BuyMort – The Shoppening (Finale)

A BuyMort story

By: Damien Hanson and Joseph Phelps

Chapter 1

I am Rayna Tork, Credit Level 86 Smart Shopper and Head Manager over Tribe BlueCleave, Level 4 Commercial Contractor. And today I was victorious.

Scrapwings screeched and cawed, flapping overhead in arcs. The gray scavenger birds swooped, tearing choice pieces of meat from the corpses of the hobgobs we’d killed, taking them off and away to the rocky misty crags that they called home. Which was fine by me. It was low grade medical waste which wouldn’t sell for much anyways, and I hardly expected them to affect our bottom-line. I rustled in my blue plasma-resistant vest as I walked, my name badge bouncing off of my chest, swinging and twisting in the front of me from the cord around my neck. It was my namesake. 

It said Tribe BlueCleave. Underneath it said, LVL 4 BuyMort Affiliate. And a review rating of 4.7 stars, I added mentally, pride surging through me. Someday soon I was going to get the level 5 referral, and I would bring them to even greater heights of glory.

My clan and I picked our way through the field of gunpowder burns and laser streaks, picking through the corpses of our hobgob kin. They’d put up a fight, I gave them that. Must have traded outside of the system because they were some of the unbelievers. Ironic that they’d tried to resist BuyMort, yet used their products and services at the end. They should have shopped smart from the beginning. BuyMort is life.

I bent down over the bloodied and headless corpse of a well-muscled hobgob. His stub of a neck still roiled with blood, mixing it into the dirt in puddles. The rest of him was prime, though. Good for sales.

“Cor’Bin, go find the head from this one. Buyer wants a trophy.”

“He wants a head?” the hobgob asked. He stood in sharp contrast to the dead hob on the ground, being doughy instead of muscled and consistently afflicted by a scowl. His face wasn’t exactly handsome to start, and the way he constantly scowled anytime I told him to do something grated on me. I felt  like slapping him and just telling him to do it but, as my cousin and my blood, he needed to understand why.

“Listen. For some of the trades such a thing adds prestige and can earn faster level referrals. You still have to pay for the level up, but without a referral it costs ten times as much, and few can afford to purchase it.” 

I bent over the hob and stripped him down, peeling off farmer’s tweed, homespun cotton and, what was this, patent leather steel-toed boots from BuyMort. I spat in the dirt. Hypocrite. He deserved this death.

The dry and burnt long grass crunched, Sales Manager Cor’Bin walking the hob’s head back from the gutter it had rolled to. He’d been a handsome guy, our target. Long stringy black hair, warts over both cheeks, and a trimmed goatee hanging from his chin. He was going to make a great trophy.

“So why’n we need ta kill them alls?” Cor’Bin asked. He brought one long dirty finger up to his snarl-toothed mouth to dig some lost fragment of food from its recesses. “They sed they didn’t wanna fight us.”

“They also said they wouldn’t sign over their MortBlock. Cor’Bin, you’ve got to pay attention. One day you might be a Head Manager, so you really have to keep up.”

I rolled through my BuyMort mind icon, selecting my affiliated storefront and adding new items to the catalog. Overalls, boots, long underwear, it’d all be cleaned and sold for a good price before the night was over. I chose the option to pick up and moments later a sleek black affiliated VIP transport pod tore through the fabric of reality and was at my feet.

Generic Clothing category, Overall, boots, long soiled underwear. Rarity, common. Quality, good. To Be Sorted and Sold Peer-to-Peer, BuyMort Affiliate.

ITEMS CATALOGUED AND CONFIRMED. THANKS FOR SHOPPING WITH BUYMORT!

Behind me the same scene was playing over all of the corpses as sales associates of Tribe BlueCleave stripped and inventoried the dead. And when all of the items were gone, the bodies were sold direct to BuyMort for a small handful of Morties. 

Purchase: Biological remains. Type: Headless Corpse. Rarity, uncommon. Quality, good. 41 Morties dispensed.

Just enough to make the action worth taking, I thought with a sigh.

When the bodies were bundled away and the cash from the bodies paid to the tribal account, I went ahead and opened up the BuyMort Block Investment App and cracked open the land claim option. A small icon whirred in my head, then a cluster of menus appeared, blinding me to the reality about me. I chose the temphold option, acquisitions, entered my affiliation tag, agreed to a standard 20% (30% – 10% due to my Smart Shopper Discount perk) BuyMort commission on my sale, chose a crowd disbursement management option, and agreed to the standard clause that this territory was a temporary block and that it would revert to neutral land after a period of a month, unless sold off to another party or otherwise enfranchised as a permahold. It warmed me to know that our one god, the last true god, was so open and apparent in its dealings. Such gestures showed that it cared.

Temporary Land Acquisition: Sector A4, B7, Coordinates 45.1805° N, 89.6835° W, 400 square kilometers. This temporary acquisition is meant for transfer to another party and will expire 30 days from purchase. Do you accept? Y/N

Oh, yes, great BuyMort. We are servants to your cause. I accepted. Before me, the rest of the tribe stood at attention, waiting for me to make my move. It was like this every time, a ritual from BuyMort as told to us through the holy manual of “Welcome to the BuyMort Family – Tricks of the Affiliated Storefront”.

My head swayed, my eyes riding over their grey-tan faces. Ali Mac, my other associate manager, stifled a giggle, and I arched an eyebrow. 

“Give me a B!” I yelled, hard, through the treetops and to the heavenly palace in which BuyMort surely resided. 

“B!” they yelled. All were smiling now, the dead blood of the corpses flaking and peeling as their hands came together to form the letter. 

“Give me an L!” 

“L!” they shouted, almost dancing in their excitement.

The holy book of BuyMort asserts that a blessing shall be upon the affiliates who run a happy team of associates. I, the head manager by birth and blood, must lead this ritual through example, my greatest sales managers flanking my sides to accentuate the command aura. At the end of a successful work conquest, we give thanks by spelling out the name of our affiliated storefront. Then, upon the holy conclusion, we bellow the full name to the sky. “What does that spell?” I ask and they scream it to the sky. 

“BlueCleave! BlueCleave”

But holy BuyMort suggests that we do not be arrogant. At the end of the chant we remind ourselves of our humility and subservience to the great above. The tone goes colder, almost a whisper. 

“Who is the best?” I ask. 

The battle associates fall to their knees, their voices high and pleading. “The customer!” they cry. 

And then it is done. I select the BuyMort app from its place in my mind, and minutes later the multidimensional rifts have opened. Sleek black pods descend, cracking open and depositing their contents. In moments we are surrounded by troughs of magnificent food, a customized campfire placed in the middle of the clearing already lit and crackling beautifully in the cool summer night air. All charged to the Affiliate Account, of course.

“Eat and be merry, my friends! All praise be to BuyMort!”

Welcome, friend, to the wonderful story of BuyMort. This is my tale, the story of a humble BlueCleave Head Manager, and with your induction into the tribe you too can live the life of a BuyMort Affiliated Storefront Associate! Our world was once a wild and tribal place. Farmers and serfs eked out a living by scratching furrows into the soil and growing seeds to fruit, which we then ate like animals. Hunters roamed the woods, and prairies with rifles and bows, killing animals to burn their flesh and serve upon plates and platters at their homes with their children. People traveled miles to trade discs of metal for anything they couldn’t or wouldn’t make at home. They were troubled and primitive times.

Thankfully, those times are no more. At least not for most of us. One day, a century past, there was a battle in the heavens. Flames of many colors, streaking through the sky. Blasts of sound and the crackle of shaking air. The gods had finally begun the end times, the war to decide who was the greatest of them all. My ancestors quaked and trembled for it had been foretold that the battle would end in a broken and dead world.

But it didn’t. The fires of the sky finished and at the end of the heavenly war, only the god BuyMort still stood. His minions and avatars blasted down from the flames of battle and they swarmed through the world, buying all that was offered, trading and bartering for things they found rare value in. Things became scarce. War became inevitable. My tribe became a BuyMort affiliate.

Wait what?

You see, not all accepted BuyMort. They fought the beings from heaven, tore up the contracts of land and game that they proffered. They were fools. Did they not understand that the hand of BuyMort raised us all? Never before had the BlueCleave been so clean and insulated. Never before had food come with so little effort.

All you needed were Morties, the metaversal absolutely secure digital currency whose records of transaction were written across the stars, and luxury was at your fingertips. BuyMort was good to us in its blessings.

So when someone opened up a storefront called BuyMortMercMart, my grandfather enrolled the entire tribe. And we were so good at clearing people out of their land and freeing it for possession by our contractors that we set up our own storefront. BlueCleave Acquisition and Mortgage, Rifles for Hire. I came up with that last part myself in the BuyMort ritual of rebranding. We were well rewarded.

I let go of my reverie and called up a BuyMort quick transport plan. Moments later the silvery shine of our solar-powered, up-armored APC battle transports appeared. I entered the largest, my personal managerial office, and climbed into the warm silk comforts of bed. Tomorrow was time to settle accounts and outstanding debts, and days like that could be bloody. A good night’s sleep was crucial for the aggressive negotiations to come.

Chapter 2

My alarm blared the next day, its ringtone the scream of a Gharagian Blood Vulture dying in battle with a triumphant warrior. My grandfather, by all accounts. It was a time of valor, he always said, and he kept the record to remember his roots. It seemed silly to me, the time before BuyMort was one of such barbarism and pain. Why remember it at all? But I kept the sound because it reminded me of both him and how far we had come since the victory of BuyMort over all the others.

I stretched, wallowing in the deep pit of my weight upon such wonderful softness. “Bed setting, awake, maximum firmness,” I commanded, making the bed stiffen up and eliminating the plush of before. It was a setting that I could have set to the same time as the alarm, but often I liked to wallow in the comfort of pure cloudlike heaven, pushed down five feet into the softest materials in the multiverse, BuyMort-guaranteed. 

“Computer, how are our buyers coming here today?” I asked while the bed rose and hardened into something akin to cold steel. These deals were a thing that occasionally changed at the last minute, and when it did I didn’t like to be caught off guard. Too often a change in means of transit meant a double deal on the horizon.

“Searching. Sending system prompt now.”

I got off of my bricked bed and swung right into the tiny cubicle of my bathroom. BuyMort-supplied-and-stocked, it contained greases, oils, shampoos and fragrances from all over infinity. And today was a day to look clean, professional and deadly. I stepped into the shower and started to lather up, then allowed the prompt to open.

Lazarkhian Buyer: Name: Jos Haana. Mode of transit: Fleet based locomotion detected. Transit search completed, 149 Morties have been deducted from your account. Thank you for using MortSort, the guaranteed people tracker!

He’d said he was coming by portal. And he’d promised to come with just two guards and a BuyMort Priestess. I growled and dismissed the message, reaching for some Locke of Nolan. The grey-tinted body cleanser really put on the reek, a scent so pungent that it stung the eyes and was even corrosive to some slime-based life forms. It was a good battle agent, giving advantage to those like myself and my soldiers who had acclimated themselves to its effect.

As usual, contemplating the product brought up a small ad in the left corner of my vision.

Locke of Nolan – Battle damage to slime-based life forms. Powerful irritant to wet-tissue in unacclimated humanoid mammalian individuals. 25 Morties, 4.9 stars

“Computer, wake the sales associates and warn them that we might have trouble incoming. Alert level Bravo. Gear up, soap up, and hit the mart for some anti-ship restock. I have a feeling we’re going to need to take out a star cruiser or two.”

“Orders Confirmed. Message sent.”

I followed the Locke with a battle conditioner, hardening my skin against small arms fire.

Blackwater Braise – Harden living organic skin against attacks. Sweet, and tart, this product also makes for a wonderful barbecue sauce. 37 Morties, 4.6 stars

Jos, if he dared break our agreement, was going to taste sweet and tart over the victory fires. His crew as well.

I got out of the shower and donned my lightweight plas-chain underclothes, then entered the clunky spiked managerial battle armor that I reserved for expected high-profile battle meetings. My battle badge adhered to the chest of it, my name and position flaming with energy and visible from up to ten kilometers distant. This particular item also flared a personal deflector shield over my body, set to a secret frequency that only I knew, a frequency that allowed me to fire my laser rifle through it while not permitting outside blasts to enter. It was a powerful item, a very expensive one, and though it wasn’t a BuyMort MultiPhasic Multi-Frequency Empress Deluxe (35,000,000 Morties), it would certainly do for what was ahead.

Armed, armored, and satisfied, I opened the door to the outside and clanked out to the scraps of last night’s festivities. The fire pits were still smoking, but the trays and buffet lines had been taken away, small divots in the dirt the only sign that they’d been there at all. Around the property other APC doors dropped open and their occupants clanked out to the forefront. There was a sense of duty and purpose over all of it, and I couldn’t be prouder of my entire team. They moved into formation, two wings each headed by a sales manager, all facing ahead and awaiting my approach. I silently asked my suit for an injection of InspiraSpeech (Liquid Charisma guaranteed to enliven your employees before any big event. 70 Morties, 4.7 stars) before striding before them.

“Loud harmonics engaged,” I commanded my helmet AI. “Threat level Bravo, people. It looks like the customer wants to do a grab and run, take the merchandise and not pay us for it. BlueCleave Acquisition and Mortgage, Rifles for Hire honors the customer, but we do not honor thieves. I want Team Alpha to hit the shelving. Entrenched AntiShip beams and missiles scattered at two-kilometer intervals, strategic repositioning left open to senior associates. Also, spare an individual for any APC with anti-ship capabilities. It will be good to have mobile repositioning at my beck and call.”

Cor’Bin raised his hand. He always raised his gauntleted hand, cartoonishly large with its PowerFist (Shield and melee multiplier in times of close combat. 25,000 Morties, 4.9 stars). I sighed and ignored him. He always raised his hand, and he had brought a melee item to a literal ship fight. I was going to have to reprimand him later. 

“Team Bravo, you’ll take mop up, aisles one through four. I’ve updated your maps to show where those are. Divide them amongst yourselves. I want armored APCs to support light infantry, but stay as hidden as you can before those clay-clones drop. I don’t want ship fire to wipe you all out without taking any damage in return.” I paused. There wasn’t anything more to say, but the Book of BuyMort stated that praise paid out better than money, because praise was free. Plus I’d already injected a dose of InspiraSpeech, and that shit didn’t grow on trees.

“I know we’ve been in tight spots before, but three cruisers are one more than any of you are used to so let me just tell you that I’d be worried if it was anyone else in my sales team. But I know all of you, I have fought alongside you, and I trust you all dearly. We will win this battle and show the multiverse why you don’t try to pull a fast one on BlueCleave.”

The sales associates raised their fists and cheered, well harder than my speech deserved. Money well spent, I thought as I dismissed them from formation and sent them scurrying to their places. And it wasn’t a lie. They were good associates. They didn’t ask for a lot of Morties, they did what they were told, and unlike the last bunch, they didn’t try to form a cooperative work agreement.

While the associates took their positions, I opened up BuyMort Reviews for a better look at the buyer. One hundred reviews, all four or five stars. Seemed like an upright guy. But he wasn’t abiding by our agreement. My eyes narrowed even though the image was entirely mental. I zoomed in on the reviews and read their actual contents.

Solid land purchase. No problems.

Great negotiations. A plus.

Great negotiations. No problems.

Solid land purchase. A plus.

I growled. Fake reviews, probably done by hostages with blasters to their heads, and terminated afterwards. On and on it went, generic reviews. I cursed myself. I’d gotten careless and not bothered to thoroughly check through their words before agreeing to our deal. On a whim I clicked a few of the users and was not surprised to see most of them were dead. So stupid. And entirely what guys like Jos relied on. The openness of his villainy was almost like a filter, allowing him to strike deals with the unprepared and foolish, since the smart ones would do their research and turn him down.

I scanned the ground, looking for something to kick. This was almost as dumb as falling for a multidimensional Nimerian Prince scam. Every death that happened today would be my fault, and it’d take Morties and ads to refill the roster. Damn, damn, damn!

A red light flashed in my helm. The troops were entrenched, the anti-ship defenses in place, and armored support hidden where the ships could immediately blast them to smithereens. The battlefield was set. And one thought brought a large smile to my face. Jos was expecting a brainless moron. And that, I was not.

Chapter 3

Waiting for a large-scale sales transaction to get started is one of the tensest times that you can imagine. The sales associates gripped their weapons tight and peered out of hastily vaporized cratered emplacements hardened with InstaCrete – The plasti-mortar emplacement guaranteed to set in ten seconds or less. 12 Morties per square foot, 3.9 stars. Disclaimer: Do not place in mouth, nostrils, or anus. The uparmored APCs were in larger cavernous dugouts supported by pillars of the stuff, and the AntiShip guns and missiles were all above-ground targets by necessity. Each APC was a squat rig big enough for a small amount of hobs to fit inside, hovering or crawling as needed with four mobility thrusters, one at each corner, each slathered in armor like thick insect limbs. Atop each was a customizable emplacement for weaponry, and each of my associates swiveled their turrets in the right direction. There were also two sub-command APCs for the sales managers. These ones were three times the size of the other APCs and could carry a full platoon of thirty if put to the test.

I’d been in those neutron-plated turrets before and I didn’t envy the associates within. It was a sweaty and cramped place, and despite the hardened density of the armor, it just took concentrated beam fire on the exposed position to turn you to toast. Or a Torrid Torpedo – The Superheated Mix of Plasma and Exotic Matter guaranteed to turn your planetary assault into a planetary conquest. By the makers of super fun ball. 1,000,000 Morties, 5 stars. Instead of blasting through, those fun bundles of death radiated solar heat through hard objects, instantly incinerating everything within. They were expensive as hell, though, and I was quite sure we wouldn’t be seeing any of those in a battle over this particular MortBlock.

I stared up at the cloudy blue of early morning, sucking in a huff of fresh HobGob air. That wouldn’t last long. What I expected was a quick burn, ships blazing through the atmosphere like asteroids, throwing a shockwave before them. Then a quick stop above our position, tossing more shock into our vicinity and throwing us off balance. He’d fire a few shots, get shot at, see that we were well prepared for him, then try to talk us off. We’d refuse, he’d move close and blast at us, drop clones, then cut and run when he took more damage than the plot was worth. 

I looked around at the fields and trees. What was the plot worth? I probably should have run a BuyMort Mineralogical Scan, but at some point it doesn’t matter. I was going to kill this bastard, then sell his salvage, and find a new buyer for the plot. Part of Tribe BlueCleave’s success was that we never put down roots.

A sonic boom pounded through the sky, three bright streaks of flame following, arcing through the sky like dinosaur-ending meteors. It was time.

“Places everyone,” I sighed through the comms. This whole thing was a pointless waste of Morties. The moochers and the pirates were all trash, to be removed from the holy presence of BuyMort, yes. But it wasn’t easy on the pocketbook to do so. I stepped back into my command APC and hit a button, letting it burrow down into the earth, its roof level with the soil, and encase itself in an energy field. 

The inside of my APC was nice. Homey even. It had all the comforts I would need to live on site for any length of time, and all the military hardware I could afford to cram in it. On my way to the command section at the front, I glanced past my hanging ivy in the hallway to see my bedroom glowing at the end of the hall. Currently half of my bedroom was being consumed by an extra shielding unit. The compartmental customization of this line of APCs was critical, it made my recent losing streak in the romance department easier to ignore when half my bed was taken up by an extra shield generator. Kept me warmer than my ex ever had anyway.

My battle command console opened on my visor and I immediately opened up my roster, ensuring that I had an active link to all of my associates and both of my sales managers.

“Stay Alert,” I called out, a tight beam message to the rest. The response was immediate, a chorus of eager HobGob associates ready for aggressive negotiations.

“Stay Alive! Never ever should we die. Cause when the battle day is done, we’ll have some Mortie shopping fun!”

A lance of blue light lashed out from the rapidly approaching craft, the heat of its passage setting fire to a large and ancient pine. Another followed, striking and crackling across a BlueCleave anti-ship turret. The painted sigil of my affiliate bubbled and ran from its stenciled place on its rounded side, but the blast was easily absorbed.

“Time to shoot?” Ali Mac’s voice asked over the comms. It was shaking — she was a relatively new management associate who had never done negotiations on this scale before.

“Hold. Those are targeting lasers. He’s simply plotting the area, getting it ready for some massive munitions. Probably has a TerraRestore Unit (guaranteed to bring battlefields back to their pristine selves in no time. No mess with no messing around, that’s TerraRestore! 5000 Morties, 4.5 stars) and is planning to snap this all back right after he kills us and claims it.”

“Kills us?” Ali’s voice quavered.

“Tries to,” I amended. Damn slip of the tongue, why was I always so sarcastic and deadpan? “No worries kid, we aren’t what he is expecting. Just stay alert and you’ll stay alive.”

“Hey boss,” Cor’Bin’s voice cut in. “None of us was expectin’ a fight today. We getting’ overtime?”

Fucking prick. As a sales manager he already got seven shares of the take. What he was really asking was for me to divide my thirty shares to fifteen, and give the rest of that to them all equally. I bit down on a snarl. He wasn’t as dumb as he sounded, either, because he did it right before they were all needed. “Everyone equal shares on salvage,” I growled. His silence made me laugh. I’d just cut his take down hard, well worth practically eliminating my own.

A blast shook the ground, then another. I felt it even inside my command vehicle with its over-priced Stabilisure-ShockAbsorbers (The phenomenal capabilities of Stabilisure shock absorbers can be felt immediately. Vehicle-specific cushioning so powerful that your vehicle will sit still in any situation. 10,000 Morties, 5 stars). Red hazard icons appeared all over the 3D battle overlay of my command console, drawing my eyes to rows of stats and figures. Those ships were packing some heavy firepower. 

I tabbed over to positioning, checking their fixed hover over our prepared positions. It appeared that the cruisers had attempted to set position in front of the sun from the angle of the defenders. It wasn’t a bad tactic, but none of the associates were silly enough to be battling without battle visors and electronic eye support. Turrets and tubes were marked and analyzed as they blasted beams, smoke and flame, their tremendous arsenal tearing up the encampment to soften up our position, while superheating the air. 

“It’s getting hot over here,” an unknown voice cried. Probably a shift manager.

“Fire at will,” I yelled, adding a command reverb to make my voice sound that much more authoritative. 

AntiShip missiles and beams responded, the first wave in deadly unison, and shock reverberated through the energy fields of the craft above. An wispy aura of white-blue fog poured from the turrets as they returned fire, a nebulous after effect of the weaponry that the battle display simply labeled CONCEALMENT 50%. The shields flared, crackling pixels in my first person VISUALS tab and partially blinded our computer targeting. I could see our shots going erratic, forming a looser circle as the targeting computer messed up their aim and the crew tried to take over and correct manually. 

“Cease fire, cease fire,” a voice blasted on the universal comms channel. “We’re here to buy, not fight.”

I ran a quick command scan over the ships but couldn’t pinpoint which one the bastard was hiding on. But shields on the middle cruiser had been knocked down to fifty percent, so I sent a text order for all defenses to target it when hostilities resumed, then I made my response.

“That was a hell of a greeting, Jos. Not quite what we agreed to when we set up the deal, is it? I think you might understand our considerable alarm at your unorthodox approach to our meeting. Because it certainly looked like you were attempting a hostile takeover.” I waited for a minute, knowing that he knew I wasn’t the normal type of moron that he usually snared with his schemes. He was having to really think for maybe the first time in years, and his brain wasn’t quite used to it.

“Listen, BlueCleave, I don’t have the asking price. I lost it in a bet on the way over and sure, I went hostile. But it was desperation! That land there is teeming with resources just under the surface. Dust Motes, Xygax Gases, Dark Matter . . . stuff that’s hard to detect and harder to mine, but my outfit, well, we’ve got the equipment. Right with us as a matter of fact. Let’s say you transfer the deed, I set up operations, then I pay you the cost in a month.”

Jos sounded so sure of himself. So arrogant, even. I couldn’t wait to hear his reaction when I told him to go to hell. But business was always more important than emotions. BuyMort’s rules. Money over feelings will make you a successful entrepreneur. Sound him out, and if he wasn’t worth shit, send him to his grave.

“Here’s the deal I will give you right now,” I demanded, my voice harsh and stern. “That fleet that you’ve got there, worth a pretty Morty. One cruiser would cover the cost of our arrangement. Move all of your equipment out of one to the others and give it to us. Then I will transfer the property.”

“Fuck off,” Jos snarled. “One cruiser is worth more than that plot and your whole miserable affiliate combined. I can’t wait to sell your corpses to BuyMort. I’m gonna keep your head, though. It’ll look good on my wall.”

You’d be surprised at how many idiots run that sort of banter by me when a deal’s gone south, then wait for a response. If he was going to try to murder us you’d think he would respond with fire, not words. But there was something about humanoid sentients that just made them need the last word. Like a debate on MortBook — how so many people got so jazzed up about disagreement and would spend days going back to the same pointless post over and over again just to be the last one standing. The winner. I wasn’t like that, though. I’d been taught better, and I’d been through hell and back with my grandfather as head manager, then my father, before I took my turn in the company chair. The BlueCleave experience wasn’t verbose. It was deadly. I sent a silent command to my associates and all at once missiles and beams were pounding on the mid ship from every angle. Shields flared and sparked. I heard Jos choke on something in surprise and I audiocast my laughter to the asshole.

Shields were at twenty-five percent. The cruisers resumed their bombardment, but rather quickly the center ship stopped all weapons fire, the double concave of a reinforced shield flashed to its bottom fore. Not a bad move, I grudgingly accepted. But when the ship turned to run, that was pretty stupid. Without the reinforced concave to protect it, the anti-ship turrets quickly zeroed the rear deflector shields, and the ensuing mess of rockets set off a chain reaction that started in the large blue fire cones of its stardrive and finished at the very tip of its three-horned circular bridge. A hundred spacemen, I guessed, incinerated in a celebration of BlueCleave hospitality.

I was disappointed, though, when Jos sparked back up on the comms.

“That’s coming out of your hide, BlueCleave,” he bellowed. Half a dozen purple cloaked projectiles shot up on my tactical screen and I screeched in anger. Torrid torpedoes. The bastard was spending millions of Morties on this damn takeover, and I hadn’t been prepared for it. Not at all.

The torrids flashed forward, themselves riding on jets of plasma so hot that they set the grass and trees ablaze. Then they landed, giant domes of impossible hot death dimpling the surface of the battlefield. I saw a hundred and fifty sales associates disappear from my command log. Half the force eliminated in under a minute. It was stupid, I have to admit, but I ignored the teachings of BuyMort. I jammed a red button and allowed my command APC to surface even as the two cruisers dipped close and began to dropship soldiers.

“Eat it, Jos,” I broadcast, leaving my APC with Twin Plasma Miniguns (hordes of heavily armored enemies got you feeling blue? Twin Plasma Miniguns are the buy for you. Core temperature blasts at up to a thousand rounds per minute make short work of even the largest armies. 871,000 Morties, 4.2 stars) attached to the top of each arm. 

The drop pods popped open on impact with the smoky and crackling dirt, spitting out an assortment of clay golems and green-armored Mordrens. I wasn’t too worried about the golems. They were cheap cannon fodder buys, and after what I’d witnessed with the torrid torpedoes I was surprised to see a dip into the opposite end of the purchase spectrum. But the Mordrens, they were tough bastards. Small scaly critters, three feet tall and fearless. Give them the right armor and the right weapons and they’d wreak hell and havoc in whatever direction you pointed them.

“I need armor and infantry now. Break out and surround them, figure out the details yourselves. This is gonna be intense.” Barrels spinning I laid a wreath of death into the horde of incoming troopers. The golems incinerated instantly any time a round hit one, no matter where it hit. Just poof, gone. But the Mordrens, their armor was pretty heavy duty. I was firing a five-star anti-infantry weapon and their lead elements took half-a-dozen direct hits each to tear through and incinerate them. I found myself backing off, my personal shield sparking over and over, slowly losing power as I tried to direct the incredibly inaccurate weapon into a tighter and more concentric lane of fire.

Larger pods pounded down behind them and I saw a variety of mechanical up-armored robots rise up. Those guys, well, they were gonna have to be mopped up by the armored APCs because the plasma miniguns would take a while to chew through them. And a thousand rounds a minute required a barrel change, so I had to keep the rate of fire down to a hundred or two if I wanted to keep up the fight.

“Where you at Rayna?” Cor’Bin asked. I saw a trio of APCs roll out and engage the mechanical up-armors, and saw them stagger under the assault. From all around me the rest of BlueCleave was boiling out of their shelters and tearing into the golems and Mordrens. This was going to be tight, but I could see victory on the horizon.

“I’m flashing you my coordinates. Swing on in and join the party!”

“I’m already here,” Cor’Bin answered and I could hear a sneer in his voice. In shock I spun around just as his Shocknado (need an energy weapon that stuns humanoids in power armor? Well look no further than Shocknado, the patented set frequency energy beam that won’t just shock you, it’ll put you on your ass. Guaranteed five minute knockout, might last longer in less resistant individuals. Shocknado may kill the intended target. Do not use Shocknado in or near wet surfaces. If Shocknado begins to beep and smoke, run. 150,000 Morties, 4.7 stars) blasted through my shields and sparked all over my body.

Chapter 4

Even when that knockout wears off, Shocknado really keeps you off your toes. My vision wavered and my ears rang, a tinny whine that seemed to be trying to tell me that somewhere along the way I had really fucked up. I was still in my suit, my face covered with sticky goo that was snot and spit, or else a bit of throw up. Damn Cor’Bin. As sensation returned to my body I realized that even though I was horizontal, I wasn’t lying down. It felt like I was floating.

“Helm,” I gasped. “Visual.”

The helm display rebooted, a stream of gibberish rolling across the screen before it crackled to action. I could see the edge clouded over with apparent electrical damage to my scopes, but straight ahead was one-hundred percent and I was surprised to be looking at the smoke-filled sky.

“Total system reboot,” I murmured. My voice was getting stronger by the minute, and it appeared that the unit’s surge protection had shut it down on impact, trying to save its various components from RIPing under the electrical onslaught. Various components in the suit cranked and whirred to life, the viewscreen shutting off and restarting, this time to show me that I was being brought up a ramp and tossed onto the bumped plates of the interior of an up-armored APC. Audio crackled and fine tuned itself, morphing into words.

“It was Cor’Bin,” a voice muttered, squealing in and out of audio range before dialing into the timber of Ali Mac’s voice. “He rolled round her and shocked her. That’s why we surrendered.”

I blew a raspberry, the gears of my suit aligning to my neural impulses and apparently my speaker now functional because a couple of heads appeared above my goggles, while to my side came the mechanical whine of the ramps closing and the rev of thousands of horses under the hood pulling us forward.

“Cor’Bin,” I moaned. I sat up and looked around. There were a dozen troopers there with me, swaying slightly with the growling movement of the APC. They were still armored in plas-steel and they stank to holy hell. I’d guess at least six more in the command cabin. Where the hell were the others?

“Yeah,” said Ali. Her helmet’s black visor met mine. She was the other sales manager, my other number two, such a fresh and new graduate from the Church’s MortSmart University program and heavily certified to operate up to a level 10 affiliate function. And she’d stuck by me. Even after I’d cut our management shares with that whole equal takings BS. A warm feeling ran through my insides. “He took off from his command post when the troops dropped. I grabbed a squad to run him down and figure out what was happening. He stunned you, then apparently got into the command APC and declared a stand down, calling up Jos with our surrender.”

I was beside myself. “We lost?!”

Ali popped off her helmet. The other soldiers saw her action and did the same. I saw her sweat-bathed scowl and knew she felt the same incredulity. The first and only battle loss in decades of BlueCleave history, and all because of my asshole cousin. I popped off my own helmet and she grimaced when she saw the dried puke and snot on my face.

“We need clean up,” she yelled up front. A moment later a few CleanieCleanses (No stain is too big! 2 Morties, 4 stars) were tossed on back. Ali eyed me, then grabbed the cleanses and began to swipe them over my face. If I weren’t in such shock I would have stopped her. It was not dignified in the least. But something about the personal care she was showing me led me to silence. I could feel her comradery. And I needed as much of that as I could get.

“Does anyone else know what happened?” I asked as she wiped the sludge off of me. The other sales associates watched in wonder and I wasn’t surprised. No one but the sales managers ever saw the real and human side of who I was. To the rest I was like one of the BuyMort priestesses, a direct connection to the god of material goods and money.

“Cor’Bin said you were dead. If I hadn’t rolled up and saw you laying there and sparking, I would have believed him. He said you were dead, declared himself head manager, surrendered then shut down internal comms.”

I winced but nodded. It was a mixed bag, all things considered. I could see it now. Myself stunned and out on the ground, him rushing to declare himself leader and to give up, then he came out ready for the kill but I was gone, all thanks to Ali. It was good. It meant that I could take back control. But with the internal comms down I’d have to go in person. This wouldn’t be a long-distance call.

“So, on the uptake, do we think that he was working with Jos? An inside job?” I spat those last words out. Jobs had honor, and there was no honor in anything he had done.”

“No way. I think you pissed him off with the whole equal shares thing and he decided it was time for a promotion.” She paused, putting a pointy gnarled talon to her mouth and chewing on it. “And I bet that Jos fellow knows it too.”

The vehicle bounced over some rough terrain and the engine whined hard as it hit a steep incline. Various items clattered and slid around us, but most of it was stowed and clamped down tight, I noted with professional pride. “Right, and he’ll be milking that for a hell of a surrender negotiation. Alright, as soon as the battle APC gets to break point two, let’s inventory what we’ve got and then dip into the accounts to buy what we haven’t.”

The rest of the ride was made in silence, the sales associates and Ali catching some sleep while I just thought. What was the situation here? I tried to access the affiliate storefront and was rebuffed, so the bastard had taken that over too. For a moment I was blasphemous — why would BuyMort abandon me? Save Morties, Make Morties, Live Well. Those were the words of the storefront, the holy text of 127 ABM. Every trip around our sun gave us a new one, a symbol of the year and a prophecy of what to do to face what was to come. Save Morties, Make Morties, Live Well had to mean something to our situation here and now. I just needed to find out how.

“Driver,” I yelled to the front since BlueCleave Affiliate comms were on lockdown. “Change destination. We need to see a BuyMort priestess pronto!”

The APC revved and groaned, turning sideways and bouncing a few times before leveling out off of whatever incline it had been riding. The associates bounced with it, but none opened a single eye. One even started to snore. None of it mattered to me, BuyMort had read my thoughts and in front of me were local listings for priestesses and how to contact them. I selected the one in this area, residing on a MortBlock purchased by their Order, and I immediately was reminded of my circumstances.

There is no MortMobile attached to this personal account. Would you like to open a MortMobile account? Y/N

Of course. My communications account was all tied up with the affiliate! I grudgingly selected yes, though doing so felt like defeat. 

Please select a comms device to add to our network.

I selected the helm to my battle armor and watched BuyMort add his divine power to the device. I sighed and put on the helmet. It stank of vomit and loss.

“Welcome to the MortMobile family, valued customer,” my helm comm informed me. Mist formed in front of me, and a gray face swam through it to look at me. It bothered me that this interdimensional minion of my god was so different than the handsome man who served my affiliate. It felt dirty and beneath me to have to stoop to an employee so low in the celestial totem pole.

“Oh ho ho how the mighty have fallen,” taunted the face. “You are now connected to MortMobile. Fat lot of good it will do you, though.”

I felt heat rise to my cheeks. Never had my former communications peon treated me with such tart disrespect. 

“I own you,” I snarled.

“You and ninety percent of the multiverse,” the head sighed. His eyes were blood-shot and tired, his massive forehead saggy. To be honest, he looked as if he had been fighting a war for a millennia.

“So, head manager, do I need to teach you how to use the same service that all of the normies use? Or is this going to be an easy no-brainer?”

You can read my mind, I thought at him. He smiled.

“I am a multidimensional psychic being. I can read many minds at once. But not nearly as many as I must service. Be proud of your stature, you have taken my interest and my focus.”

The mist faded away and he was just a head, one whose facial features suggested that he was going to delight in angering me but was also interested in what he had found. I felt a sliver of pride in the fact. “Get me in contact with the BuyMort Priesthood. I have things I must know before I do battle with my usurped.”

The MortMobile head grinned, a curled-up twist of his lips that hinted at hidden knowledge. “That you do, Rayna. That you do.”

Chapter 5

We drove just a little ways further before we left the tall grass hills behind us and entered back into civilization. Gravel road crackled under the eight metal-threaded plasti-tires of the APC briefly before it shuddered to a stop. It was a noise that reminded me of earlier acquisitions, the snapping of a man’s fingers joint by joint during negotiations. It must have given the others similar memories of excitement and mayhem because finally they were rising from their combat naps, blearily shifting about and getting their gear ready for the inevitable march out from the vehicle.

I’d made my call and informed the priestesses that I was coming, then I mopped slime out of my helmet and spritzed in some HuckleFresh (taste the berries while you breathe. Gluten free! 1 morty, 4 stars) to get rid of the lingering odor. But despite the pleasant smell I still didn’t feel like putting it on. Indeed, if I had it, I would have settled for my blue plas vest with my infantry badge. A head manager I might be, but before BuyMort I was an associate of the multiverse. Replaceable and unworthy of airs. Still, I wasn’t about to go in my underclothes either, so it was going to have to be power armor.

The ramps clanked, whined, then dropped and we exited in formation. Now that I could see the temple I wished I had the helmet on to hide my big dumb open mouth. Yep, I gaped. This wasn’t just a holy place, it was a magnificently constructed one as well. Great square pillars rose stories at its front, window after window shining opaque in the burning light of the day. These led to an arch, perhaps ten stories up, and were obviously for show because the temple itself continued to reach to the heavens, ending only after twenty-five stories. And a mess of flags jutting out from the arch, each the symbol of a major affiliate upon our planet. My eyes hopped from pole to pole until it lighted about the B and C of my own, the C interwoven between the two holes of the B. It still fluttered and I found myself surprised to realize that I had been holding my breath, hoping against hope that they hadn’t all been ended.

Two hobgob males stood on within the pillars, next to two sets of revolving doors and adorned in powder blue business suits that hugged to the curves of their large and sexy hams and powerful biceps. If things weren’t feeling a little desperate right now I would have loved to have struck them up for a chat and a bit of head-hunting.

Ali giggled behind me and I understood that I was being all too obvious. “Forward, everyone. We are to go to the holy lobby and register our prayers with the scion of the front desk. I have called ahead, so we have received the rites of appointment, and will be seen shortly.”

As a unit we marched ahead. Then we shifted into a single file line and one by one each of us negotiated the treacherous spaces of the rotating doors. With our bulky armor on it was a challenge and I wondered about what the military practicalities of such an entrance might be if made of the proper materials and used on the battlefield.

The lobby was marble flooring that echoed and cracked beneath our footsteps, giving off the sharp stench of chemical powder. All about the cavernous room were displays showing various trading shows and stocks. A variety of hobgob men stared at them, burning quick figures upon large pads of faux-organic vellum. From the ceiling three stories above us hung globes filled with dancing colors rotating chaotically through a liquid medium that bubbled and shimmered. It looked like the heavens themselves and at that moment I would not have been surprised if BuyMort itself came down from one of those orbs to punish us for inflicting our lowly selves upon its divinity. We pushed forward slowly, gawping and gaping, until finally I had reached the long and extended line of the front desk.

“I have made the rite of reservation,” I said. 

One of the many women behind it stood up. She was chewing and snapping gum in her canine jaws. It felt out-of-place and disrespectful. “Oh, yeah, the head manager,” she said. “Yeah, we’ve got you marked down for a one o’clock meet—”

“We will meet now,” a deep feminine voice rang from the just-opening doors of an elevator. So fast had the serpent woman been that she beat the ring of the door to the task of addressing the lobby. My eyes glanced over her rouged cheeks and fake smile, meeting her own. Her eyes shined with power, the power of BuyMort, yet deep within I felt boredom. It was an almost soulless lack of empathy. 

“I had notice that you would arrive.” Her voice snapped me out of my reverie and I resumed a professional stance. “Leave your army here and come with me. Oh and let me find something for you to change into quickly so that you don’t wreck the elevator.”

She stepped away, her scaled legs clacking heels against the marble floor. A snake-body, but arms, legs and a heeled step. They were the divine race, the many of the church, and it was they who had taught our descendants the ways of Buy-Mort. 

A quick change of clothes later, we were riding up, my body draped in soft robes of the holy order. The snake woman before me glittered, her scales shifting through a rainbow of metallic and gem-like colors. From above them came the sacred tunes. At this moment, it was a hymn called, Working Hard for My Morties. 

My eyes widened and I stared forward at the priestess. I didn’t know any of the words to the holy chant. Her tongue licked out and she stared at me, a smirk upon her face.

“Be sure of yourself, head manager to the BlueCleave Affiliate. You need not know all of the mystic ways of BuyMort.”

Her words were kind, but the slick metal of the elevator gave me no comfort as I looked around for something to ease my growing tension. My heart jumped in its chest when it lurched to a stop, and the doors opened. The sweet scent of strawberry poured in and over me, and I immediately felt relieved. An ad popped up in front of my vision, Scented Serenity – Experience utopia from the comforts of home. 100 Morties, 5 stars. I made a mental note to pick up some back when I was in charge. Because the cooling feeling that rolled through me was fucking magic.

The priestess led me through a swirl of wispy purple smoke and over a cushy carpet that felt just like walking through a creamy mess of sea nettles. It was something I rarely had the occasion to indulge in and I certainly appreciated the feeling. Relaxed and comforted, I protested not at all when she brought me to her desk and invited me to sit in the black and dimpled swivel chair before it. 

“So what seems to be the problem, head manager?” she asked. She brought a sheaf of paper files out and plopped them onto the top of her desk. “I have reviewed your last two years and reduced that output to a more conventional medium as per the customs of your people. Lizard vellum, a hardy backup against battle damage. Though if you would like to reconsider your preferred data storage method, BuyMort’s AtomStorage plan can inscribe your data into a pocket dimension to exist for all of eternity.”

I shook my head and shrugged. There wasn’t any point in even entertaining such a thing at this time, not with management of the affiliate hanging in the balance. She pursed her lips, seemingly annoyed by my decision, but quickly returned to her former smiling self.

“Let’s call that a maybe, and discuss it sometime in the future. In the meantime, it would seem that you might not even be the head manager anymore? Our records say that the affiliate head has been changed over to a different individual.”

“Cor’Bin,” I muttered. My anger battled with the soothing scents that surrounded me. That little prick was going to pay.

“Yes. A hostile takeover, it seems?” She arched her eyebrow. “Are you not able to control your affiliate, head manager?”

I growled. “I will be back in the seat of operations soon. I just need to understand the augurs of this annum. Save Morties, Make Morties, Live Well. I have been saving and investing! My associates and I have been taking on so much work, and in the conclusion of our actions I make sure that we all live well.”

Her chair squeaked as she leaned back. “Indeed?” the priestess asked. “Well, it would seem to me that the living could have been better if one of your own turned against you. But that is of no matter. I took a look at your personal account and it seems that you have amassed quite the fortune during your tenure as head manager. All is not lost. We of the priesthood have had a long history with you and yours, a century if the records are correct. Which they generally are. I am prepared to offer you a promotion package, through our own premium account affiliated storefront. At cost even, a fifty-five percent wholesale retailer’s discount to show you our earnest desire to see you return to your place as head manager. Or, for a limited time only, I could set you up with our Premium Hostile Defense Staggered Board Initiative at twenty percent off.”

Save Morties, Make Morties, Live Well. Was all of it simply a premonition that I would require the help of BuyMort itself? I mulled over it, squirting in between the hemispheres of my brain like a mouthful of fine wine. No, this felt too much like an upsell. Even with the wondrous aroma around me, filling my nostrils, sneaking through my closed lips and over my tongue, I could tell what this was. It definitely was an upsell! My eyes narrowed and I reached out my hand to seize her wrist but was unsurprised when blue shielding blasted to life before me, and I met solid energy. I looked up from her wrist and saw her eyes shine knowingly.

“BuyMort. It isn’t a god, is it?” My world was suddenly spinning. My 86 levels of holy credit had given me a black card with the power of unlimited spend, a holy artifact that I had been honored to receive. But the tremendous monthly fees spun into my mind. That had been an upsell as well, not a relic from my god. And the perks? My Level 4 Affiliation allowed me to choose from a list of holy upgrades. I had gone with the Smart Shopper perk, a deal that netted us 10% more income from our sales. It had been a blessing from BuyMort, who we had proven our worth to and who had honored us with sales and revenue.

It had filled me with light and joy. But, sitting here with the holy priestess of BuyMort, listening to her try to juice me for Morties, it was such a revelation. My mouth dropped and my eyes glistened.

“They don’t have to know,” she whispered just loudly enough for me to hear. “To them, the god is real.”

Tears streaked down my cheeks. “BuyMort, the holy texts? Is BuyMort truly not a god?”

“The market of the multiverse. The only economic system anyone ever needs to know. Unknowing and uncaring of any of us. We serve it nobly as a way to show people how to benefit from the blessings of its invisible hand. Those texts are holy, they tell you what you need to know to have a productive and viable BuyMort Sales Affiliate.”

She reached out her hands and, unsurprisingly, they were not blocked by the energy shielding. I took them gratefully.

“You are the holder of a level 800 Smart Shopper Private Account worth millions. Your savvy head manager strategies include some of the best work per share ranges I’ve ever seen. You get a lot of effort out of your associates on a one to thirty share ratio, which is one of the best rates I’ve heard of in the Acquisitions Department. We have had a century of working together, our priesthood and your storefront, and who cares if BuyMort isn’t actually a god. It doesn’t mean that the hand that guides it is not hidden and mysterious, though it be. Take our assistance. Win the fight, overthrow Cor’Bin, and take back your place as the head manager of your affiliate.”

It was all so much. What of the war in the heavens? What was the burning that enveloped my people? The arrival of an all-powerful supermarket?

I sought the eyes of the priestess, but they were clouded and had gone into their own little world. She talked on and on, telling me to keep the idea of the divinity of BuyMort alive, to continue to do all as I have been, about the glory of it all. But in my mind I couldn’t help but imagine the arrival, how the air had exploded into flame over and over again, all over the world. How mothers had exploded into flame holding onto their infant children, huts flattened underneath the pressure of the incoming presences. A war of the gods made it all somehow worthwhile. The opening day of an all-encompassing mart, though, did not.

I growled and stared, tears streaming down both of my cheeks. The priestess bolted upright, her eyes coming back to life and meeting my own, narrowing and targeting in on my soul.

“If you are entertaining negative ideas of BuyMort, I suggest you clear your mind of it. There is no life without it. Think of how the enclaves of this planet have dwindled. You can’t own land without a certified MortBlock. And you can only keep people away from claiming your land as one for so long. What is left of the resistance here? Five hundred hobgobs? A thousand?” She steepled her fingers on the desk in front of her. “Tell me now if you are done being a head manager because my time is literally money and I’ve about spent what I care to on you.”

I nodded, still crying. “I shall be head manager again, as was my father before me.”

The priestess slipped out of her chair, rising up on her coiled body and ticking items off on her fingers. “I’m going to go ahead and set you up with a battalion of Spinny-Winny Battledroids (clap in joy as these .50 caliber highly-explosive automated blast guns dance through the battlefield, lighting to delight as they blind your enemies and tear flesh into waste. 102,666 Morties, 4.3 stars), a hundred Mordrens (set your phasers to terrorize! These soldiers of the Mordren are lean, mean, and available through the BuyMort ServiceApp. Watch your assault come alive with Mordrens! 5000 Morties each, Storefront rating 3.9 stars), and twenty suits of StealthSheathe (Are you here? Are you there? Make parties go wild with the light-refracting wonders of StealthSheath! Not recommended for mouthbreathers or those with heavy sinus infections. 25000 Morties, 4.7 stars).

I nodded. The world of my ancestors was well gone, resistance was futile. I had to live in the here and now. “How much shall I pay in recompense?” I asked. It didn’t matter and we both knew it didn’t matter, but it was a question that a smart shopper would ask.

“Smart shoppers help smart shoppers. Pay cost only and stay good at your job. The minute you start messing up is the minute our priesthood will be fine with replacing you. Now go and win back your rightful place. BuyMort wills it,” she winked. 

The elevator doors at the far end of the room rang and opened, and I stepped over and into it, on my way to retribution.

Chapter 6

My associates and I were back in the APC in no time, wheels spinning and ground crumbling underneath our approach. In my hand was a circular flexible ring made of plastic, as large as my waist, with a variety of chips attached to it. Known as a BattleBelt, each one had a BMT (BuyMortTab) index number, along with a curling and writhing niblet of flesh that gave it an index in the psychic network, and as soon as I needed my support I was to push in the sides of the ring to activate each of the commissions registered on the chip. It was a stealthy approach that would allow me to call my forces in on the spot via premium interdimensional transport, and damn if I wasn’t impressed. It cost a lot of Morties, even at cost, but this was going to be a hell of a surprise.

I and my associates had also donned the thin black nylon of the StealthSheathe sneakwear, though they hadn’t activated it yet. The fabric was nearly invisible from within it, just a freckle or dot suspended here and there where the threads had knotted. But upon the command of “Activate!” the cloaks would wrap light around their wearers and change them all into a barely noticeable shimmer. I was hopeful that we could use their twenty minute lifespans to sneak in and alert the associates that we were here and that we were about to lay down hell on Jos and Cor’Bin. Because anyone who didn’t get the memo would have to be fired, permanently. And given what I now knew about BuyMort and the Cosmos, they somehow meant more to me.

“Does everyone understand the particulars of BuyMort’s plan?” I asked. My presence was un-augmented, natural in every way, and for the first time in a long time I listened to the natural command timbre of my real voice. Why did I cover it up? Did I need the constant stream of odd and ends that I purchased from BuyMort? I shoved those thoughts away. They’d still be there later when this was over, and when I had time to properly think things through.

“Spead out, one person to each APC, then hit up the bunkers if there is time,” Ali yelled. Her eyes glowed with holy fervor and she clasped at the BuyMort necklace that dangled from her neck, casting her sight reverently to the heavens.

“Yep. I’ll stay with the APC and keep the BattleBelt ready. As soon as I go visible I want you to get everyone out of there. We’ve lost enough associates for a day’s work. Let’s let the Hostility Greeters do their work so we can finish the job and maybe have a few weeks of rest and relaxation.”

The associates stared at me quietly. Damn, I’m a shitstain of a hobgob, I realized. “Paid vacation, all of you, my treat. You damn well deserve it and I don’t tell you that often enough.”

They cheered and clapped each other’s backs. Ali smiled, a twinkle in her eye. “Did BuyMort’s prophecy include a healthy dose of bad business management?” she teased. 

I forced a laugh. It would break her heart to know the truth.

“Now, listen,” I said, “just because I’ve gone bonkers doesn’t mean you can all slack off. I want you to be careful out there. Keep yourselves safe. And get out of there, as far as you can go, if things break down and don’t go our way.”

The associates grew somber. “Are you alright, Rayna?” Ali asked. 

I nodded. I wasn’t, but whatever was hanging there inside of me, it really needed to wait. Everyone settled down, the associates going into nap mode as I brooded over the truth of the universe, the drive crew keeping to the forested declines about the site as much as possible and minimizing noise and other indicators of our arrival.

And then we were there. The associates awoke and got into position, the APC’s ramp dropped and they disappeared into the trees, shimmering into nothingness as they made their way down to where their compatriots waited. In the sky the two cruisers still hung and I knew that, although it felt like forever ago, Cor’Bin was arguing well with the Buyer. Good. His sudden show of ability would help them well.

I examined the BattleBelt, making sure again that everything was slotted properly. The wonder of the BattleBelt was that it didn’t require extensive plans and coordination, nor did it require that one make individual contracts with numerous Hostility Greeters, each with their own terms and stipulations. It was a box set of warriors and battle machines, available in an instant for any cause. The space and time logistics of it were phenomenal to consider, and the price reflected that. It was a pop-up army that showed the instant you needed them. Perfect for the operation at hand.

I checked the time. Ten minutes in. From where I stood I could make out light spirals of smoke from my previous battle. Dead associates under smashed equipment and defensive fortifications. All on my watch.

Fifteen minutes. The stench of burnt meat lingered throughout the region. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but now that I’d caught the whiff, it would not go away.

Twenty minutes. Go time. There was a rumble as BlueCleave APCs grinded and turned, tearing out of the BuyMort plot, a few straggling armored figures following. I squeezed the BattleBelt and in an instant a targeting reticle appeared in my natural vision.

Do you wish to deploy your units now? Y/N

Yes, I selected, popping out the whole battalion of Spinny-Winny Battledroids and watching them wheel about the battlefield. Like self-spinning tops, mounted with high caliber guns, firing and moving in an unpredictable manner, they swarmed into battle. Their heavy fire tore into the left-most cruiser and a series of sparks and explosions arose from its side. Moments later, the explosions stopped, replaced with the light-blue sparkle of deflector shields, but the damage from the surprise attack continued to burn. The droids had hit something flammable. Maybe even explosive.

Pods that had been in the dirt not so long ago retraced their assault, slamming into the dirt and delivering Jos’s Mordrens to the battlefield. So I deployed my own. The armored figures blasted at each other even as the Spinny-Winny Battledroids zipped through them, apparently unknowing or uncaring of where their enemies and allies happened to be. The cruiser that was flaming suffered a sudden explosion, and it began to dip down, the nose of the craft pointing at the ground.

The normally dour looking head of my psychic MortMobile operator popped into my vision, blocking everything behind him.

“Ooh, I must admit that I haven’t been involved in this much excitement in quite a while. Who are we fighting? Oh I so wish I could join in. By the way, you have a call from Ali.”

“Yes, accept, put her through!” I was beside myself. The tension of the battle and the banter of this sneering poor man’s comm conduit had me on edge and just the name filled me with an unfamiliar sense of dread. “Ali, are you alright? Did everyone get through.”

“Oh relax,” she said, her helmet off and her grin crooked. “Not that I’m not happy to know how much you care, but I’m afraid you might burst an artery if you don’t take everything down a notch. We’re all fine. Just thought that you might want to know that it looks like you royally fucked up Cor’Bin’s negotiation. He got fired down in one of the pods, and now he is out there fighting on Jos’s side. I’d guess this is a good faith negotiation. The guys and I, we thought maybe you’d like to fire him?”

Flame filled my vision. He was my blood, and he had planned to murder me. His attempt to renegotiate the hierarchy was unforgivable, no matter what the reality of BuyMort. Ali pressed a key offscreen and a notification flashed in my helm. I selected it, showing sharp snarled teeth when I realized it was a BuyMort Real Time Positioning Tracker centered on Cor’Bin. 

“Thanks Ali.” I closed the connection. 

MortMobile stared at me, sneering. “Can I watch while you kill your own family?” 

I shrugged. “Why the hell not? But first, place a call to Cor’Bin. Can you do that? Does he have a MortMobile account?”

“Patching through,” the head responded, his eyes eager. A moment later, I saw the armored figure of Cor’Bin. He was holding a Mordren up by its armored neck and denting its helmet in with the crackling horror of his power fist.

“Yeah?” he asked, his fist finally cracking through and frying the face of the small but fierce being inside. A Spinny-Winny Battledroid swung around him and exploded in a smash of his fist.

“Blood backs blood, Cor’Bin. And when it doesn’t, it faces a permanent recall.”

“You think you’re the Alpha? Come bring it if you’ve got the skills to back that up.”

I closed the connection and immediately started forward. My twin plasma guns in hand, it didn’t take long for me to enter the outskirts of the fighting. Overhead the struck cruiser was smoking all over and it appeared that the pilot was attempting a safe landing as its engines guttered off and on to life, driving it back to a position parallel to the ground as it soared over the battlefield. I gave it a couple of potshots for good measure, feeling both angry and alive in ways I never had before.

More pods shot down, and the clumsy clay golems of before entered the fray. I grinned evilly. Jos was losing the ground fight, otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered sending in his already beat up dregs. Many were cracked and simply covered in strips of hardened clay-like bandages. They limped out into action.

I tore into them, keeping my tempo down to a few hundred a minute. It was enough and the heat gauge on my plasma guns stayed in the low orange. But the golems were decimated, superheated plasma knifing through them and slagging what was left. I’d gained the attention of a gaggle of enemy Mordrens and they clanked their way over, firing an assortment of ballistic rifles and energy weapons.

A shockwave of rending sound blasted over them, and for a moment the battlefield was still. The other cruiser had apparently made a torturous but successful landing just far enough away to burst a few eardrums but otherwise leave them out of dive and grind of its emergency landing. In that stillness I took a chance and charged forward, leaping over a trio of mordrens and heading directly for Cor’Bin. The action around me resumed, but I had eyes for just one man. He turned and saw me, flashing his power fist up to catch a hundred plasma bolts aimed for his head. They sparked and died in its electromagnetic field.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t going to make it,” his helm speaker boomed. A badge clattered from his neck against the breastplate of his armor.

“Dur dur dur, I have to copy lines from stories because I’m too dumb to talk well,” I answered. It was true that he wasn’t a man of intelligent conversation and the fact that he’d said the line perfectly told me that he’d been practicing it since he found out I’d escaped. His roar of anger told me I had it right, and I had ruined his perfect moment.

“Why you always like dat, huh? Why not this be Cor’Bin time?”

I had clanged closer in my power armor, keeping an eye on my flanks as best as I could. The mordrens were busy fighting and I noticed that more often than not they were targeting not each other but the non-Mordren enemies. I wondered if they had a code.

“Cor’Bin. Look. You are an idiot. You pulled off a hostile promotion, true, but only because it was the single dumbest time to pull one off. Why not wait until after the negotiation? Why in the middle of it? Let me guess, you were about to enroll BlueCleave as part of Jos’ Storefront, protectors for his mining operations at this MortBlock. And he was going to pay you as soon as those profits started tolling in.” I bit my lip. Part of me was starting to want to let him go. But commonsense told me I couldn’t. This was my time to say goodbye and to deliver the pink slip.

“It was a gud plan. And no one needed killin anymore.”

“He would have killed all of you in the end,” I said. He raised his powerfist and I turned my plasma gun on full, a veritable plasma thrower of molten bolts. A patina of superheated armoring blazed forth over his torso and he screamed briefly before collapsing in a bubbling sob.

A tear slid down my cheek even as my BlueCleave Affiliate comms beeped. I accepted the transmission. It was Ali. “Welcome back, head manager. You royally fucked up Cor’Bin and the Head Manager position defaulted back to me! And, well, welcome back to the network. Want your old job back?”

I scanned the battlefield in all directions. The crash-landed cruiser lay nose first in a rocky hillish outcropping, its free-floating rear extremities buckling under the gravity of the planet and squealing off in pieces to the ground twenty feet below. All about the curved hull were burning tears and breaks. I thought of all of the dying people on board, all associates of Jos who did whatever he said so they could get their share of the Morties and keep the food, shelter and clothing coming on a regular and livable basis. 

“Yes,” I said. I could feel my voice change with my purpose. “But after this, no more hostile negotiations. We keep this MortBlock and we make a place for us all to settle down. There’s more than one way to live in this universe.”

The cruiser exploded into a hundred pieces, chunks of metal screaming through the air at the speed of sound. White hot pieces of ceramo-metal and glistening plasma rain pattered down over the battlefield and I watched it all from the eye of the maelstrom, chunks tearing furrows into the dirt just feet from where I stood. The soldiers on the battlefield fought through it, but some were squashed and ripped apart by the shrapnel. Some lucky few took the head and got knocked on their asses, but the rigidity of their battle suits weathered the damage. And at the end of pattering flaming rain, a deluge that all suits here withstood well, I saw something glorious. Jos’s soldiers were piling back into the pods and returning to his cruiser. And in the corner of my display a message icon blinked. I’d just been given a referral to level up the affiliate.

“Attention, Jos Haana,” I hailed using my reestablished connection to the BlueCleave Comms. “I am Rayna Tork, Head Manager, and we are Tribe BlueCleave. Today we are victorious. We claim this land as our permanent MortBlock, to serve as the headquarters to our future expansions and franchisees. You would do well to leave these lands.”

A cooling calm filled me. I didn’t need him dead. The system would kill him on its own. He was a stupid shopper.

“I lost twenty-five credit levels because of you and the cost of this damn battle! I’m now ranked a Poor Shopper! If you had just let me take the land, I would have paid you back.”

“No, you wouldn’t have. Just leave. This isn’t worth any more loss of life.”

Jos snorted. “Credit or Morties, you mean.”

It disgusted me that I understood his feelings on the matter. I’d been there too.

“Jos, a word of advice. This isn’t a game and those workers of yours, they’re people.”

The comm clicked open and then closed several times. In the sky above, the last remaining cruiser turned and flew away, its engines flaring hard at the edge to space. I nodded and sighed. The universe was cruel but the head managers, those of us at the top of it all, we didn’t have to be. The universe didn’t have to be acquisitions, hostile negotiations, and death. With BuyMort as a tool, rather than a god, we could all live well if we put our minds to it. We just had to try.

About the Story

BuyMort-The-Shoppening is a prequel story to the upcoming Royal Road saga, BuyMort: Rise of the Windowpuncher, or How I Became the Accidental Warlord of Arizona. A GameLit System Apocalypse,  the story of Tyson and his fight against the multiversal monopoly. Expect epic loot, 4X strategy, awesome battles and a very unique system in which to buy upgrades and power-ups.
(https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/50738/buymort-rise-of-the-windowpuncher-how-i-became)

About Damien Hanson and Joseph Phelps

Damien and Joseph are good online buds who met because of LitRPG. They’ve been writing and hanging out for quite a while now over at https://damienhansonbooks.com/ Also, both of them have other works available on Amazon. Check them out at https://www.amazon.com/Damien-Hanson/e/B083FFDRZW/ and 
https://www.amazon.com/Damien-Hanson/e/B083FFDRZW/ https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Phelps/e/B07WZCJ39T/

Or Find them on Patreon https://www.patreon.com/sconniesbooks

Thanks for reading!

Published by Damien Lee Hanson

I am the founder of Damien Hanson Books. Come check out awesome authors right here at my website!

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