[JVerse] Mad Men
Author's note: This is another one-shot story set in /u/Hambone3110 's Deathworlders universe. I seem to be doing a lot of these….. Anyway, this takes place at just about the same time as events towards the end of Chapter 33 of the main story. Enjoy.
Date Point: 11Y 10M 2W AV
Cimbrean, the Far Reaches
Constabulary office – Constable Jones
“I’m not entirely sure I see what the problem is, Solicitor,” said the constable. “The essence of this…complaint…is that someone did business with someone else. I don’t think laws have been broken here.” The Rrrrtktktkp'ch to whom he spoke moved his neck sinuously side-to-side in an expression most closely related to a human look of disbelief.
“Constable, the point is that this….business scheme…that my client operates in is utterly undefined by Dominion law at all. This is a human business concept, and I believe my client is being taken advantage of. More to the point, he has been induced to purchase an inordinate amount of goods for resale with dubious resale value, and the entire business structure seems…unstable.” The Rrrrtktktkp'ch crouched in front of the constable’s desk waved his upper arms to illustrate the point. “I’ve studied this business concept…and I don’t know if you appreciate the peril involved in combining a multi-level-marketing business plan with the mindset of a herd species, constable.”
Constable Jones sat back and sighed through his nose, closing his eyes and putting his hand to his forehead. I don’t get paid enough for this shit. After a moment of thought, he opened his eyes again. “Solicitor, I’m going to have to run this one past the acting Chief…and probably the Governor. You might be right…this could cause a diplomatic incident of some kind, and it’s something that should have been considered before.” He handed the tall spindly xeno a small white card. “Here is my business card. I will have to run this up the line, it’s going to take decisions from someone much more senior than me.”
Two weeks earlier
Harry Dhiinhou stepped off the transfer platform from Earth, filling his lungs for the first time with air from an alien world. He ran his fingers back through his hair, pausing a moment to turn and look to see and take stock of what was visible. Overhead, the small city’s municipal forcefield was barely visible, changing the airflow overhead and parting the low clouds moving in. It was dusk, and the sun was a finger’s breadth from the horizon. Everywhere, signs of nonstop construction poked at the sky in half-built skeletons clad partly in glass, brick, wood, and metal in a wild display of human creativity.
Cimbrean was an odd mix of frontier town, small metropolis, and something extra and undefinable that came with having actual aliens living there. Harry had read up on the place before coming, and was very excited. Belatedly, he realized that his own thoughts were being echoed by all of the other new arrivals around him – mostly younger adults like himself, without kids, and every one with an adventurous purpose behind their eyes.
Harry’s upline had been surprised with his plan when he’d proposed it at the meeting several months before. The comments from the others in the group had been mixed, some seeing it as folly (“We’re a human business, Harry.”), and others seeing it as a great idea (“Man, I bet those critters won’t know what hit ‘em. Genius idea, son, lemme know if you need help.”). The universal consensus was that it was virgin territory. No consultant had ever taken a multi-level marketing strategy to aliens, and no matter how it worked out, for the first time their eyes had been lifted a little from recruiting their fellow man to the trillions of untapped beings outside Earth’s quarantine. Corporate couldn’t sign off on it fast enough, and had advised Harry not to say too much about it yet to other consultants since they weren’t sure how it was going to work out. Cimbrean was a test case since it was still nominally under an Earth government’s laws, and therefore marginally predictable. The corporate attorneys had looked, and couldn’t find anything in Dominion law even addressing the subject, and so under the very human idea of easier to ask forgiveness than permission, they had green-lighted it.
Harry himself hadn’t had much luck with what they called “prospecting”, which was a somewhat-cynical term used for identifying potential recruits, grooming them into the idea, and then signing them up to do the same. It was always the same. Hundreds of nuggets of shiny-looking dross, with the occasional and unpredictable lump of gold…you just couldn’t really always tell who was going to just go gangbusters and expand, and who was going to get discouraged and give up. That was why he figured putting The Plan (always something to be capitalized) in front of virgin eyes would work. He’d even done research on xeno psychology, what there was of it, and had adapted the usual presentation methods a little. Instead of red ink on yellow paper, for instance, for the Rrrrtktktkp'ch and Vz’ktk, he’d be using electric blue on white, and if he had a Guvnurag prospect, he’d decided he was going to use a soothing light green paper with a violet-colored marker. It was all about the little details of your presentation, his upline had told him over and over. The overall presentation was always the same…it was the little details that made a decent presentation into a convincing and inspiring one, and he’d done the circles and lines tree structure often enough that he could, and had, done it in his sleep.
The new-arrivals reception area that the Cimbrean authorities had created was extensive. Harry thought it a little daunting – there were several armed guards for each entrance, for one thing, and each person had to go through a “debarkation” process where they had to walk through a series of additional scans and a bio-filter field, with the final step being a device of some sort pressed against each person’s head, which in each case made a ping and had a green light. No explanation was given for any of it, although at least the bio-filter field was pretty self-explanatory. Nobody wanted to be responsible for shitting another planet to death, and everybody knew about what had already happened to Cimbrean, so nothing was said.
Eventually, passed through customs and given a literal green light, he found himself standing under an alien sky, marveling again to himself at how the world had changed in the last ten years. Behind him, he dragged two sizeable wheeled suitcases; one contained his clothes and personal items, and the other…the other was business supplies. Pens, notepads in multiple colors, business cards, product samples, catalogues, and a specially-sanctioned copy of the entire Company online catalogue on a USB drive that was set up to work with his tablet for ordering.
The first order of business, though, since it was getting to be dark, was to locate a place to stay for the night. Right on schedule, as the sun went down, rain began to patter onto the sidewalk. Under the awning he stood beneath, a kiosk was set against a wall, which he used to summon an Uber (one of the first businesses to have set up shop and thrived, in a growing city without much public transportation or many personal vehicles). The driver, a young woman with a pony tail busily chewing gum, whisked him off to a local hotel which appeared to still be under construction at its upper levels, but which at the entry seemed to be well designed and complete. Everything had a new feeling to it.
In a few minutes, he was in his room, paid up for the next several weeks (it was remarkably inexpensive, likely due to trying to attract business), with his things stashed away, and stood looking out across the small city. It smells like money here, he thought, and lay down, falling asleep on the pillow in moments.
The next morning
The time difference, quite aside from being much like going from one time zone to another on Earth, was significant in that Cimbrean’s day was 28 hours. Harry awoke well before dawn, of course; anticipating this, he’d been up as long as he could the day before, but it still took some getting used to. The hotel’s staff, of course, had anticipated things as they got a great deal of travelling business from Earth, and so the lobby was already set up with a well-furnished continental breakfast, with everything from coffee and fruit to pastries, bacon, and pancakes.
By the time the sun was coming up, Harry was showered, shaved, dressed, sufficiently caffeinated, and had a plan where he was going to look first. The newly emerging “Alien Quarter” seemed like a likely place, since after all, the entire point was to get The Plan in front of non-humans. He opted to make his way on foot, bag in hand for supplies, prospecting, note taking, and observations. Around him, the city came slowly to life, and by the time he had made his way to the Alien Quarter gateway, with yet another bio-filter and a check to ensure that the human had an implant. It was all a bit daunting.
He settled on a cafe of sorts that had an outside seating area under a long green awning, with sizeable tables at a moderate height to accommodate many different races. Humans, he knew, were one of the shorter races generally, due to their high-gravity origins, but it was nonetheless a shock to see the proprietor come ambling over to his table on four stilt-like blue legs, roughly at a height with him on his taller-than-normal chair. Its translator rendered a pleasant tenor voice with a mid-Atlantic accent.
“Good morning, and welcome! Welcome, human! I believe you are my first human customer! I am KKt’tk, the owner. You are here early…I rarely even see humans on this side of town,” the breathless Vz’ktk rattled off. “What can I get for you? I even have some human delicacies….something called ‘coffee’ that I have been so eager to try…may I make you some?”
Harry nodded enthusiastically, giving the proprietor a close-lipped smile. “Yes, indeed, my new friend. I will have coffee – I take it black, no weird stuff in it. Coffee as God intended it!” he laughed. “Since I’m here by myself, perhaps you’d be good enough to get yourself something and join me here? I’ve never spoken to anyone but other humans…and if other customers show up, I won’t keep you…sound good?”
“A mug of something hot sounds quite good indeed,” nodded the host. “I shall return in a moment.”
It was a little more than a moment before KKt’tk came back, but he bore with him two human-styled mugs of steaming hot liquid, one of which he set in front of Harry. The other, which looked decidedly like heated industrial waste and smelled like it, he kept to himself, which was fine with Harry. Harry pulled the mug up and took a drink, knowing that it was likely to be terrible. He was surprised to find it actually quite decent.
“That is excellent coffee, my friend. I’m Harry, by the way…and I’m sorry, I don’t know if your species shakes hands, but that’s how humans do,” he said, sticking one hand out. To his surprise, the Vz’ktk took his hand with only a short hesitation. They shook hands, Harry internally reminding himself over and over to be as gentle as humanly possible.
“Yes, I am very pleased to meet a human finally, in my own shop,” KKt’tk said, taking a swig of his evil-smelling beverage with a satisfied sigh.
“I guess it’s a first for both of us then!” Harry exclaimed. “How long you been in business?”
“About a …[month],” KKt’tk beamed, the translator taking a moment to convert the time measurement accurately. “I think it is going well so far, considering. You are here now, after all!”
“I am….I am indeed!” Harry said with a grin, hastily reminding himself again to keep his lips together when he smiled. “How do you like it so far?”
“I am excited about it, really. I could have set up a shop anywhere…and my family really wanted me to join the shipping business, but I think that the future of business is going to involve, well, humans,” KKt’tk said, cocking his head to one side in a gesture that evidently meant the same thing in both species. “When did you arrive here from Dirt?”
Harry laughed. “Earth, you mean? I think your translator needs some work, it used a different word that means the same thing.” The xeno nodded slowly. “Anyway…I got in last night, actually. This is literally a whole new world of opportunity out here.”
“It is…it really is,” replied KKt’tk. “What kinds of opportunity are you looking for? Or do you know?”
Harry boggled internally a little, but kept his face noncommittal – he hadn’t even had to hint at dangling something out there to bite on. My God, this is going to be incredible. “Well,” he answered out loud a little slowly, “That’s a really good question, my friend. I am looking for business partners – I’m an independent businessman, and I work with a really big company back home that is eager to expand beyond just Earth. The beauty of it is – and I probably shouldn’t share this with you, but what the hell – the amount of actual work that goes into what I do leaves me with so much time…I could probably run two businesses, easy, but I’m making enough I don’t really have to.” The Vz’ktk leaned in, obviously interested.
“What kind of business is it?” he asked. Gotcha
“I don’t know if I should go into it too much with you, I mean…unless you’re really interested. You got a business already, man. A good one. That’s got to take a lot of your energy, you know?” Harry asked.
“It…it does, yes, but you say this business of yours is profitable, and requires very little time and effort?”
“Well, yeah. It is, and it does. Tell you what, here. I’ll show you how it works – you don’t commit to anything at all till you get a chance to look at everything and see, right? It’s a little confusing – this is a human business, after all, and it’s pretty much optimized for humans, so, I mean, I’m not even sure it’d work with your culture. It’s pretty flexible, but even so…right. Okay, here, lemme scoot around, hang on.” Harry scooted around the table until he and the blue xeno were shoulder-to-shoulder. He pulled out a pen of the proper color and a brilliant white notepad, pulling down his own sunglasses to shade his eyes from the dazzle.
“Okay, so, this is what’s called multi-level direct marketing. Lots of people…humans, that is…that have heard about this confuse it with something else called a pyramid scheme…those are illegal, and this isn’t that, despite looking kinda similar.” He flourished the pen a bit. “You’ve had some experience with human taxation here on Cimbrean, right?”
“Yes. The taxes are not too different from Dominion tax structures, although it is much easier here to get a small business like mine approved, and the taxes are actually much lower. It is one of the reasons I chose to set up here on a human colony,” KKt’tk replied, interested.
“Right. So, with humans, at least in the parts of Earth where I come from, small businesses are what drive and support the economy, and from what I’ve read, it’s pretty similar here. There are large businesses, of course, where millions of people work, and get paid, and so on…but the real money and satisfaction is doing it yourself, so our taxes are set up to encourage entrepreneurs. Like me. I’m my own boss, I’m independent, and I am a business partner with a major company on Earth that markets stuff directly through me – so, I’m like a one-man shop for the millions of products that the big guys sell. Like, if I sell something to you – you pay the company, and they give me a percentage of that pay as a commission or bonus.” The Vz’ktk nodded.
“That’s a sucker’s game though,” Harry went on. “That means I have to actually go out and operate a virtual storefront, and when stuff somebody ordered comes in, if they don’t get it delivered directly to them, that means I gotta take it out of my stock and deliver it, or take possession of it as it gets delivered and then deliver it to them. The only thing I wanna be the middle man for is the money part, am I right?” He laughed. “So, that’s basically a single-level business. It’s all vertical, and I’m only gonna get paid as long as I’m out there pushing stuff. The smart money…and you seem like a smart guy…is in a business structure that’s wide instead of just deep.” The Vz’ktk nodded, a little less certainly.
“What exactly do you mean by wide instead of just deep? I don’t understand,” he said with a pause after thinking hard.
“So, here’s how it looks,” Harry said, putting pen to paper. “Here’s you, and your business.” He drew a circle. “That right there is the business I described where you’re a point of sale, and that’s it. The thing is, in order to qualify as a business, you have to have a minimum amount of annual sales…which, going by the rules, is about as much as a single, human, household would order and use in a year of, say, soap or other cleaners, or clothes, or non-perishable goods, tires for the car, electronics, and so on. There’s a lot of stuff we sell. So let’s say you order stuff for just your own use, and you use the business as a tax shelter to write off expenses. You with me so far?” The Vz’ktk nodded again, although his eyes were a little glazed over.
“So, the idea of this business structure is, you get other people doing the same thing you’re doing. There’s nothing wrong with also being a business doing direct sales….but here’s the key. Let’s say you know two people.” He held up a hand at the inevitable protest. “I know you know more than that – you’re smart, I bet you know a lot of people that would see the same things you’re seeing now in this concept. Bear with me. So…you know two other people.” He drew two legs off of the first, and then two additional circles, one at each end of the leg. “Let’s say all they do is sell to themselves, doing the same thing you’re doing, writing off expenses the same way you’re doing. The company we partner with pays you a commission on the sales you make….and also pays a commission on the sales for everybody you recruit. So, now…your commission check is the same amount you would have made, plus, a commission based on what they sell. And…what if they know two people each?” He drew additional legs, with additional circles, tapping for emphasis. “You’re gonna get commissions based on every single one of these other businesses from the parent, partner company…and if they each know two people…It’s exponential growth, man. The sky…heck, the sky isn’t even the limit anymore. Literally.”
It was amazing to see the moment that the big blue alien got it, in a sudden wave of comprehension. His head reared back in surprise. “This…this is something I don’t think anyone has ever tried. Wow….” he trailed off.
“You know, man, you’re the first non-human I know of to have ever seen this business plan, and you picked up on its potential pretty fast. I know you got a good thing going here and all….you could maybe do this on the side or something. I would hate to see you miss out on a bottom-floor opportunity like this, get in early. Sometimes it’s the early visionaries who see something like this and just grab at it that really make things happen, you know?” Harry said. “Like I said, man, no pressure or nothin’. In fact, I wouldn’t take an answer of ‘yes’ right now anyway – I want you to think about it. I can see you’re pretty interested…right?” he asked, as KKt’tk gave an enthusiastic species-equivalent gesture of appreciation. “How ‘bout you take some time to, like, think about it? I can come back later, man, or you can call me at my hotel. Here’s the number and my room,” he said, handing a card over. “In fact..you know what….here.” He dug out his memory-stick copy of the Company catalogue and handed it to KKt’tk. “That’s an electronic copy of the catalogue that has everything that we carry – look through it and see what’s in there you can use – keep in mind it’s all human stuff, but you’ll find human solutions to problems I bet you didn’t even know were problems. It’s read-only unless it’s hooked into my tablet, for now, so if you want to order anything we’ll need to work together on that. I’ll come by here tomorrow morning after you’ve had a chance to look at everything, and we’ll talk more, ok?”
“I will do that,” the beaming KKt’tk said. “You will be hearing from me very soon, I think.” Just then, two tall Rrrrtktktkp'ch came ambling in off the street, and the blue proprietor left Harry’s table to greet them. Harry finished his coffee thoughtfully, as the little cafe began to fill up with morning customers. He almost felt bad. KKt’tk actually did have a pretty good business going. Prime location, good service, friendly attitude. He’d do well as a consultant. Harry could feel it.
Over the rest of the day, Harry found himself putting The Plan in front of several different species of xenos, with varying levels of success. He didn’t see many more Vz’ktk that weren’t obviously in the middle of something else, and it was pretty evident that the Gaoian in the Buddhist robes wasn’t interested much. Nor was the Locayl tattoo artist a few doors down from KKt’tk’s cafe, or the overly effeminate Corti that came swishing through; the latter had taken one look at him up & down and had loudly dismissed him as being, “far too gauche to take seriously,” whatever that meant. It had been a really nice, if a little cold, day outside, and so he’d wandered throughout the Alien Quarter admiring the non-human artwork, food, and the various sounds that said this isn’t a human place. It was intoxicating.
As the afternoon wound down, Harry felt he’d done a good day’s work, and was heading for the checkpoint back into the human portion of the city, when he realized he was hearing something out of the ordinary behind him…feet. A lot of them, in fact, and in a hurry. He turned, and was suddenly reminded of a movie scene he’d seen once. He turned, afraid of what he would find thundering up behind him, and was confronted by a forest of blue stilt-like legs and approximately a half-dozen Vz’ktk as they slid to a flailing, skidding stop and all began chattering at once. They were led, he belatedly realized, by a ridiculously excited KKt’tk.
“Whoa, whoa….hang on, guys. I can’t understand all of you at once,” he said, holding his hands up. “What’s…uh….what’s going on?” The entire group looked at KKt’tk.
“Human Harry, my family and friends would like very much to see the business plan that we discussed this morning. I have tried my best to remember the details, but I am afraid I am confusing it terribly, and we believe that there is much possibility and…,” he trailed off, breathing hard. “Please, will you show us all the business plan?”
Oh….my. “Sure, man. I’d be happy to; how about we head back to your store, since there’s plenty of room, huh?” Harry said with a big closed-lipped smile. After a full day of internally reminding himself not to bare his teeth and keep his lips closed, it came easily. The group made various gestures and clicking noises of agreement, and began moving almost at once in that general direction with the sort of unconscious coordination that herd species always seemed to have in their genetic makeup. Harry was pestered by questions nearly the entire way.
On arriving, Harry again took out pen and paper to illustrate The Plan. It wasn’t quite the same as the presentation earlier, mostly because he was unable to focus on one of them at a time and was constantly interrupted with questions, but nonetheless, the crowd was universally enthusiastic, demanding to all sign up immediately. They couldn’t seem to agree on what order to sign up in, or who would be downline from whom, but he eventually got it sorted out and walked, bemused, back to his hotel shaking his head the whole way.
The next morning, Harry had intended to sleep in, but was awakened by a bleebling sound that turned out to be the room phone. Blearily, he reached over and picked it up, belatedly realizing it was upside down and turning it over.
“…Yeah?” he grumbled out.
“Mr. Dhiinhou? This is the front desk.”
“I’m terribly sorry to awaken you, sir, but I have a group video call from the Alien Quarter that is absolutely insistent on being connected,” the disembodied voice said.
“Wha…what time is it?” he managed to mumble out. No light penetrated the thin curtains; it was obvious that it was not yet dawn.
“I’m very sorry sir. It is…early. I have attempted several times to have your callers leave a video message for you to call back, but I’m afraid they have called back repeatedly. This has been going on for almost two hours now.”
“Unnn….,” Harry groaned. “Fine. Put it through.” He sat up and pulled on a shirt, rubbing at his eyes. At the foot of the bed, a force-field screen materialized, lighting the dim room with an abrupt glow. He found himself being peered at by several blue Vz’ktk faces. “Hey, this is Harry. C’n I…help you?”
What followed was, in a virtual sense, nearly an ideal performance to the previous afternoon, with the audience on the other end of the connection clamoring to see what their friends had seen about this New Human Business Opportunity That Might Not Be Available Very Long. Harry quickly realized that he was going to need to haul his carcass back out of bed despite having had only a few hours of actual sleep…it wasn’t even dawn yet, for Christ’s sake…in order to capitalize on this opportunity. He made arrangements to meet the group, once again, at KKt’tk’s shop in the Alien Quarter, telling the excited xenos that he would be there shortly, and dragged himself out of bed. He took a quick shower, and grabbed a snack bar and another newer item that The Catalogue had just stocked, which he considered the best invention in the history of ever…a self-heating, sealed cappucino that was perfectly hot in 30 seconds. He was halfway to the door before he belatedly remembered clothes, and, remedying that oversight, was out the door and into the elevator by the time he felt actually awake in any real sense.
The ride via Uber to the Alien Quarter gateway was largely uneventful, although he did get a strange look from the driver. Apparently, human traffic into the Quarter at this time of…night? morning? was unusual, since the sleeping cycles of humans and most other races were quite different. The clock on the car’s dash said it was 3AM, for what that was worth. The human guard at the door ushered him through the same security checks as the previous day, and before he knew it, he was standing in KKt’tk’s storefront, in front of many more Vz’ktk than had been there before. The nightly rain continued pouring down; thankfully, someone had anticipated that and had erected additional shelter for people to sit under with brilliant blue-white lighting throwing ghostly shadows out into the downpour.
God, what have I created here?
Realizing that using a regular sized pad of paper wasn’t going to cut it this time, he had opted to bring one of the larger ones he’d brought with him from Earth, as well as markers in the color he intended to use. He set it up on a table-top easel, and launched into his spiel, fielding questions from all and sundry before he’d even explained the background of his presentation. The cappucino helped, but the real alert factor here was the fact that he was going to make an absolute killing off of this.
By the time the meeting was done, KKt’tk and nine others had completed their applications to become “Distributing Consultants” in affiliation with the company, and as he was wrapping up, they came in a group to Harry, crowding around and jostling to be first in line as around the tables, the invitees all spoke excitedly about the business plan they’d just seen. KKt’tk was the first to speak.
“Harry, we all want to sign up, today. We will need your assistance with the money transfer and the first orders, but we are ready to begin. I cannot thank you enough for letting me be the first Vz’ktk ever to be a Distributing Consultant, and I am so excited!” the tall blue alien blurted out in a rush.
“Hey, man, all I did was put the idea out there. You were the one smart enough to see the potential in it…it was just dumb luck that you were the first guy I talked to!” replied Harry.
“Yes, and here are the applications, and you told us about the fees, which we’re prepared to send first thing in the morning when the bank exchange opens. I have also prepared a list of things I wish to order from the company as…well, as beginning supplies, and my friends here have done the same.” He handed Harry a printed list with the helpful Dominon code for machine translation, and Harry blinked as he passed a scanner over it.
“This…you sure you wanna order…I mean, I’m not gonna say no, man, but I don’t know of many human consultants that would start out going this big. Maybe start off a little smaller?” he found himself saying. What am I doing????
“It is like you said. Go big or go home, and we do not want to go home. We want to go big,” said another of the group, who Harry hadn’t yet put a name to.
“You all have orders, and the startup fees?” Harry asked, at a loss for anything else to say for once, to much enthusiastic hand-waving and other expressions of affirmation. “Well. Okay then. So, to be clear – you’re all intending to sign up directly with me as your sponsor, then? None of you are recruiting the others, you’re all being recruited by me?”
“It was you that showed us this business plan, Harry. We believe it should be you that sponsors us.”
“Okay, guys, but remember that it’s important that you recruit too. Build your business wide and deep, right?” Harry reminded them. “In fact…we really should have you guys…,” he broke off in a yawn, “…’scuse me…you guys need to present The Plan too. I’ll let you practice on me, and maybe each other. Tomorrow, after I get some sleep, or at least more than just a couple of hours of it.” He took their forms and the order list, the excitement starting to wear off and his body telling him in no uncertain terms that it was not time to be awake.
He finished packing up, continuing to field questions about The Plan, and bid farewell to the group. Providentially, the rain let up as he left KKt’tk’s shop, and he got to the gateway to the rest of the city just about the time that the first light of dawn was breaching the horizon. He returned to his hotel room again, bemused at his apparent success, and fell into his bed, still clothed, asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.
Continued in the comments