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 16: Confrontation
Stephen Mudenda’s tiny office, one of many on the second floor of a 1980’s-era block of plain storefronts, was hopelessly inadequate for the numbers of people trying to see him. Young, edgy, local men in both business and casual attire sat on the steps leading to the office, lounged outside in groups, and talked on cell phones while they wandered in the surrounding block.
Gerry, Elka, and Keyshawn stood across the street, surveying the situation. They saw a group of five Chinese men, all dressed in frumpy, dark gray suits with unfashionable ties, approach the stairs and walk confidently up them. A window gave them a line of sight to the door of Mr. Mudenda’s second-floor office. They watched the Chinese men enter.
“I sure wish we could hear what’s going on in there,” sighed Gerry.
Keyshawn’s face lit up. “Say. Dr. Landis, what about these enhancements we’re wearing? Maybe Jason threw in some extra hearing capability.”
Keyshawn activated the thought-controlled main menu, chose sensory enhancement, then hearing, then directed eavesdropping. He focused intensely on the window and suddenly heard a conversation as clearly as if it were right in front of him. “Hey, I can hear everything they’re saying in there!” he announced. Soon, Elka and Gerry were hearing it too.
A voice that was surely Stephen Mudenda’s was saying: “Thousand per generator. I can deliver them only to the place where they will be installed. You must give me precise coordinates and prepare the location exactly as directed in the installation instructions. Failure to do so will result in an additional fee.”
A deep, Chinese-accented voice responded, “Not practical to ship these yourselves. You must use Chinese carrier when you bring equipment through our border.”
“No, sir, you do not understand. There is no shipping. The product simply appears at the desired location. Do not ask me how it works, but it does.”
Another, much higher-pitched Chinese-accented voice asked, “These coming direct from Cygnus Prime?”
“That is my understanding, sir. Direct from the factory.”
The same voice continued. “Mr. Mudenda, why are you the only distributor in the world? We could be very large distributor, many more units than you can handle. Make deal with us. Let us contact Cygnian representative. You will get your cut.”
“Oh my God!” Elka exclaimed. “It is even worse than we thought!”
Gerry’s face was a study in concern and fear. “You’re right. The Chinese could be distributing these things in a matter of days, and then we’re totally screwed.”
“Let’s get in touch with Andrew and let him know what’s going on,” said Keyshawn. “Maybe he can slow things up on the Cygnian end.”
“Yes, contact him now, Keyshawn, while we listen in for a few more minutes,” said Gerry. “They seem to’ve just come to an agreement on the cut that Stephen Mudenda gets.”
“As soon as possible,” the lower-pitched Chinese voice was saying. “We do not work through middlemen. We must talk directly to Cygnian Sales Representative.”
“OK, OK, stop pushing, sir! You Chinese can be so rude. This is a polite culture. I will summon the Cygnian Salesman tomorrow. I am too busy making money today. Do you see the people outside my office? Every one of them wants to buy one of these generators. You just want to take my business away.”
“No, no,” said the high-pitched voice. “So wrong. We will expand your business, you make money on every unit, less money, yes, but so many more units. You soon will be a rich man.”
“Hah, I am a rich man already, as of last week, when I sold my fiftieth unit. This is a high-margin business, and I must tell you there are complications if we become a high-volume business instead.”
“Ah, yes,” the lower-pitched voice said, “For example, how do you pay for these units? Does Earth money have any value to them?”
Mr. Mudenda’s voice turned harsh and strained. “I am not telling you that. Give me some time to think. I am reconsidering whether I should introduce you to their Salesman. Go away now.”
The deeper voice spoke. “Yes, Mr. Mudenda, we go away now, but believe me, we come back. And we will.” He raised his voice on the word “will” “We will become distributors of these products. You cannot prevent.”
The Chinese men walked briskly down the stairs, out into the street, and in the direction of downtown. As they walked on the opposite side of the street from Gerry, Elka, and Keyshawn, one of them noticed Elka. He elbowed his companions who all turned and stared at her as they walked, running into several pedestrians as they gawked. They slowed, stopped, talked among themselves for a few seconds, and then turned around, heading directly toward her.
“Uh, oh,” Gerry said. “Here comes trouble. Keyshawn, keep cool, I got a bad feeling about what those guys are thinking.”
Three of the Chinese men held back as they neared Elka, the other two, one short and fat, the other younger, tall, thin, and wearing black-rimmed eyeglasses, came right up to her. The fat man said, “You are very pretty lady. You working here?”
“What do you mean working? What do you want? Just say it.” Elka made no effort to be polite, knowing well their intentions.
“These black men cannot give you good price like us Chinese. We have much money. Come to our hotel. We pay you well.”
Gerry could see the fury in Elka’s eyes and stepped in front of her. “Look, gentlemen, there seems to be a misunderstanding here. We are all businesspeople; in fact, we were hoping to see Mr. Mudenda like you just did. Elka is not a prostitute, and I think it would be appropriate if you apologized to her right now.”
They both took a step back, looked at each other, spoke in Chinese for a minute. The taller, younger man then said, “Oh, we are so sorry. Very rude of us. This is strange culture, we get confused, first time away from China.”
“I accept your apology,” Elka said. “But tell us, how much did you pay for one of those generators? We are curious about the price.”
Gerry was impressed by Elka’s adaptability. What better time to get the Chinese talking than when they were feeling contrite?
“Oh, we discuss distribution plan,” said the fat man, who was the deeper voice they’d heard earlier. “Mr. Mudenda cannot meet market demand, as you can see. Many people try get in to see him. We can meet demand, much more capability. Maybe you want to work with us instead? Be our first customers as soon as we get distribution deal.”
“We’ll take that under consideration,” said Gerry. “Do you represent a government agency or a private company, gentlemen?”
“We are private company, but with government aspects. Very Chinese.”
“Yes, I understand. Could we perhaps exchange cards? I think you might find mine interesting, especially if you know where these generators are built.”
“Oh, you know this?” asked the taller man. Gerry handed him his card. The man’s face transformed from relaxed to shocked as he showed the card to his shorter companion.
“Dr. Landis, an honor to meet you,” said the shorter, fat man in suddenly better English. “We are well aware of your papers on the subject of fusion power, and well, what can I say to you, this is awkward—”
“Yes,” Gerry said, “you aren’t who you claim to be. I don’t suppose your business cards would tell us who you really are either. So, who are you... really?”
“Dr. Landis,” said the taller man, “Allow us to discuss this for a moment. The other three men over there don’t speak English.”
They walked across the street to where the three other Chinese men stood. Elka motioned to Gerry and Keyshawn to draw closer. “There’s something I don’t like about those guys. We should be ready for anything,” she whispered, “Be ready to use the coordinated defense maneuvers I taught you. I’ll either shout out a number, or drop my hand down and indicate a number if it looks like we will need to fight.”
They nodded. By now the two English-speaking Chinese men were walking back toward them. The tall thin one smiled, attempting to convey friendliness, but failing to conceal something sinister as he said, “Please join us for lunch at our hotel. We have a private room we use. Very good for confidential conversation.”
He paused a moment then said, “I should introduce. I am Mr. Shih, and my friend here is Mr. Wu.” He pointed at the short fat man. “Those other three, over there, they will not join us. They have other business.”
Copyright © 2019 by Bill Kowaleski