The first thing – the very first thing – an enlisted spacer learned was to do what they are ordered to do. In fact, the whole point of basic training was not to teach spacers anything about their actual duties, it existed entirely to teach them to work as a unit and respond instantly, even reflexively, to orders. The actual procedures and mindset that led to success in combat came later, once the foundation was laid down. From that point of view, Lang somewhat understood the idea of a “story you told yourself” that Mond kept talking about.
The enlisted followed orders to get the job done. It was how spacers worked.
Except when it wasn’t, of course, but the point was well taken.
The Spacer Corps needed something from its enlisted men and it drilled that into them until they conformed to that mold. The caveats to the formula were legion, though, from the fact that the Corps needed to incarnate evil itself into its drill instructors to make the process feasible to the fact that people volunteered to under-go the process, a lot of basic training directly contradicted Mond’s thesis as well. And there was the fact that, in addition to allowing people to opt in, the Corps also actively kicked people out during basic. At a pretty high rate.
“You’re full of shit.”
Lost in the problem of what to say – how to make things make sense – Lang hadn’t been paying attention to what was going on around him. Dex had scooted between him and Mond, his tone light but the hands bound behind his chair clenched in fury. “You’re full of shit and what’s really sad is I think you’re so used to it you like rolling in it.”
Mond gave that deep, resigned sigh that Lang was starting to think was his default reaction to anything. “Another attempt to push away rational analysis. Mr. Halloway, that kind of belligerence is what made martian culture so toxic to begin with.”
“See?” Dex stomped his feet and jerked more upright in his chair. “That shit? Right there? Do you not even hear what you’re doing?”
As if drawn to mimic Dex’s actions Mond himself sat a little straighter, his own expression of calm certainty tainted with uncertainty for the first time. “I’m sorry?”
Dex jerked impatiently in his chair again but this time he wasn’t talking and Lang caught a quiet creak coming from the back of his chair. Squinting, Lang could just make out the shadow of a crack forming along the side of the restraints on the back of his chair. Nanofused materials were as strong as the original material, but no stronger. And apparently the chair or the restraints hadn’t been very good quality plastic.
“This whole goddamn time I’ve been around you sanctimonious assholes I’ve heard about how martians were all about making people into groups and drawing silly distinctions, how sapiens listen to people and find out about them and never rush to judgement, and all the while I’ve had two of the most clueless morons I’ve met in my life lecturing me on what kind of person I am without taking one second to ask me where I’m from or what I think about it. It’s like you breed for idiocy. It’d be surprising but my friends build bombs for a living,” Dex paused for a second to preen. “That makes me a connoisseur.”
“We simply report what we have seen,” Mond pointed out.
“No, see, you don’t realize that, under your precious storytelling logic, that doesn’t add up either.” Dex flopped back in his chair, the restraints cracking a bit more, and crossed his legs at the ankles. There wasn’t a desk to prop them on but otherwise he looked very much at ease. “You’re still trying to trap us in that fancy story logic, otherwise you wouldn’t have just stopped talking about ‘martian’ problems, you’d be actively warping them to fit your fancy little happy world story. But you can’t, because deep down you still need an us and a them. Don’t you?”
“Of course not,” Mond said, a crack in his serenity appearing for the first time as he got up from his chair and paced over to the equipment cart again, gingerly picking up one of the plasma carbines. Lang tensed, more at the sight of a total rookie trying to handle the weapon than out of fear he was planning on shooting someone. He held it gingerly behind the grip and under the base of the barrel and kept his hands a few inches from his torso like it was going to shoot him without his input. “If we needed to other people, wouldn’t we have these?”
“You use the right weapon for your objective,” Dex replied, leaning forward and working the restraints again. Lang used the opportunity to scoot back a half step and try leveraging his own restraints. “Sometimes that’s my kind of weapon, sometimes it’s yours. You like to make up stories and call people names, that’s the weapon you use against us and you expect us to use against you. But it’s a weapon all the same.”
Mond let his hands drop, the barrel of the carbine swinging lazily to the floor, causing all three spacers to jump in their chairs in ways that had nothing to do with the way they were restrained. “That’s preposterous,” Mond snapped, his composure slipping a step further. “We are trying to build and create a civil, equitable and fair society. The UNIGOV is the first of its kind in human history.”
“That’s the part that really gets me. You act like you’re some kind of saints, anointed to save mankind from their sins.” Dex shook his head. “Every last one of your people has a killswitch built into their ‘medical’ systems and you’re telling me you’ve never been at least a little bit tempted to just flip one off when they pushed a little too far outside your precious sapiens culture?”
“Preposterous.” Mond’s right eye twitched almost imperceptibly. “It’s a lifesaving system. Why-”
“Not even a little?” Dex asked, leaning forward to look up at Mond like a mischievous four year old. “What about making life a little more fun for you? Got any extra comfortable, nice looking houses out in that reclaimed environment you’re always going on about? Not like the block houses we saw in town, something spacious and quiet, where you can relax with the wife and kiddies?”
Mond’s expression turned thunderous. “You don’t understand the importance of our environmental work at all, do you?”
“Sure, my parents were terraformers, same as most.” Dex shrugged and this time the motion was accompanied by an audible crack. “Doesn’t mean dad didn’t pick out the best bits of land to claim for a homestead while he was surveying. Mom would have given him hell if he hadn’t.”
“Well then perhaps it’s just as well that we disposed of those kinds of toxic gender roles along with many of the other vestiges of martian culture,” Mond said icily.
“Gender roles?” Dex laughed, the noise not quite covering another crack of his restraints. “You mean guys wanting hot women and trying to do nice things for them? Next you’ll tell me you’ve never even taken a second to admire a woman’s tits! You can’t warp human nature that far.”
“Perhaps not humanity as you know it,” Mond replied, his more collected demeanor slowly returning. “But sapiens don’t consider human nature a useful concept any longer. Like many things you think about. We have tailored our communities to look past stereotypes to individuals-”
With a surprisingly smooth motion Dex flexed forward, snapped back in the chair, then stood straight up, the back of the chair pressing into his back and becoming an extra point of leverage and the restraints broke, sending bits of plastic bouncing all over the floor as Dex’s chair bounced off towards the back of the room. Mond stepped back in surprise, instinctively raising the carbine to put it between him and Dex, who took a step forward, jabbing his finger for emphasis. “You drugged us based entirely on stereotypes, you fucking hypocrite. Us and every other spacer who was stranded on your planet because you were too lazy to secure your own weapons satellites. Left that shit lying around like you were six years old with parents who didn’t care enough to teach you to clean up after yourself.”
Mond retreated before Dex’s onslaught, his hands fumbling with the unfamiliar shape of the plasma weapon he was holding, and in the process Lang noticed that the weapon’s safety had somehow come off. Lang started working his own restraints without trying to disguise what he was doing. “Mond-”
“You’re a flithy shithead without even the brain left to realize how stupid you sound,” Dex shouted, Lang’s attempt to break in being ignored. “I see you for what you are. Someone who never grew past childhood stories, who thinks he can control the world with him. But kids telling stories don’t change reality and adults can see through them. The only one here who still believes your lies is you, and-”
On the second to last word Dex jabbed Mond hard in the left shoulder and Mond automatically reached up to push the hand away, taking one hand off the carbine and letting it’s barrel drop around between the two men as he tried to pull it out of the way of the action. There was a moment where Lang – possibly no one in the room – was sure what happened, followed by the loud bark of a plasma blast, and Dex staggered a step back before dropping like a puppet with its strings cut.