Hi, I’m Jeff Asbestos. Not so long ago I was like you: a plucky young go-getter, brimming with moxie, looking for the right corporate environment in which to make a difference. But I was adrift. That’s not a metaphor—many influential management texts endorse plain speaking, so it’s important you know I was literally adrift in an unpowered spaceship. For nearly 70 years I unconsciously orbited a planet far from Earth, one of thousands of hopeful workers seeking employment in Halcyon, a colony owned and operated by distinguished corporations.
The spaceship had broken down during the final leg of its journey, and recovery would have compromised the financial stability of the Halcyon Holdings Corporation Board. In truth I’m grateful for my time in stasis, because on the day I was finally unfrozen it left me with one certainty: heroes make sacrifices to protect the bottom line.
I land on Terra-2 as a company man in search of a company. As luck would have it the first person I happen across is an employee of a major corp. "You’ve tried the best," he gasps, clasping his side, "Now try the rest. Spacer’s Choice." He says his name is Pelham, and that his company weapon has backfired through his side—though I note with approval his armour is mostly intact. His employer likely saved his life.
Pelham and his line manager, a Lieutenant Mercer, have been investigating an illegally grounded ship. When I catch up with Mercer on the crest of the next hill, she’s located the vessel, as well as a bunch of lowlifes sniffing around its exterior. These men are armed, bloodthirsty, and worse, unaffiliated with any registered business. After a swift cost-benefit analysis, Mercer decides to leap into the fight and file a full report. "And it’s gonna be fuckin’ laminated," she snarls. "I’ll cross these marauders off with the swift, cost-efficient fury that’s made Spacer’s Choice the most trusted brand in personal defence."
Mercer and a direct report, Private Kimball, charge down the hill towards the ship, while I monitor their methods. Their standard issue assault rifles perform with affordable adequacy. At least until Mercer takes a bullet to the head, dropping like shares after a disappointing quarterly report. Then Private Kimball is flanked by a marauder, who carves him up with a non-regulation machete. "So, so weak," the marauder mocks.
I’m shaking. These were people, with deadlines they can no longer meet. The thought of that unlogged report alone is bringing me out in a cold sweat. The least I can do is collect the fine for the illegal landing. I tiptoe past the surviving marauders without attempting so much as a sneak attack—I push paper, not people—and board the ship. With the owner nowhere to be found, I intend to resort to repossession, but then a better solution presents itself. The ship’s computer, ADA, registers me as the captain. That means the amount I’m owed as a collector is the same I owe as the debtor, and the two figures cancel each other out. I’m confident Spacer’s Choice will be satisfied: if there’s one thing a corporation appreciates, it’s maths.
As I disembark I’m met by Ernest, a representative of the company’s HR department. "Altercation, you say? Shame as that goes," he tuts. "Spacer’s Choice policy strictly prohibits dying during work hours." He recommends I head to the constable’s office in Edgewater—the shiniest facet in the region of Emerald Vale. Once I get there a Constable Reyes offers me four criminal investigations for the price of three. But I’m actually here to work: I’ve learned that employee bodies are the property of Spacer’s Choice. And so in my position as debt collector I figure that means the marauders owe two in return for Mercer and Kimball. Granted it’s a self-appointed position, but I know how this world works—you dress for the job you want, do all the work, and hope your manager starts paying you for it.
As it happens Reyes knows of three marauders at large with bounties on their heads. Usually the only digits I care about are profits, but I’ll need to bring back their fingers to be identified. There’s another Spacer’s Choice maxim I’ll want to stick to, though: cleanliness is next to lawfulness. It’s not right for an aspiring manager to get their hands dirty, so I’ll need someone else to do it for me instead. I’ll need a subordinate.
I find one in the offices of Reed Tobson, Edgewater’s boss. As the lift doors open on the top floor of the cannery that overlooks the town, I spot him immediately—he’s wearing a bowler hat indoors. As if that power move weren’t potent enough, he’s asked an employee to sit while he remains standing. This is the kind of man I aspire to be.
The employee, Parvati Holcomb, is a mechanic who has failed to keep one of the cannery’s machines running. To make matters worse, she’s named the machine 'Bess'—an act of personification contrary to the Spacer’s Choice code of conduct. Clearly, she needs transferring to another department, and it just so happens I’m recruiting. Tobson charges me with rerouting electricity from the nearby botanical district, home to illegal squatters who’ve abandoned their posts in Edgewater. The extra power will help the cannery make up its shortfall, and remind the deserters that a contract is a contract. Tobson agrees to have Parvati guide me to the geothermal plant where I can switch over the power. Finally, middle management!
Sultanas in the Saltana
Before we leave town, I stop by the store and sell off all my energy cells and heavy ammo—they’re made by rival manufacturers, so aren’t genuine Spacer’s Choice products. Nor is the Mock Apple Cider I confiscate from Miss Holcomb’s fridge. I make sure to check the recent searches on her computer, too. How can I be an effective manager if I don’t know what she’s thinking?
By the time we step out of Edgewater it’s morning and the air hums with the activity of a new working day. I close my eyes and take in the bustle like a hymn. As Vicar Max at the local company church says, "True exhaustion awaits idle hands." Contentment comes from embracing your place in the grand machine, as I’ve done. Right now Parvati is a part that rattles unnervingly—but there’s time to fasten her back into place before she springs loose.
On the outskirts of town are the foundations of unfinished buildings, weeds and vines growing where walls should be. Edgewater hasn’t yet met its potential—like any good company it should be constantly expanding until it explodes.
We catch up with the marauders in an abandoned industrial zone. I’ve ordered Parvati to stick to me like a post-it. I’ve no intention of getting stuck in myself, so expect her to deal with any threats to my person promptly. Ammo costs the company money, so she’ll be using melee weapons only—namely her Impact Hammer, used to straighten out pipes, or people. If we can save money that way, those savings will help Edgewater, so it’s more humane to bludgeon and electrocute our enemies.
Once we reach our target, one Guillaume Antrim, I climb up to a nearby roof to direct the action. The plan is to draw out fighters individually, so that Parvati can smash them with her special attack. It works initially and puffs on my inhaler top up Parvati’s health from afar—a quirk of the points I’ve invested in leadership. Medical care isn’t a right enjoyed by all Spacer’s Choice employees, but Parvati’s assignment makes her one of the lucky few.
Soon, though, we’re overwhelmed—sent packing with our tails between our legs and chased by dog-like canids with brighter-coloured tails between theirs. I hastily reschedule the task for later in the financial year and resolve to head on to the botanical district.
Power to the people, or the cannery
Up here in the hills the trees stand on exposed roots as if yearning to escape their assigned roles. And in the centre of it all, deep in the greenhouse that acts as Deserter Ville HQ, is Adelaide McDevitt.
Once, as Edgewater cannery’s flavour specialist, she produced a limited run of white chocolate saltuna. Now she’s a benevolent spirit of the forest. Or an agent of apathy, turning good workers into the lotus-eaters of Greek mythology, blissfully devoid of responsibility. Well if there’s one thing Jeff Asbestos knows, it’s that days off don’t get towns built or medical bills paid.
I tell Adelaide about Tobson’s plan, as instructed, and suggest she rejoins the workforce with her followers. Adelaide asks me to do the same in reverse—directing power away from Edgewater, liberating its people. "Seems the sort of thing a hero would do," she says, before positing that Parvati’s father died of overwork. Tobson is a manipulator, according to her, but I’m starting to think the Vale has more than one. We wander through the greenhouse for a while, looking for a sign. I find it screwed to the wall, painted in brand-approved yellow, a beacon amid the green "ONLY YOU can protect fourth quarter profits!". Pride swells in my chest.
Reaching the back of the camp, confiscating Spacer’s Choice property as we go, we find a river. Here, at least, everything flows in one direction—it’s enough to bring a tear to a middle manager’s eye. We follow its meander down to the geothermal plant.
The plant is a cautionary tale of fecklessness and misused company funds. The locals exceeded their staff budget, leaving the Spacer’s Choice Development and Oversight Office with little option. The company took out a significant insurance policy against the plant, and then sent a team of specialists to reprogram its robots as... staff-reducers.
Of course that’s not the official line. As a Spacer’s Choice employee, I’m contractually obliged not to say anything that would make the company look bad. But it’s the type of call somebody like myself would make—a fixer brought in to make Tough Decisions.
By the time we get there there’s only one employee left, named Higgins. He’s a former engineer, and claims to have survived by illegally jimmying open vending machines. Clearly the Oversight Office has determined that all staff should be terminated, so in the absence of a disciplinary board, we finish the job.
We improve on our process as we punch through the rest of the building, flattening each haywire robot with Parvati’s special attack before pounding it to pieces on the plant floor. I make a mental note to deduct the damage to company property from her pay cheque.
"Do you understand what you’re about to do?" she asks as I approach the master control terminal, which warns of permanent power failure to the botanical district should I turn power over to Edgewater. "I know exactly what I’m doing, Parvati." I flip the switch.
Come back tomorrow for part two of Jeremy's adventure.