Chapter 41: And Still There Were Ten

High atop the London Archology, William Richard Johansson-Cavendish followed two silent guards, clad in lavishly etched gothic plate armor, to the mammoth obsidian doors of the F10 council chamber.  Though accustomed to grandeur all his life he had to confess to being impressed.  The vaulted ceiling rose thirty meters over the red-veined black marble floor, the long entrance hall illuminated by panel lights hidden behind stained glass windows looted from Notre Dame.

Every fixture was platinum, great masterpieces of painting lined its walls and ancient sculpture from China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome filled the alcoves between.  Even the washroom doorknobs were made from flawless white diamonds the size of a child’s fist.  He determined to excuse himself for a piss at some point to see if the toilets were made of gold.

            Only the death of Martin Lockhard and the decimation of his venerable company cleared this path for him and the CEO had been filled with apprehension over the appointment.  Its membership, though reevaluated every ten years, had been static for over a hundred and eighty.  After the bizarre initiation rite however, he relaxed.  A smile nearly took hold of him thinking of it, lying naked in an open coffin and reciting personal and family secrets to the nine senior members dressed in black hooded robes.  He was surprised they didn’t spank him with a wooden paddle and make him swallow live goldfish.  Nothing but gilded frat boys, he realized.  I can handle these clowns.

            If any knew about his dealings with the corsairs who had taken over Lockhard City he would doubtless have been assassinated, or ordered to commit suicide, but no sign he’d been found out surfaced.  He would need to step carefully.  In addition to Lockhard’s floating archology, the Rifters came into possession of Martin’s personal files and a wealth of dirt on himself and numerous other important people.  All well-placed executives gathered such information but the deceased tycoon had a collection to be envied.

            They sent him a small taste, free of charge, promising more if he could delay major action against them.  Admiral Rockingham’s task force was already en-route and there was no stopping that, but no matter; if he was able to recapture the system all well and good.  If not, Bowcorp stood more to gain than anyone filling the massive military contracts that would be coming his way.

            As he reached the entrance his escort bowed and left him.  Waiting for him at the door were the shriveled remains of Miles Walker-Harrington, F10 President of the last sixty years.  Having just turned three-hundred and five, the drugs that prolonged his life were now destroying his cells and he began to age quickly.  The new arrival was glad he saw him first from a distance, allowing a moment to compose himself.  Nothing was so disturbing to the social elite as the sight of death creeping into Eden.  No wonder he had not been seen in public for so long.

Recent advancements in anagathic drugs promised that, within the next century, life spans could be five-hundred years or more.  In another hundred or so they could reach a millennium. With brain rejuvenation and cellular bonding, his generation might well achieve immortality.  Cavendish, already a hundred and twenty despite looking no older than thirty, was very pleased with these results so far.  Too little too late for old man Harrington, but that’s life, isn’t it?

The patriarch nodded frugally and indicated the entranceway with a gesture.  These were the only doors ever closed to him in his lifetime.  No more.  Cavendish nodded back and placed his palm on the hand-shaped recess were they met.  A deep rumble echo through the chamber as they opened wide, revealing the innermost sanctum of inscrutable power in the galaxy.

 

The meeting proper lasted a little over two hours with no particular surprises for the newcomer until the end.  They tried to put him on the hot seat, pressing for unrealistic timetables on retooling his shipyards for warship construction, but he recognized it as an attempt to assess his character more than his competence.

He took the opportunity to remind the council it was their decision to favor Lockhard Astronautics in the awarding of naval contracts that forced Bowcorp out of that market, and on dubious grounds.  In truth, the Raptor II project was well underway thanks to the Lockhard technical information procured from the corsairs.  The primary difficulty now being his lack of weapons manufacturing.

Outsourcing would be expensive but he came with a ready solution: a census. Enforcers throughout Federation space would be pressed into service as tax collectors, “counting” the populous and charging a hefty administrative fee for the service.  It had been more than a century since the last, and that had resulted in wide-spread uprisings, but it remained an effective way to procure large amounts of capital without depleting corporate wealth.  To his surprise, there were no objections raised to the idea.  Apparently funds were needed for other ventures.

A shuttle waited for him, his loyal man Jensen at attention.  Cavendish handed him his brief case and boarded, making himself a drink after getting comfortable.  The CEO’s bodyguard/personal assassin took the pilot’s chair and made for orbit, his “employer” regarding him closely.  Jensen had been with him ten years now, since his activation.  A 505 Malzonto Ninja, engineered to be a perfect physical specimen, more than clever, and absolutely loyal.  Cavendish paid a premium to ensure each of these qualities.

He would have what he needed from the corsairs soon enough and they would need to be put down quickly after.  McAllister and this Deacon character were the only heads of the hydra that concerned him and Jensen might be just the right tool to do the snipping.

“Remind me tonight to speak to you about an errand,” Cavendish said, looking out the window.

“Yes, sir.”

He hated this depressing planet and couldn’t wait to get home, much needed seeing to.  His thoughts now turned to the surprise of the meeting.  The Ascendance Project was mindboggling in scope and concept:  to reduce the Human population of the Orion Spur seventy percent by the end of the century, replacing the prol population with more pliant and manageable servants.

In a way it made him sad, half the fun of owning everything being all the people with nothing seeing you enjoy it.  Still, massive pools of cheap labor were simply unneeded in the modern age and huge swaths of the population had no money to consume and further the economy.  Food programs, necessary to stave off rebellion, were enormously expensive; terraforming projects extravagantly so.

Old methods like incarceration and labor bonding were no longer cost-effective.  The prison dragon had begun eating its own tail, with profits down eight straight quarters, and there was a massive glut of bonded labor on the market.  The herd would have to be culled.

Geoffrey Winslow, Phelzor Pharmaceuticals CEO, was the lone dissenter on this point.  He strongly argued that behavioral modification drugs and surreptitious sterilization programs could accomplish their long term goals without risking widespread rebellion.  The nine remaining board members disagreed.  Action needed to be taken at once.  The waves of disobedience and insurrection, churned in the wake of the corsair attacks, underscored this point with clarity.

There were numerous competing ideas on exactly what to replace the prols with.  These ran the gambit from genetically engineered semi-human creatures, to lobotomized cyborgs, to a massive increase in the use of next generation robots.  A combination of all these methods would doubtless be required but everyone wanted their own initiatives to garner as much funding as possible.

The prols were, in the final analysis, parasites; diseased, dirty, and ignorant beasts of burden whose domestication had become ineffective and outmoded.  They could not afford the genetic screening and intervention that prevented inferior offspring.  They could not even provide them what little education their minds could tolerate.  There was simply not enough for everyone and nature helps those who help themselves.  In a very real sense, these creatures were not even the same species anymore and it was time for the Neanderthals to make a graceful departure.

 

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