The corporate headquarters of defense contractor GUN was a medium-sized ten-storey cuboid whose surfaces were almost entirely made up of dark glass windows, blending in quite easily with the rest of Century City. During daytime, up to five hundred people could be found working here, and there were plans to move to an even bigger building if the company's workforce grew.
Of course, to CEO Robert Mayes, that was a big 'if'. Despite being relatively young compared to the country's other defense contractors, concerns about GUN's future had already began to surface. Its sole product, a next-generation multirole carrier-based fighter jet with pilotless capability, was certainly an ambitious project, but its development had fallen years behind schedule. Many military projects usually had the backing of the DoD to keep them alive regardless, but not this one, as most people among the upper brass weren't very keen to invest in a company just a few years old.
The corporate troubles continued to exasperate Mayes, who was one of the few people still working in the building at this hour, though despite that, he managed to keep a calm, almost sweet tone as he chatted with his wife on the phone.
"No, it's alright, it's OK, honey. There's still hope. There are other militaries out there that are still willing to take a look at it," the fifty-year old said gently as he looked through the company's financial records on his computer, which suggested it wasn't so alright or OK.
"If you say so, Bob. It's just, I don't know," the worried feminine voice on the other end replied. "I heard the shareholders have been saying nasty things about you."
"We'll prove them wrong. Don't worry," he assured before sighing. "Are Mary and David asleep yet?"
"Yes, just ten minutes ago. When are you coming back?"
"Just need to finish this up. I'm pretty sure you'll still be awake when I arrive," Mayes said, already closing the programs.
"OK. I'll see you later."
"Bye, Jeanne." Mayes hung up before letting out a sigh, eyes closed. He wasn't lying when he said there was hope, but the chances were still quite slim. If they slipped out of his grasp, he had no idea what he could do next. He had had enough unsuccessful business ventures in his life. The prospect of another failure was real and unsettling.
Mayes shut down the computer before lighting up a cigarette. For a moment he wondered morbidly about getting lung cancer right after filing for bankruptcy, but then he shook his head, admonishing himself for having even thought that. It wasn't funny or responsible.
He got up from his leather chair and grabbed his coat. There was more time to think about all this tomorrow. Now he just wanted to get back to his family. Leaving his desk, Mayes was just about to reach for the doorknob when his cell phone rang again. He took it out and saw that it was a private number, which puzzled him. Such calls were rare for him. "Hello?" he said as he pressed the answer button, trying to sound friendly.
"I presume this is Mr. Robert Mayes, CEO of GUN?" an unknown male voice asked, sounding rather boisterous and self-important. It also felt strangely familiar, somehow.
"Um, yes," Mayes replied. His phone number wasn't exactly a secret, of course, but he could swear he heard this voice somewhere before. "Who is this?"
"Aw, come on. You sure you've forgotten already? It's only been two months," the man said in mock disappointment. Then the tone changed. "Do you really need me to…remind you?" it continued, now sounding both more sinister and familiar.
The latter had the effect the speaker intended on Mayes, whose eyes were now wide open. "You're…you're Robotnik?" He did not raise his voice, but the shock was definitely there. The CEO had, of course, seen the threatening television broadcast that madman from nowhere had made just over a month ago. "But, weren't you…how did you contact me?"
"Oh, please, Robert, don't act so surprised. Your number is practically everywhere. It doesn't take a genius intellect like mine to obtain it," the voice responded as if talking to the dumbest person in the world. "And for god's sake relax. I'm here to make you an offer."
That was even less expected than getting a phone call from him of all people in the first place. "What?" Mayes asked in disbelief.
"Let's keep this short, shall we? I am aware of the troubles you and your company are facing. But I believe your main project has much potential. Like I said earlier, I am a genius, and I already know how to fix its problems after looking at the design myself."
The CEO placed his nervousness aside for a moment to consider what he was being told. Even if Robotnik hadn't created that large flying fortress that the whole world saw months ago, he certainly knew how to use it, which was no small feat. The genius part about this guy was most likely true. But on the other hand… "And…I'm guessing you want something in return?" he asked, trying to remain calm.
"Correct. I guess you're not that dumb. You are selling some of these planes to Adabat, are you not? Well, you will tell me how to gain full control of the ones that will serve in their military. In exchange, your project gains new life, I gain power, and you gain wealth and prestige," Robotnik concluded. The way he said it made it possible to feel his gleeful smirk through the purely audio exchange. "So…what do you say?"
Mayes had been hoping for a second chance, anything, to keep this next-gen project actually next-gen, and this seemed exactly it. But at what price? He remembered what Robotnik had tried to do with his fortress last time. By giving him such toys, he could try something like that again. On American soil. The mad part about this guy was also most likely true. "You wouldn't…you would not use them against us, right?" he continued asking as his façade of calmness all but fell apart.
"Oh, let's just say it significantly lowers the chances of that happening," Robotnik replied nonchalantly.
Half a minute went by in silence. After much bewilderment, an important question hit Mayes. "How do I know your solution is any better than the ones my own engineers have come up with?"
"It is. Trust me. You will let me demonstrate it for you," Robotnik stated like it was a matter of fact, sounding bolder now.
"And…how are you going to do that?" Mayes asked back, daring to sound just a bit more defiant. Then he realized his mistake, remembered who he was talking to.
Before he could even swear about it, another voice started playing on the phone. A few seconds in, and Mayes stood still in shock. The voice was his own. It was his conversation with his wife earlier. "Are Mary and David asleep yet?"
"Yes, just ten minutes ago. When are you coming back?"
Robotnik ended the recording before speaking again. "Listen to me very carefully," he said, back in his unsettling tone earlier, "you and your family live at the corner of East 41st and Wadsworth. Your son attends UCSA, your daughter at Jefferson High. Your wife works at the California Science Center…" He proceeded to point out the times each family member left and returned to the house throughout the entire week, including the streets and transportation they used, all with frightening accuracy.
"So, I think you know which answer to give now," Robotnik said, sounding more smug than ever. "And of course, please try not to change your phone, inform the police, your family or anyone at all, or find excuses to not come to work. There are people watching, you know, and they will know when any of those happen. And then they will strike," he warned.
By now Mayes' expression was very pale. One would say he looked like he'd seen a ghost, but he preferred it much more if that actually happened instead. "Oh my god…"
"You will receive another call from me again tomorrow morning with precise instructions on what to tell your engineers, what to give me, and how to give them. It's too bad I had to resort to this. Sorry for any hard feelings caused...I know exactly what it feels like." There seemed to be a faint note of remorse in that last sentence, but it vanished very quickly. "Now, just go back home as usual. Smile to your wife and kids, as well as your employees the next day. And the day after that. Keep pretending nothing's happened, and it will stay that way as far as everyone around you is concerned. Now go on. They're waiting for you."
As the call ended, Robert Mayes realized he now fully understood what they meant by 'an offer you couldn't refuse'. He did not like it one bit. This was not how he chose to do business, but choice was the last thing he had right now. Feeling sick to his stomach, he opened the door and exited his office, now going home to his family only because he was forced to.