Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Death And Taxes

Horus Rising: The Dreadful Sagittary (II)

First Chaplain Erebus (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Horus was right, of course.  No-one is ever happy to see the tax-collector, not unless he's lying inside a wooden box.  And it is one thing to smash the war machine of the last person to claim your life belonged to them, and quite another to demand you pay for the privilege.

But whilst Horus can be given credit for detecting the disease faster than anyone else, we should not forget that he completely failed to recognise the cure.

Perhaps this is somewhat unfair.  The necessary steps to avoid the galaxy-wide uprisings Horus feared would require restructuring the Imperium to an extent he might quite literally find unthinkable. The problem lies not with the arrival of taxation, but with the nature of an empire that requires money.

For two hundred years, the Imperium has not had to face up to the astonishing cost of running a galactic civilisation.  This is for one simple reason: was is exceptionally good for business, providing you are winning.  Each new world attacked is a source of food and treasure.  Each battle one is an opportunity to strip the dead and feed their supplies to your advancing armies.  Each enemy overcome is a potential new source of weapons and manpower, ordnance and armour.  Add in the Mechanicum's breathless charge into the unknown alongside you in the hopes of recovering ancient knowledge, and one has a military machine that can run almost exclusively on the fuel of new victories.  Those worlds conquered and left behind need to be watched, but otherwise can be left all but unmolested.

The coming conclusion to the Great Crusade would have changed all that.  All of a sudden there would be no more wars to fight; at least, no wars against human foes from whom one can safely extract food and materiel.  Once the expansion of the Astartes Legions and the Explorator fleets becomes a perimeter guard against hostile xenos, they will require a steady flow of supplies that can no longer be taken from the battlefield.  They must come from the Imperium itself.

And to do that, the Emperor needs a tax system.

In other words, Horus has spent two centuries becoming acclimatised to a model that is utterly and obviously unsustainable.  He fears that the proposed solution to this problem (whether or it does, in fact, come from the High Council and not the Emperor himself) will fail, but he offers no alternative plan because he has not yet grasped the inflexibility of the underlying problem.  Expansionist war is the only alternative to a levy on the citizenry (and really, the former can rarely be so successful as it was ten thousand years ago; we can only assume the original process of creating Astartes must have been phenomenally cost-effective).  It really is a choice between death and taxes.

As we have said often, civil war was inevitable.  Creating the Imperium required a total devotion to war.  Maintaining it required a balance between keeping population centres happy enough to not cause trouble, but exploited enough to not drain resources from the larger picture.  For all his vaunted political knowledge, Horus could not even conceive of such an approach, let alone manage it effectively.  And each rebellious system means more resources must be expended, and more taxes must be introduced, and more people must be pushed towards the point they might themselves rebel. We have already argued that the Legions were too attached to their aggressive tactics for peace to have lasted long after the Imperium's formation, but even had Horus somehow been able to rein in his brothers (or himself), the best we could have hoped for is that the single horrific conflict of the Horus Heresy might have been replaced with innumerable smaller brush wars and rebellions.

If there ever could have been a way out of this quandary, it would that is to apply the interex model; a willingness to trade and even ally with xenos civilisations.  If man is determined to stand alone, he must pay a price for that choice.  Isolationist tendencies and massive military presence do not result in pleasant bills.

Such a possibility was long since closed to us, however.  In the 41st Millennium there are only three kinds of alien: those that are extinct, those that hate us, and those that we have yet to meet but are determined to kill the instant we do. And so every year we lose more worlds.  Every year we increase the Imperial Tithe.  Every year we make more enemies amongst our own people.

Much like ten thousand years ago, one truth is horribly clear.  This is not a model we can hope will endure.


What Was

There's not much going on here in the past tense, and whilst I could spend some time quizzing Fliss about the first book in general, there'll be plenty of time for that when we finish Horus Rising in two weeks time.

What Is

Who do you think would win a perfection-off between Primarch Sanguinius and First Chaplain Erebus?

How can you have a perfection off?  How would you measure it?

I don't know. Calligraphy?

We know Erebus is a good swordsman, but that's all.

Not really.  There was some stuff in there about how the instant he arrived he put aside his own mission to be all empathic and helpful.

I'm not convinced. We also don't know how good a fighter Sanguinius is, really.

True, but he's a primarch, so I imagine he's got the moves.

Moves like Jagger?  Is that the song? Or is it lips like Jagger?

It's moves like Jagger, yes, though I don't think that means we should deploy him to battle a megarachnid horde.  Not that we shouldn't try.

None of this is helping me work out how to judge perfection.

Let's have all the Luna Wolves vote for who's their bestest friend.

They're bound to vote for a Primarch over a non-Primarch, though, aren't they? I don't think we have enough information yet. Particularly as Sanguinius came to mourn his dead troops, and Erebus has a specific thing he wants, whatever that is.

Are you in favour of cheating in duels, and is it a more attractive proposition when it involves punching Lucius in the face?

Giving Lucius a good face-punching is certainly beneficial.  I don't think it's really cheating, either.  Lucius asked Loken to fight as a Luna Wolf, and Loken warned him it would be about more than skill with a sword.  So how can it be cheating?

What are we to make of a society who combines its armouries and its museums?

Well, we do that.

No we don't!

Yes we do.  We have war museums.

But those aren't armouries as well.  You know what they call a museum that's not combined with an armoury?  A museum.

So are they saying ideally these alien weapons should never be used again, but there might come a time when they have to be deployed. It's a bit risky having all these super-deadly weapons lying around; what if there's an uprising.  It annoyed me that, once again, the Astartes are too busy being uncomfortable around other cultures to actually ask important questions about their abilities.

Also, I don't get how that cursed sword is supposed to work. Can you give it more than one name, or is it a one-use weapon.

I think you can use it multiple times, but you can only give it one name at a time, maybe? Of course, if you're after someone important enough, even a one-shot weapon is worth it.

Assuming you even know their name.

It's designed for slaying famous enemy heroes. Surely you'd know who they were.

Not if the enemy drops in from another world, like happened here.  Could you even pronounce the names of your alien foes?

That's true.  There's plenty of people just on this planet who would wince in horror if they heard me trying to say their name.  And that's before we get to the problem of shitty speech recognition software. "You have chosen to kill 'Daylit Caramel'; is this correct?".

While we're on the subject of the interex, I don't like the idea of an area specifically reserved for visitors.  It'd be far too easy to wipe them all out in one go.

Horus is clearly dead-set against the idea of tax collectors running riot over the newly-formed Imperium. Do you agree with him? Or are you worried about the Astartes not being able to afford stabbing people any more?

I think he's totally right.  I was with him on all points.  If you're trying to persuade a newly-conquered reason that you've taken their land for their benefit, you can't then say "give me half your money".  At this point a civil war would cost more money than having no taxes would.  At the very least, they should wait until the places the Astartes blew up have had time to rebuild.  They should be spending their money on that, not handing it over to pay for new worlds to get smashed up like theirs did.

What Will Be

We're almost done now; just two chapters left to go.  Something's clearly about to happen, but what?

I think war is inevitable.  Someone is going to do something to offend the interex.  It might be Maloghurst or Abaddon saying something offensive that starts a ruckus, or it might be someone from the Emperor's Children who takes offense, and starts slashing people up. I wonder whether the Emperor's Children will get fed up of their command.  You've got Sanginius showing up and painting his face and crying over his dead troops.  Where the hell is Fulgrim in all this?

Whatever happens,  it'll have to be fairly impressive, otherwise why would people keep on reading?  But then there's so little space left in the book.  Will it all end on a massive cliffhanger?  Will the Emperor turn out to be dead? Has the Council taken over, is that why the tax inspectors have been unleashed?

Also, something must happen with Erebus. Otherwise, why introduce him in the last section?

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