2574 The Greatest Scam Ever 2574 The Greatest Scam Ever.

A group of alien spaceships appears in the Sol system. They call themselves Emissaries of the Artu-Domain announcing that the Sol system now belongs to the interstellar empire of the planet Artu. Artu is an industrialized and wealthy system about 80 light years away.

The crew of the Emissaries comprises a colorful mixture of sophonts of different species. They claim that this represents the typical population mix in the Artu system. The Emissaries command far superior technology. Their ships need only a few days to reach the Sol system while solar ships would take almost three years to reach Artu. The ships of the flotilla are noticeably armed, and it can be assumed that their military technology is just as superior as their FTL drive.

The alien ships take up a position at Neptune before contacting the authorities of the Sols system. This is not as easy as it sounds, because humanity does not have a unified government.

There are candidates, but none of the major powers can speak for the entire system:

- The systems war and its continuation the unification war on Earth ended just a few years ago. The Council of Calcutta is slowly becoming the parliament of the new Solar Coalition. However, the Council is essentially busy with countless problems on Earth after the end of a long isolation and two wars.

- The old interplanetary Coalition, which won the systems war, has been losing control of its members since the end of the war.

- Mars has been a strong military power in the inner system until recently. However, the Martian troops that bore a large part of the war burden have now been demilitarized.

- The wealthy habitats of Venus had contributed substantially to the coalition's victory. However, they do not form large political entities with system-wide power.

- Finally, the outer system is a patchwork of habitats, commercial organizations, and territorial sovereignties on the moons of the gas giants.

The Emissaries from Artu refer to the Sol system as a protectorate. They explain the political structure of the interstellar neighborhood thereby highlighting the dominant position of the Artu-Domain. They want to negotiate about a base for their operations in the Sol system. The Emissaries also explain that the Artu-Domain expects new protectorates to pay 1/32 of their economic output as taxes. Being just 3 % of the GDP, this is an amount for which it is not worth messing with superior aliens.

The Emissaries are trying to find an organization that can collect, manage, and transport the taxes for the entire system. The interplanetary Coalition based at Vegas/Luna would be a natural choice. So, two alien ships close in at the inner solar system to meet with representatives of the Coalition.

Many factions want to prevent the old interplanetary Coalition from gaining new strength through such an important role. After the end of Earth's isolation, major Earth powers are about to regain their position in the Sol system. After all, the Earth represent by far the largest part of the solar population. The Eurasia faction of Council in Calcutta sends their own representatives to initiate independent negotiations with the Emissaries. In the outer system, representatives of various local powers directly contact the ships waiting at Neptune.

The media are buzzing with reports and rumors, fears and threats, claims and statements from all kinds of solar organizations. The whole system is in turmoil as the delicate power balance in the Council of Calcutta between representatives of the peoples on Earth and of interplanetary powers is in danger. The war threatens to break out again.

Closing in at the earth Moon the two alien ships are tracked by an L5 target radar and then fired upon by missiles as they approach Vegas/Luna. After repelling the attack effortlessly and destroying the launch platforms the ships immediately return to Neptune.

The Emissaries now declare that they will set up an own organization to collect the taxes. They choose a base in the Saturn system. The alien flotilla advances on the Saturn moon system and annexes Epimetheus, one of Saturn's smaller uninhabited moons, in the name of the Artu-Domain.

Then the Emissaries request that representatives of all system powers come to Epimetheus for negotiations. The delegations are expected to explain how they plan to deliver their part of the taxes. The Emissaries do not issue any ultimatum to the governments of the Sol system. The technical superiority demonstrated at L5 makes it clear to everyone that humanity has nothing to counter the power of the Artu-Domain which would easily be able enforce its demands. So, everyone in the Sol system is aware that an open conflict might result in millions or even billions of victims, possibly even in the annihilation of mankind.

Over the following year, many interplanetary powers organize collection and transportation of their share of the taxes to Epimetheus. The taxes are mainly paid in the form of raw materials. At Epimetheus they are loaded onto interstellar freighters of the Artu-Domain. For this purpose, a Titan construction consortium builds large freight terminals in the orbit of Epimetheus.

The states of the Earth that among them account for 80 % of the Sol system's GDP are reluctant. There are very practical reasons for their hesitation. Interplanetary transport capacities are far from sufficient to deliver the Earth's share of the taxes to Epimetheus. However, their reluctance is primarily due to the fact that the Earth has just come out of a long period of self-imposed isolation. Many citizens and politicians of Earth do not want to recognize that the Earth and the Sol system have been thrust into an interstellar environment. For a long time, Earth relied on a self-sufficient economy and a closed society without any external relations, not even interplanetary ones. Many still ignore the fact that there are more advanced races beyond the Sol system. They would prefer to close the Earth up against the outside universe. However, this option seems to be gone forever, as an unknown foreign power has just invaded the Sol system. Now the worst fears of Earth's isolationists are becoming true.

On the Earth, the conflicts between expansionists and isolationists erupt again. There are terror attacks on the facilities at Epimetheus, on freight terminals, and even on interstellar freighters. In 2577 a freighter is destroyed by a nuclear explosion at the Epimetheus terminal. As a result, the Artu-Domain extends the security zone to the entire Saturn system demanding that the Saturn system be demilitarized. All local powers have to surrender their weapons. This meets resistance, of course. Many habitats refuse to admit Emissary-troops searching for weapons. Sporadically fierce fights occur take place. The ground troops of Artu are far superior in direct combat. Nevertheless, there are losses on both sides. In the course of the demilitarization campaign several habitats are damaged during battles.

Over three months the resistance escalates. Then the Emissaries destroy the traffic junction Ibadan in Titan orbit: the station is attacked by a swarm of microbots spreading over Ibadan, the docks, the shipyards, the container terminals, and over production and living areas. The bots simultaneously ignite their antimatter charges of 10 milligrams each. That means several thousand of 100 t (TNT) explosions. The sprawling station complex with its 40,000 inhabitants is completely destroyed without warning. 8,000 bios are terminated, 2500 of them finally without backup. For the mechs and uploads, the backup rate is 95% which makes for about 1600 total losses. The same happens to the Venus dome habitat AfroDT with 55.000 inhabitants and Gemini, the big Earth-Moon-L5 double cylinder with 600.000 inhabitants. Recovery from backups: 91%, loss of the original biological bodies: 220 k.

The Sol system is in shock. Organized resistance collapses. The Saturn system is demilitarized. The Emissaries declare the region around Saturn a core protectorate imposing 1/8 of the economic output as taxes. The Emissaries also incidentally mention the existence of so-called resource protectorates, where 1/4 of the economic output is set as the tax level.

Total tax payments reach the required level within the next ten years. One percent of the system GDP must be spent on providing transport capacities. The resulting shipbuilding boom means a big push for the interplanetary economy. Even Earth's economy experiences a sustained upswing. On the other hand, the Earth having 80 % of the system GDP also pays the lion share. Again, the Earth is subsidizing the interplanetary economy. This time against its will and without the possibility to opt out by self-isolation.

The Saturn system remains a core protectorate paying higher taxes.

Only some states on Earth still boycott the tax system.

There are continued attacks on the transport infrastructure, but the tax system is now decentralized and never in danger.

The first contact with the Thoris civilization in 2588 leads to first doubts about the Emissaries' claims. It takes several years until the new information about the interstellar power structure can be checked with independent sources beyond Artu and Thoris. Much of the information given by the Emissaries turns out to have been deliberately false. By 2593 it is clear to the governments of the Sol system that there is no such thing as an Artu-Domain. The self-proclaimed Emissaries of Artu are just one independent clan from the Artu system, one of many. There seems to be no general government in the Artu system. The Artu civilization is even more fragmented than the Sol system. There are millions of sovereign clans, few alliances, and no large territorial states.

In human terms, the Emissaries of the so-called Artu-Domain are in fact privateers and mercenaries. However, in the Sol system they are now very powerful wielding great influence on human politics through their economic power. Over the years, many humans, in politics, in the industry, and in the financial sector, have come to terms with the tax system. Many are now profiting from the huge logistics effort that is necessary to collect the Emissaries' taxes. Some people have got very rich. Some organizations have got powerful. And particularly the interplanetary part of humanity, that was afraid to lose its influence after the Earth re-opened, is now thriving. The Emissaries offer lucrative contracts and sometimes plain bribes to those who support the status quo.

Now they try to suppress the truth. It takes 15 more years until the Council of Calcutta is able to send a secret expedition to Artu using a ship rented from Thoris. After spending an adventurous three years in the Artu system, ambassadors of the Council can convince p53, a police clan from Artu, to take action against the self-proclaimed Artu-Domain. p53 then disrupts the Artu-Domains's activities in the Artu system and finally in 2614 the police clan expels the Emissaries from the Sol system without any resistance. After all they were just thugs extorting protection money as long as nobody with real power cared.

The tax system remains in force for another 15 years to cover the expense allowance for p53.