Chapter 21 – A Plan for Expansion
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Miss Planner called a meeting of the Elders to discuss a new and radical strategy. Her efforts to improve sales had finally borne fruit and the organization had begun to recover from its period of stagnation. As the financial situation improved, the executives and managers were able to start making more ambitious plans, and it was time for the Chosen Ones to take their first step towards total control of the world.

The Elders sat around a large table in a conference room with a beautiful view of Grandebelle's skyline. Elder Omen was absent, as he was wandering around the Pit with his attendants in a fit of spontaneous and uncontrollable creativity. Elder Presence and Crown were in attendance, as well as Elder Incarnate and Elder Mirror who made the trip down from the Temple of the Chosen to hear Miss Planner's presentation.

Elder Incarnate had come a long way to listen, but he was tired (as he often was) and was consequently drifting in and out of consciousness. Elder Crown was sitting next to the window, staring moodily out through the glass at nothing in particular. Elder Presence was the only one who seemed to have any energy, and he was carefully reviewing the sales figures and projecting forward to see how much money the organization was going to earn over the next few months. Elder Mirror just looked bored and sad without Elder Witness to argue with. They didn't say a word to each other and barely acknowledged the presence of Miss Planner when she walked in the room with Milly at her side.

Miss Planner stood up in front of the assembled group, her hands clasped together respectfully She wore a perfectly tailored black suit with a white blouse underneath. Her blonde hair glowed in the light, and her loafers clicked smartly on the polished floor tiles.

"Before we begin," said Miss Planner, "I'd like to thank everyone for attending this important meeting. Elder Presence, can you wake up Elder Incarnate?"

Elder Presence turned to look at Elder Incarnate with a concerned expression.
"Elder Incarnate?" he asked.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," said Elder Incarnate, looking a little ashamed. "My mind was elsewhere."

He yawned widely, exposing his gums in a way that Miss Planner found very unappealing.

Miss Planner turned back to face the rest of the room. Milly scurried behind her boss and took a seat in the corner.

"I want us all to understand that this is the moment of truth," said Miss Planner with a smile. "The Chosen Ones have been in decline for some time now, but we've had a lot of successes recently and we're starting to turn things around. If we stay focused, our organization will soon return to its former glory!"

She paused, waiting for the crowd of Elders to say something. It was clear that they did not share her enthusiasm.

"But I believe it's time to do something different."

Miss Planner smiled again. The room fell silent, except for the soft tapping of Elder Presence's fingers on the table.

"We've been steadily growing our customer base over the past few months. Our sales are increasing and we should see a big boost in income within six to twelve weeks."

The Elders were still quiet, so Miss Planner continued.

"But there's a limit to how much we can do with our current structure. Our rivals have been catching up to us. We don't have enough people. We're only selling to the very top end of the market. And above all else, our biggest problem is that we lack the leadership and skills necessary to take on more responsibility."
Miss Planner stopped for a second to catch her breath. The Elders were staring at her with worried expressions on their faces.

"If you ask me, it looks like we're losing. We're getting outcompeted. But what if we didn't have to compete anymore? What if we could make the competition irrelevant? How about this... imagine the Cut Throats, Pit Razors, and Ghouls never existed. We'd have total control over every sector of the market!"

Elder Crown finally spoke up.
"What exactly does your plan entail?" he asked. "You haven't told us yet."

Miss Planner sat down, resting her hands on the table in front of her and looking at Elder Crown with a stern gaze.

"All right," she said, "I'll tell you my idea. We need to break out of Grandebelle. I want to go somewhere else. Somewhere where we can really expand our influence and sell our products however we please."

"That isn't going to happen," hissed Elder Crown. "We can't produce Nuke anywhere but here. It only happens in the Pit. We know that the best thing to do is stay put and build up our organization."

"Do you think that we can continue to grow our business indefinitely without expanding outside the city limits? Of course, we can't. We don't have to go far to find new customers and other markets to exploit. Just look at how successful our charity organization has been at finding donors."

Miss Planner turned on the projector and dimmed the lights. The whiteboard behind the podium lit up with a picture of a map. A red dot was blinking in one corner.

"Look at this," said Miss Planner, pointing to the image on the board. "We've managed to tap into a large source of revenue in the suburbs just south of the city. If we took a trip down there and built up a distribution wing, our profits would increase dramatically."

"No," said Elder Presence flatly. "I hate to say it, but we've tried to do that before. We couldn't get any customers. No one in the community seemed interested in our services, and we couldn't get any sales."

Elder Mirror nodded sadly as he said this, and Miss Planner gave him a sympathetic smile.

"But this time will be different," said Miss Planner confidently. "We've got our charity organization to help us set up a clientele. The people living in the suburbs could be our most valuable clients! They're the middle class, the small business owners and managers who've made it through the recession with their businesses intact. We've already established ties with them through the Hands of Light. Now we'll use those connections to expand our customer base and grow our sales."

The Elders all looked shocked and confused. This was not the way they had imagined things working out with the charity organization they set up as a front for their criminal activities.

"We'll start in our own backyard," continued Miss Planner. "If we can secure a foothold, we'll take over the area from the ground up. The people there are used to dealing with the Hands of Light. They trust us and respect us. And they won't see anything wrong with buying our products and services."

She paused again, waiting for the rest of her plan to sink in. The Elders were quiet. Miss Planner pressed on.

"I can guarantee you that if we don't do this, our competitors are going to do it first. I mean, it's not exactly rocket science. We know what we need to do to succeed. But if we're too scared to try, the competition is definitely going to make a move. We have no choice but to act now! We need to get a head start!"

Miss Planner stood up and paced around the table, moving her hands back and forth in front of her like a conductor.

"We've got the perfect opportunity here," she said. "If we just make a few tweaks to our marketing, everyone will see us as an honest, reliable organization. All we need to do is go out and get our foot in the door."

Elder Presence raised his hand tentatively. Miss Planner nodded encouragingly towards him.
"Yes, Elder Presence, go ahead. Speak your mind."

"We have a lot of problems here in Grandebelle that we haven't solved yet. We just started a major reorganization. Our staffing is a problem, and so is our security. Can we really afford to spend money on expansion right now?"

He looked nervous, but he had clearly thought about this question for a long while. Miss Planner was pleased that he was showing initiative.

"There's no better time than the present. The potential advantage is so big that we can't pass up the chance to seize the moment. The earlier we do it, the earlier we'll be able to reap the rewards."

She looked at Elder Crown, who was still sitting there looking worried.

"You know as well as anyone else how hard we've been working. We have a great product. What are we waiting for? If we don't give this plan a shot, someone else will. We're already behind. You all know what we could accomplish if we tried."

Miss Planner stopped pacing and faced the Elders. She put her hands on the tabletop, leaned in close to them, and spoke softly.

"I'm sure you can understand my desire to push forward with this plan. I know this isn't going to be easy, but it seems like this is the only way we'll ever get anywhere."

She smiled at Elder Mirror, who nodded silently.

"If you all agree," continued Miss Planner, "we should start immediately. We need to be ready when our competitors show up. If we don't act soon, they're going to beat us to it."

The Elders didn't like the idea of expanding out of the Pit, but they knew Miss Planner wouldn't let them down. She always delivered on her promises.

With her plans for expansion, Miss Planner had doomed another city to become the next Grandebelle. The chaos of the psychic drug war would spread endlessly from city to city, destroying countless lives in the process. No one could have anticipated the catastrophe that was about to unfold in these cities where no one had any experience with Nuke or its side effects.