Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Part Five: The Long Journey Home

Chapter Twenty Four

I couldn't help but fidget slightly as I sat at the far end of the conference table. Beside me, Maximillian Weaver stirred a little when Mitch Williams made his entrance. The CEO sat at the head of the long table and regarded his two guests as well as the rest of his well-dressed staff who had turned out for this long awaited meeting. Our arrival in the Cosomine system, seven light years from Ascartequ, was rather uneventful. Of course, the last time I had been involved in a hyperspace exit was when the Crimson Arrow happened upon TerraCorp I. Thinking back to that event made it seem as though my time spent at the helm of the Arrow was more than a lifetime ago. The Gray Wolf with its tiny cargo hold, powerful military engine, and 1 megawatt beam laser was little more than a weak remembrance. It had been swept into the back corner of my mind by the chaos from over two months ago aboard the Hooded Fang that started when I asked sweet Isis to unscramble an encrypted message.

I was awakened from my thoughts by the sound of Williams clearing his throat. He had glanced down at his meeting notes and then began to speak.

"I've given a great deal of thought to Mr. Weaver's proposal about a merger between TerraCorp's remaining holdings and his mining company." He sighed once and continued, "Actually, it's been keeping me up a few nights. I've been, reluctantly, forced to conclude that a merger between our companies would, in fact, be beneficial for all parties involved."

At that, several heavy exhalations were heard around the table. I could've sworn one of them was from Weaver himself, though his expression remained poker faced. He's done this more than once, that's for sure! I thought before Williams continued his monologue.

"I realize that this kind of transition is going to be a difficult one, if for no other reason than the fact that, once we return to human space, we're going to be going back in business to make money, rather than fighting for our very survival."

He then gestured toward our end of the conference room and said, "Mr. Weaver is a businessman of the present and he'll be here to help us make the transition from where we are now to where we should be. We're going to need the cooperation of the entire crew in order to cut down on the time spent in transition. After that, it'll be up to each member of our hundred-thousand-person crew to decide whether or not they wish to remain in our employ."

That comment brought a few startled gasps from the other TerraCorp employees and I had to admit that that was something I hadn't thought of either. Beside me, Weaver didn't even bat an eyelash. A hundred thousand people was quite a large number, even for employees in a megacorporation. To lose as many as ten percent of the ship's manpower could have a very detrimental impact on productivity. I didn't even want to think of what could happen if more than half chose to leave. I only hoped that, for Weaver's sake, the vast majority of the crew would feel more inclined to "remain at home" rather than venture away from the space dredger. Otherwise, he'd under enormous pressure to come up with some extremely innovative "help wanted" ads for the Frontier News!

The rest of the meeting consisted of departmental reports from the various vice presidents. I was surprised to see that the Vice President in Charge of Recycling and Waste Management was formerly the Vice Present in Charge of Advertising! I had a feeling Weaver wouldn't be calling on that man's services if WBD&S needed a slick new recruiting campaign! The other senior officers had titles befitting their job descriptions, though they also seemed to have some additional duties. The Vice President of Communications handled all shipboard communications traffic as well as the maintenance of all sending and receiving equipment. This man also functioned as the great ship's Morale Officer! How he managed to juggle those three enormous responsibilities was a mystery to me.

He must have a staff bigger than the crew of a Federation battleship! I thought.

The report he gave left me with some very interesting insights into the operation and governing of the space dredger. It also made me slightly uneasy. Any ship wouldn't last long if its departments had regular quarrels with each other, but that's what it sounded like, especially with the Vice President of Personnel and Stores directing some rather venomous comments toward two of his colleagues across the table. In fact, I was sure I heard some venom coming from the man who claimed to be the Morale Officer as well. It seemed someone had some quarrel with someone else and all Weaver and I could do was sit and watch as the meeting began to degenerate into mudslinging before too long.

* * * * *

"My God, what have we done?" After leaving a meeting that ended with tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, I really didn't have much to say that was righteous and hopeful.

"Maybe a little research would've been in order, I admit," Weaver still seemed to be able to take all of this in stride. "What surprised me most was that it seems each of the different departments has more autonomy then would be necessary. It's almost like they're provinces in some kind of confederation. The ship's the big unifying nation."

"Great, politics on a starship."

Weaver sighed and nodded, "Well, politics are everywhere, my boy. I just didn't expect them to be quite this intense. This was too much like a Federal Democratic Council meeting than a shipboard report."

"No kidding. So, as the new owner of TerraCorp I, are you gonna bust a few heads and get 'em to clean up their act."

The older man chuckled, "I wish it was that simple, Mark. You can't dismantle something you don't understand. I need to see just how this animal really works. Try to soften it up a bit, then take it apart and rebuild it the way it needs to be rebuilt."

"You mean, more like a corporation and less like a country?" It seemed to make sense to me. You can't have democracy aboard a starship, no matter how large it is!

"Exactly," the executive pushed the stud to open a waiting transport tube. We stepped in and let the capsule shaped vehicle reseal itself.

Weaver waited until we were in motion before continuing his thought, "You have to realize, though, that these people have been trapped alone in space for over three centuries. They probably think they're running things just like any corporation."

"Unless business practices were that corrupt back then," I mentioned and shuddered at the thought.

"No, Mark. Businesses don't operate with that kind of maneuvering going on. I mean, you heard some of those threats."

"You mean Recycling telling Personnel that they'd shut down the scrubbers in their wing if Personnel didn't assign more hands to help in the treatment plants."

"Well, you heard Mitch stomp that out pretty quick."

"Still, if that's the kind of thing someone would authorize if they were pissed off..."

Weaver spread his hands in the universal "I don't know" gesture and said, "What can I say? We've got our hands full."

"What I want to know is why Williams just doesn't fire the real terrors on his staff and replace them with people who aren't so..." I tried to think of a word that would describe my the activity we just witnessed.

"Volatile?" Weaver asked.

"That's putting it lightly," I said, conceding to his adjective.

The executive gave a little laugh and replied, "Again, Mark, we don't know all the facts yet. One board meeting doesn't say everything about a company."

"No, but it does give a good indication of the kind of people you're dealing with. It'll be just like that if any of them disagree with your restructuring proposals."

"True, but you forget, I've been at this a little while. I know how to make smooth transitions during a merger."

Oh brother, I thought. We should just get back aboard the Arrow and get the hell away from here!

Weaver must've sensed my despair at the enormity of the project he was undertaking because he then said, "Actually, this kinda reminds me of when Ronnie Dreyfuss and I bought up Baker Technologies back in 3229."

I looked back at the older gentleman, interested in garnering some wisdom that would make me feel better about what we were up against.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Well, Kelly Baker, the owner had a staff kinda like Williams'. They got stuff done and did it well, but they were always fighting among themselves. Board meetings were free-for-alls just like the one in Williams' officer, but when they put their heads together and thought about how to work out a problem, the results made you forget about all the squabbles they had earlier in the day."

"So, you managed to work with all of them after the merger?"

Weaver looked back out the bubble canopy of the transport pod and replied, "No, we ended up firing about half of 'em. The rest stayed on and understood that arguing over foolishness was a waste of valuable company time and money. We got much more accomplished when we brought in some new folks from Weaver-Dreyfuss to take over the vacated positions. I think the Baker folks were somewhat relieved too."

I thought about this for a moment, then said, "So the real question is whether or not we'll be able to deal with the politics for however long it takes to get back to Alioth."

"We're gonna have to, or else we've got some serious trouble ahead. Remember, we're still outsiders to these folks. We need to blend in better before we can accomplish anything."

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Three

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