"I must say, Mr. President," the bearded man said, "those weapon demonstrations were rather impressive. But I'm more interested in the armor that you promised us."
Orion smiled. "I'm more than happy to show that to you, Field Commander. Come, follow me." They left the weapons testing bunker and walked over to another one nearby. After seven years of hard work, Genesis Industries had grown to the size of a small country. Orion's company owned thousands of acres for its industrial plants and to house its workers; it employed more men and women than any other company worldwide--excepting military installations, of course. Genesis Industries even had a small defense force of its own to drive off spies, saboteurs, and drunk teenagers.
A sign outside of the armor testing bunker read "Loud guns firing when lights flashing," and the man in the crimson combat uniform nodded at it as they entered the facility. Inside was another shooting range, similar to the one in the weapons testing bunker.
"This," Orion explained, holding up a machine gun, "is the most commonly used weapon on the planet. The ETC, Jittarians, and even your Flame Dawn use it in vast quantities. It has been the dominant and most powerful infantry firearm on the market." He smiled. "Until now." Orion put on a pair of goggles and headphones to dampen the noise.
The Flame Dawn representative crossed his arms, unimpressed. "I know what that weapon does, Mr. President. As you say, it's the most commonly used weapon on the planet."
Orion gestured across the shooting range. "That's a set of our latest body armor," he explained. The armor shone, unpainted metal reflecting the lights in the bunker. "It came off the production line this morning." Aiming the gun, Orion pulled the trigger. There was a loud report followed by a clang.
The uniformed man glanced at the armor. There was a line gouged in the shoulder where the bullet had been deflected. "Hmph," he said. "Let me try." He grabbed the gun from Orion, sighted along the scope, and fired again. The bullet hit the breastplate right in the center and bounced off, leaving a small dent.
"As you can see," Orion said, smiling, "Our body armor is proof against the most commonly used weapon. It's relatively light and maneuverable thanks to its design as well. This will give your men an immense advantage, Field Commander Bromich."
Bromich stroked his beard. "Does it come in gold?" he asked, a small smile forming on his face.
"For the Flame Dawn, any color you want," Orion declared. "You want gold leaf or paint? Paint's cheaper."
"I'm sure that the Dawn will spring for the leaf," Bromich said. "Just one more question: will you be selling these weapons and armor to other nations?"
"Genesis Industries sells to anyone who can pay," Orion said carefully. "But I'm sure that an arrangement can be reached with your government to make us into exclusive partners."
"Are you suggesting that the Flame Dawn grant Genesis Industries a monopoly on military equipment?" Bromich asked.
"If you want us to work exclusively with you, it only seems fair that you work exclusively with us." Orion paused. "There's something else, Field Commander."
Bromich's smile disappeared. "My time is valuable, Orion. Every minute I spend here is a minute that I'm away from the field. Speak your piece, and make it quick."
"I completely understand. It's just that Genesis Industries has grown to be so large that it has become somewhat cumbersome to deal with our local government. With the support of the Flame Dawn, however, we could easily declare our independence and become a sovereign, allied nation."
"Done," Bromich said. "Send your terms to my herald and I will sign them. The Flame Dawn hereby agrees to grant Genesis Industries a military monopoly in exchange for exclusive purchasing rights. The Flame Dawn Empire also agrees to sponsor Genesis Industries' status as a sovereign nation. I'll leave the price levels to your expertise, President, but I'm warning you: don't think you can gouge the Dawn. If you do, Aberion will have your eyes gouged out."
Orion swallowed. "Seems fitting. I'll have the paperwork sent to you by tonight."
They shook hands. "I'm pleased to begin this partnership between our nations," Bromich said.
"As am I."
The Field Commander left.
A few yards away, a technician looked up. Sirius flipped up the welding mask that disguised his face. "You're playing with fire, kid."
"I'm hardly a child, Sirius," Orion pointed out. "And I know what I'm doing."
"Do you? By elevating Genesis Industries to statehood you're painting a target on us. Not to mention that now we'll have to deal with all of the politics involved."
"Like we weren't dealing with politics before?"
"Other nations will declare war on us now, you know that. They'll try to seize our plants and technology. We don't have the manpower to fight off an attack, even with the defense force."
"Let them try." Orion tapped his watch and it projected a 3-D blueprint. "This is the latest combat robot design. It's been in production for three weeks."
"You've been planning this for a while, haven't you? Of course."
"As soon as we announce our sovereignty, our first battle group is going to seize Neon's city hall. Another group is going to take control of Lanstead. Every one of our local plants has a force at the ready."
"It's the most efficient way," Orion said, shrugging. "We're already the number 1 landowner and employer on the continent, so we're taking over less than you would think. Just government centers."
"And how about when the Flame Dawn eventually declares war on us? Did you think of that?"
"They won't for as long as we sell them weapons and armor. At least, not until all of the other countries have been conquered."
"Do you think they'll really do that?"
Orion nodded. "With our weapons, I know they will."
"You're creating a monster."
"It's a leashed monster, and I didn't exactly create the Flame Dawn. If we hadn't allied with them, they would have conquered us anyway and absorbed us into their own military-industrial complex. This way at least, we have power in the relationship."
"And what happens when your leashed monster decides to bite the hand that feeds it?" Sirius asked.
Orion reached over and grabbed a gun from the weapon rack. This was a different model from the previous one--a Genesis model. He took aim and fired.
There was a smoking hole in the center of the suit of armor.
"If Aberion is so foolish as to attack us and Bromich actually lets him, then we'll be ready."
It had been a long time since Sirius Malcolm had signed on as Genesis Industries' first employee. He'd gone bald young and was only consoled by nursing a large moustache. He'd put on weight and had picked up a limp from an explosion while wiring a prototype of a jetpack. His hair had begun to gray.
Maybe I should retire, he thought as he limped into Orion's office. I'm getting too old for this.
Orion looked up as he walked in and smiled, reminding Sirius of the excited child who had hired him all those decades ago. "Sirius," he said warmly, rising from his chair. "Take a seat. Please."
The engineer nodded and gratefully took the offered seat. Orion sat down as well. "Tell me, my friend, what brings you here today? Some of those younger mechanics giving you any trouble?"
Sirius shook his head. Orion had grown over the years, but little had changed. He was still calculating and confident. His mind still raced along at the speed of light. But the man who sat before him was much better at hiding it than the boy had been. His eyes met Sirius' and stayed there instead of wandering around the room. The notepad was hidden in a top desk-drawer for once guests had departed.
"They did it, Orion," Sirius finally said. "The Flame Dawn declared war."
Orion frowned for a moment, then hid it. "So soon?"
Sirius nodded. "Their embassy closed up shop this morning. A herald arrived shortly after they were gone. Satellite images show troop movements around Pyr."
"Hmm. Well then, looks like we'll just have to fight them." He swept items off of his desk with his arm, revealing a digital map. "Evacuate the northern territories closest to the border and Pyr. Have the Defense Forces stage a few holding actions and try to draw them in. Extend their supply lines to the breaking point, harry them, you know the plan." He paused. "Puffy! Fortifications around Lanstead aren't complete yet! I honestly expected them to wait longer." And then the sudden outburst of emotion was gone. "No matter. We'll hold them off, force them to come to terms."
Sirius nodded. "That was the plan."
"Say, any news from the team leader working on those teleporters? Aleta, I believe."
"She's been tinkering with them, but no significant progress. They're still highly unstable."
"Have her see if we can rig them as traps. Might be able to swallow up whole groups of soldiers without even fighting them."
"I'll do that," Sirius said. He stood up to leave, then sighed. "Listen, Orion. Can we pull this off? I need to know what we're getting into."
Orion looked at him, his eyes focused and his gaze stronger than steel. "We can do this, Sirius. If we work hard and stick to the plan, we can hold off the Flame Dawn until they're spent. Are you ready to get to work?"
Sirius smiled, reassured. "I'm ready to start working right now, Mr. Orion."