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.

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