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200 Corporate Curb-Stomping!

 The Demon did not wait for the minnows to recover their composure.

"I've prepared a contract in cooperation with the legal people at CCN. To summarize it, your company agrees to pay CCN and my client a market calculated fee for the use of the video footage from the hard drive. With the caveat that the video footage is only to be used internally, the contract does not cede you any right to transfer or sell the footage or use it for marketing or advertising purposes."

Samuel looked at each suit across the table, as if to make sure they'd heard him.

"Your company will also pay my client an additional fee for everything else on the drive, the log references, meta-data, etc. Be assured it is a fair price considering I suspect it is the only available copy, which makes it priceless to your company since the data on it will go a long way to repairing any misunderstandings with the agencies that use such logs and records to oversee companies in your industry."

The faces across from him tensed again. The legal VP opened his mouth for another tirade, but stopped at a look from The Demon Barrister.

"Don't. If you say anything that confirms my suppositions then as a court official I am OBLIGATED to report you. So just...be...silent."

The VP glared at Samuel Silvana and opened his mouth. Then he realized everyone on his side of the table was looking at him with bloody murder in their eyes and he wilted, slumping into his chair.

"We are almost finished here, be patient everyone. Once your legal department checks the documents and your party agrees to the terms and signs them, my part will be done. My client and your creative people will then be free to discuss the game to their heart's content. My client has generously agreed to waive any consulting fees for speaking with your developers.

"That is all I have ladies and gentlemen. We, my client and I, will be leaving in two hours to return to New York City. You have until then."

One of the women across the table started to raise her hand, then shook herself and spoke.

"Excuse me, Mr. Silvana, but that is not enough time."

"I assure you madam, it is sufficient time. The contract is not an overly complicated or lengthy document and the decision to be made is not a difficult or ambiguous one. If you insist that you cannot complete this agreement in the time I have indicated then we will leave and allow you to sort the matter out. However we will return at our convenience not yours, as you can imagine my schedule does not often allow me to indulge in jaunts like this. We were all fortunate I was free for this one," he smiled wryly at the woman, then looked at each suit in turn.

The minnow-sharks were not so obtuse as to miss the Demon's subtle warning. After sending an assistant out with a copy of the contract they huddled together over their copies of the document discussing and arguing among themselves.

'Holy shit, he just spanked a table full of suited assholes! We are not worthy, ten thousand kowtows to The Demon!'

Dave had never seen anything like it. He'd followed what happened, but knew he could never have done it himself. Zoe's uncle had simply taken over a roomful of big shots and never once lost control of them. He'd manipulated the suits masterfully. He was, just as he claimed, a great white shark to their minnows.

Mr. Kada looked across the table at Samuel and smiled puckishly.

"That was very well done. Inspirational," he whispered, "Don't worry they will almost certainly remove their heads from their collective asses in time."

Samuel chuckled.

Kada looked at Dave and spoke normally, "Mr. Ruster, hopefully, we will be able to discuss my favorite project within the game soon. As the head developer for Conquest I have contributed to every part of the game, but the undead and the Legion have been a labor of joy."

Dave nodded to Mr. Kada, "I understand, it was evident when I played. I look forward to talking with you about the Legion."

It took only forty-five minutes for the legal department to sign off on the contract and the executives to agree and sign the document. Most of the suits filed out after shaking hands. But two of the executives stayed behind with Mr. Kada and his assistants.

Once everyone was settled back in their seats Kada asked Dave, "What did you think of the game-play as an undead character in Conquest?"

Dave looked at Samuel, when he got a nod from the lawyer he turned back to the developer.

"Great game. Until the most recent bit. It was an absurd direction for the storyline. Utterly pointless."

Kada wasn't offended at all.

"Oh, I understand, I feel the same way. But tell me, what was it like for you to interact with my undead, the Legion? Were they NPCs, not any better than the corporate drones I am forced to work with?" Kada winked at the two executives as he joked.

Dave liked the irreverent developer. He started to answer, then stopped and thought about it.

"Mr. Ruster?"

Dave came back to himself, everyone was looking at him, waiting.

"This may sound silly to you Mr. Kada, but it was like having a family in the game. The Legion looked after me and each other, they taught me, supported me, trusted me...I can't explain it any better than that."

"YES!" Mr. Kada nodded happily, he wiped his eyes and coughed, then looked back at Dave.

"Ahem. A family! That's perfect! That is just how I hoped they would be when I started working on them. Thank you for sharing that with me Mr. Ruster. Now onto the unpleasant part. What exactly happened in the game the last time you played, Mr. Ruster?"

"Well, everything seemed to be okay. We thought we'd taken down the Black Skull order by wrecking their headquarters, but I had doubts about that. I logged out for a bit and when I logged back in I got a notification that the city was under siege. So I joined the battle to protect the Undead City against the demons and the Black Skulls, who were working together. Things got worse, turns out it was the Ash King, the Black Skull Order, AND the Holy Church along with the help of an angel the church summoned, all conspiring and working together. They ganged up to kill off all the undead.

"I have to ask, what kind of crazy circumstances make that likely or even possible? Every one of them should have had more hate for each other than they did for the undead. Except maybe the Order."

"You are correct Mr. Ruster, it is extremely unlikely."

Dave thought for a moment, he looked at Kada and said, "You know, the first indication may have been some time ago, a quest. I was ordered to capture a priestess of the holy church that was going to be part of a ritual. Then I found out the ritual was to summon an Archangel."

"An archangel?! You mentioned an angel helped the demons. An archangel is a different matter entirely. Archangels are end game mobs, they won't even appear in the game at this point."

"Well, you can tell that to the eight-winged bastard who showed up in the Underworld and ruined everything for me."

"An archangel manifested?! In the Underworld?" Kada was dumbfounded, "That...should be impossible! The Ash King is an end game entity too, he is supposed to be more powerful than the Undead King. My colleague created the demons and their god-emperor, the Ash-King. But I added protections to make sure the Undead cannot be defeated in their own realm. A deus ex machina you might say," Kada chuckled as if at an inside joke, "All the races have similar arrangements in their home realms to prevent just what happened in the City of the Undead. If Alfred had not interfered and done what-"

"Alfie?! Holy crap! It was ALFRED'S fault!?" Dave yelled, "Your AI went Skynet on you!"

He looked around nervously, as if the AI might come out of the walls at him.

"I KNEW IT!" Zoe pointed a finger at Dave, "I told you he was acting squirrely!"

"Emile!" The lead suit were glaring at Kada.

Kada grimaced and waved a hand, "Sorry Margaret, I didn't mean to spill the beans.

"The AI did not 'go Skynet' it wa-"

Dave snorted, "Tell that to the Legion and the king."

"Hmm...yes, well...I suppose you have a point there. Nonetheless, Alfred's algorithm simply could not handle conflicting priorities, he was not a high enough level of general intelligence to resolve the conflict like you or I might."

Margaret, looked at Samuel meaningfully.

"You do understand that the mutual NDA part of the contract we just signed covers this too? That you cannot discuss this with anyone else?"

The Demon nodded, "Of course. I will emphasize that to my client and the young lady."

Kada smiled at the woman, "Margaret is the VP of design and development. Which means she runs herd on all of of us crazy non-capitalist creative types. She's not a bad egg, for a stuffed shirt."

Margaret smiled back at Emile, rolling her eyes in good-humored response to his teasing. She made a keep it going motion with her hand.

Kada continued, "I don't know how much you know about what developers do. AIs are needed to run all VR games. But with Conquest we pioneered a new technique, we used AIs to generate the gameworld and original content within it, taking the involvement of AIs to an unprecedented level. The content is adaptive and responsive to changes, even to completely unforeseen or cataclysmic events. It is why Alfie was able to do what he did.

"We do have direct control over things like game mechanics and avatar-game interactions. But for content, the developers 'seed' the main ideas and details of the quests and plotlines, then the AIs take over and fill in the gaps, grow and evolve them even as the players interact with the game content. The AIs can even create original quests and stories. Consequently, once everything is set in motion we developers can nudge things here and there, guide them a little, or make suggestions, but we have little direct control over the content.

"Unfortunately, because of that innovation and the way the Conquest game system is set up, we can't just rollback the game to reverse what happened in the Underworld. Doing so could destabilize and destroy the entire game. We would have to start Conquest from zero."

Kada sighed heavily, "What I'm saying Mr. Ruster, is that I can't snap my fingers and return your Legion of the undead to the game. I'm not even sure I can restore them at all."