Office of Civilian Agency Compliance Internal Record
Transparent Intelligence Action Wave Two Compliance and Satisficing Effort
Original text gathered and processed by Harrier Lawn tasking (Sol theatre), classified level Delta
Scrub crosschecked and nominated for TIA disclosure by Granite Hunter tasking
Introductory text condensed for length.
Subject ARID is a male, age 55, citizen of Jovian Systems Republic.
Subject BURROCK is a female, age 51, citizen of Martian Concordia.
Subject CANDIDE is a male, age 45, citizen of Earth.
Harrier Lawn: Are you comfortable?
CANDIDE: We are, thank you. We appreciate your hospitality.
BURROCK: We want to know when we'll be released.
ARID: Or if.
Harrier Lawn: I have good news on that front. Before I'm allowed to disclose it, though, I need to get some of this down on record - you know how it is, right? Right. Is that okay?
CANDIDE: We understand.
Placebo recorder activation tone.
Harrier Lawn: Could you please state the name, registry, and filed mission of your vessel?
ARID: The Regressive Customs Tax, Kadmos type, registered as a portless trader under the ITO.
BURROCK: We auctioned the naming rights on a policy propagation market and someone sarcastic won.
CANDIDE: You wanted to call it the -
BURROCK: Don't tell him about -
ARID: Come on, don't, that would be so - we would look so stupid.
BURROCK: Okay. Thank you.
Harrier Lawn: You said the ship was named by someone sarcastic - could you explain that?
CANDIDE: When we incorporated the ship there was a lot of agitation on Mars for small shipping subsidies. The argument went that gate transit and fuel costs constituted a regressive phantom tax that really punished small independents while mostly leaving the big shipping groups untouched. Someone in favor of that argument bought our naming rights.
ARID: You are so boring. He's boring, I'm sorry about that. He is just very boring.
BURROCK: He's earnest. You're going to get a lot of earnest answers.
CANDIDE: Smug, too.
ARID: Smug. Definitely. At least he's honest about himself.
Harrier Lawn: So you were independent traders, and you were worried about the costs of the business. I can understand that. Why was there a market for independent, self-owned ships? Your trader - that's an interstellar capable ship, very large, enormously fuel-hungry. I thought economies of scale would keep those out of independent hands?
BURROCK: Are you asking if we were black market?
ARID: We were never black market. There's a niche for small legal traders. I'd say the shipping market is split about 50-30-20. Fifty goes to the big guys, thirty goes to cooperatives, twenty to independents.
CANDIDE: The way I learned it is -
ARID: Here we go.
CANDIDE: Independents fill out the spaces left between the major market positions. Corporations have reliable routes, reliable prices, reliable policies. A lot of top-down organization. Cooperatives are more responsive to week-to-week changes in the market, they can catch opportunities and still have the scale to exploit them. Independents -
BURROCK: We fed on volatility. We didn't have the tonnage to run steady routes, but we could get ahead of the market. When an urgent order goes up, a corporation has to weigh its existing commitments before it can take it. Cooperatives aren't as inertial but they have to stick to their turf - they rely on each other. Everything has an opportunity cost. Independents are scavengers. They eat up slack in the market. Keep everything shipshape.
Harrier Lawn: So you weren't able to leverage the bigger shipping routes on a consistent basis, but...
CANDIDE: We bought processor shares on Earth.
ARID: Bought fuel and charts on Jupiter.
BURROCK: The processor shares he's talking about, we used those to get a window into market changes over the next month. Once we knew what was coming we'd position ourselves for arbitrage. If the simulations called a drop in tritium prices, we'd ask the Box what to do, and usually it gave us a good idea. It was down to the wire, real rough life, but we came out ahead. The key was the
ARID: - the fuel and charts -
CANDIDE:: - the subspace drive. We didn't use the gate network all the time, we had a jump drive. Which, yes, we fueled and navved that at Callisto.
Harrier Lawn: Was it unusual for an independent trader to carry a jump drive?
ARID: No. The gate network was dead cheap compared to fueling and navving that thing every month, but it also confined you to fixed routes, and the corporations owned those. Corporations and co-ops.
BURROCK: If you had the financial smash to grab a good subspace motivator, that was how you got started as an independent. Otherwise you went co-op.
CANDIDE: The gate network doesn't so much flatten the trade environment as crease it. Certain commodities become incredibly cheap and efficient to move along certain routes.
ARID: I don't want to say any more about the gate network.
CANDIDE: We can't tell them anything they don't -
BURROCK: Then there's no point telling them, is there?
Harrier Lawn: What kind of commodities did you run?
ARID: Time-sensitive materials. One-time pads. Instruments. Foodstuffs. Anything with a price jacked up or jacked down by a HUMER. Corps ride the trends, independents eat the HUMERs -
Harrier Lawn: HUMER?
CANDIDE: Slang. Highly Unexpected Market Event Reaction.
BURROCK: Something the simulations didn't see way in advance. Chaotic impacts. The mainframes can spot the broad trends but don't catch all the local noise - that creates inefficiencies in long-term planning which can be exploited by highly reactive agents.
Harrier Lawn: You all seem very well educated.
CANDIDE: Thank you.
BURROCK: GITs have been going up for thirty years. It's a smart solar system.
ARID: Yeah, a lot of very smart and very brainwashed people out there.
Harrier Lawn: How do you mean?
CANDIDE: He doesn't like -
ARID: I like what they do, I'm just not comfortable with how they do it.
BURROCK: Me too.
ARID: Look at how we made our living. Exploiting the only market fluctuations that aren't called years in advance. We're lubricant for the machines - you get it? We live in the only scrap of the economy that isn't deterministic.
CANDIDE: Mastering the business cycle brought an end to -
ARID: Yeah, and what happens when that mastery's complete? Look, they 'mastered' the economy, they 'mastered' social projection, they've figured out which levers to pull to get what they want, but once it's all locked down, once they've worked out all the kinks, what do you have to do except play your part?
BURROCK: We use the Box ourselves. We take orders from an algorithm. 'Buy this, buy that.' We're all just cogs, man - right, you see what I'm at? How do you have freedom when they know exactly what you want?
CANDIDE: Thirty years of prosperity -
ARID: Some day it'll all crash. Some day those algorithms and those simulations will grow so byzantine and self-referential that it'll take true AI to read them. Have you ever tried to read the stock market? Have you looked at those graphs? Those aren't human-readable. The market whiplashes at the microsecond level -
CANDIDE: The overall trend is stable and positive -
BURROCK: See, that's my problem. I don't like how sneaky it is. If we had Big Brother thundering price controls down on us at least we'd be able to see the web. But instead -
CANDIDE: The results aren't invisible at all - they're just smoothing out the inefficiencies, correcting for the irrationalities, allowing the market to work -
BURROCK: If the faults in the market are rooted in human irrationality, how do you fix them without altering the human mind?
ARID: I like the economy. I like education. I like science. But damn, I don't like how sneaky they are about it. Remember how we got into this mess? Mars -
BURROCK: Back during the Sink, when they were just getting started on Mars, they converted that huge swathe of factories to automation. Blew the bottom out of the labor market, unemployment skyrocketed, we all cursed them for fools. Then the new merchant marine starts picking up, people leave the domes in disgust, sign up on trader crews, ship out -
ARID: - start shipping the products made by the factories they used to work at, start building new industry to service the traders -
CANDIDE: - which is social mobility, they got an upgrade, they benefited from that -
BURROCK: They were manipulated into it.
ARID: We ran into an Angry Customer the other year. They're roving agents, they wander around looking for workshops, artists, creatives, little corporations with promise. They test them. Give 'em a scare. If the candidate passes? Boom, seed grant, check written right out in front of you. Straight down from the coffers.
BURROCK: Yeah. It's sneaky. It's not like you apply for an innovation grant, the innovation grant comes to you.
ARID: And you just get the sense they don't even know why they do it. They ask their simulations 'what now? What policy? Where do we put the money, what do we do with the taxes?' They're listening to the ghost in the machine.
Harrier Lawn: Let's change the subject. Did you face any dangers as a trader?
BURROCK: That was my specialty, let me take that. The odds of ever being attacked were low. Real low. But they were high enough.
(To be continued...)