expecting the question.
“All or nothing?” Nili eventually pressed.
Myrab studied the table, saw he had the floor. This was where it usually got interesting. “It’s all unraveling,” he began. “This grand Zameridan Empire of ours is in its death throes. The conquered won’t stay conquered, our so-called enemies are banding together, and here the people are finally beginning to understand what the game is all about.”
“Ah, yes, the game,” Brid said with a smirk. He put his hands behind his head. “Enlighten us, kind sir. What’s the game really all about?”
“Banking systems,” Myrab answered unblinkingly. “Ours versus theirs.”
Olomun scoffed, folded his arms across his chest.
“Our empire was built on private central banking,” Myrab continued calmly. “It’s a system in which money literally equals debt. It’s created out of nothing, just zeroes punched into some computer, then loaned at interest. I repeat...at interest. That’s key. Because there’ll never be enough money to pay off the debt. Never. How could there be, when there’s no extra cash available to pay the interest? It’s a never-ending cycle of loans to pay off loans to pay off loans. Any society shackled to this system inevitably becomes enslaved, via debt, to the central bank. That’s the model.”
He paused, expecting questions or protestations. After a few silent moments he continued. “We invade a realm, oust the ruler, replace him with some clown we can control, then install a central bank so as to loot that realm of its wealth and natural resources. It’s a scam, plain and simple, and more people are waking up to it every day—“
“—Wrong,” inserted Brid, pointing a finger at Myrab. “Most of the realms on this planet that are even moderately civilized have central banks, yes?”
“Correct,” replied Myrab.
“Neh-eausha, even, has a central bank, yes?”
Brid spread his arms. “So tell me, smart guy. How—“
“—It isn’t in private hands,” Myrab interrupted. “Vlabin realmalized Neh-eausha’s central bank years ago. Their currency now operates as a public utility. For the people.”
Myrab couldn’t help but take pleasure in watching Brid’s face slowly harden. “And that’s what I meant by all or nothing,” he said, turning to Nili. “The power brokers of the Phlelohrean Union operate through their own private central bank, the PCB. They’re invested in this system. If it goes, so does the plush lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to. So you see, no matter how dependent upon energy or food or whatever else the PU might be to Neh-eausha, its leaders have no choice but to side with us, each and every time. Because they’re every bit as deep into the scam as we are.”
Myrab looked about the table. Brid was angry, and growing angrier, and his wife Dosania was beginning down that path. Nili, though confused, didn’t appear outright dismissive. But Olomun, leaning back in his chair and leering at Myrab through squinted eyes, seemed to have it all figured out. “I’ve got it now,” he said, grinning. “You’re one of these conspiracy hypothesists, aren’t you?”
Myrab rolled his eyes.
“Right,” Brid said through a chuckle. “Now it makes sense.”
“What makes sense?” asked Nili.
Myrab glanced up at Olomun. “That’s weak, man.”
“No,” replied Olomun, uncrossing his arms. “What’s weak is conflating bits of information from all over the board into some asinine theory that supports your twisted view. That’s what’s weak—“
“—If you don’t want to do the research, that’s fine,” Myrab returned with more force than he’d intended. “But it’s a mistake to think you’re right simply because they’ve given you a term to make people who are on to them look foolish.”
“What makes sense?” Nili repeated.
He turned to her. “My view of world events doesn’t line up with theirs. So it makes sense that I’m a weirdo.”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Olomun began.
“No, it isn’t,” Myrab spat, facing him. “You’re hoping a pejorative will make the argument for you because you lack the knowledge to engage me. Like I said. Weak.”
Brid pointed a finger, was about to speak when his wife beat him to it. “You’re very certain of yourself, aren’t you?” Dosania asked, a hint of derision in her voice.
Myrab shrugged. “I tried to stay out of your conversation. You all insisted I contribute.”
“That’s not what I mean,” she returned. “I’m talking about arrogance. Don’t you think it’s somewhat arrogant of you to dismiss everyone else’s opinion outright?”
“It would be, if that’s what I was doing,” Myrab answered. “But we’re not talking about opinions, we’re talking about the truth. And when it comes to the truth you either accept it or reject it. If you think the bought and paid for corporate media is telling you the truth about, oh, say…that Neh-euashan truck convoy rolling into eastern Kofraife, go right ahead. If you truly believe, like they want you to, that it’s actually some covert military invasion and not the humanitarian aid convoy Vlabin claims it is, have at it. Enjoy. You’d be wrong, because it doesn’t line up with the facts. But you’re certainly welcome to that opinion.”
“I’ve had just about enough of you, fella,” said Olomun, his nostrils flaring.
Myrab turned to him, grinned. “And that just breaks my heart.”
“Easy, boys,” said Nili as the two men locked eyes. “We’re just talking here, right?”
“So what are we after, then?” resumed Dosania. “You called it a game. Okay. So what’s the prize?”
“You’re encouraging him?” asked Brid.
“I wanna know,” she replied, then leaned forward to stare at Myrab. “You’re smart, you’ve got all the answers. So tell me. Big picture. What are we after?”
Myrab peeled his eyes away from Olomun to look at her. “War.”
Brid frowned. “With Neh-euasha? Are you insane?”
Myrab stayed on Dosania. “I told you, it’s all coming apart. War is the only thing that can keep the scheme from collapsing in on itself. And not just any war. A planetary war.”
Nili raised an eyebrow. “The Third Global Conflict?”
Myrab looked at her. “Call it that if you like,” he said, then turned back to Dosania. “We don’t have a choice. We, meaning the Federated Sectors and our allies, must reverse the trend. Right now realms all across this planet are banding together behind the understanding that private central banking is the scourge of mankind. They’re striking deals, they’re making partnerships. An alliance is forming, Dosania. Against Zamerida. And it’s growing stronger by the day. So yes, we want war. We want it because we need it. We either crush the movement now or the party’s over.”
Brid laughed. “Great line, that last one. Should be on a bumper sticker.”
“It already is,” cackled Olomun. “That’s where he read it.”
Myrab leveled his gaze at Olomun. “You know something, man? Eventually I’m gonna get really tired of—“
“—Yina,” Nili said softly.
It instantly occurred to Myrab that he hadn’t so much as looked at his girlfriend in a very long time. That she’d been silent and on the sidelines throughout the entire conversation. He turned.
Yina wasn’t crying but her eyes were full of tears. She was staring ahead, at the wall and nothing.
“Oh, my. What’s wrong, honey?” Dosania asked tenderly.
Yina looked away, and after a moment wiped at the corners of her eyes. It was a few moments more before she faced the table again. When she finally did, Yina looked only at Dosania and Nili. Quietly, she stood.
She didn’t look at him. She couldn’t, Myrab knew. If she did, she’d no longer be able to hold back the tears. That’s who she was. Myrab could only watch as she turned from the table and moved softly toward the hallway.
“Yina,” called Dosania. She stood, began after her friend, paused. She looked at her husband Brid, raised her eyebrows. “And this is the one she wants to marry,” she said, then followed Yina into the hallway.
Myrab was staring down at Yina’s empty chair, a storm of guilt and sorrow churning in his belly.
“Don’t look so glum, Myrab,” said Brid. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Myrab closed his eyes, shook his head. He’d truly meant to keep his word. “Yes it is.”
Dosania caught up to Yina in the living room. She was about to tell Yina to slow down when