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.