The boardroom, as always, was stuffy. The windows had been painted over years ago, and nothing had ever been done about it. Though the issue was brought up from time to time at Board Meetings, it seemed there was always some other matter more pressing than the modulation of the room's environment.
Such a matter was at hand today, Richard Akeman thought to himself. The man sighed, cracked his knuckles, and clapped his pile of papers against the conference table, forming a neat pile.
"Gentlemen, the time is 2:09 pm, and this meeting is called to order," Akeman intoned. "Please take your seats, and we'll get started."
There was a muttering and creaking as the various men and women present moved their antiquated bodies into slightly more antiquated chairs. After a lengthy period of groaning and creaking, silence fell over the room.
"Thank you," Akeman began. "Allow me to explain the reason behind this unscheduled meeting." Akeman paused, and cringed slightly at the room's complete silence. The esteemed members of the Worldtree Corporation's Board of Directors had a certain Order to their proceedings, a methodology of consistency and planning in which Disturbances were frowned upon. Richard Akeman had created a Disturbance, and the room's atmosphere of irritation was palpable. The Board wanted an explanation, and it had damned well be a good one.
After a long pause, Akeman continued. "I am afraid that I must become a bearer of bad news. The Helping Hands Organization has filed for bankruptcy."
The room was filled by a collective gasp. For years, the Helping Hands Organization had formed an essential branch of the Corporation's structure. It was the Corporation's charitable offshoot, its primary organizer of projects that, as numerous promotional speakers had phrased it, "Giving Back to the Community". More importantly, it was the Corporation's primary source of tax deductions. With the Organization gone, the Corporation would have to find a new target for its charity, and fast. This was a Disturbance of monstrous proportions.
Akeman could feel the Board's panic rising as a hurried muttering began to slither its way around the room. He cleared his throat slightly, and was met with sixteen pairs of worried eyes.
As well as one pair of eyes that were decidedly less worried.
"Fortunately, there is hope for stability yet," he began again. "Almost immediately after I was notified of the Helping Hands Organization's dissolution, I was contacted by a representative of another, equally reliable charity."
Akeman was lying. He knew nothing of the new charity's reliability. In fact, he knew next to nothing about the new charity at all. On the Friday following the Thursday in which he had learned of the Helping Hands Organization's collapse, an unmarked envelope had appeared in Akeman's personal mailbox. The envelope's interior was nearly as unhelpful as its exterior, as it bore only a plain white postcard printed with a few words. "Charity, when it is needed most", read the card's title, followed by a phone number. Desperate, Akeman had called the phone number, and was answered by a woman's voice. The woman's voice had talked to him in soothing tones, and before Akeman could think about what he was doing, he had scheduled a meeting with "a very important representative" for the upcoming Tuesday. Had he stopped to think about it, Akeman might have realized that the voice on the other end of the telephone had an oddly detailed understanding of the Worldtree Corportion's inner workings. But Richard Akeman was a very busy man, and did not have time to stop and think about things.
"Members of the Worldtree Corporation Board of Directors, may I present to you…" Akeman's voice trailed off as he gestured towards the other end of the boardroom. In that instant, he realized exactly how little he knew about the well-dressed man seated at the other end of the table.
All the faces in the room turned to regard the man uneasily. He had been seated at the end of the table before most of the board members had arrived, and had not stopped smiling for the entirety of the time that he had been seated. Smiling rarely occurred in the boardroom, especially on such an unsettling day. A few of the older board members sniffed condescendingly. Who was this man seated at the end of the table, and what right did he have to continue smiling in such a manner? Was he not aware that there had been a Disturbance?
"My name is Zachariah Maxwell," the man said, "and I'm here on behalf of the Manna Charitable Foundation. The Foundation is very interested in providing a charitable outlet for your highly esteemed Corporation."
The man fell silent, as if he believed that he had said enough. The room was gripped in an indignant silence. Richard Akeman smiled awkwardly.
"Ah, yes, who can forget the prestigious Mahna Foundation?" Akeman mumbled awkwardly.
"It's Manna," replied Maxwell, the corners of his mouth only turning downward for a brief moment.
"Yes. Manna. Right." Akeman's brow began to perspire. His complete lack of control of the situation was dangerously close to becoming exposed. "I'm quite sorry, but I appear to have forgotten. What is it, exactly, that you do, again?"
Maxwell's face twitched slightly as, inside his head, something clicked. His smile grew even wider, and he stood up explosively, knocking back his chair. Maxwell threw out his arms, eliciting a cry of disapproval from one of the board members.
"Ladies, gentlemen, friends, esteemed board members!" The man exclaimed. "Surely we've all heard the stories, yes?" He began to stalk energetically around the room. "The Chicago homeless are crawling in sludge and depravity!" He placed his hands on his head in a display of shock. "Indian citizens have been left without houses to call their own! Furthermore," he continued, "there are children starving in Africa."
Suddenly, Maxwell's demeanor changed to one of dismay, and his back slumped. "But that's the problem, isn't it? We've all heard the stories day in and day out. Nobody cares. These problems, tremendous as they might be, are now commonplace." He began to move around the room again in a morose shuffle. "People give money." He slapped his hand onto the table. "But nothing really gets done, does it?" He turned his head to face the bespectacled visage of a particularly elderly director, who regarded him with caution. "Yes, people give money," Maxwell continued, placing his face uncomfortably close to the director's, "and people forget."
"But what if they didn't forget?" Maxwell's behavior shifted once again. He stood up straighter, placed his hands by his sides, and assumed an expression of determination. "What if people genuinely cared about the issues they donated to? What if we lived in a world in which things got done?" Maxwell's face assumed the familiar folds of a smile, and pure enthusiasm once again manifested in his voice. "Well, ladies and gentlemen of the esteemed Board of Directors of the Worldtree Corporation, that is the world the Manna Charitable Foundation strives to create. With your funding, we will utilize the very best tools that science, technology, and every other area of modern study can provide, and we will make unforgettable changes. We will craft ad campaigns that will staunchly refuse people's attempts to forget them. We will feed all the hungry. We will clothe all the poor. Ladies and gentlemen, with your funding," Maxwell pounded on the table, accentuating each of his words, "we will get. Things. Done."
Maxwell looked up expectantly. He was met by a sea of furrowed brows. Somebody coughed.
Akeman's perspiration grew more profuse. He had called in this man to fix a Disturbance, and yet here he had turned out to be Disturbance's very personification. Prancing around the room, selling unattainable goals… Maxwell had made a mockery of the Board's proper Order and procedure, and his Manna Charitable Foundation promised to make the Worldtree Corporation prominent for all the wrong reasons. Akeman had made a grave error. There would be hell to pay later, and he knew it.
Akeman cleared his throat and attempted to smile apologetically. "Well, ah, that's certainly quite the pitch you have there," he croaked. "And, uh, under ordinary circumstances, I'd hope I wouldn't have to say this, but times being what they are, and uh, the economy being what it is…" Akeman's voice didn't so much trail off as it did drop dead.
Zachariah Maxwell's face was one of stoic acceptance. "Yes," he said simply. "Yes, of course. I understand completely. As an apology for taking your valuable time, please accept this." Maxwell reached inside his jacket and produced two medium-sized tins. In one swift, practiced motion, he opened them and placed them on the table.
The directors anxiously bent their heads to examine the tins' contents. Inside were forty-two perfectly proportioned, perfectly delicious truffles. Slowly, one director reached for a chocolate. As he bit into it, his eyes widened with sudden pleasure. As the director began to reach for a second candy, his compatriots eagerly grabbed truffles of their own. A brief flurry of hungry excitement gripped the room as most of the chocolates vanished. Zachariah Maxwell slipped to the boardroom's door and shut it.
Suddenly, the room's warmth tripled. A few of the directors looked up in surprise. Slowly, Maxwell returned to his seat, his voice wavering oddly as he once again addressed the board. "Sorry to have caused you to LosE such a valuablE Portion of todAy's Nobly scheDule allOtment; my work will Be donE in just a moment, as You please…"
Silence fell over the room. Maxwell returned to his seat and looked at the newly docile members of the Worldtree Corporation Board of Directors, their heads drooped, a few snoring softly. The corners of Maxwell's mouth curled into an entirely new type of smile.
"All right, listen up," Maxwell growled, his voice taking on an imposing timbre, "it's been fun, but let's drop the charades. All of them. All this Corporation does is move money around, and you know it. Well, it's about God damn time you started making something out of that money, or at least giving it to somebody who can. To put it more simply: you're sitting on a pile of cash, but most of the planet needs that money for more than a chair. The Manna Charitable Foundation is going to change the world, and you all will have had the express privilege of having helped."
Maxwell picked up the tins, closed them, and slipped them back inside his jacket, taking care not to touch the remaining contents. Though the chocolates might have tasted fantastic, they were dosed in enough psychoactive chemicals and hypnosis-inducing compounds that eating them, or even touching them, would yield a mild and not entirely unpleasant hangover. Under ordinary circumstances, he hoped he wouldn't have to use such tools, but times being what they were, and the economy being what it was…
"In a moment, you're all going to wake up," Maxwell continued, "you're going to give me everything I ask for, you're going to remember that I gave a stunning and very convincing presentation, and you're all going to have a nice God damned day for once."
Maxwell clicked his tongue, and the boardroom sprung to life. The board members shook their heads, confused at first. Then, remembering themselves, the directors began speaking energetically to their neighbors. Many grateful faces turned to look at Maxwell, who had re-assumed his wide smile.
Richard Akeman, for his part, felt mildly stupefied. It seemed impossible that his unscheduled meeting, at best a Disturbance, could have gone so well. Akeman felt contentment brewing within him. Looking at the well-dressed man sitting at the other end of the table, he was spurred into action. Reaching behind him, Akeman unlocked the company safe, and withdrew an official checkbook. He could feel Maxwell's smile widen as he opened the book, and almost unknowingly, he began to smile as well.
"Now then," Akeman said, looking up, "how much money was needed, again? I'm sure we're happy to give any amount of money to such a worthy cause." Small murmurs of enthusiasm from around the room confirmed Akeman's statement.
Zachariah Maxwell's smile grew even wider as he saw a multitude of opportunities opening up before him. "Oh, only a few hundred thousand dollars for now," he said. "Certainly nothing too… disturbing."