Woof, woof

Tough Negotiator
by George Schaade ©2012

General Fujimoro leaned forward and began a closer examination of his opponent. Across the table was a contradiction. The man was obviously younger than his long white hair and classic Roman nose would have one think. His clothes and manner were that of a sophisticated man of wealth and power; yet he backed the cause of the common man . . .or so he claimed. What would a man like Charles Holbart hope to gain from these negotiations?

The general’s stare met that of Holbart and their eyes locked. In those eyes Fujimoro saw confidence, strength, mystery, and . . .evil?

Holbart’s stare lowered and Fujimoro followed it to his own hands and suddenly realized he was nervously playing with his ring. The general quickly leaned back and spoke to break the spell.

“Mr. Holbart, the Confederation needs some type of assurance that the attacks on transport ships will end.”

Holbart folded his hands in front of him. “General Fujimoro, I am the representative for people that load, maintain, and fly those transport ships. We only want a fair share of the huge profits that the companies are making.” He opened his hands. “As for the raids on starships in the space lanes, why would you think that I have any control over that?”

Fujimoro had known from the first day of negotiations that this would be the sticking point. He had tried to avoid it for as long as he could in hopes that he could get some small concessions before having to lock horns with Holbart on this issue.

“The pirates are former pilots and crewmen that have turned on their employers and the Confederation. We believe you do have an influence on them and you must stop the attacks before we can begin to negotiate wages or benefits. We must have that assurance or there is no reason for us to be here. Everyone on this side of the table is adamant about that.”

The general was putting Holbart on the spot. If he made any guarantees, Holbart would be admitting complicity with the pirates and rebels that plagued the ships carrying goods between the stars. If he gave them no promises, the Confederation’s delegates would walk and Holbart’s side would get nothing.

The problem didn’t seem to faze Holbart. A brief glance at the corporate reps that sat with the general told Holbart what he already suspected. The transport companies were going to follow the lead of the government, even if it meant a continuation of their financial losses.

Holbart motioned to his aide, Philip, who quickly approached and listened intently as Holbart whispered in his ear. As the private conversation ended, Holbart said, “General, let’s take a short break and, might I suggest, that you join me in the garden for a little walk.”

Fujimoro allowed himself a slight smile. He felt he had put Holbart on the defensive and an unofficial mediation might find some common ground. “Of course, Mr. Holbart. I’ve heard wonderful things about your garden here on Crista. And for the record, you and your staff have been perfect hosts.” The general gave a courteous nod and a soft, “Thank you.”

Silently negotiators and representatives at the table pushed back their chairs and broke into small groups. Holbart crossed to the other side of the table and ushered the general through some sliding doors, onto a terrace, and finally into a lush green garden dotted with colorful and exotic plants.

The two men strolled among the plants with Fujimoro occasionally stopping to give a flower or vine a closer examination.

“I’m very impressed, Mr. Holbart. I’m a bit of a horticulturalist myself,” said the general. “My ancestors on Earth were very skilled at propagating and growing plants.”

“Then you can appreciate this.” Holbart pointed to a small mound of fine dirt.

“Ants!” Fujimoro said with amazement.

“Yes, this whole garden is naturally maintained. In other areas you’ll find bees and butterflies.”

“You’re a most interesting man, Mr. Holbart. You’re obviously very intelligent and cultured, and some say that you’re the richest man in the universe; yet you defend rebels and pirates. Why?”

They walked in silence for a while, and then finally Holbart spoke.

“Some people believe that wealth is the answer to all their problems and that once they have it they’ll be satisfied with life. But after they become rich beyond their dreams they discover that there’s something else they want.”

A look of disgust came on the general’s face. “Power.”

“There’s nothing wrong with power, general. It all depends on how it’s used.” Holbart stopped and looked coldly at Fujimoro. “If a man has wealth and power, what does he want beyond that?”

Fujimoro’s mind suddenly recoiled at the heartlessness in Holbart’s eyes. The general was jolted into realizing that Holbart was much more than rich. Holbart was far more powerful than the general had given him credit.

“Beyond money and power?” mumbled Fujimoro.

Holbart turned and lead them through a small grove of fruit trees.

“Beyond power a man would want to change the course of history. He would want to direct the destiny of mankind. He would want to shape the future for all who come after him.”

The general began to wonder if he was dealing with an egomaniac. “And you’re that person?”

“The ant colony works so efficiently, don’t you think? Every individual exists solely to serve the good of the whole. Without hesitation an ant would give up its life to benefit the colony. Very efficient. Very pure. Very natural.”

“Is that your vision? A universe of ants?”

Holbart and Fujimoro walked out of the trees and into an open area. A stone path lead to a cliff with a sheer drop into a huge canyon.

“It’s the vision of more people than you can imagine.”

The pieces fell together for Fujimoro. “It’s you, isn’t it? You’re the one behind all of this. The strikes, the pirates, the rebellions. All for some crazy dream. Well, people aren’t ants, they’re individuals with emotions and goals of their own. I don’t care how much money or power you have. You can’t force people to subscribe to your idea of the future. There’s plenty of people like me that will never let it happen.”

Holbart stared calmly at the majestic beauty of the canyon. The multicolored layers of rock showed the eons of change . . .some long; some short, but always changing.

“I anticipated your staunch resistance. I’ve studied you, general. Your obsession with your Asian heritage, your interest in gardening, your unwavering devotion to the Confederation, and most of all, your military acumen. You’re a brilliant military strategist. A major obstacle to my vision.”

Raising one eyebrow, Fujimoro asked, “So, you plan to assassinate me?”

“No, that would be a mistake. I don’t want any martyrs.”

“Then what?”

Holbart turned to Fujimoro. A gust of wind blew strands of white hair across his face. Holbart’s expression was placid, but his eyes were penetrating.

“Do you know Daniel Tarsa?”

“A rebel leader that we arrested a couple of months ago. He’s been going through intensive interrogation.”

“More like torture,” said Holbart. “Soon after you left for this conference, Daniel confessed to working with the pirates and implicated you as a co-conspirator.”

Fujimoro gave a short laugh of disgust. “That’s it? A treasonous criminal claiming I’m involved?”

Holbart was unfazed and even gave the general a sinister smile. “No, that’s only the beginning. The scope of our influence is much greater than you think. Our operatives have been in place for a very long time and now it’s time to activate them. For over a year Benj Conway has been changing information in your military and personal files.”

The general was markedly stunned. “Conway? The Deputy Secretary? Impossible! His loyalty is unquestionable. You’re playing me for a fool, Holbart, and I won’t have it!”

“What good is a spy that people suspect?” Holbart paused, letting the question hang in the air. “Benj has given us vital information about your troop movements, shipping routes, and propaganda strategy; but most importantly is what he’s put in your secure files. Once those files are opened everything there will point to you as the leader of a coup. It’s all been laid out very carefully, general. There’s no escaping it.”

With obvious nervousness, Fujimoro tried to muster a show of anger. “Once I get my hands on Benj Conway, I’ll squeeze the truth out of him.”

Holbart shook his head. “Conway is dead. Before committing suicide, he wrote a very moving note confessing how the two of you had conspired to arm the pirates, disrupt the economy, and overthrow the government.”

“Suicide? Why?”

Glancing over his shoulder toward the garden, Holbart replied, “Remember the ants? Conway sacrificed himself for the good of the rest of us. Besides everyone believes the last words of a suicide victim. I’m sorry, general, but you were just too much of a threat to the cause.”

Fujimoro stared vacantly across the canyon. On the far side he could see a patch of dark clouds drifting near the edge of the abyss. Thoughts and emotions began to build to a swell. A tidal wave of fear, anger, grief, sorrow, and agony crashed across his mind. Everything he worked for; everything he believed in had suddenly vanished.

“General,” Holbart said. Fujimoro slowly turned to Holbart.

“The government has already sent an order for your arrest.” Holbart looked back to the garden. Philip was standing at the edge of the grove of fruit trees; with him were three army officers.

As Fujimoro followed Holbart’s gaze, the officers stiffened their stance and stared back at the two negotiators. One of the officers put his hand on the gun at his hip.

“You’ll be put on trial for treason and executed.” Holbart spoke in a soft, calm voice but the words were stark and foreboding. “You’ll become the most hated, despised man in human history, general. The grand traitor that turned on his government and his military comrades not for a political ideal but for money and power. All of mankind will be disgusted by what they learn about you. Centuries from now school children will read about you and their hearts will be filled with the same loathing that people will have in this time. Your very name may become a curse that men use against their most hated enemy.”

Holbart paused and ever so softly said, “And then there’s your family. The disgrace will haunt them the rest of their lives.”

The general’s eyes were glazed; his breath was shallow. When he spoke the words stumbled out. “What . . .what can I do?”

“Look to your heritage for an answer, “ said Holbart, as his eyes moved from Fujimoro’s horrified face to look over the edge of the cliff and deep into the canyon below. “There is some salvation in doing the honorable thing.”

The general understood.

Holbart turned silently and began walking back to the garden. Halfway to the trees he saw the soldiers suddenly startle and then lurch forward in a run. They raced past Holbart while Philip pulled up beside him.

“What . . .” began Philip, his voice full of astonishment.

Holbart placidly cut him off. “An excellent job, Philip. You had the officers here just at the right time. Now, I need for you to prepare all the data we have on Benj Conway. I’m sure the Confederation will send him as a replacement negotiator and I want to be ready.”

Philip pointed frantically to the cliff. “The general . . .what happened?”

Holbart turned and saw the officers staring down into the canyon.

“I suppose he jumped to conclusions.”

x x x

Shaggy-dog tales are rarely so well rendered or so appropriately ended. I hope you enjoyed this one as much as I and got the same wry smile at its finish. If so (or if not), tell us about it on our BBS. - GM

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