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In fact, every business that Santeen sold to would either have a fire immediately after, loose shipments, or suffer a worker's strike. The details were not there expressly, but news sources matched the shipments time line in a way that caused Mister Clatue to pause.
Before leaving the offices (or rather warehouse, a corner of which he immediately ordered that they turn into an office to suit him), he ordered an immediate 7% salary raise and filled in a few gaps in the insurance package. His theory since going into business was that worker loyalty was the greatest asset. Furthermore, he placed explicit orders to underbid on the next government project—something like that would shake up the extremely tight-knit market. Next stop: checking out the competitors.
Mister Clatue turns off the enhanced vision, standing approximately a half mile from the site. With True Tread prices as high as they are without much quality, someone else—probably organized crime—must be pulling the strings.
He buzzes back to the office, "Miss Darling, cancel my meetings for the next few days—reschedule the ones that you can and shift others in my place if possible."
"TopCare Motors, Joyce Beams, Khazan City Industrial Sevices—but both those last two provide subcontract work for Pearson Utility Vehicles, and use the parts that way—Monetary Flats, and Grates Construction."
"Excellent. Send out each company the same notice: 'Santeen Treads recently came under the umbrella of Mister Clatue Investments, Co.. We are proud to announce that 13% of all profits will go into a citizen's patrol. Santeen considers its investments not just in the future of tread technology, but in the safety of its investments.' And have some mean looking guys deliver the message. But polite. I want them to know that we will take care of them."
She rolled her eyes and walked off, towards the exit of the room.
"And Miss Darling," he remembered suddenly, "how is Orange Fez doing?"
"Stock doubled," she replied over her shoulder. "Lines out the door. You authorized another three stores, each near a college campus, yesterday. You can thank me by letting me take Friday off." She disappeared into the hallway.
"I don't know if this place can survive a Friday without her," Mister Clatue muttered to himself, and he started thumbing through the oversized rolodex for vigilantes to head up his concerned citizen patrols. They are always eager for a tip from a concerned citizen.
"Off the record?" The pudgy manager wearing square framed glasses asked out of earshot of the nearest employee.
Mister Clatue nodded. "Yeah, off the record. I'm listening."
"It gets rough if we don't order from your competitor, True Tread. Machines break down, unions go nuts. You know the drill. There are a number of parts that I have to get—Have to get, you understand me?—from various dealers. Otherwise, things go wrong. If we order from Santeen, things don't go so well."
"I got friends, too. Friends on the Citizen Patrol that stop those things from happening."
The pudgy man just shook his head. "They don't send the normal thugs."
"And my friends can handle them anyway. Look at me, here. I'm a sentient Mech gone business crazy. No one messes with me," Mister Clatue responded. "And whether or not you order from me or the other guys, no one is going to mess with you. Understand me?"
He shrugged. "I'm still not sure. I don't even order parts for a couple of days. Give me some time to think it over."
Mister Clatue jaunted off. When he hit the street, he entered an overly tall limo. That is to say, he sort of fit into it, and wore the limo shell like a suit. He could move through traffic without it, but the limo suit made him look like a car and kept up appearances. He did have a driver that took over, and let him focus attention elsewhere. Like his security cameras for example. His perceptions jumped across to his office, where a couple of nicely dressed crooks were waiting for him. Like true salesmen, they did not take no for an answer, and had been waiting for him to return to the office for most the day.
Having curtailed around the desk, and much more comfortable now, Mister Clatue finally (verbally) addressed the two interlopers. "Shall we get down to business?" he asked, once they managed to stand. "You intimidated my staff, and would not leave when asked. What is it you want?"
"We, ah, have some friends that don't like your Citizen Patrols busying up the streets," one of the men said uncertainly. "They are disrupting the local businesses. He wanted us to, ah, politely ask you to stop."
"Well." Mister Clatue responded. "I take my reply back to your friends, then."
"Which is...?" Mister Clatue shot out his arm again, like an overhead pitch, and sent the men flying backwards once more.
The Khazan docks offered miles of warehouses. This odd convention rested not upon oceanic traffic of goods, but rather interstellar. The water provided a sufficient resting place for spacecraft, rather than aquatic cargo ships. By either convenience or tradition, the meeting place was a warehouse backed into a deep maze, surrounded, the message assured him, with motion detectors and cameras to make sure he was playing straight. Mister Clatue came alone.
Inside the massive warehouse, men with guns stood about as if at random. They all milled around watching him with an air of equal parts indifference and contempt. No one seemed to be in charge. Miss Darling was tied up, but apparently unhurt. She glared at Mister Clatue with wary boredom.
A radio sitting on a chair blared out, "Mister Clatue. I think it is about time we came to some arrangements regarding True Tread and Santeen. We want to make you an offer for Santeen. We will pay you the sum you paid in acquisition and return your secretary for it. Or, we can part ways, you keep Santeen, and we keep her."
Mister Clatue considered for a moment. "As an act of good faith, may I take a look at Miss Darling? Make sure she is alright?"
"Granted," the voice replied dryly. "But know that even if these men can't hurt you, your Darling is not immune to bullets."
Mister Clatue approached Miss Darling hesitantly. In an abrupt and fluid motion, he swooped an arm around her and pushed her inside a chamber within his torso, which snapped shut. A half second later, guns were blazing. Mister Clatue began a rampage, knocking out the support beams on the warehouse. It all came crashing down...
"Sorry about that," Mister Clatue said to Miss Darling over an intercom. Miss Darling managed to cut the cords that bound her while she hid inside Mister Clatue. "I should have put a guard on you."
"I knew the risk," she muttered, working out the feeling in her hands, which still showed the marks of the ropes. "As secret as you keep them, I know what goes on in your meetings. It's one of the reasons I keep working for you. I have had offers elsewhere, you know. More money."
Silence for a moment. "Thanks," Mister Clatue answered.
"Can I get a light on in here?" After a brief moment, a light flickered on in the cabin. It was the pilot seat for a Mech, what Mister Clatue had originally been designed for.
Instead of computer screens, the interior was decorated with pictures. An article about "The Martyr," Adrian Wire. A lot of robotic intelligences viewed her as nearly a religious icon, and her relatively ignored death provoked electric-based intelligence discrimination awareness around the globe. But next to it, a group photo showing Mister Clatue working with Adrian, Rivenn, Piet, Walden, and Vexsius--he was a member of that original four robot group that worked with Walden and Adrian. Another picture of the funeral. The killer still roamed free.
Another group of photos encased a smaller corner of the wall. Mister Clatue at the company picnic. And a photo of Miss Darling smiling pleasantly. "Where did you get this?" she asked, embarrassed.
"The pictures...? How could I have forgotten?" Mister Clatue sounded embarrassed. "The one of you is from my own optical input...I just printed out a rather good still image of you. Er, good in the sense that it wasn't fuzzy." Awkward silence. The construction workers shifting something close. "You are not...offended? Are you?"
She didn't answer. Instead, "You knew her?"
"Yeah." More shifting sounds. "It's why I do what I do."
The intercom buzzed. "He is here."
Mister Clatue held down a button and replied, "Have Miss Darling escort him in."
The business manager for True Tread Advantage, that same tread company that seemed like a mere cog in the mob's controlled industry, nervously sauntered in. An invitation on behalf of True Tread's main client, comprising over 85% of their entire sales, had convinced the manager to come to this potentially hostile environment.
"Ah, Mr. Lambert? My name is Mister Clatue. So good to meet you." He held a hand across the massive desk, which Lambert shook, holding only onto one fist-thick finger. "We invited you here on behalf of Industrial Edge, which comprises eighty percent of the market that both Santeen and True Tread supply. Just recently, I purchased Industrial Edge, you see."
Mr. Lambert sprang to his feet in shock. "You can't do that!"
"Technically you are right," Mister Clatue conceeded. "However, I did not buy it for myself, but placed it in a Commercial Trust. Industrial Edge is in the process of becoming a non-profit organization, controlled by a board of lawyers that manage such trusts. The terms of the trust are quite clear, and indicate that all business partners from whom they purchase materials must comply with a...heightened standard of employee care, in order to be eligible for sales. Currently, True Tread is not in compliance, I might add.
"Furthermore, all profits will be evenly split into research development for future product and a newly created Injury Compensation and Litigation Fund. This fund will help those who are injured at a work site, yet the employer denies employment. Sound familiar? Even though it was created only days ago, several individuals have already applied for help with this fund."
Miss Darling interjected, "And weren't they allegedly injured at True Tread?"
Mister Clatue nodded. "Interestingly enough, they were. But, that is not the topic at hand. Mr. Lumbard, Industrial Edge is giving you one month to establish compliance. Good day." Some men had creeped into the room, and hastily escorted the furious business manager out the door. Mister Clatue seemed quite pleased.
"Perhaps the best tax-break this year," he added happily. "Miss Darling, please list the top three considerations for acquisition this upcoming quarter," Mister Clatue, said, switching the conversation over to the next Big Thing.