The Ever-Turning Wheels
When the dropships came, Jeb and I counted down the seconds to our deaths - if not from the invading forces, then from our own people, some of whom had sworn to die on their feet and take everyone with them, invader and traitor both. The traitors, apparently, were those unwilling to die rather than be yoked to the Caldari wheel.
But the dropships landed, leveling entire hills with their impact, and once their chutes opened and the armies within marched out to meet us - the sun glinting off their metal carapaces, the dust rising in clouds from the synchronized thumps of their feet - nobody put up much of a fight.
Jeb and I were still behind cover - there really didn't seem much point anymore, for if we'd wanted to be safe, we should have long since run for the mountains - and we watched as the Caldari troops marched over and through. They did not seem bound by the same gravity as we were.
We waited for shots that were never fired. A few people rushed madly towards the troops, some bearing weapons or facsimiles of same. I don't know if the Caldari were under orders to hold their fire or if they were merely that disciplined, but the last I saw of our rebels was a rising trail of dust, dwindling to nothing. They were enveloped by the army, disarmed and locked down. Some were left lying on the ground, handcuffed and immobile; others were carried, furious and unwilling, to the nearest bush or body of water and unceremoniously thrown in. The greatest offensive action they took against our people was gagging a few of the loudest rebels, which was likely more a relief to me than it was to them. There is nothing so unbearable as a shrieking rebel knowingly reduced to a powerless effrontery of words.
In a whisper Jeb asked me whether we were lost, and I didn't know what to tell him. A part of me - the rebellious part, I supposed, though it didn't feel quite so - wanted to say yes. Another, more sensible part suspected that we might have a new world on our hands.
We were a backwater colony of the Gallente Federation, established so far back in time that historical records on our foundation were inconclusive. Our leaders, such as they were, maintained that this proved we had been there for a long time. Truth was, we'd likely just kept shoddy records.
For most of us it hadn't been the easiest life to live. Resources had always been scarce, and what little we eked out was strongly controlled by our local government. We did a smattering of trade with neighboring planets, but for the most part we kept our business to ourselves .Our government's fear of offworld dependency led to exorbitant taxation on all interstellar business, and the populace mostly, if grudgingly, supported this policy. In truth, we had learned not to desire what we could not easily acquire. We were a closed system - interconnected, complex and opaque - and in the myriad of monopolies, favoritism, backroom dealing and nepotism that we allowed to take place, we convinced ourselves that this was the only way to run a planet, and we took a strange pride in it; as if our corruption were emblematic of our independence.
The factional wars caught us by surprise. On dark nights we would look up at the stars and see some of them moving at great speed, others bursting into flames. It was the capsuleers, of whom I'd only ever heard stories, engaged in battles I could not even begin to imagine. Fighting over control of territories - fighting, to my amazement, over us.
We were not used to being the object of anyone's plans, much less fought over with such ferocity. Reports would trickle in of Gallentean successes, Gallentean conquests and Federation Navy domination, which made us all the more nervous: We were not stupid, and even the more fervently nationalistic of us knew full well that we Gallente, for all our strengths, would not be doing all our fighting in Gallente systems such as our own if we were on any kind of path to victory.
The trickle eventually dried up, and we began to speak in hushed voices. Not long after, the Caldari came.
The highest echelon of Gallentean rule over our colony had been a unit of elitism unto itself. Neither I nor Jeb nor anyone like us could ever have hoped to breach it. At most, what we could have expected were individual rewards for services well rendered: perks and bonuses, applied like grease to our ever-turning wheels. It was obviously not a perfect system, and it was certainly not fair, but it worked for what it was. We could live with the strings so long as we felt that the right ones were being pulled at the right time, and that they were, within this opaque system, at least tolerantly transparent.
Nonetheless, it was a poor system for a poor world, and when the Caldari came I knew I was a traitor, because in my heart I welcomed them. If it had been us descending on their world, we would have roared in with bullets; but they came in silence, swift and efficient, and with the simplest of strokes they lopped the head off our ailing body.
We protested, of course, some of us more viciously than others, but we did so in the knowledge that we couldn't possibly hope to enact any kind of change. As Gallenteans now subject to foreign rule it was utterly frustrating, but as individuals on a corrupt backwater colony it was - for me, at least - a guilty relief, couched in the hope that the new administration might bring some manner of equality and opportunity. While someone in the middle of the Federation proper might have felt more enamored with their rulers, and more energized to fight back against the invaders, out here the only thing that had made us Gallente were the banners on our governmental buildings, and the unspoken policies that it was every man for himself.
The new rule moved in. Our lives went on. Jeb and I had the same old jobs with the same superiors and the same responsibilities, and at night we each dreamt the same familiar dreams, perhaps a little clearer now, of riches and opportunities. It took a while for everything to settle, but eventually it did: The protests stopped, people kept working for their pay, and anyone who attempted in their own small way to overthrow the system was either imprisoned - briefly, without repercussions or mistreatment - or simply ignored.
And to my speechless disappointment, the Caldari - the efficient, disciplined, lockstep Caldari - began to screw it all up.
The first mistake they made was in announcing the new governorship. Gallente are used to having a voice, however much it may be ignored. Our new governor, a Caldari diplomat apparently experienced in running Caldari asteroid colonies, was installed along with his team of representatives as soon as he arrived planetside. Local broadcasts informed us of his expertise and implied that he would lead us to great things, but fell silent when it came to the details of his position: How long he would be installed, what the extent of his powers under the current regime, and exactly what changes might be forthcoming. The lack of information, coupled with the utter disinterest in involving the local population, did more to stir local rebellion than any invasive action could have. We had known we were powerless from the moment the armies landed, but that was a knowledge bound to its time, fixed in the moment of the silver armies marching towards us. This new development rang the first note for our future, and implied that our lives from here on would be subject entirely to the whims of an unknown, unknowable force.
All they would have needed to do was hear us out. Ask our opinion, pretend to listen; and all would have gone so much better. Instead, they doomed themselves to rule over a populace that was already pessimistic over its future, and saw no reason to aid its masters in improving their own lot.
It went on like this. The navy might have executed a clear-cut takeover, but the bureaucracy virtually stumbled its way into power. Gods knew our old rule had not been faultless, but at least we had grown inured to its flaws. Then the Caldari had come in and done the worst thing they could: Brought about change, but extinguished the hope that it might be for the better.
Jeb and I kept a close eye on the new power, as anyone else would. We read the council minutes, spoke courteously to representatives, and kept our mouths shut while taking in all the information we could.
The more we learned, the clearer it became that this was not a failure of the meritocracy, that guiding light of the new Caldari rule.
Instead, it was the fault of our new governor, who had overseen every process following the invasion itself, and who was clearly not fit for rule. His people were just as corrupt as the old rule, but possessed neither the personal connections nor the deep understanding of colony life to make the community function underneath all that graft.
The Gallentean in me took over.
I kept an eye on everything, saw the myriad of problems, and noted down ways to fix them. My own job, as a low-level facilitator, afforded me an opportunity to travel, so I made the most of it. I did not ask questions about work or anything else that might be deemed suspicious; but then, I didn't have to. All I did was ask people about themselves. Eventually their talk moved on to work, and most all were entirely happy to tell me of all the wrongs that could be righted, as people tend to be when they're talking to someone who they believe is just as powerless to act as they are.
It took weeks, and the only one I shared it with was Jeb, who seemed to agree with most of what I thought. Long, sleepless nights of planning; and long, careful days of finding the right people to talk to, the right chinks in the armor to slowly dent.
Eventually the call came in. The governship -the governor and a good deal of his entire team - were to be replaced. The colony had stabilized, they said - which was true - and it was now possible for them to pull out the governing force and replace it with local people. All of this was true. Not a mention was made of the utter failures that had taken place during the governor's brief time in office. They were not important any longer.
Names were mentioned. Mine came up; once, then again, then often enough that the voices lifted me to power.
I'm not at the top yet - the apex belongs to the Caldari - but I've risen to one of the highest positions a Gallentean can hold on this colony. Jeb's not far behind me.
It's been a strange time. It has taught me more than I cared to know about how this place is run, and what a labyrinthine task it can be to pull the strings.
The meritocracy is a real, wonderful thing. It's what we always wanted. Performance matters. If you are good at what you do, you are rewarded; and if you are not, you are pushed aside to make way for someone who can do your job. It's a utilitarianism that by rights should have arisen with the Gallente. That it did not, bubbling instead out of that black stew that is the Caldari corporate world, is testament to their ability to adapt, and a great discredit to ours.
And in this new world they allow us to create, I still cannot help but wonder if the legacy of Tibus Heth, that high warlord of the Caldari State, and his quest to destroy the Gallente Federation by any means, isn't still being furthered. For the numbers have come in, and they are the same ones as they were yesterday and the day before.
The colony operates better than ever. The people will brook nothing less, now. Anyone who fails to serve the meritocracy and its people at the level it demands can not be allowed to block the path of others.
The numbers have come in. I've known Jeb since we were kids.
This is how they will turn us against one another. And I don't know how to be a Gallentean any more.