previously apathetic population. By staging elaborate rallies, the PIP drummed up both considerable attention and monetary support, which suited its founder admirably.
Grant Zoli was the leader of the People’s Independence Party. As the illegitimate child of a Kenyan mother and a New Zealander father, his early life had been a desperate struggle to stay alive in the urban slums of New Zealand. While spending time in prison for theft, the teenaged Zoli received an education and discovered that he had a talent for writing and for manipulating rules and regulations.
After prison, he found a job in politics with a small local party. With astonishing rapidity, he used that party as a springboard to become Prime Minister of New Zealand and the head of powerful political machine. Still not content, Zoli then parlayed the People’s Independence Party into interplanetary politics. His true ambition was to be rich, which was his only motive for founding the PIP and entering the dangerous waters of large-scale politics.
The party’s strong showing in the elections of 2310 made the PIP a major force and possibly the deciding factor in the upcoming Alliance-wide Parliamentary elections of 2314. It was not long before both parties were offering Grant Zoli both power and money for support. Hoping to drive the offers even higher, Zoli and his cronies remained noncommittal. It was not until just before the major elections that he made his decision.
Documents recovered long after the events revealed that in August 2314, Grant Zoli pledged the PIP to the Expansionists. A month later, he had a change of heart and switched his party’s allegiance to the Liberals. On September 5, 2314, just a month before the elections, police found Grant Zoli dead in his New Zealand mansion.
News of his death created an immediate uproar. The Liberal and the Expansionist parties began to blame one another for the crime, while the slain leader’s more zealous supporters initiated an assassins’ war against both parties. The Parliament invoked martial law on Terra and sent the AGM to put down the rebellion in New Zealand, where most of the trouble was taking place.
Meanwhile, the Liberals produced evidence that Grant Zoli had been murdered by order of the Expansionist Party. The charge later proved false, but the accusations increased hatreds to a fever pitch that made the next events inevitable.
On September 30, guards of the leading Liberal boss left their post and drove across Zurich to the headquarters of the Expansionist Party. There, they stormed the building and killed everyone they found. The Expansionists retaliated, and soon battles between thugs of both parties were occurring all over the globe. Then both parties unleashed their secretly trained detachments of utterly loyal soldiers. What had been a war of knives and pistols escalated to a full-blown confrontation between two heavily armed sides. Though they fought mainly with each other, many thousands of civilians were killed.
A few units of the Alliance Global Militia were persuaded to join one side or the other, but most remained politically neutral. When asked by James McKenna to step in and stop the growing violence, the ground forces of the AGM agreed. The Battle of Zurich ad the Battle of Bangkok stand out as two of their most heroic efforts.