Arthur watched as his lead team gathered together. It consisted of Yao Jing, Mel and Amah Si. Mohammad Osman was upstairs and indisposed as he cultivated, and Arthur had briefly considered extending the offer to him but chose to decline that option for now. The Sixes were allies, but they weren’t of the Durians yet.
Jan was busy settling their newest recruit, with orders to get him out with a fighting group sooner rather than later. Once she was done, she’d likely make her way over, just as Uswah when she made her own appearance.
“The Chin family,” Mel repeated once more. “Why them?”
“Because one of their daughters is on this floor,” Amah Si said.
“They are? She is?” Mel said, surprised. “When did she arrive?”
“When you were gone,” Amah Si explained.
Yao Jing raised a hand a little, looking confused. “Who’s this Chin family?”
“Prime Group,” Arthur replied.
He could see the light bulb go off in Yao Jing’s eyes when that was said. No surprise. Prime Group had started as a simple manufacturing company in the early fifties but had progressed to become one of the biggest manufacturing groups in the early 21st century, having purchased and revolutionized the development of rubber products. They had factories making everything from gloves and tires to condoms, having vertically integrated upwards to purchase dozens of rubber plantations and downstream to add shipping and logistics.
“Why call them the Chins? Why not Prime Group?” Yao Jing said.
“Because the Chins are the family in charge,” Arthur said, idly picking at the burnt skin on one side of his face. Stupid fast healing meant that the itching was even worse. “And they have their own mini sect running people in and out of the Tower and building up their management. It’s one of the benefits of joining the company. They put you through intensive training in the management program, then guide you through the ascent. Push them up and outwards as fast as they can, so that they can then join middle and upper management.”
“Middle management cultivators.” Yao Jing shook his head in derision. “Why climb the Tower, just to work for other people?”
“It’s stable work. And it makes for loyal employees.” Of course, what with automation taking over half the manual labour jobs out there, the need for management had decreased and their job descriptions had changed. Corporate espionage, blackmail, and trade secrets had become even more important, as did working out ways to game the political systems and disrupt the flow of goods from other corporations.
Corporations felt that a more violent resolution was required at times and that idea had become more accepted. What had been the purview of thriller movies, where “accidents” occurred to middle managers or their superiors had become part of the corporate landscape globally.
In America and other ‘civilized’ countries, the corporations still tried to cover their tracks, to use publicity groups and other forms of propaganda to hide their actions. But in developing countries like Malaysia, where bribery, corruption, and gangs were more visible, the pace of violence had increased significantly since the introduction of the Towers.
Now, being a middle manager was often a difficult and violent job. Survival required not just a degree of corporate wits but also cultivator strength. Which, of course, led to things like the presence of a Chin sect in the Tower and their push for strong members.
“But why target us?” Arthur said, frowning. “We can’t be a real threat. We’re barely worth a fret.”
“Not yet. But if you see an ant crawling beside you, are you going to let it keep crawling or do you squash it?” Amah Si said, making a thumbing motion on the table. “Easier to get it done now, than wait for the ant to bring more of its people.”
“So what do you think we should do?” Arthur was not thrilled with the idea of being called an ant, but if they were just targeting him, it seemed that he could just hide away. Of course, if they didn’t have an easy target, they might go after the rest of his people too. Which would be even harder to handle. At least he had Grade III Accelerated Healing. Sure, he might end up full of scars and dead ugly, but if he were honest, he was never that good-looking to begin with.
But he still hoped he wasn’t too scarred from this recent burn.
“I vote you hide and keep cultivating,” Mel said, echoing his own thoughts. “They’ll probably forget about what they were doing soon enough.”
“Unless they’re the kind to get obsessed with killing the ants who won’t die. And start pulling the legs off the ant, just to see it squirm,” Arthur pointed out. “Not that I ever did that . . . much.”
Amah Si shook her head at that confession. “I worry about that too. But what can we do? Attacking them back will just anger them.”
“Ei, why not we just go talk to them?” Yao Jing said.
“Because, um . . .” Arthur scratched his chin. “I guess we could. But what would we say? ‘Please don’t try to kill me?’”
“We can find out why they want to. And whether we can somehow work with them,” Amah Si pointed out. “We are already making allies with others. If we can make an alliance with them, it could put us in good stead.”
“How is that coming along, anyway?” Arthur said curiously. He had left the work of alliances to her, what with his need to cultivate. But he hadn’t had much news since then.
She shrugged, a mulish look growing on her face. “They keep asking for things we can’t, or don’t, have. I don’t know if they’re just stalling or being fools.”
“Well, let’s hope for stalling,” Arthur said. “We could use more friends. If they demand what we don’t have, we’ll just end up with more enemies.”
That sentence brought everyone’s mood down and Arthur could not help but grimace. It sucked, of course, but what could he do? It was the truth.
“So, wanna go talk to the Chins?” Yao Jing said.
“Okay, lah,” Arthur sighed, leaning back to cycle his breathing for a moment. The movement had sent a minor twinge along his torso, where muscles had yet to fully join. “I just . . .” He hesitated, then looked at Mel. “I know you have to cultivate but—”
“But you need to more than me. Especially with all the cores we have,” Mel finished for him. “I’ll talk to them. Amah?”
“I will help. My people can find the daughter, if she’s still around town.”
“And if she’s not?” Arthur said.
“Then you stay hidden, until she comes back,” Mel said firmly.
Nodding, Arthur stood up and pushed back from the table. Taking it as a signal that the meeting was over, the group stood up. There was nothing else to be said, and if he was going to be attacked, he might as well spend the time now absorbing more cores.
Better than worrying about what might come next.