Corporate Synergies is a modestly epic 14-part space opera of questionable ethics and dubious morality centred on the ongoing conflict between two mega-corporations and their quest to dominate the retail landscape of Earth’s ever-expanding colonial reach.
STRATEGIC GROUND-LEVEL ASSET REDUCTION I
Having loaded themselves into an armoured personnel carrier of substantial size, the Battle Cocks made excellent time to their objective. Or, the general vicinity of their objective, given that none of them knew precisely where the cave was actually located.
As the blocky, eight-wheeled vehicle bounced and jolted over the rocky, smelly terrain, Molly lurched forward slightly in her seat, just barely steadying herself to prevent a face-plant.
“How do you feel?”
Startled, she looked up into the camera lens eyes of Cam and stared blankly for a moment before smiling shyly.
“I’m nervous. But excited. But nervous,” she said, feeling herself start to blush. “But I know UniRe trained me well. I know I can handle it.”
Cam nodded, but his cybernetic eyes adjusted creepily on their internal gimbal system to keep Molly perfectly in frame.
Despite Molly’s assertion about the quality of her training, she had not been well trained. She had in fact been given the same half-assed training all UniRe recruits are given, which is to say the bare minimum for baseline functionality in the position of cannon fodder. Molly really only had two advantages over every other poor bastard who ended up as a red skidmark on the road of corporate expansion: first, she had the benefit of Helion’s experience guiding her through the more challenging aspects of her new life; second, she had the half innocent, half eye candy appeal that had caught the attention of Zalia Rushworth. If the one didn’t help her survive a little longer than average, the other just might.
I’m not making any guarantees, I’m just saying it’s possible. Life doesn’t come with any fucking guarantees.
Anyway, Molly kept talking at the creepoid man-camera, so read on…
“This is such a huge opportunity for me, and I’m just so super excited and lucky that UniRe opened this door for me. This door to a brighter future,” she said, smiling brightly.
Millions of kilometers away, in much more comfortable surroundings, Rushworth watched the unedited, live feed from Cam and commented to her associate Cave how good the young redhead was with the camera. She was a natural. She had an innocent charm that the public would eat up and as such should be moved to the top of the list for potential PR recruitment. They had found so few recruits of late with any kind of screen presence or charisma that Molly was a breath of fresh air.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for you,” said Cam, reciting the questions being piped directly into his cortex from one of Rushworth’s media assistants. “Heading into the field within two hours of arriving on Biccaneus?”
“Yeah, we got to Big Anus-.”
“We can’t call it that on camera.”
“Oops, sorry,” she said, naturally pausing for a second before starting again. “Yeah, we arrived on Biccaneus just when we were needed, looks like. We were immediately assigned to the…”
She hesitated for a split second. If Big Anus was off-limits, Battle Cocks was probably a no-go as well.
“…Red Roosters and got geared up and here we are. Forever onward and outward,” she said, smiling broadly.
So far away, Rushworth had to take a few deep breaths to avoid touching herself. She’d been trying to years to get the catch-phrase she’d invented – “Forever Onward & Outward” – into everyday usage for the Emerging Markets Division. Seeing and hearing Molly use it gave her an almost sexual sense of arousal, because like everyone else we’re talking about, Rushworth is pretty fucked up. Gorgeous, but holy shit. Seriously, I could tell you a few stories. There was this one time, there was Rushworth, a cheerleader, a cattle prod and me. I still have a couple scars from that weekend (and a video – no you can’t see it), but they were well-earned.
Anyway, the APC lurched to a halt. And Cam swore beautifully as he temporarily lost his shot, the gimbals in his eyes unable to compensate.
The rear doors slid open and the Battle Cocks filed out at a leisurely pace, some laughing and joking amongst themselves. The squad was caught completely unawares by the volleys of automatic weapons fire that kicked up dirt at their feet and spanged off the side of the APC.
“Sweet mother of fuck, take cover!,” said Honzo.
Molly dove forward, where a small pile of boulders would shield her from the enemy fire as long as she stayed in a crouch. Cam and Chocolate scuttled in beside her and she caught a glimpse of Helion rolling under the PAC, using one of its large tires for cover.
“What the hell?,” said Chocolate. “Didn’t we have a cease-fire or something? How did they get here so fast?”
“They must have just laid low when the deal was made,” said Frog, who was crouched on one knee a few feet away, ducking out from behind more rocks as she returned fire in bursts. “They never actually retreated – they’ve been here all along, waiting.”
“Those douch-nozzles! We had a deal! How can they-.”
In her indignation, Chocolate had relaxed her crouch, her head poking out of cover by about four inches – more than enough of a target for a skilled sniper. The large-calibre round slammed into her head, turning its entire top third into a chunky mist and sending her helmet spinning off toward the APC.
Molly yelped as she wiped pieces of Chocolate’s brains from her cheek and watched, mesmerized, as her friend’s body stood twitching for a moment before dropping to the ground.
“For shit’s sake, stay under cover!,” said Frog.
“Is she dead?”
Frog looked at her like she was an idiot. Fittingly.
“Of course she’s fucking dead, half her goddamned head is missing. Now shoot back before the rest of us join her!”
Though her hands were shaking, Molly tightened the chinstrap of her helmet and did her best to remember Helion’s shooting advice as she began to return fire. She actually couldn’t see anyone to shoot at, so she just fired in the same general direction as Frog and hoped that it was helping.
Suddenly, Honzo’s voice cut through all the noise.
“I’ve called in air support! Everyone hit the dirt in thirty seconds!”
Molly didn’t wait – she curled up in the fetal position on the ground immediately, as close to her little rocky refuge as she could get, squeezing her eyes shut. Thirty second later, she heard the roar of engines overhead, the boom of high-powered guns and felt the concussive waves of several large explosions.
And then it was eerily quiet for a few moments.
Feeling something poking her in the ribs, Molly opened one eye. It was Frog’s boot. The woman was standing casually, rifle propped over her shoulder, gently kicking Molly.
“It’s over, get up.”
“Headcount,” she heard Honzo say.
The supermodel – Katzena – stepped up to take stock of casualties and Molly heard her report three dead, including Chocolate, and two injured, though neither was serious.
“Okay Frog,” said Honzo. “Do what you do. Find us this cave. Katzi, give her a hand.”
The two women nodded and scrambled over the rocks to begin scouting. Molly hauled herself upright, then leaned heavily against the rocks. Her gear seemed a lot heavier than it had before. And given how much of Molly’s sweat and Chocolate’s blood it had absorbed during the firefight, it really was heavier than it had been.
She glanced down at what was left of Chocolate and oddly felt okay about everything. At least it wasn’t her, right?
“How do you feel?”
She glanced up into the lens-like eyes of Cam and forced a smile.
“I’m okay. Shaken up, obviously. You know, my first combat and all. Just doesn’t seem fair, y’know?”
“Your friend’s death?”
“Yeah,” said Molly, though that wasn’t at all what she’d meant. “She was young, she had so much life in her.”
Despite not meaning much of it, Molly found herself hitting a stride and so just let it roll.
“To have it all just gone, just snuffed out so quickly, it’s really hard to come to grips with. It just kind of reminds you how important it is, what we’re doing. Chocoloate gave her life trying to make Biccaneus a safe planet for colonization. That’s, like, noble.”
And completely untrue – Chocolate died because she was incompetent, and she died in an effort to gain commercial assets for the mega-corporation that nurtured her incompetence. But whatever. Back on Procyon Station, Zalia Rushworth licked her lips. This kid was a natural.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Enjoying CORPORATE SYNERGIES? Check out my full-length novel that involves fewer douche-bags, Radko’s War!