Rather than being a plan for long term domination The Entente was a stop-gap, makeshift compromise meant to restore stability after the Orbital Uprising. The scars of war proved so deep and so gangrenous that the surviving militaries, central beuacrocies, universities, and corporations that formed the Entente soon proved there was nothing they would not do to preserve tranquility. Predictably the name “The Entente” soon became synonymous with authoritarian brutality. No one, least of all the Entente itself, could have imagined the longevity this would yield. -Prof. Duncan, “The Histories”
“This is unacceptable!” Yon’s sharp voice cracked as he shot up out of his chair. Yon Lutze was a sharp, thin man with a sharp thin voice. Everything about him from his build to his height, his nose and face, even his mustache seemed designed to make him appear as thin as possible. All in all he had the look of a narrow, tightly wound, spring held in constant tension waiting for the slightest excuse to snap. He snapped often. So often that his ideological screeds delivered in a sharp, cracking voice mostly audible only to dogs had been nicknamed “LaGrange Elevator Music”.
LaGrange 3 was named for its orbiting position. Between the Earth and the Moon, there were five stable orbital paths where large, artificial space colonies could be built. These were called the Lagrange points. One can guess that LaGrange 3 was the third such colony built. Not long after Brayden Holtz’s “Stairway” technology became US Government property, humans took their first baby steps into the stars. The LaGrange stations served as staging points for regular transport to the Moon, which was settled in turn. Slowly, steadily, hopefully humanity began its long march into the new ocean of space. Commerce exploded. Never before imagined resources became available. A generation of colonists became the first humans not born on terra firma. Then things went wrong. The usual cycle of neglect and abuse of distant citizens began and soon enough a cruel guerilla war erupted. The fire of rebellion spread from the Moon to the LaGrange stations. Then finally those portions of Earth not enjoying the great bounty of space also went to war. It took seven long years of Hell in which the established order was nearly burned to the ground for peace to be restored. But not before the pre war political order had been mortally wounded. And so it was that the death throes of the old world became the birth pangs of the new, celestial humanity.
The new order that had arisen from the war was an informal power sharing agreement between the few militaries and centralized beuacrocies still standing and their civilian counterparts in business and research universities. This informal agreement was called the Entente. And it was under their auspices that humanity began is long, slow climb back into the heavens.
“Unacceptable!” Yon repeated even more forcefully.
“Do we have to do this?” Red Schaeffer replied more exasperated than anything else. His tone and volume was a low, calm tenor to contrast the glass-cracking pitch of Yon. “Everytime this happens we have this fight and everytime you throw a fit, and everytime you just have to roll over and accept it.” Red Schaeffer was a round, squat man. He was never tall but not long ago he would have looked like he fell out of a space-marine recruiting poster. Handsome and athletic with dark hair and broad shoulders, he struck a figure few did not admire. But that was in the past. Four years in orbit with reduced gravity and the reconstituted paste that was called rations combined with little exercise and sixteen hours a day tied into the net had softened him. He was balding from stress, his once broad shoulders slouched, and his once narrow waist had been transformed into a plump sphere.
“Yes! We have to do this! This is my job!” Yon exclaimed. “That’s the only reason I’m here!”
Schaeffer sighed heavily. He picked up his vaporizer and took a long, deep draw. Eventually he exhaled through his nose as locked eyes with Yon. Moments like this, he thought, were why he was losing his hair. “Look,” He began, “The loader contract is up in 73 days. This new contract has been in development for 191 days. I notified you of it when they began negotiations.”
“And I logged an official complaint!” Yon shot back, “I went over your head and logged a direct complaint with the departments of Logistics and Labor. I also wrote several op-eds for Terrestrial outlets! There was serious protest!”
“The powers that be seemed not to have cared.” Schaeffer replied. “I just got final verification of final approval. In 73 days your manual ship loaders will be replaced by a handful of proggers overseeing AI bots. By the end of this Earth year all cargo transfers will be fully automated here on LaGrange 3.”
“These men have families!” Yon shrieked, “They are the workers that provide for us! We owe them! And we have a contract that guarantees their Jobs.”
“A contract that expires in 73 days that the Entente has chosen not to renew.”
“The Entente! The Entente!” Yon howled as he began to furiously pace the confined space of Schaeffer’s office. “How did such a vernacular nickname become the title of the most oppressive, exploitative organization in human history? The Entente! The Entente! We say it as though they are actually in charge! We act like they actually know what they’re doing!”
“Yon,” Schaeffer began, “You know as well as I do that the Entente is in charge. It doesn’t matter that there aren’t any presidents or parliaments. It doesn’t matter that the whole thing is basically a handshake deal between everyone still standing at the end of the war. What matters is that it works. People have food, shelter, jobs. The population pressure on Earth is being relieved, things are peaceful. Most importantly people aren’t tearing each other to shreds in horrific Zero-G massacres. So whatever the noble and caring Yon Lutze thinks, not only is The Entente in charge, but people like it that way.”
Yon scowled as he waved his hand dismissively and turned away. He cast his sharp gaze out the porthole in Schaeffer’s office. At the moment the rotation of the station provided a decent view of the Earth. People on the other side of the station were looking at the Moon. “It’s no problem.” he said cooling slightly. “By the end of the terrestrial year you’ll be begging me to get my longshoremen back in the bays. Those AI loaders are garbage. Don’t forget the fifty thousand kilograms of supplies that got dumped into Earth’s atmosphere on LaGrange 1 last year.”
Schaeffer sighed. He took a deep breath and said, “Yon, the proggers overseeing our loaders are straight from Cal Tech.” He began, “Last year they finally rediscovered and transcoded the Musk Routines. Automated vehicles are a viable technology again.”
Yon spun around, a look of utter shock on his face. He desperately scanned Schaeffer’s face searching for even the slightest indication that he may be wrong. When none was found he quietly gasped, “No.”
Schaeffer frowned in sympathy, “I’m afraid it’s true.” He took another deep, long drag on his vaporizer, “Humanity is getting back on track. Our technologies are coming back. Bit by bit, inch by inch, we’re clawing our way out of the horror and misery of the war. There isn’t going to be a dark age. Hell, Wikipedia went back online last month! Listen, Yon, your ability to handle and organize human labor has been invaluable in bootstrapping our way out of the recession. But it’s time to move on. We’ll have auto here, but they won’t make it to Luna Prime for another year and half. We’ll need some of your loaders there.”
“And after that, eh?” Yon spat back. “What then? Mars? Venus?”
“Maybe.” Schaeffer shrugged. “Your job right now is to break the bad news to the longshoreman’s union. Shouldn’t be too bad. They’ve been expecting this for half a cycle.”
“And for half a cycle I’ve been telling them that it wouldn’t happen!” Yon shot back.
“Well, whose fault is that?” Schaeffer asked haughtily.
“Hmmph!” Yon snorted indignantly. He glared at schaeffer for a long moment, his eyes burning with contempt. Finally he said bluntly, “Sellout.” Then he stormed out slamming the door behind him. Schaeffer sat silently staring at the door but not really looking. He had some respect for Yon. The man at least could handle the unions, but when push came to shove that temper of his always flared up and made him do something stupid. When repairs to Langrane 3 were complete the welders and electricians were mostly let go. Yon was upset and logged protests on behalf of the guilds, but understood. When the radar guidance computers were installed the manual flight controllers were cut. Yon protested louder and began writing op-eds for terrestrial news outlets, but ultimately he let it go. When the Synthetic agriculture pods arrived last year and the workforce was cut again, Yon bellowed about capitalism and filed a highly publicized, but losing lawsuit. Now…now he was more furious than ever.
The last year and half had been largely good for the station. The rough, dangerous men who are necessary to build things had slowly been replaced by a middle class of well behaved businessmen, proggers, synthers, Doctors, nurses, and school teachers. The population was growing, including from colonial births. Crime was down, and the living standards of everyone on the station were rising. But Yon never saw this. He only saw the people who were displaced by the change. As Red Schaeffer sat there, vaping contemplatively, he began to seriously wonder what Yon was going to do this time. When he was done thinking he sent an official memo to his superiors.
“DIGNITY IS THE RIGHT OF MAN!” Yon bellowed into the bullhorn, “JOBS ARE DIGNITY! DIGNITY IS LIFE!” The assembled crowd of Longshoremen repeated his chants. All afternoon they had been protesting in front of the docking bay doors to block any access to the supplies coming in. Yon and his longshoremen had been on strike for 23 days, shouting and chanting slogans for everyone to hear. They were garnering a lot of attention from terrestrial media outlets and there had been some promising gossip about possible strikes on other orbiting colonies. Now, three weeks in and gaining steam, the residents and administrators of LaGrange 3 were starting to get worried.
For his part Yon felt empowered for the first time in a long time. Immediately after leaving Schaeffer’s office he organized a meeting of the leading members of the Cargo Handlers union, colloquially called the Longshoreman. It didn’t take them long to realize their only hope was to strike. The auto-loaders weren’t there yet and there was just enough time to starve LaGrange 3 into submission. With any luck, the powers that be would realize what they owed their unskilled underclass and a fair settlement may be reached. Even after just 23 days supplies were beginning to wear thin. Native production from on station agriculture and industry stemmed the bleeding but LaGrange 3 just wasn’t self sufficient, not yet. People were feeling the pinch and letting the Corporate, Government, and University bureaucrats who ran the station know it. For the first time since the War, the tension and distance between the people in power and the masses was being exposed for the infected and festering scar it really was. Yon revelled in the angry looks and barely restrained rage of the colonists. He was enlivened by the unfiltered hatred and condescension he read on the faces of Entente officials. The way things really worked was a gangrenous wound full of raw nerves. Yon saw it as his sole mission to rip off the insufficient bandage of Entente regulation and tear painfully at the infected flesh of society. Soon enough, he reckoned, someone in power would finally do something to fix it.
“DIGNITY IS THE RIGHT OF MAN!” He shouted continuing the strange almost religious chanting of the strikers. Today was an especially energetic protest and for the first time since they began, major terrestrial news outlets had sent people to the station to document everything. Never before had Yon felt so good. Then his blissful moment of leading the common man in demonstration while fantasizing about his ability to single handedly bring down the Entente was ruined. Just as the strikers were reaching a crescendo Yon spied in his peripheral vision a figure emerging from the crowd and crossing the empty space in front of the protestors. It was Red Schaeffer.
Yon lowered his hand holding the bull horn and turned away from the group of strikers he was leading in chants to look at Red. He was heading directly towards Yon. Yon motioned at one of the Union Leaders to come forward. He handed this new man the bull horn and he continued leading the demonstrators in protest. Yon then walked off to confront Red at the edge of the crowd.
“What do you want?” Yon spat bitterly.
“No need for that.” Red replied, “I’ve come as a friend. I have directives to sound you out on a deal.”
“Never!” Yon shouted, shrill and angry. His blood was well and truly up. While he held no anger or contempt for Red, Yon’s frustration and envy of the Entente itself was finding an outlet berating the modest functionary facing him.
“Yeah, yeah.” Red replied calmly, almost dismissively as he took a hit of his vaporizer, “Yon, listen, let’s talk like adults. I’m here to make a serious offer. The higher ups, the Entente, they’re willing to listen.”
Yon’s fiery gaze cooled slightly. For a moment he thought his fantasies might finally be coming true. Then he remembered just who was pulling Red’s strings. He snorted in frustration as he replied, “You know our demands: Minimum numbers of guaranteed jobs. Limited numbers of AI loaders, profit sharing therewith, and official decision making power on hiring and firing plus control of personal conduct policy.”
“You know they won’t give you all of that.” Red replied in a cloud of vapor, “But I am authorized to bend a little. You, personally, will get a permanent liaison position. A small number of your longshoremen will be given guaranteed jobs for life, the rest will either get first placement in new colonies, at least until the loaders get there, or first preference for job retraining programs. Fifty percent of relocation and-or tuition covered by the Entente.”
“That’s not nearly good enough!” Yon hissed back, “That only delays the inevitable.”
“As you say,” Red began, “It is THE INEVITABLE.”
“You don’t get it,” Yon replied, “This is about changing the inevitable! This is about man once again reclaiming his destiny! This is about not being slaves to a distant elite whose control of our futures is rooted only in their past crimes!”
Red sighed. Yon was great with his rhetoric and his overly idealistic, poetic descriptions certainly had a way of resonating with you. But his blind desire for justice and only justice kept him from seeing the practical compromises that kept things running smoothly. Red had anticipated this, of course, and he had pulled a lot of strings and made a lot of promises just so that he could be the one to talk to Yon. He took a deep breathe and after a deliberate measured exhale he said: “Yon, I know you’re upset. Also, I know you’re right. Or at least that you’re not really wrong. When I said I came as a friend I meant it. There are people, powerful people I answer to, and they don’t care what happens to you. But I do. Deal with me here and now. Give a little bit and we’ll work this out. Otherwise…” He trailed off and looked away, “…The next people you’ll negotiate with won’t be as patient.”
Yon glared angrily at Red. He knew Red was a normal man, just another trotting hoi polloi trying to carve out a little bit of life for himself. And this is what Yon could not forgive. The arrogance and greed of the capitalist elite, the short-sighted and cruel politicians who jealously guarded their power, even the violent neanderthals who professionalized and perfected war were understandable. They were incomplete people with warped minds. But normal humans? The Red Schaeffer’s of the solar system never understood how wrong they were to trust the system. Only when their calm, sterile, tame lives were threatened did they come running to Yon for help. Seeing such a sentiment in his one professional friend awoke such resentment and anger in Yon he found himself unable to speak. He stared at Red for a hard, mean moment before finally saying: “Fucking Judas.”
Yon then spun around and marched directly to the protestors and grabbed the bullhorn from the Union leader’s hand. Shouting at maximum volume he Hollered to everyone in the colony square, “THE CAPITALIST ELITE HAVE PROPOSED A DEAL!” The strikers, the news crews, the regular citizens, everyone watching the demonstration fell silent. Yon let the tension hang for a moment, the air pregnant with anticipation, “THEY THINK THEY CAN BUY US OUT!”
The longshoremen erupted in a raucous chorus of boos and jeering.
“THEY THINK WE’LL GO AWAY FOR CRUMBS! NO PERMANENT JOBS! MOVING TO OTHER COLONIES, EVEN MARS!” The booing grew louder. “FINALLY! WHAT DO THEY ALWAYS SAY? ‘JOB RETRAINING!’ LIKE ALWAYS. THEY WANT US TO GIVE UP OUR GOOD JOBS FOR DEBT WE CAN’T PAY TO LEARN JOBS THAT DON’T EXIST! WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?”
The protest grew even louder, so loud Yon was certain the Entente could hear them on Earth. Here was his moment of defiance, here he would turn back the clock, here the tide of bureaucracy and capitalism would break and as it receded back to the black depths where it was born comity and equity would take its place. Yon started a new chant “WE ARE NOT FOR SALE!”
“WE ARE NOT FOR SALE!” Echoed the demonstrators.
“OUR DIGNITY IS NOT FOR SALE!” Yon shouted.
“OUR DIGNITY IS NOT FOR SALE!” The repetive cries of the longshoreman reverberated through the whole station. The news crews, the colonists, everyone watching stood in awe of Yon Lutze and the power of the common man to band together in protest. Soon the dual chants of “WE ARE NOT FOR SALE” and “OUR DIGNITY IS NOT FOR SALE” were coming automatically at full volume. Yon took the bull horn from his mouth and turned a confident and defiant gaze upon the shocked crowds. He watched with great satisfaction as Red Schaeffer slipped back into the stunned mob, bowed and defeated. Yon knew that sooner rather than later the Entente would break and justice would be served.
Three days later Yon was heading through the streets of Lagrange 3 towards the colony square. Since his big moment things had turned around. The news feeds were filled with his image and the story of his protest. His face was plastered across all the interview shows and news sites. #Stand4Yon was the top tag on all the socmed platforms. The artificial gravity on LaGrange 3 was set to 1.1, but for the last few days Yon had such a lightness in his step he could have sworn it was turned off. Yon was in such a good mood that he hardly noticed how empty the colony was that morning. School, business, and administration had slowed because of the strike, but unmoored from a revolving planet, orbital colonies never slept. It was only as he got to the colony square and the news crews were gone, there were no colonists gathered to watch, and he only saw four or five longshoremen, all senior union men, gathered that he suddenly noticed the eerie quiet of the station.
He stopped suddenly and looked around suspiciously as he noticed the utter lack of people. He cautiously strode towards the union reps. They in turn seemed to walk much faster towards him. As if they wanted to keep him away from the open space of the square.
“What’s going on?” Yon asked as they approached each other.
“We took the deal.” One of the reps said flatly. “It was too good to pass up. The boys are already being taken off the station.”
“How could you!” Yon roared.
“Yon, listen, calm down.” Another said holding up his hand, “It took some doing on our part, we had to sacrifice some important things, but there’s a deal for you too.”
“Never!” Yon shrieked.
“Just listen,” The first said calmly, “This is the last deal. You’ll get a minor administrative appointment at a college. Nothing serious, nothing glamorous or lucrative, but it’s a job.”
“Where?” Yon asked venomously, “Mars?”
“Actually…” The second rep began, “Yes.”
“No!” Yon screamed at the top of his lungs. His sharp, high voice cutting the air of the abandoned station like a knife, “You Judases! You sold us all out! How could you!”
“You’re not listening.” The leader replied, “Red came to us with a better deal. We took a vote, it was nearly unanimous. The strike was hard on us too, okay. Not getting paid for three weeks is tough on guys with families. You’re little demonstration was great for the news feeds and it gave Red a chance to get us a better deal, but it’s over. Okay? You did it. We’re happy. We won.”
“You Lost!” Yon replied angrily, “They have you now! The capitalists bourgeois never honor their deals! They never help the common man! You’ve screwed yourselves and the men who depend on you!”
“Is that how you really feel?” The first man asked.
“YES!” Yon shrieked, his voice cracking.
“We’re sorry to hear that.” The second said somberly. A strange moment passed, sadness emanating from the Union reps, unchecked fury surrounding Yon like some kind of mystic aura. Then one of the Union men began backing away from Yon frightfully while he pointed an accusatory finger at him, “HE’S GOT A WEAPON!” He shouted.
“He’s got a gun!” The others shouted as they ran away, mock fear writ on their faces.
Yon was dumbfounded, “What?” He asked his face drowned in confusion, “I haven’t got a gun.” He then saw that the union reps were looking over Yon’s shoulder. He turned a quizzical gaze behind him to see a group of six burly men, clad in black riot armor bearing blood red emblems on their shoulders and helmets rushing at him.
“WEAPON! WEAPON! WEAPON!” One of them shouted. The others then picked up the call and a strange, hideous chant of “Weapon! Weapon! Weapon!” filled the air of the square.
“But I’m not armed!” Yon pleaded throwing up his hands in surrender. But it was to no avail. By now the black clad security forces were on him. They tackled him to the ground, kicked him, bludgeoned him with their graphite batons, and shot him, repeatedly, with the electrical nerve disruptors that passed for “less lethal” in the colonies. All the while shouting the word “WEAPON!” like some kind of magical incantation, as if it shrouded them in some strange unseen protection. Yon took his beating badly. It was not long before, helpless, outnumbered, and overmatched, bleeding and bruised, Yon passed out
Yon didn’t know how long he was out, or where they had taken him. He figured that it could not have been very long or very far as he took stock of his new environment. A small room lit exclusively by soft, dim led lights There wer no windows, no portholes, and one door that was locked. The walls were bare, unfinished aluminum sheeting. The floors were textured and uncoated station decking. He sat in a simple skeletal stainless steel chair at a small stainless steel table. An unoccupied chair sat opposite him. While he was unconscious they had changed his clothes and now he was wearing a plain white shirt and starchy white pajama style pants but had no shoes or socks. His glasses were sitting on the table cracked and coated with his blood. The various scrapes and bruises suffered during the beating were untreated and more than one rib felt bruised. He sat at the table miserable and aching while his muscles twitched involuntarily from the after effects of the nerve disruptors. He sat there for what felt like an eternity. Eventually the door opened and Red Schaeffer strode in holding a data pad. Perhaps it was the pain, or the disorientation from the beating, or just the simple anguish from being set up, but in that moment Yon felt two inches tall and Red looked like a giant. The empty steel chare opposite Yon scraped obnoxiously on the bare decking as Red pulled it out and sat down.
“I told you.” Red began. His voice was colored more by sadness than condescension, “But you just wouldn’t listen.”
“Hmmph.” Yon grunted as he looked away angrily.
Red rolled his eyes, “Defiant to the end, huh?” he said, “Well, ol’ buddy I’m here with one last offer.” He said presenting the pad to Yon. “Sign this confession. You’re confessing to conspiracy to subvert the public order, defrauding members of the union, a lot of public disturbance, and possession of an unauthorized, lethal weapon. You’ll be arraigned and sentenced tomorrow in a closed colonial security court. Then, and honestly this was the best I could do, you’ll be sent to Floyd Alpha. The holding facility on the moon. It sounds bad, but…” Red trailed off, “…the alternative is worse. Trust me.”
“How can I?” Yon croaked weakly. “You set me up.”
Red’s conciliatory attitude hardened a bit. Genuine offense crept into his eyes as he replied, “You set yourself up. Twice you got offers. Twice people you know and trust came to you and said it was time to end it. Twice you said no. Why? Because the great and noble Yon Lutze is on a mission for solar justice!” Red’s voice rose in anger. Finally it was his turn to speak down to Yon, “You did this to yourself. And even now, even as they’re filling the news feeds and interview shows with stories about you being a secret terrorist, even when you’re being slandered from here to Pluto, even as every other human being in existence is abandoning you and moving on, I’m trying to talk some sense into you. LISTEN! For once in your god damned life listen to something other than your selfish, self assured, arrogance!”
“Fuck you.” Yon spat back bitterly.
“Hmpph.” Red grunted angrily as he stood up. He flung the data pad on the table his body language and voice overflowing with disgust. “You stupid little shit! You’re just another spoiled princling! You didn’t fight in the war, like I did, and you never labored a day in your life. All you have is your bullshit talking points and stolen valor from the people who actually suffered. You cling to their misfortune and wrap yourself in their tragedy like some kind of moral cocoon. You never appreciated a damn thing anyone ever did for you. Even now you have no idea of what’s really happening. You never would understand what the Entente would do to keep things nice and quiet. Or do you just not care?”
Yon met Red’s look of disgust with one of contempt. The two former colleagues exchanged evil stares for a moment, a silent requiem for their friendship. Finally Red turned and went to leave. He banged twice on the sheet aluminum door. As the locks clanged open and the door swung on its hinges, Red turned one last time to Yon. “I don’t know why I ever helped you.” He said flatly. With that Red left Yon alone, and miserable.
Yon sat wondering what was going to happen to him now. For a moment he looked at the data-pad, a glimmer of impulse crept up in him. Something was telling him to just confess, just take the deal and move on. But he squashed the notion mercilessly. Never. He thought. He would never let the Entente get to him. He wasn’t some capitalist stooge. He was a free man, equal to anyone, and when he got out the whole solar system would hear about the setup and betrayal. He was going to sue the Entente, he was going to scream bloody murder about his rights. Yon sat there, defiantly fantasizing about his revenge.
Not long after Red’s departure the door to his cell opened again. This time a black clad security officer flanked by two riot guards came in. Yon noticed that the door did not lock behind them.
Yon turned an aggressive and rebellious gaze on the goons. “Do your worst!” He exclaimed boldly.
The officer looked at the two guards then back to Yon. He shrugged and said plainly, “Okay.” The guards smoothly and calmly grabbed Yon’s wrists and wrenched them behind his back, securing him firmly in the chair. One of the guards then grabbed Yon by the hair and craned his head back and away, exposing the carotid artery. The officer produced a syringe filled with a white milky fluid from his pocket.
“He tried to tell you.” The man said pulling off the safety cap and examining the syringe to be sure it was ready, “But you just didn’t listen. There’s nothing the Entente won’t do to preserve peace. And…” He said as he stuck the needle in Yon’s neck and plunged the fluid into him, “That’s because after the war, there’s nothing the people won’t forgive. Just so long as they don’t suffer.”
Blackness swallowed Yon. His vision blurred and then went dim. He felt his chest seize, and suddenly he couldn’t breathe. Yon was silently drowning in his own mind. Only now, at the end, did he really hear what Red had been trying to tell him. In his last moment of consciousness, for the first time in a long time, Yon felt something other than outrage or disgust. As he drew his last breath Yon looked back with supreme regret. Finally he understood just what the Entente really was.