Aphelion Issue 254, Volume 24
September 2020
 
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A Confidential Correspondence in Capitalist Conflict

by P. F. White



Dear Zaccaria,

How fares life in the savage West? I am pleased to receive your correspondence after so many years, and am doubly pleased to hear of your new found financial success. Half of me, to be truthful, had given you up for dead and was ready to mourn you beside our father. It has always pained me that our last words to one another were so harsh. It should never have been brought to the level of violence, and I will always regret the limp that you now bear.

We may never know which of us actually killed father, and we will simply have to make our peace with that. The old man always said we should not quarrel, and it is good to see you offering to put our shared animosity behind us.

That being said, I find your idea of a transcontinental rail-road laughable. If you had wanted wealth and the power it brings, you should have stayed in civilization and left the frontier to the savages. I regret to inform you that my company will have none of your western tomfoolery. A merger or connectivity on the lines on my end would simply do your upstart company more good than it could possibly do mine. As close as we once were, I simply must deny such a foolish venture in the name of good business.

If this spells financial ruin for you, I apologize. I do hope we can still continue our correspondence.

Sincerely,

Mathias Cain

####

Brother Mathias,

The West has done me well these long years, but not so well as to miss out on the love of my only brother. That is has taken me this long to scrape a prosperous living is only testament to the powerful struggles I face in such a harsh land. However, it is through these struggles that I grow strong! Adversity, dear brother, breeds true valor. This lesson you taught me so long ago when we fought our petty wars. That you had me cut from father's will does not leave me bitter. Instead I have appreciated the hard lessons of that bygone day and use them to my advantage in all my dealings. In a sense I owe my success to you. Speaking metaphorically of course.

Though my holdings are still less than yours, over half of the rail in the southwest now belongs to my company. My success is owed in part to those disreputable characters, what polite society would no doubt term criminals, or perhaps colorfully "desperadoes" which have proven invaluable in all my dealings.

Through the cruelty and violence of these men I have established a cheap and reliable workforce of newly arrived Chinese, and enslaved the local Indian tribes at fantastically lower than market price! While these practices may be frowned upon by less shrewd businessmen, you and I know them to be financial genius. And have enabled me to pursue my transcontinental dream all the more fervently.

It will be a reality brother, and I assure you that when I make the connection I will not begrudge you the rail holdings that still bear your name. We are past our squabbles. Though my piece of the pie may grow to be the bigger, it will still be the same sweet desert, and you will be no less cherished at my table for your foolish refusal of a brilliant venture.

Cordially,

Zaccaria Cain

####

Dear Zaccaria,

My piece of the pie is to be smaller? Surely the dust of the West has addled your brain. I have done some research into the matter after receiving such inflammatory words and discovered that the idea of a transcontinental railroad is not such a bad one. While I do not disapprove of the manner in which you handle your petty company, I'm afraid that it is still far too incommodious for an alliance with mine.

Instead I propose that you concentrate your efforts on the small town banditry that seems to suit you, and leave the matter of the railroad to my able and experienced crews. This is simply a business suggestion of course. By the time this letter reaches you I am sure you will already be aware of our efforts. I hope to bridge the purple mountains' majesty before the year is up.

Your labor ideas, like so many of your practices, seem horribly antiquated and unnecessarily cruel. The poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free provide me with all the labor I shall ever need. They work to feed their own pathetic brood and will break their own back for my pennies. However, I believe that Mechanization is the key, and that eventually we will drive these poor beneath the iron wheels of our own working machines.

I do enjoy your correspondence, and hope you do not take personal offense at the decision to cut you out of your own proposed venture.

Sincerely,

Mathias Cain

####

Brother Mathias,

By the end of the year you say! My dear brother, it is you who lives in antiquity. You are no doubt aware that as of the end of the month I shall be at the very river your huddled masses are struggling to reach. My crews have been busy intercepting whole coaches of immigrant workers and indoctrinating them into the ways of the rail-laying life. I am sure you have also heard by now of the fantastical performance I have begun to coax from these workers. This is thanks largely to the cadre of discredited medical men kept on staff at my construction sites. Their drugs are expensive, and drastically reduce the mental facilities of the subjects they are used upon, eventually leading to total savagery and gruesome death...but the results! They work like devils and will continue to drive iron until their arms tear from their sockets! What these few discredited doctors have created is truly a marvel of the age, and I'm afraid your antediluvian methods are simply not fit to compete. I would offer to buy the track you have already laid, but I do not wish to insult your pride. Perhaps something might still be salvaged if you were to sell it off as scrap? As you yourself have said: simply a business suggestion. There is no personal malice intended.

Oh yes, and I am sorry to hear about your third wife. You must learn not to beat them so strenuously, brother. Women are fragile creatures and unsuited to endure wrath such as yours. Enclosed is a sample of my wondrous drug; try it upon your next paramour and you will discover their endurance far more to your liking. Be mindful of the teeth however.

Cordially,

Zaccaria Cain

####

Dear Zaccaria,

I thank you for the concern over Eve; however, I regret to inform you that it came too late. She died in the hospital shortly before your letter arrived, and I have had her cremated immediately. I simply do not have the time to attend a costly funeral.

As far as the track goes, I would like to discuss my recent modernizations. Have you heard of Professor Ubel Tacktgerger? Recently emigrated from Germany? He is a remarkable man and quite exquisite when it comes to the tinkering of powerful machines. Like your doctors, he has been discredited throughout Europe for experiments involving unorthodox mechanical use, but his reputation is of no concern to men of action such as ourselves.

He has been hired by my company to modernize our rail-laying process; and while his contraptions are certainly more dangerous than the traditional methods, they have improved the speed and cost of rail production tremendously. So have no fear, dear sweet brother, of my company's ability to produce as quickly as our unscrupulous western competition. I assure you, when we have fully modernized our process of track laying we will outdistance you by a factor of three to one.

What a glorious age we live in! I look forward to seeing your line as my bridge passes over it in a week.

Sincerely,

Mathias Cain

####

Brother Mathias,

Terribly sorry to hear of the disaster with your bridge. Ours was, of course, already well underway and did not rely on such volatile experimental machinery. That you lost so many workers is also a shame, but only to be expected due to the nature of the catastrophe.

If you like, I can have my men personally investigate what sort of lawless renegades would perpetrate such an act. I suspect that you are probably too proud to accept such an offer. It is a pity that you are so stubborn. Father thought so too, and intimated it to me as I went about slipping him his daily arsenic.

At the least you shall have the honor of completing the SECOND transcontinental railroad. There is something to be said in that. Perhaps in time I will even deign to buy your company from you. I bet father would have enjoyed that.

Cordially,

Zaccaria Cain

####

Dear Zaccaria,

I thank you for your kind words on the bridge incident. That our machines would somehow explode in the middle of the night is baffling, and that our men should be butchered in their cots is more strange still. However, it is a lawless country west of the Mississippi and only to be expected.

On the subject I am sorry to hear about your own troubles. Our country has long ago discovered the dangers of involuntary servitude, and that your entire workforce should turn against you as they did is absolutely upsetting to me...from a familial standpoint. On a business level it does me a world of good, especially to hear that these same half mad Indians and Chinamen have become so exceptionally well armed and turned their prowess on destroying all that wonderful track you had them lay. I bet it was the Chinamen. You cannot trust their kind. Remember when our Chinese manservant tried to warn father about the razor I had slipped into his porridge? And the way he then struck me so hard as I rightly strangled him for his insolence? If they would behave that way to a twelve year old boy, I can only imagine the kind of danger they are putting your company in. When next you try to meddle in financial venture brother, take my advice: mechanization.

Sincerely,

Mathias Cain

####

Brother Mathias,

I thank you for your advice, and have taken it to heart. I have outfitted several bands of deserters, gunmen, and traditional outlaws with the finest weaponry to be had from the underpaid American military and turned them loose on the frontier. They have strict orders to hunt and kill those Chinamen and Indian saboteurs that are making such a mess of things, but will no doubt find their way to your surveying camps and overseers on occasion. I apologize in advance, but it is simply the nature of the men I have to work with.

Furthermore, I have taken a page from your book and hired a cadre of brilliant oriental engineers to work on a sort of 'mobile fortress' that can move along the rails and keep my work crews in line. As of now they are figuring a way to add light cannon, long range mortar and those damnable rocket batteries the Chinese enjoy so much. The first model should be ready within a few weeks and, together with refinements to the drugs, I should be able to keep a docile, motivated, and nearly limitless supply of enslaved workers on the track. In a short while we will be back in operation and making up for lost time.

Wish me luck brother! As I wish you luck with your latest wife.

Cordially,

Zaccaria Cain

####

Dear Zaccaria,

I am certain that my recent loss of locomotives can only be attributed to the lawless savages that have yet to be pacified in the region, for surely the idea that my own brother's work crews wantonly attacking my own is too terrible to think. Nay, I regret even writing it and will speak no more on the possibility.

That these attacks are troubling me is an understatement, brother. Whenever my men lay track beyond a certain point they find themselves under barrage by some kind of heavy artillery! I have received outrageous reports that liken it to military bombardment, and locomotives are being blasted to bits only meters from the end of the track. Even more disturbing are the reports that do not make it back to me at all. We have found many sites where, upon a messenger being dispatched, we discover only picked bones and twisted metal. It is as if a pack of cannibals had gnawed the very flesh from my worker's bones.

It has been suggested that I go to the federal government on this matter. But both you and I detest such action with an equal vehemence. So like an honest man I will endeavor to solve the problem myself.

My contacts across the sea, in Romania to be exact, have come across a rare breed of wolf-hound that they have been breeding for an express purpose. These magnificent creatures average two hundred pounds at maturity, can survive in nearly any climate, and most wonderfully of all they are bred to not attack only those parties broadcasting a certain inaudible pitch.

Isn't science able to accomplish wonders these days? I have already placed orders for several thousand of the creatures and they are being created directly.

I am also going to be arming and armoring my locomotives in the fashion you have adapted, as it seems to have worked wonders for your productivity. I have it on good authority that not a single band of saboteurs has managed to make it past the range of your guns. To this end, professor Ubel has several wonderful suggestions involving massive machines of riveted steel bristling with naval grade cannon.

I congratulate you on such a fine idea, brother. It will surely do wonders for my company.

Oh yes, and before I forget: my newest wife has succumbed to her injuries far quicker than expected. The serum you gave me worked wonders with her prowess, but she grew savage far too quickly for my taste, and felt no fear, which only served to incur my wrath. Thankfully, her pain was brief.

Her sister remains unattached so I needn't worry about being single for long.

Sincerely,

Mathias Cain

####

Brother Mathias,

I'm afraid I must protest at the continued mistreatment of my track, my laborers, and my locomotives. They are suffering constantly from a seemingly endless barrage of cannonade from over the horizon and die by the droves. In some situations the weight of firepower has been so intense as to render the landscape unsuitable for any further track, and we have been forced to pull back to sister lines. I am sure it is an honest mistake on the part of your cannoneers, and that they are simply firing at whatever threat is plaguing your rail crew. Regardless, more often than not our operations are suffering by your long distance shelling. I really must insist you make an inquiry.

On more than one occasion, I regret to say, my men have responded in kind until the shelling was forced to cease from one side or another. Thankfully the increased armor plating of my "Rail-Ships" (the engineers' own evocative term,) has allowed for blessed few casualties among the engine crew. The ground crews, however, are becoming increasingly depleted with each day.

I have decided to send out expeditionary rail-lines away from our main concentrations in an effort to remove us from the vicinity of whatever terrible threat ails your men. I warn you that these rail lines will be cutting through virgin territory and will be far more heavily armed than our traditional crews. We will also be experimenting with a variety of trained war hawk to keep roving bands of wolf-hounds away from the work sites. My contacts in Mongolia assure me of the birds' effectiveness.

I admit to being somewhat skeptical at the safety of a sky filled with murderous birds. Still, progress often comes in strange forms and our current rail deadlock seems destined to end soon.

I am glad to see the attempt on your life has failed. You must have inherited your nose from father, as I'm sure you recall how he could smell out an explosive better than a blood hound.

I never did apologize for the eye I tore from you, brother. We were so foolish in our youth, it is glad to see us getting along so well now.

Cordially,

Zaccaria Cain

####

Dear Zaccaria,

There has been some confusion in my lines ever since my "Train-naughts" have broken through the undrawn barrier between our prospective lines and encountered the tangled nests of your inner track. While I would never impose upon your property, it seems the explosive devices implanted across large portions of the range have made it nearly impossible to cross virgin terrain.

In this instance you will simply have to forgive us in the name of business. I am sure that when we clear the burning wrecks of your pathetic "Rail-ships" from what remains of your track that I can offer you a tidy sum for the crossing.

Until then I would appreciate it if you kept your damn birds away from my crews. They serve only as target practice anyway and clutter the land with their corpses.

The assassin was an interesting diversion the other night. A Chinaman in black pajamas. It was almost farcical. Whoever sent him must have done so as a joke, as they could not have thought I would keel over so easily. I will admit it had been a long time since I strangled someone with my own hands. The feeling was pleasant as always.

Sincerely,

Mathias Cain

####

Brother Mathias,

I'm sorry about the birds. We have lost all control over them, it seems. Most of our work force has developed immunity to the injections as well. The explosives, the torn track and the ambushes can all be attributed to that; as well as the gunmen that have found more profit in robbing my trains than building them.

Ingrates the lot of them, and none with the creativity of family.

Unfortunately it appears that you are faring no better, my dear brother. The long range rocketry of my "Rail-ships" is dreadfully inaccurate, though quite powerful (as the smoking wrecks of many of your vessels can attest.) It seems that neither of us has even a single track of unbroken rail between our respective base cities and the conflict zone; yet every day we pour more money into ammunition, fuel, and workers that die by the dozen.

It reminds me of the situation with father. I cannot help but think that the old man would have died far sooner if we had simply allied from the beginning, rather than the end. Neither of our companies can continue at this rate. We will drive ourselves to ruin, fighting to the death as we did so long ago.

In that spirit I offer my hand in business and in brotherhood once more. Let us cease this bickering while we still have empires to consolidate.

Cordially,

Zaccaria Cain

####

Dear Zaccaria,

While it pains me to say this, dear brother, I am afraid I must. I too know the sting of lawless rebellion and rampant destruction. Our newest "Train-naught", built with the finest of Ubel's twisted engineering have run amok up and down my own lines. Their electro-coal engines are responsible for the unseasonable storms that have torn miles of track to shreds. They bring lightning upon worker, train, dog, and track alike. These same engines also have a method of inducing violent madness in the engineer compartments, possibly due to a chemical leak or fault with whatever electrical devilry Ubel runs the things on. Couple these complications with an armament of the largest, longest range cannon money can buy and you can begin to see the problems that I face.

Most of them will not even respond to my telegraph anymore, and simply roll up and down the lines firing at will. We have had to marshal a fleet of the older models simply to keep the newer from attacking the eastern cities.

Unfortunately all of this costs money. Money I simply would not regain by accepting your offer of alliance. My company is rapidly approaching bankruptcy, dear brother, and yours is as well. To have any hope of salvaging success one of us will have to complete the unbroken line from coast to coast.

And I do mean only one of us.

Just as with the inheritance: either you will win, or I will. This country, for all its charms, simply will not abide a tie.

For your sake, I hope you do not make me cripple you again, dear brother.

Sincerely,

Mathias Cain

####

Brother Mathias,

I never did expect you to take my offer. You are simply too stubborn and too wise. My company has been bankrupt for over a month now, and its few remaining workers are fighting our war across the plains simply out of spite. Very soon I feel they will die, sober up, or drift away.

I would say that you have won, only I have estimating the expenditures of your fortune and realize you must have been borrowing far more than I.

The creditors will eat you alive, brother. There is no way, even if my few remaining ships were to cease firing today, for you to complete the rail line.

I only wish I were there to pluck out your other offending eye before they kill you.

Do not even think of taking solace west; you are not welcome here.

Cordially,

Zaccaria Cain

####

Dearest Zaccaria and Mathias,

I apologize for the length of time since last we corresponded, but I have been very busy completing a most ambitious and secret project. My company has just completed a Transcontinental rail line!

We took our route across the very heartland of America, bypassing the troublesome southwestern states and taking advantage of the great flat plains in the central north of our country. I would have contacted you sooner, only I was far too busy ensuring my workers were treated fairly and the living conditions of the project adequate.

I have heard of the financial difficulties of both of your rail companies and I thought I would offer joining lines to my great project for a fraction of the traditional cost. My accountants feel it is poor financial sense, but I tell them that you cannot put a price on family! I feel that whatever generosity I can give should bolster your company's ledgers considerably and allow me to atone for the great crime I committed in our youth.

I have never spoken of this before but I feel that now is the time. I was the one who assisted Father in his suicide. He ranted and raved and said terrible things about the two of you. It was awful, but I could see over the years that his delusions only grew. So rather than subject the three of you to continued torture, I gave him the poisons he required and held his hand as the life passed from his loving eyes.

I have regretted it ever since, but perhaps today, in saving the two of you, his two noble sons, I can atone myself of this great crime. What say you, brothers? Will you join our companies together, and allow your poor forgotten sister to return to the loving fold of the family?

With all my love,

Lillian Cain

THE END


© 2011 P. F. White

Bio: P. F. White recently completed his enlistment with the U.S. Navy. This is his fourth Aphelion appearance; his tale of Hollywood rivalry gone mad, Hollywood Squared, appeared in the December 2010 / January 2011 edition.

E-mail: P. F. White

Website: P. F. White

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