by Bill Kowaleski
Creative Destruction is a sequel to the novel Brighter Than the Stars, in which Earthlings meet technologically advanced space aliens. The Cygnians come only to do business, but their schemes to sell fusion-powered generators become contentious and competitive.
Many human and alien characters return from the previous novel, including Jim McDermott and his team, who try to reduce the risk of societal upheaval that the new technologies threaten. Meanwhile, many different groups are either plotting to steal the technical advances for their own purposes or trying to destroy it and drive the Cygnians off of Earth.
|Cast of Characters and Species||Table of Contents|
Chapter 33: James Martin Jumps on the Train
James Martin felt a strange mix of emotions when he again entered the boardroom high above the city built by oil. The previous time, he’d come as a conspirator, presenting a plan that had worked magnificently. But now he was here to deal with the fallout of his success, a condition that felt to him a lot more like failure.
There were many more sitting around the huge table today: representatives of a dozen state-owned oil companies, several executives of Western oil firms, and at opposite ends, James McDermott and Nigel Thacker. He recognized many of them, including his former co-conspirators, Abdullah and Saeed Naïr. He gave them the slightest nod. They returned a smile and a quick touch to the forehead.
He sat not at the table, which was fully occupied by the time he arrived, but on a simple chair pushed up against a wall, part of a long row of chairs, perhaps twenty, occupied such that each person was separated by an empty chair on both sides.
He said nothing for the first hour, content to listen to the offer Nigel and McDermott explained, amused by the reaction of most of the other participants. One exchange, between McDermott and Thacker on one side, and the head of the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, on the other, summed up the general feeling in the room well.
The Petroleos CEO, an imposing man in a bespoke striped suit, sporting a full head of salt and pepper hair and a most impressive black moustache, leaned across the table, shaking his finger at McDermott, his dark brown eyes wide and animated, speaking in correct English.
“You offer us a percentage of nothing. We don’t want your lousy fusion generation company. Its services are illegal in the U.S. and soon in much of Europe. Why would I put good money into something like that?”
McDermott never flinched. “Because, Mr. Guevarra, the current situation is temporary at best. Once these bans are lifted or circumvented, the value of UZPG will increase tenfold at least. Remember its stock price before these laws were enacted?”
“Circumvented, you say? How exactly could you circumvent a law that doesn’t allow you to build a power generation station? Is the power going to come out of thin air?”
Nigel smiled. “Something like that.”
“Explain yourself! I don’t like smug little mysteries!” Guevarra’s face was vivid red, his fists clenched.
“Sometimes you just need to trust that you are being given an incredibly useful piece of information, sir,” said Nigel. “We can’t tell you any more details right now. But what I can tell you is that we fully expect to continue operating and to expand our operations further as planned despite the Alien Repatriation Act. Our lawyers tell me it a shoddy piece of legislation, delegating most of the details to an oversight board we plan to co-opt.”
“You do nothing but try to con me out of my money! For myself, I will not agree to this offer.”
Others around the table murmured their agreement. Nigel looked around, the beginnings of panic showing in his face. That was when James Martin rose from his seat along the wall.
“Gentlemen and ladies, I remember when the Internet was just starting up. Everyone said it would change everything. Well, in the end it really did, but it just didn’t play out the way most anybody thought it would at the time.”
Abdullah Naïr, resplendent in his summer robes, politely asked, “Mr. Martin, what could be the parallel between the Internet and our current dilemma?”
“Simple. There was a guy back in the late nineties, name of Bill Gates. A lot of folks said his company was through, the Internet was gonna make it worthless. And it was beginning to look that way, too. Know what he said?”
Martin had their attention now. He scanned the room during his dramatic pause. Everyone’s eyes were on him.
“Mr. Gates said ‘embrace and extend’. For him, that meant he intended to take his company full throttle into the Internet age, but that he also planned to get into the middle of setting the Internet’s standards. If he’d been from the West Virginia mountain country he’d have said, ‘When a freight train is coming down the tracks at you full speed, don’t try to stop it. Instead hop aboard and grab the controls from the engineer.’ Seems to me that Mr. Thacker is offering us a hand at the throttle here. I, for one, plan to embrace his offer.”
“Go ahead,” said Guevarra. “It’s your money. But for a lot of us, it’s not our money. We have governments to answer to, or at least shareholders. You are privately held.”
“Yeah, you got a point there, sir. Times like this I’m mighty glad about that little fact, too.”
“No one else will take us up on this offer?” asked Nigel.
“Perhaps if you could tell us more about how you plan to get around the ARA?” Director Naïr suggested.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Director, but those details can only be released at the right time. I really wish I could tell you more because, quite frankly, I’m itching to tell the world about this. But no, right now, it would be a mistake.”
“You don’t trust us to keep this information confidential?” Director Naïr asked.
McDermott raised his hand. “The problem, Mr. Director, is that we have to lay some groundwork first. The issues are incredibly technical, and in ways that are beyond the understanding of even our most prominent scientists. So Dr. Landis has to prepare several more papers first.”
“Well, then,” Naïr said, sadness in his voice, “I guess I can’t take the risk of buying into UZPG right now. I’m sorry.”
“Are there any others willing to buy in?” asked Nigel.
The room remained silent.
“Very well. When Dr. Landis’s papers are published, the stock will soar. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
He paused, giving them one last chance to reconsider, but still they said nothing.
“OK then. This meeting is adjourned. Mr. Martin, please stay. The rest of you are free to go.”
The room quickly emptied. Martin pulled up a chair beside Nigel. McDermott sat across from them.
“Can you tell me more about these papers Landis is writing?” said Martin. “I’m gonna be your partner after all.”
“Not yet. But you’ll get to preview the papers before they’re published,” said Nigel.
“I just don’t understand the secrecy, Mr. Thacker.”
McDermott sighed. “OK, Mr. Martin, you’re going to take a chance on us. With everyone else taking their money off of the table, you’re free to buy up to 50% of UZPG at today’s highly depressed prices. And if you do, you’ll freeze all those other guys out. If you do that, I’ll tell you everything.”
Nigel’s eyes widened. “Jim, you’re willing to—”
“Yes, Mr. Martin deserves to know, IF he’s an equal partner. And only I have the authority to determine who gets to find this out.”
“OK, draw up the papers. I’ve got the financing arranged. Fifty percent it is.”
Jim McDermott rose, walked to a white board at the front of the room, and drew two large circles. One he labeled Earth; the other he labeled Cygnus Alterna-Six.
Copyright © 2019 by Bill Kowaleski