â€œThe fact remains, ladies and gentlemen, we have to meet the Geert price,â€ Fawzia Chiranov said. â€œWe ought to do better than the Geert price, but due to the nature of our company, weâ€™ll probably get by merely with meeting them. But I will tell you this, we lose this bid, we lose the planet.â€
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.
â€œYou mean, weâ€™ll lose the contract.â€ 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. â€œWeâ€™ll lose the bid. Weâ€™ll get â€˜em next time.â€
â€œNo,â€ Fawzia said. â€œWe wonâ€™t. There wonâ€™t be a next time. We lose this bid, weâ€™re finished. The Geert will have control of the Earth.â€
â€œI think youâ€™re being a little too xenophobic, Ms. Chiranov,â€ 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. â€œThe Geert are shrewd businessmen, but they arenâ€™t out to take over the world!â€
The board laughed at this. Fawzia only scowled.
â€œThat 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. Weâ€™re one of the last ones, and if Aczel Interplanetary falls, the Geert will control the commerce and economy of the people of Earth.â€
â€œHow could they have done this?â€ 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.
â€œBy 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. Theyâ€™ve done this on a dozen worlds already.â€
â€œWhat do you suppose we do?â€ Afifi asked. â€œWeâ€™re bidding as low as we can. How can we hope to compete?â€
â€œWe stop paying our workers,â€ Fawzia said. â€œWe stop paying them, we work them day and night, and we provided them with only the most basic nutrition.â€
â€œYouâ€™re talking slavery,â€ Afifi huffed.
â€œIâ€™m talking of the only defense from slavery. We donâ€™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.â€
â€œIt canâ€™t just be down to us,â€ Han said, her voice quavering. â€œWhat about Calaerts? Ghenadie Tech? Easwarau?â€
â€œCalaerts is three months away from filing bankruptcy,â€ Fawzia said. â€œGhenadie Tech is being forced into a plan which will downsize them considerably, and itâ€™s only a matter of time before they are absorbed by a larger Geert corporation. And Easwarauâ€”â€
Ruzhan cut her off. â€œEaswarau was bought outright by the Geert. Saw it on the feed this morning.â€ Fawzia nodded. â€œSend out a memo to our employees. Weâ€™re following Ms. Chiranovâ€™s suggestions to the letter.â€
â€œTheyâ€™ll never go for it,â€ Afifi said. â€œTheyâ€™ll riot.â€
â€œTheyâ€™ll go along with the plan,â€ Fawzia said. â€œJust remind them their freedom is at stake.â€