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.”
* * *
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?”
“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?”
“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.