Negotiations (part two)

The next day, I sat in a hotel room with the representatives who had been negotiating with me. I had no idea what they might really look like, but they appeared human. The technology they had demonstrated at our first meeting was sufficient to prove otherwise.

The news was on the television screen; it was showing scenes from a factory somewhere in Eastern Europe where hundreds of people stood on the roof. Responding to some signal I couldn’t detect, the people all began to jump off, falling over fifty feet to the ground.

“I can’t believe they actually did it.” The one who looked like a human female said to me.

I nodded, still staring at the television, trying to seem shocked. “I knew Howard was a bastard, but even I didn’t think he would actually go so far. This is who you are dealing with.”

The other one, who wore a male countenance, asked, “And what did he say about this?”

“He threatened to kill more of the population if you didn’t give him everything he demands.”

The two exchanged glances I couldn’t interpret. Then she spoke. “And what would you have us do?”

“I think it’s pretty clear we have to stop him before more people get hurt or even die.”

“Very well.”

*     *     *

An hour later, we had all reconvened in the meeting room. All except Tucker. Just as I was about to ask Tess where he was, the negotiators walked in.

Howard spoke before anyone else had a chance. “Was that an acceptable display?”

“So that was your doing?” the female asked.

“Indeed, I …” Before he could say another word, Howard disintegrated. I didn’t even see her draw a weapon.

I was shocked. Yes, it was the result I had been working towards, but the perfunctory nature of the execution was unexpected.

Leslie slammed her hand on the table. “What the hell? We did what you asked! Why kill him for it?”

This time I caught a glimpse of the small device in the negotiator’s hand before she used it. Without a word, Leslie vanished into dust. I began to feel a genuine fear. I thought only Howard would be at risk. Would they kill us all? Had they already gotten Tucker?

As if in response, Tucker entered the room. And the female turned her attention to me.

“Is there anyone else to implicate in this crime?”

“Well…” I began, but her glare silenced me.

Instead, Tucker spoke up. “You already know everything. Just him.” He pointed a finger at me.

“Your sister wasn’t part of it?”

“Um… well… I mean, no. Of course not,” Tucker stammered.

“Tucker, what is going on?” Tess’s voice betrayed only the slightest hint of unease.

“What did you do?” I asked, before he could answer his sister.

He turned to me with an accusatory look. “I told them I thought their demand was absurd. That’s when I found out you had made the whole thing up. They never asked us to arrange a mass suicide.”

“WHAT?!” Tess was on her feet, her face bright with anger.

“You seemed fine with it at the time,” I shot back.

“That’s because I …” Tess vanished in a cloud of dust.

“No!” Tucker sobbed.

“You heard her. She admitted to going along with this plan,” the female negotiator said calmly.

“What about him?” Tucker managed to spit out through his grief.

“Did he agree to the plan?”

“Yes.”

“I thought you said he offered to come to us to try a different route?”

“Well, yeah. But if he hadn’t lied to us, Tess never would have agreed.”

“But he didn’t agree?”

“No, he didn’t.” Tucker slumped, defeated.

I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “Now that that is out of the way…”

Another look from her stopped me. “Your former colleagues were unworthy of sharing the planet with their fellows. But you have proven yourself untrustworthy. We are done with you.” She turned to her partner. “Have you arranged the next meeting?”

“Yes.”

“Then let’s go. I don’t want to be here any longer.”

After they left, Tucker stood and tried to look menacing. “I will ruin you for this. For what you did to my sister.”

I laughed. “Your sister did it to herself. You can do what you want, but we’re done.” I stood and left without looking back. I still had to finalize my take over of Howard’s empire. At least this hadn’t been a total waste of time.

 

fin

Negotiations (part one)

Four people were waiting for me when I walked into the meeting room. The man at the head of the table was also easily the oldest person present. Howard Massey had become ridiculously wealthy selling weapons to anyone who could pay. To his right sat the twins, Tess and Tucker van Auk. They had made their billions in the tech sector, though no one quite understood how. I’m not even certain they knew. Finally, across from them was Leslie Switt. Her financial firm had its hand in nearly every market.

I sat down next to Leslie. I was there because I had inherited control of so many patents, money was always pouring in. Also, I had something everyone else in the room lacked, charisma. I was our spokesperson.

Howard spoke up first. “How are the negotiations going?”

“They have agreed to our terms,” I said. I paused long enough to let everyone relax and begin planning their own celebrations. “But there is a complication.”

The scowl on Howard’s face was priceless. “You just said they accepted our offer.” He didn’t try to hide his disdain for me. Every chance he got, he made clear that only he had ever made anything to earn his money. It was a wonder to me that the others never objected or crossed him in any way. I, on the other hand, was constantly on the lookout for such opportunities.

“They did, but they want proof that the population is docile, that it is as easy to control as we’ve represented it to be.”

Howard began to rise to his feet in order to launch into one of his tirades when Leslie put her hand on his arm. She was the only one he showed even the slightest bit of respect to. She turned back to me. “What did you tell them?”

“I asked them what sort of proof they wanted.”

“And what did they say?” I had seen Leslie be abrasive on countless occasions, but she was only ever pleasant toward me.

“That’s why I called this meeting. I needed your input and agreement. They want us to arrange a mass suicide. At least a hundred people.”

“How the hell do they expect us to do that?” Howard screamed.

“They said it was up to us. If they are as easily controlled as we’ve said, it shouldn’t be a difficult feat.”

“Still,” Leslie spoke again, “that is a rather brutish approach.”

Tucker nodded with more energy than I think I’d ever seen from him.

Tess, who was almost always the one to speak for them both, sounded rather matter-of-fact. “And if we do this, we have a deal?”

I nodded. “Yes. Passage to another planet that meets all of our requirements as well as the resources to live as comfortably as possible.”

“And access to the bio tech they showed us?” Howard had calmed down as soon as he was reminded of what we stood to gain.

I nodded again. “In exchange for Earth, we will have everything we ever wanted. We just need to to prove the malleability of the people. So what do you all think?”

Tucker gave his sister a worried look, but she avoided turning his way. Leslie was chewing the inside of her lip, which she always did when she was weighing out risks and rewards. And Howard, uncharacteristically, was lost in thought.

“I can tell them no. See if there is some other way forward,” I offered.

Howard shook his head. “We would look weak, not in control. They came to us; if we started showing hesitation, they might think we weren’t the people they should be dealing with.”

Leslie indicated her agreement. “No sense getting squeamish now. The planet is doomed. We ought to see this through.”

Tess had to push Tucker off of her arm. “We, too, support going ahead.” Tucker seemed about to speak, but a look from his sister stopped him.

“Okay, so how do we proceed?” I stared at Howard, knowing he would have an idea.

“I will arrange it,” he said on cue. “Tell them to pay attention to this location,” he wrote down a place in China, “Wednesday, 4:00 pm local time. That gives me a little over 24 hours to set everything up through my contacts. Will that satisfy them?”

“It should. I’ll make sure of it.”

“Fine. I have work to do.” Howard stood and left the room without another word.

Everyone else sat quietly for a few moments until Tucker finally found his voice. “I can’t believe you’re all okay with this.”

Leslie sighed as Tess looked him in the eye. “Do you want to stay here? When they take over?”

“Well, no, but…”

“No buts. This is what we have to do, Tucker. This is how we survive.”

Tucker’s courage gave out, and he slumped back into silence.

“Well, as much fun as this has been,” I said, standing up, “I should go update the other side.” I looked at Tucker. “This will all be over soon.” I didn’t bother looking at anyone else as I left.

A Brave New Sunrise

“Gather around, my children. I have a story to tell from before your time. This story comes from the history of our village. From the time before The Great Darkness.”

“But my father says that there was no time before The Great Darkness. He says the elders who have lost their wisdom have made up such stories. Have you lost your wisdom, Eldest of the Elders?”

“No, child. Your father was too young to know anything about the time of which I speak. I tell you this story now because soon The Great Darkness will end, and the world will once again know light.

“In the years when I was young, only a little older than the three of you, there was a great light in the sky. This light was a large Ball of Fire which travelled the sky in Its path after every period of rest. This Ball of Fire spread Its light and heat to the village and the rest of the world. The brightness of the Ball was so brilliant that if It were to appear suddenly high above right now, we would all be without sight. But The Ball did not just appear; It would rise slowly and chase away the darkness. The darkness would run away in the face of the great power of the Ball of Fire.

“One day, our people attacked another village with powerful weapons. Both villages were damaged gravely. He Who Rules Above became very angry with us. He prevented the Ball of Fire from giving us heat and light by sending The Great Darkness. This Darkness was more powerful than even The Ball of Fire. The Ball was afraid to try to defeat the Darkness. So It stayed hidden.

“Soon, however, The Ball of Fire will have gained enough strength to defeat The Darkness and will rise again. Now, my children, return to you families. The sight that will be seen after we wake will be great indeed. You will need the strength from rest, just as The Ball of Fire rests now, gathering strength for Its battle.”

*     *     *

My father would scoff at the tale we had been told. He would be upset that the Eldest had shared it with children. But the Eldest did not act like one who had lost his wisdom. Still, his story was for children, and I was no longer a child. I was nearly a man, almost thirteen years of age. I knew I should listen to my father regarding such tales.

Upon entering my family’s hut, I saw my mother on her straw mat. Sweat ran down her forehead from her brown hair as she waited for my little brother or sister to arrive. In the light of the torch, the sweat looked like blood. The village medicine man did not think she would survive giving birth. Yet she refused to give up the child to save herself. My father was angry that she chose to leave him for He Who Rules Above, but he did not let her see his anger.

I began to shed my skins, but the cold hitting my flesh forced me to retain the coverings. I lay down on my mat and closed my eyes. Frightening pictures invaded my slumber; the Eldest’s story of The Ball of Fire made me restless.

Finally, I woke, ready to prepare the first meal. The medicine man was there. He told me to go outside; my mother’s time approached, and I was not needed.

Taking light with me, I found the Eldest on a hill, facing the lake. I began to ask him more about The Ball of Fire and the things I had seen while sleeping, but he motioned for me to be silent and then pointed to the far side of the lake.

Across the lake, a greyness had begun to spread above the forest. The greyness was pushed up higher by a pink glow.

“They must be on fire!”

“No, child, watch and you will come to know. It is coming to pass.”

The pink grew, pushing higher into the sky. It was the color of my sister’s cheeks in the light of the village fire. As the color reached ever higher, it began to deepen. Soon, it was the color of the blood of a deer. Then it grew yellow, like fire itself. Suddenly, a curve of pure light appeared above the treetops. I had to cover my eyes; never before had I seen such a bright light. As the curve grew larger, so did my eyes. I realized that I was seeing The Ball of Fire make its first appearance in years. Finally, after what seemed more time than I had experienced, all of The Ball was visible. The Great Darkness had been defeated, and it was no longer possible to look directly at the vanquisher.

I heard the cry of a new child ring through the village at that moment.

My sister arrived soon after. “Mother has joined He Who Rules Above. The elders have asked for the Eldest. There is much confusion about the passing of The Great Darkness.”

The water of cowards formed in my eyes, and I turned away so that I would not be disgraced.

The Eldest turned to me. “My son, do not weep for your mother’s passing. Her bravery was given to The Ball of Fire so It would fight the Darkness. She won the battle. You should be proud.”

We turned toward the village, and for the first time, I saw it in its entirety. As we walked, I knew that greater changes than this lay ahead.

Can’t Go Home

The trees gave way to a large clearing, in the middle of which stood a four-story building. It may have been a mansion at one time; now, in the midmorning light, it appeared an empty shell, long abandoned and left to fall into disrepair. Unless you counted the vines and other plants growing everywhere, the place was lifeless.

At least it seemed that way. All the windows and doors were shut or boarded over, and there were no holes in the exterior anywhere. It looked much as it had the last time he had been here, over a year ago. The state of the outside had been intentional, in order to suggest that nothing of value or interest remained in the building. Having been gone so long, he had no idea if it was still just a facade, or if reality had finally caught up.

He stayed at the edge of the clearing, watching for any signs that it was safe to go inside. An overgrown hedge protected his position from every direction, so he could observe without being spotted himself. As eager as he might be to rush to the door, years had taught him the need for caution. The only smart move was to wait and watch.

He sat for hours, but no signs of life became evident. Perhaps that meant that everything was fine, and they were simply staying safe by keeping things quiet. Or perhaps it meant that everyone was gone.

As night began to fall, he became even more vigilant, keeping his eyes more on the woods than the house. The monsters that lived in the darkness would begin to stir soon. Before that thought even fully formed, two of the beasts entered the clearing from the right. They walked on two legs, and in the darkness, it would be understandable to mistake them for human beings. Understandable, but deadly. Their joints bent at odd angles, giving their gait an unsettling quality.

He gripped his machete tightly, muscles taut, waiting to attack or defend. The creatures, however, didn’t come towards him, instead approaching the building. They made no sound as they walked and constantly adjusted the tilt of their heads to better hear their surroundings. Next to the walls, they sniffed the air for traces of prey. He spent several anxious minutes breathing as softly as he could. Finally, one of the creatures lifted its head to the sky. Terrified, he quickly covered his ears just before a nerve-shattering screech filled the air. Had he not been prepared for it, he would have run away as quickly as he could.

That would have been exactly what the creatures wanted. As the one stopped its screech, the other listened intently for any panic nearby. Minutes passed before they appeared satisfied that no prey was in the area. They reentered the woods opposite from where they had first arrived, and disappeared into the darkness. He waited even longer before he allowed his body to shake from the flood of adrenaline it had experienced.

Nothing in the building changed. If someone had been inside, surely that cry would have created some panic, and the creatures would have reacted. But they left. It seemed increasingly likely that no one was there. Still, now was not the time to leave his hiding spot. He would stay put until the sun rose; only then would he investigate.

Time passed slowly, and the wait was made even more painful by the scenes his imagination conjured for him. The deaths of his friends inside, the only people left he even knew. Killed by those creatures? Or perhaps by some other humans who wanted the place for themselves? Maybe it wasn’t as dire, and they simply left for other shelter. That was unlikely, he had to admit. Silent grief, mixed with guilt about not having been there, caused the night to go on forever. By the time the first sliver of the sun broke the horizon, he had resigned himself to the tragedy that waited inside.

As he prepared to approach the building, the large front door opened. Out walked a woman who was instantly recognizable. She moved to examine a spot on the wall near the door. He knew it was a camera because he had installed it several years ago, when together they first set up this place.

His greeting caught in his throat. They were still here, still alive, but would they accept him back? He had been gone a long time. When he had first resolved to return, he thought he was prepared to face them all. Now, however, after a night of needless mourning, his courage failed him. He did not know what he could say to them. To her.

Finished with her examination, she quickly retreated back inside. He watched the building for several more minutes, but no one else emerged. Then, he left the protection of the hedge and slipped back into the trees, walking away as quickly as he dared.