A Letter From an Editor
by Bill McCormick
Brad Jacobs, a ruthless corporate manager, seizes an opportunity to exploit workers of below-average intelligence by employing them as miners on a distant planet. He persuades them that they are embarking on a kind of video-game adventure. However, he forgets the law of unintended consequences, which is summed up in many proverbs such as “Look before you leap” and “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley.”
At the beginning, an unpardonably snarky letter from an editor begs the question: Who really are the “stunted” in all this?
Brad put away the latest reports from WHX-131-L and smiled. Over the last 18 months the stunts had mined more trinamium than anyone expected; they could make bots obsolete.
They didn’t seem to be having any problems with the microbe either. The labs now seemed to think that the microbe would cause some form of retardation and that the stunts were immune because they were already stunts. That worked for Brad.
There was a bunch of technical stuff as well, but it bored him and he skimmed over it. As far as he could tell the stunts had undergone some changes but nothing that would stop the mining. After that he just didn’t care.
Probes had discovered two more planets which had similar microbes and A/C was already ramping up stunt training programs to take advantage of them. The PR department was working overtime and had spun the events as one of the most altruistic acts ever committed by any corporation. Stunts were actually volunteering and were lining up outside the main gate begging to be sent off-world and allowed to battle the evil wizard Parazin.
The numerous Cease and Desist letters from Parazin Industries were neatly filed away in some drawer in the legal department. Bob had showed him one and he’d found it hilarious. They’d been caught with their pants down and had lost three planets already. The fact that they were taking a beating in the market only made things sweeter.
Brad knew the acquisitions department was scouting a slew of Parazin’s subsidiaries and would probably snag a few of the plums. He also knew that his bonus checks had become things of legend. He’d bought a home in the nearby mountains that had a swimming pool, a three-car landing pad and a full staff. He’d always wanted a butler and now he had two.
He also knew that his boss Jenkins would be retiring this year and he was a shoo-in for the promotion. In fact Jenkins had made no secret of the fact that he was only recommending Brad instead of the usual slate of candidates.
Brad’s favorite part of all this was his purchase of Alchemy Costumes in the Southwest Free Zone. The company made costumes that featured fantasy characters, and it was definitely headed towards bankruptcy. Instead of closing the company and selling off inventory, as recommended by his accountant, he’d made Alchemy Costumes the exclusive manufacturer of Epic Dungeon Quest clothing.
In just six months the company had doubled its staff and was still barely keeping up with orders. Not only did the usual retinue of kids want this crap, stunts the world over wanted to dress like the miners they’d seen on the vids.
When one of the cargo ship’s crew had taken vids of the stunts he’d shown them to Brad thinking he’d get a laugh. He did, but Brad knew a gold mine when he saw one and quickly got a copy to the marketing department to be edited for broadcast.
The scene with one of the stunts riding in an ore car, singing “Hi Ho” at the top of his lungs while his cape was flapping in the breeze was a public relations dream come true. He was glad that damn song was in public domain, because Disney was a bitch to work with.
After the vid first aired he’d received a dozen requests from newsies to interview “the valiant stunts on WHX-131-L.” He’d granted them all and they were going out on the next ship. You couldn’t pay for publicity like this.
To avoid the possibility of anyone claiming any improprieties he’d had Janice promoted to Assistant VP of Marketing. Now that they were equals they could see each other openly. She was both ruthless and horny, a combination he found exhilarating. They both knew that they’d either have to get married or break it off since they were so closely tied to the Star Stunts, which is what the newsies called the moron miners.
They each also knew they were on the career fast track and saw no reason to mess with success. They’d decided to have a traditional one-year engagement and then a big church wedding. Janice even suggested having some stunts wearing Epic Dungeon Quest gear to act as ushers.
It took him an hour to stop laughing but he had to admit it was a brilliant idea, and he agreed.
This morning he’d had the ring delivered and would give it to her over dinner at Warren’s, the site of their first date. And the springboard to the most amazing sex he’d ever had.
He knew, intellectually, that he owed all his success to the stunts, but he would never admit it, not even to himself. He had a board meeting in the afternoon so he took some time to make sure all of his reports were in order and then called in his new assistant, Mark Chalmers.
Chalmers was even better at his job that Janice had been. Brad had learned to trust his instincts and judgment. Chalmers came handed Brad a complete presentation on a portable hard drive. Brad had no idea when Chalmers had made it but it was exactly what Brad wanted. Every highlight was timed correctly and all of the technical data was relegated to footnotes. With this in his possession, all Brad had to do was show up and look good. Two tasks he was eminently suited for.
Brad and Chalmers quickly ran through a mock presentation to make sure nothing had been forgotten. Chalmers quietly suggested Brad wear the red tie; it made him look more powerful. Brad should add the wraith hunter pin that the stunts all wore; there would be newsies in the meeting.
After the presentation and impromptu press conference, skillfully initiated by Chalmers, Brad had an hour to kill before he was to meet Janice. He went down to Milton’s office. The slovenly programmer was doing exactly what Brad expected, eating a doughnut and reviewing reams of data. Milton waved him into a seat and made some notes on the paperwork before he turned to Brad.
“Greetings, glorious leader,” he said imitating one of the loser characters in the stupid game. “What brings you to my humble hovel?”
“I was just wondering if you got the specs for the new updates?”
“Just finished. Level 4 will feature an easy way to shore up tunnel walls using materials they have handy. Level 5 will show them how to create lanterns so they can go deeper into the tunnels. And as per company policy, each stunt gets one share of A/C stock when they complete a level successfully.”
“What about a prize?”
“They think that is the prize so I stopped giving away stuff we didn’t have to.”
Brad burst out laughing. This was going better than he’d ever dreamed. The courts had ruled, savagely, against Parazin’s claims to WHX-131-L, A/C’s profit margin was up over 25 percent and he was getting richer by the day. Janice was almost a bonus at this point.
Thinking of her he showed Milton the ring. Milton appraised it for a few seconds and then laughed. “No one will miss that sucker. What is that? 4-carat emerald cut?”
“It’s 4.5, and pure.”
“I’d expect nothing less from you,” Milton mused. “By the way, since the stunts are hot on the vids these days, do you want me to add a camera feature so they can record a short message to their families?”
Brad thought about that for a while. “It’s not a bad idea. They’re cute as kittens when our Marketing department gets through with them. Just make sure that Marketing get the vids first, in case one of the stunts complains or cries about missing mommy, I don’t want to see it on the newsies’ late-night crap.”
“Easy enough. Oh, I never got to thank you for those stock options. I’m able to afford the care my mom’s needs now. It’s one less thing to worry about.”
“Don’t you have insurance?”
“Sure, but I was adopted; she’s not covered under it.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Believe it or not, multiple sclerosis. It was missed in her med scans when she was young.”
“Damn. That sucks.”
Brad thought about it. His family was healthy and well-insured. He remembered the “whole family first” campaign that had reduced rights for adopted children, but he had never given it much thought. He knew that when he and Janice got married they’d never have to worry about that.
He excused himself briefly and put a call into Chalmers to see if anything could be done. He wanted Milton completely focused on the tasks at hand, and having him worrying about his mother wouldn’t help. Milton had avoided promotions, because once you got to management level you had to buy in on insurance. Having a liability like Milton’s mother would make it very expensive.
As he was getting ready to go back in Chalmers called. It seemed that A/C owned a hospital nearby. It had a separate convalescent facility that could easily care for Milton’s mother at no cost to Milton, since it was being funded by a study that was researching terminal diseases. It also had an in-house Bingo parlor and bowling.
Brad seriously doubted that Milton’s mother would be bowling any time soon but asked Chalmers to see how soon she could get in. As it turned out Chalmers had already made her reservation, spoken with her to make sure she would go and had a confirmation number, which he flashed on Brad’s porta-screen.
Brad walked back in to Milton’s office and gave him the good news. For the first, and hopefully last, time in his life Brad made a grown man weep with joy.
* * *
It had been three years since they’d left Earth. Quentin and Melissa shared a tent, but not a bed, since they weren’t married yet. The next cargo ship was due in a few days and it would be bringing a monk, just like the ones in Epic Dungeon Quest, to make their relationship officially official. There would be nine marriages when the ship arrived.
Melissa had made the tent prettier and added little pillows to all the chairs. They’d learned how to build furniture and sew, thanks to Epic Dungeon Quest. Quentin saw now that the man on Earth had been right, this was real and not just a game.
They’d all heard the wraiths stalking the mountainside, so they kept guards on their perimeter at all times. So far no wraiths had dared to venture into their village, but you could never be too careful. Thomas had turned out to be very good at making sharp things; he was put in charge of making sharp things the guards could carry to kill the wraiths if they ever came to the village.
About two years after they’d landed, they’d found some small, six-legged animals that were friendly and were scared of the wraiths too. They had four eyes and were covered in bluish fur with pink tips. The miners didn’t know what they were and called them dogs.
Almost every tent had a dog living in it now. Emboldened by their human companions, the dogs would bark their odd bark and charge into the night when they heard the wraiths.
Once a dog had brought back a round device that none of them recognized. They’d looked it up in the game manual and found that it was a stepping disk used by wraiths to go from one realm to another. They broke it into a kazillion pieces with their hammers. No wraiths were going to pop up in their village.
One of the ship’s crew had given Roger a really neat device. You just pointed it at something you wanted to eat. If the box flashed green, you ate whatever it was. If it flashed red, you didn’t touch it. That meant no one had to get sick as when they’d found the blue berries. Roger was real good about sharing the device too, and everyone was safe now from bad food.
Yet another good thing was the lanterns. Not only did they light up the dark parts of the tunnels, they lit up the village. Now people could walk around after dark without bumping into stuff.
There was one funny thing. Many of their families had written and told them they were pioneers. That was just plain silly. After all, how could they be pioneers? This wasn’t the Wild West. But they didn’t care, it was nice to hear from their families even when they were confused.
They also all had a bunch of things called “stock certificates.” They earned them for all sorts of stuff. Quentin had gotten a bunch when he’d found a new vein of trinamium. He’d even gotten a thank-you letter from the nice people at Amalgamated Conglomerated. It was signed by a Mrs. Wanda Jones, assistant secretary to the 3rd Assistant Vice-President in Charge of Marketing. Melissa had made a frame for it and hung it in their tent. It was his proudest possession.
A bunch of news people showed up and took pictures and talked to everyone. They had a really cool machine on the ship that printed out the pictures and put them in frames. They all agreed that those frames had to cost at least a half credit each. They had been completely shocked when the news people told them they could keep them for free.
Quentin looked at the picture of him and Melissa holding hands and smiled. She made him feel all warm inside. There were also pictures of them standing alone and Melissa had put them on each side of the picture of them together. It was like it was his new family. Well, when the monk got here he guessed it would be.
That was all exciting and scary too. He had no idea what a husband was supposed to do. Families are supposed to make babies, sure, but how? There had to be more to it than holding hands and kissing or they’d have had children by now. He knew when they kissed he felt all tingly in places and he kind of liked that. He sure hoped Melissa knew what to do. For some reason that was a subject that Epic Dungeon Quest had no instructions for.
* * *
Copyright © 2013 by Bill McCormick