Faraday Convention Center, Luna Annual Protogen Summit 6 Months Ago... So far, so good. Nobody had thrown anything at the stage, nor had he spotted anyone headed for the exit. Not that he cared. Not really. Stepping forward, he continued to speak with a practiced ease that came with a lifetime of such presentations. “Needless to say, this arrangement has raised some questions - on both sides. What does an Earth corp have to gain by contributing time and resources to the Martian dream?” He paused for effect, flashed his trademarked grin, and rubbed his fingertips together: the universal sign for ‘money’. “Well. That one’s easy.” “And how about ‘what makes a sinfully rich Martian entrepreneur step down as CEO of the company he built from the ground up, just to work as a mid-level manager manager at a research firm? ‘What’s Cormier’s angle?', they keep asking. Well. I’ll tell you.” A hush fell over the crowd, and he could almost physically feel the members of the press clustered at the foot of the stage lean forward in strained anticipation. It had been almost two years since his departure from Cormier Dynamics, and he’d coyly failed to offer explanation up until this point. Folding his hands, he looked down at the hungry camera lenses and grinned broadly. “The answer’s going to disappoint all you scandal-chasers, I’m afraid. It’s a line you’re tired of hearing, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I want to see a green Mars. I want dip my toes into a Martian ocean, to taste the air of my homeworld cycling in and out of my lungs. And Protogen is the key to making that a reality.” A flurry of hushed conversation threatened to derail the presentation. He’d predicted this, prepared for it, and held out his hands to pat the air. “Easy, now. We haven’t simplified terraforming. Yet. But thanks to the brilliant minds based out of our new facility in Londres Nova- “ he paused a beat to direct his gaze to his new head researcher, who he’d picked out the the dimly lit crowd long before. He’d have put a spotlight on Elysia and dragged her on stage, if she’d have permitted it - “we’re making advances at rates far beyond initial projections. If the Martian government is willing to work with us, the conversation ceases to be about some abstract, multi-generational fantasy of a man-made paradise. I’m talking about our grandchildren, maybe even those already born, seeing the first tree on Mars.” As anticipated, another rumble started - a cocktail of wonder and skepticism, but he cut it off by continuing, his amplified drawl drowning out the whispers. “And why stop there?” His smile seemed to impossibly broaden as he did his best to make intimate eye contact with every last person in the room, his blue irises catching an angelical sparkle in the stage lights. “For that matter: why stop anywhere?” “And yes, I can hear it already: ‘But Lucas. Where’s your sense of Martian pride? Doesn’t that make you a traitor? Mars comes first.’ I get it. We’ve built massive armadas, designed countless weapons capable of wiping each other off the map. We’re reached the stars, maintained something like peace, but we’re still poised like primates arguing over a damn bushel of bananas.” He waved a hand dismissively, now pacing confidently along the very edge of the stage as he continued to speak. “Just take a look back through history. The largest empires, the strongest alliances, the sturdiest superpowers. War. Politics. These things are fickle, dynamic, flexing and passing with the times. The Holy Roman Empire. The Soviet Union. Though they seemed like permanent fixtures to those living at the time, all of these have faded into obscurity.” He stopped, in the center of the stage, positioning himself between the projectors as they provided a visual reference for his speaking points. “You know what hasn’t lost relevance? Fire. Penicillin. The electric light. The Epstein drive.” He gave them a moment to internalize that, then starting moving again, occupying the stage as if too energetic and ambitious to simply utilize the podium that the other speakers had confined themselves to. “Nobody in this room knows what the future holds a thousand, two thousand years down the road, but I can tell you what it doesn’t. A UNN. An MCRN. ‘Earthers,’ ‘dusters’, ‘belters.’” He shook his head, almost sorrowfully, though the pained expression was only momentary. “They’ll look back at us, and laugh about how short-sighted we were, squabbling over a pair of rocks in the Sol system. No, this isn’t about a competition between our worlds, some chest-thumping rivalry. It’s about science. Spearheading human expansion and our advancement as a species. Protogen is the tip of that spear, and I’m proud to be a part of it. First. Fastest. Furthest. It’s about tomorrow, not today. It’s what comes next.” He gave it a moment of silence, then clapped his hands together, grinning broadly. “And in this case, what comes next is the real reason I flew a hundred and forty miles million to get here. Your planet’s wine and hors d'oeuvres. There are just some areas where nature has science over a barrel. Agronomists, I’m looking at you. Maybe Protogen needs a new division?” A light chuckle from the audience answered the boyish tilt of his head. “Anyway, I won’t keep you thirsty boozehounds out there listening to me ramble any longer. Please. Enjoy your evening. Our caterers went to all the trouble of dragging all this wine up the well, the least you can do is save us the trouble of carting it back.” He lifted a hand in temporary farewell as his earpiece de-synced from the loudspeakers, and the stage lights faded. In place of his Mariner drawl, a synthesized orchestral melody gently underlined the growing hum of conversation as the party started in earnest. Lucas disappeared behind the stage curtain, handing the earpiece off to an assistant before activating the mirror function on his hand terminal, to double-check his immaculately groomed appearance and straighten his already-straightened cufflinks. The keynote speech was out of the way, but the real work was just beginning. Perhaps he should have been nervous, but instead, he was bristling with excitement like a kid on Christmas. He hadn’t felt this alive in years. His only regret was that he couldn’t take a direct role in the events transpiring beneath the surface, behind all the tailored suits and expensive dresses, the handshakes and networking. Those, for better or worse, were his area of expertise. Rolling his neck and pre-loading his signature smile, he found the stage access door, and waded out into the bustling corporate battleground.