“Jessica Morgan was this big-time politician in one of the North American countries or another…” Grace said.
“The United States of America,” Alan interjected.
“Whatever. Anyway, she had a lot of pull and a lot of contacts in the military ‘cause she used to be a soldier or…”
“A lieutenant colonel.”
“WhatEVer. Anyhow, she was one of the first to hear that Yellowstone was gonna blow, and she was the one who suppressed the information so the one percent could prepare.”
“The one percent?” GuruG asked.
“The most wealthy and powerful in the system,” Grace replied, “It’s actually a LOT less than one percent, but that’s what we call them. They have all the money and power.”
“That sounds…” GuruG said, choosing his words carefully and diplomatically, “inefficient.”
“And terribly unfair,” Alan shrugged, “However, being part of that ‘one percent’, both Grace and I benefited from this injustice.”
“Why does everyone else allow this?” GuruG asked, completely mystified.
“You know,” Grace replied, “That’s a very good question. I sure as fuck wouldn’t… But I guess those who won’t already haven’t… and already got theirs. Either that or they found out why the one percent is the one percent.”
“And once they have theirs,” Alan replied, “Then they are part of the one percent they used to hate… They become their new Same, and the cycle continues.”
“Happens every time,” Grace snickered. “We have a saying, ‘Absolute power is fucking awesome!’”
“The actual saying is, ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely,’” Alan snickered, “But Grace’s version is probably much more accurate… for once… And I do agree. It was nice while it lasted.”
GuruG looked at the humans, more than a little mystified. “But how does that even work?”
“The one percent controls the money and the means of production,” Alan replied, “And then they give the masses just enough to keep them satisfied and working. It’s worked for thousands of years. One can even argue that it is what our civilization is based upon.”
The shuttle made a bubbling snorting sound. “I have to agree with our vessel,” GuruG said. “That is not only malodorous but rancid, offensive in the extreme.”
“Great,” Grace snorted, “A fucking communist, and just when I was starting to like you.”
“Other systems have been tried,” Alan said, “But they have always failed. Sadly, this is how our Same… or Sames… work. It has gotten much better than in the past, though. What it takes to keep the masses satisfied is significantly more than it once was.”
“And it is easier to be one of the cogs,” Grace added. “You just show up and go to work. You don’t have to worry about business decisions or put in the extra effort and take the risks that it takes to run a business…”
“And in our species, those risks can be a lot more than financial,” Alan smirked. “When we say that human business is cutthroat, we mean that literally.”
“Also, humans don’t have the same abilities,” Grace said, “For your average fuck, working for someone else isn’t the worst thing in the world. We pay our people good and offer all sorts of benefits.”
“Same here,” Alan said, “If someone doesn’t like the compensation they receive, they can go to another employer, essentially creating competition between businesses for their labor and skills.”
“As long as you aren’t in too deep, that is,” Grace smirked.
“In too deep?”
“In our particular Sames,” Alan said, “There is the legitimate side that works within the law, and then there is our real business, which in both of our Sames is highly illegal. If you work as part of our illegal organization, leaving is not an option because of what you know. However, service in those branches of both of our Sames is very lucrative and is the only way to ascend beyond a certain status and obtain the wealth that comes with it.”
“Yeah,” Grace said, “If you want to be part of that one percent, or even the ten percent, you gotta spill a little blood. It’s just how it is.”
“It’s how you demonstrate loyalty and fully commit to our Sames and is the only way you will be trusted to assume a full leadership role, even on the legitimate side of our business, since it serves our true endeavors,” Alan said.
“I find this all very distressing,” GuruG said, “and even more confusing. We do nothing like this. We are all part of the Same, and we all work together to make things good for all of us. There are different roles that have different responsibilities and the authority to properly perform those roles. But whether you are the captain of a station, an attendant of the ancestors, or just clean the floors you are equally valuable and cared for.”
“Weird,” Grace said.
“No more weird than that horrible nonsense you just described,” GuruG replied.
“But how do you get ahead?” Alan asked, “Or are you locked into a caste system.”
“Yes and no,” GuruG replied, “There are different species that are part of our same with different abilities. I can do what I can do, and something else can do what it can do. However, within those roles, there is significant opportunity to assume whatever role one wishes based on one’s abilities and the availability of a vacant position. We also do have something very similar to what you call money or credits. There are those who do trade goods and services for these. There are even those whose role primarily involves such commerce. However, it is secondary to our civilization and used mostly to purchase luxuries, toys, and such things and is not tied directly to our survival or even comfort.”
He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a golden disk that popped open to reveal a jeweled dial protected by a transparent dome. “This chronograph is needlessly luxurious,” GuruG said, “It is a necessary piece of equipment for me to perform my functions, but this one is far more… fancy? than it needs to be. I can get exactly what is required for my function provided to me, but I bought this one instead because I just like it. The faceted stones are a source of pleasure, and its handmade mechanical nature appeals. I also like the subtle ticking sound it makes. I paid another who makes such things because it pleases them to do so in addition to their primary role. They use the money people like me provide to purchase the ‘needless’ tools and supplies they require to indulge in what pleases them.”
“I see,” Alan replied. “We would either call that communism with a free market or perhaps a form of socialism… I guess?”
“Fucking communists,” Grace grinned.
“You find our way objectionable?” GuruG asked.
“Nah,” Grace replied, “Just something that never worked for us. You do you. We don’t judge. We’re just here to meet some cool stinkies and make some deals.”
“Well put,” Alan said, “We’re here for business and to satisfy our curiosity, not approve or object to what is clearly a very successful and stable culture. Once we’ve been around for a couple of million years, we may see fit to judge you.”
GuruG and the ship laughed. “I suppose you are right,” he said, “And we are not you. We have only one Same, not dozens…”
“Hundreds,” Alan said.
“Thousands,” Grace added.
“That would suck.”
“Tell me about it,” Grace snorted.
“You were telling me about this Jessica Morgan?” GuruG asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Grace said, “Well, anyway, her first idea was to just hole up and wait everything out. But things kept going from bad to worse. Her supplies started getting low. And we were starting to become a threat to even her. That’s when she started recruiting us, the strongest and most stable of the raider gangs.”
“Stable being a relative term,” Alan smirked.
“She even recruited uptight gangs with sticks up their asses who like to pretend they are better than the rest of us,” Grace grinned, “Jessica had real weapons, real soldiers, and the supplies and expertise to back them up. She provided weapons and military advisors who gave us real military and technical training, military intelligence, and coordination among the various gangs that really upped our game.”
“Not only did we gain significantly superior equipment,” Alan said, “but the Confederacy meant that we dominated space and no longer had to waste resources fighting each other. That stability was vital and allowed us to start to build our own civilization out of the ashes of what came before.”
“Yeah,” Grace said, “Too bad those ashes objected so much. The fuckers just refused to die.”
“Our nominal goal was to secure food and other vital resources,” Alan said, “But the real objective was genocide. It was our goal to eliminate the other remnants of civilization.”
“But why?” GuruG asked, horrified.
“To get rid of the competition,” Grace said. “If we could cleanse or at least fully subdue Earth, we could rebuild unhindered. Once we did that, Luna, Mars, and even Jupiter would fall, one way or the other.”
“Basically,” Alan said, “we wanted there to be only one Same, a true system-wide government and civilization. We wouldn’t get a chance like this again, and the Sames that were springing up from the devastation weren’t exactly conducive to a single, stable civilization.”
“At least by our, and by ‘our’, I mean Jessica’s definition of the term,” Grace smirked.
“Securing what little remained of the food and the elimination of the dirties’, our word for the terrestrial humans, ability to sustain themselves served all our purposes. We could further ensure our survival, provide for our growing society, and starve out the dirties in one fell swoop.”
“And the… culinary preferences… of some of our associates only further served to depopulate the planet. It wasn’t long before the dirties themselves were harvested and slaughtered like so much livestock.”
“By the ancestors…”
“Hey, if you wanted a burger, you did what you had to do,” Grace shrugged, “Anyway, we had the guns,” Grace said, “We had the men. And we had the biggest remnant of Old Earth’s actual military force. In fact, we had a larger professional army than any of the nations had before Yellowstone. With Jessica’s support, supplies, and guns, nobody could stop us… Except for Zeus.”
“Zeus Industries,” Alan said in a matter-of-fact tone. “They were the organization, the Same, that held Jovian space, the system’s largest gas giant, and operated a massive industrial… nation… there. Their leader…”
“Was a goody-two-shoe bitch,” Grace snorted. “He got advance warning because he was one of the one percent. And what did he do? He betrayed his Same and tried to warn the dirties… asshole.”
“If he had only remained true to his Same and joined Jessica Morgan at the beginning,” Alan said, “Things would have gone very differently. The worst of the Sol Wars would never have happened, order would have been restored, and our civilization would have been preserved. We would have been able to prevent the Juon’s annexation of Sol or at least been able to deal with them from a position of strength. And, most importantly, billions of humans wouldn’t have died. Killing the survivors wouldn’t have been necessary, and there would have been a lot more of them. Love her or hate her, Jessica Morgan was the best chance at preserving our former civilization and would have been exactly the leader needed to guide humanity through those days and first contact. Instead, his false morality and narcissism triggered the bloodiest conflict in human history.”
“It would have sucked for us, though,” Grace snickered.
“True,” Alan replied, “We would never have ascended to the power and wealth our families… our former families… enjoy. Then again, we would have never had to do a fraction of what we did and would likely have been able to reintegrate into Jessica Morgan’s civilization.”
“Or at least not gotten the shit beaten out of us,” Grace snorted.
“You were defeated?” GuruG asked, surprised. “But you seem to have had all of the advantages.”
“Fucking Zeus,” Grace chuckled.
“It was Zeus that defeated us,” Alan said, “We could never take them, even with our fleet of actual military vessels. In fact, the first attempt cost us most of them. Zeus was stationed around Jupiter for a reason. They mined it for fusion fuel and, more importantly, organic compounds and other gases that exist in small concentrations in most gas giants. To do this they developed something that we’ve yet to see elsewhere, the gas miners. They are immense ships, flying refineries the size of cities that are designed to actually dive deeply into a gas giant and not only survive but remain there indefinitely.”
“The word to describe them is ‘stupid’,” Grace laughed. “Pure Terran overkill. Massive thrusters, massive shields, serious armor. They have better specs than a lot of battleships… and Zeus had a fleet of them.”
“Their thrusters were their big weapon, at least at first,” Alan said, “They were designed to maintain position and maneuver in the high gravity and intense storms present in their operating environment. This meant that an unladen gas miner’s acceleration was the highest of any ship in the system and by a lot. They could move faster and were more responsive than the missiles they carried later.”
“And with the armor and shields designed for the same bullshit,” Grace said, “Those ‘warships’? They were just bugs on the windshield for one of those monsters. They would just roll over one like it was a juice box if they got too close and their weapons didn’t do shit. Oh, they could rip a chunk out of one, but there were a fuckload of chunks. No gas miner was ever lost. A few got torn up bad enough that they weren’t repaired until after the war, but Zeus didn’t care. They just sent more… and they had more. Jupiter was not happening. You didn’t even want to get close to Jovian space. If you did… crunch.”
“The one thing that kept them from taking the whole system with them was the fact that they were outgunned,” Alan said, “and they didn’t send those gas miners out too far for fear of one of them getting swarmed. We might not have been able to take one out, but if you went for the thrusters, you could make one dead in space, and it would have to be towed by another gas miner to safety, and they didn’t have an infinite supply of spare parts for them and couldn’t get more. They also didn’t want to scatter their fleet. We didn’t have FTL, remember? If they sent their fleet too far away, then we could take the stations.”
“Why were they outgunned?” GuruG asked, “With all of that industrial might and ships like those gas miners, what kept them from turning one or two into dreadnaughts? Those would surely have dominated the system.”
“With anarchy came a complete disruption of the supply chains that they needed to make weapons and much more besides,” Alan replied, “What they could make, they could produce in quantities that defy imagination. But what they couldn’t, they had no way to obtain. This means that the high-energy weapons that were in use by the Old Earth militaries, the ones we had, were quite beyond them. They only had what they had for security reasons, and even those were nowhere close to what we were carrying.”
“That’s why we just bypassed them,” Grace said, “Once we took everything else, we would be able to break them.”
“The only other hard target was Mars,” Alan said, “The fourth planet in our solar system. It isn’t habitable but has a significant and well-protected population that lives in domes and underneath the surface. However, they were remaining neutral with enough production of food and other resources to sustain themselves indefinitely. They were also untouchable, but they were ruled by the Flaxen, the living embodiment of ‘the one percent’. They would join whoever won… or take the system themselves if we and Zeus slipped. They had the luxury of being able to wait.”
“The Flaxen are so hot!” Grace enthused. “Pity they are so inbred. They like to ‘keep it in the family’ a bit too much.”
“And they are creepy as hell,” Alan added, “Pretty, but like a statue, something to look at but not touch and certainly not something you want your friends to catch you fucking.”
“I fucked one!” Grace exclaimed. “So pretty… So disappointing,” she said as she held out her pinky finger and let it droop.
“Really?” Alan asked. “Who? When?”
“I hate to interrupt,” GuruG said, “but there are millions of Same screaming to know what happened next, and it’s starting to stink in here.”
“Very well,” Alan said, “But this is not over,” he said to Grace with a smile, “You must tell me this one. Is it someone I know?”
“Was it Van? You were pretty cozy in the scouts.”
“Nope. He was gay.”
“Yep, and he thought you were cute!”
“Was it a man or a woman?” Alan inquired, just dying to know.
Grace looked over at GuruG and laughed. “Dude is about to pop a mushroom over there.”
“Oh, very well,” Alan sighed, “But you aren’t wiggling out of this one.”
“What do you mean wiggle?” Grace laughed, “I’m proud of it! Worst sex I ever had!”
“Please!” GuruG implored.
“Sorry, dude,” Grace replied, “So that’s how it was for a while. We were raising hell on Terra. Zeus was holed up around Jupiter, eating bugs and jerking off, and Mars was… Mars. Things were looking pretty good for us until Zeus dropped the first of its big bombs.”
“They developed a weapon?” GuruG asked excitedly.
“Worse,” Alan replied, “They developed food.”
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