Chapter 6

Christopher Mirkin stared dejectedly at his computer screen. He was in deep trouble and he knew it. Being sent to Moonbase Alpha as Chief Financial Officer of LL4, the nominally independent company that provided financial management for the minor players associated with the Lagrange project, was a huge fail-proof opportunity to his greedy mind. When he arrived, the accounts, and more to the point, the projected future accounts, were in such great shape nothing could go wrong. The project was designed with a lot of fat. They called it contingencies, but he saw it as a rich source to be skimmed. The giant space station received ample supplies of good uniform rock of known composition from the Moon, so who needed asteroid rock that could have a wide range of composition? It was far more difficult to process, so if the asteroid collectors gave up, so much the better. This was a project that could not go wrong, a never-ending source of milk and money. Except it had gone wrong. It appeared the project needed additional materials that could only come from special asteroids, it needed them now, since the space station was nearing completion, and the independent collectors had given up, mainly because of his energetic skimming at their expense. 

The communicator came alive; the on-site manager at L4 wanted to speak. After the initial terse pleasantries, he came straight to the point. "We aren't getting any suitable asteroids, in fact all asteroids are in very short supply. What's going on?"

"I guess the collectors aren't happy. Rocky asteroids don't pay the rather hefty expenses of getting them," Mirkin replied.

"Then why don't they go for the metal-rich ones?"

"Maybe there aren't any," Mirkin countered, "or at least they can't find them."

"Then use that contingency fund and fire them up." With that the communicator went dead.

Mirkin knew the contingency fund was there to pay enough to maintain the asteroid collectors when their asteroids had too little of the good stuff. He also knew that with an inadequate contingency fund and depleted numbers of collectors, any significant increase in delivery would require some extraordinary luck, unless the collectors had overlooked something. The immediate problem was if they were ignorant of it then, they would remain ignorant of it now. If he used what little remained of the contingency fund, it would almost certainly be a waste, but if he did not deliver, the site manager would complain loudly enough to bring an investigator from Earth. He was not afraid of the usual casual verification of the accounts for he had been fairly clever, but he knew a detailed analysis of why the money supply was low with so few delivered asteroids would result in deep trouble.

He also knew he was not fit enough to flee to Earth. He knew he had to follow a strict exercise regime to counter the ill effects of the station's lower gravity, and while he had started, good intentions soon slipped. He detested the routines, only to find his weight was increasing, his girth needed a longer fitting on his belt, while his muscles were becoming distinctly flabby. A strict recovery plan was possible, but if he had long sessions at the gym his new but unwanted assistant would examine his books, and that could be disastrous. He knew he was in a bad place.

There was a knock on the door, and without waiting for an answer in strode Winifred Mooney. She was reasonably attractive, with a good figure, light brown skin, rich black hair, but with a face as hard as chiselled granite. She had come from a major corporation on Earth that had no obvious interest in the various activities of LL4 so he suspected she was there to check on him. Perhaps he was being a little paranoid, but he needed to know. He needed a fall guy, or a fall girl. If she had been moved sideways or sent to be rid of her, she was eminently suitable. 

She strode to the obvious chair, sat down with a rigid posture and gave Mirken a steely stare. She placed a briefcase on the table but did not open it.

"Yes?" Mirken needed information, so he maintained a strictly neutral tone.

"You can share," came the cold reply.

"I beg your pardon? What –"

"Oh please, not the innocent look because we both know you're as guilty as hell. You're in a deep hole that is rapidly filling with smelly brown stuff. I can get you out of your convoluted mess, or I could take my evidence to Earth and get a good lot of Brownie points but I don't get rich. Choose! Share and be a moderately wealthy man, or get ready for a long jail sentence."

Mirkin had a leaden feeling in his stomach. "I don't know what you're –"

"Yes you do. There is an exhaustive copy of the evidence in this briefcase. Examine it if you wish, but opening the briefcase without the proper password will initiate the immediate relaying of further copies to special sites on Earth."

Mirken sat there, frozen in shock.

"You want to open it?" There was a cold merciless stare on her face.

"No," Mirken gulped. He was beaten now, but there was still the long run.


Mirken noticed a smile of triumph, but was there a little relief? Had that been a gigantic bluff? "What do you want?"

"I thought I had made that very clear. I want a share, and consider yourself lucky because all I want is thirty per cent as of to date." She paused and gave a cruel smile as she added, "Plus costs."

Mirkin's face fell from a "Do I accept this?" look to an "I could be cleaned out," look. His eyes fluttered, his mouth opened, but all that could emerge was a pathetic, "Costs?"

"Yes. We shall have to spend a little money to create some false trails. If I can trace your careless steps, so can anyone else."

"You have a plan?" This was said tentatively, for Mirkin was unsure he wanted to know about plans from someone of unknown reliability, but who had him over the proverbial barrel.

"First, we pick out the collectors who visited the casino. We create records where we paid a lot more than you did, and they lost the lot. We can probably wash a good sum away."

"That sounds good." Mirkin was being cautious. His ferrety eyes darted around as if inspiration must be somewhere.

"Don't get so happy." Mooney's harsh tone jerked Mirkin's attention back to her. "Really, you've been rather clumsy, and the only reason you're not cooked is nobody has cared enough to look. Now, you make use of Terry Brook."

"I don't know what you're –"

"Don't be pathetic. Those poor sods accept your substandard payments because they're terrified. We shall make more use of him."

"I don't use him much because there isn't any need and –"

"You don't make more use of him because you're too miserable to pay him enough," Winifred interrupted, while she waved her hand in his general direction as a sign of contemptuous dismissal. "I shall get Brook to offer generous advances in the casino to those foolish enough to think they can recover their losses. The subsequent crippling interest rates when they lose means they have to sell their ships. You buy and resell at a good profit."

"And why is Terry going to be so cooperative? He could do you over." The weakness in this plan was obvious.

Mooney looked quite surprised. "You mean it hasn't got through to that rather insubstantial brain yet why I'm here?"

"I thought the bosses wanted you here." Mirkin had been uninterested, and had decided that at worst, some suspicious boss down on Earth thought she could get to the bottom of his murky transactions.

"The Boardsent me."

Mirkin visibly froze. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. Decades earlier the major corporations had taken competition to a new level: they ran small sections based on the methods of the old KGB to deal with errant corporations that tried to muscle in on their territory. Eventually, the bosses realised this was counterproductive, and they reached truces in which mid-level corporates were required to be more cooperative. However, their violent criminal activities had not diminished; they were now modelled more on the mafia as opposed to their previous KGB model. Why the authorities were doing nothing about this was probably the price to be paid for the privatization of justice into yet another corporation. Now, it was rumoured, they had united to form this entity they called The Board, and in the cooperative spirit, they all picked on the weak. LL4 was weak.

"What do you know about pointillism?" she continued with a triumphant smile, and began tapping the table with one finger, as if generating invisible points. Mirkin's obvious fear was a pleasant sight.

"It's a painting method, but –"

"You don't know how lucky you are," she continued as she shook her head. "Think of your role as a point on a critical area of a very large canvas. The Boardwants the corporations to get into space but the Space Corps is a problem and it is difficult to get people into key positions. You are here already, so it's quite convenient to leave you in play, and so far your somewhat crude antics have merely amused them. Be useful and you will no doubt appreciate their assistance with your troubles. As for Brook," she continued with a cold unemotional voice, "he will do as he is told, and if he is compliant, he too will prosper. If he does not, he will be removed."

Mirkin looked down and fiddled with a pen. This was a new situation, but was it a promising opportunity, or was it a fatal disaster waiting to happen? He had to be evasive, to give himself time to think.

"The next lot to go after are the foolish Space Corps people who are taking bribes," Mooney said, and her look indicated she would not tolerate non-compliance. "You know who they are because you're a significant source of those bribes."

Mirken slunk back in his chair. What did she know, and how did she know it?

"Come on, don't try the innocent look on me. Remember that so-called accident? You organised it so one of the asteroid collectors would make a serious hash of docking and would risk losing his competency certificate. While that was being unravelled, he would fail to complete the last stage of his collection, you would get someone else to do it for a small fee, and the victim would not qualify for payment, hence you pocket the difference, which would be very substantial if it were a good asteroid. If the worst came to the worst and the fool protested, you bankrupt him and pick up a really cheap ship and sell it off, pocketing the profit."

"You think I did all that?" Mirkin tried to put on an innocent and surprised look, but his face was too strained to fool Mooney.

"Actually," she scowled, "I'm beginning to think you're not bright enough to have got all the finer points right." 

Mirken said nothing. 

"Look, as a scheme it wasn't all that bad, but you didn't ensure the victim would turn up. You can't do that again, but you've also got to reactivate the minor collectors so there're no investigations. So get these minor collectors fully tied up in small print so you benefit."

Mirken still said nothing.

"Right. Decision time. Agree to share, follow my orders, and approve and sign the necessary papers to put my plan into action, or I send the grimy details of your fraud to Earth. Choose."

A frightened Mirken accepted, at least for now. He would comply, because he was only asked to do the sort of things he was doing anyway, but he had to get an escape route. He must also get stuck into the recommended exercises. At least he was sure Mooney would keep the inquisitive far away from the accounts. Good luck getting past lovely Mooney, assuming she was from The Board, and living to enjoy your gains.  

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You do a great job of describing Mirken's dilemma in the opening paragraph.

When you use a speaker to give the reader narrative it loses description, action and becomes telling.  The speaker is telling the reader what happened, what will happen and what the consequences are. It is also useful to use active language. All that is said could be shorter and sharper and broken up by description.

For example:

This speech could be tightened.  "You don't know how lucky you are," she continued as she shook her head. "Think of your role as a point on a critical area of a very large canvas. ... are here already...."


Take a look at this as a possible alternative:

Her lip curled in a sneer. "We know the truth about the docking acident."

A tic in the corner of his right eye gave away his anxiety. It was true he had organised the docking accident. A knowing smile crept across Mooney's face...."You are conveniently here right now..." she left the sentence hanging in the air. Mirken finished it in his mind a froze.


This is great:

"Right. Decision time. Agree to share, follow my orders, and approve and sign the necessary papers to put my plan into action, or I send the grimy details of your fraud to Earth. Choose."


A lovely example of checkmate!