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Hearts and Minds

Posted on Sun Aug 16th, 2020 @ 4:38pm by Lieutenant JG T'Pruk & Lieutenant JG Brian Pendragon & Lieutenant JG Cara Ross

Mission: Mission 7 - Aenerth for an Earth
Location: Briefing Room
Timeline: 2296/02/21 - 1600

Back on board and they had homework to do...

"So..." Brian opened. "What I was wondering is whether any of the Aenerthans have been voicing objections to the current working conditions. If so, how are they presenting themselves. Are they just complaining, or are they being constructive? Are they being locked up for speaking out, or are they a credible opposition who, given a free and fair election, might be the next goverment and might be a better fit with the Federation's approach...?"

He started tapping at the nearest console.

"T'Pruk - if you can start with the official news broadcasts... They'll probably be presenting the state perspective, but at least they're likely to mention if there are dissidents or demonstrations, even if its just the effects on traffic. Cara - can you check the political structure? See if there are any mentions of elections or opposition parties? I'll try the student chat - there's always dissent with the 'old ways' there, even in the most well-oiled systems. It'll be interesting to see whether they are squashed or encouraged...."

Pursing her lips, Cara tapped a stylus against her chin, as she looked up from the seat she had thrown herself into. An easy enough request to handle, but...politics. "How deep do want to dive into this. Simple public records?" She turned in her chair and tapped a few commands into the control panel at her side. She'd been going over a read out of notes on a tablet but now needed to readjust her focus. "Or do you want to try and dig into less than public means?"

"I'm thinking, start on the surface, til you can get a feel for what they aren't saying, if you see what I mean. Like, if there isn't an opposition party at all, or if there is, but they are treated by the primary media sources as insignificant, or dangerous? Or if they are credible, what are the differences between them and the current government. Do they disagree on fundamentals, or is it just a slightly different flavour of the same thing? Like a changeover wouldn't really change anything..."

Setting the computer to filter the broadcasts towards the public stations, T'Pruk started filtering through the information. When she heard Cara's questions, T'Pruk replied, "If I know the Captain, she would likely want to delve into all of the information. Her demeanor suggested that she does not trust the Aenerthans. Would you agree with that assessment, Mr. Pendragon?"

"I reckon that's a fair bet, but let's not give them too much reason to doubt our good intentions just yet..." Brian warned the Vulcan. "We can work out a lot before resorting to that, but if it doesn't add up or it sounds like the media are just a mouthpiece, then it is likely we'll need to go deeper."

Cara's eyes darted back and forth between her fellow junior officers, and nodded. Raising her hands up, she laced her fingers, and in an utterly unladylike fashion, cracked her knuckles. She turned her chair fully around to the controls at her side and set to the task with rapid clacking and beeping, programing the search parameters into the computer. "Right, public snooping for now. I'll hold off on coding some crawler viruses. For now."

She tried to hide the fact that she'd actually looked forward to the technical challenge of doing just that. Primarily a climatologist, Cara was still a well rounded science officer, and had an A-6 Computer rating (she was working to get that up to A-7 by the next round of classification testing in 2298).

T'Pruk asked, "For what purpose would you use crawler viruses? I am utilizing a simple sorter subroutine."

"In the event that simply sifting through public information isn't enough," Cara said primly, her eyes still on her console. "I've only really had a good look at the manufacturing, but they aren't primitives by any means. It never hurts to have a means of looking into the nonpublic data, and that's usually behind plenty of firewalls and the like."

"There seem to be a large number of unsubstantiated claims being broadcast regarding purchasing particular products," T'Pruk announced.

Cara frowned for a moment, and leaned over to look at the other woman's work, cocking up an eyebrow. "Commercials?"

"I believe that's what I said," T'Pruk told Cara with a raised eyebrow.

"Why use one word when five will do?" The redhead countered in a deadpaned tone.

"Because my description was more accurate," T'Pruk countered. She returned her attention to her sorter, "I am now receiving signals which praise hard work ethics."

"Out of interest," queried Brian, "what type of products? I mean, commercials imply a choice that the advertiser is attempting to influence. Choice implies competition, which in itself means there are likelier to be incentives to make products quicker or cheaper than your rival, which if you are squeezing time and money means quality takes the hit. If quality is down, that's a bad sign for standards and ethics... I know food processor-produced food and designs can be a bit boring, but at least they reduced the worst of those excesses."

T'Pruk answered Brian. "The commercials have involved a vast array of products ranging from carbonated beverages to food products to clothing. I do not believe that they have a product on their planet that has not had a commercial. Would you like me to do some research to see if there is a manufactured product without competition, Mr. Pendragon?"

Picking up on that thread - and ignoring the semantical differences and jab from T'Pruk, Cara added to the thought, "To see if there is some kind of...government ordained Monopoly on certain products? Something that might be considered vital?"

Looking through her data T'Pruk answered, "I can find nothing in the commercials indicating a monopoly by the government. I believe an Earth phrase might more accurately sum the general philosophy of the Aenerthan's, 'Every man for himself.'" T'Pruk thought for another moment before stating, "Though, I cannot find any commercials for agriculture, medical care, or military. The exception seems to be that there are a number of promises being made regarding pharmaceuticals.

"Seann neach-reic ola nathair," Cara muttered under her breath as she began to collate various politcal reports - such as they were. An old snake oil salesman indeed, she thought to herself. She knew that, as a Starfleet officer, she had an obligation to analyze without necessarily moralizing. Each culture was unique and offered its own wonderful contributions to the galactic whole. But the Aenerthian's were not making it easy for her.

"I do not believe that I heard or found a commercial regarding snake oil," T'Pruk retorted.

Cara was reminded in the morning that Vulcan ears were damn good. And learned that, apparently T'Pruk spoke Scots Gaelic. "Old Earth saying for someone who sold shifty medicine. Sounds like these pharmaceutical advertisements."

"Without testing the products, how can you be certain that is an accurate assessment?' T'Pruk asked curiously.

Setting down a stylus she'd picked up, Cara frowned, and did not immediately answer the question. Instead she mulled the words around, and then let out a soft sigh. "Other than a gut instinct, you raise a very good point. I can't. I'd be...letting my preconceptions get in the way. Which is why I prefer hard sciences to the more political strain." She sighed, then waged the stylus in a loop, pointing at the other two lieutenants and then back to herself. "But that's not the job at the moment. So I'll just have to try to repress my first impression and be a bit more open minded."

"On that, we agree," T'Pruk replied emotionless. "Hard science requires a sharp mind and the setting aside of preconceptions. I prefer it and suspect the Captain does as well to the politics we are encountering."

"It's going to be a challenge," admitted Brian. "I have... opinions... already and we need hard facts, but if you're getting a pattern, or even a gap in a pattern, that's worth chasing down. Having no commercials for military careers is interesting. Does that mean they have conscription? Or some other kind of assignment process, such that there's no point advertising as there isn't really a choice...?" He started calling up the records on what they had already gathered regarding the military.

T'Pruk wordlessly did some more research, "It appears that the military offers something that no other industry on Aenerth does: governmental health care. Apparently it continues lifetime benefits after 25 years of service."

Despite her assertions that she needed to look at things with an open mind, the first words out of Cara's mouth at that revelation was a simple snort. "Nice to see the government cares about the well being of someone on their planet. Even if it's only the troops."

"It is logical that the government should care about its defense force, lest the government fall. It is self preservation and logical," T'Pruk told Cara.

"What does it say about a government if their own sole survival is all they care about, and not the welfare of those they govern?"

T'Pruk answered, "It could say many things. I do not know enough of the culture to make a firm conclusion to that question, Lieutenant Ross."

Cara's only answer was a soft grunt. T'Pruk had her there. That round went to the Vulcan, and after a moment, the redhead sighed and nodded.

There followed a period of quiet, aside from tapping and note-taking, with the occasional sigh or "hmm" as they each found more potential issues or, at least, differences in priority.

Breaking the relative silence, Pendragon said, "Cara, if you're happier with hard science, is it worth you checking for quality assurance? If they have competitors making claims about their products, they should have official standards or auditors? If you fancy trying out your crawler, an audit database would be unlikely to be considered top secret, but should have some red flags worth noting."

Cracking her knuckles, the red head spun in her seat and started typing out commands to launch said crawler. "There's bound to be some kind of consumer review database if nothing else. Any society that is so commercially based, there's bound to be something. But I'm not sure if there is a government repository. Let's see here..."

Matters did not take very long to resolve, much to Cara's surprise. She would have imagined that the program would have taken some time to dig deep to sort the matter out. Instead, it returned back fairly swiftly. The redhead's eyebrows rose, then she leaned in to trace a finger over the read out before snorting derisively. "Nada. No such thing as a government oversight agency, or audit database. It's textbook free market."

Brian wasn't sure how to react to that news. He had been audited so often, he thought of it as perfectly natural. How else were standards to be maintained or those who were not adhering to them to be encouraged to improve?

"Nothing at all? Is there any mention of an agreed standard system in general? Some stamp of approval from an authority? Or at least some acknowledgement at a contractual level that there is such a thing as a minimum standard of goods or services, below which is unacceptable?"

T'Pruk replied, "I do not see anything of the such."

"What about legal cases?" he added. "Has anyone called out a supplier for their part in a disaster due to shoddy workmanship? Or is it all 'let the buyer beware'? I'm interested in where they believe the accountability lies - if there is any at all other than with the individual at the sharp end...."

"The few cases that I am finding seem to suggest that if there is a product being made and it is a poor one, that people will no longer use it and that will force the producer to go out of business. Of course, there do seem to be cases about placing intentionally harmful goods or ingredients in the public's hands. In those instances, the producer is held liable and must pay damages," T'Pruk reported.

Making a face, Cara leaned over, looking at the other woman. "They're made to pay a fine, but is that the only punishment? No jail time? No stay at a correctional facility? They can keep right on making more shoddy products?"

"That does seem to be the case," T'Pruk answered.

She sat back in her chair, shaking her head and running a hand over her face. "That seems...reckless."

There followed several minutes of uncomfortable silence until Brian took a deep breath. "OK, let's get what we already have into something resembling report shape, then one hour more to see if we can pick up anything definiably heinous before we call it for the night..."


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