Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“That suit’s not safe on my dock,” the voice boomed across the row of vacant lifter pads to the mezzanine, “who gave you clearance to come out here?” Horik’s visor was up, the bulky exo-suit exaggerating his movements as he marched across the deck.

“You must be Horik,” the taller of the three men stepped to the railing, gripped it in both hands and grinned, “just the man we wanted to see.” Behind him, similarly clad in dark matte-fabric three piece affairs, the man’s companions unbuttoned their jackets exposing large handled handguns tucked in their waistbands.

“Horik, my good man, we’ve come to improve your working conditions. We’re bringing your High Mars Orbiteers into the fold of the Dock Workers’ Nine Three. Wage protection, health benefits, job security, everything the working man could wish for.”

Horik stopped a few meters away from the trio and surveyed the slick figure, grinning as he was like the Cheshire cat.

“We’ve already got that, without paying percentage to you, so why bother?” Horik unhitched an arm from within the rig and scratched absently at the crisscross of scars across his scalp.

“Security my good man, there are dozens of recruits landing here every week, any one of them, should he want your job more than you do, could render you redundant by simply performing better and you’d be out of a job. No security. No second chances. What work for a dock hand on Mars who’s been cast out of the dock yard?” He spread his arms wide, his grin equally so. “As part of the nine three everyone who’s started since you lifted your first load would have to be let go before you had to worry about your job. Isn’t that what you really want to know? That you’re guaranteed employment for as long as you wish it?”

Horik unhitched his other arm and began cracking his knuckles one by one.

“I didn’t catch your name.” Horik looked up and paused.

“You can call me Mr. Patroni.” Again with the Cheshire cat smile.

Horik chuckled and returned to his knuckle cracking.

“Suppose Patty, that one of your cronies there, obviously not with your outfit as long as you, seeing as they’re backup and you’ve got all the big lines, suppose one of them could do your job better than you.” He paused, flexing his fingers and began hitching back into the exo-suit. “Suppose you no longer are convincing in your sales-lady role. By your rules, your boss would have to fire both your boys there and likely a good number more before he could fire you. Then what? Your outfit’s had to give up the young talent, the up and coming, the future movers to cut out the festering boil that’s your sorry ass. That doesn’t sound very efficient to me.”

“It’s Mr. Patroni,” the grin cooled into a tight smile, “and you’ll find I can be very convincing. Your workers will sign with the nine three, and you can be on the inside or the outside, that’s entirely up to you.”

“Well Patty, it’s kind of funny you say that,” Horik fired up the suit’s comm’s system as he closed his visor, the remaining words blasting amplified through the loudspeaker on his shoulder, “I warned you about suits and safety on my dock.” Red lights started strobing along the length of the loading bay as the atmosphere was evacuated and the outer doors began to rumble open.

“In our world, Patty my dear, if you’re a screwup – you’re dead, and if you’re deadweight, you’re on the street. You can be on the inside or the outside yourself, also entirely up to me.”

He paused, relishing the panicked looks as he closed the distance and navigated the stairs. By the time he reached them, their mouths were opening and closing like dry fish, weapons forgotten. They couldn’t hear him explain why he threw the gunmen out the doors before Mr. Patroni, but he figured they’d appreciate the union protocol.

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