Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Week 10 - Planting Seeds

Michael Salsbury
Week 10 – Planting the Seed

I’d never been so happy to leave a place as I had the planet Mastrion.  If it hadn’t been for the Agency, I would probably be rotting in some dank prison cell there for the rest of my life.  The Agency, whoever and whatever they are, set me up with a new identity and booked me passage to another planet.  Until the ship started to land, I hadn’t thought to check where we were going.

The planet had a rather unusual name, RFD 125.  I looked it up on the ship’s computer.  Apparently it was one of a few hundred planets that were still owned by corporations.  The Alliance had forbidden the practice of planet ownership decades ago, but there were a few large corporations with the financial wherewithal to maintain them.  I’d never been to a corporate-owned planet.  Apparently not many people visited them, as I was the only person on the ship apart from the crew.

After we landed, I visited the captain’s office.

“What’s your next stop, captain?”  

“I’m picking up a full load here and taking it to the Vega IX settlement,” he said, never taking his eyes off his computer screen.

“Mind if I tag along?”

He nodded.  “Yeah.  You were paid up through this stop.  You want to keep going, I need more credits.”

I smiled.  “Credits I have.  How many do you need?”

“Two hundred thousand.”

“I was thinking more like five thousand.”

“You were thinking wrong.  Don’t like the price?  Get off my ship.”

Two hundred thousand credits should have bought be passage across the galaxy and back.  Hell, in most spaceports I could have bought my own ship for that.  

I walked over to the window and looked out. There were no other ships in sight.

“Fine, captain. If you’ll allow me to use your computer, I’ll transfer the credits to your account.”

He shook his head.  “No.  Credit chips only.  Don’t want UGH auditors nosing in my business.”


“United Galactic Holdings.  Owns the ship.  I work for ‘em.”

“I see.  Is there an Alliance bank on this planet?”

“Don’t know.  I never go off the ship here.  I hate Ag planets.”

“Ag?  Agricultural?”

He nodded.

“I’ll go visit the local bank and get your money.  Don’t leave without me.”

“You got four hours.  That’s how long it’ll take the dockers to unload and reload this thing.  UGH keeps me on a tight schedule. I leave as soon as the ship’s ready.”

“For a quarter of a million credits, you could wait a bit.”

“I’ve five years from retirement, kid.  I’m not pissing off the company.  You’re back here in four hours with the credits, you leave with me.  You’re back in four hours and one minute, you can wave to me.”

“Got it.”  

I grabbed my bag and left the ship.  

I expected a hassle at planetary immigration and customs, but because this was a corporate planet it didn’t have a local government.  There was only a contraband check, which I’d been through when I left Mastrion.  A smuggling operation could clean up on one of these corporate worlds.  I made a menral note of that.

UGH Bank wasn’t hard to find.  There weren’t many buildings near the spaceport, and it was the most institutional-looking.  As I walked in, I took note of the security precautions… force of habit.  With my tools, which I’d had to leave behind on Mastrion, I could have robbed the place in about ten minutes.  But I was here, this time anyway, to make a perfectly legal withdrawal.

I stepped up to the teller robot, and smiled politely.  It returned the gesture.

“Welcome to the United Galactic Holdings Bank of RFD 125.  How may I help sir?”

“I’d like to withdraw two hundred fifty thousand Alliance credits from my numbered account.”

“I’m terribly sorry, sir, but this bank does not maintain any currency reserves other than RFD Bucks.”

“Is that some kind of corporate currency UGH created?”

The robot smiled again. “Yes, sir.  Sir is most astute.”

“Can RFD Bucks be exchanged for Alliance credits?”

“Only at the United Galactic Holdings main headquartera on Delia Prime.”

Since there weren’t any Alliance credits to be had, the captain would have to do a bit of currency exchange on his next trip to the home office.  To be safe, I’d withdraw a bit more to soften the blow.

“Fine.  I’d like to withdraw three hundred thousand Alliance credits’ worth of RFD Bucks.”

“Please enter your account number on the secure pad, sir, and look into the retinal scanner.”

I did as instructed.  The robot clicked and whirred a bit, then smiled again.

“Perhaps my auditory circuits malfunctioned, sir.  You did say three hundred thousand Alliance credits’ worth of RFD Bucks?”

“Yes, you bucket of circuit boards.  Three hundred thousand.”

“I am afraid I cannot process your request, sir.  Sir has only three thousand Alliance credits in sir’s account.”

“Check again, you metal moron.  That account had over three hundred million credits in it!”

“Not anymore, sir.  Several large withdrawals have been made from it recently.”

The Agency, they must have cleaned out the account once they knew I was aboard the ship.  I’d deal with them later.  

“Will there be anything else, sir?”

“Give the three grand.  Hurry.”

The robot counted and recounted the paper notes, then handed them over.  “Would sir like to open an account with us now?”

“No, I’m not staying.”

I raced back to the ship, hoping to convince the captain to accept the local currency.  I needn’t have bothered.  He took one look at it, made a kind of shushing noise, and had me thrown off the ship.

I watched the ship take off and vanish from view. Good riddance, I thought.

I stopped a nearby dock worker. “When’s the next ship due in?”

“Four months.”

“Four months?  Alliance Standard months?”

“Yeah. The come in at the end of the growing season, load up, and move out.”

I slumped against the wall.  Four months here with no credits, just these lousy ‘Bucks’.  Thank you so much, Agency.  I’ll get you back when I get off this planet.


The rations eaten by the crew of the ship I’d just been on weren’t terribly pleasant, and what they fed me on the trip was anything the crew wouldn’t eat from their ration packs.  Although I didn’t have a lot of local money, I knew I had more than enough for a decent meal.  I found a diner with the unimaginative name “Eats” and sat down at a table inside.

A server dropped a menu and a glass of water on the table, then walked away.  Customer service apparently considered optional.

I found a steak and potato meal on the menu and placed my order.  While I waited, I eavesdropped on nearby conversations.  There were four people seated at the table next to mine.  

“There’s more to life than farming, I tell you.”

“Like what, Denzel?  Working in this place?”

“No.  Think about it.  We’ve got robots working the farms.  Somebody has to make those.  They don’t make them here.  And the holographic shows.  The credits say they’re made on some other world.  There has to be jobs somewhere for people making that stuff, on some other planet.  Why not here?”

“’Cause the corporation don’t want us wastin’ time making that stuff.  They need us growing food, so the people making that stuff can eat.”

There was more like this.  Young Denzel Franklin sounded like he’d taken a good, hard look at his planet and decided farming wasn’t for him.  Unfortunately, UGH had given the residents of RFD 125 few other options.  From what I could overhear, the only jobs on the planet were in farming, food service, and retail.  Anything else was handled by robots or corporate employees from off-world.

The steak dinner was simultaneously the worst plate of food I’d ever eaten, and the best meal I’d had in weeks.  Apparently, all the best food was shipped off-world.  I was starting to hate UGH and I’d been here for an afternoon.  I could only imagine Denzel’s hatred.

When I got the check, I realized that my three thousand RFD Bucks weren’t going to last long.  I needed a way to make money.


There were any number of little schemes I might have tried on RFD 125.  I might have swiped produce from a processing plant and then sold it back to them.  I could have swiped processed foods from the warehouses and set up my own little grocery.  The problem with any of these scams was that I ran a very real chance of being caught long before the next cargo ship arrived.  If that happened, I’d rot in the planet’s jail for years.  I didn’t think I could take that risk.  I’d need avoid breaking the laws here.  I might bend them a little, but not break them.

From an unscientific little poll I’d taken on the street, there were really only two places to work on the whole of the planet.  You could maybe find a job with a farm, but most farmers leveraged free family labor and cheap leased robots.  Your other option was UGH, in one of their restaurants, farm supply stores, or department stores.  My status as an off-worlder might get be an interview at the UGH Corporate Office, some said, but none of the people I spoke with could remember anyone ever getting a job there.  New workers came in on the seasonal cargo ships, as I had done.

A farmer named Frank Macon offered to give me a tour of his farm, so I could see for myself how little he needed extra human help.  I took him up on the offer, just for a change of scenery.


Macon showed me his chicken coops, pig pens, cattle pastures, and fields of various grains and vegetables.  Robots collected the eggs, slopped the pigs, cleaned up the dung, and picked the crops.  All Macon had to do was order the robots around and decide what they should be working on.

As we walked in the tall grass in one of the pastures, I tripped and fell over something on the ground.  When I got up, I pulled back the grass to see what had caused my fall.  It was a rusty old robot.

“Why’s this robot lying here, rusting?”

“Farms seem to collect old broken stuff, like that harvester over there,” he said, pointing to a rusty old hulk near a line of trees in the distance. “Same with robots.  They break down.  Sometimes the company don’t fix ‘em.  They just say they’re writin’ it off and bring me another one that’s working.”

I thought about that for a moment.  “So there are lots of robots like this on your farm?  And on other farms, too?”

“I reckon so.  Never thought about it.  Why?”

“I can fix robots.  My had used to build them.”

“Don’t let my nephew Denzel hear that.  His daddy has a hard enough time keeping him working in the fields.  Fool kid wants to run off to some other world and give up farming.  Don’t suppose you could talk him out of it?”

“Me?  No.  I want off the planet, too.”

“Huh… To each his own, I guess.  Well, that’s about all I got to show you.”

“Would you mind if I took some of those old busted robots and tried to fix them?”

“Suit yourself.  Don’t belong to me anyway.  I just leased ‘em.”


I spent a few hours dragging all the robots I could find to a space near the barn.  Macon told me there was an abandoned farm a mile down the road.  UGH endorsed the idea of squatting on available land, provided you raised something on it.  Using a horse and trailer Macon was kind enough to loan me, I hauled the robot carcasses to the abandoned farm.


In the morning, I took a trip to the nearest town and found a farm supply store. They had a number of tools for repairing homes and farming equipment, but little for robots.  UGH didn’t really want the farmers fiddling with their robots, not that most of them had the skills to do so anyway.  That limited my repair options, but with so many dead robots I didn’t need much.  

By nightfall, I’d cobbled together enough robotic help to renovate and run the abandoned farm.


I had a farm and robotic farm hands, but nothing to plant.  A trip to the farming supply store didn’t improve the situation.  The only available seeds were patented UGH varieties that you not only ad to purchase but to license as well.  There seemed to be no limit to UGH’s money-grabbing tactics.

Having been a good student, I knew that most plants produce seeds.  The fields at my little farmhouse were filled with dead crops.  I found seeds on many of the plants, though I had no way to know if they would work.  I showed the robots how to harvest and sort them by plant variety.  It took them a few hours, but soon the fields were bare and the seed storage full.


The robots needed few instructions to plant, water, and feed the fledgling plants.  Within months, we’d managed to harvest a decent amount of produce from the fields.  I had the robots pack it into crates and bring it to the market with me.

The processing plant buyer looked over my vegetable bounty.  “Very nice,” he said, grabbing one of each vegetable and sampling it with a portable scanner.

“Where’s your license for the seeds?”


“These vegetables were all grown from proprietary UGH seeds.  I need to see your license to plant the seeds and harvest the produce.”

Since my seeds had come from old crops, I hadn’t purchased any seeds or licenses.  I ordered the robots to take the crops home.  I gave the buyer a story about having lost the license in a fire.


I offered Macon a fifty-fifty split if he’d let me add my crops to his when he sold them.  He explained that UGH calculates the maximum yield they’ll accept from a pound of seeds.  If you exceed that, they won’t by the excess.

Unfortunately, it had been a good season and I was unable to find any other farmer willing to go for my little deal.  That meant I needed another way to use the crops, and fast.

There is an old saying: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

I realized the wisdom in this and quickly taught the robots to behave as bussers and servers, then setup the farmhouse as a restaurant.  Within days, we had the place filled with happy customers enjoying better meals than they could get from the corporate restaurants on the planet.  

I was raking in the money, until UGH Security raided the place and took everything because I was running an unlicensed restaurant in their “Eat” restaurant’s territory.

Worse, they also confiscated my robot fleet, claiming that it was UGH property and should have been returned to them for re-leasing.

I was complete broke now, and like most of the planet’s population, I had United Galactic Holdings to thank for it.  It was their turn to suffer.


Every legal or semi-legal attempt I’d made to earn money on this planet had failed.  This meant that it was time to stop denying my nature.  I am not one meant to live a nine-to-five lifestyle.  I’m the shark who finds blood in the waters of the rich and powerful, and extracts a few pounds of flesh (or more accurately, cash) from them.  I’d come to the planet’s largest city to find a mark.

After months of backbreaking farm labor, my clothes were a tattered mess.  I need a manicure, a haircut, a shower, and several changes of clothing.  

I stayed a discreet distance from the UGH headquarters building and watched the workers as they came and went.  I noted a few who appeared to be approximately my size and height.  Most were wearing uniforms.  They were not of interest to me.  I needed to find an executive… like the one leaving now.

I followed Mr. Executive home.  I watched the place until he left.  Using an old pick-pocket technique, I bumped into him and swiped his digital keyring.  I took that back to his apartment and unlocked it.  Fortunately, the planet hadn’t had a serious crime wave in decades so he didn’t have a security alarm or guard robot on duty.

I borrowed Executive Man’s shower, then helped myself to his wardrobe.  I could now look the part of one of his peers.  Given the number of suits in his closet, I doubted he would miss these.

I also helped myself to his liquor cabinet and refrigerator.  

Using his computer, I forged business credentials that ought to be good enough for a CEO interview.  On most planets, this would have been a difficult task.  Because UGH doesn’t teach computer skills in the schools on RFD 125, hacking is unheard of, so there is no incentive to invest in good computer security… thankfully.

When I finished, I left his keys on the counter and let myself out, locking the door behind me.  If he didn’t notice the missing suits and booze, he’d think he’d forgotten his keys at home and suspect nothing.


When the next cargo ship arrived, I stepped out of a hiding place in the spacedock and merged with the crew as they headed for Eats.  I didn’t join them at the diner, but veered off in the direction of the UGH headquarters.

I managed to convince the receptionist at the front desk that I’d come from the UGH headquarters and was there to audit the books.  They sent my old friend Mr. Executive to talk to me.  I had to suppress the smile when he complimented my suit.

“This is all highly irregular,” he said, loosening his tie slightly.

“Of course it is!  You don’t announce a surprise audit.  Otherwise, people hide the real books.  Those are what I need to see.”

He puffed his chest up.  “I assure you, we would never—“

“I don’t need your assurances.  Just find me an office and get me access to your computer network now, or I’ll call in the entire Audit team.”

“That’s not necessary, really.  I’ll see to it personally.”

Minutes later, I found myself in an office in the United Galactic Holdings headquarters on RFD 152, with complete access to their corporate computer network.

Sometimes I amaze even myself.


Just like Mr. Executive’s home system, their local computer network’s security as a joke.  I broke through every protection in a matter of hours, and had complete access to their entire planetary record.  When Mr. Executive dropped by “to see if I needed anything” (and probably to see if I was doing any actual auditing), he gulped when he saw some of their most intimate records displayed on my screen.

It was clear that the suits working in this building had spent decades figuring out new and innovative ways to squeeze an extra Buck out of the locals.  They charged them for seeds, and made them buy licenses to grow crops with them.  They charged them for fertilizer, for robots, for robot repairs, for water used by the farm, for their children’s education, their entertainment, and their healthcare.  I spent a couple of hours trying to think of anything they weren’t charging the farmers for.  The land itself was the only thing I could come up with.  The only reason they didn’t charge for that was the advertising campaign that UGH used to lure people to the RFD planets.  “Free land!  Be your own boss!” they claimed.  It was true.  The land was free, but little else was.  I’d proven that with the abandoned farm and salvaged robots.

The phrase “salvaged robots” stuck in my head.  

I looked up robot lease records and found that there were at least twenty thousand robots sitting and rusting on farms around the planet.  Using my experience with the few I’d cobbled together, I estimated that there were at least five thousand viable robots just sitting and rusting in fields all over the planet.

It was time to scare Mr. Executive.  I called him to my office.

He looked at me, then at the floor.  “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes.  I’ve been going over the records.  You’ve maximized every potential source of revenue on this planet, except one.”

“You’re wrong.  We’ve done everything headquarters—“

I held up a hand.  “Stop, and look.”  I displayed the robot lease data on the wall.  “You’ve got fifty thousand robots leased on this planet.  That’s great, but you’ve also got five thousand robots standing around rusting.”

“No we don’t.”

“You do.  Look here,” I said, highlighting the robots that had been written off.

“Those robots failed in the field.  It was cheaper to abandon them than to fix them.”

“That’s your mistake.  These models are easily repaired.  A skilled repair tech could come in here and bring at least five thousand of these back online within six months.  Before they leave, you could train a local and a couple of robots to keep patching them up as they fail.  You’d increase your rental fleet and raise the bottom line.”

He rubbed his chin.  “How can you be sure?”

“I’ll prove it.  Look here.”  I showed him the report where the UGH Security force had raided my little unsanctioned restaurant.  Someone brought these units online and was using them without a lease.  If HQ saw this, you’d be working the counter at Eats.”

“Please, don’t tell them.”

“I won’t.  But I need your support with something else in return.”  If the gamble I had in mind worked, I could deal UGH a huge blow and get off the planet, too.  If it failed, well, I probably wasn’t going to leave this planet anyway.

He eyed me suspiciously.  “What?”

“I’ve got a cost-saving idea that will blow HQ away.”

“I’m listening.”

“Right now, UGH pays for the planet’s security blockade, its security police force, and civilian recordkeeping.”

“Yeah.  We do that on all the corporate planets.”

“Right.  But how about this?  The residents always complain that UGH has too much power over their lives.  We decide what foods are sold here, what robots are offered, what shows they can watch, what music they can listen to, and even what’s taught in their schools.”

“What are you driving at?”

“Suppose we made a little ‘grand gesture’ and drafted papers that allow them to have their own planetary government.”

“What?!  Are you insane?  Corporate would kill us.”

“Not if they saw the cost savings.  Look… When there’s a government, they enact laws.  When they enact laws, they need police to enforce them.  They’ll have to hire some.  We’ve got the only ones available.  They’ll need money.  They’ll have to enact tax laws to collect it.  They’ll need to hire our accountants to help them track it, since none of them has an accounting background.”

“You’re right, this is genius.  We can shift the costs of the planet’s infrastructure onto this so-called government and they’ll pay us to do it!  You HQ guys are amazing.”

I puffed out my chest, smiled, and said, “That’s why we get the big credit chips.”

He laughed.


Using the Alliance Charter as a guideline, I drafted a document granting the population of RFD 125 the right to establish a government to cover all non-UGH residents.  Mr. Executive digitally signed it and affixed the corporation’s digital seal.  I personally hand-delivered it to Denzel Franklin at his family’s farmhouse.

Franklin looked at the document.  As he began to read it, his jaw drooped lower and lower.

“Is this real?”

“It is.  I need to talk to you privately, as soon as possible. There’s more.”  He led me to a room in the basement of their farmhouse.

Although I’m told no one outside the room could hear the conversation as I told him my plan, his hooting and screams of joy made the rest of his family think we were drinking.

I left that night with a signed document from Denzel Franklin that would come into play soon.


Denzel and his like-minded friends wasted no time establishing an official planetary government headquarters, constitution, and election process.  I consulted as much as I could without drawing the attention of the suits at UGH.

I had the suits at UGH drooling at the thought of the bonuses they’d be getting for this massive bottom line increase.  I kept them focusing on the profit and the costs they could shift to the locals.  They were positively giddy.  They couldn’t wait to share “their” plan with UGH headquarters, which instructed the other RFD planets to begin enacting it immediately.

There was so much effort focused on the money that none of them noticed a couple of documents transmitted from my temporary office to the Alliance Council.  That changed when a group of Alliance battleships popped out of FTL around the planet.  The mood in the room shifted dramatically.  Suddenly, the only giddy one in the room was me.  My plan was working.


“This is Admiral Boxleitner of the Alliance Space Fleet to the executives of United Galactic Holdings on the planet RFD 125.  You will withdraw your ships and personnel at once.  This planet is under the protection of the Alliance of Sentient Lifeforms, effective immediately.”

Mr. Executive opened a communication channel, “I am Regional President Alexander Haskell.  This planet is the property of United Galactic Holdings.  You have no authority to—“

“You are quite mistaken, Mr. Haskell,” Boxleitner grinned.  “The agreement between the Alliance and the corporations holding planets within our borders stipulates that the planets remain corporate property only because there is no recognized native government.  RFD 152 has a government of the native population, and that government’s existence has been ratified by UGH itself.  This is no longer your company’s planet.  It’s an Alliance world, and it’s asked to join the Alliance.  If you do not withdraw all your personnel in the next two hours, we will consider it an act of war.”

“You can’t go to war against UGH!  We supply your—“

“Watch me.”


The panic in the UGH headquarters brought a smile to my heart, for the first time since I’d been on the planet.  Haskell ordered the computer systems wiped, shredded the few paper documents around the office, and organized shuttles to get UGH employees to the ships waiting in orbit.  I stayed out of the way and watched the chaos unfold.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t invisible.  I felt the cold metal of two gun barrels against the sides of my head.

“It should go without saying,” Haskell said through gritted teeth, “but you’re fired.  Company policy allows me to authorize lethal force when an intruder enters our offices.  Come with me to HQ or I will have these men use that lethal force option.  Am I being clear?”

I nodded.  I might have been able to use my martial arts training to get out of the situation, but I knew there was a risk that Haskell or others could be injured.  I might be a crook and swindler, but I am not a killer.  I cooperated, keeping watch for a way out to appear.

I was forced into a shuttle with Haskell and his goons.  I’d spent nearly a year on the planet, trying to leave.  Now, watching it fall away, I found myself wishing I was still there.  

The shuttle’s pilot turned toward Haskell.  “Sir, there’s an incoming message from the Alliance.”

“Put it through.”

“Attention UGH Shuttle.  This is Admiral Boxleitner.  Respond.”

“You have aboard your vessel an Alliance citizen, one Derek Cletus.  You will surrender him at once.”

“Who?”  Haskell asked.

I reached into my coat pocket and handed him the identification The Agency provided on Mastrion.  Next to my photo was the name “Derek Cletus.”  When I first saw it, I thought it was a horrible sounding name.  Today it was the most beautiful noise in the galaxy.

“Mr. Cletus has violated several UGH codes of conduct.  He’s coming with us for disciplinary action.”

The shuttle rocked violently.  Alliance soldiers breached the shuttle’s airlock, weapons draw.

“Release Mr. Cletus at once,” one of the soldiers said.  I stepped away from the goons and toward the Alliance soldiers.  I’d never been so happy to see armed men in front of me.  They ushered me onto their own shuttle and took me to the flagship of their battle group.  To my surprise, I was placed in the brig.

I’m told the situation ended peacefully.

After several hours in the brig, I’d begun to wonder if I had made a mistake.


When I awoke, I found myself on a passenger ship in space.  I had no memory of how I’d gotten there.  A personal communicator on my wrist began to vibrate.  I looked at the screen.  There were three messages.

The first message was from Denzel Franklin.  It said, “You are a hero to our people.  You are always welcome here.  Please come back.”

The second was from Haskell.  It read “You have made a powerful enemy in UGH.”  I chuckled when I read it, and said to myself, “So have you, buddy.”

The last, which had no return number, said, “We have tried many times to wrest planets from a corporate grip.  You succeeded.  Congratulations. – The Agency.”

I read an Alliance news item saying that RFD 125 and several other former UGH worlds had just joined the Alliance as full members, and that United Galactic Holdings was under investigation for numerous human rights violations.

I sat there tired, broke, and with no idea where I was – and still happier than I’d been in a long time.  It felt good to do what I had just done, and I wanted to do it again.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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