Location: Oxford, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Candidate Gold, are you seriously arguing for increased militarization and funding of the Commonwealth Armed Forces on the basis of xenomorphic invasion?” There was fire and brimstone in Dr. Hoover’s eyes.
Ben had already gone from Mr. Gold to Candidate Gold during the course of his interview, which was more like an interrogation at this point. That wasn’t a good sign.
Dr. Hoover was an old ultra-liberal SOB who took his politicized views on humanity and pushed those politics on his students. He didn’t get many takers. Like the rest of the population, the students at Oxford tended to fall in the middle of the political spectrum.
It didn’t always use to be that way with elite universities. Students with no real-world experience used to sit in ivory towers and be lectured in a singular ideology. Now, students were almost always forced to spend time outside academia after receiving their bachelor’s degrees. The cost of education was astronomical, and only the wealthy elite could go right through their academics without taking a break to work off their student debt.
Going to a university was a right not a privilege. The standards didn’t admit everyone, but there were more alternatives than in the past. Trade schools were popular and taught valuable skills, and the military was an excellent resource to obtain an education. Both made a person a valuable asset to the workforce.
The situation was a double-edged sword. The young coming just out of college might have to put their dreams on hold to work, but after generations of that being the norm it developed a strong work ethic in the young population; and reversed the “give me” attitude of the past. It also led to a citizenry with less radicalized ideologies that plagued a lot of people pre-Commonwealth and just after its founding.
Personally, Ben was a centrist. He believed in some conservative and some liberal policy points on different issues. Fortunately, Ben saw that same mentality among a lot of his peers. That didn’t include everyone, and Dr. Hoover was a prime example.
“Dr. Hoover, I am not arguing for increased spending due to xenomorphic threats.” Ben stayed away from radical terminology like “militarization”. “But it would be ignorant of humanity to ignore the possibility.”
“This is a forum for intellectual discussion, Candidate Gold, not rumor mongering.” Dr. Hoover had a pleased expression, like he’d backed Ben into a corner.
That’s what Ben wanted him to think.
“I’m not rumor mongering, Dr. Hoover, I am just looking at the facts.” With a swipe of his index finger, Ben enlarged a chart he’d been waiting to use. “Dr. Hoover, the bubble of human space only covers about three thousand light years; fifteen hundred light years in each direction from Earth. We have roughly estimated that the diameter of the galaxy is one hundred thousand light years, so we can say with approximate certainty that humanity has charted about three percent of our galaxy. We have also estimated that there are a hundred billion galaxies in the universe.” Ben saw the doctor roll his eyes, but he kept his own face professional.
“Even in our small neck of the woods we have discovered sentient life…”
“But the life we have discovered doesn’t have heightened cognitive function, Candidate Gold,” Hoover interrupted. “If we are going to be invaded by xenomorphs then it would be by a species of alien life no more intelligent than your average household pet.”
Ben tried to keep his face professional, but he couldn’t stop his mouth from forming a thin line of frustration.
“Dr. Hoover.” Ben raised his voice slightly. “Your argument is predicated on the foundation of humanity confronting sentient alien life that we are currently aware of. If we were to face a xenomorphic threat that it would certainly be from a species we have not yet discovered. But even the species we have discovered are quite capable of killing humans. For instance, the arachnids of Arachna in the Mu Arae system have a history of aggressive behavior towards human colonists.”
“They do, Candidate Gold, but only if provoked. We harvest their silk by the tons. Would you be angry if an alien invader settled your world and started to steal from you?”
“My point, Dr. Hoover, is that we should not ignore the possibility of advanced, hostile xenomorphs, and our defense preparations should reflect that,” Ben stated.
“And my point, Candidate Gold, is that humanity’s worst enemy is itself; and that the continued militarization of the Commonwealth, and the negative effects it has on its citizens, is something that should be fought whenever possible.”
Ben could see he wasn’t going to get anywhere in this argument, so he decided to take the high road and compromise. “I will concede that a hostile xenomorph incursion into human space is unlikely, but not impossible. But if humanity’s greatest enemy is itself, then why would we not defend ourselves?”
“Do you realize the absurdity of your statement, Candidate Gold.” A purple vein was throbbing in Dr. Hoover’s forehead. “You don’t give a loaded weapon to the person who is most likely to shoot you with it.”
“Do you realize, Dr. Hoover.” Ben couldn’t help his own voice from being tinted with anger. “That your statement is simplistic and ignorant of the complex human emotions, and checks and balances that are set in place to prevent casual violence by the citizens of the Commonwealth.” Dr. Hoover’s eyes went wide and the vein looked like it was about to explode. It had probably been a while since anyone had called him ignorant.
“We do not just hand over military equipment, or even simple weapons, to the general public. Citizens are allowed to purchase non-lethal anti-personnel weapons with the proper permits. These weapons will severely injure but not kill someone; which gives the people that ability to protect themselves if any bad situation arises and the authorities are not present to intervene. There are also strict protocols for military members to follow in regard to weapons security.”
“So the military holds all the power,” Dr. Hoover scoffed at Ben’s explanation. “Last I checked there was an entire infantry corps stationed in the Sol system, with at least a quarter of it on Earth. That’s two hundred and fifty thousand highly-trained killers who can drop out of the sky and assert their control over this world if they choose.”
Ben could see arguing with the doctor was pointless. There was blue in the other man’s eyes; which meant he’d spent decades solidifying his viewpoints. Ben had to use a different tactic.
“Dr. Hoover.” Ben kept his voice devoid of any of the frustration he was feeling towards the old academic. “When was the last time you were aboard a Commonwealth Fleet ship?” The man blubbered, but couldn’t think of a response. “When was the last time you sat in on a Battalion level operations meeting, or stood in formation for morning physical training?”
Instead of trying to find an answer, Dr. Hoover just glared at Ben.
“That is what I thought, Sir.” Ben tacked on the “Sir” at the end to remain marginally professional. “I suggest you go attend a briefing, or sit down for chow, with the men and women of First Fleet or the First Infantry Corps before accusing them of being bloodthirsty murderers who only want to take away the rights of citizens.” He should have stopped there. “We specifically take oaths to defend the Commonwealth, Dr. Hoover. So maybe you should step down from this Ivory tower and take a good look around before making uninformed accusations about good and honest Commonwealth citizens.”
The holo froze and Dean Cummings sat back in her chair with a sigh. “Accusing Dr. Hoover of Ivory Tower Syndrome probably wasn’t the smartest idea, Mr. Gold.” She disengaged the playback and rubbed her temple with her free hand. “Your debate on your political theory ended in a stalemate as far as I’m concerned, but then you personally humiliated him.”
The dean’s office was not as luxurious as Ben would have thought from a woman of her stature. It was actually refreshing after spending all his time in the gaudily decorated castle, or visiting the New York penthouse apartment. Granted, she still had walls full of diplomas, awards, and pictures of her with very important people; but that was the end of her displays of wealth and power. The rest of the office was outfitted with a sturdy polyplast desk and a rug that you could have bought anywhere on the Asian continent.
“What hurts Dr. Hoover even more in the eyes of the rest of the panel is that you were right about his lack of recent real-world interaction, Ben,” Ben noticed the name change as the smile spread across the dean’s face. “You obviously didn’t get his vote, but the rest of the panel was very impressed by your presentation, and your future plans.”
The dean’s eyes drifted to a picture on the wall behind him. Ben waited patiently for her to snap out of whatever memory she was thinking about. No one became the Dean of the University of Oxford’s Politics and Intergalactic Relations Department without being the best. Dr. Cummings had been the chief diplomat for the Commonwealth Council for two decades. She’d helped quell insurrectionist violence, brought multi-trillion dollar corporations to heel, and sat down with representatives of the Eastern Block to discuss ceasefires. Ben only hoped for a career half as successful as hers one day.
“The Fleet’s Diplomatic Corps is a great opportunity.” She pulled her attention away from what she’d been reminiscing over. “I expect great things from you, Dr. Gold.”
Ben couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping.
“I’m sorry. Did I let that slip?” Her innocent tone wasn’t fooling anyone. “Oh well, I’m getting old and I’m not quite as sharp as I used to be.” She got to her feet.
“I doubt that,” Ben followed her lead, and accepted her outstretched hand.
“Things should be finalized by the end of the weekend,” she explained. “And if your schedule allows, I know a lot of people would like to see you walk and receive your diploma.”
“I would love to, Dr. Cummings,” Ben replied, unable to keep the smile off his face. “And thank you for all the advice you’ve given me these past few years.”
“My pleasure, Ben,” she smiled back and walked him to the door. “I’m a nurturer of minds. It’s my job.”
“And you do it very well, Ma’am.” Ben waited until he was out of the building to do a victory dance.
It wasn’t as much a dance as it was him punching the air repeatedly in victory.
<I cannot believe it.> In that moment reality settled fully onto his shoulder. <I got my doctorate. By the beginning of next week I will be Lieutenant Commander Gold. I’m going to step on board a gunboat for the first time as its commander in a few months, and I am going to be responsible for the well-being of that entire crew.>
Ben had never felt so excited and so scared all at the same time.