Content warning: This story contains strong language.
Don’t forget to check out the other two pieces of fiction being published today, here and here!
It had been almost a year since Valentina Farreira joined Ob and relocated to the Arctic, and in all that time she still hadn’t gotten used to the cold. State of the art thermal tech and the heat of the huge factory ship itself went a long way but there was a certain bitterness to the air that still cut through all the warmth. She was grateful for her morning cigarette and can of watery black coffee as she stood on a viewing deck, watching one of the barges come in with the previous night’s excavation efforts.
She took a drag and squinted to read the side of the ship: Ob-128. She recognized the name; it was from one of her accounts. They were drilling up ores to be used in manufacturing power cells for bioroids. There was a very wealthy deposit along the coast; she had found it when preparing a report during the renewal process a few months prior. It was a major factor in the contract getting renewed for another nine years. The barge came in and one of the great claws aboard the carrier began lifting the huge containers of ore and minerals onto a storage unit. From there it would be processed, packaged, and Valentina would likely be the one to arrange the transport from Siberia to the east coast of America. Sending precious ores from the Arctic Circle to BosWash: such is the power of Ob Superheavy Logistics.
That was part of Valentina’s day-to-day as an administrative clerk with the company. Everything from arranging transportation of the various goods and resources Ob dug up, to filing away minutes from executive meetings. A simple cog in the great gluttonous machine. Not that that was a bad thing. It was an improvement over repairing hoppers on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Her mother had convinced her to take up a distance learning course in administration and accounting, and it was through the university’s job fair that she found the Weyland recruiter that got her the interview with Ob. On paper it sounded great. “Global travel opportunities,” “an exciting and dynamic work environment,” “great work-life balance.” All of these things were technically true, but watching mining ships carve out chunks of land and dealing with radical activists attacking mining outposts was not exactly what Valentina was looking for in the word “dynamic”.
Valentina felt her PAD buzz in her pocket. She pulled it out and checked the notification:
Dieter Wexler [6:58AM]: Farreira, do you have the Kitano report for the 8.30 directors meeting?
Dieter Wexler [6:58AM]: Surikov is hounding me for it
Shit. Kitano was one of Nicolai Surikov’s own clients. Luxury hopper manufacturer. Aside from Ob providing metals and ores for hopper production, they also had a special contract to deliver the hoppers themselves to certain parts of Europe from the factory in Japan. It was out of the way and not something that Ob would normally offer to clients, but Kitano were “special”. Aside from the fact one of the directors was the account manager, the perks from the client were obvious. Surikov and the board liked their leather seats and drinks fridges in their hoppers.
Valentina jammed the cigarette in her mouth and started typing a reply.
Valentina Farreira [6:59AM]: Hi Dieter, I have to get the ledgers from accounting to complete the report. I’ll have it transferred to you in the hour
Dieter Wexler [7:00AM]: You’ll transfer it in 30 minutes. I need to review it before I send it to Surikov. I’m sending you the Q2 finances now. Get it done.
<DIETER.WEXLER@OB is transferring a file to you.>
<”OB_P302_Q2_Accounts_and_POs” directory access has been shared with you.>
Valentina Farreira [7:02AM]: You’ll have it in 30, sir.
Valentina took a swig of her coffee, stubbed out her cigarette, and headed back inside. As she stepped inside, she could feel the hum of the ship reverberate around her. The rumbling of the colossal super engines could be heard throughout the entire structure. The growling of the engine, the creaking of arms lifting cargo off trawlers and tankers, the thrumming of aircraft blades cutting through the air as they bring execs aboard the behemoth ship. The whole ship felt alive, like a monster slowly crawling through the icy waters.
On her way to her little office on the lower decks, Valentina passed by all manner of engineers, pilots, and cadets, all working to keep the ship running. Every day, Valentina would walk the same route: from her living quarters, she would head to the canteen and grab a coffee, then wander up to the viewing deck, have her cigarette, and head back down to her office. In a year of walking that same route, Valentina was certain she never saw the same face twice amongst the crew. Always there, always working, but never in the way and barely noticeable. Yet without them, this great mechanical sea monster would slowly stop.
Valentina made her way to her office and scanned herself in. She checked the time on the scanner: 7:06AM. No time to waste, she thought as she sat down and booted up her computer. Her office wasn’t big, though in comparison to some of her colleagues it was certifiably roomy. There was just enough room to get a filing cabinet into the corner and a small fridge with some Diesel. There were no windows; the only light came from the main light in the room and the monitor on the desk. A small vent gave enough airflow so it didn’t feel too stuffy, though it didn’t stop the room from feeling like a glorified broom closet. In fact, Valentina remembered finding old bottles of cleaning supplies behind the filing cabinet.
By the time Valentina had gotten logged in, connected to the network, synced her messages and mail, and pulled out all the files she needed to complete this report, it was 7:10AM. Twenty minutes to compile an entire quarter’s worth of activity for one of the company’s biggest accounts. Joyous.
Mercifully, there was very little to report on. It was mostly just collecting data and presenting it in a somewhat readable fashion. Still, not something Valentina wanted to be dealing with first thing in the morning with little time to do it. Wexler, in his desperate attempt to suck up to upper management, put so much stock and care into these reports even though the directors reading them never cared all that much. “Does the line go up?” is all they really cared about. And the line for Kitano was certainly going up. Valentina had only scanned through the numbers as she was inputting the figures into her data visualization software, but the cursory glance was showing good signs. As she was plugging the data in, she could see the charts and graphs begin to populate with all the information. Account profitability, projected earnings, client satisfaction and growth potential; everything was positive.
As the clock ticked on and Valentina was compiling the data into something nice and presentable, she spotted something in one of the forecasting graphs. For all the profitability and positive revenue streams, this one was a bit more negative. She brought up the graph and the data beside it and took a closer look. It seemed to indicate a slow and then sudden decline in potential revenue. However there was no clear and apparent reason for this. Everything was up everywhere else, so why was this one chart showing a sudden drop in profits? Valentina took a look at the reports but couldn’t find anything conclusive. Until she spotted one graph that she had somehow overlooked.
“Remaining profitable resources in locality”
Of course. Every other chart was forecasting based on current profits and projected trends, asking, “what if we continued at this rate for the next three months?” They didn’t take into account that they were running out of land to extract resources from. Valentina looked at the remaining resources and mapped that data onto the projected revenue for the year. According to the forecasting, the account would stop generating revenue in about a month’s time, unless they would be able to relocate operations.
Valentina glanced at the clock. 7:19AM. Eleven minutes to find potential new locations for Kitano and complete this report. “Think, Valentina, think,” she whispered. Could she present the report as is without any potential solutions? No way, she’d be chewed out by Wexler for doing that. Feign ignorance? No, Wexler knew she was smarter than that. There wasn’t a hope she’d get away with pretending that she hadn’t noticed the problem in the data. No, she was going to have to come up with some sort of solution, or at least get the ball rolling if one wasn’t available. She didn’t have time to pull together the information on the vast number of locations they could move to, that would be an entire day’s work at minimum. She tried to think. What could she pull together at short notice as a potential solution?
As she could feel the seconds ticking away, Valentina had a sudden burst of an idea. She navigated to the Kitaro project directory and went looking throughout the planning documents. In between all the meeting notes, budget sheets, and project plans, she found the directory she was looking for:
Inside that directory she found the reports on each of the locations that had been surveyed and reviewed when the project was originally being scoped out. Because of the scope and specificity of the project, there was a limited number of locations that had been surveyed. Valentina brought up the map of Ob activity and began checking locations that were still available. Of the initial list, Valentina was able to whittle it down to four sites they could relocate operations to. She checked the clock. 7:28AM. Valentina compiled the survey reports into a section on the report and wrote up an intro on the projected resource availability. It was sloppy work, but for a 30-minute rush job, it could be worse. Not that it would matter a lot. The directors never read these reports in any great detail. She might get a bit of a grilling from Wexler, but so long as his director was happy, then Valentina would be fine.
Valentina brought up the message window with Wexler and started typing a message—but Dieter beat her to it:
Dieter Wexler [7:30AM]: any update on the report
Dieter Wexler [7:30AM]: I have a call with Surikov in 5 minutes, I need it now
Valentina cursed at his impatience under her breath as she composed her message.
Valentina Ferreira [7:31AM]: Hi Dieter, report is complete. I’m sending it to you now. Please pay particular note to the section titled “Projected Natural Resourcing Levels.” Any questions please let me know.
The little speech bubble came up on the message window as Wexler was typing his reply. He was typing, and then stopped. He started typing again and stopped again. Valentina was worried. What was he typing up? Was there a glaring problem with the report? Was the news on profitability and the natural resources worse than she thought?
Dieter Wexler [7:32AM]: thanks
Valentina sighed.Thirty minutes of stress only to be reminded that management never reads these reports they stress over so much. She shook her head, took a can of Diesel out of her fridge, and started her work for the day.
“I need you to run that one back by me because I don’t quite believe what I’m hearing.”
Yakov sat with his back to his board of directors. In one hand he was playing with a lump of ore, tossing it up into the air and rolling it around in his hand. In the other was a copper mug containing a mix of vodka and something that resembled the taste of ginger beer. He was staring up at the giant map of the Arctic circle on the wall behind his desk, a look of disbelief and anger on his face. The Ob CEO hated these quarterly board meetings, but today was especially bad after hearing the news from his Director of Finance.
“Because of increased spending in security, legal, PR, and comms, and other areas of the business, our operational and logistics divisions will operate with a reduced budget for the remaining two quarters.”
Yakov spun his chair around and stood up. He walked over to the window in his office and looked out over the huge ship. From here he could see everything going on. Each trawler, each carrier, he could even make out the tiny dots of people going about their business, working away on the ship. So much activity, so much business; the ship never slept or stopped. There were ships coming in every hour of every day, drilling and mining taking place constantly. It was a giant, floating, money making machine. And despite this, their budgets were being cut and they were being told to cut down on spending. Yakov headed to the top of the room where a charcuterie board was laid out on a table and he began putting together a little plate of cheese and meat.
“I’m not getting why we can’t just reallocate funds to ops and logistics. What are we doing spending money on PR and comms?”
“Sir, the strike action has been problematic in attracting new business,” said Director Belyaev, Ob’s Director of Finance. “Some of our recent… land acquisitions have had significant legal challenges made against them as well, which we are still trying to suppress. Unfortunately, these are necessary operating costs. Unless you want to deal with a media shitstorm.”
Yakov headed back to his chair at the head of the table. A few of his directors were set round the table, others were dialing in from elsewhere. He leaned back and put one of his feet up on the table.
“Okay, whatever. Can someone give me some good news here? Surikov, how’s sales and marketing doing? Getting in any new big accounts to offset the budget cuts?”
Director Surikov smiled at Yakov. He was a classic salesman, always wore his wealth, hair slicked back, shoes shined, and a wry smile to boot. “Well, sir, I do have some good news to report. We’re still bringing in big business and I have a few meetings in Europe and Africa this week to discuss some major short term contracts which should help us get over these budgetary concerns.”
Yakov nodded and took a bite out of a cracker with some blue cheese and prosciutto. He washed it down with a swig from his copper mug. “Good, good. That’s much better. And what about our existing clients? How’s Kitano doing? Still making money?”
“Yes, sir. Kitano continues to be a highly profitable account for us. In fact, according to this report, we’ve made record profits this past Q1 and Q2. We’re due to start renewal talks in about four months, so we think we can grow the account majorly.”
“Now that’s more like it! Good work, Surikov. Let’s make sure we don’t drop the ball with Kitano. Make sure they’re getting the funding they need. I’m going to be needing a new hopper soon and I’ve seen their new Luxury Plus models. I want to make sure they’re feeling very well looked after.”
Surikov smiled. “Yes, sir. However, I do need to point out something that was flagged to me in this report.”
Yakov stared at Surikov with a look of cautious anger in his eyes. This is exactly what he needed. More bad news. “What is it, Surikov?”
“Well, sir, according to this report, we’re making good profit and there’s plenty of growth opportunities with the account. However, the report also notes that the land in which we are operating for the Kitano account is…well…”
The CEO threw his head back and sighed. “Just fucking say it, Surikov.”
The Director of Sales wriggled in his seat slightly. “Sir, the land doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone. There’s nothing left.”
Yakov sat up slightly. “It’s gone?”
“Yes, sir, the land is gone.”
“How can it be gone? Have we used it all up?”
Yakov cursed under his breath and put his face in his hands. He pulled out his PAD and opened up the report Surikov was talking about. He scanned through the section Surikov was referring to and read through it. The report was right, the land didn’t exist anymore. It had all been mined and used up for the Kitano account. The land was just gone. Yakov read through the report a second time just to confirm what he was reading. He finished the section and noticed that as part of this section on the report, there was a list of potential relocations.
“Hang on, Surikov. There’s a list of alternative viable locations we can move operations to.”
“Yes, sir. However—”
“Let’s just pick one and relocate. I don’t get the issue.” Yakov skimmed through the surveyance reports for each location. He took a look at the geographical data of the area and the information on mineral and ore deposits in each location. There was one in particular that caught his eye that looked close to the current Kitano operation.
“Here, this spot looks good.” He forwarded the surveyance report to each of his directors. “Let’s just move things here. It would only be, what, ten days to get things set up?”
Director Belyaev spoke up. “Sir, there’s a small town on the coast here. We can’t afford to relocate to this location.”
Yakov looked at her. “Why not?”
“We can’t afford to settle with these inhabitants. We don’t have the budget to buy the land. We’ll need to look elsewhere.”
“We’ve still got Argus operatives in the area, don’t we? Just send them up and tell them they’ve got eight days to get the town cleared. Do whatever they need to do, just get as many of the people in this town out of their homes by the time we arrive and start working.”
Belyaev shook her head. “Sir, what you are proposing would likely result in legal challenges, we would need to settle with them anyway.”
“Belyaev, by the time these fishing people realize what a courtroom is, we’ll be able to just pay out a minor settlement to keep them happy. If they want to go to trial, we’ll win. All they’ll get is ambulance chasers, we’ll keep delaying it until they drop it or we shut them up at trial. No, get the agents out there, tell them they’ve eight days to get everyone out.”
“Sir, it’s going to take us at least two weeks to get everything relocated and ready at this new site. We need more ti—”
“Eight days. Get it done. Just tell the scabs that there’s an opportunity for more hours. They’ll be happy to take the overtime. And it’ll drive more of a wedge between the strikers. Give them a stock option, fuck it. We have the people, they just need an incentive. Speaking of the strike, how’s that progressing?”
Belyaev smiled and began swiping through her PAD. “No major updates since we last spoke. You’ll be pleased to hear they’ve started calling you ‘the Butcher’. Even the papers have latched onto it.” She passed her PAD along to Yakov. On the screen was an article from a news site:
THE BUTCHER OF SIBERIA: OB CEO REMAINING SILENT ON VIOLENCE TOWARDS STRIKING WORKERS
Yakov laughed. “Hah! The Butcher of Siberia. Love it. Someone get me a plaque for my door that says ‘THE BUTCHER’. That’s perfect.” He passed the PAD back to Belyaev. “Okay, I need a fifteen-minute break, so let’s pause here and reconvene shortly. We’ve still got more departments to look at.”
The directors seated around the table began standing up. Yakov stood over by the window watching out at the workers aboard the ship.
“Surikov,” he said.
“Yes, sir?” the director answered.
“Who made that report for you? About the Kitano account?”
“Ehm, that’s Valentina Ferreira, she sits on Dieter Wexler’s team.”
Yakov nodded. “Tell Wexler she’s fired with immediate effect.”
The room froze as the directors all looked at Yakov. He turned around and shrugged his shoulders.
“What? We need the budget space, don’t we? Get rid of her. If she kicks up a fuss then get someone to shut her up.”
Yakov walked back over to his desk and sat down on his chair. As the directors began sheepishly filing out of the room, he took a swig from his copper mug and stared back up at the great map of the Arctic Circle hanging on his wall.
“The Butcher,” he smiled. “I could get used to that.”
Midnight Sun will be released on July 22, 2022, as physical cards via NISEI’s print partners and pay-what-you want files for downloading and printing at home!