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A Cyber Muse story

Hard Times

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright April 2015

 

The Background

In 2043 a plebiscite was held and the small, fictional nation of Blabistan split off from its larger, fictional neighbor, Glugistan -- there had been rivalry between the two regions for centuries. Three years afterwards a large deposit of rare earths is discovered in the alkaline deposits of the Moodock Dry Lake in Blabistan. Rare earths are proving valuable in newly developing battery technologies, so Blabistan finds itself with a surprise blessing.

But ever since the discovery the question of how to take advantage of this blessing is something hotly disputed among the people of this new nation. The arguing spreads into the economic, social and political spheres. In 2050 this disputing takes on a new twist.

 

Cast, places, and other names

Blabistan -- new nation
Glugistan -- larger neighbor
Moodock Dry Lake -- source of rare earths
Heisenberg Mine -- the mine at the lake

Radamm Hotsein -- newly elected president
Emilia Hotsein -- president's wife

Demitri Stalink -- head of national security

Kamal Kastoff -- opposition leader
Abner Constan -- opposition leader

Lotran Mandis -- kleptocrat and a president supporter

Kent Clark -- General Manager, Heisenberg Mine
Bundar-Bundar -- klepto bureaucrat in charge of mine

Alice Kazam -- shop keeper in the company town next to the mine
Bas-Jouwa -- Revolution Police Chief in company town

Bergen Halston -- UN committee chairperson

 

The Story

Radamm Hotsein is hosting a celebration party. He is a handsome man in his late 40's, dressed in very fashionable clothes, tattoos and piercings. Likewise, his trophy wife, Emilia, who is helping host this party, is an even sharper dresser, tattooer and piercer. His... their villa, where this celebration is taking place, is top-of-the-heap kleptocrat plush. The highlight of this particular room is a top-of-the-line, latest model, home theater (TV) screen. In the room with him are discrete servants and flashy fellow kleptocrats of his country who are both benefactors and key supporters in his recently completed rise to top spot -- he is now the nation's president as well as The Party president. His wife and the other kleptocrat companions have excused themselves, they did so after Radamm hinted that there was business to be conducted.

As Radamm points at the TV screen he says, "Gentlemen, the highlight of the evening is about to begin."

On the screen is a meeting of the national legislature. Just finishing speaking is Kamal Kastoff, an outspoken opposition leader.

"The rare earths found under our land have benefited us greatly. God be praised that they are there, and that we discovered them.

"But now we, all of us, must be wise in how we take advantage of this great blessing. We must build our industries in diverse areas, we must build our infrastructure to support diverse activities, we must build our people's industrial diversity. We must not squander this blessing on building grandiose showcase projects; building obstructionist bureaucracy; building the importance of political connections. And, most important, we cannot be spending money we don't have. We, as a nation, must be fiscally responsible.

"Bidding to host the Winter Olympics now is an expensive distraction. We should do this after we have raised our per capita GNP, after we have established consistent double digit growth in our GNP, and after we have developed a ski tourism industry. Bidding now is insane.

"Thank you, all."

With that Kamal steps down.

The speaker announces, "An important and unscheduled announcement will now be made. This will be made by Mr. Demitri Stalink, head of National Security.

Mr. Stalink comes to the lectern. He looks around. He takes out a piece of paper. He announces, "As you know, there are those who conspire against our great leader. Many of those are foreigners. But some... are our fellow countrymen. And some... are here today in this assembly." He holds up the paper, "I have a list. And those who are on this list will be... quarantined... so they can not spread their lies and damage further.

"First on the list is... Kamal Kastoff." As he says this plain clothes security people surround a surprised Kastoff and hustle him from his seat and escort him out the side door.

"Abner Constan" announces Stalink, and Constan is now hustled out.

As the party attendees watch, there are sixteen assemblymen named. There are gasps in the room when some are announced.

It is quickly finished. Stalink steps down, and Radamm turns down the TV. He stands in front of it, and announces, "Now that the decks have been cleared, we can have some real progress."

There is applause.

"Any questions?" Radamm asks.

"What will happen to them?" asks Lotran Mandis, one of the guests.

"You mean what has happened to them? Let me show you." says Radamm proudly. He turns the TV back up and steps aside.

The view on the TV changes. It now shows a newly built graveyard just outside the parliament building. The title on the graveyard sign is "Betrayers of the State -- RIP 2050". There are fifteen freshly filled-in plots, each has two bright, lightweight, plastic tubes coming out the top. The last plot is being filled by the last person pulled out. That person is being put in a coffin; along side him in the coffin is being placed a helmet with lots of electrical leads. The coffin is closed, two tubes added, and it is quickly buried with the rest with the two tubes connecting the coffin with the air up above.

The view switches to inside one of the coffins. It is Kamal Kastoff, the first one buried. The view shows him in infrared light, and his vitals display shows he is coping in a fairly calm way. He is resting inside uneasily. He gets air from the tubes. He shouts up one of them, "Help me! Save me!"

The helmet beside him has a speaker built into it, it says to him, "Do you admit you have betrayed the state? Do you also repent?"

Kamal keeps his cool and says, "Fuck you! And your little dog, too!"

Radamm sighs, "Incorrigible... for now. Let's hope for more positive results."

He switches the view to Abner. Abner is lying rock-still. The vitals display coming from his wearables indicates he is deeply scared.

The speaker in his helmet asks him, "Do you admit you have betrayed the state? Do you also repent?"

Abner is so scared it takes him many seconds to reply, "Yes, I do... I do, I do, I do! Just get me out of here."

"Put me on." says the helmet. Abner does. "Your mind is now being scanned. If you have truly repented, an image of it will be stored. And, at some point in the future it will be transferred into a new body. Then you can demonstrate your repentance in full measure."

When what he has heard sinks in, Abner gets frantic.

"What... what... what about this body! I'm here! In this body! Get me out of here!"

"Your body stays here. In its current location it provides a powerful lesson to those who are tempted to conspire against the betterment of the state."

Abner howls. He gets frantic and beats on the coffin.

"Calm yourself." says the helmet, "The state you are in while I scan will be the state you are in when you are revived." Abner pays no attention. He is in full frantic panic.

After luxuriating in watching Abner's distress for a while longer, Radamm changes the view to that of a pleasant sunset with soothing music playing in the background, and stands in front of the TV again.

"Any further questions?" he asks.

There are none.

"The Revolution can now advance to its next phase. All Hail The Revolution!" he joyfully announces and he gives The Party salute.

"All Hail The Revolution!" chimes the audience... with salutes... and with widely mixed levels of enthusiasm. Those with less enthusiasm are thinking, "Who is next?"

Emilia and the other companions come back in and the festivities continue.

<<<*>>>

Kent Clark is the General Manager of the four year old, and rapidly expanding, Heisenberg Mine. This is where the country's rare earths are coming from. He is in a plush office overlooking the rapidly growing open pit that the mine now is. In the mine itself are about a thousand workers with pick axes and shovels, and twenty human-driven trucks that are carrying the ore out to the first stage processing plants near the pit. Surrounding the pit are huge tailings piles that are getting even bigger as the trucks bring tailings from the first stage plants and dump them on the piles.

He is watching the activity when Bundar-Bundar knocks on the door and then walks in like he owns this place. Kent is annoyed at this, but he keeps his cool. Kent is conservatively dressed in a company manager style suitable for a globalized company, and he displays his engineering education and background by being almost fashionless -- no tattoos, no piercings -- but he does wear an expensive watch. Bundar-Bundar is a newly installed and aspiring government functionary, his clothing is flashy but mid-cost and his tattoo and piercing collection is still growing.

Kent says, "Mr. Bundar, what can I do to help you today."

Bundar sits himself down in front of Kent's desk. He admires the desk itself for a few seconds, then says, "I am here to talk with you about your proposal to bring in automated mining machinery."

Kent continues to stand at the window, "You have seen my proposal then? Did you take time to look it over?"

Bundar waves his hand, "Details of that sort give me a headache. I had my assistants do that. But I see serious problems with it. I'm not sure I can approve it."

"What kinds of problems? The company will be paying for the machinery. It will double the mine's output. And at today's prices that brings in a lot of profit for the company and a lot of royalty for your country."

"Yes, yes, yes. But it will put a lot of skilled miners out of work."

Kent looks out the window, "Those miners are skilled? All they are skilled at is shoveling dirt into a truck."

"They will become a burden on the state welfare system. So... what I'm asking for is a contribution from your company... to me... to help ease that burden. Let's say: ten percent of the cost of the machinery you are bringing in?"

The light goes on for Kent. Bundar continues, "And the road and railroad to China that service the mine are so congested these days. We must do this slowly. This will take a year, not the three months you have proposed. ...Unless you wish to... expedite things. I know people. I can help with that." He grins some more.

"I will give this careful thought, Bundar. Is there anything else?"

"That's all I have for now. Have a good day, Mr. Clark."

Bundar-Bundar smiles, runs his hand over the desk one last time, and walks out.

<<<*>>>

This UN committee meeting on Human Rights is not a happy one.

Bergen Halston, the Chairperson, begins the meeting, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the agenda for this meeting is the increasing social tension and violence being noted in Blabistan, the country Radamm Hotsein has recently been voted president of. It seems that his election is not helping the people get settled or better organized.

"He is conducting a vigorous campaign of accusing conspirators of being the cause of the nation's social problems, and he and his party's tactics are getting ugly. We even have new kinds of retribution being practiced."

He shows the video of the buried opposition leaders.

"We could be on the brink of a serious humanitarian crisis. Do we need to recommend action? Some kind of intervention?" he looks around, then announces, "The meeting is now in open discussion."

Member A says, "This Hotsein fellow is duly elected. He is the people's choice. Do we want to interfere in this?"

Member B says, "There are accusations of vote fraud."

Member A says, "There are always accusations of vote fraud. Are these any more egregious than usual?"

Member B says, "Hotsein's party as been organizing paramilitary groups. They are cracking down on opponents. The Party is telling local media that Glugistan is claiming half of Moodock Dry Lake. The Glugistan government denies this, and I haven't heard any mention of it in their media."

Member A says, "This is ugly. I'm not saying it isn't ugly. And I'm real happy I'm not personally experiencing it. But this is now a sovereign nation. It has been one for seven years. Are we ready to trample on that sovereignty?"

Halston says, "It looks like some more research is in order. Lets establish a task force to do that research and report back."

<<<*>>>

Alice Kazam runs a shop in the company town which has been built next to the mine. She brings in basic goods that the miners want to buy to make their lives and homes better -- things such as soaps, furniture kits and bolts of cloth that the wives can sew into clothing. She is an immigrant. She is here because running this shop pays better than being a farmer's wife back in her home village, and because she and her fellow shop keepers have gone through the frustrating processes of getting goods shipped to the town, and in the process have learned a lot. Unlike when the town was first being established, they can now get goods in their shops with managable consistency. Whew! Those were the days!

She is happy to be here, but it is no paradise. She works hard, and there are issues. And this morning one of those "issues" has just walked in the front door. It is Bas-Jouwa, newly appointed captain of the town's Revolution Police, and two of his cronies. He is beaming as he walks in, wearing a new uniform, and looking over, and handling, the merchandise.

Alice comes to him and politely says, "Congratulations on your promotion, Mr. Jouwa." and bows.

"That is Police Chief Jouwa to you now, shop keeper." He looks around. "You won't be here much longer, you know. The mine owners are bringing in robots." Then he sneers, "And there is nothing you can sell to them. Hah!"

He goes on, "But that will be some time from now. And in the meantime things could get dangerous here. There will be many unhappy people." He leers at her, "What do you think you should do about that?"

She gets the hint, "I should buy some extra protection, right?"

"Riiight!" he says, "I want fifty dollars, US, a month for the next six months. You can pay it all now, or pay monthly. But don't even think about missing a payment!"

Alice goes to her cash box and pulls out five tens. Meekly she hands them over. Jouwa laughs again at her and walks out.

When he is out of sight and earshot, Alice breaks into tears and rushes out the back door.

Out behind her store, in the small garden she grows there, Alice has constructed a small, discrete altar. To the casual observer it looks like bench with a backrest, and Alice will use it as that when she entertains guests in the garden. But now it is an altar for her, and she is kneeling in front of it, in tears, and here to pray. She kneels, presses her hands together, and talks urgently to the communicator she is wearing. She is talking to her cyber god.

"Oh Lord. You have tested me again today. I pray that I am proving worthy, and that soon my trials of this sort will be over.

"What can I do, My Lord, to bring righteousness and justice to this town and my family here?"

She is not surprised when she gets a reply back. She picked this cyber god because it was recommended to her by people she trusts, and because it is a talkative one. There is both a voice reply and a small holographic image which projects on the altar.

"You are doing well, Alice. You are keeping the commandments and I recognize that. Have patience. Things look dark now, but changes for the better are coming." The image and the voice fade, "Have faith, have patience." and disappear.

Comforted, Alice wipes her face and returns to the shop.

<<<*>>>

===Three Months Later===

<<<*>>>

Bundar-Bundar bursts into Clark's office. He is looking triumphant and yells, "Hah! Your ass is now nationalized. You work for me, Clark!"

Then he looks around. The office has changed dramatically. The plush furniture is gone. In place of Clark's desk, there is a simple desk with a simple screen on it, and sitting at the desk is not Kent Clark but Whoosala Madrock, head of the newly formed miners union.

Confused, Bundar asks, "What's going on?"

Whoosala sighs, "There is nothing here for you to nationalize. The mine has been sold to the miners union."

Bundar is suspicious, "What are you getting out of this deal?"

"Very little, sadly. Before the sale the long-term contracts were all renegotiated. Other suppliers were designated. At this point, this mine is supplying no one but our own storage facilities."

"This is bullshit!"

"It is, but it is very real. For a week now I have been trying to find customers, but, outside of smugglers, I've had no success."

"Why did this happen?"

Whoosala shrugs, "I don't know. Perhaps God is not smiling on us?"

<<<*>>>

===Three Months Later===

<<<*>>>

President Hotsein is having another kleptocrat party at his villa. But this event is not nearly as festive as the election night one was. Times have not been good for Blabistan and everyone in the room has suffered -- either a little or a lot. Emilia and the companions have excused themselves again. It is business talk time.

Hotsein lets loose, "First that mine nationalizing fiasco, and since then nothing in the economy has gone right. Gentlemen: I am not happy; The Party is not happy; the country is not happy. I ask: What is happening and what do we do about it?"

There are looks around the room. Lotran Mandis is the first to speak, "We haven't been able to do business-as-usual. Our usual customers are turning their backs on us."

"Have they been giving you any reasons?"

She looks around again, "Oh... dozens of them, but none seem to be real reasons."

"What is the real reason?"

There is silence, Mandis won't say more.

Another voice says, "The cyber gods are angry."

Hotsein explodes when he hears this, "That is such bullshit! What interest do the cyber gods have in strictly human affairs? This is not their issue!

"Now... what is the real reason?" he looks around, silence again, "I'll tell you what the real reason is: Conspiracy: There are those conspiring against us. They don't want us to succeed. They are sneaky and they are powerful. But The Revolution, and The Party, will prevail! We are the will of the people!"

Mandis is irritated with this. It is the same old party line, "How are we going to prevail? We can't make money, and we can't borrow it. The nation's credit rating has crashed. The world banks won't touch us, and the world bond buyers won't touch us, either."

Hotsein looks angrily at Mandis, "Are you saying we should give in to the conspirators?"

"I'm saying we should give in to harsh reality. We need to change our ways."

Hotsien walks up to her, towers over her, "You are saying this to me?"

"She is not alone. I join her." says one of the other kleptocrats.

"And me." says a second kleoptocrat.

"And me." says a third.

Hotsein looks around, and takes a moment before he says, "Gentlemen, I am surprised, and dismayed. Are we to abandon The Revolution?"

Mandis recovers and says, "The Revolution can't pay for itself. If it can't pay for itself it can't truly help the people. ...And if the people aren't being helped, we can't help ourselves either." She comes up and touches his arm, "Radamm... this isn't working. We need to move on to Plan B."

"And what would... this... Plan B be?"

"For starters, a cabinet reshuffling. Something that will show the world we really are serious about changing our tactics."

"No!"

"If not that, then how about you resign -- call an election and see if The Party still has the will of the people, or not."

When she says this, there are nods around the room. The kleptocrats are ready to cut bait on Hotsein. Hotsein sees this, there is fear in his eyes.

He says, "You would give in to The Conspiracy?"

Mandis looks at him with great concern. The others do too. She says, "Radamm, you are believing your own political pap? This is not good, not good in a very serious way." She looks around, the others are in agreement with her. She motions for Demitri Stalnik to come over, he has been waiting discretely in one of the shadowed areas of the room.

"Radamm, it is time for you to 'take the cures'. Demitri will escort you to a discrete, secure health spa. We will announce in your name that you have taken ill, are resigning, and new elections should be held."

Speechless, then gasping, Radamm Hotsein is lead from the room.

There is no celebrating in the room. There is no cheering. This is still a scary time. Much is uncertain.

"What happens to us now?" asks a voice in the room.

Mandis answers, "I don't know. But it is time for the next phase of The Revolution. It will be a much quieter phase, and one in which growing the economy of Blabistan -- not growing its corruption -- will be top priority.

"We will survive, but our challenges and roles will not be the same as they have been."

 

Epilogue

In 2050 designer recessions created by the cyber beings can cause dream changing in human communities, and they will do so with a lot less heartache than historical recessions have always caused.

 

--The End--

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