Corporate Gets What it Deserves
Brian W. Porter
The corridor door knocked. OK, no one knocked on the door, and the door itself didn't knock. Someone activated the enunciator, and that's what it sounds like. I like retro. You know, the sounds, shapes and colors from back before Corporate Earth owned everything; it lets me escape. I try to surround myself with retro to offset this chair I sit in, this desk I'm just about stuck at, and the machinery that keeps me alive. The only modern device I like is this quantum computer in front of me. I use the computer to do searches and other little projects for the Tycho Colony residents. For a fee, of course. The jobs are few and don't pay that well, so I also beta test new devices to pay the lease and buy my food and air. OK, beta testing is corporate work, and I do despise corporate after how they treated me, but what they send me, actually the projects that I accept, will help others in my predicament or with some other physical problem. During the week, I'll have people occasionally visit during office hours and request some online detective work, which I'm usually glad to do and charge as much as possible since I'm the best. But very few people know I also live here, so to have the door knock after hours is rare, and the reason is usually intriguing. Office hours had long past when the door knocked. No weapons showed on the door scanner, nor explosives. The door camera was down, so I activated the protection screen and keyed the door open. Charlie Bosworth stood in the spotlight. He's a freighter pilot who owns his own reg, and he's been a longtime friend, from before the accident. He looked tired and frustrated. I figured he must have just come in from a trip, but this was day two of the week, and he was usually back by day six and out day one. He had a problem, and I could alleviate a bit more of the debt he said I didn't owe. I killed the light that glared in his eyes and shut down the screen. As he blinked, I said, "Hey, Charlie, what gives?" He smiled as he entered. "Hell of a welcome, Marty. Blind me next time."
"You always say you freight pilots can't see anyway. Thought you were out." He growled, "Yeah, should have been back two days ago and out again, but with little nit-picky problems, slowdowns, time just added up. Damn, I'd swear something's going on." Charlie's not one of these long distance morons that are out for years and don't know how to act; he's more of a local. He's home every weekend and sometimes more. He even takes care of his family; something that amazes me when I see how some of the corporate creeps act. Now I won't say he's up on style, but then neither am I, especially stuck in this chair. Charlie's always been a good friend. We worked together on Moon Base Four when it was just a skeleton. Madman, one of the best crane pilots in space, had just placed a support for me to weld. Charlie inspected the placement and stated it was good. As he backed off, I moved in with my torch. Some rookie kid, it had to be a rookie kid 'cause no one else would come so close to a working weld, some rookie kid knocked the beam sideways. I was trapped between the two supports. I didn't feel anything; I just watched the air pressure gauge move toward zero. Charlie managed to move the beams apart, tied off the leaks, and got me to medical before I died. I lost my legs, but not my drive for life, so I moved out here where the gravity's less and I can live more comfortably. Since then, Charlie's kind of watched out for me when he could. Usually he's really laid back, an easy going person with a quick and heartfelt laugh. He never sounded this grouchy. Maybe this time I could help him. "What's the game?" "Oh, little things. Like this trip. What should have been one week out and the weekend with the family, and you know how I like that, it turned into a week and a half of waiting, setbacks, and just generally obnoxious people. Damn frustrating, I'll tell you. The receivers worked slower than shit, and they seemed more obstinate than usual. I never get treated that way, Marty. Never. I even had to re-dock at Phase Four because some moron warehouseman decided he didn't like me where they put me. They only moved me ten doors over for God's sake. Clearance into Tyco Base Dock came in slow, and they're usually on the ball. The shuttle took forever, and when I reached the dock, fuel's up to over three dollars. That's more than a one hundred percent rise in three weeks! I swear something's going on." "Yeah, I've heard about that, the fuel. Lots of anger milling about
right now. Rumors galore. Lots of negativity. I can even feel it in here." Charlie does own his own ship, an expensive proposition if you don't constantly push money into the budget. As I considered his problem, I asked, "You OK?" "For about two trips then I'm in the hole. One if I have another like the last. I know several O/Os that have given up. Remember Madman? I just heard he's up for sale. I'll tell you Marty, this is not normal. There's something very strange going on." Now this started to sound quite interesting, and close to home. And it didn't only affect Charlie. The Madman had been the best crane pilot. He'd place supports so close the jockeys would barely budge them. And now he had left the space work he loved. It wasn't right. I will forever look for evidence of how corporate screws us, and maybe with this lead I'd find something. "You think it's manufactured? Who stands to gain the most?" "Well, short term it's Superior or East Coast. They're the two fuel suppliers in this area, but for some reason that answer, just them, doesn't feel right. I'm wondering about one of the big three, or all of them together." Charlie had lapsed into pilot jargon again. I had to ask. "The big three? Can you give me a name or two?" "I'm sorry. I keep forgetting not everyone knows about shipping. There's JB who's been around forever. There's a rumor they got started even before we colonized space. Then there's Planetary and The Ring Company also. Those three carry over three quarters of the freight. They set the rates just by being able to underbid us owners." With hard work, Charlie made enough to live out here, but any extra funds needed for his business would pull money away from his family. He, and the others, would go broke quickly with that kind of hike. I asked, "Think they may want all the work?" "That may be, but I don't know. I just have no idea. A one hundred percent plus price hike in less than a month is just not normal." "No, I don't think so either. It may be something in the fuel, but I doubt it. First guess, I'd have to agree with you. OK, see me this time tomorrow and we'll see what I can come up with." "Yeah, sounds good. Thanks Marty. I'll see ya." Charlie turned and strode out the door to his family.
*** When, years before, Charlie had sealed me and got me inside in time for the medics to keep me thinking, I swore I would help him any way I could. The options dwindled when the medicos couldn't do anything about what was missing. Corporate paid what it had to and wrote me off. If the government didn't want to make me an example of how they cared for their citizens, I couldn't have afforded this chair, and I wouldn't be around now. I sued and used the extra money to buy my first computer. Then I started to take classes from the best hackers in the system. Now I play games in the virtual world, games that have let me upgrade to this system, and now I'm the best hacker in the system. I considered how to tackle this problem. I'd have to find files and evidence of a conspiracy, or disprove that theory. The easiest way would be to find any price hikes of the raw materials. I donned the new helmet corporate sent and started the test record. "Test seventeen of item 21864536 version R. Past tests have shown flaws that are supposed to have been fixed. Let's get down and dirty." The helmet was a neurotransmitter of sorts. After an initial calibration you could think your way through a computer rather than use a keyboard and mouse, or glasses to hunt and peck. Corporate hoped that not only would this speed up regular usage, but they could arrange a fat contract with the Government to supply quadriplegics, paralyzed, and other so called handicapped folk that used their minds instead of their bodies. I knew several that could benefit, so I wanted it right. Just by thinking what I needed, I picked out several programs supplied by friends over the past years and placed them aside for easy access. Then I opened the net, still amazed how easy the neurotransmitter made it. Paths, streets, roads, and highways appeared. What some former politician called the information highway worked as an excellent description of what lay in front of me. All I had to do was think where to go and I went, at awesome speeds, unmatched by any other program. I followed the routing and looked for the oil companies Charlie had mentioned. I accessed them easily with just a thought, found the additives used, and all the contract prices. Nothing new or more expensive had entered, but several products in the outflow cost more. I backed out quickly when I noticed that a scanner approached,
and added that tidbit to my notes. The view afforded by the helmet was fantastic. I did not intend to tell anyone I could see security programs of others, or maybe I should and save the glitch. Then, after they fixed that "problem", I would have the only program that would see trouble before it arrived. That would be great help to me, and a couple of friends. Well, maybe not the friends. Friends do tend to tell other friends, until the wave has a life of its own. Half a minute later I searched for memos. I made several interesting finds. Both companies owned portions of the freight companies, who owned portions of the fuel producers. I expected that. I didn't expect the discounts I found. I also found two execs who kept encrypted memos on file. I plucked the password finder and tied it into the folders. Less than a second passed before I could gain access. I pulled out for a moment. I considered ways I could search. I could open and copy all the files to decrypt and read later, but that would take storage space, possibly more than was available to me. I could go in and read all the files, but security would be on my trail in just a short time. If I just grabbed the subjects, then I could set up a program to record only the files that looked interesting. I could pull them by number as an insystem machine would do. Limited risk for maximum gain: the best modus operandi I knew. I thought of the path and password. Instantly I was in and began to copy. After about a thousand lines I pulled back. I looked around for anything curious about what I did, but nothing showed. I eased off the net and set up a firewall. The encryption was an easy break. Apparently someone thought the security foolproof. I found several interesting intra-company memos. After I sent a surrogate to copy them, and the decrypt program finished, they led me to others. Three hours later I tied into a hacker friend in the Anti-trust Department. *** The door knocked. Yeah, yeah, we've been through that. I did the usual and Charlie entered. "Hey, right on time," I told him. "The Independents have a meet set up for an hour from now. They know nothing, and want to act on it. Bad as a union, I'll tell you." "Well," I said as I drew out the moment as much as I could, "I did
a little looking last night. and found a few things. Want to hear?" "What do you think?" I grinned. No, I smiled. Rarely could I give such a pleasing payback as I was about to do. "Well, like I said I did a little searching. You're right, the prices are artificial, but that's not the news. I found a memo or two." "Yeah? Come on, Marty. I can see you got something big. Give." "OK. I found this coming from the Vice President of Operations for Rings to his cohort in JB. 'Bill. We need to increase trade, but no new markets are in the future. Ideas? Langdon.' The answer is, 'The only way would be to get a higher percentage of shipping. We need to get rid of the independents.' That kind of spells it out, but it gets better. Now, you know June Paterson is Head of Sales for Superior. Listen to this one. 'Talked to June as suggested. She's all for plan but needs reason. Suggestions?'" Charlie was almost dancing. "Wait, that's not the best part. I have a friend in Anti-trust. He's frozen these files already. An investigation should be started by the end of the week." "Wow! Cool! Could I have a printout of some of them? I know a group of people whom this will interest humongously." "Sure. Hard copy on the way." *** Later that night I heard a commotion in the hall as a large number of people passed by moving toward the Corporate area. They sounded angry and ready to do damage. I just hoped Charlie wasn't with them. *** Other short stories, essays, and poetry from this author are available at http://www.scribd.com/Brian%20W%20Porter. *** Copyright 2010 Attribution Non-commercial No-derivs You may share this work with anyone in any way with the following provisions. You must share the complete work, including the title and this notice. You may not make any changes. You may not use this work
commercially or accept payment without the written permission of the Author. Any and all rights and credit are held by Brian W. Porter.