Failure and Mutiny

Reads: 43  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 1

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 of The Box Factory

Failure and Mutiny (Welcome Home)

 

The man is an explorer… was an explorer. A space explorer. A captain. A dreamer. An idealist.

A fool. 

Now he is returning home betrayed and destitute.

Alone. 

The lights from the control panel on his ship give off a harsh reddish glow. He hadn’t felt like turning on any other lights. He needed to brood a bit. Mourn. The red lights felt appropriate. The view screen told him he was moving, but the stars outside looked static… stagnant. His anger had boiled over days ago, but had long since dissipated into the cabin. Anger required too much energy, and he was tired. So tired. It was time to stew… to wallow. Indignation. Self-pity. Depression. Sorrow. Loneliness. It would be a few days yet until he reached his destination.

Home.

Home? 

Was it even still his home? Was it ever? He felt like he was flying towards his own funeral. Was it hyperbole to say that? Was it hyperbole to feel that?  The man sat alone in his thoughts, hour after hour, trying to gain ground in an argument he had already lost. “How could they betray me?” He sat alone trying to make sense of his past life as it silently receded into the darkness. The man felt sorry for himself. Alone, in a coffin of his own making, hurtling through space. Can feelings be hyperbole? The man felt dead.

Alone. Alone. Alone.

All alone in a Spaceship he had dreamt about his whole life. 

His Spaceship. 

How had it ended up like this? 

As long as he could remember he had chased only one goal, one dream, one obsession: Space. To become a space explorer. A Spaceman. Traveling the Cosmos, discovering the undiscovered. New worlds with new plants and new animals. New civilizations or old ruins. New anomalies. New secrets. 

"From humble beginnings." 

All great men seemed to come "from humble beginnings," and he had desperately wanted to be a great man. Once, as a child, he had asked his mother if they were living a "humble" life. She seemed to indicate that they were not. "We're doing pretty well for ourselves if you ask me." He found this very discouraging. Adolescence, to him, felt like being shuffled from one prison to the next. Out of one pair of restraints and into another. What good was any of it? He was eager. Hungry. Impatient. Why go from A to B to C to D when you already know where Z is? His destiny wasn't here, it was out there… up there. Escape was inevitable. Imperative. After some considerable time and torment, he had managed to scrape together enough money to acquire an old, but usable, spaceship, and found a few other dreamers to join his cause. His crew. "My crew!" 

Finally. It was time to leave. It was time to live. 

And that was that. He was an explorer at long last, a Captain. Out amongst the stars. Untethered. Free to roam. Unleashed.

And so he went. So he was. 

Spaceman.

He felt right at home slipping through the cracks of the Universe. His fire burned hottest in the cold spaces between the stars. Here was unlimited potential. Here was adventure. Here was the unknown. Here was life! His life. He loved the defiant, rebellious nature inherent in all of it. Truly deep space is no place for a man, but here he was…. there he goes.

And yet...

Being a "Career Space Explorer" didn't always line up with the romantic archetype he had sold himself as a child. As it turns out, there is not a lot of money in the discovery of… well… most things. Most resources you might come across are not worth the cost to transport them back to someone that would want them. New plants and animals are always of interest to the greater scientific community… but then, the greater scientific community isn't exactly rolling in dough either. Even new civilizations (alive or dead) had lost their mystique decades ago. The rapid advance of Space Travel at the turn of the Century had ushered in a "New Planet Boom," an accompanying "Alien Rush" and, for a while, Humans couldn't get enough of the myriad new creatures, "peoples" and histories being discovered on a weekly basis. Space Exploration became very fashionable. One could become rich and famous with the right discovery. For a while there, Space Explorers were the celebrity du jour. As they say, though: "All good things…" It didn't take Mankind long to move from excited, to disinterested, to a general Terracentric Xenophobia. So, yeah… not a lot of money there either.

Freelance Space Exploration these days is a niche pursuit. You have to love it. Breaking-even is often a best case scenario. Discovering something profitable?! Well, that's a bit like winning the lottery. But the man didn't care. It was his passion. He just wanted to see… needed to see what existed in those dark, desolate regions of the universe. And to that end, at least, he had succeeded.

Space.

Here he was.

Here. 

Here?

After the initial excitement started to wear off he began to slowly realize that somehow nothing looked quite like he had imagined. Nothing felt quite as exciting as it had in his head. Not as shiny. Often boring. Dull. Childhood daydreams don’t often include the bookkeeping... or the endless maintenance and repairs required to keep the ship moving... or the general tedium of interstellar travel...

...or...or...or… 

He wasn’t derailed by these discoveries, though. Disappointed, maybe, but nevertheless undeterred. He was still determined to find it. “The dream.” His dream. It must be out here somewhere. “It must!” He followed the thread. A bit of majesty in this star system, a dash of excitement in a rock-slide on a faraway planet, a touch of satisfaction after that first profitable score. Salvaging a derelict spaceship abandoned in an asteroid belt hadn't been a specific goal of his as a child, but it would buy him more time. And so it went. He chased and chased, but "the dream" seemed ever out of reach. Ever on the horizon. Something was still off. 

In all his preparation, he had failed to account for one thing: 

Reality. 

No matter what you do, no matter how far "away" you go, reality is still there staring you in your stupid, mortal face at every turn… fucking with your dreams. Reality is things going awry. And things went awry. Very awry. A lot. 

Reality is disappointment. Looking for something undefined doesn't typically create a life of stability, and the flow of money was something of a feast-or-famine situation. Reality is struggle. An explorer's longevity is typically defined by how much satisfaction he gains during the feast to help him weather the storm of the famine. Reality is despair. It will not surprise you to hear that turnover among the crew was not uncommon. 

Reality is entropy. 

Fortunately for the man, his love of exploration was built atop a foundation of hope. He slowly began to turn the tide. To recalibrate. To pivot. To adapt.  He began to love the pursuit. The mystery of the unknown. The hunt. The quest. He even sometimes enjoyed the struggle of it all. His dream began to shift and change and evolve. It wasn't about what you found, the search was the thing! And that was good… because he wasn’t finding shit. 

He and his crew discovered a handful of worthless, lifeless planets (with even more worthless, more lifeless moons), a "too hot" planet, a "too cold" planet, (but no accompanying "just right" planet),  a ringed planet that was more ring than planet (a planet-ed ring?), and a gas giant made primarily of Methane (basically an incomprehensibly gigantic fart in space) … but no strange new creatures, no artifacts of a long lost civilization, no new scientific anomalies. Nothing. They never found anything of any significant value. 

...until they did. 

One day, in a lonely little corner of the galaxy they found a lonely little planetoid. Unremarkable except for one thing: this small hunk of rock consisted of a nominal amount of a rare mineral called Boxite.

They had won the lottery.

Boxite. Currently one of the most valuable substances in the Universe. Vital to the production of cutting edge virtuality technologies; one of mankind’s largest industries. 

Having discovered the planetoid, the crew would gain trading rights in lieu of outright ownership (only corporations could own newly discovered astronomical objects) and would therefore be able to “choose” who to "sell" the planet (and it's accompanying Boxite) to. In reality, it wasn’t going to be so much a “sale” as it would be a seizure by one very specific “buyer”. Fortunately, the transaction would be accompanied by the legal minimum amount of compensation which,thankfully, was still quite a lot of money! Boxite, you see, was a mineral bound by a Universal Exclusivity Contract owned by one company: Iris Corporation, makers of The Box. (The trailblazer and reigning champion among Virtuality Products. More on this later.) Corporations having replaced governments by this time, Iris, as it so happened, was also the governing body of his home planet… *sigh*… BoxWorld.io (fka Koalemos 138c) in his solar system of origin, you guessed it: TheBoxSystem.org. Truth be told, the man was not a fan of Iris Corp, and if he could legally sell to another buyer, he’d have happily taken less just to avoid contributing resources to the corporate empire. More Boxite meant more Boxes which meant heaping more wealth on top of a uselessly colossal pile of corporate opulence.  At least he could  take comfort in the knowledge that the resulting influx of wealth would trickle down to his people as it seeped out of the oily pores of the rich. The man was being sarcastic. 

He made the call. 

Iris Headquarters. His first deal with the devil. The company would be sending an assessor droid out to their coordinates post-haste.  The man and his crew were to cease all outside communications until the droid’s arrival or incur a penalty on their “reward.” “We can’t have any nogoodniks stopping by to steal the goods or making any illegal (substantially more lucrative) offers for it now can we?” (It was known to happen from time to time.)  They were told to hold tight. 

And so they did.

Despite the unavoidable corruption inherent in the transaction, the man and his crew were finally going to be rewarded for their efforts. Overall, it was good. Everyone was excited. Everyone was happy… for once. The sale would mean more money, and more money would buy him more time. More time to explore. More time to quest. More time to wander the cosmos in search of something truly precious… whatever that ended up being.

The droid had showed up alarmingly quickly. “I was in the area.” The droid would assess the likely Boxite content of the planetoid and transfer the applicable payment to the crew upon their official confirmation of discovery along with their documented ceding of ownership to Iris. All told, the process was amazingly simple and painless. The t’s were crossed, the i’s were dotted...then the man and his crew got mother-fuckin’ paid and… and… 

And. 

And that should have been it. 

But no. 

That god damn droid couldn’t just do it’s fucking job and let them get back to business. 

"In appreciation of your assistance in the acquisition of this valuable asset, I, Assessor Unit#1564, have been authorized by Iris and its subsidiary company LookSeeShow to offer you a most exciting employment opportunity!" The droid was a delicate looking humanoid shape wearing a very nice suit (for a droid) with a sleek, albeit oversized, video screen for a head. The screen displayed its words as the droid spoke and visualizations of various concepts as it explained them, in case any of the crew happened to be deaf or, you know… stupid.

"Our astronomers have a long list of planets, moons, and planetoids that display the right spectral signature indicative of Boxite. The problem is, thanks to the Interstellar Unclaimed Resource Treaty, a planet may not be claimed unless a human representative has made documented physical contact with said planet. LookSeeShow gainfully employs people such as yourselves for this kind of work on behalf of Iris Corporation. You would be given weekly coordinates and compensated to simply travel to these various locations so as to thereby claim any usable assets. On top of any of the earnings a new site would yield, you would be provided a base salary (lest our astronomers turn out to be wrong and you acquire us a worthless planet), a higher quality spacecraft” (The man definitely took offense to that) “and a permanent assessor droid not unlike myself. Though I can’t promise that your new droid will be quite as handsome as the amount of handsome that I am handsome." The droid’s screen-head flashed some digital approximation of a cheeky smile before displaying the text:  Please help us make droids more tolerable by rating the quality of this droid’s humor algorithm. 1-2-3-4-5- No Thanks- 

The droid sat frozen. 

The crew blinked at each other in confusion for a few moments until the man stepped forward and, with some level of awkwardness, tapped  “No Thanks” on the droid’s...uh...face. The screen flashed. Are you sure? Yes - No- Replay Humorous Exchange The man began furiously tapping No- until the droid finally returned to normal.  “Unlike the ‘gig-to-gig’ approach of... other companies, LookSeeShow offers it’s contractors guaranteed 5 year contracts,” A cowboy face appeared on the screen-head  “an’ that there’s a job you can hang yer hat on, pardner!™” A wall of text scrolled quickly through the screen-head*. The man and his crew couldn't read a word of the rapid-speed fine print that flashed across the droid's face, except for the final line: By seeing this disclaimer you agree to these terms. 

Shit.

*If they had been able to read it, they would have read: LookSeeShow’s guaranteed contracts disqualify it’s participants from all Iris-sponsored socialized healthcare programs and investment packages. Premature discontinuation of said contract or insubordination of requirements (contractual or implied) issued by LookSeeShow or its subsidiaries will levy a fine against the undersigned and it’s family in the amount of all previous compensation collected up to the point of malfeasance. Contracted participants  agree to the purchase of any and all equipment assigned to you by LookSeeShow to be paid off over time at an interest rate of 14% annually on any unpaid assets to begin immediately upon acquisition of aforementioned equipment. The terms of LookSeeShow’s guaranteed 5 year contracts are subject to change at any time and do not guarantee the undersigned access to confirmed or implied employment opportunities for any specific period of time. By seeing this disclaimer you agree to these terms.

 “In addition to the monetary benefits, our studies have shown that LookSeeShow Contractors are 23% happier than their freelance counterparts and more attractive to potential sex-mates!” A winky face followed by a heart appeared on the screen. “Iris Corporation and LookSeeShow thank you for your interest in becoming a part of the LookSeeShow family! End LookSeeShow employment presentation B71.” The screen-head flashed: Would you like to become a part of the LookSeeShow family at this time? Yes- No- Please send me more information- 

The man quickly, and angrily pressed No- … but he could feel the air go out of the room. Surely his crew were as disgusted at the prospect of working for this soulless company as he was.

… 

Right? 

"Well, if you change your mind you have our number." The screen-head flashed a digital smile, played an unpleasantly long string of Box-related commercials, confirmed that it had finished interacting with them, bid them a’dieu (accompanied by another unsuccessful attempt at humor) and then…mercifully…  the droid was gone.

But the seed was planted. 

His crew, although initially excited at the prospect of new worlds and new discoveries, had gotten tired of being poor, living in discomfort, and yielding, at best, tiny moments of glory. A burrito looks more beautiful than a supernova when you're starving. He didn’t realize it, but the man had lost his crew the moment he turned down that droid’s offer. It didn't take long for the mutiny to occur. Maybe if he had given the crew an inspiring emotional speech they’d have seen his perspective. He might have at least listened to their concerns, considered their position, tried to understand their perspective. Maybe there was a compromise. Maybe not. He’d never know. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.  Instead of trying anything... he did nothing. Said nothing. Heard nothing. Nothing at all. Pride comes before a fall. What should have been a night of celebration among the man and his crew ended with him retreating to his bunk alone.

Alone.

The next morning he woke up to an empty ship. Empty of crew. Empty of hope. The man could only assume that the crew had taken the droid up on it’s offer, but his indignation kept him from attempting any contact with them to find out. Them. His former crew. Most of the Boxite money was gone, but they had been kind enough to leave him with enough money to get back home along with a note: “No hard feelings.” Traitors. He was functionally broke. He was out of options. His failure was complete. 

How had he ended up here? 

Reality is the dreams of childhood unceremoniously dashed upon the rocks. 

Reality is fucked. 

Now here he sits. Alone. Alone in a rocket ship nearly empty of the fuel of ambition, struggling along on the pungent fumes of defeat.  Alone in his own pitiful thoughts.  Alone in the cold spaces between the stars… and he's freezing. His dream maimed and missing… presumed dead. 

His journey is almost at an end. 

Home. 

Out of the void a pale green dot slowly grows into a sickening green sphere until it dominates his view-screen completely... a perfect visualization of the accompanying nausea he is experiencing.

The lush green foliage of the planet gives way to flames as his ship penetrates the planet’s atmosphere… a perfect visualization of the accompanying anger he is experiencing. 

The ship parts the clouds over the skies of the planet. The massive Giga-Factory comes into view and stays there for a long time. It’s raining. It’s usually raining here… a perfect visualization of the accompanying sorrow he is experiencing. 

The Factory looms large in his field of view now. Sinister. Demonic. Oppressive. 

His only remaining option. 

His return. 

His prison.

His grave. 

The Box Factory.

“Welcome Home.”

 


Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Thomas Drinnen. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

Comments

shawlynstef

What perfectly well-written storytelling! There's so much you've done right, but I'll focus on the two factors that, in my opinion, stood out the most. The first is your impeccable use of language and sentence construction. Nothing spills over the sides of this tightly woven story. No superfluous sentences get in the way of moving this intriguing plot forward. The second thing that I love is the seamless interplay between the two parallel narratives. The protagonist's bubbling emotions and internal dialogue in one stream. And in the other, technical descriptions of this space world and the external action, driving the story forward. So well done! A true wordsmith :)

Sat, May 1st, 2021 11:01am

Facebook Comments

More Literary Fiction Short Stories

Other Content by Thomas Drinnen

Short Story / Literary Fiction