“The fact remains, ladies and gentlemen, we have to meet the Geert price,” Fawzia Chiranov said. “We ought to do better than the Geert price, but due to the nature of our company, we’ll probably get by merely with meeting them. But I will tell you this, we lose this bid, we lose the planet.”

Naturally, this was scoffed at. Fawzia was used to this. She charged a great deal for her opinions and consultations, and she was paid for them because she was always right.

“You mean, we’ll lose the contract.” Usamah Afifi had a tendency to bob his shriveled bald head when he talked. Fawzia found it difficult to look at him and not to picture a turtle in a Brooks Brothers suit. “We’ll lose the bid. We’ll get ‘em next time.”

“No,” Fawzia said. “We won’t. There won’t be a next time. We lose this bid, we’re finished. The Geert will have control of the Earth.”

“I think you’re being a little too xenophobic, Ms. Chiranov,” said Eugeny Ruzhan from the head of the table. Ruzhan was considered a war hero; he had designed the robot that won the Kasi War. He still wore his medal pinned to the front of his coat, though the Kasi War had been over long before Fawzia was born. “The Geert are shrewd businessmen, but they aren’t out to take over the world!”

The board laughed at this. Fawzia only scowled.

“That is where you are wrong, Mr. Ruzhan. The Geert are a conquering people. We forget what that means, these days. But they are. They have been buying up and sending out of business Earthan companies for the past few years. We’re one of the last ones, and if Aczel Interplanetary falls, the Geert will control the commerce and economy of the people of Earth.”

“How could they have done this?” Jit Shiew Han asked. She had recently had her face redone, and she looked younger than Fawzia, despite being twice her age. It made it difficult for Fawzia to take her seriously.

“By being single-minded on a cultural level. Despite the appearance of multiple Geert industries, they all have the same goal: overrun a planet, absorb its workforce as slaves, move on to the next. They’ve done this on a dozen worlds already.”

“What do you suppose we do?” Afifi asked. “We’re bidding as low as we can. How can we hope to compete?”

“We stop paying our workers,” Fawzia said. “We stop paying them, we work them day and night, and we provided them with only the most basic nutrition.”

“You’re talking slavery,” Afifi huffed.

“I’m talking of the only defense from slavery. We don’t do this, we lose this contract, there will not be another. Which means it will only be a matter of time before this board reports to Geert masters.”

“It can’t just be down to us,” Han said, her voice quavering. “What about Calaerts? Ghenadie Tech? Easwarau?”

“Calaerts is three months away from filing bankruptcy,” Fawzia said. “Ghenadie Tech is being forced into a plan which will downsize them considerably, and it’s only a matter of time before they are absorbed by a larger Geert corporation. And Easwarau—”

Ruzhan cut her off. “Easwarau was bought outright by the Geert. Saw it on the feed this morning.” Fawzia nodded. “Send out a memo to our employees. We’re following Ms. Chiranov’s suggestions to the letter.”

“They’ll never go for it,” Afifi said. “They’ll riot.”

“They’ll go along with the plan,” Fawzia said. “Just remind them their freedom is at stake.”