Monday, 26 May 2014

Short Story: The Empire

[Foreword: This story is about a day in the life of a soldier who lives inside a dehumanizing social hierarchy.  Hierarchies and organisations and herds in general have a strong tendency to cause men to look at other men not as men but as dehumanised 'things': a man who works for the army becomes a soldier (thus an enemy who can be shot at without having to feel remorse); a man who works for a political party becomes a republican (thus an enemy who can be insulted without having to feel remorse); a man who believes a different religion becomes a heathen (thus an enemy who can be despised without having to feel remorse).

Men are supposed to recognise other men as having parity with themselves despite the obvious differences that they have (e.g. some have high IQ, but others have low IQ; some are physically fit while others are not).  Fundamentally we are the same; like 0 and 1 in binary, both are valued even though they are different.  Hierarchies and organisations and other herds that deny this fundamental truth will always cause men to maltreat other men.

I decided to post this entry after reading THIS post about how dehumanized soldiers treat other people - '...machine-gun[ning] children from helicopters.'

Oh, and finally the story is loosely based on the Frontier: Elite computer game, but you don't need to know the details of the game to understand the story.]

The Empire
by Gruff Jones

Year: 3219 AD
Location: Fortress Cambridge, Capitol, the Achenar System.

     'Damned fool.' thought Gruff Jones. 'Why don't neophytes ever learn to keep their mouths shut? He's gonna cop it now.'
       A stocky red faced sergeant stared at the new conscript with eyes that would make the devil cow frightfully.

     "You pathetic piece of shit." He said with quiet foreboding.
       The sergeant moved his face within inches of the recruit
       "YOU ARE A PATHETIC PIECE OF FUCKING SHIT!" he raged into the conscripts face.
       The conscript, Noob, flinched and then began to tremble. He was totally unfamiliar with this kind of behaviour: raging, violent, punitive. He'd made a stupid jape about the Sergeant having a face like a raspberry, 'no biggy' he thought, but was totally unprepared for the repercussions.
       The Sergeant continued looking at the conscript with eyes blazing as he spoke to one of the Corporals stood behind him. "Corporal Jerome get this fuckwit out of my sight, and when he comes back I want him to know the meaning of insubordination."
       A big bulky man grinned and flexed his Corporals Stick (a foot long, half inch diameter, wooden stick used for meeting out punishment), grabbed Noob by his left arm before half-dragging him out into the corridor.
       He closed the door to the living quarters behind him.
       'Stupid beggar should've kept his mouth shut.' Gruff thought to himself.
       The Sergeant surveyed the rest of Third platoon before announcing the orders. "The rest of you filthy maggots get cracking. I want you dressed in your parade uniforms within fifteen minutes."

       It's how the Empire functioned: not being obsequious to your superior was met with vindictiveness; insubordination is met with corporal punishment; mutiny and rebellion is met with a swift death; treason and treachery is met with prolonged torture and then death; but not being part of the Empire met with any of the above. It was a shit deal: 'Give you soul to the Empire or we kill you'.
Unless you had experienced the Empire first hand, you probably wouldn't believe that it really was that simple.

       So what was the Imperial way of life? Many things: hierarchy; fawning behaviour to your superiors while taking their commonly sadistic abuse, after which you meet out your pent up frustration on your subordinates; grovelling to catch any crumbs that are thrown with disdain from the top dogs; fighting of those around you and your inferiors just to get a bloodied hand on the next rung of the ladder. And what did you get in return for this, once you'd connived your way up the ladder? What was your big prize? To be forever paranoid that someone would take your new rank away from you. To have nothing but distrust of each and everyone, even your own kin. Josef Stalin level of paranoia, just for you. After which you kill tens, hundreds, thousands, millions just to stay atop of the ladder and hold onto whatever wealth and status you can.
       Some historians have said that after William 'the bastard' Conqueror of England had finally died, he wasn't surrounded by loving family, or loyal friends who gave him a respectful funeral. Instead, his bloated (for he was gluttonous) corpse was left to rot, unattended, in the basement of some provincial chapel. His barons (cronies), who he had used to conquer England, and they he to claim their own booty, left him to fester in the chapel, whilst they fled back to England, to their own castles, in anticipation of the infighting that was about to emerge. As the saying goes: there's no honour among thieves. The man who had conquered an island by brute force, and then killed thousands by merciless brute force just to maintain his power, was left like a common beggar, a common thief; unwanted and unloved. Supposedly even his clothes and boots had been taken off of his corpse. Such is the type of respect that Imperial types have for their 'fellow man' in the
Imperial hierarchy once they have served their purpose.
       Self advancement is the core principle of the Imperial Way. This principle is put into practise by means of ruthless avariciousness of all that is valued, and the destruction of all those who oppose or threaten you.

       'God, how I hate the fucking Empire.'

       Five minutes later Noob was returned to the room, bruised hands, black eye, shoulders curled in, head stooped down. He probably wanted everything to go away, disappear, and for the ground to open up and swallow him whole. The Corporal followed after him, grinning like an ape, buzzing on his power high.

       Parade ground uniforms were a bitch to get dressed into. Starched tunic collar that chafed your neck until it started to bleed, brass buttons that lost their patten with the more polish you used, woollen trousers that were seemingly designed to snag and bobble just to get you in trouble, boots that.. well boots are the same everywhere, never enough shine no matter how much spit 'n' polish you use. If you somehow damaged any of it then you would have to pay for it, out of your own pocket. Which, due to the poor quality wardrobes, was almost guaranteed to happen. And soldiers paying for their own kit wasn't just excluded to parade ground uniforms. Oh no. The Empire managed to fleece the soldiers out of most of their pay just to keep their equipment functioning.
       It was an open secret that a soldiers had to spend his own pay to maintain his own gear. This was a great way for the army to keep costs down. It meant that soldiers practically paid for themselves. Ammo, clothing, even unlisted foodstuffs (the only listed foodstuffs were soyalga bars, nutritious, but as much flavour as a soggy bootlace) you had to pay for. The only way a soldier could make more than a pittance was through combat pay, booty and plunder.
       The upper echelons of the army had devised the system intentionally, as a means of encouraging warfare. Without a decent peacetime salary, and the only means of boosting it by going to war, it meant that the rankers were continually begging their superiors to go to war, be it through combat pay or stolen plunder. Furthermore, it meant the army Generals always had subordinates, troops, eager to fight a new enemy, and the Empire always had subordinates, an army, eager to fight for them, eager to please. It was the Imperial hierarchy in action: always have your subordinates desperately eager to please you, to satisfy your demands.

       "Come on you miserable maggots! What the fuck are you playing at?! You, Noob, what the fuck are you playing at? Get a fucking move on! This isnt a fucking fashion show boy! Oh you want to talk back do you? Well why didn't you say so then. GET THE FUCK OVER HERE! RIGHT FUCKING NOW!"
       Noob, with one leg in his trousers shuffled over to the sergeant and saluted him.
    The sergeant struck Noob round the back of his legs with his sergeants staff. Noob yelped out in pain and fell to his knees.
       "What the fuck are you doing boy? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?! Who the fuck told you to get on your knees? I SAID WHO THE FUCK TOLD YOU TO GET ON YOUR KNEES! This isn't Bethnal fucking Green you fag piece of shit. Get the fuck out of my sight. I SAID GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY SIGHT!"
       Whilst Noob was frantically trying to get out of the sergeants space, he gave Noob a hard kick in the arse. The private crawled away back to his bunk on his hands and knees back to his bunk not knowing what to think or do.

       'Damn fool thing to do: Speaking back to a superior, twice in one afternoon. He wont last three weeks if he carries on like that.'

       The sergeant left the room leaving two corporals by the doorway to supervise the men. Each with their own corporals stick, ready to pounce on any poor sod who looked at them wrong, or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sadistic fuckers the corporals. They were always picking on the weakest men in the platoon just to get their rocks off. Most corporals were the same in all units. Dumb thugs who kept the grunts in line, making them follow whatever madcap orders were handed down by the Dukes, Barons or whoever was in charge. They had no brains, just muscle and a ton of seething hatred. They had zero chance of promotion, and they knew it. That's what made them hate even more, seeing guys half their age with no combat experience hand orders down to them and treat them like num-skulls (which they were; but really, who likes to be reminded of his inabilities).
       "CORPORAL JEROME!" The sergeant bellowed out from his office down the corridor. One of the corporals by the door cursed heavily before leaving the room. After Jerome left the room, the other Corporal smirked slightly, evidently taking delight at the thought of his colleague getting a earful from the Sarge.
       A corporal being summoned into the Sergeants office, not a good sign. It could mean only one thing for the Corporal: a bollocking by the Sergeant for some misdemeanour, either real or imagined. Which, in sequence meant even more misery for the privates in the squad. That's because shit only travels down the hierarchy in the Empire. Never up.

       This was another aspect of the hierarchy. As well as shitting on your subordinates just to keep them down, and thus no threat to you, bad moods would also percolate down the ladder. If your superior officer got out of the wrong side of bed and was in a foul mood, then he'd let his frustrations out on those below him. Who, in turn, would pass it onto their subordinates. And so on, and so on. It wouldn't surprise me if there was a direct correlation between the Emperor having a 'bad day' and every poor sodding ranker in the army getting a double dose of shit from his corporal. Shit travels down the hierarchy in the Empire, be it intentionally spiteful or unwittingly malevolent.
       It could go something like this: A Lieutenant would cop an earful from his superior, a Captain, because the Captain was in a bad mood after he made a fool of himself at a social gathering, because he drank too much Madeira wine. The Lieutenant would then vent his anger onto the Sergeant, who was apparently a 'fecklessly dressed slob'; then the Sergeant to the Corporal, the latter being accused of 'being a waste of fucking space'; then the Corporal to the private, who would just beat the latter up for no reason whatsoever. 'Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you' was a wholly alien concept in the Empire. As was the part about 'loving thy neighbour as thyself'.

       As shit always travelled down the hierarchy, it meant that an unhappy Corporal Jerome would find some unfortunate grunt to take his anger out on. It was either that or the Corporal had to admit to himself that he was at the bottom of the ladder. At least by giving a grunt a good kicking in, he knew there was someone beneath him. That way he wouldn't have to admit that he was worthless; the bottom of the ladder, the bottom of the pile, the last one to be picked for the team, the kid at the prom with no date, the guy not invited to the office Christmas party etc etc.
       Jerome stormed back into the changing room with a face of thunder, wringing his Corporals stick. He was pissed. That meant he'd got it in the neck from the Sarge. He looked around for something, or someone, to take his rage out. His venomous eyes scoured the room and finally fell on poor ol' Noob, who was still struggling to get his tunic on. He paced quickly over to Noob and gave the guy a thwack round the back of his head with his stick. No explanation. No pseudo justification. Just a hard thwack.

       This was what the Corporal's temperament was like. Even the Sergeant made some effort to give false justification to his rage. He'd hit you because your weapon wasn't cleaned properly; he'd beat you because your bedsheets weren't perfectly straight; he'd beat you because your left foot was two millimetres longer than your right. Any excuse, no matter how pathetic it was, was considered viable. Nothing more than a malevolent intention hidden behind specious casus belli. Something that Kings and Generals have been doing for millenia.
       The further up the hierarchy, the ladder, you went the more developed and varied the practise became. That is to say, the specious reasons given, the lies, for a given course of action became more and more elaborate. For example if someone proposed to invade a planet, then the reason given may be: for the glory of the Empire; for the honour of the Empire; to spread wealth and prosperity; to overthrow the shackles of democracy; for the betterment of the people we're about to rule over etc. Any reason was acceptable. The only requirement was that it had to be related to some commonly valued belief, or principle e.g. the glory of the Empire. With this flimsy excuse you could suggest or justify any given course of action.
       Thus it was logical that the further up the ladder, the more elaborate your lies became, so to then, the closer to the bottom of the ladder you got, the more base the lies; until finally, at the bottom of the Imperial ladder, you met someone who just shat on you without any attempt to justify it, either to you or to himself. He'd just beat you for the hell of it, because he was in a bad mood. This was the most simple form of the Imperial practise, dominion, and the clearest for all to see.

       The beating continued.
       After a moment Jerome gave up using his corporals stick and just kneed his victim in the stomach, sending
him to the ground.
       Noob let out a pathetic, heart wrenching yelp as he was repeatedly kicked in the stomach. No one tried to help him. Not one of his 'comrades' lifted a finger. They just waited where they were, hoping not to draw any attention to themselves. They all knew what would happen if they tried to intervene: the vengeance would be poured out upon them. And none of them wanted to feel the wrath of the Corporal. It was like getting between a Jazar beast and its prey: the beast would pour its wrath out on you for denying it its quarry. And the wrath would not cease, it would continue for weeks, possibly months, until the Corporal felt that his status had been fully emphasised to the reprobate who dared to challenge him. Imperial types cant stand having their status publicly threatened or infringed upon. It would undermine their status relative to the rest of the pack, the hierarchy. Its a something that just wouldn't, couldn't, be tolerated.
    The kicking continued for another minute until Noob was unconscious and the Corporal had had his fill. Jerome turned around and looked around for a moment, with a slightly confused look on his face, like he'd forgotten what he was doing. Then strode back to the doorway and began picking some food out of his teeth with one of his fingernails, oblivious to the violence he'd just committed.
     A few more minutes passed and then the Sergeant walked back into the room. Everyone stood at the ends of their beds in uniform and ready for parade.
     "Corporal Jerome! Get everyone out onto the parade ground at the double."
Everyone filed into line in the middle of the living quarters, and proceeded to march out of the door.

       We never found out what happened to Noob. Officially, he is serving at his majesties pleasure for 'dereliction of duty' - in his case, failing to turn up on parade. Unofficially, he is probably either dead (possibly from his injuries, or poor quality medical care), or in prison, which is as good as a death sentence for soldiers. Just think about it, military prisons are full of ten times as many bloodthirsty psychopaths as civilian prisons. Why is that? Well, consider where the convicts come from: a population of men who have been thoroughly dehumanised and inculcated with a passion for killing and malevolence of the pathological variety. Anyone who goes into one of those places needs to be tough as nails to survive. And Noob was never quite that tough.
       Then again, his life wouldn't have been much better had he stayed in the platoon: daily beatings, verbal and mental abuse in the changing rooms and on the training ground for six months, until he completed his training; followed by a painful death on the battlefield of some far flung planet, fighting against people who, for whatever reason, don't want to be part of the 'glorious' Empire. Finally, posthumously, there would be a letter to his folks back home, telling them how their only son had died bravely fighting for the honour and majesty of the Imperial army.
       And what would become of his so called comrades in third platoon? Following this parade we'd probably do a 'tour of duty' out on the frontier of the Empire. How do I know this? Well, no-one in command had told us what's going to happen to us, but parades are usually a prelude to war, or combat of some sort. A chance for the Majors to throw a soiree and impress the Generals with their shiny, well ordered rankers, hoping to win their commissions. All of which is just a means for the Majors to impress their superiors by their eagerness, and elevate themselves relative to the other people in their social class: Another medal on their chest, another horde of silver plates to show to the neighbours, another battle wound which to talk about during evening soirees.
       But then what of me, ex provincial shepherd, Private Gruff Jones? Maybe this war provide me with an opportunity to go AWOL, to desert, to get away from the army, from the Imperial life. Maybe if I lived long enough, I could make it to a starport, stow away on a big freighter and hyperspace far far away from the Empire. Perhaps even to a Federation system. I've heard life is good in Federation systems: social welfare guarantees everyone right to work, home and food; there are no threats of being enslaved hanging over your head; nor any chance of being executed for treasonable offences just because the Emperor is pissed at one of your countrymen for, whatever reason, and thus, by association, you and your kin. That would be a tolerable life, a bearable life. Possibly even a pleasant life. At least it would be a life not spent living in a system dominated by both obsequiousness and oppressiveness, both cowardice and bullying, both faux geniality and paranoia. Living such a life, this life, under a constant all pervading tyranny, is living a life that is hostile to the soul. And that kind of life is no life at all.


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