Larry Mason looked at himself in the mirror. He was dressed to impress - to impress all the low-level wannabes, who were showing up today to flatter him, or to try to grab a few scraps that fell from the table of power. To impress those on his level - who were always watching for signs of weakness, so they could swoop in and take what was his. To impress those above him - there were precious few of those in Stockton, but today he was going to drop a bombshell and he wanted to be at the top of his game.

He carefully tied his tie. Double-knotted, of course. So few of the others put the effort into looking their best these days. So few respected the rules of the game they were playing. Well, THEY looked at it as a game to play. Larry Mason saw it as a way of life. He put on the jacket - made by the finest Solarian tailor in Stockton, whom he paid a good deal to cater exclusively to Larry and those he deemed worthy. (Why threaten when money talked louder?) And as a final touch, he adjusted his opal cuff links.

Because that's what today was about. All of the most powerful people in Stockton - those who really ran the city, who paid the politicians to do what they said, who sold vices to the little people - would be here to pay hm homage. But he wanted more than that. He would explain to them why now was the best time to move in towards Hartlin City - how a seemingly small and insignificant little town hundreds of miles away was really their best bet to increase their reach, and why he should be the man to lead them towards it. And the opal trade was just their way in.

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