Short Story: Cruel and Cunning

America.

Uh, Yeah. Okay.

Nobody’s sure what the hell happened. Even the people that were there– Corp. Wage-slave. Government. Innocent Bystander. Johnny Reb. No-one has an explanation. There is no clear record of what happened. All that’s ever heard is, “one thing led to another.” Or, “‘N that’s when all hell broke loose.” Never clear explanations, only vague outlines.

Truth is equally vague, but even a silhouette can tell all if well-enough formed by its negative space.

Less of the day-to-day is known, but the broad strokes are clear. Then again, Americans never functioned well on that time schedule. Inside, they were all fat suits sipping lemonade in the sun. Each one an island unto their self, untouchable and eternal.

Just like the ads promised.

Problem of course, was neither commercial nor lemonade was real. The lemonade was corporate-machine processed powder and water, spiked with ignorance and cynicism, and slowly but certainly eroding critical thinking patterns.

Because hey, who needs brains in constant, happy sunshine?

In reality, the ad was just a commercial. Subtle propaganda lulling people into buying the imagery they were being sold and most identified with. It was voluntary, mental slavery. Indenturing self to serve self for want of pure, ignorant bliss.

Then the real world broke in.

Trade-tower attacks woke a lot of people up. It’s the only explanation for what came after. Negative-space again. And without that influx of people being forced to stop, look, everything to come afterward– the crashes, the wars, The Fall– would never have happened.

Or it would’ve happened on smaller scales, and much later, when it no longer mattered what corps were doing because Humanity would have so far surpassed them– while being condemned in the process, of course.

But those things did happen; the towers did fell. The police-state rose in their place, and corps bought and built it through their universal currency of power. No-one would be stupid enough to argue that chain of events. Were they, that person would be calmly but quietly escorted away not to return until their age of reason.

That’s one thing the corps did teach; human-relations. Mostly, through being completely devoid of empathy or sympathy within it. Thereafter, people realized what they’d been missing from life. The utter lack of the Human element in a Human system was what formed the basis of all progress afterward.

That is why bitterness about the corps reign, by-and-large, does not exist: In the end, it was a willing trade for the growth society gained. It would not have been had they not grown, but they did. All sums totaled, Society accepted what had happened.

Corps had taken over because people let them. Then, in due fashion, Corps kept doing what they wanted on the basis that, well, people probably didn’t care enough to do anything about it. Some did. Then eventually all of them did, but only after being buried by the ignorant bullshit they’d built-up around themselves.

Negative space tells it all began for America, after the WTC attacks. Corporations began doing what they felt then. It was cruel and cunning, but not entirely unforeseen– and as a result, infinitely more egregious.

America was gearing up for war, supposedly to hunt those responsible for their fresh wounds. Meanwhile, Corp-reps– so-called “lobbyists,” pressed cases on overburdened and still-mourning government officials.

In time of course, they offered to “share the weight” by “shouldering responsibility;” all double-speak for the corporate take-over and transference– or theft, of power. By the same process, they eventually convinced the military to shift its focus before eliminating what they could of it.

Because what was good for America, was good for the world. And vice-versa. When America needed all the good it could get, no-one dared go against them. It took over a decade before most were even willing to admit that catch-22 as fact. Until then, things were going south. Fast.

And nowhere worse than state-side.

Sweeping reforms, pushed by lobbyist’s politicians on the take, rewrote whole law-books in legalese so thick even the best-educated couldn’t decipher them. In reality, they were coded transcripts of the take over. All very legal and by the books of course, but why not when the beneficiaries were writing them?

Stage set, America hit its first crisis since the attacks and the war; the ‘08 crash.

An economy once the world’s envy was instantly crippled. The financial sector, already bleeding from poor decisions, panicked and set in motion a near-total bankruptcy. Now, those suffering were the same corporations that had bought select, elected officials. Ones whom, due to the laws they’d written then, were allowed to remain in power. As repayment, the corps took billions in “bailouts” and ultimately, ran off with it.

No-one ever answered for the crime.

The American Way was shaken. Faith in it doubly-so. Then, controversial elections and divisive politicians– and once-solved human-rights issue– utterly fractured its foundation. War had reduced government trust to all-time lows and put people in fear.

It was painfully clear; America was but one, missed-meal from revolt.

The people there needed closure and certainty– for what they’d suffered and what they would yet be forced to. At an individual level, it’s citizens felt the same even if their methods differed fundamentally.

Negative space is certain; neither of those things ever manifested.

The corporations, whom caused the recession to begin with, used the guise of need to consolidate credit and capitol from bankrupted competitors. In this way, they bought and sold debts and contracts to collect on until only the very worst offenders remained for sale. Those unable to collect eventually sold off what remained to others and quit the game.

Again, all very above-board and legal, but ultimately, engineered.

With nowhere for those remaining assets to go but the hands of those hardest hit, the most affected vied for flotation devices to keep themselves from drowning while kicked for the shore of fiscal solvency. Their success cemented the foundation of all that came later.

Some corporations, with earnest hopes of repairing mistakes or not– and if only for their own survival– were given rafts. The rest sank and drowned in the first-come first-serve lifeboat handout.

The corps left, their execs were going down with the ship. Already half-soaked, and now scorned by one-time bribes inevitably for naught, they took what had come their way and ran via legalese loopholes they’d written themselves.

Once more, cruel and cunning.

In months, those left wished they’d done the same. Once they did, the markets had already flooded with reds. Nothing could be done but to let the corpses sink so any survivors might be picked from the flotsam afterward.

With an economy only barely in the black, it was a wonder any corp survived.

It’s also no wonder those that did became so immense. Suddenly left with so much abandoned property and credit, the most they could do was zero out what wasn’t useful, put the rest to work.

Worst case scenarios, were things going into long-term, digital storage as “resource” until it might be useful or “liquid” later. A property too rundown to use was worth more cleared. Whether the clearing was worth it, as always, was a matter of risk/reward ratios.

Meanwhile, new Titans were overtaking their elderly counterparts. Tech, net, and entertainment sectors flourished as industries par-none. These slick, new-moneyed college grads and dropouts with less street-wit than road-kill, overtook the eldest of the old-money’s projections.

Wealth even Scrooge McDuck couldn’t have dreamt.

Avarice in their eyes, the old-money bellied their way over like maggots crossing sidewalk. They began taking back what they’d abandoned, nosing their way in via advisory positions and consultancies to recon and research these new industries.

Only after better understanding, and dissemination of it through their circles and education, could the “old money” truly retake control through their specially-trained kids– from old-money schools– that learned to blend with their “lesser” peers.

In effect, the world was nearly destroyed by a group of college kids blending seamlessly with the rest. Yet the simple fact was, these groups were breeds apart. One more cruel and cunning than ever and couriering dangerous knowledge for one, specific purpose.

That purpose was cultivated over lifetimes of grooming from ever-crueler, more cunning mentors. Each generation, further-conditioned to use them without thought and at the best of times for desired effect. Generally, that amounted to twisting the knife so that their prey felt it. Pain was the length they’d go to, to get their object of money, using a knife eternally cutting people’s throats to pay when told or suffer a fate worse than death.

Seeing any resistance would be slow and difficult, would-be opponents merely jumped ship. Too comfortable, wealthy, and not needing nor wanting, they’d effectively exiled themselves only to possibly return afterward, if welcome.

Otherwise, fuck it.

When it became obvious the government was no longer listening, the economy had officially stabilized. Yet basic needs remained unmet. What once were “guaranteed rights” of the “greatest country in the world” were now “priced to match.”

Such basics to civilization as education and healthcare, free or near-enough since their conception, could and would bankrupt people. The subtle duality of that impliedif one could not affordone or both, one deserved neither.

In reality of course, controlling these two things most easily safeguarded against an unruly populous.

Generations raised with espoused values of education, goodness, and dreams were pushed to the brink. Force-fed them before the corps rigged the game,those dreams collided with reality when they otherwise need not have.Soon, people of legitimate value and motivation were left indebted before their lives might begin.

The problem? Their skills were equally valuable but more theoretical than practical, thus giving them no place in a machine of corporatism that cared only for numbers. Numbers are infinite; patience is not.

Enter the next American election.

Typically, American culture cycled with presidents. The era in question would’ve been no different were America’s culture not so twisted from the recent corporate history. Really,two, competing cultures existed none yet recognized:

One was personal, real. The other, corporate; an avatar-illusion built by corporate sales and P-R.

If people’d known then, the culture they fedvoting was the one what they were hoping to fight, they’d never have been swallowed by it. It never would’ve gotten so far. They’d have seized the booths put someone deserving in power without altering the system entirely. That of course, required the game be level– which it had not been.

For a very long time.

That it wasn’t, assured the eventual outcome. Only once the game and the system were revealed as two sides of the same coin could their whole be examined.Unfortunately, the US system of democracy was so corrupt everything was too little too late. Even the parliamentary systems ended with held ground, managing never to disappear entirely– if only due to their relegated position as bureaucratic, hard-copy, file-managament.

The US had allowed corps a foothold. With it, they then took control. Total control.

Negative space once more tells that America isolated itself. Politically. Socially. Economically. No longer a superpower, it withdrew from global markets, leaving fertile ground for corporate takeovers via the power-vacuum that remained.

Outside throwing oneself onto a pike, hoping to form the launch-pad for the next unlucky bastard trying to get over the wall, there was no hope. Getting out meant money, passports, digital and physical files going back years. Those lucky enough to make it over went alone, left everything behind, and never looked back.

It was the first time in history people weredefecting from the USA.

Little-by-little, the exodus continued until the war finally toppled the walls entirely and the tattered remnants wandered out. By then, the country was ruins– whether places or people. Infrastructure was gone. Financial records. Land-deed and title-information. Gone. No-one owned anything, and nothing made money anymore.

All anyone could do was flee for survival. Some went North, finding refuge in the Canadian wilderness whose more robust trades had survived. Although only largely from the same, laboriously slow death the governments themselves succumbed to.

Credit to them; the Canadians once more weathered the storm of their southern neighbors, though considerably more afflicted than usual. Negative space states the obvious cause as War. Just like everywhere else. It was merely indirect.

Paris looked better during the Incident’s fighting and Berlin looked better afterward than America ever would again.

In the same, ironic way Americans never seem to see coming, they’d finally gotten the wars they’d wanted. Real wars. Not manufactured, but from need. Their brutal atavism was simply the release of repressed rage building since the Atomic era erection and the Cold War blue-balls.

Without possessions to muzzle them, Americans became wild animals, lashing out.

Once Paris was retaken, fighting began everywhere. It needed to happen. Yet because of the takeover’s totality, it needed to be done without the aid of any arm of the “global” resistance. By then, it hardly mattered; people’d been worked to a frothing rage, rabid from the virality of the abuses against them.

America became an apocalyptic ruin without need for an apocalypse.

Three generations raised to believe in wholesome righteousness, force-fed violence and fear, had no other choice but to explode. It was only fears of the aftermaththat had kept people in-check. Once that became the lesser of evils, they reacted.

By then, post-apocalyptic scenery was better than reality’s concentration-camp walls.

Negative space dictates guerrilla warfare eventually won the day; individual stories, hearsay, rumors. They all agree that America finally won Vietnam, but only after playing host to it. Stories from combat vets are numerous, however dubious. Each one reveals, little-by-little, an inherent cell-structure in their tactics . How it was formed seems obvious in the way that wave-length, hive-mentality is obvious.

Certain places, hit repeatedly for supplies or to weaken corp lines, were done seemingly at random. The unspoken understanding between the different aggressor-groups that it was where best to strike and when. Cells were small enough to strike fast; in a matter of only days or weeks, whole campaigns were against single corps, bringing them down.

It was not without causalities or cost, as the ruins show. It was a system of warfare allowing for weakness to be located and exploited to its fullest and without delay. The same game the corps had tried to play, but were too big for, too slow. Just as the system before them. They’d simply been smaller and faster than them. Their prey numerous enough to overcome it. If only once. Individuals however, were much smaller, and even small groups of them were effective if their strategies were applied properly.

Eventually, they were. Entirely.

In the end what finally killed America’s corps was attrition. Irony is, it was the same way they’d taken power. Once more students became masters and the old guard fell. The final blow was struck perfectly, more cruel and cunning than ever before until all that remained were smoldering ruins of once-bloated, corporate corpses.

So there it is, for the record; America. Brave and bold. Right up ’til it imploded.

VIN 5- What The Clash Knew

The Clash knew in the 70s what we’re realizing now; that business would rule and we would be at war with it. They saw the landscape for what it was– not only what it could, but would become.

They were looking out from skidrow before poverty reached the masses, but while war’s remnants still made it felt. Conscious or not, they screamed out to history that corruption remained. While The Clash were the paragons of this shouting, they were hardly the only ones doing so.

All the same, it wasn’t time for that revolution. Not yet. Not then. The job was done. War was over. Victory was at-hand. It was time for prosperity, peace, and celebration.

But No-one was listening. No-one believing. Especially, when the world was in the black and looked to stay that way for a long time.

Problem was, the next decades became a series of golden-age false-starts. Why, no-one was yet certain. Technology however, proved the reason. It was a tidal-wave coming whether humanity survived, thrived, and rode it in, or drowned in its unforgiving relentlessness.

The viral infection of corporatism though, spread by decades of festered neglect, showed the Clash then what Humanity must face now; that greed, corruption, if present and no matter its size, can and will spread.

It has.

Short Story: Great Harmony, Great Harm

The question that comes up most often is, “what did the corps want with all that power?”

Firstly, they didn’t want anything. This misunderstanding was partly their own fault and design; an effect of juvenile and prematurely formed P-R departments. Sub-entities incapable of seeing the larger one they were part of, its emergent sentience.

But then, if they’d seen that, they’d never have fallen. So, would the same problems have existed anyhow? Likely not.

While the corporations didn’t survive the fall, their seed remains scattered.

Incorporation was an idea never existent before its take-over. Many things had tried to reach for it, notably religion, but like the world that came after them, corporations were an evolution of those first-reachers. Rather than being copies or counterparts, they were an intermediate form of one of Humanity’s collective, special endeavors.

Like the Moon Landing and the Space-Age,Corporations were merely taxonomic delineations of Human transitions. This one, post-human; postdigital. Not because humans or digital things no longer existed, but because they would now always exist.

Such transitions were the evolution of Human society. Pre-corp history was ancient, no matter how recent. Simply because it was history without technology, its principles and ideals, its ubiquity.

A culture, or entity, unable to cope with its environment, dies.This is the basis of all theories of adaptation and evolution.Corporations took over by riding that evolutionary wave and thinking they could control it.

Really, they were deluded opportunists.

That was the Corps’ greatest mistake. Even to the end, they didn’t realize what they were. Even less, the damage they were doing to the order of things with their refusals to evolve or die.

Irony is, corporations evolved from a place of need. Like that of government and law, their niche was theirs and theirs alone, could never be met otherwise. They could forever be lords of their lands without care or worry for the world outside.

But only in their lands. Nowhere else.

Obviously, that didn’t last. Internal competition brought out teeth. Corps gored one another’s throats, spilling blood-money into their water and wine and making them thirsty for more. It wasn’t long before Corps were rabidly dividing the land, conniving and double-dealing for anything, everything.

A panic-scramble for ground spilled to the rest of the world as simple panic. Corporations had become either too big or too small. There was no middle ground. Some collapsed. Others became scavengers, cannibalizing their fallen brethren for survival.

The latter lasted.

Trying to fill every niche at once, and mostly failing, revealed the true systemic corruption within them; greed. In such a volume as to rival that of original sin. Humans had been greed-mad, yes, but postdigital humans were capable of such immense effect, affect– their corporations moreso– that each was capable of total effect in their own fields, contexts.

In other words, a single human could have the power of many– and vice versa, and thus each human could now alter the course of human history if they so desired. The only unknown was scale. Corporations made any scale possible.

They were prosperity and security beyond competition, or survival, or even primal need-fulfillment.

Corporations had resources on every level; in astounding numbers. They could build, test, and perfect ideas in fractions of normal time. They could perfect rockets to Mars before government papers were even seen. What else could be expected of elderly systems and organizations based on pre-digital-age mentalities.

Like Humans, Corporations were multi-cellular organisms. They simply weren’t sentient. Yet.

They were one creature, formed of groups of smaller ones, working together to ensure the whole acted in protection of itself. Governments, like corporations after them, operated this way. Their methods of action were justice, law, order. Corporations knew, and indeed cared only for, money.

If corporations had been satisfied with their place or their guiding Humans not so foolish, they’d have laid claim wherever money could be found and settled in for eternity. Ultimately, it was their playground. Wherever, however, so long as it was money, Corporations could handle it.

But the didn’t. Instead, they began to diversify into politics, security, law; places they had no business in but their money could buy just as well as anywhere else.

If things had gone any differently, they would have remained benign enough to coexist with the postdigital world.It was their aggressive manifestation of greed, impotent outside their own deserved grievances, that condemned them.

The possibility of niche breakout was the corporations’ first exit to evolution, however self-guided. Rather than approach it like sentient, self-aware organisms, they tore past, swallowing what they could and smiting the rest. The individual organisms therein, rather than recall the whole’s greater priority, aimed purely for personal gain.

Nothing unusual, but the way they did it was the problem.

These cells saw the inherent flexibility in their system, their environment; that any cell could take over any work. Then began to strive for the top, for purely monetary gain. That interchangeability of components was an idea formed first in mass production.

To corporations though, it was the people running and maintaining the system– its employees, that were the interchangeable parts.

In the end, all that mattered for a corporation was that its parts ran. After all, that was how the money was made, the resources stockpiled. Even the engine through which the money was made was interchangeable. Its context, through-put, was part of the immense robustness of the system as well, because it was really a framework.

As a chassis is the frame work for a car, any car, a Corporation could do anything. Not because it wanted to, but because it was designed to, engineered to. Corporations were the culmination of millennia of social organization, collapse, and restructuring of society through unguided chaos.

Like those ramshackle, sheet metal systems of law, government, you-name-it, they were meant for easier repair after falling down in the storm. Their parts were only ever phased-out. Not replaced. Above all, they were never meant to weather the storm.

Storms were part of the environment. Humans had grown to recognize that now. Thus, it required preparation and collective strength, will, resources. Re-enter Corps, their greed, until their very purpose was so corrupted nothing of them could be allowed to remain.

Perhaps, if left to time to evolve, become re-prioritized, and adaptedto a new purpose fitting its structure they could have functioned again. In effect; the same garment, different label effect of copy-paste, inherit and sale Corps themselves pioneered.

However, while most corp-people, or cells, recognized this as the point conscious or not, corp loyalty did exist, could be used. Tribal mentality could still wholly manipulate people. It was an effective means of re-orienting, but it was not to be used lightly.

Even before Corporations took that precious grounding-rod of control from the people, their chances of survival were shrinking, as a result of Corp mistakes. History had shown only a small, conscious fraction was needed to corrupt the whole, and gut-instinct alerted humanity it was happening then.

Namely, through mediumof personal greed. Chiefly, by those aforementioned level-jumpers.

In effect a small group had, and were, utterly corrupting the very fabric of Human living simply by trying to corrupt their own, conceptual reality. One was a byproduct of the other, certainly, but neither were acceptable or health for the system, those affected by it.

Theft of concepts was nothing knew. It had long been happening: since the thefts of pagan culture and beyond. The corruption was never whole. Never glaring. It was by degrees. Parasites putting themselves near their host-brain to control its actions.

In other words, their meaningless titles came to mean more than they were willing to accept for the required ratios of risk/worth, win/loss, 0 or 1. Instead of bowing out, they put the weight and squeeze on the rest of the system for their mistakes. This was untenable.

The first Japanese corporations understood this reality. Their culture so perfectly fitted the corporate way, it was a wonder they weren’t its inventors. While that honor remained the West’s, the Japanese were the first and foremost to embrace it.

And why not? The Japanese do-or-do-not absolutism more or less defined corporate existence. It was the manifestation of Eastern culture. Its duality of yin and yang.

Following the aftermath of World War II, and the inherent, flexible modularity of the corporation, it was no wonder the Japanese clung to it– it was hand-tailored to their mental-build on mass-production scales. Ones they’d never seen before because no-one had, but that they needed because of post-war Japan’s desperation.

Any extraneous, cultural details lost in the fitting of one system (society) to other were the eventual consequences of change and prosperity. Necessary sacrifices. Accepted as the price of adaptation and survival. Just as Japanese surrender was a consequence of fighting and losing.

The need to rebuild following retaliation was cause and effect; a system. One fitting perfectly to a rigid, logical culture built from inherently identical, core principles. Though devoid of emotion, it spoke to these humans’ psyche using the same, fundamental methods as learning not to touch fire. It simply did so through the medium of technology.

Technology’s inherent modularity, its reliance on systems therein, simplified all systems to the fewest components necessary to function. It was required for achieving maximum effect and permeability, as per its more or less intended design; ubiquity.

In a changing society increasingly composed of ones and zeroes, and comprehending the scale of their task, the Japanese saw the simplicity of corporations’ dominance as manifestation of not just everything natural, but also logical.That dominance, simplified, was Input=Output.

Likewise, its Yin came of age as digital in all but culture and maturity. Eventually the harbinger of war, it was then too late for any amends. The Yang was long corrupted by greed. Western first, true, but greed.

The difference between Japanese corporate (Zaibatsu) culture and Corporate culture, was the first encompassing the second as a means of functioning. They were separate entities, but no less layered atop one another. Corporate culture was a thing unto itself, designed to appear similar, but too closed and small a system for any of structural redundancies.

The second existed to mimic the first and line its constituent parts’ pockets, so far as they believed. Really, the first was required because of instability in their particular environment; finance.

Japanese culture functioned well with Corporations. So-called Zaibatsus required willingness to accept responsibility, but Vietnam showed western culture vehement feared responsibility. More than that, they’d found they could live without it, however uncomfortably.

Japan’s utter lack of counter-culture during the Western excess of the last half of the 20th century was evidence of a major, social reformation in thought. The entirety of Japan’s culture had been shamed for generations to come for opportunistic greed. At some level, all of them knew that.

None would defy it for generations.

Zaibatsus doubly ensured Corps came to form with the manifestations of Asian, cultural history. Japanese ones in particular were evident in their design and structure. Who better to care for structural redundancy than those so recently and personally reminded of its dire importance?

Japanese cultural evolution was no-one else’s. Not then. And when the time did finally come to emulate it, the message was lost in translation. It came encrypted in silly game shows and absurdist humor; Sensible Chuckles of the post-modern post-war world echoing outward.

In the end, Japan was fertile ground for the Corporations; its people their gentle tenders.The Japanese had wanted it that way. Somehow. Collectively. In time, they helped cultivate it in gratitude for the chance to redeem themselves, however small.

Therein, they cemented their redemption as one of grace and poise despite history. They wished to show how redemption should be done when the sword was no longer an option. Rather than burning the world down, to spite it, as corporations tried too, Zaibatsus attempted prosperity for all involved.

A legacy well worthy of the care provided to it.

Even the loose culture Zaibatsu employees could have been said to form was only such tangentially. The system of culture itself was now modular too, accepting of the full-range of Human effect. Including deep shame, so long as it were aired properly.

Humanity’s dregs of course, took this as a personal challenge, humbling only themselves before the might of time and stone. There, they were eventually forced to rest, for benefit of one and all, themselves through it.

The following admission and correction of mistakes,when made, became the basis of all of life’s continually observed purpose.

Had life not needed observation before, the Japanese might never have seen the benefits it provided. Perhaps, had Zaibatsu Corporatism caught on, corporations would still exist. Perhaps, some day, they will return; evolved and therein immune to greed and people willing to embrace them as the Japanese once did.

So long as the system’s constituent parts remain vulnerable to greed however, it remains removed from civilization’s grasp-at-will tools. A surgeon does not carry a mallet for work of his pay-grade. Thus unneeded tools can be set aside for more viable ones.

Avoiding that mass of potential, its corruption, was the point. Whether aimed toward great harmony or great harm, they could not be allowed. That was the point of the revolution. Not the power the corps had or had not. It was about taking the loaded gun from the child’s hand, keeping it safe until they knew its purpose– and only ever with hope they never need use it.

That was the revolution’s purpose, and the corporation’s downfall; restoring Humanity, its control, to Humans.

Short Story: Earth and Food

A new golden age had begun. One of chrome and carbon fiber; bits and bytes; 1s and 0s. It was to be the manifestation of every digital fantasy. Each one, somehow in someway, realized. The first age of living as fully integrated, digital children. Deeper than that, it felt a promise to a species of their greatness to come.

At least, that’s how it started.

What future historians would find, looking back, was its part in the catalyst of global revolution. Good or ill only came into the collective consciousness after that. Even then, its emergence was doomed to be by force– even after Humanity collectively realized the depravity of allowing it to get that far.

Until then though, those most most effected would remain a silent majority.

Enter Mikami Manufacturing, lead designers and manufacturers of agricultural equipment. The company, a multi-billion dollar profit-generator, had been stockpiling money since its inception 40 years earlier by Hideo Mikami; former Nagasaki resident who’d been away on business during the fateful bombings.

Mikami, having lost his wife and two children in the destruction, wandered in solitude until landing in the US.

Alone, and forced to embrace the beast that formed him, he looked to his homeland. There he saw a revolution invisible from within Japan’s own culture and borders. One borne of the sweat, blood, and redemption of a suicidally honor-bound society now denied their Seppuku.

Because it had become the easy way out.

Mikami quickly built a small fortune off the back’s of industry demigods and his own, unbroken homeland connections, by building capital doing hard things. Mining. Building. Cropping. He collected capital, forming Mikami Manufacturing under the ideal “that to feed a world, one must ensure the ability to do so first.”

Mikami the man, saw this as his own penance to his family, his people; his own redemption impossible without it. Like his countrymen, he’d allowed not only his own people’s, but his own family’s death and disgrace through his inaction and self-absorption.

In a world of Shinto and Eastern philosophy, such as that which bred Hideo Mikami, there was no room for such disgrace. It was untenable. Were he allowed his Seppuku, his culture would have cared for his memory afterward.

But the war had shown dying for one’s cause was equally corruptible; as all else, and thus because of its power and cost, required the utmost meditation before use. The bloodbath of World War II had taken enough husbands and sons, especially through such senselessness.

The Japanese honor, stained as it was by its own missteps, needed to pay its own penance. It was the last remaining culture of a world that refused to evolve. It’s last ally, Nazi Germany, had utterly collapsed. The US was still too new, too powerful a wild-card to determine much else. Russia had long been in its cyclical loop of revolt, collapse, rebuild, repeat. Even China, sleeping giant it was, was largely irrelevant.

Though time put Japan as the proving ground for social evolution; eventually, they all came ’round. China too. The Great Wall flood was the result. Mikami the beacon for the loyalists that remained, saved enough to avoid total collapse– however temporarily. China was simply too massive. Their culture too isolated (even beyond the individual ones that formed the collective) to sustain such change yet.

Thus, it fell to Japan.

And Japan, really, was men like Hideo Mikami.

The late 20th century GMO cropping that looked to eradicate world hunger– and generate billions in profit– was the vision of a few, appropriately placed and motivated men. One of whom, by virtue of his familial association with Mikami, began funneling various, excess-profits to fund new, advanced research and development divisions.

One of which spiraled into a catch-22 of public extortion on a scale never before seen.

Mikami’s engineers began small, and though with the best of intentions, made fools of the lot of themselves by not safe-guarding their own creations. Cross-bred genetics of common corn-crops– spliced with chromosomes from other, more exotic flora– allowed for faster, heartier growth and greater parasitic resistance.

Despite media and clergy alike rebelling, Mikami’s crops were being designed, bred, and sold. Globally. And they were not alone. Other corporations, both big and small, had begun devoting themselves to similar research.

Competition had begun.

Most notably in the form of Locust Group. Although a world a way, they were already dividing the Western Hemisphere between itself and their local competitors. Meanwhile, and alhough it didn’t wasn’t apparent for decades, Mikami was slowly securing the Eastern one even then.

Just as Cameron Mobility and Arc Systems later used technology to their advantage, beginning a global phenomenon with Augs, their software; so too did Mikami and L-G begin revolutionizing agriculture. This time, through specialized seeds, parasite resistant crops, and ultra-powerful fertilizers.

Following in Mikami’s footsteps, Locust Group began designing and manufacturing farm equipment. The difference, theirs was especially made for deployment and maintenance of proprietary products. Specifically, seeds. Their seeds.

Reduce a problem to its simplest components; find what links them. This is the clutch. The system cannot function without it. Except this system was society. The clutch, food.

Innocuous in infancy, but criminal by learned definitions. And Learning took time. Problem was, once the potential damage was revealed, it had already been done. Locust and Mikami’s G-M crops were taking root in soils world-wide. The latter with contracts that more or less secured the same strangle-hold as the former, however temporarily offset by lack of infrastructure.

That infrastructure would be built in time. With it, would come signs of the system already gearing up to exploit it. The question was how. The answer proved to be Agriculture itself. And not just that, but anything related to it.

Food.

It was obvious to any child that walked into a supermarket; so much food, all for no-one, but there solely to service corporate greed masked as economics. At the same time, that child not being allowed to waste or want for what others had none of. It was irreconcilable.

But having invested so much into their development, it was difficult for even the neutral to deny some rights to claim over ownership of their patents. All that was required, and indeed came to pass, in short order, was that only modified crops existed or were sold. All of which were patented.

Furthermore, most of those patents were held by Mikami or Locust Group; one of their few, distant competitors. Arguments aside, courts repeatedly ruled in favor of the money. Why wouldn’t they? They’d received theirs by the truck-full…

From rather generous donors….

Whether through lobbies, contracts, or outright bribery, corporate claim of nature became legally endorsed. Brows rose. In-the-know citizens scoffed at so-called Corporate Innovation Acts; various legal measures and means of governments and industry ceding power to corps.

Both light and dark-net dwellers attempted to rebel, however peacefully. They fought to expose the strangling rhetoric within the C-I Acts. The first to be ratified, to no-one’s surprise, took place in the United States. It was only months before similar laws were ratified by Global trade and governmental unions.

The take-over was brutal, swift, but not entirely thorough. It didn’t need to be, of course. Money drew money. What little they hadn’t hoovered-up would come back in trade down the line. For now the corps were sitting pretty, everything in their hands.

But the skies had darkened.

The rumors had long rumbled; farmers, pestered and extorted over their own land, now saw it stolen beneath their feet for refusing to willingly hand it over. Those that did not, were forced to grow only certain crops, face outrageous taxation. The fees, obvious roadblocks to civil-disobedience, made them slaves in their own homes, to their own lands.

The protests that erupted then were different. They were not digital. Not peaceful. They were violent. Lashing outs. Cries for help. Spread between both urban and rural areas and peoples alike. Once the rumors turned darker, the proverbial storm had already begun to hit.

The months following the C-I Acts as if through viral-greed, mutated into the birth of the Corporate Rights Act. This act, submitted globally through corporations’ various lobbied constituents, called to guarantee certain privileges to certain parties– corporate ones to be self-defined by said corporations.

Among those championing these rapes of justice and order? Mikami and Locust Group.

Rhetoric aside, the laws allowed Corporate control of all matters related to their own creations. Unethical or outright illegal, it didn’t matter; Corporations could now act with impunity under certain conditions.

Mikami and L-G, in silent agreement, began a series of dauntingly public lawsuits against farmers who’d refused to purchase their crops. The result sent one message; Sofu Mikami was dead and dust. And so were his ways.

Existing contracts, AG-Corps argued, held farmers in obligation to use their products. The courts, long bought and paid for, retaliated for the farmers’ attempts to rebel. The companies managed to bankrupt them, seizing their land, assets, and lives in the process.

Locust Group and Mikami were guilty of this, but they were not alone. Worse, it only began then. It continued for decades– until the last of the rebels were dead and gone. The public decried the acts of course, but ultimately, the laws were clear; farmers had violated contracts.

Despite the legalese, it was clear therein such responses were within the scope of presented and accepted possibility. It made perfect sense in all the wrong ways.

The storm settled into its fury as farmers saw the signs of things to come. The first groups prosecuted were soon recognized for the examples they were. The ones meant for any who might think to defy corporate authority. Mikami and L-G were merely the most egregious examples in retrospect, hardly the only.

The power taken from the people as a whole had soon became obvious while further clashes cemented reality and history. Before, violation was based solely on refusal, disuse; now writ stipulated corps held power as judge, jury, executioner, and landlord.

Agriculture had become mercenary work for corporate bidders; contractors renting out their own land, sweat, and blood to the whims of Mikami and L-G’s greed. Or dying for their refusal.

History later showed the greed did not end but began there. By then, the whims were iron-fists. The rules were chains. Their locks and keys life-and-death. Farmers– normal people tilling land for the good of all, had been robbed, enslaved, forced to bleed and murder their land and selves without so much as a personal garden to show for it.

Obligation further forced the use of unproven, sometimes dangerous chemical pesticides and fertilizers. These chems, created with catalysts to deactivate GM-Crops’ growth inhibitors, were at times the cause of utter ruin. Not only Earth, but life as well: Corp-products for Corp-crops that wouldn’t grow otherwise were killing people from corporations’ own knowing ignorance.

What little choice remained finally vanished. It had long been clear those caring for Earth and Food were seen as undeserving of the sweat of their brow. No longer shackled to the land, those pioneer-descendants uprooted and returned to the aether, searching for their next and imminent, Great Unknown.

Such was the nature of the Corporate-takeover.

No matter how insidious, subtle, or egregious, it was unstoppable. No matter where or how, Mikami and their ilk conquered. Through money or law; they bought what they wanted and mugged for the rest whether through their execs, their endless legal teams, or the system itself.

As larger scales later proved, in one fell swoop, Mikami and L-G had monopolized Agriculture. Food. With it went animal husbandry. Vegetable and fruit plants. Trees. Gardening itself even became a crime under proper circumstances.

However ludicrous these notions, human acts persisting since the dawn of their species were no longer allowed. People could no longer cultivate; merely stagnate. Their world withering in lock-step rhythm with it, its corporate masters ever tightening the leash to ensure it through Earth and Food.

Hijack: Part 5

5.

The official press release read;“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. Re: I-295 Accident. Lone-Wolfe shipping, and I in particular, would first like to extend condolences to the family of Buddy Ferrero, a veteran driver, and exceptional individual. He will be greatly missed.

In the wake of this tragedy, preliminary inspection has been carried out on vehicle footage and dispatcher recordings. In accordance with OSA standards, we are committed to discovering the cause of the accident be it through vehicle failure, driver action, or third-party neglect. Unfortunately, at this time, preliminary evidence is inconclusive.

It is acknowledged that a series of safety alerts starting moments prior to the accident alerted dispatch to a possible issue with the vehicle. Attempts to hail the driver were made with no success. Video footage, dispatch logs, and system alerts acknowledge that the vehicle in question was traveling at safe-highway speeds before its anti-lock brake and exhaust brake systems engaged. Error codes coinciding with video footage support that the vehicle’s suspension system attempted to compensate for over-steer at below-threshold speeds. The vehicle could not regain full-equilibrium before coming to a complete stop. Error codes corresponding with footage also show the vehicle’s safety systems properly engaged, but were unable to keep the vehicle from overturning.

The resulting damage tore away critical engine parts, severing further contact with the vehicle’s safety systems. Dispatch system-logs confirm the same markers, corroborating that no more can be found after the final code. A more-thorough examination of the vehicle is ongoing and all information garnered from it will be released upon completion. Until then, official cause of the accident remains inconclusive.”

The media cherry-picked it for nearly two full days, misquoting or intentionally obscuring Gail’s words until she was certain they’d made it their mission to spin the story against her. Interviews with NHSB talking-heads, drivers, union reps, and even politicians filled news-reels. Responses ranged from indifferent, to scathing or downright insulting. Gail expected them all, and was just as pissed as she knew she’d be.

Whatever happened would be impossible to determine until Darian had disassembled every last piece of the rig and examined it. What the IDOT crews hadn’t tossed in the garbage was shipped over and combed through equally. Darian remained tight-lipped.

Gail couldn’t think about any of that now. Buddy’s routes had been divvied between her and the company’s other, short-haulers. Schedules had to be kept, deliveries made. Personally, Gail needed to get away from the morbid air the damaged rig had infected the garage with. If nothing else, time on the road meant time to clear her head. A short haul was best for that, too long and it would have an inverse effect.

She packed her bag, did her pre-haul check, and saddled up the W900 for the jaunt between Oakton and Detroit. The sun was just setting when she pulled from Lone-Wolfe’s lot. The pick-up was across town, a few minutes of gridded streets and constant shifting led to a warehouse on the city’s edge. The fifth-wheel locked, truck idled long enough for her to scrawl a few signatures, and the haul began.

The promise of a long night and empty roads was enough to keep hope battling her demons. The shipment of fragile electronics forced her to focus just enough to combat what little made it through. Unfortunately, a momentary oversight in the mental routine she’d built let something slip through that sat in the back of her mind for the first half of the haul.

The rig eased up into an extra-long parking space outside a rest-stop, and the long-walk between the cab and the rest-stop entrance began. Stillness had commandeered the night, only distant highway-sounds to break it. Gail stretched her legs, used a restroom, then bought sodas from a machine. At either side of it, were other vending units tempting her with their dollar-and-change wares. One was a classic, glass-faced snack machine filled with junk food no-human could resist. The other was specialized, dripping with old, hot coffee from a dispenser beside locked paper-cups.

Gail knew better than to trust the coffee in the things; no person hoping to retain their bowels would ever drink from it. It was reserved for the few, inexperienced suckers on long car-trips willing to pony up cash for anything other than soda– in a place like this, that was a piping-hot colonic.

Gail opted for more salt and sweetness than a normal human being might be capable of handling, and headed back out to the truck. Better to drown one’s sorrows in food than self-pity. She fished out a bottle of water from her pack, and spread her bounty along the passenger’s seat and center cup-holders, needing only a glance to decide what to stuff her face with next.

In retrospect, it was the last positive thought she had the whole drive. The nagging surge of thoughts she’d suppressed began to spill over the hope-levee that had kept it contained. By the end, she was NOLA after Katrina; it would take months to fully beat back the waters, and even then, things would never be the same. The wave came on slow, as if the tides receded slightly. In fact they did, but such indications only mark the start of such catastrophe. As she reveled in the growing silence of her mind, sickness sparked a flare in her gut.

Had she known what was to come, Gail might have vomited in regret. Instead, the tidal wave struck. At once, terror and worry rushed in. The levee gave way. She suddenly understood Plant’s griping moans better. Anxiety tightened her chest; she shouldn’t have released a statement; she should have, but made it more personal; No, more impersonal, only facts; she should’ve waited to speak with the Union, the OPD, or the Illinois State Police; a million more things she should’ve done, and she’d done none of them.

The second half of the haul was like descending through Alighieri’s Inferno. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. She must have missed it, but it had to have been passed. Each level of worry was succeeded by more dread, more fear, more suffering.

By the time she reached Detroit, she wasn’t sure if she was living or dead. An argument could be made for either. The hellish fires abated long enough for her to meet a receiver at an electronics store, then returned full-force to accompany her back home. The relentless introspection worsened matters, soon proved almost everything she’d feared was coming true.

Hours later, she arrived back at the garage more haggard than she could ever recall. Marla had vacated the cot in her office, and despite running on roughly the same cycle as usual, she collapsed on it and fell into a dreamless, dead sleep. Her awakening only confirmed the hellish night had actually happened.

Her eyes opened on Marla standing over her. She’d evidently slept longer than usual, judging by the evening light streaming in from the frosted, office-window.

“Didn’t mean to wake you,” Marla said.

Gail sat up, rubbed sleep from her eyes, wishing she’d drank the bottle of liquor her head seemed convinced she had. “It’s fine. You need something?”

Marla inched her way in as Gail fell from the cot into her desk-chair. She only noticed Marla’s hands hidden behind her back when they appeared with a paper. She laid it on the desk, physically distanced herself against the impending explosion. Gail didn’t have the energy to explode, even if she’d wanted to. She blinked hard to focus her eyes on the newspaper, “NHSB to Lone-Wolfe Shipping; Not good enough.” Gail’s face formed a deranged look. She glanced between Marla and the paper, then again, then studied it to ensure its authenticity. The date alone confirmed it, but the headline seemed like a caricature of itself.

She skimmed the text, reading aloud, “NHSB says condolences aren’t enough… Issues statement to meet compliance standards, and… has asked that OPD’s Forensics team inspect the vehicle citing, quote, “the unreliability of internal company review…. due to possible refusals to admit fault?” The deranged look met Marla’s eyes again, “Are they outta’ their fuckin’ minds?”

Marla bit her lip, “OPD’s already on it. They’re afraid to appear soft on possible crime or neglect. It’s an election year, and Oakton’s Mayor’s campaigning for re-election so they’re–”

“Wait, wait, wait,” she sputtered out. “What do you mean OPD’s already on it?”

Marla was visibly tense, nearly drawing blood on her bit-lip, “We got a call from the Chief of Police, he’s facing political pressure. He wants to meet with you tomorrow morning with someone from their Forensics division.”

“Wonderful.” She put a hand to her head, thought to scream, but hurt too much to voluntarily add to the pain.

“That’s not everything,” Marla said sheepishly. Gail remained motionless. Marla’s voice cracked at first, “S-someone c-came in earlier today, while you were on the r-road. A Union Rep. He said the best thing to do is let OPD assist.”

Gail’s rage manifested in a throbbing temple, “I’m guessing there’s an “or else” in there.”

“Or else,” Marla began. She wasn’t sure how to phrase it. Gail sensed her sentimental well of tears bubbling to the surface and raised a single brow at her. “Or else, they’re going pull our cert, and we’ll all be considered non-union.”

“This just gets better and better.”

She threw her head back against the chair, closed her eyes to let the worst of the throbbing subside. The Police Chief and Local 413 were gunning for her. Whatever the hell she was going to do, she needed to do it soon. Otherwise, Lone-Wolfe was going to sink like a torpedoed cruise-liner. Along with it, all of her employees would go down, black-balled by the Union. None of her drivers would haul again. The only one likely to come out of it at all was Darian, but his reputation would be scarred forever.

She sat upright to find Marla staring at her feet and wringing her hands. “Why’d you draw the short straw?”

Marla’s eyes enlarged. She cleared her throat, “Oh, uhm. Well…”

“Spit it out already.”

“Everyone else figured I was the one you’d be least likely to explode on. I’m not sure why.”

Gail wasn’t either, but she had to admit a momentary amusement. It gave enough fuel to move forward. She shifted topics with a sweeping hand, “Tell Darian to be ready for the meeting tomorrow. I’m assuming the Union rep will be there?” Marla shrugged. “He will be. Make sure you’re here too.”

Marla’s face lit up, “Me? Why me?”

“You were there when I retrieved the rig. I need you to ensure I don’t get bull-rushed. You have to be willing to state what you saw, and emphatically ensure we aren’t hung out to dry.” She was definitely nervous, but gave a slight nod to comply. “Head home. I need you rested for tomorrow. Something tells me it’s gonna’ be a shit-show.”

At that, Marla scampered off with an obvious conflict. She appeared caught between fleeing at full-speed, bawling her eyes out, and slipping out without arousing suspicion of the previous two states. Their presence infected her gait with an unnatural, extra step that forced her to compensate. Gail rolled her eyes, nostrils flaring from other, more pressing issues.

The meeting tomorrow would only be the first of the shit-storm’s waves hitting. As much as she wished otherwise, hoped to keep it from being so, OPD and Local 413’s involvement signaled just how cocked-up the situation had become. NHSB may have been a fledgling watchdog group full of more blow-hards than a congressional whore-house, but she’d underestimated them. They’d obviously had more clout than she’d known, or enough in the right places that muscling in on the Union had worked.

It didn’t matter which way she sliced it, how she came at it, things weren’t looking great. Only the eventual conclusion of zero fault could save them now. Gail had her doubts. Lone-Wolfe’s reputation was already taking a hit, and the longer this lasted, the less likely they’d pull though it– if at all.

Hijack: Part 4

4.

The cursory inspection lasted long enough for Marla to glance at the rig, and admit it was going to be impossible to tell anything. Gail took it as the signal to close her mouth, and instruct her to set up her car for forward escort duty. Before long, the two were working their way out of the lot, one after the other with “Wide-Load” signs hanging off their vehicles and yellow-beacons warning of their proximity.

Gail was glad Marla had slept most of the way to Schaumburg; the faster they got home, the faster they’d get ahead of the inevitable shit-storm the NHSB would kick up to further their agenda. Fat chance, she knew, the morning edition would already be lambasting Lone-Wolfe, and probably the whole profession, and threatening them with bullshit intimidation tactics. That was all the NHSB was good for in this day and age. They had political connections, sure, but they were just that, connections. Local 413 had the same connections and more pull with them. Kick-backs and bribes had kept the Unions strong for a century. That wasn’t looking to change now.

Even so, there was still the nagging fear the impotent blow-hards might still destroy Lone-Wolfe. Especially if, as Gail suspected, M-T was behind the accident somehow. It would be hard to prove, and likely nothing would ever come of it, but if M-T’s bulldogs were on the warpath this wouldn’t be the only incident to occur. Corporate espionage was a way of life for entities like M-T Inc, legal teams the deploy-able smoke-screens that kept them safe.

Night turned once more to day, and the pair pulled into a rest-stop to relieve themselves and fuel-up on caffeinated beverages. Marla was looking more haggard as the minutes passed. Gail sensed she’d been wracking herself with some type of guilt. Wherever it had come from, she couldn’t allow it to stay. The pair leaned against the hood of the Chevy for Gail to smoke and stretch her legs.

“You know it’s not your fault, right?” She said, unceremoniously. Marla gave her a deranged look. “It’s not. I can see you blaming yourself for something you did or didn’t do. You’re thinking, maybe you didn’t top off the transmission fluid, or tighten a bolt on the steering-column, or something else utterly fucking trivial and now it’s somehow your fault.”

Marla’s left eye twitched, and she nodded.

Gail slugged back some cola, “Well, it’s not. So don’t think that. I need you fit to drive and to work. You and Darian are going to be all over this ’til you find out what the hell went wrong. I need you at your best. Ferrero’s death has nothing to do with you, so get over it.”

Marla’s face said her heart had been stung by a iron-rod. Gail admitted maybe she’d been too harsh, but only silently. The girl finally gave another nod, “I know it wasn’t my fault. But that’s what I keep thinking. I’m responsible for the fleet. If something goes wrong, it’s on me.”

“Technically, it’s on Darian,” Gail corrected callously. She recovered with a soft, “Sorry. What I mean is, accidents happen. Even if, by some extreme luck, what happened can be traced back to the garage, it’s no-one’s fault. If Ferrero couldn’t pull out of what happened, no-one could’ve. Even then, there’s no telling if his actions saved more lives than would’ve otherwise been lost.”

Marla considered her words carefully, “You’re saying it’s on the drivers if the rigs are running wrong?”

Gail shook her head, “No. I’m saying, even if the rigs are running wrong, it’s in the driver’s hands to keep the situation from getting worse. Most of us have driven long enough to know how to compensate in any situation. But shit happens. People get hurt, or die. This time it was Bud.”

Marla eyed her, “But you don’t think either of us are at fault?” Gail confirmed her thoughts. “Then what went wrong?”

“That’s what you’re going to find out.”

“No, what I mean is, what’s your best guess?”

“Oh.” She took a deep breathe, chest billowing and depressing. “Well, what I think’s a hell of a lot less important than the actual truth– whatever it may be.”

Marla seemed to connect various, mental dots. “Because M-T showing up and an accident the same day’s too coincidental?” Gail cocked an affirming brow. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“Let’s just hope to fuck I’m wrong.”

Marla nodded, stared off until the pair broke for their vehicles and started on again.

By the time they reached the garage, the day was in full bloom again. Gail cleared the garage and backed the flat-bed tower in. Employees gathered to watch the rig’s ingress, each with the same, glazed and breathless expression Gail had experienced. She set Darian’s team to work pulling the wreck off the flat-bed while Marla grabbed shut-eye on a cot in her office. The pair were exchanging a few, last minute words when Walt Thacker waddled up, newspaper in-hand.

Gail was immediately boiling: the headline barely registered before her teeth were grinding. “Local shipper Lone-Wolfe’s non-compliance fuels NHSB debate.” She read and re-read the headline three and four times before looking up. Marla and Walter were standing beside one another, one red-eyed with exhaustion, the other wondering whether his best waddle was enough to flee from Gail’s imminent explosion. He shifted uncomfortably in place, bespectacled eyes massive and downcast behind their coke-bottle lenses.

Gail sensed the pair’s cringing for cover and managed to control herself. “Get back to work, Walter. Marla, sleep in here, or my rig, but I’ll be here too.”

Marla fished some headphones from a pocket, “I’ll be fine.”

She stuffed the buds in her ears, then fell onto the cot, and hid beneath the wool-blanket she’d been given. Walter waddled away, slightly faster than usual, not needing to be told twice to go. The last thing his heart need was another jog through terror. Gail’s office-door shut with a relieved sigh, glad that it wasn’t being slammed again.

She fell into her desk-chair, beyond exhausted. She wasn’t physically tired, sleep was out of the question anyway, but mentally drained. Swallowing her anger had taken more out of her than she’d thought, and coupled with the past couple days’ reality, it was a wonder she hadn’t collapsed yet. For the next couple hours, all she could think to do was sit at her desk drafting a press-release. Eventually the media would come to her asking for comment, and it was better to be prepared and ahead of things than get swept up and dogged by them. She’d have to be sympathetic toward Ferrero’s family, and the accident in general, but maintain a professional distance.

There would also have to be some mention of the investigation going on. After all, it was technically an industrial accident. Whether or not inspecting the vehicle herself would come back to bite her in the ass was less important than learning the truth. If someone else was responsible for the accident, or even Ferrero himself, it needed to be made clear to Darian’s team, then independently verified by an external source. Buddy’s Rig was the only avenue of truth left, and Gail’d be damned if someone else was going to be responsible for proving Lone-Wolfe’s innocence.

Time passed, Gail’s mind honed to a point. The release was typed up, revised, deleted whole, then rewritten and revised again. The whole process was a storm of clacking keys interrupted by various pauses to re-read what had been written. If Lone-Wolfe had the extra funds for a P-R department, Gail still wouldn’t have let them draft the release. This had to be in her own words, her own diction, to ensure it was as transparent as possible Most of all though, she had to ensure to keep any suppositions out and relay only facts. The accident had been widely reported on, but until she stated the company’s preliminary findings, no-one knew what had really happened.

She slipped on headphones, queued up their cam footage, and synced it to dispatch recordings. Everything had already been pulled during Darian’s review and included a report that detailed his observations and notes on his analysis. Gail had deliberately waited to read anything until after she’d drafted the release. Everything factual from her point of view would have to be stated differntly from Darian’s or else she risked public back-lash for confirmation bias.

The video player spooled forward with views of I-295 similar to what she’d seen the previous night. Aside from the growing daylight, the only differences were from their respective view-points of the rig. The fifth-wheel cam was stationary apart from road-turbulence and its effect on the electrical couplings. Likewise, the trailer-cam was monotonous, never-ending highway travel, as if staring out a car’s back-window, and roughly as entertaining and informative as it sounded.

Gail was focused on the dash-cam though; it and the transcript of the various warning codes. She skipped everything to a few minutes before the first code. In the headphones, Brianne’s autopilot-voice emitted various checks and code call-outs to drivers. They responded tinnier and more distant, but clear enough to be heard.

The first of Ferrero’s codes came, synced with an alert in Brianne’s chatter. “Ferrero. Looking for confirmation on a code-12.”

Gail heard the utter lack of worry in Brianne’s voice. Code 12 was an engagement of safety protocols. All rigs– all road-vehicles, actually– were equipped with crash-response systems that spooled real-time metrics into CPUs from sensors on the vehicles. Through them, hardwired safety-protocols engaged to tell which parts of the vehicle were near-collision and which ways the vehicle should compensate. Everything from pre-priming of brake-lines to auto-retard of the vehicle’s speed was calculated and queued up to ensure any possible accident was no worse than it had to be.

All of this happened within a twelfth of a second; less than the time it took a dispatcher to read the code. The problem was, most codes happened unnecessarily. The safety-priming occurred anytime a vehicle was traveling beyond a certain speed and within a certain distance of other vehicles. Things as simple as a vehicle dropping too much speed to change lanes in front of a rig might cause a code-12. Every dispatcher knew that, and Gail herself had often reported “Code-12 acknowledged, disregard.”

She waited for the repeat of the phrase, or at least part of it, but there was nothing. The next code flashed. She heard it as she had the last. “Ferrero, come in. Code 12 and 16, acknowledge.”

Sixteen was worse, especially after a twelve. Even Gail would’ve been on alert if dispatching. That Brianne’s own, monotonous voice seemed to quiver with concern said she recognized its problematic nature too. Code-16 was a hard application of breaks. The next three codes dinged at-once over the headphones. Three, separate tones sounded. Codes 17, 22, and 6, were confirmations of 16, if nothing else.

The dash-cam showed little change, save a marked decrease in speed. 17 and 22 alone wouldn’t show anything, let alone with a six. Respectively they were the engagement of the ABS systems, exhaust brake, and the prime of the airbag. Anytime a 16 or 17 showed up, it was sure a 6 was near by. Still, there was no way to see anything in the cab behind the camera to confirm driver-awareness.

Something crept sideways into Brianne’s voice as she attempted to hail Ferrero again, and received only silence in reply. More alerts began to ding in her headset, followed by numbers. The cam footage synced as Gail mentally followed the protocols. The dash-cam scenery slowed. The trailer cam showed cars slamming on their brakes, swerving at either side of the truck. One car zoomed past in the fifth-wheel’s peripheral.

All at once, the rig swerved left. The scenery shifted. More codes. A lone car speed away through the windshield. The scenery shifted right. More codes, more alerts. Vehicles slammed into one another in silent destruction. A power-steering code went up. The truck swerved again. A balance code. Brake codes. A veritable stream of safety alerts spooled across the log, mirrored by sounds in Brianne’s headset. Gail sat on-edge. The rig went left, right, left again. The camera jolted right. The truck was on its side. It slammed a guard-rail at an angle, sheered off a section of hood and engine. The steel rail wedged into place– a pry-bar jammed in the righ that drug along the highway. Engine parts rained across asphalt. Metal ground into showering sparks. Fire lit.

Codes and alerts were endless now. Alarms screamed beneath Brianne’s trembling calls. She’d been too frozen to check the cameras before Gail came over, but the footage was there. Gail’s heart was uncharacteristically in her throat. The flames were growing, spewing out smoke. The twisted guard-rail broke free, took the bulk of the engine with it. Debris blew backward with flaming plumes. Oil and gas-soaked steel soared past, sprayed the front-end’s remnants. Smoke and fire obscured everything. The trailer cam caught the last of the evasive cars, and less fortunate drivers, crashing or swerving away as sparks died with the trailer’s momentum. The syrupy stream in her headphones continued for a few moments of inaudible shock before Gail’s own voice piped up on the recording.

A few moments later, it was over. The fire was out. The smoke was gone. EMTs were rushing Ferrero away and fire-fighters were cutting into damaged vehicles to free their occupants. Gail suddenly felt the tension in her body. Her knuckles were white, gripping her chair’s armrests. Her body was poised forward, pulse racing: It could’ve been anyone– it could’ve been her. She swallowed hard at the thought, fished an old flask from a desk-drawer, and after a breath, took a long pull from it.

Hijack: Part 3

3.

The drive to Schaumburg felt longer out of a rig. In truth, it was probably faster, but something about the commanding presence of Gail’s Kenworth altered time. She suspected it had something to do with the shifting of gears, or perhaps the lack thereof. The afternoon faded into night all the same. The silence turned to the quiet sounds of Marla snoozing beside Gail.

Neither of them had much to say anyway, too polar of opposites for anything beyond casual pleasantries. Marla was young, pretty, and attached herself to things too easily, often sentimental to the point that changing a tire was a kind of loss to her. If Gail’d had a choice, she’d have drug Darian along, but he was the only one qualified to analyze Buddy’s logs. Whatever had caused that rig to crash, the event was too coincidental for her; M-T’s pricks show up, and suddenly one of her drivers rolls.

“No way in hell,” she muttered, eyes on the road.

Marla stirred in her reclined seat, but remained asleep. Gail sighed. She couldn’t outright say how, or even for certain that M-T had a hand in things, but there was no denying the feeling in her gut. Ferrero was a veteran driver. He’d been on the road longer than anyone at the company, Gail included. He had an immaculate record, and aside from a DUI at twenty-two– almost forty years ago now– he was a straight-edge that drove by the book, never shirked sleep, and never so much as sped.

The more she thought about it, the more it seemed impossible that the wreck was Ferrero’s fault. The dash-cam had shown enough to say that the rig had tipped, either from hitting something, or avoiding hitting something, and then caught fire. The line of cars behind it, though a few were totaled, said their accidents were secondary. So far as either cam had shown, there were no vehicles in front of nor near enough to the accident to have caused the initial issue. That left only the rig itself at fault, but until Darian could finish his review there was no way to say how it was at fault.

Something felt off. Ferrero drove a T680, a Kenworth that was, by far, the least problematic of the fleet. It had only had a few, minor issues in its more than a decade of run-time. Those were regular things; old alternators, suspension work, a few, minor engine repairs– all things expected from a vehicle doing upwards of 45,000 miles a year. All the work done had been preventative too, never after an accident or incident.

It didn’t add up. Not the way someone would expect it to. Gail’s gut agreed.

Her cell phone buzzed in her pocket and she fished out her corded headset, “Go ahead.”

Darian yawned, exhausted from staring at a computer screen, “I’ve gone through the bulk of the logs and footage of the accident.”

“What did you find?” Gail said, voice firm enough that Marla stirred awake.

“It’d be better to show you, but it’s inconclusive at this point,” he admitted.

“How?”

She could hear his head being thrown back over his chair. “Buddy didn’t hit anyone. Not from the front-end. From what I’ve seen, it looks like he lost control. Rig rocked back and forth and tipped.”

Gail’s face squirmed with unnatural confusion, “What?”

“Look, I called to tell you…” He trailed off for a second. When his voice returned it was quiet, “Ferrero’s dead, Gail. He died at the hospital. Internal injuries.”

She muttered under her breath, “Sonuvabitch.”

Darian didn’t hear it. “The Cook County Coroner called to inform us. They figured we’d already know, but they’re doing an autopsy before shipping the body back to Buddy’s wife and kids.”

“What about the rig?”

She must’ve sounded more cold than usual, Darian hesitated, “Some place in Schaumburg’s got it. I’ll pull up the details, send ’em to your phone.”

“Thanks, Dee,” she said, attempting to counter the last impression. “Get some rest for the night. There’s nothing more you can do now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

The phone went silent.

Marla was awake now. Gail’d have to tell her about Ferrero. It wouldn’t be right not to, but she cringed at the thought of the girl’s sentimentality making her overly emotional. Gail didn’t do grief, mostly because her default states were indifference and wrath, but also because she’d never gone in for the mushy crap it required. She didn’t want to hug anyone and tell them lies about how everything’s okay, or how it would be. That was bullshit. Especially now. Everything wasn’t okay. She had a totaled rig, a dead driver, three dick heads vying for a piece of her, and a cut-throat public ready to string her up.

Ultimately, none of that was Marla’s fault though. It didn’t feel right taking it out on her. With what little mushiness Gail could still feel, she pitied the poor girl. She was just a mechanic, drug along out of need. She’d probably end up out of a job over all this– along with everyone else. No need to pile on more.

Gail took a deep breath, glanced over at Marla. It was now or never. She’d never had trouble revealing bad news before, saw now reason for it now, but it was as if a mental block had suddenly been thrown up. It might’ve been the sort of glisten in Marla’s doughy eyes– they were like someone had over-cooked oatmeal cookies, figured something was better than nothing, then stuffed them into her head.

“What is it?” Marla asked.

Gail knew she couldn’t have been watching Marla for more than a second or two, but the acknowledgment must’ve been enough to rouse her suspicion.

Gail refocused on the road, “Ferrero’s dead.”

“What?” Gail didn’t have to look to see the glimmer of water in Marla’s eyes. “B-but I j-just saw him today. How can–” she broke off with a sharp gasp.

It took all of what remained of Gail’s heart– the non-stone parts anyway– not to throw her head back in exasperation. Sentimentality bred tears. That was the reason she hated it. Gail had been raised, if one could call it that, to “buck up,” “suck it up,” and “deal with it.” Anyone watching from the outside would’ve thought those were the only phrases her parents knew how to speak. Then again, in Gail’s case, they’d have thought all she knew how to do was bitch and cry.

“Internal injuries. I’m guessing from the accident.”

Gail winced at Marla’s wracking sob. No shit it was from the accident. What else would’ve caused it? She swallowed her discomfort, dealt with it.

“I know you’re upset, Marla, but I need your head clear.”

“How’m I supposed to do that?” Marla blurted.

“Channel it,” she instructed with a side-long glance. “Take your grief, and mold it like clay– or transmute it into fuel. Use it to keep focused on figuring out what happened to the rig.”

There was a momentary silence, Gail’s eyes on the darkening road. Marla sniffled, “I-I don’t know if I can do that.”

“You can.”

Gail wanted to say more, but wasn’t sure anything else was apt. Any more confirmation might not allow Marla her own, inner-strength to carry on. Likewise, expounding any further might defeat the purpose of saying anything at all, forcing her to rely on Gail instead of herself. As much as Gail was indifferent toward Marla, overall, the last thing she wanted was the girl leaning on crutches.

Marla sensed the purpose of Gail’s succinct reply. “I’ll try.”

That much was a given, at least. She’d try and fail or try and succeed. In either event, she had a job to do, and Gail would be damned sure she did it. The whole company might be riding on her.

They drove on through the night, the exit signs for Schaumburg appearing with their count-down of mile-fractions. Traffic was light enough that the way in was largely empty, small as it was, especially in comparison to Oakton.

I-290 led on to a four lane avenue and into sprawling suburbia at the town’s outskirts. The residences were all pristinely manicured. Gail guessed the fresh siding and constant lawn care came from one of those wave-like effects where one neighbor’d tried outdo the last. The appearance continued through-out the whole town with a smell the money that permeated even through the car’s closed windows. The area was obviously prosperous.

Oakton was a different world from this one. A fast-paced grindstone that sharpened the strong’s wits and minds and shattered the rest. Oakton was city-life in all its gritty, incessant forms. People there lived and died by the dollar. Here, the dollar was a thing people decided to wipe their asses with or not; housewives draped it over themselves, husbands spoiled their brat-faced children with it, and the rest of the people groveled for it as opportunists or sycophants. Gail knew for certain, had the Third Reich still existed, its greatest recruiting ground would be places like this.

She re-focused her mind on the work-order, her other thoughts threatening to heat her fury to a rapid boil. Ferrero had been on a short haul. A day to get there. A day to get back. He’d stay the night in a motel while dispatch tried to work out a shipment to get him home or not. If not, he’d take the rig home alone. According to the work-orders, Ferrero was to make delivery of the aluminum shipment to a local courier. It wasn’t uncommon for the short hauls. Courier companies contracted a rig to haul from point-A to point-B, take delivery, then divided the shipment onto smaller trucks for various point-Cs or destinations. This time, it didn’t get that far.

From what she recalled of the accident, the Rig was just outside of Schaumburg when everything went tits-up. 290 was a long interstate, but the same she’d taken the last leg of the way into the little village. Even so, there wasn’t a single sign of an accident. The ILDOT crews had done a hell of a quick job cleaning up. More than likely, they’d fucked with the truck doing it.

Gail made a mental note of it; Marla and the other mechanics would have to try to separate out the wreck from the ILDOT’s personal brand of destruction. Until they could take the rig back to the garage though, Gail doubted much would be found. As good as Marla was, she was hardly the expert Darian was. Apart from being educated, and naturally mechanically inclined, he was also the most anal retentive bastard in the world when working on rigs. Funny for a guy that only changed his jumpsuit twice a week.

Gail checked her phone to re-read the text message Darian had sent. The name of the tow-yard was hyper-linked with a set of GPS coordinates. She thumbed the coordinates and a GPS map maximized across the phone’s screen. The locator in her phone pinned itself to the road she was on, highlighted the route to take.

They arrived at the lot of “Joe’s Garage” from a side-street of the main road. It’s front-lot was as clean and manicured as everything else in town, as if a lone weed was an affront to God itself. The rear of the lot though, was encircled by a high-fence of slotted aluminum– so whatever ugliness lay there didn’t offend sensibilities or tastes.

Gail and Marla pushed into the office, a lone man there was waiting for them in the late-hour. As much as his drivers would be on-call all night, he was clearly a day-person, this bit of overtime a mournful slight against him. His replies were short, monosyllabic, with just the slightest hint of spite. The name on the shirt keeping his monstrous gut penned said “Joe.” Either it was a coincidence, or Gail had managed to piss off the owner of yet another company.

“My mechanic’s here to make a cursory inspection of the rig,” Gail said formally.

Joe eyed Marla with something mixing derision and arousal, “Eh?”

She rolled her eyes, pressed on, “We’ll need the vehicle shipped back to Oakton as well.”

“I ‘ken do that, but it ain’t gonna’ be cheap.”

“I’ll drive it back. I’m certified to drive a tow-rig. That way you aren’t paying your driver and you’re pocketing everything you make off it.”

He thought on it for a minute. At least she knew how to talk to him, and he knew how to take an opportunity when he saw it. More opportunists. Great, Gail thought, just what the world needs.

“A’right. I’ll get some forms.”

He disappeared into a back section of the office, reappeared moments later to outline the liability releases and take a check for collateral. Gail hoped it wasn’t needed, it was a personal check and hotter than an eskimos taint during a equatorial, mid-summer’s heatwave. It would bounce higher than a super-ball if it were cashed.

A few signatures later Joe was leading the way out a back door, and into the fenced portion of the lot. Marla and Gail were instantly frozen; flood-lights left not a shred of darkness across the rear-lot, and only a few junkers were stationed around the various spots on the gravel yard.

To one side, their rig sat atop an extra-large flatbed. Gail recalled watching the water on the windows of the rig as its flames were doused, and suddenly wondered how the hell the windscreen had survived. What had once been a series of sleek, sleeper-cab curves and rigid, cock-pit angles, was little more than jagged steel, fiberglass, and peeled paint.

The whole front end was gone or melted down, like it’d never existed at all. Gnarled steel from engine parts stuck out here and there, but it was otherwise empty space scorched black from flames. It lay upright now, the rear half of the chassis twisted from the fifth-wheel back, sticking out at odd angles. Though it was difficult to tell, Gail was certain she saw blood along the left-over interior, shattered driver’s window, and door. It was a wonder Ferrero’d been pulled out at all, let alone in one piece.

Gail’s voice was breathless, “Holy shit.”