Starcorp 2: Hostile Acquisitions

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CHAPTER 10: A Brooding Brew

Vincent Donovan’s day was just starting. He was four hours away from turning on all the lights and unlocking the doors to the pawnshop that he owned and operated. This was an early start for Vincent. His trip down from his dwelling above the shop to the basement below it occurred at the top of the 8 o’clock hour on a normal day. If there was extra pre-opening work to be done, he would come down in the 7 o’clock hour. On this day he was going down to the basement at 5:55 in the morning. This start time was an exception to the exception of his norms.

The work day for Vincent was 12 hours long on average. The pawnshop was open for business during 10 of these hours. When the doors were open, he and his wife, Cynthia Donovan, would spend the day buying and selling used goods, maintaining the shop and keeping the books. He spent the hours before the shops opening prepping the displays and readying the registers. During the hour after he locked the shop’s door, Vincent would total the day’s sales and expenditures and record the data. The task he was engaged in at this early hour in the morning was not a match for any of these activities.

Counting the basement, Vincent’s pawnshop and home had 4 levels. He and his wife lived in the top 2 levels. The basement of the building was where Vincent stored excess furniture and supplies for his home and his shop. A computer station in a corner of the basement was where he did the bookkeeping for his pawnshop. Adjacent to his computer station was a virtual reality game interface unit. This is where he administrated over the operation of the Tellurian Resistance.

Vincent Donovan was the 93-year-old owner of Donovan’s Pawnshop. He was also the Commander-in-Chief of the Tellurian Resistance. His pastime as the leader of an underground guerrilla army was unknown to everyone but his wife, but his public name in this capacity was known to all, Red Rabbit.

In appearance Vincent looked to be in his late sixties. He was still in his pajamas and robe when he sluggishly ambled across the basement floor of his home. He held a cup of coffee in front of him as he made his way to his computer station, and then he set it down on the desk. He then turned toward the virtual reality game station and commenced to climb into the unit.

The virtual reality game interface unit was a whole-body motion capture exoskeleton attached to a robotic arm. The exoskeleton was suspended in midair by the robotic arm. The robotic arm had three sections. The joints between the sections enabled the arm to bend, and the coupling to the exoskeleton’s lower back was a swivel.

After stepping into the foot pads at the bottom of the exoskeleton and inserting his hands into the exogloves, the entire exoskeleton clasped onto Vincent at 12 separate locations about his torso, limbs and feet. Vincent endured this event with indifference. A second later, he pulled down the helmet along with the attached 3-dimensional goggles and microphone.

“Computer, run Odysseus. Enter,” Vincent spoke into the microphone.

“Initiating Odysseus,” the computer acknowledged in Vincent’s earphone.

Seconds after speaking this command, Vincent Donovan found himself alone inside a large gray dimly lit virtual room with an avatar for a body. The features of his avatar bared no resemblance to his true appearance. After a short wait, another avatar materialized within the room. A few seconds after that, a third computer generated avatar appeared from out of nowhere. Their physical configurations were human designs, but the proportions and the colorations of the avatars gave them a digital animation look. All three avatars were male.

“Cadmium,” Vincent grumbled at the two avatars in front of him.

Cadmium was an identifying code word. Also, it was Vincent’s way of telling the silhouettes that he was not compromised. A second after Vincent spoke his code word, the first avatar to appear responded with the code word, “Lavender.” The second avatar followed in turn with the code word, “Brandy.” The tenor of the voices from all three avatars were electronically altered to have an inhuman resonance.

The avatars, the altered vocal resonance and the code words were the measures used to keep the identities of the participants in this conversation a secret from each other and the world. The three men in attendance for this meeting were the leaders of the three most powerful resistance movements on Earth. Encrypted communications across the internet was the medium where all resistance forces operated. Scurrying about in streets and alleys, holding meetings in basements and attics were quickly proven to be an unworkable method of running a resistance in this age of high-tech omnipresent surveillance. Hiding behind encrypted communications across the internet was the only workable way of orchestrating attacks against the UEF.

The strength of a resistance movement correlated with the size of its network. The Free Earth Legion, the Rebel Warriors Army and the Tellurian Resistance consisted of tens of thousands of individuals hiding in the dark web behind code names, passwords and encryptions. All within these movements operated without knowledge of the identities of 97% of its members. Without exception, these resistance movements were vast collections of cells that operated in the blind. They knew only what they needed to know. Each cell was partitioned from the others by unique encryptions. This was in place to ensure that the loss of a cell would not compromise the network.

Cells were made up of field operatives. Handlers managed the cells. Above the cells and the handlers was a jigsaw board of regional commanders, engineers and computer geeks who provided technical expertise and managed the logistics and communications. The top level of all resistance movements was comprised of a small collection of computer specialists, central commanders and a Commander-in-Chief. It was the job of this last group to administrate over the entire network and to direct the resistance campaign. Vincent Donovan was the Commander-in-Chief of the Tellurian Resistance.

“Speak,” Vincent instructed with a lazy delivery.

Vincent crossed his arms as he waited on the reply.

“We’re seeing demonstrations in the streets,” the avatar of Iron Wolf spoke with his electronically distorted voice. “Opposition to the deal we made with the starcorps is growing.”

The demonstrations were occurring in large cities across Europe, Asia and the Americas. The sizes of the crowds were not excessive, but the number of these events was.

“So?” Vincent questioned in a voice that was heavily laced with indifference.

“Are you behind it?” The avatar of Purple Dragon challenged with an intonation of suspicion.

Vincent showed no signs that he was offended by the accusation and commenced a response to the remark in a droll tenor of speech.

“The masses do as they will. I have no control over that.”

“These riots are not spontaneous anti-starcorp outbursts,” Iron Wolf growled back in an outburst. “Someone is motivating these riots.”

“And you think I am that somebody?” Vincent coolly questioned.

“Everyone knows that you did not go in on this deal with us,” Purple Dragon explained in a quick retort.

This was not news to any of the three participating in this conversation or most who were not. News of the starcorps return to the Sol System, and the Tellurian Resistance’s opposition to it, was a popular topic of conversation on planet Earth. Everyone had an opinion about the subject, and most had fiercely held positions.

“Use your heads,” Vincent bellowed with irritation in his voice. “The UEF is using this to sow discord within your ranks.”

This was an idea that Iron Wolf and Purple Dragon were considering and gave considerable weight. They knew that hatred for the starcorps by a considerable minority of Earthers was fomenting rebellion within their resistance movements. They knew this could only work to the advantage of the UEF. Subsequently, this made the UEF a strong suspect. But this did not exonerate Vincent as the instigator of these riots. It also made the Red Rabbit’s opposition to the starcorp deal dangerous to them.

“If this is true, then it’s working.” Iron Wolf argued in response to Vincent’s last remark.

“This is just another reason why you should join us,” Purple Dragon quickly added.

“This is why you should back out of the deal,” Vincent countered with an inflection of rage. “The people of Earth will not tolerate a return of starcorp overlords.”

“It won’t be that way this time,” Purple Dragon earnestly refuted.

Vincent took a moment to grumble under his breath before speaking with disdain in his voice.

“Your naiveté is tedious.”

“And your stupidity is infuriating,” Iron Wolf barked back with rage.

This was not a new argument between them. Vincent Donovan’s unqualified hatred for the starcorps was a constant interference with the more flexible thinking of Iron Wolf and Purple Dragon.

“We need to present a united front to counter this resistance,” Purple Dragon insisted. “The starcorps are our only way out from under the boot of the UEF.”

“I will not agree to any deal with the starcorps that allows them to reconstitute their presence in the Sol System,” Vincent roared back.

Vincent’s bellicose refusal provoked Purple Dragon into raising his voice to the level of a yell for the first time.

“It won’t be that way this time. They won’t have standalone business ventures in the Sol System.”

“But they will have a military presence,” Vincent impassively returned.

“But no participation in Earth affairs,” Iron Wolf spoke as though he was correcting something that Vincent mistakenly said.

“They don’t have to participate if we abide to the terms that they set,” Vincent disputed. “They’re planning to turn Earth into a puzzle board of state cooperatives that function like starcorps. We’ll be too busy arguing among ourselves to counter anything they’re doing.”

“You’re being paranoid, or you’re just blind with hate,” Iron Wolf pouted. “This is Earth’s chance to be free of authoritarian regimes—not just parts of it but the whole planet.”

“Can’t you see what that means,” Vincent nearly screamed. “The Earth will be like them. No morality, no protected standards of behavior or decency. Religious teachings will be suppressed. The Earth will become a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.”

This argument was echoing around the world. Any form of government that resembled a starcorp in operation was automatically reviled by close to 40% of Earth’s population. A government that gave the masses financial shares of ownership in the state were considered godless. This perception was based on the belief that any such government was doomed to pander to the will of heathens for fear of being bankrupted by them. The bottom line of the ledger gave the wants of the majority far greater sway over the social norms of starcorps than any previous form of government. Subsequently, control over the social by the powerful was weakened. For a starcorp government, pleasing the people was more important than restricting them. Within a starcorp, a minority of self-righteous defenders of long held deified and legitimized social restrictions had no sway. Starcorps were the ultimate purveyors of social freedoms and fierce antagonists to rigidly held standards, beliefs and widely held sacrosanct observances.

“That’s a battle for another day,” Purple Dragon grudgingly asserted in response to Vincent’s argument.

“No, it’s not!” Vincent denounced with ferocity.

Vincent took a moment to fume over Purple Dragon’s defeatist acquiescence, and then he spoke again with an undertone of anger.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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