Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Titanium

 An interview with Xanthippe Xeyos

by Erri Orchow

 

The face of an alien invasion


She's one of the most fascinating figures in the Anipos colonial administration. Young, apparently well under her 30, pretty, with a vast culture and a great sense of humour, maybe a little too acid for the taste of most Earth’s politicians.

Her long brown hairs, the impossibly purple eyes, the sleek figure and her fondness for brown-red leather garmen are among the reason of her iconic stature as the embodyment of alien occupation forces on Earth.

Administratively speaking, as the deputy secretary to the Terrestrial Affairs, she's maybe the single most important member of the colonial personnel, right after Commander Kro-Nos, the Legation chief.

In her role she has come surprisingly fast to know many aspects of our civilization, and – her critics say - to carve a greater share of power than what would be suggested by her place in the Anipos organization.

Her opinions had a great weight in shaping most of the actions the Anipos took on Earth in these last two years, and may have lasting effects far in the future too, as her tenure in office will last for other eight years.

We interviewed her in her office at the 180th floor of New Amsterdam's Millennium Centre.


What do you think about Earth, after two whole years on the planet?
They told me a lot of things, before I came here, and I was distrusting most of them. But, to see is to believe, after all

Believe, what?

That this planet is ovecrowded with assholes, of course.

Your caustic sense of humour has quickly become famous in the whole Earth's system. Quite frankly, it did not mix well with the image the public has of the Anipos and their traditional, haughty way of doing things. Have you ever had any difficulties with the higher officials, for this?
Haughty and Anipos, doesn't really ring right in the same phrase...

It Happened. I menaced to resign, a couple of times. It was enough.

Was it? So, the Anipos are really so prone to discussion and compromise? It didn’t seem so, during the last war.

Anipos' high officers may find my way of treating assholes a little too harsh, but they hardly have any doubt about what's better, between apologize for me once in a while and have to face Earth's assholes day after day
.
They prefer, by far, the former; they are not completely dumb, after all...

Rather said, dumb sound even worse than haughty, in the same phrase with Anipos;

Asshol...  terrestrials’ beliefs notwithstanding.

A thing we have noted: in your phrases, you almost always say "The Anipos".  You never use the expressions "Us " or “We”. Isn't this odd?
Why should it be odd? I'm not an Anipos. I just happen to work for them. They pay well, and it's the only way to see other planetary civilizations if you are not disgustingly rich.

So, big deal, I'm not an Anipos. I'm from Beta Draconis.

Beta Draconis... this will be an astonishing revelation for our readers. We have your permission to report it?
I thought it was already in the public domain.

It's not that I made any mystery of it, and I use to go around with a Beta's "Civil Defence" suit. It’s not some kinky leather attire, as I had occasion to read in some of your gossip magazines.

I think that any fan of extra-planetary cultures already knew, or everybody who passed by the Wikipedia "Xenocultures" portal.

The article on Beta Draconis is quite well written, with just a couple of slight errors and urban legends mistaken for truth.

What errors?
It reports that our males are genetically bound to the planet and cannot leave its surface. It is a patent lie. What is true is that , if they go to planets inhabited by non-superpowered life forms, they must refrain from any form of sex for as long as they stay there, which could mean for  decades, as they are pretty much the same as your popular icon Superman.

I don't get this. Superman?
Larry Niven, one of your authors, explored the concept of the consequences of the release of nearly unstoppable sperm cells in your ambient in his article "Men of steel, woman of kleenex". He was correct in every point: on a planet like Earth, a Betan male could not even afford to meet Rosie Palm.

If only he  masturbated once, the result would be thousands of seemingly unrelated accidents, the birth of hundreds of malformed foetuses from women who didn't even had any sex in the previous twelve months. The vast majority of said foetuses would probably kill their mothers with their first kick...

It is quite nightmarish, to tell the truth....

Other errors?
Well, the line "Beta Draconis was the first colony to be annexed to the Anipos sphere"... really, forgetting the fact that Anipos hardly have any colony at all outside Earth, this ignores some fundamental facts.

As a planet, we have hardly any resource worth the expenses of a military occupation.

Even your Moon is richer than our home.

As a society, we are too much a bunch of lazy, anarchic individualists to be any kind of real treat or a worthy consumer market.

For example, our "Civil Defence" is only a volunteer organization. It gathers and organizes helps when a natural catastrophe occurs, for as long as the emergency needs, and that’s all. It’s not a military organization, but that's the nearest thing to an army, or a government, we have.

Now, the "Ani" have many faults, but they wouldn't do anything so wasteful as invading another planet just for fun. They are not terrestrial, and you people should start to remember that by now.

It’s true that they established some ties with our world, but exchange copyrights for digitally transmissible media is hardly the same thing as to become a colony.

We exchange books, hi-resolution paintings 3d scansions, music, cinema... even some digitalized comics, like, more or less, do all the civilizations in this arm of the galaxy.

It's just that the economy of space flight, and of production in the era of hyper-automation, conspire against the very trade of material goods between star systems.

Without such trade exchanges, the "Interplanetary colonization" is meaningless. 

Hyper-automation, with sentient robots, and intelligent nano-tech is way down in the technology stepladder that leads to faster than light fly and, with them, the cost of goods becomes equal to that of the energy needed to make them.

An obvious fact that is excruciatingly hard, it seems, to convey to Earth’s masses is that there is nothing in this universe as expensive as FTL jumps - in reality, not even humans, ethics aside.
Not even humans? Really?


If  it wasn't appallingly in-respectful of human rights as everybody understands them, it would way cheaper to send one's DNA and memories, and build a copy at the destination point, than to actually transport a whole living body.

Of course, negating this way the sanctity of a person's identity is inacceptable.

So, it is all in the economic balances?

Almos. Nothing requires, to be assembled, more than a ten millionth of the energy needed to move it from a planet to another with a FTL drive.

As for non FTL systems, they still requires huge amounts of energy, still a hundred times or so the energy required by any fabrication process, and it would take centuries for complete a transfer.

The only exceptions are some individuals, in very small amounts, whose physical, psychological or otherwise features cannot be achieved by a given civilization. But that civilization must be willing to pay the travel ticket for the guy.

Luckily for me, Anipos have some problems in dealing with people that routinely lies, like Terrestrials, and even worse when they have to do with compulsive liars, a pathology that affect quite some terrestrial politicians. That kind of people positively drives the Anipos mad.

So they "often" resolve to hire collaborators from more "ruthless" societies, mostly us and the Transsians, to deal with societies that they find quirk to handle - and their pragmatism hasn't reached the point of copying people instead of sending them.

By the way, in this context, “often” means “a handful of persons” each year, typically just three or four. Not the thousands that your trashier newspapers babble about. 

So, Beta is not a colony of the Anipos because it is not economically convenient for them?
I feel that you are trying to get me irritated , but I'm not into nationalistic fetishism.

They have no reason to do it, so they never tried. Should they try, they would probably win, in a day or two.

Then, we'll ask for the same kind of welfare state that they offer to their citizens and we'll bleed them dry.

I believe the idea is enough to scare their administrators a lot more than the thought of any military resistance we may ever mount.

An interstellar colony is an idea beyond folly: it's the stupidest way to waste resources.

If the whole concept of an interstellar colony is not economically viable, as you say, how comes that Earth has ended a colony of the Anipos?
It has been a completely not economic decision on their part.

More, it was a more than slightly irrational one.

They were forced to act by what is really, their biggest problem. One that they hardly acknowledge...

I can’t really follow you, here. Can you explain?
Almost all of your cultures seem to be built around the totem of the territorial conquer by the dominant male... and your way of achieving such dominance has grown more and more barbaric and destructive with the technology advancements.

I think that no rational person can deny it, right?

Now, this stirs a lot of ancestral fears in the Anipos.

In their star system, there were two inhabited planets with Cro-Magnon remnants. The firsts were our beloved Anipos.

The others were pretty much like the terrestrial culture, and they tried to wipe the Anipos out until the day they made a mistake with a biologic weapon and wiped out themselves instead.

The Anipos reacted, more to the reminiscences of that to the real threat posed by Earth.

They reacted to the fear of seeing their long lost, warmongering, scoundrel neighbours coming back to life.

And your propaganda was shouting out loud that you had to reach the status you deserved in the galaxy, and made more than your share to give the impression that you were planning to use the rest of the galaxy as a place to use your rotting nukes on some civvies, without nasty witnesses like journalists and the likes...

Oh, if I remember well, when the war started you even really tried it a couple of time... it's pitiful that Anipos doesn't have foot soldiers, but only robots in their army.


Highly armoured, radiation proof robots, some of them even able to withstand a direct shot from a nuke at blank zero... not exactly the ideal target for random nukes.

So, it's not like you didn't give them any reason to overstep their usual boundaries.


But, why did the war started when it started? Why not, let's say, fifty years before?
From what I know, they kept monitoring your planets for years, particularly scientific reviews.

It seemed that your physicists were knee-deep in the swamp of quantum gravity and string theories.

Even the Anipos spent a couple of centuries getting out of that loophole, and they were among the fastest civilization in doing so.

So, they thought they had all the time to see if you would finally grow up and become good guys, or you’ll get boiled by your own exhausts, or finally you’ll nuke one each other in some kind of incident.

Wasn't it for that other patents' office worker that, like his colleague a century before, came out with the Idea and snapped you out of quantum gravity in a bang, Anipos would still be up there, watching your television (not a bright idea to send through electromagnetic waves all that violence, all those "evil aliens” smashed and slaughtered without any remorse, I must add) and feeling a little uneasy in front of people able to talk about pre-emptive war... and believe something like that had any sense.

But the guy came. You get aware of the pan-galactic hyper-wave university network... and all the rest of the hyper-wave transmissions that made your SETI researchers cry, when they realized they were looking for the wrong thing.  

Your people, whose idea of fun was often watching show where your heroes destroy aliens guilty of being in your way, discovered an entire universe ready to rape...

I know it is not true – maybe - but this was the impression the Anipos ( and anyone who looks objectively at your media at the time ) had and, the Anipos being the most paranoid culture in this arm of the galaxy, they felt so uneasy that they ended up doing what they would have never done else. 


So, they attacked out of fear?
Yes. Well, your historical data shows that you attacked the small, automatic station on the dark side of the Moon that they used to monitor your transmissions... it doesn't really matter. Usually, they wouldn't even give a fig... Non sentient automatisms are worth a dime, after all.

Simply put, terrestrials were showing their muscles to the universe since the early ‘50s, to say so.

The Anipos couldn't really stand that attitude, and they convinced themselves that if you ended up finding a FTL drive as economic as the one used by the Cro-Magnons – which I believe to be impossible, in this “new” universe - you would have stormed the whole universe.

In reality, Earthlings and Anipos seem made just to despise each other and, in the end, this basic clash of attitudes found a way to overcome the good sense of the Ani.

For the rest, I've read a lot of bullshits in your media in these two years, mostly drawn out of “parallelisms" with your past history... like that the Anipos are going to drop here their surplus of population, or that they are going to steal this or that natural resource.

I’ve seen articles speaking of water... water, for God’s sake! If someone would ever want water, there is more water in Saturn’s rings that on the whole planet Earth, ad it’s already in orbit, ready to be ferried out.

Again, I don't ask to you people to believe the Anipos are good. Just to believe that they are not idiots.

Unless someone REALLY comes out with an FTL drive that eat less than a peta-joule per kilogram and parsec, like the ones that were possible before the nu slide, there is no way for a military occupation to raise the money to pay for its own logistic.

On my part, I don't think that someone could pop out, next year, with an idea that hasn't been explored in the five thousand years passed since the Megatters designed the first post-slide FTL drive, which is more or less the one still in use today. 

Until that moment, there is nothing in any solar system that's worth the ride's ticket to the next one. Period.

As for their "demographic problems"... their planets is a little smaller than Earth, but has less seas so that habitable surface is more or less the same. Also they cleansed the fifth planet from the scoundrels' wastes and terra-formed the second and fourth planets of their system.

So, they are a great total of two billions, now, living on four planets, a couple of moons and a bunch of orbital stations.

Unlike Beta’s, they are socialites who love to stick together and tend to live in relatively concentrated cities... so they haven t real needs in term of personal space.

They wrote off their dictionaries "undesired pregnancy" some centuries ago, so it should not be that unexpected that their number has been stable in these last two hundred years.

Space is hardly one of their problems. And if it was, they would have really invaded US before Earth.

Beta is half the distance than Earth, from their place.

I admit that I was one of those who expected them to flood the planet with their troops. Instead, the whole bulk of the Anipos occupation force is something like a hundred persons. It's just this economic problems that prevented them from sending more troops?

Yes, it’s the main reason. That and the fact that it is quite hard to find Anipos who actually like to spend years away from home.

It's almost impossible to state directly the costs of interstellar travel, because at the moment there is no economic exchanges between Anipos and Earth, so I have to guess, basing myself on the costs of similar things - like cars, houses etc... – here and in Anipos mainland.

A ticket to Anipos' home world should be in the two hundred thirty, two hundred forty millions credits range. An android with almost human intelligence built by the automatic factories that they placed in the asteroids belt costs something less than eight hundred dollars.  An intelligent jet fighter is somewhere in the range of the hundred thousands...

The whole army that crushed Earth's defences wasn't worth the travel expenses of two of the technicians and military personnel that supervised it. 

That explains a lot of things. First of all, it explains why you will never see a foot soldier from another star system. And it explains the salary and wages of said personnel...

What things?

The bonus for those who complete ten years on the same planet is slightly above a couple of year of wage.

Officials are entitled to another bonus for every of their subordinates who reach that goal, and fined for those who fail.

And it explains the laughs that meet your lobbyists when they try to bribe one of us. They almost always seem to fail to grasp that they offer just small amounts of a kind of money that we could spend only here.

It's not that we are such steadfastly honest people, as some say.

It's simply that, unless we resolve to live here, your money is pretty useless to us. And, on the other end, for a bribe to reach the break-even point - where it starts to be economically convenient to be bribed - it would have to be at least in the five hundred million range.

Nobody of us treats affairs, with terrestrial counterparts, with that kind of budget involved.


Is this "bonus system" one of the reasons behind your evident self assurance? Or, is it true that you hold this place because of a sexual relation with chief commander Kro-Nos?
Oh oh, what a great gossip you gave me. I didn't know that such a tale was going around.

I would rather like to take a ride on the good old man, because he really is a good ma, and I often find myself "starving"... I could enjoy giving him a good old blowjob. We could do a sweet '69 of friendship, it would be nice.

Unfortunately, he doesn't forget that I could forget his fragile nature and inadvertently cut "it" out.

There are no Anipos who would dare to place their virility in jaws able to truncate a titanium bar.

To say the truth, there also aren't many Earthling who agree to put it into a hole that could squeeze "it" in an orgasm's twitch, either.

In turn, this simple fact, I think, justifies some of my acidity toward the Terrestrial male. Were it only for you guys, I would have “starve” to death.
  
It's right. You are the only Beta in the staff, are you?
So, you did your researches...

Yes, I'm the only one... but I'm lucky enough to meet some woman, from time to time, who's adventurous enough to venture into such dangerous waters. Or doesn't really realize the danger she’s putting herself into.

Women used not to be really my cup of tea, but one has to adapt, sometimes.


What do you think of Bridget Johansson, the only Earth's superhero? It has been discovered that she is from your planet.
Good girl, I met her when she was giving an introduction to Terrestrial culture for those that were willing to apply for a post on this planet.

They may pick just one or two people each year, but there are plenty of young girls who dream to wander under some alien sky, to see the universe, so she had her hands quite full.

Not that she really needs the job... she's the only daughter of a former multi-millionaire, who spent much of his fortune to build a small interstellar vector - it was rich enough to afford it! - and place four embryos in cryogenic stasis.

Note well, he did all that to save his sons from the "Aniposian Domination".

He was a right-wing madman, and an idiot.

Why an idiot?
You are going to send four embryos to a far away planet... which would you choose? Two girls and two boys, possibly with the most varied genetic pool.
Given the peculiarities of our biology, it's the most sensible thing. I would do it...

Even if you insisted to send "your sons", giving the fact that you are using eggs from some donors, you would think to use at least egg cells from four different mothers.

Anyway, you should stick to the two & two pattern, so that they can find some solace in each other... they are probably going to be quite different from the rest of the planet. We beta are not the mainstream Cro-Magnon descendants, after all, thanks to the Betans bacteria that replaced the original mitochondria.

And you would aim carefully, to the "right" planet. Definitely, with all that invested in the effort, you would do it....

He sent four sisters. So they couldn't be incestuous, as this was an abomination onto his God.

From the same mother. Because he believed that a man should have children with just one woman.

In a ship with a poor Artificial Intelligence that had to look for a planet free of the Anipos Influence for itself...  “so that the hand of the Almighty may freely express herself”.

And he burnt almost all of his fortune to do so. This goes beyond Madness and falls right into Idiocy.

This is terrible. What does she think, of this story?
She's positively angry at dad... had he not been such an idiot, she would have been filthy rich and not just wealthy.

Rather than that, she would have been famous for some normal reason - as a filthy rich and pretty looking VIP - and not as a poor girl victim of a cruel fate, brought up by some good barbarian on a terrible planet... a role that made her an instant celebrity when she got back, but hardly one that she does enjoy at all.

As a celebrity, she often speaks about you people. But she doesn't make that good a publicity to the planet, though.


What ? Why?
When she lived here she suffered from some chemicals unbalances in Earth's food. It's nothing serious, if you know the correct blood values; 

It just requires to keep an eye on your diet and eat some integrators, once in a while. But, being the only one of her kind - I wonder what was of the other three - earth doctors couldn’t even start to guess what was wrong, so she accumulated toxins during all her stance on Earth.

Her mind was obfuscated, he powers unstable. She couldn't realize all that was going on around her.

Back home, she was rapidly restored to health and her true self... which is even sharper than mine.

Her opinion of Earth people is pretty much the same of her biographer Wonga. "Not really bad people, but theirs leaders should be exterminated. We may don't know why, but they certainly have a clue".

I believe it comes from some of your older, nastier proverbs.



She doesn't seem the same girl that is portrayed by the media in these last few months.
This lately, your media are full of the most exquisite bullshit I have ever read in my life. A parade of the most used revanchist propaganda clich├ęs, saying that you lost because of the defeatists. That, with just a little effort more, you would have won.

I noticed that its writers were usually at the front-line in Yale, or at Harvard. Some so-called journalists they are, people who doesn't even bother to read your own historians.

These latter, honestly state that the war cost for the Anipos was the same of the annual travel of the "postal ship" that now ferries the personnel exchange from and to Anipos one.

Or a tenth of the photoelectric shield that stops **5%** of the sun radiations to Earth and gives **70%** of the energy used on the planet.

That same shield that is the main reason why this planet is not boiling right now.


Isn't it a bit too harsh?
I'm not the one selling concealed suicide desires to the masses... your technical advancements in these years, mostly made reverse-engineering some fringe Anipos tech, have been great.

Maybe.

But you are not even on par with the technologies they show you during the war. And, no doubt, they didn’t use the really advanced materiel. It was standard stuff, the kind of it is used in everyday activities, just a bit bulkier. It’s not, as I keep reading around, that you are scientifically overtaking anybody.

Right now, just the maintenance of the solar shield would require the whole of your orbital shuttle fleet, should they ever decide to stop to it and retire their robots. It would cost you the GDP of one of your big countries, too, and it will be so till the day some lucky guy of yours comes out with a working anti-gravity system.

The weapons factories in the asteroids belt are still there, just waiting for an order.

And also all of the fighting machines that survived the war are stacked out there, in some hidden warehouse.

They didn't waste their time to destroy something they could still need. They are just waiting.

Your economy took ten long years to get back on her feet, after the war.

It has been ten painful years of recessions, riots, strikes and political repression.

A mountain of pain for nothing, I should add.

Because, in the end, for the everyday man and woman who paid the war with blood and ten wasted years of sorrow, nothing has changed.

The president of X is still the president of X, elected with the same old ways to act in the behalf of the richer 1% of the population. Well, he can't attack his neighbour Y, who usually got the power more or less in the same way, because neither of them has an army any more, and that is indubitably a step forward, but one can’t help but wonder how all that money that's not spent in weapons still finds his way to the pocket of the same old sharks.

Are you sure it's the case to risk another round with the Ani just because "they deny us our rightful place under the sun"? Place under the sun? You already have one.

My home is way poorer than Earth, in terms of natural resources. And is not even the worst planet you can find... the universe is full of planets lacking those heavy metals you need to build most of the useful technologies, metals that the existence of your big Moon so usefully carried near the surface of this world.

Most of others civilization had to reach the other worlds and asteroids in their systems, to find useful amounts of indium, iridium, platinum etc...

Yet, more and more I read and hear bad rhetoric phrases, the kind of one think you should have learnt to avoid by now, about the "evil enemy" that "stole our rightful place in the galaxy"...

You can take whatever place you want, in the Galaxy, provided you can pay the travel expenses.

Or the "horrible invaders who are pushing us down in the shadows"... c'mon, with me, we are one hundred twenty.

How could we push down seven billion people, I don't know. 


Do you have any idea of the causes of this wave of bad journalism?
Somebody tricked your anti-trust regulation and got a hold of a great part of your media. Somebody who had shares in what were Earth's weapon industries, and wants to get back in business


----
Intern view of a magazine redaction; Erri is talking to the chief editor.


- Erri, this article is no good, no good at all
- What's wrong, boss?
- It's all wrong... yes, she looks like the bitchiest bitch of them all, and this is not bad...
- She IS a bitch, boss
- But, these final considerations... this is bordering on defeatism, Erri
- I cut them out, boss?
- Better... then, this story with "Saint Bridget" that hates our leaders, we can't really allow us to publish enemy propaganda, Erri
- So, I cut it too, boss?
- It's better
- This image of the titanium severing jaws...
- What's the matter with this?
- Cut it... it's nice that she jokes about such a petty accusation, but that image could stir anxieties in our male readers
- Ok, boss. But, if I did it, in the end, did not it looks like she's really giving blowjobs to commander Kro-Nos?
- Yes, yes... our readers will like it. You are smart, Erri.
- Ok, I'll do it.
- Then again, there is no proof that interstellar travel is that expensive... just their words, hers and the rest of these filthy aliens. Let's go for something more real, that the everyday man can understand... five hundred thousands bucks, something like this; expensive but not beyond the impossible.
- Yes, boss.... What about their wages? Even about those, we have no third party source, to tell the truth.
- Leave the bonus topic; it is a proof that they are fond of money like everybody
- I got it all, boss. But, I have a problem
- Which would it be? I hope is not a professional conscience one. You are a grown up man, c'mon
- She told me that, if I misreport her words, she come and give us a blow-job
- Us?
- both to me and you, boss
- Odd... she's quite a knack, it wouldn't be that bad... wait, did she intend...

Erri takes a mountaineer snap hook from his pocket, one of those ring-like things that are sometimes used as key holders. It's literally crunched open, with clear teeth shaped marks.

- What's it?
- Titanium, boss. Titanium.


 

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