Bertram Rumbelow, Senior Vice President, VEGA Mining Operations, received word from security that Vorzer had arrived and was on the way to his office.
On hearing this, Rumbelow squeezed his rotund form out of his chair and took up position at the vast plexiglass window that made up most of one wall. He stood with his back to the door, hands clasped behind his back, looking down upon the pulsating gas giant that the VEGA Mining station was currently orbiting.
This was how he liked to be discovered in his office. He felt that it made him seem thoughtful, yet dignified and powerful. Gazing down upon the region of space that was his domain and his responsibility.
He was standing like this for close to the third minute and becoming very uncomfortable when his door finally opened. A burst of noisy bustle from the workers in the office complex beyond flooded into the room, fading back down to a murmur as the newcomer closed the door behind him.
“Vorzer,” said Rumbelow, turning stiffly on his heel. “How is the operation proceeding?”
Section Security Chief Vorzer was technically Rumbelow's right-hand man and enforcer of his rule, the commander of VEGA Mining's security force, but Rumbelow had never liked the man. He was little more than a thug, with just enough cunning to rise above the ranks of the rest of the thugs that sufficed as the Corporation's peacekeeping force.
He saluted with the bare minimum of sarcastic politeness, pursing his lips tightly. “Followed two more false trails, lost another handful of fleets,” he said. “Nothing we can't make up for. Forwarded all the logs to the intelligence department.”
Rumbelow scowled. “Perhaps if you examined these false signals more carefully before chasing after them, you could be avoiding such losses.”
“With respect, sir,” said Vorzer, the words as hollow and meaningless as always. “We can only work off the intelligence the other departments provide us.”
“And you have no initiative of your own, man? It is up to you to apply the intelligence properly.”
Vorzer grimaced with the effort of holding his emotions in. “The only intelligence we seem to have established for certain is that the Mystery Voice used to work for VEGA. That does not narrow it down, sir. Everyone in the sector works for VEGA. Technically.”
“Ah, yes, thank you for reminding me,” said Rumbelow, resuming his seat behind his oversized desk. “I don't like that name. 'Mystery Voice'. All staff are to stop using it immediately, in both official and casual correspondence.”
Vorzer glanced left and right, waiting for the punchline. “The name seems fitting enough to me, sir,” he said. “It's nothing but a voice and we don't know who it is or where it's based.”
“It's not a voice, it's a man! An overconfident lout who thinks he can wound us with impunity. And he is no mystery. We learn more about him with every move he makes. When you call him Mystery Voice, you play into his hands!” He jerked a flabby hand towards his large window. “You undermine our authority to that rabble out there, stealing the resources that are rightfully ours! From this point forward, he will be referred to as 'Currently Unidentified Agitator', or CUA.”
“CUA,” repeated Vorzer. “Well. I'll 'see' that I pass that on. Was that all, sir?”
Rumbelow's face darkened. He clasped his hands before him. “No, Vorzer. You remember the order we received from VEGA Head Office six months ago?”
“How could I forget?” It had been the only correspondence from Head Office for as long as either man could remember, save the eternal standing order to keep mining resources and sending them to Earth. It had not been a lengthy message – just an increase in the monthly quota demanded of the sector – but Rumbelow had been acting like a biblical prophet descending from a mountain with stone tablets.
“This morning, I received another message.”
“Another?” said Vorzer, impressed. “What do they want this time?”
“No orders,” admitted Rumbelow, staring at his hands. “Just... an expression of disappointment that we had failed to meet the quota increase they had given us.”
“And?” Vorzer knew there would be more.
“We have been given another month to meet the quota, and if we do not... measures... may be taken.” He closed his eyes, as if having imparted a great and terrible secret.
“What kind of measures?” asked Vorzer.
“They were unspecific,” muttered Rumbelow. “I believe they may be implying some kind of inspection.”
Rumbelow had been born out here, Vorzer remembered raised on this station under VEGA's education program. He had never even been to Earth. The prospect of a company inspection must have seemed, to him, akin to a cosmic judgement by the emissaries of some vast, all-powerful God.
Vorzer, on the other hand, had been to Earth. He had been part of VEGA's unstoppable military division before the event that had led to his court martial, and reassignment here, where he had risen to the rank of Security Chief mainly by virtue of surviving the longest. Unlike Rumbelow, he knew that their superiors were just human beings, like anyone else. Human beings that scared the hell out of him.
“What are your orders?” he asked.
Rumbelow seemed to notice him for the first time since sitting down. His glassy eyes glowered out from under his heavy brow. “What are my orders?!” he repeated. “Your orders are to take this seriously! Bring me the CUA and bring the miners into line, ensure that nothing stands in the way of VEGA receiving what it asked for!”
“Bring in CUA, break miners,” summarised Vorzer. “Which has the higher priority?”
Rumbelow was momentarily struck dumb. Then he stood, and put his face inches from Vorzer's. “You will prioritise both, Vorzer! And you can expect no more resources until I see progress! Just do it! I don't care how! Because if you fail, someone will be coming to figure out why, and who knows what will happen then! Understand?”
Vorzer could feel droplets of sweat and spittle on his face. He tried to open his mouth as little as possible as he replied, “Understood. Sir.”
As Vorzer made his way through the corridors of the VEGA Mining office complex, he did not swing his arms as he walked, and he clenched his fists tightly, digging his fingernails into his palms and focusing on the pain. “Who knows what might happen,” he muttered to himself, through his teeth. “This place might even get competently run.”