Perimeter defense

Having now established a secure perimeter, we have made ourselves relatively safe from enemy incursions. But against the seemingly random attacks by Planet’s native life only our array of warning sensors can help us, for the Mind Worms infiltrate through every crevice and chew through anything softer than plasmasteel.

– Lady Deirdre Skye, “The Early Years”

Being inside a building is, more often than not, an advantage when it comes to being on the defensive. The sheer presence of solid physical material between yourself and everything on the outside confers all sorts of advantages – warmth, the ability to organize your daily activities through specialized rooms, and of course the inability of things to enter in except through the door. Being thus sheltered from cold, chaos and calamity, you are ready to face the world on the occasions when you venture outside.

These advantages are all incidental, however, and differ from the sorts of protection afforded by constructions specifically built to create a difficult-to-conquer regions. Urban warfare is made difficult by the sheer fact that getting from point A to point B is difficult unless you already know the geography and can navigate the city streets. It is made a nightmare if the city is intentionally designed to include defensible positions, choke points and kill zones without cover. There is defense, and there is defense.

The Perimeter Defense represents an active investment in these kinds of intentional defensive architectural features. In a sense, it is the militarization of architecture. Given that life on Chiron is almost exclusively happening inside the built environment of bases, it by extension means the militarization of entire lifeworlds. Yang makes no secret of this, and intentionally built his bases underground specifically with this in mind. On Chiron, the dividing line between civilian and military endeavors is blurry at best. To quote from Virilio’s Bunker Archeology:

Anticipation and ubiquity are war’s requirements, and distance or prominent obstacles must not impede intelligence or reconnaissance. On the one hand, one must see all and know all, and, on the other, must create masks and screens infinitely tighter than any nature offered – than any of those we have dissipated or surpassed.

We can see this dual dynamic in Deidre’s quote. On the one hand the Perimeter Defense will defend against human enemies; on the other hand, only sensors can defend against Mind Worms. Defensive architecture will only take the colonists so far – the defense must go on the offense, as it were, and include anticipatory equipment that can see the enemy (be it human or worm) arrive from a distance. The effect of this is a society which at every point in time anticipates an incoming attack. Even when no attack is incoming, the preparations made for its eventuality has an effect on the present. It becomes part of the everyday mentality, even if it is rarely addressed explicitly. A base is a home, but it is also a bunker. By necessity, design, or both, that is the home the colonists built for themselves.


The Weather Paradigm

I shall not confront Planet as an enemy, but shall accept its mysteries as gifts to be cherished. Nor shall I crudely seek to peel the layers away like the skin from an onion. Instead I shall gather them together as the tree gathers the breeze. The wind shall blow and I shall bend. The sky shall open and I shall drink my fill.

– Gaian Acolyte’s Prayer

The weather paradigm is, at its core, an acceptance of the fact that ecological systems will do what they do regardless of whether you want them to or not, and that in the long run it is better to adapt to it than to resist it. Rains will fall or they will not fall; it will be sunny or it will be cloudy; there will be floods or there will be drought. These things are out of one’s control, and admitting this is the first step towards being able to utilize them more efficiently.

Presented in this way, it might seem obvious. However, it takes a great deal or reflection to arrive at this seemingly straightforward proposition. For starters, this point of view looks at ecology on a systems level rather than at a human level; this is not an answer to the question “what do I need to do in order to increase the output of my farm?” Rather, it is a question of its own: where, knowing what we know about the flows of energy, water and minerals, would it be prudent to locate a farm? The difference is subtle, but crucial. In the former case, you have already decided where to grow things, and now seek to optimize for that position. In the weather paradigm, you constantly keep yourself attuned to the various flows and adjust accordingly, perhaps even moving the farm altogether if that seems the more prudent option.

This is a more overall understanding of ecology, and moreover it is a very dedicated way of organizing a society. No one person can be this in tune with the ecological system, or even gather sufficient data on their own to approach such a state. There is no “I” in “team”, less so in “ecology”. The weather paradigm is above all a societal effort, consisting of data gathering, forecasting, theoretical ecological modeling and – not least – legal flexibility. It is ecological insight turned into societal practice, on every level, with tremendous benefits following from it.

It is interesting to note that this secret project does not reduce ecological damage caused by terraforming efforts – it only makes these efforts easier and faster to complete. Understanding how a system works and how to adapt to it to get the best result does not automatically translate into being in harmony with it. Humanity at this stage might be able to understand Planet and its ways, but that does not necessarily mean Planet likes what humanity is up to. The map is not the territory.

Centauri Ecology

Planet’s atmosphere, though a gasping death to humans and most animals, is paradise for Earth plants. The high nitrate content of the soil and the rich yellow sunlight bring an abundant harvest wherever adjustments can be made for the unusual soil conditions.

 – Lady Deirdre Skye, “A Comparative Biology of Planet”

Chiron is, as we established in the introduction to this chapter, not paradise. Rather, it is an ecological system, and can be understood as such through ecological science. Understanding Earth ecology gives the Gaians a head start in this regard, despite the differences between Earth and Chiron. Indeed, knowing the ecological makeup of the planet left behind means knowing what to look for on the planet that is now their new home, and finding out that things do not correspond 1:1 means having more information to work with.

Most of the early days of ecological reconnaissance will likely consist of getting used to the idea that this is how things are now. Ecological systems do not work on the principle that they have to be intuitively recognizable or understandable by human beings, and do not mind being utterly alien to human cognition. Especially when the ecology in question is found in another solar system, where humans themselves are the aliens. Getting around to this way of thinking takes a non-trivial amount of time, and for the time being the best course of action is just to accept the realities of ecology as they present themselves.

Once these metaphysical hurdles have been acknowledged, a more physical approach can be applied. Ecologies consist mainly of flows (primarily of energy and minerals), and understanding these flows means understanding what’s what. The reportedly high levels of nitrate in the soil means Earth plants will find it agreeable, which is both fortunate and useful information. It cuts down on the need to mine minerals for fertilizer (as is standard procedure here on Earth), and more importantly it means plants will simply grow once a good spot has been found for them. These spots can be found either through trial and error (ecology being a system that works whether humans know how or not), or through systematic mapping of what flows where.

Centauri ecology is something of a reversal of Earth ecology. Here, ecology is seen as an almost mystical practice which reveres life in is multiplicity and complexity, which acknowledges the vastness of the systems in which we find ourselves. On Planet, the opposite is happening: a rigorous, scientific understanding of ecology demystifies and disenchants the world until it becomes a known quantity. The awesome and sublime fact of an alien ecology, reduced to the flow of nitrates and chemicals. It is an open question who remains in a state of awe the longest: the Gaians, who land with the expectation that this is what they are going to find, or everyone else, who are only just now finding these things out.

Gaia’s Stepdaughters

The Gaians are informed in all things by the last days of Earth: overcrowded, over-engineered, overbuilt, over-everything. To call them environmentalists would be to understate the case; to call them radical would only approximate the extent of their environmentalist roots. Earth is dead, and if the same fate is to be avoided on Chiron, the best way to go about it is to ensure that the lessons of home are applied early and well. Or, in the words of the leader quote:

In the great commons at Gaia’s Landing we have a tall and particularly beautiful stand of white pine, planted at the time of the first colonies. It represents our promise to the people, and to Planet itself, never to repeat the tragedy of Earth.

– Lady Deirdre Skye, “Planet Dreams”

It is important to note that this is not a disavowal of either technology or survival. The least disruptive thing humans could do to Chiron would be to simply not arrive. Given that this is not an option, however, the next best thing is to take the lessons of history to heart and apply them right from the start. Now that humanity has been given a new beginning, how can it go about using this new opportunity without – to use the least poetic words imaginable – fucking up from the word go?

This ambition gives the Gaians a very hands-on approach to ecology. Not only in terms of understanding it (they begin with the knowledge of how to build terraformers) but also in all other important aspects of a colonial society. How do you build a base without wasting resources on inefficient and redundant infrastructure? How do you streamline a supply chain so as to avoid waste and loss of resources? How do you emulate the ruthless efficiency of ecological processes in an all-too human economy? These are questions that the Gaians have taken to heart, and whose answers are visible in every aspect of their society.

There is an old adage that the status quo has the advantage over any proposed change, in that it does not have to justify itself; given that the status quo is the status quo, it is already in place, and thus it continues to be unless something dramatic happens. It therefore becomes of paramount importance to shape the initial conditions so as to foster a status quo which promotes the desired outcomes. Or, in other words, it is easier to have always been attuned to the processes of ecology than to retool an entire society after it has established entirely different values and traditions over the course of years and decades. If you build it right from the start, it will remain right; the virtues of habit and routine will ensure that the built up momentum will keep going.

This, more than anything else, is what sets the Gaians apart. If need be, they can build a technological and industrial powerhouse to rival all of the other factions. But they do so from a point of view of efficient environmentalism – Gaian tech will be rooted in ecological sensitivity, and Gaian factories will always be less polluting than their rival counterparts. But there will still be factories. The ambition is not to not be human, but to be human as sustainably as possible. Earth still lingers in humanity’s memory, whether the other factions want to admit it or not.

The name ‘Gaia’ is a reference to the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that planetary ecosystems form a self-regulating whole that in various ways seeks to secure the conditions for its own survival. On Earth, this is but a hypothesis, which needs to be substantiated with more data; on Planet, this is a literal truth, which unequivocally manifests in the form of mind worms relentlessly attacking those factions who engage in heavy pollution. Given that this was not known by the colonists upon arrival, this is something of a coincidence; given that Alpha Centauri is a work of fiction, and that there are no coincidences in works of fiction, there is an element of foreshadowing at work here. History is, as always, also future.

All of this sets the Gaian up for the advent of human transcendence. Having spent centuries studying and adapting to the ecological realities of Planet, the step to merge with it is not far off. Gaian transcendence would not push Planet this way or that, but rather introduce post-humanity as an always-already integral part of the emerging planetary consciousness. Humanity, informed by the loss of one home world, would finally return home.