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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

A company gets a job order that will dictate the outcome of an interstellar war. Meanwhile, an engineer has built an ingenious invention he would like to sell to interested parties.



It had been three hours since Augustus opened the latest edition of Interstellar Business Empires, and he'd loved every page of it. That was, of course, unfortunate, because the General had been waiting for him for a week now. He really had to entertain him this time. He folded the top part of the magazine and placed it on top of the other unread magazines on his desk.

Three knocks on the door announced the General's presence. Walking inside the office, his appearance was everything Augustus had expected: upright posture, tight body, military cap, medals and badges covering his right chest. The General took off his cap and reached to shake his hand. "Mr. Cairn."

"General Xion. My sincerest apologies for keeping you waiting. I'm quite a busy man, you see."

"I'm sure you are." The General settled into his seat. He couldn't tell whether there's hint of sarcasm in that. "You have received the particulars of this job order, I presume?"

"Ah, yes, of course, I have. We normally don’t terraform planets with life, but given the circumstances of the galaxy today, we should be able to make it work."

"Good, good." He fumbled on the badge attached to the front of his cap. "Winning the war swiftly, or letting it drag on for years. That’s what’s at stake. This war may started by accident, but we have to end it all the same. We need that planet, by all means necessary."

"You needn't worry, General. We can handle it. Just make sure you silence the members of the Gerontocracy. We don't want them biting our asses for specieside, now, don't we?"



Cairn's assistant spoke on his microphone. "Sir, you've got a new visitor, a certain Dr. Charleston."

"I don't know him." He heard a rustle of pages on the other end. His boss reading magazines.

"He said he's got an invention you might want to buy, sir."

"That's probably nothing. Besides, I've already received, what, 3 visitors this week? Make them wait. I'm a busy man."

"But sir, there's six people at your lounge now. Some of them have been here for weeks"

No response.



Dr. Charleston was locked onto a chess board against an envoy from some small planet in the outer ring, whose name he'd forgotten five minutes after. As he pondered his next move, another person came out of the elevator and approached reception. She was the tenth person in line now.

He toyed on the ends of his tie. He made a move.

"Oh." Said the envoy. "That seems to be a mistake, Dr. Charleston."

It was.

It had already been his third day waiting at the lounge of the Planetary Engineering Company. The CEO, according to rumors, was an incredibly busy man. He expected to wait here for weeks.

He passed the time playing chess with the other people in the lounge, most of whom seemed to be important people in their own right. In his first day, he played with two generals and one lady who said she owned the fourth biggest orphanage in the galaxy. Yesterday, he played with a xenobiologist, one of  only forty-three on the planet.

The envoy seemed to be the most interested to play among all of them, but also the least talented. He'd resolved to intentionally making a few wrong moves every now and then to spice the game up. It would have been boring otherwise.

"You seem to be clutching heavily on that techpad of yours, Doctor. Something very important, I presume?" The delegate made a move. He blundered, and right after he was given a chance, too. The Doctor thought that was a bummer.

"My firm's invention is in here, sir. I'm gonna try and sell it. It's not much, really." He made the best move available. The envoy's position is in peril now.



Augustus was enjoying a platter of choice seafood from the blue planet of Shumi when his communicator rang. He pressed the second button on the device.

"Sir? It's the captain of our ship the Nihilist. They're pinging near Sholto."

"Patch them through." He took a mouthful of food.

"Good day, Mr. Cairn. This is Captain Coltrane, captain of the Nihilist. The ship is ready for the mission, sir. We should reach the planet in three days."

"Ve-" Cairn coughed. He took a sip of water to clear his throat of food. "Very well, captain. Remember, this mission might be what defines the future of this company. I expect you to do it right."

"Expect nothing less, sir."



Dr. Charleston had been waiting for eight days now, but he couldn't really complain. Of the fifteen people now on the lounge, he's now on the front of the line to meet the incredibly busy Mr. Cairn. He anticipated he'd be granted the audience today, so he wore his best tie and jacket.

With the envoy gone, he played chess with new people. There was this one guy who claimed to have created a machine that controls the weather. There was another who had papers for a small planet named El'culun, which she intended to sell to the company.

Both of them sucked at chess.

As he was setting up the board for the next game, the man at reception appeared beside him.

"Dr. Charleston? Mr. Cairn would receive you now."



The first thing the Doctor noticed was that the CEO's office was as big as his home, which says a lot, because he was fairly wealthy himself. The art in it would probably be enough to buy a small planet or two. A huge self portrait hung behind Mr. Cairn, who he himself was seated on a gothic, throne-like chair.

"Augustus Cairn. Apologies for making you wait, Dr. Charleston. I'm quite a busy man, you see." He extended a hand towards the doctor.

"Oh, no worries, Mr. Cairn." He took a seat opposite Cairn's desk, ignoring the stack of magazines beside him. "I have an invention your company might make use of."

He then opened his techpad, and, activating its hologram, showed what looked like a gigantic, upside-down cup. A whole city was underneath the cup, while outside of it was nothing but plants and trees. The scale looked immense - the cup was a full foot as represented by the holo, whereas the trees outside of it were only centimeters tall.

"This, Mr. Cairn," the scientist motioned to the rendering in front of him, "is what my colleagues and I call an Aconite dome. It is, essentially, a gigantic biodome. It makes everything underneath it habitable by humans, humanoids, and other wildlife and vegetation."

He looked over to Mr. Cairn, but his face was blank. His gaze focused on the giant cup in front of him.

He went on. "They keep the temperature inside tolerable, despite the whole planet having very harsh and extreme climates. So far, however, we have only been able to make Aconite models that work on extremely hot climates; they currently don't work on places with harshly low temperatures, but we’re close to figuring it out."

"So, basically, in its current model, it's just one giant freezer?"

Dr. Charleston didn't know if Mr. Cairn was joking or not.



Augustus shifted in his seat. Looking at his watch, he saw that the Doctor had taken about ten minutes with his presentation, time he could have spent reading the new article on Lightyear Times, which laid on top of his magazine stack. He barely listened to the whole pitch, and only asked a few questions in the end to make it appear as though he had been attentive all this time.

"I'm afraid it won't work, Doctor."

Dr. Charleston was taken aback by his words. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Cairn?"

"When clients ask to terraform a planet, Doctor, they ask for whole planets to be transformed, not just parts of it." Cairn straightened in his seat. He looked at his watch, this time impatiently. "No one asks to use a small part of a planet. They want all of it."

"Oh, well, uhm, I see, I see." A thin sheet of sweat blanketed the Doctor's forehead. "Well that's a pity. But maybe I can leave you this techpad, Mr. Cairn. You can keep it, just in case you have need for my designs."

Dr. Charleston gave his pad to Augustus. After the Doctor had taken his leave, he placed it on his desk and put his stack of magazines above it.



Deep in space, a colossal structure made of metal appeared out of warp speed. Spanning one kilometer on its longest side and half a kilometer across, the starship Nihilist was a contrast to the sea of blackness around it, and on the melancholic blue of the frozen planet in front of it, some three thousand kilometers away.

Upon receiving their mission less than a week ago, the Nihilist’s crew made quick work with preparing the ship. Terraforming the planet Sholto should involve around twelve semi-sentient humanoid drones and some twelve-hundred high-precision thermal warheads. After about a standard week, the planet’s temperature should be reduced by two degrees, and another degree the next week.

That temperature should be pliable enough for the General’s forces to use the planet however they like.

Records show that about 40 percent of the planet is land, but increasing its temperature will increase its sea level and reduce the planet’s land area to about 28 percent of the surface. Additionally, about 60 percent of the planet’s flora and fauna will not survive, some because of drowning and most due to the increase in temperature. The orders did not make provisions for those losses.

Another ship, this one about the same size as the Nihilist, was lurking behind the planet. It was cloaked by Sholto’s magnetic field, and its effectors were armed and ready.



There were currently fourteen people waiting on the lounge. His boss was still busy reading magazines.

The assistant’s techpad just pinged. Upon inspection, it showed a document on its screen, its top line reading “INCIDENT REPORT: FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION” in solid block letters. The assistant read on.

At exactly 13:36:49  standard time, on the 12th day of the 3rd month of the year 438.3 Sol C, starship Nihilist, while orbiting the planet Sholto, coordinates 431.33 S66.3, and while carrying 1,133 thermal warheads primed for terraforming, was fired at by a Class B cruise-destroyer belonging to the forces of Khain. As the Nihilist was dropping off its load, the Class B cruise-destroyer fired from inside the planet’s magnetic fields, effectively ambushing our ship.

Bad news. Bad, bad news, the assistant thought.

Starship Nihilist was destroyed in the attack, and crash landed towards the equator of the planet Sholto, along with its 1,133 warheads.

“Surely this can’t get any worse.” the assistant said to himself.

As the ship crashed, its warheads, all primed to fire, exploded, along with the ship’s neutrino engines. The explosion caused a huge crater on the planet spanning some 8,000 kilometers wide and 400 kilometers deep, exposing the planet’s mantle. Surface temperature has since went up by twenty degrees centigrade. All life on the planet has died.

“All life on the planet has died?”

He read again.

“All life on the planet has died. Shit.”

The assistant ran as fast as he could to the inside office.



“The General is livid, sir. He can conjure up no excuse to the Gerontocracy for the genocide, other than it was enemy forces who triggered the event. It’s a weak excuse, sir, to say the least.”

Augustus was looking at a rotating holo of a planet that doesn’t quite look like a planet. The holo was glowing with bright red light, a hue too painful for the eyes. And on its equator was a huge hole, ragged and irregular, like a huge bite taken off an apple.

“But that’s the least of our problems, sir. You have been slapped with lawsuits and sanctions. The Hive Mind of Liss, the Khygitamekon Empire, the T’arkans, the Shaleian Meritocracy, along with other organizations against terraforming and killing lower level lifeforms. They’ve all jumped on you, sir.”

Augustus had turned the techpad off and had been staring straight into nothingness. He’d escaped situations like this before. All those sanctions and lawsuits should be easy; they all just want settlement money, and he has a lot of that. To the more insistent ones, he’d bribe a person or two to sabotage the whole case. It’s all easy. His father had taught him all the techniques, after all.

His real problem, he thought, was the Gerontocracy. He had to show them that it’d be harder for them to win their petty little war without his help. He had to show them he was essential.

Augustus stood up and fixed himself a drink on the tray on the far side of the room. There’s no other way, he thought as he walked over to the window.

He turned around and glanced to the direction of his desk.

“I have an idea. We can get through this.”

His gaze was fixed on a techpad underneath his magazine stack.



Dr. Charleston was sitting on the lounge of Exoplanet Corp, a mere four days after his meeting with Mr. Cairn. He had just come after a three-minute ride from the underground bullet. There were four people already with him, all looking regal and important. He was about to ask them to play chess with him, but didn’t bother. He opened his techpad, and played with a computer instead.

His pad pinged after a few minutes. When he clicked on it, the face of Mr. Cairn’s assistant covered his whole screen.

“Good morning, Dr. Charleston. You invented the giant freezer, didn’t you?

“Yes, I did. Why do you ask?”

“Mr. Cairn needs you. He wants you to fix a planet for him.”

Submitted: January 17, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Christian Jerome. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



This is a really well, thought-out story.
Your players are well-rounded with definitively different personalities.

The dialogue flows naturally and sounds great!

Your presentation is also very clean and tidy.
A very impressive story, indeed.

Sat, February 20th, 2021 1:32pm


Thanks for reading, and for the kind comments!

Sat, February 20th, 2021 8:39pm

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