The Camp


What disturbed me the most was not the devastation but the people. As we descended with the shuttle we saw what had once been the city of Dionysos. It had been hit with several warheads, transforming the lush streets into a labyrinth of blasted concrete. Outside a grey-black landscape covered with wicked cinder spikes was all that remained of the mighty forests of Jacob’s trees. The highway beneath us was littered with broken, burned out cars. The waters outside the city were a leaden grey, littered with drifting rafts of dead sea-life. Radioactive soot and smoke clouded the sky and turned the sun into a sickly reddish- yellow that made the landscape even more hellish.

The camp was set 50 kilometres to the north, in a bay where once a small beach resort had been located. Here over 5,000 people were crammed together, trying to survive. Just one camp of several dotting the outskirts of the colony. Makeshift tents had been raised, and in the nearby forest logging was fast underway to provide more sturdy buildings for the winter. Food came from some warehouses in outlying areas that had survived the bombings and foraging expeditions gathering anything edible in the plains – some people were already looking slightly thin. So far the camp had avoided any major epidemics, but it was a race against time to set up the necessary sanitation facilities and the doctors were already working overtime with the unlucky ones who had been too close to the blast.

As we were shown around we saw people who had lost not just their homes but their entire families, people who had seen all their dreams be annihilated in a moment, people blinded and burned by nuclear fire. Everybody knew that the coming winter would be hard, and that exposure, food shortages, epidemics and simple lack modern technology would quite likely decimate their number. The future was uncertain; for all they knew Li agents could be infiltrating the camp right at that moment.

But they were all confident, rational and practical. With the exception of some of the youngest children everybody understood the situation, regarded it with calm determination and set to work to do something about it. OK, almost everything had been wiped out – so what was left, and how to use it in the best way? Who can forage, who can tend the sick, who can build shelter? Their families might have been killed, but they set aside their grief for later and concentrated on dealing with survival. Why feel bad, when that would only weaken you? Some people cracked jokes about becoming Gaianists or that this was the perfect solution to the traffic problems.

My guide explained to me that this was a natural reaction on Dionysos. At an early age children are simply given psychodesign to go into a standard emergency handling mindstate – "Crisis 1". Practical optimism rather than despair, a calm appraisal of the situation rather than anger, fear or grief. In time, if they survived, they would shift back to other personalities and maybe deal with their ordeal. But for the moment they were all model survivors. A planet of boy-scouts.

The visit to Dionysos disturbed me deeply. I understood why the Li attacked. The Dionysians might look and behave in a very human manner, but behind the cybarites stands a power that is more powerful than nuclear weapons – the power to redesign the mind.