The Company Man (4)

June 27, 2019
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Average Rating: 3.67
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It had been several hours since Odessa’s revelation, and Nic was pacing. How many saviours does one planet need? He scratched at his wrist as he remembered his mission again. 

               ‘When you locate the head of the snake, we’ll come.’ The fat bureaucrat’s last words were ringing in his ears. But now Nic hesitated. He thought of Odessa and closed his eyes. He saw the vision of the great city again, still bustling under the heat of its three suns. Humans scurried along the streets wiping sweat from their brow as they shopped for food and clothing. Tradespeople on the ground tried to flog their wares while white collar workers commuted. Automobiles flew at speeds almost imperceptible to the human eye, and colours streaked the winding roads in a dizzying array of sounds and patterns. In the end, three suns set as before, and an ominous red tinge clouded the sky.

                I have to fulfil my mission! He snapped out of it. This witchcraft must be a trick. That charlatan is trying to recruit me the same way she got Bagon and the others, but whatever her dastardly plan is, there can be no stopping us. The Company is paramount. Then, he twitched, and a familiar question echoed around his confused mind. 

                 ‘Why are we digging?’ Usually, he would shake off such a heretical thought, but strangely, he felt no such urge.  

                  A forgotten memory surfaced with newfound clarity. The arrival of our intergalactic cousins! Every monitor in Hallogen City had beamed the news to the people. The image of the tall man’s hooded purple robes flowed into view. His long gaunt face and crooked nose were set on a canvas as pale as the snows of nuclear winter. His piercing eyes, a thousand shades of green and blue, haunted Nic. 

                   How am I just remembering this? He thought.

                   The Grand Visigoth oozed regality, and his silky voice swept humanity onto his glorious search. Our Saviours! No-one thought it odd that for some reason they needed saving. The Company had been saving itself for nearly a hundred years. General Novak, the man who had blessed them with order at the time anarchy reigned, the man who had given them a reason to live again, was the only saviour Nic had ever needed.


The door swung open and Odessa glided through. 

                  ‘And how are we feeling now?’ She asked innocuously.

                  ‘Much better, no thanks to you.’ He replied. I need time, he thought. I have to keep her out of my head!

                  ‘Is that your planet? With the three suns?’ He asked.

                  ‘Yes, it was beautiful, wasn’t it?’ Her voice was solemn. ‘A tad hot in summer, though…’ She trailed off and turned back to face Nick. ‘You, Lieutenant, are a resistant little chap, I have to say--’

                  ‘If you’re here to save us,’ Nic interrupted, ‘how could you kill all those people in the mess hall?’

                  ‘Those armed guards, you mean? They were the Visigoth’s men.’ Her tone was nonchalant. 

                  ‘You cut those men down like they weren’t even there.’ His tone was serious.

                  ‘Element of surprise!’ She retorted. ‘And how many people have you killed, Lieutenant?’

                  ‘I’ve never killed anyone!’ He snapped.

                  ‘Maybe not directly, but how many have you sent to the truth chamber to have their brains fried out, hmmm?’ She mocked him. ‘Weren’t there three from section 72182 on just your last assignment? I assume there must be hundreds of others!’

                  ‘I saw you blasting people left, right, and centre,’ Nic countered. ‘They were dropping all over the hall.’

                  ‘Stun setting, dear. They are with us now.’ She frowned and looked at Nic.’ ‘The Private class don’t have as much mumbo jumbo in their heads as the Officer class. I couldn’t show you much.’

                  ‘Maybe, I’m not so easily fooled.’ Nick bit back.

                  ‘You’re a tenacious fellow Lieutenant, but you’ll see…’ She paused, ‘…eventually. I can make the Privates see quickly.’ She shrugged her shoulders. ‘You’re the first Officer I’ve tried.’ 

                   ‘See what?’ He sneered, ‘your mental trickery?’

                    ‘Why Nic…’ She paused. ‘The truth, of course!’ She smiled at him, and an orange glow emanated from the corner of her eye. ‘You’re all in grave danger,’ her tone became serious, ‘and we don’t have time for this.’ She loomed over Nic and reached towards his face, eyes ablaze. He tried to recoil, but it was already too late. She had put him back under her spell.


The second vision was clearer than the first, but Nic still felt distant, almost as if he were floating through the air. He was surrounded by the remnants of a city once tall and glorious. Once grand skyscrapers now littered the land as carcasses, and piles of rubble extended to the horizon. To the East, the red sky was enshrouded in cloud, and below, an armada of giant ships bombarded the planet. Electric blue bolts of energy streaked down from their bellies and caused utter devastation as they exploded into the planet’s surface. 

                  A defensive fleet made attacking runs on the bombers, and fighters duelled in displays of aeronautical agility that Nic couldn’t have imagined. The energy trails from their blue and green lasers crisscrossed in kaleidoscopic patterns of ill-fated beauty, and ships were blasted out of the sky.  

                  Nic felt himself looking down, and a teardrop fell into a small pool of water. The undulating rings separated to reveal his reflection. It wasn’t his face, but the face of a girl no more than ten years old. Her long red curls draped over her shoulders, and her eyes burned softly, like the last embers on a bonfire.

                  He felt a sudden pull on his arm and a vaguely familiar voice mumbled something beside him. Again, it repeated but clearer.

                  ‘Hurry Odessa, we have to go!’ He felt himself being yanked harder, and as he turned, he saw a huge shiny ship being loaded with equipment. The back end of the oval shaped hull was open, and hundreds of families swarmed towards it. Mothers and fathers held their children along with anything else they could carry. 

                 Nic was moving faster now, past the men loading equipment, and onto the ramp at the back of the ship. He turned and watched dozens of people still clambering across rubble and scrambling aboard, when a small ship with angular wings and a shiny black fuselage screeched through the sky just above them. It strafed the crowds with its lasers, incinerating scores of people in an instant.

                  ‘Close the doors, we have to go, NOW!’ The familiar voice pleaded, ‘they’ve found us, we have to go!’

                  Two more ships whizzed overhead, and lasers hit the outer shielding of the vessel. It made a crackling sound as the ship lurched to and fro. Nic saw the the lasers cut another swath through the crowds. And another. And another. The ship jerked violently, and the air was filled with the ashes of the fallen. The bloodcurdling sound of children screaming rang out, as their parents hurled them onto the ship before it headed for the stars. 


Nic came round with a jolt and looked up disoriented. Then, he wilted in his chair. He felt the whole room shake. Am I still in it? He thought, as he heard the faint sounds of a distant explosion. Almost immediately, Bagon came panting through the door.

                  ‘They’ve… bleedin’ well… found us!’ He gasped. ‘We’ve done sealed off the entrance, m’lady.’ He sounded despondent. ‘But it’s only a matter o’ time.’

                  ‘How many?’ Odessa groaned.

                  ‘Maybe an ‘undred troopers. ‘eavy tech. I ain’t seen those weapons before.’ He said. ‘Thank the stars, there are only eight of us down here now.’ He smiled briefly, but then frowned and shook his head. ‘They captured two of us before we could seal the doors.’ He was well aware of the fate that awaited his comrades. 

                  She turned and looked down at Nic. ‘Is this your doing?’

                  Still dazed, Nic looked at her blankly and then at at his wrist. Odessa lunged forward and held it tightly. Nic felt a strange warmth spreading from her palm. 

                  ‘He’s got an implant!’ She was horrified. ‘I’ve been so stupid!’              

                  ‘Find… head… snake… come.’ Nic mumbled.

                  ‘What’s he blabberin’ on about?’ Bagon agitated. ‘Led ‘em to us ‘ave ya.’ He raised his blaster and pointed it at Nic, but Odessa moved between them.

                  ‘We need him Bagon, if we’re ever going to get up that building.’ She lifted Nic off his chair and stood him on his feet as though he were an infant child.

                  ‘Nic!’ She shook him violently. ‘Nic, stop resisting, we need you!’

                  ‘Saviour… seems… everyone… savior… these days.’ She slapped him hard across the cheek.

                  ‘Snap out of it, you fool!’ She released him unsteadily, and he faltered but regained his balance. She flashed her eyes towards the door as a loud bang echoed in the distance. ‘They’ve breached the doors, Bagon. They’ll be here any minute! Get behind me and keep an eye on him.’ She motioned towards Nic. Then, she rolled her sleeve to reveal blinking green lights set inside her forearm. ‘A hundred of the Visigoth’s best men, you say?’ 

                   Bagon nodded. 

                  ‘Good. He must suspect one of us is here. Luckily, he still thinks I fell on Andromicron Prime.’ She prodded her arm, and the lights flashed red. A shield of shining metal unfolded from within her own skin and instantly enveloped her. She looked at Bagon, her face just visible through an electric blue visor, and quipped, ‘if he knew it were me, he would’ve sent a thousand.’

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More struggle.
naricorn rated this work:

June 28, 2019, 11:47 a.m.

Back again!

*A lot of aspects came across as too convenient. It's not just the wording, but phrases like "How am I just remembering this?" don't help. Odessa made it happen, but I think that scene didn't produce the effect it was supposed to, i.e. make me accept his mental transformation. Maybe Nic should've resisted more, or there were thoughts he'd worked hard to suppress more. It just seems like it should be more of a struggle. Maybe the thoughts are even more intrusive and painful.

*Like "Usually, he would shake off such a heretical thought, but strangely, he felt no such urge." Could you expand on that? Is he mostly brainwashed, or is he really trying to embody what the Company wants?

*"The Grand Visigoth oozed regality, and his silky voice swept humanity onto his glorious search." Instead of saying "oozed regality," I'd like to know what that really means. His silky voice? What else about him?

*I'd never heard of the word "strafe." Thanks for that. A couple sentences down, I think it should be "cut a swath," not "swathe."

*I do like your writing in the vision sequences. Descriptive and nice images with good attention to color and movement.

*Not a fan of the brief POV switch to Odessa when Bagon barges in. I don't think it adds any information that we couldn't infer (maybe with an extra sentence from Bagon or her, speaking aloud.)

*On that note, I'd take out the "His incoherent musings angered Odessa, and" before she slaps him.

*‘At least that’s a start!’ She conceded. seems unnecessary

*Badass line to end on.

Plot Character Motivation Dialogue

Comment Rating: 5.0

Back at it again with the great cliffhangers, I see
nenatia rated this work:

July 3, 2019, 12:25 p.m.

I listen to cyperbunk-type music (like Astrid by the Encounter) while reading The Company. Not important, but thought I'd share anyway.
I really like the way this chapter begins. "How many saviours does one planet need?" is a gripping first line, and later on you circle the narrative back to it when Nic thinks General Novak is the only savior he's ever needed. Poetic cinema.
One thing I'd like is more gradual realization on Nic's part. It seems as if he starts questioning the messages he must have heard his entire life too quickly and too easily. Having him resist more (even more than he is now) would make this more realistic, and heighten the tension and obstacles.
Another line I especially liked: "no one though it odd that for some reason they needed saving." This is a good, subtle way of introducing foreshadowing and tension! That being said, and I think I've said this before, the aliens need more explanation or at least more foreshadowing. In order to have them be a believable, potent force in the story, the reader needs to have some groundwork to work with. At the very least, knowing when/how they approached Earth. More hints on the Company's relationship to them earlier on.
Biggest priority though is to keep the POV consistent. I thought we were in third person-limited, but the reader can tell Odessa's thoughts. Keep it consistently on Nic, or consistently omniscient. Since it's been limited to Nic so far, the easiest thing would be to take out that short sentence of Odessa's thoughts.

I've gotta say, I think this is my favorite chapter so far, along with the first chapter. The writing's good, the pacing is snappy, the stakes are ramping up, and the dialogue is strong. Excited for the next installment!

Plot Pacing Dialogue

Comment Rating: 5.0