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 II
“You’d think that their satellite data would have shown GCon forces in the area,” said Katzena, consulting the topographical map in her hand once more.
“You’d think,” agreed Frog. “But they wouldn’t give a shit anyway. We’re expendable assets – just throw a bunch of us at a problem and as long as the problem goes away, who cares what happens to us?”
“You’re such a ray of sunshine.”
“Even the sunshine on this rock smells like ass. I think it’s the next ridge.”
“Huh? The cave?”
As Frog nodded, Katzena checked the map again. The area Frog was pointing toward was slightly outside the target area designated by UniRe, but like most of the Battle Cocks, Katzena had learned to trust Frog’s instincts over UniRe data.
“There,” said Frog, pointing to a rocky rise to the East. Sure enough, an opening was visible in the rocks, not large but maybe wide enough for three people to squeeze through together.
As they approached, it became clear that this was in fact the cave they’d been sent to find – a faint, but unmistakable blue light shimmered up from the depths of the cave. And “up” it was – about two metres inside the cave, the floor dropped away sharply, a near ninety-degree drop.
“Is it your turn or mine?,” said Katzena, unslinging her pack and dropping it on the ground.
“I’ll go,” said Frog, doing the same. “You keep an eye out for any stray Geeks.”
With a nod from Katzena, who actually has a really interesting backstory – remind me to tell you about it later – the pair set about driving spikes into the ground and threading through the anchor lines that would allow Frog to rappel down into the cave.
Tossing aside her helmet, Frog looped the rope through the clips on her magvest and stepped up to the lip of the precipice, chuckling.
“Hey, it’s a job, right?”
“A shitty one.”
“Then why have you stayed so long?”
“The fuck else am I going to do? ‘Good at finding caves’ and ‘pretty solid at shooting people’ aren’t skills a lot of places are looking for right now.”
And she hopped down and began bouncing herself down into the chasm, stopping every couple of metres to check beneath her for stalagmites that could make her decent… unpleasant.
Though the glow from the Star Crystals gave her some light, when Frog felt her boots crunch down on the loose bits of rock on the cave floor, she unclipped herself from the rope and unslung her rifle, firing up the attached flashlight.
And whistled softly.
The cave floor was almost entirely covered with Star Crystals, hundreds of them, pulsating with their weird, shimmering blue light. But there were even more that were broken in half or shattered completely, showing their hollow insides and being completely devoid of their signature glow. It made Frog frown and narrow her eyes. She was not one to ever take UniRe at their word – she’d heard far too many half-truths for her to be as gullible as, say, Molly – but one of their boasts about Star Crystals was their durability. And she herself had seen one run over by an APC and survive entirely unscathed.
She knelt down beside a grouping of five shattered orbs and picked up a fragment about the size of her palm.
“Katzi, you got your ears on?”
“Yeah, I hear you,” came the static-riddled reply through Frog’s earpiece. “What’s up?”
“I’m on the ground and there is a metric shit-tonne of Star Crystals down here.”
“I hear a ‘but’ in your voice.”
“But there are also a whole bunch of shattered ones. They’re hollow, like-.”
She snapped her head to the left, her grip on the assault rifle tightening involuntarily.
“I think I heard something,” she said, lowering her voice. “Does the satellite imagery show another entrance to the cave?”
“Not that I can tell, but…”
She didn’t need to finish the thought. It was pretty well understood by EMD veterans that the information provided for any operation was fairly rough and often rife with minor – and major – inaccuracies. The desire to acquire was greater than the desire for accuracy.
“I’m going to check it out. The haul here could be massive, but it won’t count for shit if GCon beats us to it.”
They’d already lost ground through negotiation with GCon and the idea of losing even more after scrambling back and losing some fellow Battle Cocks made her clench her jaw until it ached.
Gently setting down the Star Crystal fragment, Frog switched off her flashlight. The ambient light from the Star Crystals would hopefully be enough to allow her to pick her way through the cavern, as she was sure that the beam of the flashlight waving around and bouncing off walls would alert the GCon crew to her presence just as well as jumping up and down and yelling. So she picked her way through the Star Crystals, which seemed to always be in clusters of five to eight, toward the point where the massive cavern took a dog-leg to the South.
As she approached the corner, she once more heard a sound, a low rumble with high-pitched undertones. It caused her to pause and listen more intently.
Had GCon managed to bring in heavy machinery right under UniRe’s nose? How could the satellite teams fail to have noticed?
The noise came again, with a slight waver at the end and Frog’s frown deepened. There were no voices. Even when operating in secret, an excavation team needed to speak to one another, but she hadn’t heard a single voice.
Had GCon developed some kind of automated harvester for the Star Crystals that UniRe knew nothing about? Highly unlikely given the constant corporate espionage between the two.
Slowly and careful, Frog peeked around the corner.
And nearly shat herself.
The noise wasn’t coming from machinery, it was coming from a living creature. A massive living creature, easily a hundred feet long, which had braced itself against either side of the two hundred foot wide cave with the huge curved talons set at the apex of its enormous wings.
The thing was a translucent blue, a shade darker than the Star Crystals themselves, but glowed with the same inner light. Frog realised with amazement that she could actually see the creature’s internal organs through its glass-like skin and muscle, she could see its four hearts beating, she could see its…
She could see its reproductive system working as it laid its eggs.
Its spherical, glowing blue eggs.
The Star Crystals in clusters made sense now.
The shattered, hollow ones made sense now.
The thing, the Star Dragon, craned its long neck backward and stared directly at Frog with its six black eyes and Frog ran.
“Katzi, I need to get out of here right fucking now!”
“What? What’s going on? Are you under attack?”
She skidded to a stop at the bottom of the rope and hauled herself upward, hand over hand, as she felt Katzena begin to pull her upward.
A warbling roar echoed through the cavern below.
“They’re eggs!,” she said as she pulled herself over the lip of the precipice.
Looking confused, Katzena helped Frog to her feet.
“What are eggs?”
“Star Crystals. You know those legends we heard about from the Tall Men? The… the… I don’t know what they actually called them, but they were space dragons? Fucking Star Crystals are dragon eggs – I saw them being laid.”
She watched as the realization dawned across Katzena’s face. The realization that UniRe and GCon had sold potentially viable dragon eggs all across Earth’s colonial reach and even on the homeworld itself.
They ran as fast as they could back to the Battle Cocks, abandoning their gear where it lay.
“Cam!,” yelled Frog as they neared the APC. His eyes were a direct link to the UniRe brass. She needed to tell everyone what she’d seen before it was too late – assuming it wasn’t already.
The legends told by the Tall Men before their extinction said that Star Dragons only nested once every three hundred years and it was only during the nesting cycle that the eggs from the prior cycle began to hatch.
She was only a few sentences into her story when Molly began to approach and everyone heard the loud click from beneath her left foot.
“Oh shit,” said Frog, backing up several careful steps.
“What? What is it?,” said Molly, looking first at Frog, then Cam and finally Katzena.
“Sorry kid,” said Katzena, also backing away. “You’re on a mine.”
“Oh,” said Molly, looking down at the ground, sadly.
And then exploding.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Enjoying CORPORATE SYNERGIES? Check out my full-length novel that involves fewer douche-bags, Radko’s War!