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Body Corporate

Steve Haywood lives in a small historic city in England. He has a distinctly uncreative day job, so likes to write to exercise his creativity. He enjoys writing short stories in multiple genres, with short stories published recently in The Colored Lens, Ink Sweat & Tears, and All Worlds Wayfarer.

As well as writing short fiction, he blogs about short stories, novels, and assorted topics at inky pages.co.uk and can occasionally be found on Twitter @Lancaster_Steve.

She enchanted me from the first moment I saw her across the crowded boardroom. Her flaming red hair shimmered like liquid fire in the noonday sun streaming through the windows, and her blue eyes were like deep lagoons, inviting me in. I knew who she was, of course. The logo on her forehead gave her away, as it was meant to: a curved black arrow across a field of green binary text told me she was WooshTechInc, a Body Corporate like me, and one of my shareholders, too. She smiled at me then, and my heart fluttered like a baby bird trying to fly for the first time.
The meeting droned on, boring as always. The Chief Financial Officer was talking about budgets, profit margins, tax planning, and a lot of other finance-y things I couldn't be less interested in. I tried to at least look like I was listening, but my mind wandered as usual, dreaming of freedom, of running through fields of wildflowers, not a care in the world. I was so lost in my own thoughts I almost missed my cue.
"BiggerBuyInc? Would you like to say a few words?"
I stood up and read through the pre-agreed speech I'd prepared. I spoke about all the wonderful things that we were doing: the food programs in the workless neighborhoods, the scholarship programs, and many other philanthropic works we undertook. I was like an actress, delivering my lines with passion and compassion, empathy and sympathy. I did a good job too, though inside I boiled with the pain and guilt of all the things we did which I wasn't allowed to talk about.
"A good speech," the CEO, Jon Sylvester, said as he led me out of the board room into the lounge area for the canape and drinks reception. I fixed a tight smile on my face when all I really wanted to do was throttle him. This was my company; in a legal sense, I was the company, birthed in the Corporate Registry incubator and raised to be the living embodiment of Bigger Buy Inc. Technically he was just my employee, but he had all the power and none of the consequences. I suffered the consequences daily and had none of the power.
He left then and went to go drink cocktails with the bankers and other execs, while I remained to face the angry hordes. There were the employees who told me about how they struggled to afford food for their families while living in damp, squalid rented flats. Then there was the man who lived near one of our biggest factories; he'd recently become too ill to work and he blamed it on the toxic gases we pumped out into the air every day (he was probably right). The worst though was the woman who'd saved up all year to be able to buy her daughter one of our doll houses for Christmas. When the little girl opened it on Christmas Day, it was already irreparably broken. Due to clever legal trickery, she couldn't even get a replacement. Sometimes it is the little things that get to you the most.
I was heartsick at all these pitiful stories. They bred me for empathy, to be the soul and conscience of the company. Some clever behavioral scientist had come up with the idea that if you raised a living embodiment of each company, it would make them more ethical and compassionate. It didn't work of course, Body Corporates like me became the scapegoats, the people they could outsource all their guilt and their responsibilities to. Plus no one (apart from a scant few underfunded human rights activists with no more power than me) thought about how such an arrangement affected me and my kind.
I scanned the room looking for a temporary respite and saw WooshTechInc in the corner, cradling a drink and looking bored. I quickly looked round. My minders were temporarily distracted, allowing me to slip away.
"Hi. Good speech back there."
"Thanks. Just the usual crap, you know."
WooshTechInc nodded. She knew. She was just the same. I could read it in her eyes, those pools of deepest blue. I could see the pain, the guilt, the compassion, just like me. Without knowing why, I reached up and gently stroked her cheek. It felt soft like silk, and warm like a summer's day. She leaned closer. It was forbidden, unless we were in merger talks, but I no longer cared about that. I pulled her towards me and suddenly our lips touched, tentatively at first like a soft caress, then harder. I felt the hunger in me mirrored in her, the beating of her heart at one with mine.
Suddenly, I felt rough hands on my shoulders. My minders had found me. As they pulled me away, I turned back with longing, fixing her soft features in my mind. If only... but no, we had no rights. We belonged to the company. We were the company.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Author Comments

The idea for this story came to me one day when I was reading an article about corporate social responsibility. Some companies put a lot of effort into this, to minimize the harm they do to society and the environment, as well as trying to put something back. Most companies though, if they do anything at all, only pay lip service to the idea. I started wondering about what it would take to make companies actually care about more than just profit. At the same time, I was fascinated by the legal term "body corporate," and wanted to explore the implications if a company really did have a body, and a mind. How would they feel? This idea touches on multiple different themes and I could have easily gone in several different directions with it; the challenge in writing this story was to keep a tight focus, introduce the idea, and hopefully leave the reader plenty to think about.

- Steve J. Haywood
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