Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Short Story: A Morning in Federation Land

[Foreword: If you imagine what a stereotypical Empire is like (loud, exuberant, expressive, laissez faire, clear, enterprising) and then imagine that Empire's complete polar opposite (quiet, cautious, repressed, interfering, bitty, meek) that is the character of the Federation.

This short story is about an outsider (a Randall McMurphy-esque character, from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) spending one morning in the Federation and how he reacts to it.

As with the other short stories on this blog, the setting is the science-fiction computer game world Frontier:Elite, but the details aren't important and the story can be read and understood without knowing anything about the game. It's just an environment to experiment with different ideas, like a proverbial 'sandbox world'. A sandbox world is one that anyone can express themselves in without any consequences.]

A Morning in Federation Land

Location: London, Earth, Sol (The Federation)
Date: August 3207

    The Adder merchant space-craft jostled a little as the landing gear made contact with the plascrete landing pad.
    The voice of the traffic controller for the London starport sounded through the cockpits speakers again.  "Sir, will you remain with your ship while we send a 'Starport Health Inspectorate and Protectorate' (SHIP) team board your ship for a routine stop and search?"
    Luther depressed a button on the intercom microphone and responded.  "Sure."
    "Thank you sir."
    Releasing the microphone button, he then flicked a couple of switches on the main control console powering down the ships thrusters and various auxiliary systems.
    The only other person in the cabin off the small trading ship was Lombard, nicknamed Bardza, a stocky bearded miner from the independent (though much fought over) system of Alioth.  Luther had offered to give the man a lift to the Sol system so that he could get spare parts for his mining equipment that he was having a hard time getting hold of in his home system.
    "What if you'd said no?" asked Bardza in his thick Australian accent.
    "What if you'd said no to his question?"
    "It's not so much a question, more of a demand.  They would've boarded regardless of what I said."
    "Then why did he put 'will you' at the beginning of the sentence, like he was politely asking you if you'll do something?"
    "It's one of the Fed ways of speaking.  Phrasing demands in the form of a question."
    "Sounds a bit odd to me."
    "That's the Fed mentality for you.  Doing what they ought to do rather than what they want.  Probably a custom that they inherited from the previous generation, and continue themselves, but don't really believe in."
    "So, what, they like, pretend to be polite 'cause they feel like their supposed to, 'cause that's the way they've been brought up.  But in truth, they aren't being genuinely polite, and they might actually hate your guts."
    "Yup, that's about the size of it."
    "Strange people."
    Luther turned to look at the man sat in the co-pilots seat.  He was looking out of the Adders front window shaking his head and frowning a little in disbelief.
    Luther turned back to the main control console, running through the post-flight protocols.  "Yup."

    After entering the ship via the main air lock the 'SHIP team' (a man and two women) went about checking the cargo hold, cargo and cockpit for contraband goods, unwanted bacteria, plant or animal life that the Feds classed as 'illegal'.
    One of the team came into the cockpit clasping a PDA to her chest and holding a probe that looked like an old fashioned foot-long map pointer in her other hand.  Following a quick survey of the cockpit, she began sticking the probe in different corners of the room, checking for bugs, bacteria and the like, and then checking the readings that came up on the PDA (where the results of the probe were sent to) to see if there were any unwanted bugs onboard.  The look on her face was of slight disgust, mixed with a high proportion of contempt; like she was some middle class urbanite who had been sent to inspect some countryside working class home and found it to be 'a truly awful little provincial hovel'.
    As Bardza was a non-Federation citizen, and hence classed as an alien, he was asked a couple of questions, supposedly to determine whether he lived a lifestyle that would class him as a potential bacteria breeder: a biohazard.  There were questions about what atmosphered planets he had recently visited, his dietary habits, drinking habits, drug consuming habits, and his, ahem, personal hygiene..
    "You think I might 'What'?!"  He blurted in response to one of the questions.
    "Sir, there's no need to get upset." the woman said belittlingly.  "It's only a precautionary measure designed to protect the citizens.  We need to know whether your 'beard' may contain any hostile organisms that are listed as 'dangerous' by the London Board of the Federation Health Organisation."
    "No my beard doesn't bloody well contain any hostile bleedin' organisms."
    "Very well sir." she continued in her patronising manner.  "We have to be sure of these things.  There are the children to think of you know." 
    "What bleedin' children?!"
    Luther just looked at him and shook his head a little, implying 'don't ask'.  Bardza just crossed his arms, rolled his eyes, shook his head and made a 'pfft' noise while the woman continued asking her questions and making her patronising remarks.
    Twenty minutes later all the checks were complete.  She ticked a few more boxes on the PDA, got Luther to sign the e-form, in triplicate, and spoke to one of her colleagues who had entered the cockpit.  They exchanged a few words and then began to make their way off the ship.  After finishing their report Luther escorted the SHIP team to the airlock and just as they exited Bardza quipped whether they should change their names to the SHIT-team.
    "'Cause that's all they seem to be interested in; goin' 'round sniffin' other peoples 'arseholes' and sticking their noses in other peoples.."
    The main airlock closed.
    Luther walked back into the cockpit.  "You finished?"
    "Yeah man.  Balls to it.  Let's knock off an' get a few drinks down the local boozer.  I could do with a coupla shots after bein' subjected to the Spanish Inquisition by Cardinal Arsehole and her two cronies.  That is, as long as they sell booze here."
    "They do.  But not at seven in the morning Bardza."
    "What?!  Ya kiddin right?  Why not?  Oh wait, let me guess, we've got to 'think of the children'.  Is that it?"
    "Nearly.  They phrased it more along the lines of early morning drinking damages social well being."
    "Really!" he said incredulously.  "So was it this bad for you back home in Ross 154?  Ross 154 is a Fed' system isn't it?"
    "Ross 154 is classed as a Federal Colony.  And no it's not quite this bad.  We get to pen most of our laws out there.  Only the galactic wide Federal laws are enforced.  Remember that the character of any empire is strongest at its core and weakest at its periphery, its colonies."
    "So you could get ratted at eight in the morning if you wanted?"
    "Yeah, quite often did.  It was the best way to get warmed up before getting on the ice breakers for a days work.  A couple of deep-fried penguin patties, and a shot or three of aquavit."
    "Right right.  So Nanny McFed says we can't drink first thing in the morning, how about the meat then?  Don't tell me they ration that stuff too?"
    "Not yet they don't.  But I've got a hunch they'll ration that one day."
    Bardza looked to the side and began gently shaking his head.  "Man, I'd hate to be a bloke livin' here when that day comes.  No red meat, no booze, down on beards, I bet they hate good lookin' Sheila's too.  Seems like Fed-land is just one giant man-hating matriarchy."
    "That's why the Federation are always bitching about the Achenarian Empire whenever they can.  It's more male than they are.  Like a woman bitching about the confident man down the street with a big swagger in his walk, and a big package in his pants.  They just can't stand to see him.  It's hardwired into their mind or something.  You know what women can be like."
    "You make it sound like the girly-Feddys want to 'get it on' with the big-dick Empire."
    "They do.  That's why you'll read reports in the Federation news about how the authorities are 'afraid of being invaded'.  But you'll never read any such thing in the Imperial news.  The Feds just love the thought of being 'invaded', like some women love the thought of being 'ravished' by a muscle-bound ex-convict.  It gets their blood flowing to all the right places.  If ya know what I mean."
    Bardza laughed out loud.  "Bwa ha ha ha.  Oh that's comic man.  I've never thought of it like that before.  It's like the on going war between the Fed' and Imp's is just one long courtship ritual.  With the Imp's playing 'grab-ass' whenever they can."
    "And those Fed' women absolutely love it."
    "Oh man, I can't wait to see how femmed-up the rest of this place is!"
    "Grab yur cap and coat and let's find out."

* * * * *

    "Sir, it's for your own good." the forty year old female customs officer said to Bardza.

    Luther and Bardza were standing in-front of the main customs desk for interstellar pilots.  After spending an hour filling out 24-hour visitor pass forms, the officer at the desk had informed Bardza that as he was a non-Federation person he would have to have a tracking-device attached to his ankle.  Needless to say, that Bardza didn't react positively to this news.  An argument ensued, after which the customs officer emphasised that it was to his benefit that he have it attached.

    "What d'ya mean me own good?  In case I get blind drunk on over-taxed over-priced under-strength liquor, and struggle to find my own way back to the ship.  Is that it?"
    The officer met this statement with much alarm.  "Sir, Federation health authorities recommend that you only consume 21 units of alcohol per week, and never more than 4 units within a 12 hour period."
    Bardza turned to Luther and asked quietly. "What's a unit of alcohol?"
    "About half a pint of bitter."
    "Strewth!  Two pints equals a knees up?!  You guys must have a barrel of laughs on a Friday night(!)"
    He turned back to the officer at the desk and continued.  "Lady, no matter how blind drunk I've gotten, I've always managed to find my own way home.  There ain't no drink that can stupefy my sense of direction.  No siree.  I've got a compass nigh on hardwired into my brain.  You can always escort me to and from the pub if ya like luv.  I don't see a wedding ring on yur finger, you're not married are ya?"
    "I, uh.." the woman flustered slightly.
    Another customs officer, an attractive young female, walked out of a backrooms door and down to the far end of the customs desk.  Bardza eyed her as she walked past and pushed the rim of his baseball cap up so he could get a good look at her.
    "Or maybe your colleague over there could escort me.  What's her name?"
    "That's Miss Fotherington, and she won't be able to.."  Realising she was getting sidetracked, the officer tried to get control of the conversation.  "Look, Mr Lombard.."
    Bardza laughed.  "Please, Miss, call me Bardza.  Lombard sounds so 'awfully' formal."
    She tried to stifle a laugh, which caused Bardza to laugh out loud.
    "That's better luv.  You look alot better with a smile on yur face."
    "Mr Bardza" she said still trying, and failing, to suppress the grin, "you really need to have a personal tracking device fitted.  It's a requirement for all non-federation residents who are visiting the system on a 24-hour visa."
    "Ah come on luv.  You must see a free spirited man like me can't have one of those things clamped to his legs.  How about you just activate the device and stick it in a dark room somewhere.  No one need be any the wiser eh."
    "Well I don't know if I can.." She started to say before he leant in and gently grabbed her hands that were placed on the counter.  She looked into his eyes with a semi-startled look, and he leaned in close to her and whispered something in her right ear, before leaning back and releasing her hands.
    "I suppose I could always find some dark corner to sneak it into." she said looking into his eyes.
    "Thatta girl." he replied with a wink and a smile.
    Bardza motioned Luther to head towards the exit, and the two of them walked away from the customs desk, without the tracking bracelet.
    When the two of them were out of earshot of the desk, Luther asked "What on Earth did you say to her to get out of that jam?"
    "You can't expect me to give away all of me trade secrets now can ya?"
    They exited the starport building through the main doorway.

* * * * *

    The two men walked down to a nearby shopping arcade to find a restaurant for breakfast.  After five minutes of walking past stores selling goods such as greetings cards, PDA accessories, hair care, cosmetics, women’s clothing and insurance outlets (all typical Fed-culture shops), they eventually found one.  A family run cafe that was open and thankfully selling breakfasts.
    They walked in the front door of the cafe and sat on a pair of bar stools at the main counter.  A thin looking waiter approached the two men and asked what they wanted to order, gesturing to a board on the wall behind him.  Bardza looked at the menu and ordered the continental breakfast and coffee.  Luther followed suit.  

    As they were waiting for the meals to arrive the two men surveyed the cafe.  There were a dozen or so customers.  All of them what you could call 'middle-class, second hand paper shufflers'.  You know the sort, educated yet under productive, informed yet ignorant, slightly lighter or darker shade of drab grey.  They had job titles like, 'Happiness Index Quantifier', 'Executive personal assistant', 'parking space efficiency appraising agent', 'Waste water sales agent'; anything to do with appraising, collating, reallocating, assisting or consulting.  Never actually doing anything.  Even the doctors were called consultants. That kind of mentality would probably not be appreciated by the patients who came to the hospital expecting treatment.  'Someone help me, please.  My left leg got severed and I'm bleeding heavily.  I need urgent medical attention'.  To which a consultant-doctor says 'Is that so?  Ms Gainsborough, would you contact my personal executive assistant so she can arrange a  meeting of the consultant-surgeons in the main lobby about how to proceed with this patient.'  After which the patient, now bleeding to death on the hallway floor says 'Why don't you help me?', to which the consultant replies 'Oh we're not authorised to do that old boy.  We just consult on the best course of action and make sure the correct protocol are adhered to.'

    A few minutes later the food arrived and they tucked in.
    Glancing upward at one end of the counter Luther saw an old 2D television unit sat on a shelf.  It was on the main FBC (Federation Broadcasting Corporation) channel, and broadcasting the typical breakfast news programme.  A middle aged man and woman sat on a red couch presenting an ostensibly 'balanced and impartial news and information programme'.  Which in truth meant that it was a typical Fed propaganda show spewing the latest pro-government spiel.
    "You're watching FBC Breakfast with Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams." said Sian.
    "Coming up on today’s show.  A government health spokesperson claims that adding Fluoride to public drinking water will help stop tooth decay in children." said the man.
    "New research reveals that pregnant women who have too much salt could be putting the health of their unborn babies at risk."
    "But first there's the weather with Carol.  Hello Carol."
    A fully body shot of a buxom middle aged woman standing in the middle of a verdant parkland appeared on the tv.  "Hi Bill.  Yes it's going to be rather chilly later on this morning, so remember to wrap up warm.  And keep a brolly hands this afternoon, as there could be a spot of rain just after three o clock.."  She continued with the report.
    Luther turned back to Bardza to gauge his response to programme, but found him fully engrossed in his breakfast.  Eating it in his rather barbarian manner, like the typical gold mining '49er would have done in mid-nineteenth century California: Head close to the plate, only using the minimal amount of cutlery, gulping down the coffee, and regularly releasing large amounts of gas via whatever orifice was convenient.
    His manner of eating had caught the attention of the co-owner of the cafe, a chunky woman with too much make-up on, and hair in a tight bun.  She walked up in-front of Bardza with her arms crossed over her chest wearing a disgusted look on her face.  Bardza noticed her and looked up, still chewing a mouthful of buttered toast smeared with egg yolk.  "What up Sheila?"  He then sucked some of the yolk off his fingers, before letting off a low-rumbling belch.  His actions weren't intended to rile the woman up, it was just how he was: unsophisticated.  He then reached passed Luther, nearly draping his coat sleeve in the mans breakfast, grabbed a bottle of brown sauce, popped the lid off and then poured it all over his rashers of bacon.  The woman shook her head in disgust at the mans actions and walked away to tend to the other customers.
    "What up Luth?  How's the grub?"
    "Not bad mate.  Better than that tv show."
    "Oh yeah?  Spewing out more garbage are they?"
    "Yeah, something like that."
    Bardza glanced up at the tv and watched it for a few moments.  "Hey, why is it that the women on those things always have to be middle aged?"
    Luther looked up at the screen.  "I've no idea.  Never noticed it before."
    "D'ya reckon it's related to the fact that the Fed's a matriarchy?"
    "Could be.  I s'pose the older women feel threatened by the good looking young girls and end up shutting them out of the limelight."

   It was some time later, and Bardza had ordered a second helping of the fry-up and coffee.  As he was about halfway through the meal, one of the female customers approached him and began chiding him about the amount of fat that he was consuming.  Telling him that he was consuming more calories than he should be 'for a man in his condition'.  His response: turned around to face her, looked her up and down, tipped the brim of his hat up slightly and say "If you're that worried about it luv, you could always come back to my place and help me burn 'em off.  If ya know what I mean?"  The look on her face was priceless.  Mouth agog, eyes wide open.  She didn't know what to say.  Bardza just slapped his leg and roared with laughter then turned back to his meal.  The woman’s friend led her by the arm out of the cafe before she could think of a response.  Bardza looked up to see the reaction of the customers and noticed the skinny waiter standing in the doorway to the kitchen grinning like he hadn't seen anything like it in years.  Bardza grinned back, gave him a nod and a wink and returned to his breakfast.  The skinny man caught sight of the chunky co-owner, who was probably his wife, standing at the other end of the counter looking stern faced, evidently none to pleased with the attitude of 'her' husband to this barbarian oaf who was dining in 'her' cafe.  So he cast his gaze down and scurried back into the kitchen, into safety.
   On the FBC Breakfast programme, the full weather report had finished and the hosts were interviewing two guests who were discussing the pro's and con of water fluoridation.  It was blatantly rigged pro government story: on the pro fluoridation side was a man with Doctor, Professor or some such title, wearing a smart suit, using a rich vocabulary and citing lots of 'academic studies' and 'research papers' to support his argument.  He was also extremely calm and composed in his delivery.  On the opposing side was a woman who was part of an 'action group' (neighbourhood leafleteers), dressed in informal clothing (a floral dress and gaudy over sized scarf), citing no studies or reports, who's basic argument consisted of repeating the line 'it's not fair', spoken while she was grinning inanely (probably because she was overcome by the fact that she was 'on the telly').  So much for the 'fair and balanced' claims of the FBC.  Though, to be honest, they probably believed that they genuinely were impartial.  It's not that they were deceitful, simply deluded.
    Unfortunately in the uncritical, feminised, Federation there were plenty of people who swallowed up the FBC drivel hook, line and sinker.  A couple of proles sat in one of the booths of the cafe who were repeating the arguments of the 'experts' verbatim; as though they themselves had come to the exact same conclusions on their own.  Totally unaware that the arguments had been seeded there only minutes before.  A few feet away sat a pair of Middle-Class paper-shufflers who were discussing it also.  They were not sceptical of the arguments of the 'Professor in the smart suit' in the slightest.  Quite the contrary, they were totally accepting of his arguments.  They were totally accepting of the fact that drinking water, a substance so vital to human life, to their life, could be filled with chemicals that they knew absolutely nothing about. 
    That was another aspect of the Federation mentality: total unquestioning obedience to authority.  They didn't even question their obedience as they weren't even aware of their indoctrination.  For all the evils of the Achenarian Empire, even if they enslaved your body they at least left you your own mind.  They left you to think your own thoughts so long as you did the work you were told to.  The Feds were the antipode of that.  They wanted to literally own your mind.  And that's what made them more insidious than the Imps.
    Bardza had been born and raised in Alioth, an independent system, which was an environment where physical and mental slavery were of little concern.  Hence why when he entered Federation society it was like dropping a bead of pure sodium into a beaker of water.  The two reacted, creating a lot of noise and a lot of energy, though little in the way of genuine danger.

    Luther and Bardza had finished their breakfasts and were gulping down the last drops of coffee.  Bardza finished, put the cup down, stuck two fingers in his mouth, and then let rip with an almighty whistle to get the attention of the waiter.  "Yo!  Gungadin!  Any chance of gettin' another refill down 'ere mate?!"
    The waiter, who was thoroughly enjoying the raucous scene that Bardza created shuffled down to them.  He carried a pot of fresh coffee to them, and refilled Bardzas cup.
    "Ah this is great coffee squire.  Great coffee.  Reminds of the time I was down in New Rio grinding the granules with a bunch of the local senoritas.  And boy, can those girls grind!  Bwahahaha!".  He laughed and slapped his thigh, nearly spilling the cup of coffee.
    Bardzas whistling and general antics had also caught the attention of Mrs co-owner who was now standing in-front of him, arms crossed, and eyebrows sat high on her head.  Clearly she was not pleased.  "Sir, will you please behave yourself?"
    Bardza turned to Luther and asked quietly "Is that another one of them demands phrased as a question?"
    Luther nodded an affirmation.
    "Bully to me!", he blurted out, "I'm starting to get the hang of this!"
    He turned back to face her, opened his mouth to begin speaking, then paused, looked up slightly, held out his finger in a 'just a moment' gesture, lent his body to one side, and then let rip an almighty great fart.
    "Caw, catch a whiff of that!  Must be egg and sausages from half an hour ago.  I'll tell you what, that grease don't 'alf make it shift quicker." he remarked.
    This was enough to provoke a response from the woman.  She grabbed a can of air freshener from under the counter and sprayed it in Bardza’s face.
    'Cough cough' "Steady on luv!  Ya know in the Veliaze solar system they class passing gas as a compliment to the chefs great cooking!"  Another burst from the air freshener. 'Cough cough'.
    "Methane is a greenhouse gas which needs to be counteracted to prevent global warming.  Secondly, as your emissions smell awful it means that they contain methane.  Therefore I am using air freshener to cover up the awful smell."  Spray.
    'Cough cough' "Just a minute..", 'cough cough', "..I think you'll find you're conclusion's a non-sequitor." 'Cough cough'.  "If the methane's already been released, and its bad for the environment, then trying to cover up the smell isn't gonna help the environment now is it?"
    "Ooh!"  She cried out in frustration.  And yet another spray with the air freshener in Bardzas face.
    'Cough cough'
    The cafe phone rang.
    'Cough cough' "What d'ya know, saved by the bell!" 'Cough cough'.
    The woman pulled a face like an angry shrew and stormed off to answer the phone.
    "I think now would be a good time to get out of here.  Before your lungs get filled with 'Lowland Meadow Fragrance'."  Luther remarked.
    'Cough cough'. "Yeah.." 'Cough cough' "..that's a.."
    "Good idea?"
    "Spot on!" 'Cough cough cough'.
    Bardza got up and continued coughing loudly as he exited the cafe.  Luther opened his wallet and dropped a handful of credit coins on the counter, then followed his friend out the door and onto the street.

    That was Bardzas first time in a Federation system.


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