"A phoenix? Fairy tale nonsense!" said the oldest nomad chief as he slammed a cybernetic metal fist onto the table with a loud clang. "You've gone mad, Casimir. We trusted you to handle all our shipments in this area, and now you have nothing. Only enemies.
You expect us to bet on this…this boy!?"
"Technically, that is not fairy tale, but mythology. And you all have trusted my judgement before," said Casimir. "Especially you, Gerald. And luck has always been on my side. You would be wise to bet with me, not against me.""
"Bet?" Another chieftain, a dark skinned man with dreadlocks reaching down to his neck, shook his head as he stared at Casimir with striking golden eyes. "I don't like risk. The biggest one I took was when you approached us twenty years ago with almost nothing to your name, asking for our help to build your empire.
Back then, I was not a chief. I was younger and more ambitious. Now, I have people whose lives hang on every word and decision I make.
You will have to do very, very well to convince me to support you."
Aldrich noticed that most of the chiefs were ignoring him. They focused on Casimir, likely believing him the true mastermind for all this. In no small part, they likely underestimated Aldrich due to his age and his unknown status.
The only one, Aldrich noted with his sharp gaze, that paid him heed was the mask wearing woman and a bulky man with bull's horns jutting from his head. Notably, they were both the youngest in the group, not much older than thirty.
Regardless, Aldrich needed to make an impression. And set the record straight.
"I see we've started off on the wrong foot," said Aldrich with a sigh. "My apologies."
"Your apologies mean nothing," said Gerald dismissively. He turned to Casimir again . "Twenty years, we built up this network, and now, it's all gone in a single night. So many decades wasted just like that."
"What I mean when we started off on the wrong foot-," said Aldrich, his voice maintaining an edge that made everyone pay attention to him. "Is that you all seem to be misunderstanding the nature of this meeting.
You see, I'm not here to negotiate with you. You're here to negotiate with me. I'm here to see which of you are capable of working together with me as I build something far bigger than what you can ever dream of."
Gerald's face darkened. It was evident he did not like being talked down to. "What!? Do you understand the position you are in? You have absolutely nothing-,"
"And who decided that?" said Aldrich. "I have under my beck and call Thanatos, a figure with a power so rare that every government worth a damn, every corporation, is willing to scramble to recruit him. The Dark Six, too, no doubt have their eyes on him."
The bull horned man burst out into laughter. It was not mocking laughter, rather, he was truly entertained. "To talk to us like that, you've got guts! And I admire that. The fossils around me might not listen to you, but I'll bite: if I do decide to work with you, what am I getting myself into?"
"To begin with, we have no idea if Thanatos is even with him!" protested Gerard.
"You are being willfully blind," said the masked woman. She leered at Gerard with admonishing purple eyes. "Casimir has brought Thanatos's forces with him. Do you think Thanatos would do that if Casimir, and, by extension, Mr. Vane here did not have his full trust?"
"You, Zena, you support this…this upstart?" said Gerard.
"Support? No. Not yet. But I am not against it. What I am against is putting my people in danger," said Zena, and the dark skinned chief nodded.
"Enough with the side chatter," said the bull horned chief. "I want to hear from the man himself."
"Thanatos will establish a sentinel state using the currently torn down Haven as his main jurisdiction," said Aldrich. "You all already used Haven to ferry your goods, relying on Casimir to be your distributor.
However, you do all this under constant threat of capture and surveillance. No doubt, most, if not all of you have bounties on your head.
But if you affiliate with a sentinel state, you essentially have an entire government backing you. You would be under my protection. To harm you or your operations would be akin to harming me.
There would be retaliation. And you've already seen the army that Thanatos can field. There's far, far more where that came from."
"Haven is a ruin," countered Gerard, taking Aldrich more seriously now.
"Cities can always be rebuilt. There will be no shortage of companies willing to build it back if they think they can have Thanatos on their side," said Aldrich.
"There are only so many entities you can make deals with. You make a deal with one, you lose deals with others. And most of us nomads deeply distrust corps," said the dark skinned chief. "Many of us are here because we left corp control. Or we are refugees from the Corpowars, as is the case with myself."
"Casimir has managed to smooth out relations between you, villain organizations, and corporations with his diplomatic skill. That was how he built so much up in the first place.
That was why you all supported him to begin with. He still has those skills," said Aldrich.
"What about the Dark Six?" said the bull horned chief. "You gonna fight them too? Cause they're real pissed off to the point I think a little talking ain't gonna do the trick."
"And, if my intel is correct, the Dark Six is trying to take over Haven as well to salvage their Blackwater project," said Zena. "If Thanatos wants to do this, he would be competing directly with the Dark Six, and they have companies and influence of their own."
This was true, thought Aldrich. If the Dark Six were against him acquiring Haven, then he needed to basically enter into a bidding war against their collective resources, and they had quite a few decently sized companies and politicians under their thumb.
"Ah yes, but not the backing of a Council of Fortune member, no?" remarked Casimir.
The room fell silent. That was how influential the Council of Fortune was. As a combined power, the Council of Fortune was a global superpower easily on par with the Panopticon and Alterhuman Agency.
A single one of its council member companies had the resources to fuel a large scale war as the Corpowars and the millions dead from them showcased.
The companies the Dark Six owned were plenty, but none of them compared to a legitimate Council of Fortune member.
"Aarav Singh, possible next heir of Sheshanaga Biotechnology, has publicly voiced his desire to invest heavily into Haven, pledging specifically to aid Thanatos in his declaration to rebuild the variant torn city," said Casimir.
"…When was this?" said Gerard, his anger gone and voice now reduced to quiet.
Blanca looked up from her tablet and casually declared, "Ten minutes ago."
Aldrich smiled internally as he watched the silent and shocked expressions on the chiefs' faces. He had been wondering whether Aarav would make good on his word. Looked like the man would be as useful as he claimed to be.