The gray-haired man peered down his spectacles at me from his commanding position at the head of the room. I stood on the black tiled floor in the center of the room, my rough cut suit doing its best to look professional and civilized.
He cocked a bushy white eyebrow, wrinkling his big nose at the stapled page in front of him. He huffed a breath and stabbed at the page with the back of a red pen. I waited.
"It looks like you want funding for your own suicide," he finally grumbled. "No." He voiced everything in that same slow voice, pronouncing everything to the hair.
"No?" I asked.
"No." He tossed the papers onto the bulky desk, placed his black sleeved elbows on top of them, and then clasped his hands together, interlocking his hairy knuckles. Then he leaned forward and fixed a sore squint upon my face. "You may go Mr. Hunter." His voice was low and gravelly .
"I may," I repeated. "However," I added, taking another approach, "I think you may rethink your decision if I elaborate."
"Mr. Hunter, what will you buy with my money when the technology is not available for sale? What you are asking is for me to fund a design project to create the technology. You are in the business of finding technology, not creating it. Again, the answer is no."
"I understand your concerns," I said. "However, what if I suggested a possible loan agreement. An investment perhaps."
"Loans and investments are two very different things, Mr. Hunter. A loan is something you pay back regardless of your successes. An investment places a risk on my part. I am not willing to throw my money away."
"Well, why not make a compromise--"
"--I am not in a position which obligates me to make any compromises. You are the one begging from me."
I could feel the heat beginning to burn my face, but I restrained my anger. He wished me to protest by claiming that I had no reliance on him. That way, he could say, "Good, so go use your other sources."
But I was not going to let him steer the conversation. "You are implying that you are above me because of your money. Let me remind you that what I seek to accomplish is above you. The technology I may recover is equally above every man and woman, rich or poor. Imagine the power."
"Mr. Hunter. Do you know the most important thing that is above us all in this situation? The ability to succeed in this ridiculous proposal."
"I've already devised the plan," I said.
"Well, where is the plan?" he barked, putting his hands to either side. "I don't see the plan in any of this bullsh*t you've given me! All I see are very expensive fantasies. Now Mr. Hunter, take your pleas elsewhere or I will have you removed."
I did a quick calculation and decided I would have another three minutes before I was removed. So I continued. "Have you looked closely at those photographs? They show you the life you could live. They show you how humanity can reclaim this planet. Can you not see the importance behind this mission?"
His hawk eyes glared down at me, and he was silent for a long while. "Mr Hunter. What is the lowest amount of funding you could work with?"
I took a breath. "It's all or nothing, Mr. Clark."
His eyes went wide, and he gave me a terrible expression of disgust. "Get out of my sight!" he barked, waving a wrinkled hand at me.
I nodded and turned to go. Just as I was reaching the door, he stopped me.
"Mr. Hunter," he said. I turned. "There is one thing you have convinced me of through your rash display of confidential information. I now deem it to be of the utmost importance that we pursue a mission into the Storm. But you are not the man for the job. So I will invest some money in a more professional organization. As it so happens, you have competition on the project. I spoke briefly with them this morning."
I swallowed but didn't say a word. He seemed pleased. So I left without a sound. By the time I'd reached the parking lot, Peter was already talking on the phone. I slid into the vehicle beside him and waited for him to finish.
"Well," Peter said, flipping his cell phone shut. "Mr. Clark supposedly got his hands on some highly confidential information, and he would like to be the first to invest in the project. Also, though he said nothing of it, I have the suspicion that he called out of the spontaneous urge given to him in lee of the idiot who just demanded twice the necessary amount of money. So instead of funding you and me, he's going to fund me and you."
"We do have a monopoly over the project."
"Yes, but powerful people, such as Mr. Clark, like to chose between people. It makes them feel godly. And as far as a monopoly is concerned, we've got it because no one else is stupid enough to launch such a project."
I smiled weakly. "I was hoping we had more than stupidity on our side."