The call from Earth Corporate Management came surprisingly early by 30 minutes which wasn’t like them.
With Transit-wave comms there would be a 16 second delay in transmission. The comms officer appeared after the beep and stated they were looking to connect to yours truly. They smiled pleasantly until they heard my reply after the delay, then immediately transferred the connection whereby the Red Corporate logo appeared on the screen. Curiouser and curiouser.
The face that appeared right after the Red Corporate logo blanked was none other than Mr. Ferret, Head of Operations in the American Control Zone. A more apply named person I could not think of. He smiled the same slick smile I assumed he always did, just before messing with your career.
It was the same smile that had promoted me to Head of the Callisto Satellite and threw me on a rocket over 4 months ago. The same smile that sent me happily on my way from my family, friends and home with visions of Corporate Credit galore and the start of a meteoric rise to the upper floors of Red Corporation headquarters upon my glorious return.
“Morton.” He said right away. Like my face on the monitor was a surprise. Again with the brief transmission delay he would have said it before my face actually showed up on his screen. “So nice to see you well and settled in.”
I knew it was petty, but I waited with a blank face like a foreign correspondent on ‘vision, as if I had not received the visual yet before getting straight to the point. “Why am I here Mr. Ferret? I’m supposed to be on Callisto in another 4 months. Tell me this is just a brief stop! Mars was not on my agenda.”
“You’re probably wondering why you are there,” he had gone on without stopping. It was worth waiting and watching his smile slip a bit when my questions arrived.
“You are precisely where you need to be. And where we want you to be.” he replied and his smile returned. “You are a long way from the mailroom floor.” he quoted the old corporate saying.
I glanced out the porthole. Dizzying heights from the mailroom floor for sure. “I think you’ll agree that I’ve worked very hard to get to this height, I just didn’t expect it to be a deadend like Mars. You must have known this was my destination when you assigned me to Callisto. Otherwise,” I pointed out, “ it would have cost a small fortune to reroute the ‘craft.”
He paused this time to hear me out. “Now my boy, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Mars has just opened up and frankly, you were the best Executive from Red Corporate to fulfill the job at the last minute. I think you are seeing corporate conspiracy where it doesn’t exist.”
“You mean I was the only one left alive out here that was close enough. Did something happen to that Italian guy from Sales? He would have been my first choice.”
His smile slipped back into place. “Yes. Mr. Scala would have been my first choice as well,” The venom was notable. “But his ship accidentally collided with some debris... that was carelessly ejected on an ‘unfortunate intercept course’ from a Yellow Corporate asteroid mining operation. ‘Strange’ how that seems to happen on a regular basis.” You could hear the air quotes.
“Look. Ferret.” I paused and swallowed. It was too late to add ‘Mister’, “I think I might have to invoke my employment contract clause. The one that states you can’t bait me with one assignment and switch it to a lesser assignment. There are rules.”
“This is not a “lesser” assignment,” is what he said, but not before me having to watch the range of emotions that clouded his face as he listened to my statement. Then the smile was back. “And you give yourself too much credit. I’ve seen your quarterly report.”
He shifted gears. “Your wife, Stacey is quite the avid shopper.” Statement, not a question.
“So? I can afford it. What with these solar system assignments. I think I’m making a bit more than you with bonuses.”
He ignored the bait. “Well, I’m sure you can take care of any Credit overages she might incur. You do get the bills sent direct to you after all, do you not?” He continued without waiting for an answer. “Things are so busy in payments that if Credit Repo should come knocking on your family’s door, at 31 Carriage Road, Seattle, I’m sure she’ll have the cash on hand to settle the bill. And that of your son.” He consulted a slip of paper on his desk, lifting it slightly. “He just got a new cell phone and there seems to be quite a bit of activity against his credit card number on that phone this month.”
I had an anti-hostage clause in my contract. He wasn’t supposed to have my family information, especially my real address. I wished I could blank the screen while I processed what he’d said. He wasn’t bluffing. He would do it. Strangle my payment transfers, run up my wife and son’s credit line and send in the Credit Repo. He could and he would. This just got real.
“Indentured Servitude is what ECM has decided to call it. I think the limit was recently raised to 3 years per 1000 credits owing.” Again a consultation of the sheet. “That currently puts them with a combined 393 years… and rising.” He let it hang, the smile still glued on his smug face.
Then, like it was an afterthought, he continued, “Oh, and I wouldn’t put any thought into the ridiculous rumors going around that citizens in Indentured Servitude would ever be sent out to the outer planets as Squishy. We all know Squishy are just vat-grown disposable soldiers.”
Heavy internal sigh. “Fine. What do you want Ferret. Mr. Ferret.” I corrected.
“It’s simple.” he sighed. “Just do as you are bloody told and don’t screw up. Squeeze the life out of Mars and send us the profit. ECM will be calling shortly with the details. Ferret out.”
And just like that he was gone.
Leaving me with a huge black hole where my heart was.
SEE CHAPTER 3: THE ECM COMES CALLING
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