Over the arc of Mars the Black Corporation satellite spun toward my approaching shuttle. It was indeed painted black to match their corporate colour. The unaided eye could not see, but the shuttle AI also kept a precise location track of Yellow, Green, Blue, Orange and Red Corporate satellites currently in orbit with our destination satellite.
My eyes were cast down to an out of focus shifting haze covering the surface of Mars. It looked like a common sandstorm until you noticed that it extended to every horizon. All of those theories about Mar supporting an alien race turned out to be true. And there was some very interesting things coming out past Mars blockade. In an underground cavern some poor scientist would regret pressing something he didn’t even know was a button, activating a long dead civilization’s Planetary camouflage device and obscuring visual and sensor observation of the surface. If you wanted to explore Mars, you had to be there in person.
I was pulled into my straps as the shuttle braked and docked with the Black Corporation satellite. It took a minute to cycle the lock and the inner door in which I had time to straighten my jacket and tie.
With my best foot forward I strode through the airlock and found myself facing a very old friend and a very new enemy. Alan Ross. Tall and beefy and squeezed into a black suit. From middle school to middle management Alan and I had scraped our way up. As the saying goes, “a long way from the mailroom floor”. It was Ross who had suddenly vacated his Tier 6 Management position and provided an opportunity for HR to send me off planet. Promotion my butt.
“I hate you.” I started with. Immature, sure, but straight to the point.
“I hate you more.” Vance replied, the million dollar smile slapped on his face. And then he stuck out his hand in perfect shake position.
Okay. At least he gave in first. I shook his hand in perfect business return. “Alright,” I said, “it was a very smooth move. Over and up. And look at us now.” I pointed to his Black Corporation badge.
“Yes, how did that happen?” his finger lashed out and nailed the middle of my Red Corporation Satellite patch. “Last I heard you were on your way to Callisto.”
“Ferret.” I said.
“Oh.” he nodded knowingly, “That’ll leave a mark.”
“Gentlemen.” said the robot that suddenly appeared at our side. “It is time to withdraw to the conference room for the meeting. Your CEO is waiting.”
It turned and floated off and we followed it to the large conference room hatch that had been stickered with a material that made it look like oak wood grain instead of pebbled steel.
The large table was fabricated to look like teak and dispersed throughout were wood panels and warm lighting.There were 7 chairs around it and the one at the head of the table currently held a severely beautiful woman in a pearl white pant suit and totally impractical high heels. I glanced down at my foot wear which were utilitarian magnetic equipped deck shoes.
So this was the enigmatic Ms. Roslyn Kells, CEO, Earth Corporate Management. Many of the misinformed tried to pawn her success off on her looks and not factor in her stellar IQ and business smarts. Her black hair was done up perfectly and had a fashionable streak of white winding through it. A real Rocky Horror Picture Show. Her famous dragon tattoo tail climbed out from under her collar and rose slickly up her neck to her right ear. Part of a claw could be seen beyond her left cuff and on to the back of her hand which was holding a tablet at the ready.
The intensity of her eyes were renowned and they darted from Ross to me. As they locked on mine I felt like I had just been weighed and measured and found somehow wanting. Luckily, the two last vacant chairs were on our side of the table and we swiveled and settled into them.
I gazed around the table taking stock. Ross was on my left now between me and Ms. Kells. Beside me on the right was Mr. Barry Stephenson of Yellow Corporation. His reputation as a deal maker and breaker was legendary. I thought he’d retired early, but here he was, deep in a hushed conversation with Mr. Robin Tarbet the Blue Corporation representative. I’d only had the pleasure of doing business with Tarbet once and the only pleasurable part was after I’d managed to steal his client away from him. He’d been very magnanimous and bought drinks for all the negotiating teams. Come to think of it, I believe he managed to win back the client a few months later when some embarrassing photos surfaced from that party the client didn’t want his wife to see.
To his right was seated Eric Strong, dressed in the traditional moss coloured livery of Green Corporation. There was a pilot pin on his lapel and I often wondered how someone of his huge stature and size could squeeze into a cockpit, let alone perform at the levels indicated by the bars under his bird.
Lastly, his full attention on Ms. Kells, stood the Orange Corporation’s Mr. Vance Strickland. Shorter in stature than Strong who was seated, Strickland remained standing while making small talk with Kells and it seemed to be working on her. Her smile grew teethy and her laugh tinkled through the drone of conversation, which stalled immediately.
Ms. Kells jumped into the gap with, “Places gentlemen and we’ll get this show on the road.” She remained standing while Strickland took his seat and we all brought her our complete attention.
“I will come to the point, as we are all professionals here.” She flashed another of her patented smiles and I was sure if the next words out of her mouth were, “We’ve decided to space you all” there would have been a rush to be the first into the airlock. How did she do that?
“You will all be here for a period of at least 6 years for this competition to be decided. The winner of this competition will be the sole proprietor of Mars, with all corporate rights granted to exploit and monopolize on all the resources including alien technology as found. With of course our standard contractual cut.” You could have heard a pin drop. Six. Years. On. Mars.
“You can’t do this.” Strong said, straightening his green jacket.
Another tinkle of laughter and Ms. Kells shook her head and looked down the table at Mr. Strong. “And what gives you the idea that I can’t?” The threat in her voice was totally unveiled.
“I mean,” he backpedaled, “the last strenuous negotiations didn’t last that long”. He swallowed hard. The open airlock beconned. The only other people in the room were two female corporate military escorts Kells had brought with her. I’m sure they had been against the back wall the entire time, but we hadn’t actually noticed them until now. They had instantly dropped their anonymity and were suddenly very present, very threatening.
“We have determined that six fiscal years is an appropriate amount of time to show us what you can accomplish.” she finished.
“Now before we get into the details there is something that has come to my attention.” She raised her tablet from the table and read, “we have a report that Red Corporation’s satellite water delivery was short by 40 units of water.” She paused and looked in my direction, just like everyone else at the table. “Therefore,” she continued, “we will be reducing all other Corporation water delivery this fiscal year to 20 units, in keeping with the amount actually delivered to Red Corporation.”
The room filled with quiet but definite objections. Kells raised a hand and the murmuring died. “It’s not that I object to the attempted destruction of an earth shuttle, as badly as it was executed,” a smirk graced the side of her mouth, “what I object to was that you were all sent cease and desist letters about hostilities until we could officially start this game of monopoly. So you must all suffer the same fate as Red Corporation. You will all start with only 20 units of water.”
She paused for effect. “Are there any objections?” She looked pointedly at each member of the table and waited until they each met her eye in silent deferral.
“Well then,” that million dollar smile appeared on her face, but with a definite edge she said, “seeing no objections... then let us begin.”
SEE CHAPTER 6: THE SUBTEXT
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