Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Chapter Twenty Three

"You've gotta be kidding me!" I said, not believing a word of what Max Weaver had just proposed as we made our way out of his cabin and down to the starboard airlock.

"Can you think of a better idea?"

"No, but I wouldn't expect you to give in to another company so easily!"

Weaver frowned and his brow furrowed, "This is not giving in. Corporations do this kind of thing all the time."

"All the time?"

"Yes, mergers are a pretty common thing. If two companies in need of financial assistance discover that, by working together, they can improve their economic standing, they'll combine their efforts and form a symbiotic partnership. "

I was not pleased and had no problem with saying so, "Sounds more like you're letting them buy you out."

Weaver gave me a shocked expression.

"Who said anything about buying us out?"

Now it was my turn to be confused, "But, that's what you said you were doing, right?"

The older man chuckled and slapped my shoulder, "No, no, no, Mark! I'm going to convince Williams that he'd be better off under the wing of Weaver, Baker, Dreyfuss, and Stone. Remember, he's an employee of a bankrupt company. Remember, the TerraCorp folded over two hundred years ago."

I was still skeptical, "Yeah, but what about the fact that these people have become pretty self contained? They don't need to work for anyone else right now."

"They'll need to do something once they get back into known space," Weaver quickly replied, "Remember, they're still carting around and producing Twenty-Ninth Century technology."

Now that's very true, I thought, though I still had one last concern, "Do you think they'd trust you and your explanations enough to do a merger?"

Weaver shrugged, "There's only one way to find out."

* * * * *

"I don't quite grasp your reasoning, Mr. Weaver," Mitch Williams sat back in his seat, a stern expression on his face. "You're suggesting that, because the TerraCorp no longer officially exists, that we wouldn't be able to reactivate the company. I'll admit, I know very little of modern business practices in the home sectors, but I don't see why we couldn't simply get some kind of a loan or sell off some shares to get us on some solid financial ground."

Weaver seemed to have his rebuttal already in place, "With what? I mean, with all due respect, this ship of yours is all outdated technology, not to mention very unwieldy. You might be able to sell her for some retirement cash, but it seems to me that you and your crew would like to keep her intact."

"That's true, we would," Williams nodded in response.

"Well then, how'd you be able to upgrade her to modern production standards? It would take years wouldn't it, if you did it by yourselves, during which time you wouldn't be making any money."

The man behind the CEO's desk sighed, "You have a point."

Weaver continued, "Besides which, where're you gonna park this thing? It's so damned big you'd have to get yourself an orbital parking permit."

I shuddered, hoping that Williams didn't notice. I've always had problems when I've heard people say things that I knew were bare-faced lies.

Though, maybe he's telling the truth! I found myself thinking.

"Then there's the problem of actually getting people to buy shares in your new company. You need to produce products that modern citizens want to have. Again, no offense, but thirty-third century human beings want modern equipment and ships. You'd have to make quite a huge investment in technology upgrades not to mention the problem of training your people to operate thirty-third Century factory equipment!" Weaver was picking up momentum in his speaking, the little salesman inside him making the ultimate pitch to earn himself and his cartel several billion credits worth of industrial machinery and trained personnel. He barreled onward, "I'm not saying it's impossible, but you're gonna need some help. Even if you sold all the sub craft in your cargo bays, you'd still come up several million credits short, especially dealing with upgrading this entire ship! Remember, space dredgers went out of style centuries ago and so you're gonna need to prove to all of humanity that investing in one is a worthwhile cause. That's why I'm saying if you come on board with us, we'll be able to get you squared away in less than a year and start pulling in billions. Not to mention give your people some extra pocket money so they can see the universe that they only heard about from their ancestors!" Weaver spread his hands, indicating that he had reached his conclusion.

Now, that was really good! I thought. I have to admit that, despite the fact that I normally question things and never take stuff at face value, If I were in Williams' position, I'd be giving Weaver's pitch some extremely serious consideration. I looked back across the big executive desk and saw that Williams appeared to be pondering all of this new information.

The tall thin man gave another sigh, shook his head and said, "You've given me quite a bit to think about. I'm not going to blindly say 'yes' to anything," he paused, glanced down at his desk and then added, "but I'm not going to just say 'no' either." He looked up at the two of us and then asked, "Are you going to stay with us for the time being? Or does this Thargoid business mean you have to shove off before we get ourselves underway?"

Weaver put his hands up in a seemingly defensive gesture, "Oh no. Like I said, we've done our part of that. We'll be here."

Williams nodded, "All right then. Let me see to our hyperspace jump. Once we're in Witch Space, I'll have time to think. You'll have an answer by the time we arrive in the next system."

Weaver nodded this time and replied, "That's fine."

Williams then stood up and said, "Well, then, gentlemen, if there's nothing else you need, I've got to schedule a few meetings before we go into hyperspace. Feel free to head on up to the bridge deck. I imagine you're at least a little curious about how we fly a ship like this."

I couldn't help but chuckle, "You're definitely right on that one, sir."

* * * * *

"So, what do you think?" I asked as we headed down the hall toward the nearest personnel transport tube.

Without looking over at me, Weaver replied, "We got 'em."

I did a double take, "What? How do you know?"

We arrived at a large sliding door that let into a gigantic horizontal pipe imbedded in the wall. Weaver looked at the control panel, hit a stud and the door slid aside. Peering inside revealed a small lozenge shaped pod with an upper half made entirely of transparisteel. Four bench-like couches, paired off back to back, ran down the middle of the car and several large cushions on window seats lined the walls. I realized that if the pod were full, it would be very cramped. Fortunately, it looked like we would be the transport's only occupants as it took us to the forward end of the great space dredger.

We stepped into the transport pod and the door slid shut behind us. I took a seat on one of the center benches facing the door and Weaver sat on the opposite bench, facing the other way. There was a hissing noise as, slowly at first, then faster, the walls of the tunnel slid past the transparent dome around us.

"You see, Mark," Weaver regarded me, ignoring what was happening outside, "Mitch Williams knows how to run this ship. He's been doing it for a good part of his life now."

I quickly re-entered into the conversation, "Right, so how do you know he'll sell out to you?"

"He doesn't have a head for business and he knows it."

I was puzzled, "But you said he knows how to run his ship," I remarked.

Weaver scowled, "You don't get it. He's not doing anything but assuming the role of a civilian starship commander! That's not what a real CEO does. What I did was impress upon him the fact that, being the CEO of a corporation in the home sector, he'll have lots of important decisions to make that have nothing whatsoever to do with fixing drive coils and sending ships out on mining expeditions. He knows he doesn't have that know-how right now."

"You could teach him, couldn't you?" I asked.

Weaver chuckled, "Mark, it's taken me the better part of my life to figure out just how the hell the system works. You can't teach corporate politics and economics overnight like it's one of those computer simulation games."

I sighed, remembering fun-filled days playing Master of the Universe, "If only it were so simple that market controls could be worked by the touch of a button or a single voice command."

Weaver gaped, "Are you kidding? That'd put people like me out of a job!"

I turned my attention to the invisible canopy and watched as the tunnel through which we were moving opened out into a vast space. The outside of TerraCorp I was impressive enough, but this was something else entirely! An entire city sprawled below us. Tall buildings arranged in geometric shapes framed little plots of grassland. Lights twinkled within the buildings and the streets surrounding them bustled with people moving on foot and riding small hover scooters. I couldn't imagine the kind of engineering knowledge it took to build this place, but I was astounded once again. It was almost as though this ride through one of the ship's great arcologies brought home the awesome size of the ship more than flying alongside her hull in preparation for docking!

It has to be because I can see the people, I thought. That has to be the reason.

Weaver seemed captivated as well. I heard him say, "I can't even imagine how much this thing could bring us once we get her up to modern equipment standards."

"You could buy your own star system," I said.

The older executive regarded me for a moment before replying, "Mark, we already own our own star systems. That wouldn't be anything new."

"True, but you could buy one new star system a week with this kind of production." I mused.

"Now that's a possibility."

The transport pod sped onward through the arcology and back into the tunnel system.

* * * * *

"All right, go on ahead in," the GalCop security guard ushered us out of the lift vestibule and onto the bridge of TerraCorp I. The room was very large and populated by many technicians and supervisors, all dressed in different colored sets of coveralls. The most striking feature of the bridge was the control pit that dominated the very center of the room. Many long banks of control consoles all arranged into neat rows faced a gigantic screen which took up the entire forward wall. That screen had to have been at least twenty meters wide and seven or eight meters high!

"This is incredible!" I couldn't help but say.

"Well, what'd you expect from a ship this size?" Weaver asked.

"I don't know," I admitted, "but nothing quite like this."

I headed toward the after end of the vast chamber and approached what had to be the command station. One chair sat high over everything and I reasoned that that was the place where CEO Mitch Williams would be sitting when he arrived. Two seats, one on either side of the command chair, and not quite as high, were occupied by the two men who had been standing with Williams upon our first meeting. The two gentlemen worked at their consoles, busily making the preparations for the translation into hyperspace.

I headed down into the control pit and watched the flurry of activity as engineers brought their consoles on line and issued commands to power up the various ship systems. Even during my brief stay aboard the Weaver's Dream, I had never seen so many people working on a ship to perform a task that lone-wolf traders take so very much for granted. Apparently hyperspace jumps were quite a big deal back in the Twenty Ninth Century!

I strode on up to the forward end of the control pit. The enormous helm console stretched from one side of the pit to the other and was manned by three technicians. One controlled the giant ship's movement in space while another served as a backup. The third person manned a navigation chart, plotting courses for the autopilot. I figured that that person's job was actually more active than that of the two people at the steering controls! Only if you had to disengage the autopilot would the... Quartermaster? Yes, that was it, and his assistant have a chance to use their skills. Otherwise, they were simply along for the ride. I wondered how often the quartermaster actually got a chance to touch his controls when a voice cut across the room.

"Well, what do you think, Mister Pritchard?" I turned and saw Mitch Williams standing at the top of the ramp leading down into the control pit. He marched down and stood a few feet away from me.

"I think it's very impressive," I remarked.

"In just a few moments, you'll have the opportunity to witness the intricacies of old-time star travel."

I tried not to shudder at the thought. At least I knew I could trust modern hyperdrives, but this?

"I'm sure it'll be interesting," I replied.

"Well, have a seat and make yourself comfortable, Commander," he said, then turned and headed for his command chair. I managed not to wince at the use of my somewhat-ficticous military rank and sat down at chair sitting behind a dim control console. I felt tempted to find the "on" button for the dark panel, but decided against it. I don't know a thing about this old technology so I'd better leave it alone! I thought as I sat back and tried to get comfortable.

I watched the starry panorama through the viewscreen for a moment, then noticed a digital clock just above the screen counting down the seconds to the hyperspace jump.

"Bring all drive coils on line," William's voice crackled through a tiny intercom speaker next to the screen mounted in the middle of my console. Instinctively, I began searching for the necessary switches to throw. Finding none caused me to feel a slight wave of panic.

"Drive coils on line and energizing," came another voice and I breathed with relief as I realized that the intercom system was designed so everyone knew what everyone else was doing.

"Lock destination into navigation computer," Williams commanded.

"Destination system locked," reported the man at the navigation console.

"Coils up to power, sir," said one of the engineers.

"Drive coil interlocks are stable, sir," I heard a female voice say.

"Ready to begin transit," announced the quartermaster.

"Execute," ordered the CEO.

I watched as the quartermaster touched a major control. There was a lurch as the gigantic space dredger leapt forwarrd and vista outside the viewscreen began its nauseating spiral into the ghostly white tunnel of Witch Space. The ship shuddered a bit and I heard Williams say, "Get that radiation shielding up!"

"Shields in place," announced the woman seated beside me and, all at once, the ship stopped shaking. The walls of the eerie tunnel glided swiftly by as though we were one of TerraCorp I's own well maintained personnel transport pods.

"Transition complete," reported the quartermaster, "ETA to Cosomine system is seven days."

"Very well," replied Williams who then got up from his seat. "If anyone needs me, I'll me in my office," he said as he strode for the main lift.

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Two

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