Night Time Economy
After six Official Earth Designation weeks, they had still not decided on Night.
Gil, whose mother owned the company funding the consortium paying the sub-contractors developing the Settlement, convened a meeting of the Council.
The four of them sat round a table in the new, cavernous, high-ceilinged council chamber.
Lo, the General Systems Engineering Adviser, said, ‘Do we really, genuinely need Night? People can adjust the lighting and temperature in their own Domiciles. They can make it dark whenever they want. The amount of power it will take. And the cost.’
Trin, the Socio Ethic Medic Adviser said, ‘Circadian rhythms. For the first time in our history, humans are on a planet which has no Night. Not even twilight. Without Night, the Settlers may go mad.’
‘Which is why,’ muttered Lo, ‘I advised against this place. All of the other settlements have Night. We know what we’re doing with Night. But of course, I was overruled. The beauty of the three suns, the majesty of the purple mountains, yada yada. No-one gave a thought to the costs of installing Night. People don’t all have the same Circadian rhythms. Why can’t they just turn the bloody lights off when it suits them?’
‘I think,’ said Gen, the Mytho Religio Belief Adviser, ‘you are overlooking the Mytho Religio Belief significance of Night as a shared Mytho Religio Belief experience.’
‘In humanspeak?’ said Lo.
Gen smiled at her kindly. ‘Night,’ he said, ‘is more than just not-day. Night is a feeling. Night is the unknown. Night is the thing that light protects us from. We recognise it as the Other. All humans, across all civilisations. It is one of the things that binds our species together.’
‘So is the ability to turn off a light switch,’ said Lo. ‘I think you’re forgetting that by the time of the Great Evacuation human beings had all but destroyed Night. In most places, Night was as bright as Day. Apparently people preferred it like that. You could see where you were going.’
‘I think Gen has a point,’ said Trin. ‘Well-being has a lot to do with psychological and emotional oneness with the environment. The feeling of being in tune with nature. That would definitely include Night.’
‘But,’ said Lo, slowly and clearly, ‘we are on a planet with no natural Night. How can we be in tune with our environment if we alter one of the fundamental aspects of the fucking thing?’
There was a moment’s crystalline silence.
Gil said, ‘Let us please remember we are all human, and show each other proper respect.’
‘You seem to have forgotten,’ Gen said icily to Lo, ‘that it was disrespect, and not the inability to see where you were going, that killed the great Earth civilisations.’
‘Moving on,’ said Gil,’ I think we should vote. All those in favour of adding Night to the Settlement? Thank you. All those against? Thank you, Lo. Motion carried.’
‘Then you’d better get on the blower to your mother,’ said Lo bitterly, ‘because my budget won’t cover it.’ She nodded at Gen and Trin. ‘And I can’t see them giving up their precious allocations to cover the engineering costs.’
For the next four Official Earth Designated weeks they continued with individually controlled domicile lights. The Council put out an Information Notice on all channels, assuring Settlers that Night was in development, and medication was available from registered pharmacies for any adverse effects on Circadian or other rhythms in the meantime. There was little reaction one way or the other until the fringe political group DELME put out its own notice on all channels, querying the purpose of the Night project.
‘NIGHT,’ it boomed, ‘is all very well. NIGHT is part of our human inheritance. But what kind of NIGHT is this Council going to inflict on us? This Council made up of the elite, the privileged, whose forbears got their places on the Settler ships through connections, not merit, who didn’t have to pass assessments and examinations – what kind of NIGHT will this Clowncil inflict on us, and what will they use it for?’
Over the next few Official Earth Designated days, there were mass demonstrations demanding democratic control of Night development.
Gil summoned D, the main organiser of DELME, who was her brother, to a meeting at Council Hall. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’
D looked hurt. ‘Carrying out my brief.’
‘Your brief,’ said Gil, ‘is to provide the Settlers with a subversive and disruptive organisation which reassures them that someone is doing subverting and disrupting so well, they don’t have to. Must I give you to Gen for another lesson on the Mytho Religio Belief significance of protest and how it should be used?’
‘No,’ said D. ‘Please don’t.’
‘You’re lucky,’ said Gil, ‘that Mother is currently preoccupied with enhancing the genuine human experience on Settlement Eight by engineering properly endangered species. Otherwise she’d have time to pay attention to what’s going on here. What are you and the other initials going to do to put this right?’
‘Well,’ said D, huffily, ‘it would be helpful if you’d let me have your final plans for Night ahead of any official announcement. Then we could put out our demands, then say you had agreed to look at them, and then announce we’ve triumphed and got exactly the Night we wanted. What are the final plans?’
After a moment Gil said, ‘They’re not completely finalised.’
‘Partially finalised? One iota finalised?’
Gil scowled. ‘It’s the animals. And the flowers.’
D blinked. ‘Pardon?’
Gil sighed. ‘Gen and Trin got all their archive programs out, and they’re insisting that to have a proper Earth Night, we must have animals that only come out at Night, and flowers or bushes or some bloody things that smell different at Night. Or open at Night. Or do a dance and bark at the moon at Night. I don’t bloody know. And that’s the other thing. Gen thinks we should have three moons to match the three suns because otherwise it will spoil the symmetry. Trin says three moons will confuse people, although they seem to cope with three suns. And Lo just keeps saying we can’t afford it, we can’t even afford universal darkness, never mind animals and bushes and moons. And stars.’
D said, ‘People will know it’s not real, just a mural that comes on for a set number of hours. They do understand that we’re not actually on Earth.’
Gil sighed. ‘Three hundred years of travelling and settling, and the first time we find a planet with no Night, it's on my watch.’
Two Official Designated Earth days later, the Council reconvened.
Gil gazed around the table. ‘You’re all smiling,’ she said, suspiciously.
‘We’ve found a way to fund it,’ said Lo happily.
‘More than fund it,’ said Trin.
‘We’ll have lots left over to fund even more enhancements of the human experience.’ Gen looked ecstatic.
Gil gave them a steely look. ‘You do know that accessing funding without the approval of the consortium is strictly forbidden?’
Lo beamed. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘Night will be entirely self-funding.’
‘The thing about Night,’ said Gen, ‘is that it’s dangerous. Partly,’ he smiled affectionately at Lo, ‘because you can’t see where you’re going, but mainly, in a civilised society, because you can’t see what’s coming.’
‘I’m not with you,’ said Gil.
‘Nocturnal animals,’ said Trin, ‘but primarily, other humans. Night releases something in humans. They behave…differently.’
Gil said, ‘I’m not entirely stupid. I’m fully aware that Night will require an increase in security forces, an increase in artificial lighting to counter the effects of blocking natural light, probably more medical facilities and practitioners – how on earth is all this to be self-funded? Or are you only talking about the immediate engineering costs?’
‘No,’ said Gen. ‘We’re talking about the lot.’
Gil sighed deeply. ‘All right. Amaze me.’
‘Individual responsibility,’ said Trin.
‘Excuse me?’ said Gil.
‘Night falls,’ said Lo, in a conspiratorial voice. ‘Night falls, and all the usual rules, regulations and boundaries dissolve. Everything looks different. Everything feels and sounds different – ‘
‘You should hear Lo’s sound designs,’ said Gen, in an awestruck voice. ‘Echoing footsteps, bushes rustling, twigs snapping, breath rasping. Completely terrifying.’
Lo blushed. ‘I couldn’t have done it without your and Trin’s input about what really puts the wind up a human.’
‘I don’t see,’ snapped Gil, ‘how a whole load of aural enhancements is going to solve the funding problem.’
‘We make it clear what’s out there,’ said Lo. ‘And the sound enhancements make it clear we’re not just kidding. There is real danger in Night.’
‘But there isn’t,’ said Gil.
‘There has to be,’ said Gen. ‘Otherwise it doesn’t work.’
‘Individual responsibility.’ Trin grinned at Gen and Lo. ‘People have a choice. They either go out and face the danger, or they don’t. If they do, they’re going to need protection.’
‘Protection from what?’ shouted Gil.
Trin said, ‘We open the prison hulks and the secure hospital units.’
Gil stared at them.
‘Eventually,’ said Lo, with glee, ‘we may not even need the enhancements. There will be enough real echoing footsteps and rustling bushes to create the necessary demand.’
‘Demand for what?’ Gil shouted again.
‘Protection!’ Trin looked ecstatic. ‘People will have a choice. They can either stay within their own domiciles as soon as Night falls, or buy protection to keep them safe outside. In fact, they’ll have to buy protection anyway, because with all those dangerous criminals around, they’ll need to protect their domiciles.’ He beamed at Gil. ‘We’re talking alarm devices of varying efficacy, depending on cost. Deterrent devices – sprays, electrical charges and so forth – of varying efficacy, depending on cost. Possibly fully functioning weapons of individual destruction, which would always be efficacious, whatever the cost. All manufactured and supplied by the consortium, with a guarantee that a percentage of all sales comes to the Council. Enough to fund Night and a good few other things as well.’
The council chamber was silent.
Eventually Gil asked, ‘Suppose they all just decide to stay indoors?’
‘But they won’t,’ said Gen. ‘Being part of a social group is hotwired into human psychology. Isolation has very bad effects on the human thought process.’
‘And physical health,’ said Trin.
‘Basically,’ said Lo, ‘humans want to be out there with other humans. Whatever the drawbacks.’
Gil’s voice was unsteady. ‘I think this may be contra-human. The consortium is very insistent that all development must be in keeping with humanity’s basic principles, and protecting the community is one of the most basic.’
Gen leant forward eagerly. ‘Protecting the community, yes. But it doesn’t say anything about individual members. It's all about the greater good. And Night will undoubtedly be good for the community's economy.’
‘We’ve been looking at the archive programs,’ said Lo. ‘The latest coherent records we have for Earth before Panic And Shitstorm indicate that it was common among even the most developed societies to make certain citizens responsible for their own safety.’
‘Certain citizens?’ Gil frowned. ‘Which ones?’
Trin looked surprised. ‘The most vulnerable ones, of course! The ones most at risk. The powerful don’t need protecting. It makes far more economic sense to target the powerless.’
‘And people accepted this?’
‘Oh yes,’ said Lo comfortably. ‘Well, we know ourselves. Keep saying something often enough and loud enough and everyone will accept it.’
‘I thought maybe DELME could help,’ said Gen, looking excited. ‘We need them to run a campaign against Council-run safety measures. You know – the only way you can be safe is to manage your own safety, do you want to put your life in the Clowncil’s hands, it's all a plot to control you.’
‘The consortium will have a monopoly on supplies of protective equipment.’ Lo said. ‘It can’t fail. Obviously, some people will hold out, but not after a few fatalities. Soon anyone not taking the appropriate measures will be seen as at least stupid, and at worst anti-social. Asking for it. Whatever it is.’
Gil walked away from the table and stood by one of the large windows. She looked out at the triple suns, and the purple mountains, and the Settlement growing daily, its population looking forward to a new life full of possibilities and wonders.
She turned back to the others. ‘That’s absolutely fucking brilliant,’ she said. ‘A full Night time economy.’ She clasped her hands together. ‘Mother will be thrilled. So inventive. So efficient. So financially rewarding. So very, very, very human.’