by Jamie Woodcock.
It was supposed to be a new world. He remembered the first time stepping foot onto the planet. A barren landscape stretched out on all sides. No flora or fauna. It was unmarked by human settlements. The ground crunched underfoot, bringing sound to the otherwise silent vista. There was peace for a brief moment. It did not stay this way for long.
It was a journey that many generations had made before. From the countryside to the city, from one region to another, moving in search of a new living. It was no less disruptive than it had been for the generations before. Yet again, ways of living were uprooted and bags were packed.
He arrived with a work group on a single-use dropship. The engines burned fiercely on the trip, almost as if they knew the journey was one-way. The landing, no doubt carefully plotted in advance, was surprisingly rough. Once the engines cooled down, it was straight to work. The first task they had was to dismantle the ship. Its parts were designed to be converted into dormitories and workshops. It was like watching scavengers slowly picking over the carcass of a large animal. First the metal and ceramic shielding came off. The components and wiring were dragged out. Crates, boxes, barrels moved into stockpiles. Slowly but surely an encampment emerged, new from the old.
The years that followed were filled with hard work. Through the long shifts, the work group shaped a new community out of the landscape. The encampment grew, adding new production and refinement facilities, then later leisure and administration. New workers arrived in waves. Their roles indicated by the livery embossed on their overalls. Miners, builders, engineers, botanists, transportation, security, medical, and the occasional pilot.
The new settlement had not gone smoothly. The second harvest had failed, blighted by disease. The livery guilds had petitioned the corporations and public meetings were held. Frustration, if not anger, swept through the colony. Relief supplies slowly trickled in, but they were not enough. There had been talk then of doing things differently. He remembered the late-night conversations and a brief protest at the colony administrative complex. The supplies increased, extra time off granted, and slowly things returned to normal.
Almost as if that taste of crisis had whetted their appetite, it was not long until the first corporate war. Not content to follow the lengthy process of merges and acquisitions, corporations opted for the quicker route. Caldecott-Krüger launched a hostile takeover of Chaoxiang Industries. This drew Liberty Dynamics into the conflict, triggering a standoff with Lodestar Combine.
The fragile system of trade that new colonies relied on to survive was thrown into chaos. It turned into armed conflicts over outputs, mines, and settlements that were far from the new planet. When corporations fought, it pitted worker against worker. The CEOs only fought with words. He remembered watching the news after shifts, seeing the battles unfold. Colonies he had never heard of were seized by companies he vaguely knew.
While the war raged above them, the hard work continued on the planet. If anything, their shifts got longer and some of the modest luxuries became harder to get. Each day, he got up while the sky was still dark. The days became a blur. Using his allotted water for a shower in the morning. Brushing teeth, taking a range of circular, spherical, and hexagonal pills, then back into his room to change. Pulling on overalls after his base layer of clothes. Then the livery of the sub-orbital transport guild fitted on top. The dark green was accompanied by gold filigree embossed into the fabric, depicting tankers, trucks, and a series of smaller vehicles. On the left side of the chest, the holographic foil a reminder of the current licences he held. Each only added after petitioning the guild and paying a substantial tithe. Next the coffee machine would splutter as usual, with a sharp ping. He always knocked the bitter coffee back with a slight wince, taking an off-brand breakfast bar with him.
It was a short walk to the depot. The crunch underfoot was still there, tempered by the number of feet that had now walked these routes. His ID was embedded in the livery, opening the gates once the camera cross checked his face. As usual, he would glance over the schedule, before checking out a vehicle. Speeding out of the depot, he would then make the same trips back on forth from the mines to the refinery. While drones moved some of the smaller cargo, larger trips like this still required someone to monitor all of the moving parts. This was no small vehicle either. It was his job to monitor each part of the loading and unloading process, changing the route and schedule to meet the needs at each end. He had to maintain the equipment and fill out form after form. What he was transporting, he had little idea of. Without him, it would not move, but it also sometimes felt like he was only there to take the blame when things went wrong.
One of the days finished differently. Like usual, he waved to the miners when he arrived on one of the last trips of the shift. One of them, decked out in the bright yellow of the mining guild, jogged up to the window.
“Come and meet with us after the shift” he said, pushing a small leaflet through the window.
The plans circulated first as rumours. There must have been someone who called the place and the time for the demonstration, but if it hadn't been them, someone else would have proposed it. Protestors came out at the end of shifts, from the dormitories, or straight from the bars and canteens. The trickles of individuals, shifts, or groups of friends turned into a torrent as they entered the old town. The roads were thinner there, as if the first arrivals had worried about taking up too much space.
Most protestors got nowhere near the central square. Instead, they caught in eddies around the side streets and pushed up against dams in the roads. The usually quiet side streets were filled with the hum and hubbub of the crowd, punctuated by chants and slogans. Food sellers gathered on corners. There was a smell of oil and spice in the air. All it would take was some music to turn it into a festival atmosphere. The latecomers were trying to move through the crowd. This new wave of protestors compacted the demonstration. Individuals were now much closer, with shoulders brushing against each other. It became harder for him to see what was ahead in the streets. Elbows bumped into his back, and someone stood on his toe. He recognised fewer people around him. The sun began to set.
The first shot could have been mistaken for a firework or some malfunctioning equipment. By the second and third burst, panic had swept through the crowd. The closeness of bodies meant the emotion physically rippled back from the origin.
“The fuck was that?”
“Someone’s been shot…”
"...saw him reach for…"
“…get out of here!”
Competing explanations were being thrown around, overlaid on top of one and other. He heard panic in the conversations, even if he couldn't work out the words.
It was in a bar on the edges of the old town that he heard the news. It was a small place, packed with people staring either into their drinks or into the screens showing the news. The bartender had turned the volume up a little too loud to make up for the lack of conversation. Shaking hands ordered more drinks or finished those at the tables. It had the feeling of a wake for someone that none of them knew.
“…and the head of the colonial authority will resign with immediate effect, responding to…”
The reporting cut through the crowd. No drinks were touched, no words exchanged, as the news settled in.
“…soon as is viable, but in the meantime a provisional colonial authority will be established, this will…”
Almost as soon as this news had filtered through, the screens cut to a grainy shot of a Liberty Dynamics military officer. He was making a prepared speech. His livery was cut over the shoulder and the holographic foil flickered.
“…stepping down with immediate effect, I relinquish control to the current crew who…”
Someone whooped in the bar, another swore creatively in at least four languages.
“… we understand that there have been a series of mutinies across the Liberty Dynamics security forces, effectively withdrawing the corporation from the ongoing hostilities. While the information at present is…”
The ex-Liberty Dynamics security were notable by their lack of livery. Instead, they had refashioned their overalls with custom colours, including a series of embellishments that he couldn’t get the meaning of. They left the hulking military ships on the outskirts of town. There was no way to refuel or rearm them on this planet anyway.
The move to the provisional colonial authority had, of course, been slow. The demonstrations had become a regular post-shift occurrence. Not so much just to protest, but also to meet and share information.
The former security workers started to play more of a role in the demonstrations. Then on one of the days he saw them bring guns along. First holstered, as if to remind the colonial authorities that they had them. Later, they marched openly with the weapons, along with a banner that read “popular defence." It had a creatively amended version of the corporate logo. He could feel the tension throughout the demonstration. The protestors seemed more confident. There was a confrontation or two with colonial security, who quickly backed down. They seemed to become more like observers than a security force, much more careful with the crowd. Their own weapons were stowed, but still had hands resting on them.
After the demonstration, he went back to the depot. The sub-orbital transport workers had formed a committee. They had big decisions to make. He had received a barrage of messages from the guild about this not being a sanctioned meeting, one even warning him not to go. Most of the workers in the meeting had removed their liveries. A few had added some alterations to their overalls too. He hadn't decided what to do himself yet.
The vote for strike was overwhelming. They resolved to keep transportation of food and essentials going, while boycotting the industrial sites. There were a series of demands, from increased pay, better conditions, all the way up to control of the depot themselves and elections to be called immediately. Everyone agreed with the first set, but there was much more debate on the latter demands. Some on the new committee called to go further, others wanted to stick to the guild rules. The debate lasted for hours.
He was back in that same bar on the outskirts of the old down when he heard the news. Music was blaring and drinks were flowing. The bass was shaking the barstools and anything else not nailed down. There was an excited atmosphere as the strikes had spread out across the planet. That there were no early shifts tomorrow provided both an opportunity and an excuse to celebrate. As if to emphasise that the colonial authority was floundering, the news silently showed a series of contradictory announcements. The speakers looked slightly disheveled and over-caffeinated.
The music cut out abruptly. Sound up on the screen.
“…with great sadness that I report there has been an attempt by Caldecott-Krüger to seize the colonial offices. While the attempt has ultimately failed, there are a substantial, but unknown, number of casualties, both corporate officers and citizens. This is a dark day for colonial democracy and should serve as…”
He looked across the bar and saw a return of the looks that focused intensely on either their drinks or the screen.
There was a flurry of activity that followed the day after the failed coup. While other workers slept off their hangovers, the sub-orbital transport workers committee shuttled supplies back and forth. The canteens called for food for the communal lunches, a new generator was needed over that the plant nursery, and barricades were being put up on the main thoroughfares.
“That’s why we need the es-oh-tee-double-you-sees help on this, you see?”
He much preferred the terms “subbies”, or even at a push “sot committee”, to spelling the whole thing out phonetically. It came across as if someone had just read their name and not actually talked to them. No one read the whole thing out like that. But times had changed. He was working with people who he wouldn’t have even come across outside of work now. His livery had been amended now too.
The demonstration was more lively than the last few. The banners seemed to waive a little higher and spirits were lifted. At one point, he jostled with a security guard, who genuinely seemed to be trying to avoid any conflict.
A firework arced across the sky, blazing orange across the light remaining from the sun and moons. It seemed to act as a signal, met with more flares and fireworks. Groups broke off the demonstration and guns were openly brandished. One of the political parties unfurled banners and led a march directly towards the security headquarters.
He looked around, missing some signals, and confused by others. He scanned the edges of the crowd. There was no security to be seen. A few shuttles blasted off into orbit. It felt like an end - or a beginning.
He felt a hand grab his shoulder. Spinning around he was met by another subbie.
“They’ve gone! And those that haven’t have surrendered. Come, quickly.”
He could see the joy written across her face.
“The miners are going to seize the armoury, but I bet if we’re quick we could get into the colony administrative office cellars. Imagine!”
He watched as the new liveries of workers from different industries flashed under the orange rays. It was as if an earthquake had taken place around them. No, they were the earthquake. The streets filled with people. Hands lifted up, feeling the rush of victory as they ran.
This was the day they started making a new world.