Location: London, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Ben spent several days doing the research necessary to get a feel for the Star Kingdom of Windsor. That didn’t just mean where they sat in the galactic picture. Ben had to take into consideration who they were; discover their societal and cultural norms, and the roles and responsibilities held by the people and the government. To assume that another civilization held the same values or worked the same way as your own was a common and sometimes fatal misstep. Humanity had learned that the hard way in the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries.
Surprisingly, Commander Wythe didn’t have any problem with Ben’s self-assigned project. With hindsight being twenty-twenty that should have been the first red flag on his radar. But he missed it. He was back in familiar territory; digging for information, putting together patterns, and developing a concept that he might be able to use if he ever came into contact with the Star Kingdom during his time in York Sector. It was a lot more fulfilling than digging through field and technical manuals on gunboats.
When Ben was finished, he presented his final product to the commander. She took it and they went about their business for the rest of that day, but when he returned to the office the following morning he found a stern-faced, slightly overweight Captain waiting for him. Ben’s report had caught his attention, so now Ben was scheduled to give the briefing to anyone heading to York Sector in the next six months.
“Don’t look so surprised, Lieutenant Commander.” Commander Wythe’s face was serene, but Ben knew her better than that. “You’ve done a great job.”
Which translated into, “You are a victim of your own success.”
So that was how, just a few short days after sitting through the initial brief on the York Sector, Ben found himself back in the room with stadium-seating, surrounded by dozens of fleet and infantry service members, but this time standing in the center of it all.
“Good morning, everyone,” Ben smiled. It was an eight a.m. briefing so not a lot of people smiled back. “My name is Lieutenant Commander Gold and I will be giving you a more detailed briefing on the socio-political climate in the York Sector; specifically, on the Star Kingdom of Windsor.”
The presentation Ben had created didn’t have as many holo-screens as the previous briefer, so the space around him was not cluttered with imagery.
“Our task today is to develop a better understanding of the neutral polities in the York Sector. The conditions are a simple holo-presentation and a group of highly motivated sailors and soldiers. The standard is to be able to identify specific socio-cultural aspects of the Star Kingdom that will enable you to interact with them successfully if you make contact deliberately or accidentally. This standard will be assessed through a check on learning.” A check on learning meant a test, and Ben was prepared for the series of groans that sprouted around the room.
“Let’s begin.” Ben hit a button on his PAD and a picture of a man appeared on the screen. “Can anyone tell me who this is?”
Ben was always a fan of interaction when teaching. He had to do a stint as a TA when he was getting his doctorate, and getting students involved with the class was the best way to keep them off of their PAD’s gaming function.
“Shit. . .that’s what’s his face,” an infantryman with PFC insignia sputtered. “He was in my high school history textbook. Dude was badass. That’s all I remember.”
“This is King George VII of England.” Ben gestured to the average looking man on the holo-screen. “He was the last king before the U.K. assimilated into the Commonwealth.”
“Bloody George the Singed.” A fleet officer with a platinum lieutenant stripe announced with a distinct English accent.
Ben frowned at the name, but that didn’t mean it was wrong. “That is the moniker he is commonly known by.” Ben gave a nod to the British Lieutenant. “Among a great deal of other important things done during his lifetime, King George VII is most well-known for the successful defense of London during the final stages of the Last Terran War.”
“Now I remember.” The PFC smacked himself in the head like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “He’s the guy that set the river on fire.”
Ben shot a quick glance over at the British Lieutenant who was not pleased with the oversimplification.
“Lieutenant, care to give us your take on the events.”
“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” The lieutenant swiveled in his seat until he was facing the PFC. “That tactic you are eluding to, Private, is the burning of the Thames river. London was besieged by Eastern Block forces on all sides and outnumbered English forces two-to-one. King George, who despite his ill-fated nickname, was quite a brilliant tactician made the decision to set fire to the river that ran through the center of London. Looking back on it through the eyes of history we can see that it was a success that turned the tide of the battle and some say the war. However, at the time, it was a risky gambit. King George was splitting the enemy forces by creating a wall of fire through the AO. It gave his own army force parity with the enemy, but it also cut off any chance of retreat, since the chemically created fire ran all the way to the Channel.” The lieutenant’s voice remained steady out of professionalism, but Ben could tell the young officer didn’t appreciate the important moment in his nation’s history being reduced to such a simple explanation. “Personally, I like to think that King George took inspiration from Sun Tzu. By taking away his army’s only chance to escape he forced them to fight harder, and they did. Unfortunately, we’ll never know his exact thoughts because he never told anyone.”
“Which brings me to my next point.” Ben gave a nod of gratitude to the lieutenant. “King George never told anyone his thoughts behind the battle because he and sixty-thousand other colonists left Earth soon after the war ended.”
Ben moved to the next screen which was a star map. The map had two points highlighted and a dotted line between them with dates above it. “The creation of the Commonwealth eliminated the English nobility, and abolished the monarchy. The Windsor family made a sizable sum off all of the land they owned, and historical treasures they possessed. Those funds, along with the funds of a large chunk of the nobility went into paying for the construction and outfitting of the colony ship Victoria. The colony ship departed from Earth orbit on this date.” Ben pointed at the first date above the line. “And based upon the level of technology of the time we can estimate that it traveled through space for a little over a century before arriving at the current home system of the Star Kingdom of Windsor.”
An infantrywoman with the insignia of a sergeant raised her hand. “Sir, are you saying that the Star Kingdom of Windsor is a bunch of misplaced nobles from hundreds of years ago?”
“Yes and no, Sergeant. While King George and a large number of the English nobility did make the century long journey, a large number of regular English citizens made the journey as well. We all take the Commonwealth for granted now, but at its formation, and the years during and after the Last Terran War, there were more than a few citizens who felt disenfranchised by its creation. The colony flight had no problem finding volunteers.” Ben waited for the Sergeant to nod her acceptance before continuing.
“The Commonwealth had no contact with the Star Kingdom until a decade ago when we first started to expand into the York Sector. So for hundreds of years the Star Kingdom has lived in solitude without any external galactic influence. It is quite remarkable. As such, we need to be careful of any interaction with them. They could swing the balance of power in the Sector.”
Ben moved on to his next slide, which was a basic outline of the Star Kingdom. “The Star Kingdom primarily resides in a single habitable system. From our limited intelligence we know they have four habitable worlds within the Goldilocks Zone: Windsor, Buckingham, Holyroodhouse, and Hilsborough. Again, our intelligence is limited, but emission signatures show that the largest concentrations of population seem to be on Windsor and Buckingham, which are both roughly Earth-like worlds that required little terraforming, and seem to sustain several billion people a piece. Holyroodhouse is a moon around the system’s single gas giant, but is still fifty percent larger than Earth. Judging by the climate analysts suggest that this is primarily a harvest-world that provides most of the food for the Kingdom. Similarly, Hilsborough is a little too far in-system to sustain a large population. The planet is about the size of Mercury. We’re still estimating a few hundred million people living on the small planet, but intelligence is thinking more along the lines of military-industrial than regular civilian population centers. Cursory scans show a large heavy-metal concentration on the planet.” Ben zoomed out from the dimensions of the Star Kingdoms inhabited system to the light years surrounding it.
“Local task force scouts have identified numerous systems with ongoing industrial and military operations. There is infrastructure and forward operating anchorages all throughout this area along with regular military patrols. Any questions?”
The fleet and infantry personnel did have a lot of questions, almost all related to the military specifics of the Kingdom. Those were questions Ben didn’t have the answer too. He’d taken a purely socio-cultural approach to his analysis, and only had the limited information he’d already provided; so he reiterated the task and standard of today’s training was not military related.
“Moving on to the socio-cultural status of the Star Kingdom,” Ben stated after deflecting most of the audiences’ questions. “I have evaluated the Star Kingdom on six different dimensions commonly used to measure a society.”
Ben had used the old, simple, but still effective Hofstede Scale to assess the Star Kingdom. More specific theories had been tested since Hofstede’s, which had been around for nearly five hundred years, but this scale fit the purposes of his briefing and broke down the information into terms the audience would hopefully understand without a doctorate in Intergalactic Relations.
“The first dimension I used is power distance. This expresses the degree to which society accepts the distribution of power, and how the society handles any inequalities among people. The Star Kingdom has a very high score in this dimension. The society that King George and the displaced nobles built has a very ridged hierarchy.” A pyramid appeared on the holo-screen.
“At the top you have the Monarch, currently Queen Victoria IV, who rules with near absolute authority. Whether the Queen decided to use that authority is what the Commonwealth is still trying to figure out. Below the Queen is the High Nobility. This group is the descendants of the English nobility that helped finance the colony expedition. There are only a few hundred of this class and they all hold the rank of Duke or Duchess. These two tiers of the hierarchy are hereditary.” Ben could tell by the look on the audiences’ faces that the fact took them by surprise. There hadn’t been a hereditary form of government on Earth for a long time.
“Do not let this fool you,” Ben continued into a piece of research that had surprised him. “These sections of the hierarchy engage in a rigorous epigenetics program that ensures they remain both physically and mentally superior to the rest of the population. So if you are imagining medieval European child-kings and queens that is absolutely not the case. These are very smart and very dangerous people. If you ever encounter one I would suggest giving them the respect their status deserves but not engaging more than that. They will milk you for everything you are worth if you let them.” Ben really wanted to talk to one of these people, but he doubted the average Commonwealth service member would be as excited.
“Below the High Nobility is the Low Nobility. This level of nobility is awarded by the queen for accomplishment. It could be in any number of fields, but if someone distinguishes themselves they can be made a Lord of Baron. This keeps the competitive spirit alive in their society. If a member of the Common People, the lowest tier on the hierarchy, can make it into the Lower Nobility then they can ensure the survival and prominence of their family for generations.” Ben showed the numbers he’d been able to get for this level of the nobility, and they only made up the top ten percent of the populace.
“The commoners in the Kingdom live similarly to the majority of the Commonwealth’s citizens. They range from rich industrial tycoons, to beggars on the street, and they make up ninety percent of the population. This is why the Kingdom scores so high on the power distance dimension. A good chunk of the power is held by the top ten percent of the population, and supreme power can be held by a single person. This fact is accepted and embraced by the population.”
“The next dimension is individualism and it concerns the framework of society. The Commonwealth tends to lean toward the individualistic side of the scale where we put a lot of emphasis on personal responsibility and the individual taking care of themselves. The opposite side of the spectrum would be the Eastern Block, which is more of a collectivist society. This type of society is more tight-knit where the individual isn’t held to the same level of responsibility and can expect more assistance for others, namely the government. The Star Kingdom falls in the middle of the spectrum, but puts a premium on loyalty to the crown. If you are loyal to the crown you can expect assistance from the government if you need it, but they do not just hand it out.”
“The third dimension is a view on the toughness of the culture, also referred to as masculinity vs. femininity. Both the Commonwealth and Eastern Block prefer societies of advancement, heroism, and assertiveness; even with the Eastern Block’s more socialist political ideology that highlights cooperation. The Star Kingdom scored high on the tough and masculine scales; the entire existence of the Lower Nobility is a good example of this virtue in their culture.”
“The fourth dimension deals with the degree a society feels uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. Since the Kingdom has a lot of power concentrated with very few people it tends to dislike uncertainty. If you ever encounter someone from the Kingdom it is better to speak in terms of concrete facts instead of hypotheticals or generalities.”
“The fifth, and second to last dimension, concerns a society’s links with its past while dealing with the challenges in the present and future. The Kingdom scores very low on this dimension. It is very strict about its time-honored traditions. It is a very formal society and places a lot of emphasis on imagery; especially when it involves the royal family. They are very protective of their queen.”
“The last dimension I researched deals with the degree the Kingdom allows itself to indulge. From my research I have seen that this differs depending on where you fall within their strict hierarchy. Those at the top tend to indulge more than those at the bottom. It all boils down to one’s level of success. If you have proven yourself you can indulge. If not, you are not able to and doing so will be frowned upon.”
Ben looked away from the final holo-screen he was explaining to see most of the audience either on their own PADs or staring off into space. It was fair to say he’d lost them all after talking about the dimension of power distance.
“Now it is time for our check on learning.” That snapped everyone’s attention back to Ben as the short test appeared on their PADs.
Immediately hands went up all over the room. That tended to happen when you suddenly had to prove you’d been listening when you hadn’t, and the results of the test went into your file for any superior officer to see.
<This wasn’t a good idea.> Ben sighed.
Academically, and for high level officers interested in possible interaction with the local polity, Ben’s presentation might have added value to the mission. Today, with no one higher than a Staff Sergeant or Lieutenant Commander sitting in the room, the class was a pointless waste of time.
“You all have twenty minutes to complete the examination.” Ben ignored the raised hands. “Begin.”