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The Corporate Universe
A rolling shudder crashed through the cargo ship’s interior. I tried to stand up but another shock wave sent me back down again.
“Marek! I need you up top, we’re sending out the Pods!” Groaning, I dropped my food and ran to the stairs. I clung to them as a spasm echoed through again.
“I’m coming! I’ll be there in a moment!”
The Pods? Those were usually reserved for emergencies, since flying them was exceedingly dangerous. I had flown them only once before, but I still shivered at the thought of going again.
“Marek! Are you coming? Get up here and man the Pods! We’re under attack!” My heart skipped a beat. Calm down Marek, I told myself silently. You are going to be the captain one day, so you had better get used to this.
Bracing myself, I clambered up the stairs to the mid-section of the craft. The captain, Connor Sheraim, was waiting for me impatiently with a flushed look on his hard chiseled face. His deep blue eyes turned on me like twin missiles.
“Go! Get your suit on and get moving! I’ll brief you in the Release Wing.”
“Alright, I’m on it Captain.” I declared in as confident a voice as I could muster. Connor Sheraim was not just the captain of this cargo vessel. He was also my mentor. Eventually I would succeed him as captain. I was not quite sure what to think of that. To tell the truth, I would much rather be a mere passenger on a sleek explorer spaceship than be the captain of a corporate cargo ship. Of course I would never tell Connor that. However, since I am only seventeen, I would not need to worry about being captain for a while anyway. Assuming the captain does not die early of course. I immediately banished that appalling thought from my head and quickly pulled on my space suit, zipped it up, and rushed over to the window to see if I could tell what was going on.
Outside was a frenzied chaos. In the distance I could see the competing corporation’s cargo ship, blotting out the cluster of stars beyond it. Out here in the middle of space, when two separate corporations collided, it was never friendly. I could see wave after wave of fission energy bombarding our ship. Even with our shields up, the vessel still shook with each hit. I realized it was time we fought back. Turning from the window, I stumbled off towards the Release Wing. I opened up the sealed pressure doors and entered in.
I spotted Connor Sheraim preparing my Pod for release. A Pod is basically a manually driven missile, connected to the mother ship (in this case the cargo ship) by an extremely strong cable made from thousands of interlacing fibers. I used to wonder why you could not just use actual missiles, (thereby lessening the danger to humans) but then I learned that those could easily be hijacked using radio frequencies and turned against you by an enemy ship.
“Alright, it’s ready to go. Remember; try to hit the wing of the spacecraft. We don’t need them dead, just out of commission.” Connor Sheraim gave me a pat on the shoulder, (his way of telling me not to get killed) and then left to ready a Pod for himself.
Drawing a nervous breath, I hopped into my readied Pod, sealed it closed, and released through the sealed airlock hatch. One second I was in the spaceship’s interior, then the next I was falling out into a sea of glistening stars. I had done this many times before, but the sheer beauty of space still shocked me. There were billions of stars, many of them with life-carrying planets circling them. It was mind-boggling to think about. I could not think about it right now though. I had a mission to perform. I remembered what Connor Sheraim, my mentor, had told me. ‘Aim for the wings.’ My goal was to do just that. I saw the opposing vessel straight ahead. It looked almost identical to our ship: wide and compact with a row of windows down the side, split by four hefty wings. At the back were the hydrogen fuel converters, and coming from the underside of it was a multitude of Pod lines streaming out into space like tentacles on an octopus. It matched ours almost exactly. The only difference was the name of the company (Phyton Corporation) as compared to the Mandrakis Corporation our vessel belonged to. The color was also different. Ours was a deep blue while theirs was silver (personally, I liked blue better, but I would never tell Connor that).
A shot of adrenaline sailed through me. I smiled; I was ready for some action. I snapped down the throttle and hurtled forward like a bullet, through the vacuum of space I went, connected to the cargo ship by a thin cord, strong enough to endure an explosion; or so the company promised. There was a sudden flash of steel and I instinctively swerved to avoid a headlong collision with another Pod. Its connecting cord slid over my window like a snake. What was that pilot thinking? We could have both been annihilated had I not reacted in time! Then I felt a heavy resistance in my speed and looking back I noticed with dread that the other Pod had looped around my cord and formed a knot. Several moments later I was not making any forward motion at all. Great. I had no choice now; I had to sever the connection. I snapped down a lever and put the Pod on battery power, and then with a hiss, I blasted the ignition and shot forward. Things were about to get a whole lot trickier. I glanced at the small radar in front of me, and locked onto my target. I had a minute and thirty-two seconds until contact. I’d have to eject at forty-three seconds though, since I was not connected to the cargo ship anymore. That was a serious disadvantage for me.
Suddenly my hands were ripped off the controls as something slammed into the rear of my Pod. It was that same guy again. As I righted myself I saw him, grim faced and serious, nestled in the Pod and hunched over the controls. His expression said it all. He wanted me dead. I now had thirty-seven seconds until ejection. The Pod was still following me, and gaining every second. Stars streaked past me as I picked up the intercom.
“Connor! Get this freak off my tail! Out.”
“Master to Pup! Preoccupied! You’ll have to deal on your own! Out.” I winced. I hated code names. I mean, Pup! What sort of name was that? It was probably Connor’s attempt at a joke.
Eighteen seconds to go. I fired up the Pod for missile release. There was a click as the front half of my vehicle loosened in preparation for the ejection. The front half was the part containing the explosive: the missile half. The trick was to not be anywhere close to that half when it exploded.
Ten seconds to go. I was almost there! I glanced back behind me, and suddenly wished I had not. The follower’s missiles were trained on me, ready to burst at any second. I had no choice; I had to eject early. I forced an override and slammed my hand on the eject button. With a crack, I ejected away, the two halves of the Pod splitting apart. My follower flew past my floating half of the Pod, in a heated race against the missile I had launched. Heaving a sigh of relief, I commanded a return to the detached Pod cable.
As I waited, floating amidst a backdrop of shining stars, I witnessed my missile suddenly switching off target. Wonderful, I thought sarcastically. I knew this was bound to happen if I released the missile as early as I did, but I had had no other choice! It must have been the man who had been chasing me. He had overridden the missile and must be rerouting it right now. Suddenly the panic was back. He was going to send it back at our cargo ship, or maybe at me! Gulping, I continued to wait. The missile was definitely changing course, but it did not seem to be coming back toward me. No, in fact it seemed to be targeting the fuel cell of their ship! Frantically I pounded the controls, but the Pod would not move. I was stuck, and the explosion that would occur if the missile hit the fuel cell would be devastating. If I did not get hooked up to the cord soon and get moving, the heat blast would finish me.
“C’mon! Get over here cord!” I screamed insanely. Shouting obviously did not do a thing, but I needed to vent my intense fear somehow.
In the silence before the storm, I started imagining what it would have been like had I not agreed to mentor with Connor Sheraim. I would not be in a mess like this, that much is certain! I continued pounding on the controls. It was the corporation’s fault!
“Mandrakis Corporation!” I hissed vehemently. “You got me in this mess! All you want is money and power! You don’t care about all the people who do your dirty work!” This was indeed true. If I died right now the corporate CEO would undoubtedly make it sound like an accident, so that he could weasel out of any and all fines he would have to pay otherwise.
That was when I saw a lone Pod, coming from our ship, heading right towards the enemy ship. Was that Connor? I picked up the intercom.
“Connor! Get out of there! The fuel cell is about to blow! I repeat, get out of there right now!”
“What? The fuel cell is about to-” I could almost hear the realization hitting the captain.
“Marek. Don’t worry about me. Don’t stay; you need to deliver the cargo. Whatever you do, you have to make sure you deliver the cargo.”
His voice was so calm. How could he be so calm?
“Your family’s lives are at stake. They will be assassinated if you fail to deliver the cargo. Please do not let them die on my behalf. Enough blood has been shed already.”
Those were the last words spoken by Captain Sheraim. I was too shocked to reply back, and then moments later there was a click and a sudden jerk as I was pulled back to the ship by an immense connection cord. “Connor!” I screamed into the intercom, but it was too late. A second later a colossal explosion lit through space. The eruption was completely soundless and utterly surreal.
I crawled out of the Pod and went back onboard the cargo ship. The spectacle revealed itself to me through the vessel’s window. It was as if a small star had just exploded. Although I could hope, I knew there was no conceivable way Connor could have survived.
I was about to turn to the rest of crew and give the news, when I was confronted by a harried figure. I recognized him as Brym Tarone, the ship’s lead technician and programmer. He grabbed my arm quickly. His hand was shaking.
“Captain,” he began. This hit me hard. It seemed to finalize the fact that I was now the leader, in Connor’s place.
“I found something. In the hardware of the new Pods. It isn’t good.” His voice quivered slightly as he went on. “It seems that a new program has been installed…I didn’t receive any warning that it had been established. Trust me, I would have taken it out if I had known,” Talk about fear! I was definitely starting to get scared. Brym continued on.
“It seems that instead of merely damaging other cargo ships, this new program seeks out the fuel cell and directs the Pod’s missile towards it. And the Mandrakis CEO can get away completely clean because the only witnesses are us. And of course we’re all under their control!” I turned away from Brym, tears brimming in my eyes. I was having trouble believing what I was hearing. It all relied on something I could not comprehend. Human greed had simply gone too far. Human greed had ended Connor’s life. I had to push that out of my mind and address the rest of the crew.
“This is a bad day.” I began slowly. I was still processing the horror of recent events.
“Today is the day we lost a very important man, a man who, if not for the division and greed of humanity, would still be alive right now.” I let that sink in. By speaking about it, I was confirming Connor’s death to myself as much as I was to the rest of the crew.
“As is traditional, let us dim the vessel’s light in his honor.” I motioned to Varen and he reached towards a wall switch and lowered it. The light dimmed, and the twenty-five members of the crew (me included) lowered our heads in silent vigil. Several quiet minutes passed, with the soft light of the stars outside keeping us company. I finally turned up the light again and addressed everyone.
“Connor Sheraim didn’t want us to stall on his behalf. We still have to deliver the cargo, even though we’ll be doing it without him. Now let’s get moving!” I was shouting now, and the crew seemed to listen to me as if I was the captain. I suddenly realized that I was the captain! I felt sad, and a little hopeless. I had only been his apprentice for a year. How could I rise up to be captain now that Connor was gone? A deep rumble signaled the blast of ignition. The crew was out of the room at their positions, doing their job. I was their captain. I was the captain of a corporate cargo ship and its crew. I now realized how little that mattered. I was not in control of anything at all. I recalled what Connor had said before he died, about my family being assassinated if I failed to do the bidding of Mandrakis Corporation. No, if anything, I was a slave, not a captain. I was a slave to the mindless greed of the corporate universe.
I walked to the ship’s windows and gazed beyond. Outside I could see the gleaming stars race past us. I tried to imagine worlds of life-filled glory circling those stars. I imagined that the stars twinkled with happiness and joy. But I knew I was kidding myself. Those stars had probably disappeared by now; the last rays of their spirit shooting through space, and vanishing in the cosmos. Gone with the winds of time; flying away, never to be seen again.