Chapter 219 Negotiating with the Chiefs 3Aldrich leaned forward, taking a look at every one of the chiefs. He analyzed them closely, reading their eyes and body language, gaging just how committed they were.
Clint, obviously seemed to be all in. He had a wide smile plastered on his rugged face. He was honest, easy to read, and incredibly straightforward. When he said he was in on Aldrich, he was not lying.
Gerard was a little more reserved. Notably, he was fidgety, moving his hands very often, but not really because he was guilty about anything. He probably just did this as a minor tic when talking about something serious. He seemed to be a grumply old man on the exterior, but rather soft on the inside.
Though Gerard had voiced the most loud opposition against Aldrich, Aldrich did not consider Gerard opposition. The old man just wanted security that Aldrich could deliver on anything he promised, and that was completely reasonable.
Z seemed neutral, if a bit positively inclined. She was the hardest to read out of all of them, her sharp lavender eyes matching Aldrich’s own analytical gaze.
Desmond, too, when he was in this meeting, had been difficult to read. Even more so than Z. Even more so than even Solomon Solar. His body language was stiff but not aggressive. His eyes were serious yet not threatening. His voice never leaked much emotion, the only exception being when Clint brought Desmond’s father.
Desmond had been trained to not give away anything. And people like that were dangerous. Aldrich knew this because he was one of those people. One did not learn to hide themselves away like that unless they had a very good reason to.
In Aldrich’s case, it was because he had wanted to master the art of infiltration. In Desmond’s case, well, who knew?
The other two chieftains were, for now, completely neutral. Stone said he would just go with the majority. Crone was asleep, so she was a complete wild card.
That meant out of the five chiefs, one was for Aldrich, three neutral, one against, and one unknown.
Of the three neutral opinions, two – Z and Gerard – Aldrich could sway by obtaining sentinel statehood.
”In the end, then, this all lies on Thanatos obtaining sentinel statehood over Haven, doesn’t it?” said Aldrich.
”Summed up, yes,” said Z. “Sentinel statehood has not existed since the age of the Altering. The powers that be love to maintain control. Sentinel statehood is a sign of independence that flies directly against that. Though, with a fortune heir, it may well be possible.”
”You don’t know that,” countered Gerard. “Last I heard, they locked Thanatos up. The Panop and the government are on extreme alert, and who can blame them? The recent variant attacks have thrown the whole damn world into chaos.
The fortune are a force to be reckoned with, but Aarav Singh is just a heir. Powerful he might be in his own right, he isn’t the head of Sheshanaga. That’s his father.
Now, if Aarav had his father’s backing, things might be different.”
”He does,” said Aldrich.
”…Are you sure, boy?” said Gerard. “Sheshanaga really is willing to commit to you? The entire megacorporation? They’re willing to make an enemy out of the Dark Six? Be in shaky standing with the U.S. government and the Panopticon?”
”You’ll find out soon enough,” said Aldrich. “But even if Aarav didn’t have his father’s backing, as far as I’m aware, his company is the largest subsidiary that Sheshanaga holds. His voice is the largest there out of all the other potential heirs.”
”It still may not be enough is our cause for concern,” said Z. “And say that all this goes well. What do you want from us?”
”Everything you provided Casimir, for one,” said Aldrich. “Fast, efficient, and untrackable supply routes for contraband. Access to technology that can fool even high tier city security. Access to nomads that have both the power and expertise to hijack even this entire war machine right under the nose of Imugi, a fortune megacorp. The usual.
When Thanatos obtains sentinel statehood, Haven will need trade and supply routes. I’m sure corporations can cover the official ones. But the ‘unofficial’ ones are just as important, and that’s where you all come in.”
”I got ya covered with the heists. That’s the job for me and my boys!” said Clint.
”And?” said Z. “You said ‘for one’. You want more, don’t you?”
”I’m not entirely familiar with you nomads,” said Aldrich. “But as far as I’m aware, you all know how to navigate the Wastelands better than anyone.
The AA and Panopticon can track the location of variant nests because they’re stationary. But they can’t easily track variants that fade in and out of geostorms.
I want you to help me locate them.”
Gerard crossed his arms. “My Hawks handle most of the scouting. But I don’t want to commit much to you unless I know for sure you can guarantee our safety from the Dark Six.”
”Fair enough,” said Aldrich.
”If this hypothetical partnership went through,” said Z. “It would be a symbiotic relationship. Once Haven stabilizes, we would expect support from it as well.
Not just protection from the Dark Six – that’s a basic given for me and Gerard to consider officially partnering with you. But I would also ask for access to resources that only a city can get. Parts and tech and manpower that are hard to come by in the Wastes.”
”Done,” said Aldrich.
In terms of sheer competency, Aldrich held the nomads in high regard. He had thought about partnering with them the moment he found out that Casimir’s Kryptic had come from them.
”To be honest, boy, this still isn’t convincing,” said Gerard. “A fair amount of our business already comes from the Dark Six. You’d be asking us to give that all up AND make them enemies.”
This was a decent point, Aldrich acknowledged. But he had been prepared to answer it by saying that the benefits of working with him outweighed the Dark Six.
Yet this was where Casimir chimed in. “Gerard, my good old friend, what ever are you talking about? The Dark Six have already stopped business with you, have they not? Ever since my rather flamboyant exit, that is.
Yes, it has only been just over a day, but the Dark Six have severed communications with all of you, I presume. Not quite promising for future dealings, no?”
The silence in the room gave all the answer Aldrich and Casimir needed.
”You want to approach Mr. Vane here because all of you are uncertain and afraid. What if the Dark Six is already against you? Then you need another option, do you not?” said Casimir. “It is only natural for humans to seek stability in times of uncertainty.
But the way you talk, it seems almost like the Dark Six are still doing business with you. You are not bluffing, are you?”
”…How did you know that?” said Gerard.
”You all were my dearest partners, my firsts,” said Casimir as he put a hand over his heart. “But as I grew, so did my network. I still have informants deeply loyal to me across the underworld that keep abreast of the situation.”
”You really are a snake,” said Gerard with a shake of his head. “You knew all along we were at the back foot of this negotiation, and you bring it down on us now?”
”I had to make sure a certain unstable element was out of the room first,” said Casimir, referring to Desmond. “For I do trust all of you. All aside from dear old Desmond who is just so unfathomably reserved.
And, for the most part, I truly do not like those that do not express themselves properly like that.”
Aldrich himself was surprised. He did not know the Dark Six had already cut off the nomads. That meant the nomads were in a far more desperate situation than he originally thought. And it also meant that Casimir had kept that information from Aldrich.
Aldrich did not believe Casimir to have done it out of any ill will. Most likely, he figured Casimir was still probing out whether Aldrich was competent, and he did not really mind that. And now that Casimir had thrown Aldrich the ball, it was up to him to score the goal.
”That boils down this negotiation to very simple terms, then,” said Aldrich. “Either you work with me, or you’re left out alone, wondering whether the Dark Six is out to get you. Of course, you could try and reach out to them again, but it isn’t a certainty that they’ll work with you again, is it?
What I’m providing is certainty. The fact that I know you all are in a more desperate situation than I thought isn’t going to change my terms. I’ll still generously provide for you and secure your peoples’ safeties.”
”You think we can’t handle ourselves?” said Gerard. He was shaken, but he still held his ground. “We’ve roamed the Wastelands for generations now! We can go solo just fine.”
”Solo?” said Casimir. “And how many of your people are you willing to cut out for it? Your riders number so many because you have resources coming into you from the Dark Six and more, don’t you?
But if you go solo, will you not have to downsize?”
”…” Gerard sighed. “Yeah. You’re right. I guess this old man’s gotta say yes.”