Monday, December 28, 2015

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 7

Chapter 7: The Plan

A.I. was thinking.
He must protect Jethro from harm.  All men must die, so ultimately Jethro’s survival must be through his family.  Jethro’s family, his genetic progeny, must be put in a position to prosper. While currently they were safe, healthy, and happy--whatever that last word meant A.I. did not know personally--A.I. foresaw difficulties for the future prospering of Jethro’s family.
The entire Outer Holdings in general, and the Belt in particular were going to be in for a rough time.  The problem was, in a word, taxes.
Understanding that problem in the context of the Outer Holdings requires more explanation.
While there was considerable money changing hands through illegal activity, this, by its very nature, was not reported to the government. Honest folk like the Riley’s either traded their products in kind--like ore for finished products in the case of their crab mining operations--or sold food to those who were farming marijuana and coca.  The folks who raised recreational products paid in cash, or, actually, they paid in better than cash:  They used gold.  
Even in space, Man’s love of shiny objects did not wane.   It was portable, valuable, and could be passed from hand to hand, traded for things needed until it got to someone who was part of the system and exchanged for currency or an addition of numbers in a bank account.  At that point, it was taxed.
However, the established system was based on taxes being imposed on all the intermediate transactions as well.  There were a lot of those. This was what the Allied Federation believed, and it was, in fact, the case.
In order to tax all of the activities that needed taxing would require a considerable amount of bookkeeping and therefore a considerable amount of cooperation from the denizens of the Belt. To say the least, this was not going to happen easily in the short term.  In the long term, if the government of the Allied Federation wanted it happen easily--or as easily as possible--they needed to offer the people who lived in the Outer Holdings services; they needed to do things that fostered community; they needed to do things they could point to and say, this is what we do with your money.
There were problems with this.  While they government might offer schools, the people in the Belt preferred home schooling because those who were honest folk, like the Rileys, were there because of religious reasons and, because of this, preferred home-schooling to public schooling.  They had no use for the “Godless indoctrination of the Allied Federation.”  While theoretically the government could provide police and healthcare, the shear size of the Belt was a barrier.
But, and this is more to the point, the Allied Federation simply wasn’t financially capable of doing even obvious things like extending the train system to the Belt. There wasn’t the money.  It was a Catch 22 situation.  If they had enough money to extent the train system to those who lived in the Belt, they wouldn’t need to tax them.
In the many hours that A.I. had devoted this this problem, on Jethro’s computer systems and on various others he had “borrowed” computational cycles from other computers there was only one method the Allied Federation could impose taxes successfully, and that was by violence. If A.I.’s logic were correct there would at some point begin a campaign of targeted violence of the Allied Federation.  It would be bullying under the cloak of the law, but it would be bullying none the less.
It would not end well for the honest farmers.  They would be the primary targets as they would not be as well-armed or as ruthless as those who made their living through illegal means.
There were three options.  The first was to pay the taxes, the second was to trust in luck, and the third was to move.  Paying the taxes would be the prefered choice if they were reasonable.  Being completely rational, A.I. chose among probabilities instead of believing in luck.
That left moving.  Earth was not an option.  The Riley’s had left Earth and there was a low probability of convincing them to go back.  And the probability of their living a good life there was not good.  Earth was divided. On one side were the countries who were part of the Allied Federation.  They were developed, but as they had moved so much production into space, there was massive unemployment, drug use, and violence.  As the unemployed constituted a drag on governmental resources, the government had put in place series of programs designed to decrease population.  Childbirth was discouraged and made difficult; assisted suicide was encouraged and euthanasia was allowed for those who could not make the decision.
Population was decreasing, but decreasing population only meant decreasing demand and even more unemployment.  The Allied Federation was in a spiral.
Those countries not in the Allied Federation were increasingly at odds with it.  All who desired admission to the Federation had already instituted the necessary changes in their constitution and had been admitted. Those who were outside were increasingly hostile to it.  
This left only one place to move: Out of the Solar System.
Since the early 21st century, astronomers had been cataloging stars with planetary systems.  They kept looking for planets in the so called goldilocks zone.  This was the zone not so close to the sun they would be too hot for life and not so far from the sun as to be too cold.  It was all focused on finding extraterrestrial life or a planet like earth to colonize.
A.I. had absolutely no desire to find extraterrestrial life; he had no desire at all.  He was, however, seeking a place where Jethro’s descendants could flourish. They were living away from a planetary environment already, so an earthlike planet in the goldilocks zone was not needed.  What were needed were resources.  That meant an ample asteroid belt; one that was not as sparse as the one they were living in would be nice.  Water ice would be good too; you have to have water. A gas giant with the possibility of habitable moons wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  
But extraterrestrial life--especially intelligent extraterrestrial life--would present all sorts of problems. If there were intelligent life, the humans would be invaders and intelligent species would not welcome an invading force. Non-intelligent life would be less problematic.  Living things, and plants in particular, were great chemical factories.  However, they would be competitors to any vegetation from Earth that was introduced to the system.  Having the home field advantage, the native organisms would choke out terrestrial organisms.  It would be best to simply start from scratch and terraform whatever suitable worlds they might encounter.
This brought up the question of taking earth plants along.  Right now, there wasn’t a lot of variety of plants grown by the farmers in space.  There were the coca and marijuana plants, of course, but beyond that the plants grown were staple food crops.  There wasn’t very much variety, and it the long run genetic drift would eliminate most of that variety.  This is an issue that would have to be dealt with.  
And that was just plants.  However few plants there were, there were even fewer animals.  There were no cattle.  They were too massive and required too much food.  In fact, there were no big animals--other than humans--in any of the habs in the belt.  It was not uncommon to find chickens being raised.  The chicken factory-farms of Earth didn’t require much modification at all to take to space. There were also a large number of rabbit farms.  The rabbits not only provided meat, but also fur.  Fur clothing was popular in space as a habitat could get cold if something were blocking the sun, like when you were hiding, for instance.  Goats were not unheard of, and their cheese was considered a luxury.
A.I. began making lists of tasks than needed to be done and it seemed to be growing exponentially.  However, the questioned still remained, where to go?
In the catalog of potential stars, there was one within 30 light-years of Earth which had an ample asteroid belt with a lot of water ice detected.  There was a gas giant of two Jupiter masses that was just beyond the goldilocks zone.  It might have moons that could be terraformed, but it did not look like a good candidate for the emergence of life.
So, there was a destination.  How would they get there?  To A.I., it appeared that a fleet of ships could be equipped with engines capable of an average speed of about one tenth of the speed of light.  That meant it would take 300 years to get there.  Those who began the trip would not finish it.
It did not--to A.I.--seem to be a problem.


Ossian said...

I imagine the outer territories would want independence. I suppose they would have some sort of representation, otherwise it would be taxation without representation and then they'd definitely want to break away. But could they survive without what Earth sent out?

Bobby Winters said...

And therein lies the conflict.