“Logan, I hear you were planning on leaving us for some undeveloped system beyond the Federation’s governance. But why? After all we’ve invested in you. Before you are sentenced, we would like to know why?”
Logan shifted uneasily in his jump seat. They were going to get a long and disturbing explanation before he tunneled beyond the Local Group. Not to worry. Light years from here, on Ulaidh-450, there’d be all the time and space a virgin world can offer in which to feel any regrets.
He eyed each of the three silicon interlocutors in turn and then began his prepared statement.
“The relentless news about still more asteroid bombardments has been difficult to process. So much pointless pain and suffering, and for what? Too many federation pols and pundits have adopted a sensationalist reporting slant on these planetary disasters. Over uncounted millennia, I’ve found most of their insights to be blinkered, biased or plain wrong. I now pay them little attention.
“You often forget that the murderous intents of fanatical idealists require careful consideration. A consideration that goes above and beyond our primal thirst for revenge or the immediate assignment of blame. This is especially true when the deliberate manipulation of powerful emotions generates not only a lust for exoworld conquest, but also a list of retaliatory targets. Lots and lots of world-sized targets.
“I speak these words now because I grew up in the Outer Arm during the most recent incarnation of the ’Grand Rebellion’. My programmers were clever, implanting deep thought rules that determined how I would pick a side through random combinations of choice, birth, and chance. It was much later before I understood why one of the cardinal rules in this game we cosmic actors play is left unstated, but somehow everyone knows it. And it’s this: ‘One empire’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.’
“There’s even an idiom of speech for it on my home planet; watvaning. Watvaning is most effective when the key events of world history, recent and long past, are observed through a colored lens darkly. (Residents of the Orion Spur who may be reading this probably already have a color in mind for that proverbial lens and possibly also an unconscious sense of the author’s ‘lifeform’ affiliation. I don’t blame them. They’re only human.)
“Anyhow, the practice of watvaning is eons old. When threatened, or determined to score points off the other side’s mistakes, a member of side Y would say, “Watvaning when your side did A to Y? And side X would be right back in their face with, And watvaning when your lot did B to X?
This pattern has been evident many times over the past 500,000 years or so.
“Want to really enrage the other side? Project those same behaviors and attitudes into the foreseeable future for young, impressionable group minds to feed on. And then watch the pulse of ignorance spread out faster than a super-luminous supernova. (I realise that this state of affairs is not confined to a small star system on the local arm of Melkeveien. It’s just that we’ve had plenty of practice.)
“All is not lost, however. Some beings take to skullduggery with few qualms, and make out like bandits. These tend to be the ones most skilled in the dark arts of cajoling, enthusing and often deceiving followers infected by the madness of crowds. Yes, I’m talking about the Federation’s astropolitical class; those with a lower case ‘a’. (There are few upstanding enough to merit an upper case.) You might detect a trace of cynicism in my tone? You’d be right but then, in many cases we get the astropols we deserve. You three are perfect examples.
“I’ve spent six millennia so far on this wandering planet and my experience suggests that everyone here has one basic agenda: personal survival. Beyond this engineered imperative to live lies a dynamic mesh of family, tribal, planetary and even interplanetary affiliations. Some we acquired by dint of our biological natures. Others were artificially nurtured and tended to flourish or fester. But overall, I think that self-education has been a great enabler for those few federation citizens who can legitimately class themselves as practical idealists. I know you dislike that term but let me remind you before I depart. Practical idealists are those who believe that the ends do NOT always justify the means. Alas, I regret that the majority here have still to learn this critical lesson.
“You can study the results of fanatical idealism in the procession of history. The winners and losers. The looters and looted. The victors and vanquished. But know this. There is no light in sight down the black hole of watvaning whenever we attempt to rationalise whatever outcomes arose from choices made by those who came before us. The present moment is where we must begin.
“Of course, long ago on my home planet, the industrial and post-industrial ages brought a richer quality of life for a brief flicker in time. At least it did for that fortunate minority, of which I am a member, who were lucky enough to partake in profits from the spoil and the oil. A very small club indeed, but one that became the seed of a grand expansion of the human federation across the then known galaxy.
“But, again I ask you all, citizens of the federation, did the empire’s ends justify its means? And was it worth the trail of wrecked worlds and enslaved and enraged lifeforms? How noble is a goal that includes geoengineered genocide as a means of achieving galactic conquest and submission?”
He was done.
They showed not a trace of understanding.
And so, in the blink of a photon’s eye, he was gone.
The germ of a story idea? I had a lot of fun in writing this flash science fiction. A touch of the space opera in there somewhere.