Steven Peckard looked at his watch quite deliberately as Tom Brady entered the room and hurried to the only remaining seat at the table.
'Mr. Brady, I trust you didn't have another run-in with the ladies of Reliant?' Peckard asked. The room chuckled. Brady just smiled.
'Gentlemen,' Peckard officially began, looking over the group of elegantly dressed Minervan powerbrokers, 'I want to thank you all for coming. I've been consulting with most of you for several years now, and I'm sure most of you have interacted with each other in the past, but I thought it would be helpful for us all to get together in the same room and talk.'
'One well-placed bomb and the CIA could sleep at night,' Paul Kennedy cracked. Some of the men laughed.
'That's a very valid concern, Mr. Kennedy,' Peckard answered, with no amusement. 'I assure you, I have had the finest security teams assembled for the protection of my own person, as well as my company and its assets.'
Peckard paused and pulled out a manila folder. He walked over to Kennedy and placed it in front of him.
'Your joke is rather ironic,' Peckard continued, 'inasmuch as no fewer than four of your Railworker union members are CIA informants.'
The grin vanished from Kennedy's face, and the other men became very still.
Peckard retrieved fourteen more manila folders, and placed them in front of the respective men.
'My counterintelligence agents have discovered CIA infiltration in each of your respective firms or unions,' Peckard told the men. 'Gentlemen, we have to get serious. You can no longer concentrate solely on higher dividends for your investors or better dental plans for your workers. With the incorporation of Lotos into Minerva's legal and economic framework, we are now presenting a very real threat to the major governments of the world. We can no longer afford to ignore them. I assure you, they are not ignoring us.'
Peckard returned to his seat. He waited several moments for the men to review the dossiers in their folders.
'How did you obtain this information?' asked Drake Skinner, current head of the Barons, an elite association of airline pilots.
'This first pass was simple enough,' answered Peckard. 'Indeed, without having access to your records, my agencies could do little more. They simply matched the observable lifestyle choices of a random selection of your members'what they drive, where they live, what schools their children attend'against our estimates of their income. When large discrepancies were found, we investigated more closely. The dossiers in your folders are by no means exhaustive; I just want us all to admit that we have a problem.'
'And what exactly do you want us to do about it?' asked Kennedy. 'Have all my men sign a loyalty oath?'
'Of course not, Mr. Kennedy,' Peckard answered, annoyed. 'After all, spies are not averse to lying. But what I have done in my own company, and what I urge each of you to do in yours, is conduct a thorough housecleaning with an eye to security. There is no shortage of excellent consultants in these matters; you have all been provided with a list of my personal recommendations. They can help you identify the points of vulnerability in your organizations, and the steps you can take to remedy them in our so-very-open society.'
* * *
'Those of you who were involved in the Lotosian invasion know that, at that time, I favored a very aggressive strategy, which,' Peckard said with a slight smile, 'turned out to be rather effective. However, in the present situation, I think we must avoid open battle with the industrialized powers at all costs. I'm sure Mr. Kraft and Hutchison agree with me.' Peckard nodded at the heads of Carecoe and Prudence, Minerva's insurance giants.
'Are you expecting an attack?' George Ribald, newly elected president of the Minerva Militia, asked.
'Not at the present time,' Peckard answered. He could see the relief on several faces. As he had hoped, the CIA informants had scared the men. They now seemed much more trusting of his guidance.
'As I'm sure you all know,' Peckard continued, 'the United Nations has passed fifteen resolutions to date condemning certain unsavory practices on our fair island. Now any one of these issues'whether it's child prostitution, narcotics, or money laundering'would probably be enough to whip up the enfranchised masses of the world into a war frenzy. But before that happens, the U.N. will have to go through the motions: They'll slap us with embargoes, then sanctions, then a full blockade, before they can start dropping bombs.'
'Tom, are your boys up to a fight?' Ribald asked Brady.
'Against pirates? Sure. Against the U.S. Navy? Hell no.' Brady had been urged by several of his subordinates'notably Mark Johnson'to arm more of their fleet. Inasmuch as they wanted him to do so simply because he could, he had decided against it. But it was probably time to rethink that decision.
'Well, as I said before,' Peckard said, trying to cheer up the table, 'there won't be an attack anytime soon. And Mr. Feynman's ingenious legal maneuvers will probably get the U.S. occupation forces off of Lotos in a very diplomatic way.'
Edward Feynman smiled. He himself hadn't realized the pleasant side effect of his negotiations with Lugar until after the deal was done.
'Real estate prices are now almost as high in Lotos as they are here in Minerva,' Peckard explained. 'My guess is that within the next five years, the Marines won't be able to afford their occupation. Granted, they'll undoubtedly station a carrier nearby, but I cannot stress how much the Lotosian coup has helped us.'
'So what's the plan, then?' Ribald asked, becoming impatient. 'We just fire our traitors, then sit back and let the problem fix itself?'
'Not exactly,' Peckard said. If nothing else, the blue collar types got to the point. 'We need to make sure that the United States and any other imperialist powers realize that a war against Minerva would be prohibitively costly. As the entire world now knows, any ground assault would be disastrous; no army will ever take the island.'
'But that still leaves air and sea,' Ribald objected.
'True enough,' Peckard admitted. 'And to that end, I personally have already taken some timid steps. Over the past two years, I've invested a few million doll'several thousand ounces in R&D for surface-to-air missiles, antiship cruise missiles, coastal mines, and so on. In conjunction with Mr. Maynard,' Peckard paused to nod at the CEO of GemStar, the industry leader, 'we've even deployed a few prototypes of reconnaissance and combat satellites.'
'Gentlemen, please relax,' Feynman interjected as the murmurs grew louder. 'I have worked closely with Mr. Peckard at each step of the way, to ensure that all of this is perfectly legal.'
'As I said,' Peckard resumed, 'what we have accomplished so far is rather preliminary. In order to mount a true deterrent to a U.N. coalition, we will need to invest hundreds of millions of ounces over the next decade.'
The murmurs returned. 'I just laid off fifty people.' 'Are my competitors investing in missiles?' 'How do we even know what we're buying?' 'I suppose you will oversee the investments?'
'Gentlemen,' Peckard said, holding up his hands. 'We're not asking you for contributions.' The murmurs died down again. 'But at least now we all understand the situation. At this point, I'll turn it over to Mr. Kraft.'
The Carecoe executive nodded.
'Working with Mr. Feynman's firm,' Kraft began, 'Carecoe and Prudence have developed a new type of insurance policy, designed specifically to indemnify the holders against losses sustained as a result of foreign military attack. As our existing policies expire, we will gradually phase them out so that our companies are not liable for such losses unless the new policies are purchased. Consequently, we will be able to isolate the specific monetary damages foreign militaries threaten us with, and we will charge our customers accordingly.' Kraft paused to let the men grasp the idea.
'What this means,' he continued, 'is that we will also know how much preventive or defensive measures are worth, in terms of gold ounces. So for example,' Kraft said, looking at Skinner, 'if the Barons recruit a few fighter pilots, and patrol Minervan air space, our company will gladly reimburse your efforts, since this type of investment will more than pay for itself in lower compensation claims from our customers. The same idea applies to the arming of merchantmen,' Kraft said, now looking at Brady.
'It may not take off for a few years,' Kraft said, 'but once the West becomes openly belligerent, Carecoe and Prudence will be taking in millions in premiums on military policies. There is currently a huge, virtually untapped market for security. I believe we can supply that market. All we need is public awareness of the danger, and some expert consultants. If we all work together, we can prevent another war.'
'And make ourselves a little richer in the process,' Peckard added with a chuckle. 'What could be wrong with that?'