â€œThe fact remains, ladies and gentlemen, we have to meet the Geert price,â€ Fawzia Chiranov said. â€œWe ought to do better than the Geert price, but due to the nature of our company, weâ€™ll probably get by merely with meeting them. But I will tell you this, we lose this bid, we lose the planet.â€
Naturally, this was scoffed at. Fawzia was used to this. She charged a great deal for her opinions and consultations, and she was paid for them because she was always right.
â€œYou mean, weâ€™ll lose the contract.â€ Usamah Afifi had a tendency to bob his shriveled bald head when he talked. Fawzia found it difficult to look at him and not to picture a turtle in a Brooks Brothers suit. â€œWeâ€™ll lose the bid. Weâ€™ll get â€˜em next time.â€
â€œNo,â€ Fawzia said. â€œWe wonâ€™t. There wonâ€™t be a next time. We lose this bid, weâ€™re finished. The Geert will have control of the Earth.â€
â€œI think youâ€™re being a little too xenophobic, Ms. Chiranov,â€ said Eugeny Ruzhan from the head of the table. Ruzhan was considered a war hero; he had designed the robot that won the Kasi War. He still wore his medal pinned to the front of his coat, though the Kasi War had been over long before Fawzia was born. â€œThe Geert are shrewd businessmen, but they arenâ€™t out to take over the world!â€
The board laughed at this. Fawzia only scowled.
â€œThat is where you are wrong, Mr. Ruzhan. The Geert are a conquering people. We forget what that means, these days. But they are. They have been buying up and sending out of business Earthan companies for the past few years. Weâ€™re one of the last ones, and if Aczel Interplanetary falls, the Geert will control the commerce and economy of the people of Earth.â€
â€œHow could they have done this?â€ Jit Shiew Han asked. She had recently had her face redone, and she looked younger than Fawzia, despite being twice her age. It made it difficult for Fawzia to take her seriously.
â€œBy being single-minded on a cultural level. Despite the appearance of multiple Geert industries, they all have the same goal: overrun a planet, absorb its workforce as slaves, move on to the next. Theyâ€™ve done this on a dozen worlds already.â€
â€œWhat do you suppose we do?â€ Afifi asked. â€œWeâ€™re bidding as low as we can. How can we hope to compete?â€
â€œWe stop paying our workers,â€ Fawzia said. â€œWe stop paying them, we work them day and night, and we provided them with only the most basic nutrition.â€
â€œYouâ€™re talking slavery,â€ Afifi huffed.
â€œIâ€™m talking of the only defense from slavery. We donâ€™t do this, we lose this contract, there will not be another. Which means it will only be a matter of time before this board reports to Geert masters.â€
â€œIt canâ€™t just be down to us,â€ Han said, her voice quavering. â€œWhat about Calaerts? Ghenadie Tech? Easwarau?â€
â€œCalaerts is three months away from filing bankruptcy,â€ Fawzia said. â€œGhenadie Tech is being forced into a plan which will downsize them considerably, and itâ€™s only a matter of time before they are absorbed by a larger Geert corporation. And Easwarauâ€”â€
Ruzhan cut her off. â€œEaswarau was bought outright by the Geert. Saw it on the feed this morning.â€ Fawzia nodded. â€œSend out a memo to our employees. Weâ€™re following Ms. Chiranovâ€™s suggestions to the letter.â€
â€œTheyâ€™ll never go for it,â€ Afifi said. â€œTheyâ€™ll riot.â€
â€œTheyâ€™ll go along with the plan,â€ Fawzia said. â€œJust remind them their freedom is at stake.â€
The locksmith knelt down to examine the mangled keyhole in Exetorâ€™s office door. He turned his head and raised a brow at the man seated behind the desk, who was typing with twelve fingers and paying little attention to the tradesman. â€œSo uh, how did this happen?â€
A grumble came from the broad-shouldered man at the desk, â€œI was in a hurry, all right? Havenâ€™t you ever broken something while in a hurry?â€ Exetor said before reading the words â€˜Bionic Locksmithâ€™ on the back of the tradesmanâ€™s uniform. â€œOhâ€¦ I guess you havenâ€™t.â€
Exetor felt weird in his office, talking to thirteen people on the transmitter in his brain and watching his door being fixed. The scene was a bit awkward with silence, so he sat up and decided to be nice for once. â€œSo, are you natural born or implanted?â€
â€œExcuse me?â€ The locksmith turned his head with a look of surprise on his face and annoyance at being distracted from his job.
â€œI mean, are you born or implant? Not a hard questionâ€¦ wait, youâ€™re not one of those liberal bionics, are ya?â€
Even though Exetor was digging himself into a bigger hole, the man just toyed with the rim of his hat and went back to examining the lock. â€œBorn with it.â€
â€œAh, thatâ€™s cool. Iâ€™m an implant myself. Yes, these babies cost me a pretty credit.â€ He held up his hands, wiggling all twelve fingers. The glint in Exetorâ€™s eyes changed constantly with the numerous moods he was forced into due to the numerous conversations, but he kept a smile for the locksmith. â€œThe transmitter and the language translator were both in-grown after the process.â€
â€œYeah, well, you do something long enoughâ€¦â€ The locksmith started, as his eyes narrowed to better see inside the lock.
Exetor interrupted again, â€œThatâ€™s what they say, isnâ€™t it? Do something long enough and it adjusts for you? Iâ€™m surprised the nano-people havenâ€™t made it into an ad campaign.â€ He rubbed his chin, considering the money one would make from such an endeavor. His guest remained silent. The locksmith was beginning to regret working for the big wigs.
â€œYou know, manâ€¦ I hear that if a bionic nympho goes at it long enough, her thing starts to-â€œ
â€œWhoa!â€ The tradesman had heard enough and set a solid glare with huge pupils towards Exetor as a look of disgust etched itself across his features. â€œLook, buddy. Iâ€™m here to see if I can fix the door and get you a new key. I donâ€™t need to hear your theories about sex and bionics.â€
The businessman frowned then shrugged and went back to rapid typing. His eyes already transfixed on the business going by at alarming speeds displayed on the screen.
With a sigh, the man at the door stood back up and started putting away his tools; he put on a pair of shades. â€œIâ€™ll grow a key for you by tomorrow. Itâ€™ll be my ring finger so itâ€™ll cost you a bit more.â€
Tomasine Acero folded her hands on her desk, and then opened them in a manner that she hoped would suggest both an understanding on her part and an acceptance of the inevitability of fate. “You have to understand their point of view,” she said. “They are trying to sell a house. You are saying that you want to rent it before you buy, well, that makes them uncomfortable.”
Mr. and Mrs. Smar were not calmed by Acero’s hand motions, Mrs. Smar in particular. “Uncomfortable? We’ve been living in a damn Honvar ever since the Caern came! All our clothes are in plastic bags…there wasn’t any time to pack.”
“I understand,” Acero said.
“I don’t think you do,” Mr. Smar said, gripping his wife’s shoulders tightly. “We just want a house in our old colony. And we need it before our Ellroy starts school. We don’t want to uproot the poor guy, not after the raid.”
“He saw what happened to our neighbors,” Mrs. Smar said, her eyes on the floor. “He saw it before we did. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have made it out in time. But my poor boy, having to see…those pieces flying, and all that blood. We need this house, Ms. Acero.”
“And I understand that.” Acero had her fingertips down on the desk, supporting the palms. Hands like sheltering structures. “But you aren’t the only one from your colony looking for houses that survived the raid to come back to. And the seller, he wants proof that you aren’t going to rent for a year and be on your way.”
“You want proof?” Mr. Smar almost leapt out of his chair. “Go by my house. Go by the burned-out crater that used to be where my family lived. Go and see the charred and mutilated body parts that used to be old Mr. Fufferds and his wife. Maybe they can cut those bits down from the trees while they’re at it. We survived a raid, Ms. Acero. My own father couldn’t even say that. I think we’ve suffered enough.”
Acero found herself involuntarily self-hugging. She shook away the image of some kindly retired couple strung about a yard, and the alien mind that considered such a dismemberment amusing. She placed her palms together. It was time to project strength and resolve. “What the seller is asking for is some sort of deposit. Your Honvar, maybe?”
“Can’t do it,” Mr. Smar said. “Our ship’s our livelihood.”
“Well, in that case, how about your boy? You could give the seller him.”
“I’m not selling my son into slavery,” Mrs. Smar said.
“He wouldn’t be a slave,” Acero said. Hands open again, fingers apart, bent out at the wrist. Imply trust. “He would be an indentured servant. Only until the seller is convinced of your intent to buy. He’d still be able to attend his old school, see his old friends, only his time outside of school would belong to the seller.”
“Is there any other option?”
“Not unless you want a colony further out, Mrs. Smar. But I wouldn’t suggest it. The further out you go, the closer you are to Caern worlds…” Acero massaged her temple, looked to the left, and projected pure, unadulterated concern. “..,.I just wouldn’t want anything more to happen to you.”
Mr. and Mrs. Smar looked at each other and then simultaneously turned around in their chairs to watch their six year-old son play through the window to the lobby,
“Where do we sign?”
We know its flimsy faÃ§ade, we know itâ€™s a broken promise waiting.
They said that if we kept working, someday we could make enough to send our kids to college, never mind the dying, the slaughter in the world. Remember the holocaust, they said, but forget the horror of today. Love the planet, but buy a car that guzzles foul gas. Study hard, get a good job, spend your cash on trinkets and drugs. They want us to live with success and debt, hand in unlovable hand.
The thing that still gets me is that no one noticed. It was a hunch that no matter how obvious we were, the fact that we were middle class, well-dressed white people would keep us safe. It was racist, and oligarchic and it delighted and disgusted me that it worked. We looked like we were doing what we were supposed to. We studied hard, politics, chemistry, biology, psychology, physics, film, sociology, philosophy, and computer science. We studied hard. We learned how the world works, and now we plan to change it.
We can build a hundred different kinds of bombs. We can genetically engineer a bacterium that could give everyone colds for weeks. We can send you a virus in the mail. We could break your servers. You cannot find us by your profiles, we come from different faiths, we are poor and wealthy, we are students, union workers, and businessmen. We could kill billions.
You are lucky. We are not as brainwashed as you wanted us to be. We will use the power we have to recreate the system through the frequency of sound, through the meter of light. We will alter the status quo; we are moving slick and sweet over your mega-conglomerate. We will be the underground and the mass consumer appeal. In every dot of perceivable digital light, we will be sending our message right to the brains of your friends, your children and your pets. You canâ€™t hide, we are the mainstream.
This is the Revolution of the Meek, stay tuned.
Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on Io, I thought I would sail about a little and see the most distant reaches of space.
Despite the limitations of technology, the endlessness that spread before our ship pulled me with a unique gravity. The bounty itself was naught. In retrospect, it was a meaningless and futile obsession, but the captain persisted. I followed, as I was wont to do given the limited quarters of the starship, and it never occurred to me that the quest was impossible. After all, I longed for nothing but the sight of stars through the viewscreen, so I was content to drift along in the wake of his unwavering determination.
TW was regarded as the most feared man in the seemingly endless reaches of the solar system, and despite the minimal reward I was compelled by the captainâ€™s inexplicable, unwavering persistence to pursue the ghost of the pale ship through the asteroid belt, through the orbits of nine planets, and through the gentle and burning licks of solar flares.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the captain said. â€œHeâ€™s out there.â€
TW had claimed innumerable victims, and even in my green and formless years the myths had flickered across television screens as the magnetic residue of a legend. I must admit that I was infatuated with the concept. When the captain himself raised the bounty my interest was piqued, and the lot of us were incited to impossible action.
â€œHave you sighted the ship?â€ he broadcast over all frequencies, but the replies were foreboding or outright prohibitive.
In my quarters, I dreamed of the solar system stretching out before me like an arm that never reached a hand. Doubtless, he dreamed of whiteness streaking the dark of space.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€
Months passed like days, occupied by the dreariness of daily duty and the shadow of passion that the captain cast upon us. I kept a log of activities, though it was surely tedious by the standards of occupied worlds.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the captain said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€ Despite the protests of the senior staff, he continued. Our transmissions were denied by ships which busied themselves with far more likely prospects.
Behind me, Io was a frozen world. I watched the great shroud of space roll on as it rolled five thousand years ago, and I followed orders and monitored the empty radio broadcasts. Space collapsed into distance and the blackness of the signal screen revealed no blips of existence.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the man said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€