The Decision by Sean Patrick Hazzlet




Sean Patrick Hazlett

For years, business leaders from Mars to the Kuiper Belt have been asking me to outline my principles on leadership, especially as they relate to the 2259 Terran Crisis. When the editor of the New Harvard Business Review first approached me for this article, I was reluctant to open old wounds. The Decision was a tough and controversial one. I ultimately agreed to pen this piece because our society is still in desperate need of good leaders. This article outlines the principles that guided my actions during the nineteen-year period leading up to the Decision.

1. Perception Is Reality

The hardest lesson I’ve ever learned began with an intricate deception. In 2240, Mars Colony was on the verge of rebellion. Earth Protectorate, or E.P., had required every Terran between the ages of eighteen and sixty to take a battery of tests on spatial reasoning, emotional intelligence, physical fitness, analytical ability, and psychological stability.

None of us knew why. We just did what we had to do. Like any young person aspiring to greatness, I strove to do my best. I scored high enough on the tests to get a one-way ticket to the Red Planet. Yet, my friend Lily, who by all rights was much more intelligent and accomplished than I, did not. It was only much later that I discovered why.

At the time, Mars Colony had crippling labor shortages in all areas from habitat management to waste disposal. Even worse, the corrupt corporate syndicate running Mars was not operating at peak efficiency. Rather than scuttle the operation as a sunk cost, the E.P. had caved in to Martian demands by sending the colony more labor.

The burons at E.P.’s New York headquarters showered the successful candidates with praise. The E.P. Secretary General himself met with a group of the twenty most promising management candidates, including me. To this day, I remember his words: “You all have a solemn responsibility to restore order on Mars. In doing so, you will be performing a patriotic duty for Earth.”

I never bought his appeal to selfless service, but one thing he said caught my attention: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring order to a world on the brink of chaos. You will be remembered as Mars’s founding mothers and fathers.”

Despite being a career buron, the Secretary General was the best salesman I’ve ever encountered. He could have sold leprosy to a fashion model. His smooth talk and gregarious style, coupled with an expensive suit replete with diamond cufflinks, belied an underlying gravitas impossible to ignore. I was in awe of him.

Soon I began to see opportunities for shaping Mars’s future that I hadn’t considered before. I imagined myself as a power broker bridging Terran and Martian society. What Rockefeller was for oil, and Carnegie for steel, I would be for interplanetary commerce. These thoughts of a bold future invigorated me.

It wasn’t until I signed up for a lifetime contract and sat inside a space elevator festooned to a floating anchor station in the southwest Pacific that I’d begun to suspect I’d made a terrible mistake. The elevator, with its multi-decked promenades, had one uniformed officer for every ten passengers. It was an unusual level of security for an off-world excursion.

Despite my unease, I sat in my assigned seat on the space elevator’s twelfth level, heady with dreams of a future on the red frontier. A brutish Asian man with a shiny bald crown and goatee shattered my lingering delusions of grandeur.

He grabbed my shoulder and demanded I stand. I stood up, expecting him to shuffle past me and take a seat nearest the wall. To my chagrin, he sat in my assigned seat. When I told him so, he pawed at my breasts and then forced me to the floor. If one of the uniformed officers hadn’t rendered him unconscious with a shock lance, I might not have lived to tell this tale.

While I lay on the steel grated floor, I looked up at the officer and asked him why I’d been assaulted. He just shook his head and said, “With this many convicts heading to Mars, we expect outbreaks of violence.”

Dumbfounded, I said, “Convicts? I’m not a convict.”

The officer just smiled and said, “No. Not yet at least.”

It was at that moment when I had an inkling that the E.P. viewed my leadership style with fear and suspicion. It was also the first time I began to understand why the Protectorate sent us to Mars.

While I’ll get to that soon, the early part of my journey to Mars taught me that perception is everything. So much so, that an E.P. buron‘s cheap charm persuaded me to travel tens of millions of miles from a comfortable home on Earth to a hardscrabble, desperate world on the brink of rebellion. In business, form is function. You can be the most skilled musician in the solar system, but if you cannot deliver a great show, you are nothing.

2. Make Strategic Relationships to Further Your Interests

As an attractive young woman surrounded by violent felons, I had to build a coalition to survive. To do so, I had to find a locus of power and cultivate its source.

Before the officer who’d rescued me left the scene, I gripped his arm and said, “Who was that?” I pointed to the man who’d assaulted me.

“Hyun Park,” he said.

I stared at the officer for ten long seconds. His looks were striking in a primal sort of way. “What’s your name?” I batted my eyelashes and smiled.

“Sergey Vatutin.”

“Well, Sergey, thank you for saving me. You mind keeping a gal company?”

That night, we slept together. From then on, he was mine. After we left the protective tether of the space elevator and embarked on our voyage, I got to know every officer on the freighter. I learned and memorized every security protocol.

Early in the journey, I met another handsome officer named Robert Howard. The man also happened to be Sergey’s rival. So I started bedding him too. I kept this volatile secret from both men so that I could later use it to my advantage.

Twenty years ago, many business gurus would have criticized my methods and called me a whore. Of course, most of these theorists perished after the Decision.

A great leader must focus on making many strategic relationships to achieve her ends. She must leverage the assets she has available to her. Surrounded by violent convicts with overwhelming physical advantages, I used sex as my weapon.

3. Leverage Your Informational Advantage

In business, as in war, having more information than your rivals is a competitive advantage. A few choice words whispered in a sympathetic ear can make all the difference.

Hyun Park was still a threat, so I’d been keeping tabs on his whereabouts and schedule. In the afternoon, he went to the gym like clockwork. Using this information and my knowledge about the timing of key operations on the ship, I planned to neutralize Park.

Wearing my tightest skinsuit, I scheduled my workout to coincide with Mr. Park’s. I double-booked dates with both Sergey and Robert, offsetting them by only five minutes. I also brought an aerosol can containing trace amounts of cyanide.

Park was bench-pressing over three hundred pounds when I arrived. I strolled by his station and sprayed him in the face. He squinted and coughed, nearly dropping the bar on his neck.

I got on the treadmill with my back facing him. I acted as if nothing had happened. He grumbled and coughed. A meaty hand gripped my shoulder. He spun me around and forced me to the ground. I slammed my head against the rubber surface. A white flash flooded my vision. Then pain. He punched me in the jaw. I bit my tongue and tasted blood. He punched me in the stomach. He coughed again. His manhood stiffened.

I panicked. I prayed that Sergey and Robert arrived on time. Park tore my skinsuit. His calloused hands bruised my skin as he held me down.

I screamed.

Seconds later, Sergey ripped Park off me. He threw my attacker to the floor. Straddling Park, Sergey walloped the brute with his fists until the man’s face was a bloody pulp.

Just as I thought the fight was over, Park forced Sergey’s arm into his chest, and then rolled on top of Sergey, pinning him. Park pummeled Sergey until my lover was unconscious.

I had to escape, but I couldn’t compel myself to leave. The raw savagery of it all awoke something inside me. Something primal. Something beautiful. Park beat Sergey until his face was a riot of blood and bone. He hit Sergey until Park heaved with exhaustion. Sergey stopped breathing. Park raised his head and scowled at me. He slowly rose and stalked me like a tiger.

I played the part, whimpering like a scared sow. I backed away from his advance. But I wasn’t frightened. Everything was going according to plan. Either Robert would kill him or the cyanide would.

Moments later, Robert entered in the room. Unlike Sergey, he was still on duty and armed with a shock lance. His eyes widened as he took in the scene. He raised his weapon and fired. Park jolted as electric current spiked through his body.

Robert seemed distraught, as if uncertain what to do.

“He tried to rape me,” I said, pointing to Park. I hoped Robert would execute the coup de grace.

Robert nodded. He had a vacant look in his eyes.

He needed more motivation. I seized his wrists. “He. Tried. To. Rape. Me. He killed Sergey. What are you gonna do about it?”

Like most sheep, Robert lacked the will to do what was necessary. Fortunately, Park died several days later “from his wounds and trauma.”

While my plan hadn’t worked perfectly, it had gone well enough. My relationships had paid off as did my surveillance of Park.

4. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

No woman is an island. She needs a good team to actualize her vision. A strong leader knows when to apply the lash or the drug to influence her subordinates.

But what if a leader has no followers? I had none when I began my journey, but hundreds by the time I arrived on Mars.

Given that my capacity for violence was not as well honed as many of the convicts on board, I leveraged my intellect and charm to build a coalition around my vision.

A good leader doesn’t work. She convinces others to work for her. She either inspires them with her vision or terrifies them with her ability to mete out violence. In my experience, the latter is more effective than the former.

On long interplanetary voyages, cabin fever takes on a whole new meaning. Crammed into tight quarters, people crave a release. This desire often explodes into violence. I found a way to channel this angst to achieve a higher purpose.

It started with Karl Gustav, an unstable German chemist. I’d accessed the crew files and learned he didn’t have the same aggressive tendencies many others did. He was a manic-depressive, and in his manic phase he was an alchemical genius. Gustav had an encyclopedic knowledge of synthesizing exotic drug cocktails from common ship chemicals. He also had a knack for innovation. Under my guidance, he whipped up an addictive stimulant we called “Nitro” and a soporific we called “Bliss.” In the right concentrations, I could speed a man up so he could kill and then slow him down enough to put him in a coma.

In just five weeks, I had a critical mass of addicts. After that, I could make anything happen.

At first, my inaugural business venture was the ideal solution to on-ship violence. So security turned a blind eye to my operation. By the time the authorities realized what I had really been up to, it was too late. No one could as much move to another module without my say so.

5. Boredom Is the Bugbear of Modern Business

Stagnation is death.

Once I had consolidated my power base, things grew quiet. Too quiet. My people were becoming lazy and complacent.

I was concerned that they’d lose their edge before they landed on Martian soil and faced the rebels. So I ran some experiments. It was crucial that I understood how my people would behave under extreme stress.

About ten percent of the population consumed more resources than they contributed. This group, which I selected for my experiment, included the sick, the crippled, the mentally weak, and the incompetent.

I then selected another five percent of passengers at random. I had ship security sequester this fifteen percent in a sealed section of the ship. I cut off their access to drugs and food. But I did allow for ample access to water.

Within two weeks, the subjects had exhausted the food stores they’d smuggled into the section. In another two weeks, the weakest began to perish. Mere hours after the first death, the survivors ate the remains. A week later, the strong corralled the weak, setting up a makeshift human abattoir.

In one bold stroke, I had culled the ship’s weakest members. Once the initial three hundred subjects had whittled themselves down to fifty, I ended the experiment.

I then commissioned a second one.

I wanted to know how the fifty survivors, after having experienced severe depravation, would react to having too many resources. When they reemerged from their isolation, I gave them three months of rations all at once. Another twenty died after their stomachs burst.

I promoted the thirty survivors to lead the other seventeen hundred passengers. I was pleased to see my new cadre impose these Darwinian conditions on everyone else. Once they’d purged and purified the overall population to an elite one thousand, I ordered an end to the culling. While we could have used more winnowing, we still needed manpower to take control of Mars.

By keeping my passengers engaged, I prevented them from succumbing to the fatal ennui associated with long interplanetary passages. And for that, my new organization had been honed to a razor’s edge.

6. Dwelling on the Past Is a Prelude to Failure

The mutiny took me by surprise. I had forged my crew into a core of strong-willed and efficient leaders. When Robert put a knife to my throat, my mind raced through every action I’d taken during the voyage. What could I have done better? What had I done wrong?

Robert, having survived the culling, was a harder man now. But he still put too much trust in others. I cried and cried. I told him that I loved him, that I had done everything for him. I professed that I wanted nothing more than to raise a family with him on Mars.

After we made love, he identified his co-conspirators. I kissed him, thanked him, and then stabbed him in the throat.

My loyal followers rounded up the mutineers. Each day, I fed these traitors their own body parts until they died of blood loss.

After that, no one dared oppose me.

7. Emotions Cloud Judgment

After the mutiny, I intercepted an E.P. transmission to one of the dead traitors. I had always believed that the E.P. had discarded us, but what I uncovered in the transmission was far more insidious. And it made me furious. Our exile was part of a plot to install sociopaths into critical management positions on the Martian Colony. According to the intercept, the E.P. leadership believed this act would sow enough chaos and discord on Mars to end the rebellion.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

They were right about our impact on the rebellion. It took me about two years to stamp it out. The E.P. may have considered us sociopaths, but we were more than that. We were wolves among sheep – iron-willed warriors united by the perfidy of our exile.

When I arrived on Mars, I leveraged my narcotics network to addict the population to “Nitro” and “Bliss” and a number of other nasty new formulations. But addicting the Martian colonists one person at a time was too slow. So I laced the water and food supply, and steadily increased the dosage over time.

Then one day, I cut it off.

After the population had exhausted itself in an orgy of violence, I unleashed my shock troops to restore order and seize power.

Many of my detractors have argued that my actions were callous and will cast a long shadow on future generations. They claim that my adulteration of the water supply harmed the brain development of young children and the unborn.

While it is true that my actions may have harmed a few children, it was a small price to pay. Inaction would have been worse.

Had I let my emotions cloud my judgment, we’d still be slaves to a hostile blue world. But I didn’t. And for that, we are now free.

8. Improvisation Trumps Long-term Planning

Many historians think I had a master plan, and had faithfully followed it for years.

They could not be more wrong.

Long-term planning can be an asset, but it can also stifle creativity. Sometimes taking action based on raw instinct can be more effective than ten five-year plans. Improvisation works. It clarifies. It is bold and decisive. It cuts through to the heart of a problem in a way that years of detailed analysis cannot.

In 2256, the E.P. had been gathering an armada in response to my refusal to enforce a series of tax increases. The effort was unprecedented, involving the coordination of seventy nations and at a cost roughly three times then-China’s GDP. At the same time, the E.P. demanded our immediate and unconditional surrender.

I agreed with E.P.’s terms pending the arrival of its fleet. In the interim, I rigged all twenty of the Martian biodomes with nuclear tripwires.

If I couldn’t control Mars, no one would.

By sheer luck, I found a solution that would spare me from having to make such a suicidal decision. Persephone, a near Earth object, would pass to within ten thousand kilometers of Earth before the armada arrived on Mars. It would not get close enough to threaten Earth.

Unless someone gave it a little nudge.

The idea was so controversial, only a small cabal knew about it. I compartmentalized parts of the effort so that none of my scientists knew how their individual projects fit into the overall picture.

Everyone was told we’d be harvesting more resources from asteroids to reduce our dependence on Earth.

The roboticists were to design autonomous drones capable of latching themselves to asteroid fragments and towing them to precise locations for mineral extraction.

The exoatmospheric nuclear demolition engineers were to design precision nuclear warheads capable of fragmenting large asteroids in very specific ways to prevent these pieces from striking nearby planetary objects.

The propulsion engineers had to design a craft capable of landing on an asteroid traveling at five miles per second. The craft would then have to land a robotic and nuclear payload precisely on a hostile microgravity environment where temperatures could range from minus one hundred ninety degrees to plus one hundred seventy degrees Fahrenheit.

My flexible decision-making caused a bit of a stir among many of my scientists and engineers. But any time one opposed me, I replaced him or her with someone more compliant.

My team ultimately completed its task, and we launched the mission with much pride and fanfare.

9. Frame Your Interests Persuasively

The Terrans never knew what hit them. At the last minute, I triggered the shaped nuclear charges on the asteroids to blow before the E.P. could deploy its planetary countermeasures.

Because I’d compartmentalized the effort, no one knew of my final plans. Based on their questions, many of my senior project managers suspected I might use the asteroid to blackmail Earth. I doubt any of them had imagined I’d use it to destroy our home world.

During trying times, a leader will often have nervous employees who second-guess every decision. A great leader must use her powers of persuasion to frame her interests so they align with those of her subordinates. Throughout the crisis, I managed their hopes and fears to get the best out of them, while concealing my true aims.

Some believe that the more certainty a leader has, the easier it is to persuade others. I disagree. It is easier to persuade others when things are uncertain.

When we first outfitted the asteroid with nuclear charges, I used the margin of error associated with the near-Earth asteroid’s flight path to my advantage. I told my people it was unlikely the asteroid would hit Earth, but it was still possible.

Playing on my scientists’ and engineers’ love of analytical arguments, I framed the issue as a question of risk versus cost. While the risk of the asteroid hitting Earth was low, if it did, the results would’ve been catastrophic. By outfitting the asteroid, we could divert it if necessary and thereby earn the E.P.’s goodwill. My rationale unified our effort. It gave people a sense of purpose.

This changed when the margin of error steadily decreased as Persephone drew closer to Earth. When it became extremely unlikely it would hit our home world, people began to question my motives. So I “came clean.” I told them what they wanted to hear. I argued that having the capability to destroy Earth would be a useful lever in our ongoing dispute. Most accepted my logic. But if they’d dug a little deeper, they would have found my argument lacking. All Earth had to do was delay negotiations until the asteroid passed and I lost my leverage. In other words, they’d have to engage in an existential game of chicken. But no one had considered the unthinkable. No one thought I might actually annihilate the cradle of civilization.

Nobody except me.

10. Apologies Are for Indecisive Leaders

Some still blame me for the Decision. They claim it was unnecessary. And they are outraged I show no signs of remorse.

Those people have no understanding of what leadership is. Apologies are for the weak. I did what I did because Earth forced me to. I had no choice. If I hadn’t destroyed Earth, Earth would have destroyed me.

A leader acts alone. She must make decisions alone, and she alone must live with the consequences. A leader never apologizes for making hard decisions.

A leader only does what’s right.


About the Author

Sean Patrick Hazlett is a finance professional and Army veteran living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he considers writing fiction as therapy that pays for itself. He is a recent finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest, and his fiction has appeared in venues that include Grimdark Magazine, Perihelion, Kasma SF, and Fictionvale Magazine to name just a few.


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