PAGES 5        WORDS 950

The third solar war had ended.  Cerberus Enterprises, the foremost weapons research manufacturing conglomerate, had watched its profits soar, easily doubling what it had amassed during the first two solar wars.  Now, with only minor intra-clan wars in the Deesian Solar System, coupled with military cutbacks and cancelled contracts, CE’s stock quotes had reached an all time low.


Depressed, Wubba Gibler, Cerberus’s president, drummed his fingers nervously on his chairs arm rest.  In bright uncaring clarity, the numbers continued to pass slowly across the giant teledar screen.  For eighteen consecutive months starting in October, 2372, he had watched the stock drop, slowly at first, until it had reached its daily decline of twenty points or more.  This he blamed on the spreading contagion.


Proud and intelligent, Wubba had always prided himself on being able to outsmart, and thus stay one step ahead of his competition.  He now felt strangely helpless and confused, which upset him more than he dared admit.  But what could he do?  How could you fight a contagion, as he put it that was affecting the minds of his clients?  Not even his team of market experts could agree on its source, some saying the contagion was in the water, while others believed it was in the very food they ate.


And he was powerless to circumvent it.


Three viable options remained.  Retool the business, find a contagion-free location, or accept its inevitability and watch one’s way of life perish.


None of these nurtured Wubba’s hopes, save finding a contagion-free inhabited solar system.


Retooling would be astronomically expensive, and a gamble, since there would be no guarantee that the new line of products would be accepted.  Finding a contagion-free area, would be a double-edged sword: cost prohibitive and time consuming, even with the use of his massive fleet to transport his wares.  Regarding the third option, Wubba never gave it a second thought.


Yet what could he do, watch helplessly, fifty years of research and breakthroughs, toil and sweat be flushed away?  During his entire life he had never witnessed so thorough, so insidious a contagion as to infect every level of life.

But he knew he must make a decision . . . and he would, opting to find a contagion-free area of space.


The decision final, his past memories suddenly overwhelmed him.  Eyes moist, he shook his head sadly as remembered names and places, achievements and awards.  Seventy-five years ago he had started virtually penniless, making sacrifices, taking chances, producing revolutionary machines and systems, while constantly fending off those who would have gladly seen him fail.


Nurtured by this atmosphere of steadfast dedication and hard-nosed determination, his business and reputation grew until Cerebus Enterprises became instantly recognizable and synonymous with the words reliable and quality.


But even this couldn’t prevent his business from collapsing about his head.


Wubba’s only solace during this traumatic change was the knowledge that the demise of his business wasn’t nurtured by poor practices or decisions, a rival’s plotting or expeditious competition.


It was this knowledge, coupled with the realization that no defense or countermeasures existed to fight the contagion that would not allow him to remove the albatross worn about his neck with the weight of failure.


Remarkably, for reasons no one could fathom, both family and loyal staff and friends, remained contagion-free.  Yet, even here, pain followed.


Heart heavy with grief, he had to sack most of his staff, the only comfort in this distasteful task was the generous severance given to sustain them until profitable employment could be found.


Wubba’s heart grew heavier as he agonized over the fate that would destroy his massive operations.  With remorse he sold what he could to the Dessian clans before abandoning what remained to the hordes that transformed them into sanctuaries.


Finally, with tear-filled eyes, he had to dismiss his remaining employees.  This wounded him deeper than had all the previous sackings, for they had been with him since the business’s inception and he had grown to look upon them as family.  No words were exchanged, just strong, silent hugs, controlled sniffles and tear-stained cheeks to mark the final goodbye.


Silent, Wubba stood alone in his office.  No longer would he hear the sounds of toil or smell the scent of sweat, oil and burnt ozone.  Eyes red, he broke, sobbing uncontrollably.


Emotionally exhausted, his self-discipline in tatters, he wiped his eyes, turned and walked slowly toward a small hidden room in the back of his office.  Touching the model of his mark four hunter droid, he watched a panel slide to one side, looking through sad eyes at the small room.


He paused in front of the opening, sighed then entered.  Again his eyes moistened, but he did not cry.  How many times, he asked himself, had he done this very thing?  He shrugged.  It was no longer of any consequence.


With a deep sigh, he walked toward a large wall safe in the rear of the room and slid his magnetic key over the lock.  It opened slowly and from it he removed a bottle of Surillian brandy along with a huge snifter.


He pulled out the cork with his teeth.  Spitting it to one side he slowly filled the emerald glass with the dark, sweet liquid.  He hesitated and found himself unable to lift the glass.  Wiping the tears from his eyes, he forced himself to hold the glass at arm’s length, saluting for the last time, seventy-five years of memories.


Downing the sweet liquid he looked at the empty snifter before throwing it against the safe.  He took another long drink from the bottle then sent it crashing as he had the snifter.

Author Notes

Taking a break for The Snow Kingdom. The original copy of this SS was penned in 1982.


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