Location: Oxford, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Ben’s fingers caressed the wooden bench in a staccato drumroll that had others coughing and shooting him irritated glances. Ben stopped his nervous tick, and folded his hands in his lap. It wasn’t even five minutes before his hand absentmindedly drifted back to the side of the bench and renewed the drumming.
Ben hadn’t stayed long at his family’s penthouse apartment in the upper-city of New York. After eating, and engaging in less than a half-hour of conversation with his mother and little sister, Ben had returned to his family castle outside Oxford. Once back at his home away from home, he prepared for the biggest day of his life.
Doctoral dissertation presentations had been around for as long as academia. To earn a coveted doctorate, it was a long standing tradition that a student be faced with a panel of the field’s experts and made to defend his point of view or research. It was designed to be educating for everyone involved. Ideally, it brought new knowledge, ideas, and problem solving methods to the attention of the discipline; but that wasn’t always the case. These things could turn into outright shouting matches as opposing viewpoints clashed. That was something Ben was looking to avoid.
Ben had done a little digging, and knew everyone on his panel. He wasn’t supposed to know, but a little birdie had informed him that most of the faculty of Oxford University’s Department of Politics and Intergalactic Relations was sitting in on his presentation. The presentations were open to anyone who wanted to attend, but the only interactions that could take place were between the students and the professors.
“I know you’ll do great, Ben.” His little sister, Hope, had given him a big hug before he left the previous evening. His mother didn’t say a word, she just embraced him and shooed him out the door. She knew that he would succeed, he always had.
At the moment having a perfect record wasn’t a great thing. It helped build confidence, but there was an age-old saying about people like Ben. <The bigger they are the harder they fall.> Ben did not want to fall on this momentous day.
“Gold, for the love of god shut up.” The girl sitting directly across from Ben hissed.
“Sorry, Tammy.” Ben shot his classmate an apologetic smile. “Just nerves.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you nervous.” She reached across the small space between them and patted him on the knee. “You’re the smartest guy in the class, I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”
“Thank you.” Ben meant it.
He’d known Tammy since their first day of class. They were members of the small selective group studying Intergalactic relations, so they ran into each other a lot. They’d even dated for a few weeks before both realizing they didn’t have time for personal relationships. She was also presenting today.
“You are just happy that everyone is going to come to my presentation,” Ben joked.
“Yes I am,” she smiled back. “Just give me a small room of TA’s and a professor and I’m fine with that. You hog the spotlight all you want. I just want to feel that diploma in my hand, and see that Ph.D. after my name.”
“Benjamin Gold.” A holographic avatar of the dean of the department appeared in the middle of the waiting students. “Please report to room 1A. Thank you.” The avatar disappeared, and Ben gulped.
<1A.> That was not good. 1A was a small auditorium that could fit over a hundred people. If he was in 1A then his presentation was a bigger deal than he thought.
Tammy’s expression mirrored his spike in fear, but she quickly wiped the shock from her face. “Good luck.” The rest of the waiting students echoed her sentiment as Ben left the small vestibule.
Ben felt like he was walking through another time as he passed through Oxford’s hallowed halls on the way to his destination. The university was one of the oldest on the planet, and it had survived the Last Terran War largely unscathed. There was a lot of meticulously maintained wood on the interior; which was foreign on a world that had lost three quarters of its vegetation.
Mankind had done a lot of incredible things, but it had ravaged the Earth in the process. <But we would not be here today if we had not.> It was a bittersweet thought. The Earth had to become a skeleton of its former self so mankind could expand; and humanity had kept it on life support ever since.
The wood-adorned hallway transformed into an ancient brick as Ben pushed out of the interior section and into a covered walkway. The spring air of England was cool and damp, but he could smell the potential. It was potential for the future and new life; for both Ben and the carefully maintained ecosystem of the campus.
Ben’s thoughts wandered during the short walk through the walkway and across a small quad that was already starting to bloom. Sooner than he would have liked he was standing in front of a heavy wooden door with an old-fashioned placard informing the entrants that this was room 1A; and just below that was Ben’s name and the title of his dissertation.
Ben stared at the placard for a few moments before bracing himself for what he was walking into. With a solidification of willpower he grabbed the old iron rung that served as a doorknob and pulled. The door creaked as it swung outward to admit Ben, but he barely heard it over the sound of voices; dozens and dozens of voices.
“Mr. Gold, please take your position and begin at your leisure.” The only voice that mattered, the voice of the dean, cut through the side conversations.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” Ben walked forward with his head held high, and his back ramrod straight.
Room 1A looked like a giant whirlpool. A gradually descending circle of spectator seats flowed down into a small flat space with a podium at its center. Ben walked to the podium, ignoring the hushed conversation of the people all around him. He wasn’t claustrophobic, but he could see how people could be. He felt like the weight of hundreds of expectations was about to crush him like a bug.
<Do not think about that. Focus on your presentation.> Ben had rehearsed his talking points so many times he could do it in his sleep. That wasn’t an exaggeration. His in vitro enhancements left him with an uncanny memory.
Ben placed his PAD on the podium and flipped through a few screens before he found the one he wanted. With a swipe of his finger a holographic display encircled him at the edges of where the stadium seating ended. He closed his eyes, took one last calming breath, and began.
“Doctor Cummings, esteemed members of the University of Oxford’s Politics and Intergalactic Relations Department, ladies and gentleman; I am doctoral candidate Benjamin Gold, and I would like to tell you a story.” A few chuckles went through the gathered academics.
<I have got them interested.> Ben held back a smile, he needed to remain professional. <Now it is time to reel them in.>
“This is the story of our past. The story of how we came to sit here today, and at the very center of that story is politics.”
They weren’t leaving, so Ben could tell he had the audience’s attention.
“The study of politics can be traced all the way back to Aristotle’s work, Politikos; and it has always dealt with the process of making decisions that apply to a group of people. The fundamental foundation of politics has never changed. The only thing that has changed is the context.” Ben’s fingers danced across his PAD and images sprang to life all around him.
“To Aristotle, and the Before Common Era Greeks, the group was the city-state and the people numbered in the tens-of-thousands. Less than three hundred years later it was Julius Caesar at the reigns of an empire that spread across the Mediterranean world. They both experimented with democracy and republican government; two lasting philosophies that helped shape our modern understanding of politics.” With a swipe the maps of the Greek City-States and Roman Empire vanished.
“But the Greeks and Romans weren’t the only ones who were involved in the development of political theory. On the other side of the world the Chinese Empire had prospered for thousands of years under the idealization of divine rule and Confucius’ bureaucratic philosophy. Shoguns and samurai warriors operating under a feudal code fought throughout the Japanese islands.” More swipes and more images vanished.
“Soon monarchies dominated Europe, and empires driven by religious law swept across Northern Africa.” The last of the images vanished, and Ben was staring at the people he was presenting too. “The one constant in all of this is that no one system was perfect. Empires rise and fall as flawed people managed their political systems. But another constant, a constant that exists not only in politics but throughout human history is that people attempt to remember the mistakes of the past.”
Ben pressed a button and another set of images bloomed around him. “This brings us to modern pre-expansion political theory, the realm of International Relations. The United States of America was a federal republic and the United Kingdom a constitutional monarchy. They would inevitably form the core of the Commonwealth. The People’s Republic of China and the resurrected United Soviet Socialist Republic of Russia’s communist ideology became the backbone of the Eastern Block. Last, but certainly not least, we have the European Union; a hodgepodge of political ideas ranging from ultra-nationalists to democratic socialists that have stood the test of time.” Ben spread his fingers and the three starfaring nation’s territories on Earth overwhelmed the rest of the imagery. “Together, with the absorption of other smaller nations, these three have become the predominant foundations of our current political study. The study of Intergalactic Relations.”
Ben looked directly into the eyes of the dean. “We started as hunters and gatherers, we endured a Neolithic revolution of agriculture, and we gathered together into city-states and started to think of the laws of governance. We built nations, suffered the growing pains of globalization, and the horrors of the Last Terran War. Now we look to a new stage in the saga of humanity, and with that next step into the galaxy we look at how we will continue to govern and interact with ourselves and each other.”
“My presentation takes a look at where we go next. I examine the relationships between the hundred plus Commonwealth colonies, the sixty-seven territories controlled by the Eastern Block, and the forty-three systems of the European Union; as well as private settlements, and corporate worlds that exist in the fifteen-hundred light year bubble of human space. I explore the cultural norms and societal behaviors of these starfaring political entities. I look at what makes them tick, what rubs them the wrong way, what they value, and what they are willing to go to war for.” Ben let the last statement hang for a moment.
“My goal is to predict the future. I want to chart a path for humanity to continue to conquer the galaxy; for everyone to live a life of liberty pursuing whatever they choose. But things are never that simple in politics.” That got a little chuckle. “There are so many moving pieces, and one wrong word can turn a statement of peace into a declaration of war. It is my desire to make sure that starfaring nations can come to agreements; because when people wield continent destroying battleships instead of baseball bats the wrong move could lead to oblivion.”
Ben’s body practically vibrated with excitement.
“Very well, Mr. Gold. Please continue.” She tried to hide it, but Ben saw a small smile creep across the dean’s lips.
That was all the reassurance he needed.