Bitter 351

Britta was hoping Dad would jump in. Any minute now. You couldn’t let a minor be subjected to this kind of treatment. Any second, he’d step across her, arms raised, protecting his child.

She looked over when he failed to throw himself into the line of fire. He was looking back at her, eyes gleefully urging her to take control of her own destiny. He was enjoying this, like it was some sort of cut scene in a game. All she had to do was press the right button at the right time, and she’d get the good ending.

“Hello,” she said in a trembling voice. She let her shoulders drop and forced her throat to relax, which she’d never tried before. It sort of worked. “Nice to meet you.” She bowed. Why the hell did she do that?

When she looked up again, everyone was still waiting for her to speak.

What was her reason for not wanting such a huge amount of money for doing practically nothing? She hadn’t really thought about it, just relied on the feeling that she was better off out than in.

Was she right? Could she trust the emotions of a teenager, even if that teenager was her? She certainly didn’t trust the emotions of any teen that wasn’t her. Why should she be any different?

Now her adolescent hormones were telling her to cave. Just agree to whatever they wanted. In fact, they weren’t just telling her, they were shouting it so no other thoughts could get through.

When the cool kids wanted you to do something, it was called peer pressure. What was it called when rich businessmen did the same thing? Just plain old pressure, she supposed. Or maybe extortion.

Then she turned to Mum, and there was that question she had been asking herself. What do you want?

She faced the man offering to make her rich.

“I’m, er, not really sure.” Well, that wasn’t a good start. “Only, I, er, don’t think I can trust you.”

A look of shock washed over the Chinese contingent. They didn’t seem to know what to do with it, and just glowered, waiting for the signal to attack.

President Wu barked a sentence at her. She was still trying to work out the difference in cultural tones, but this one strongly suggested he was annoyed.

“What is it you find untrustworthy?” repeated the translator. “Could you give an example?” His tone wasn’t annoyed at all. Was he being faithful to the original, or trying to smooth things over? He didn’t really have any need to do that, other than maybe pity.

“Well, like, the contract I had with APE. Once you didn’t need me anymore, you just found a loophole and cancelled it.”

They had only denied her a week or so of money, which was still a substantial amount, but she hadn’t really been that concerned. It was more of a relief to have freed herself from the expectations that had been thrust on her. But now it came in handy to use against them. They could hardly deny they’d used a technicality to take advantage of her, especially considering what Dr Reedy had told her.

Britta was careful not to look at Dr Reedy, who she was throwing under the bus. She knew it was just business, but it still felt bad.

President Wu made a low, rumbling sound. Britta looked at the translator for some kind of interpretation, but he just shrugged slightly.

Then the President launched into a long, breathless speech. He spoke quickly and with no particular emotion that Britta could discern. When he finished, the translator seamlessly took over.

“Your statement is fair. The actions of our colleagues at Anderson Peters were regrettable and will not be repeated. Those responsible will be appropriately reprimanded and the money that is rightfully yours will be paid in full. There is no excuse for how you were treated, and I assure you that such behaviour will not happen again. I give you my word on this. Once you accept our terms, I will personally ensure your satisfaction with all matters henceforth. A contract can be broken, but the word of George Wu cannot.”

As the translator finished, President Wu began speaking again, handing back to the translator when he reached the end of his next statement.

“This is a very important matter for us. One that may change the landscape of business across the globe, both the physical and the electronic. I do not exaggerate when I tell you the lives of billions will be affected, which is why I make no secret of how far I am willing to go. Your role is worth a great deal, and we wish your reward to be commensurate with the importance we place on it. But please remember that your father violated his agreement when he allowed you access to his Anderson Cradle. He is guilty of a transgression we would be within our rights to seek restitution for. And I have no doubt we would win.”

He was threatening her. Do as I say, or Daddy gets it. And he was probably right. With the money they had, they could put a hundred lawyers on the case, ruin them completely. She felt lost. Her hormones were screaming now. Cave, cave, cave.

“Are you threatening a child?” asked Dad, his voice almost sounding amused. “Is that how the great George Wu does business?”

Britta was pretty sure Dad had never heard of George Wu before tonight. She hadn’t either, but she felt it probably wasn’t a good idea to bait him.

George Wu shifted his head towards Dad. It was hard to tell what he was thinking with the glasses on. Although it would probably be hard to tell without them, too.

He spoke more quietly this time.

The translator said: “I do not make threats. There are options available to me under the law, and it would be irresponsible of me not to make full use of them. I mean no disrespect to you or your family. We want this to be something you come to see as a great benefit, but it is also an opportunity that must not be lost. I would not be able to live with myself if I allowed such a thing to happen.”

Britta was a little taken aback by the last statement. It sounded like he meant it literally.

“Do you have children, President Wu?” asked Mum.

He gave her a curt nod.

“Then you should know threatening us is with legal action is pointless. If you take our money, put us in jail, make our lives hell, it won’t make a difference. We started with nothing. We can manage.” She sounded calm. Too calm. It was the tone her and her sister feared the most. It meant trouble was heading their way.

“Now, dear, let’s not cause an international incident,” said Dad, switching sides to protect the Chinese.

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