The rich coffee smell reached me before the medical robot glided into the communications suite. It set an actual ceramic mug at my elbow and withdrew quietly, sensing my mood. It was weird how mechanicals could do that. Showing up when they were needed or staying away when they knew we humans were out for blood.
A long draw on the coffee didn’t help my mood much. The digital readout clicked up to 0800 and the communication ping sounded while the screen lit up with the Earth Corporate Management logo.
I sat up a bit more and pulled on my red paper jumper to straighten it as the President appeared in place of the logo. I cursed silently that I hadn’t had enough time to retrieve my bag from the solar system ship with my best suit stored inside.
“This is President Quinton.” he stated, like there may be someone on the line who may not know who he was. Just how old was the man anyway? I remembered having to do a report on his promotion from CEO to President in Level 7 elementary business school.
“We have decided, at this time, that the question of Mars shall be decided through...‘Strenuous Negotiations’.” If you didn’t know what to look for you would have missed the brief shark smile that played on his lips.
“The combat theatre will be Mars itself and the representatives in the conflict will be one hand-picked operative from each of the six Corporations of Earth.” He paused again for effect.
“It has also been decided that instead of a monetary determination of profit, victory will be established with water as the commodity. I know you will be able to work within these economic restraints. We cannot have a repeat of the moon monopoly decision.”
I knew what he was talking about, as would everyone on the call. Whenever there was a new market to open, ECM decided what the battlefield would be, the stakes, and what the Victory Conditions were. The winning Corporation would be handed a monopoly for the new area of operations and could go about setting value for commodities and raking in the cash. It used to be done with hostile takeovers or stock buyouts but the ECM was more interested in the illusion of competition and a stable market.
There had originally been seven Earth Corporations. Lucky number seven. A disgruntled employee blew the whistle and it was discovered that White Corporate was secretly funnelling credits into its Victory Conditions in the fight for the moon and all its untapped metals. White Corporation was declared insolvent and its assets divided among the remaining six. We got most of Southeast Asia out of that deal with the burnt husk of Australia thrown in for good measure. I think the whistleblower ended up taking a walk on the moon without an EVA suit.
“You will have a maximum of six standard Earth years to compete for the best profit return from your investment. Initial water supply from Earth will be limited and reduced over the years so that you will have an incentive to become self-sufficient.”
He paused and an aide leaned in mouthing some key words. Returning his focus to the camera he said in his stern, lawyerly voice, “For the duration of this competition Contractual Obligations may be issued and as such will be enforced by the ECM.”
“The details will be presented to you by a Chief Executive at a board meeting to take place on Black Corporation satellite, tomorrow at 1400.” He always finished with a trademark pithy quote, and here it came: “Remember the golden rule. He who has the gold makes the rules.” Ah, a classic.
And with that nugget of wisdom the ECM logo faded back in and the transmission ended.
SEE CHAPTER 4: H-2-O-OH
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