It was a still evening, like most in Minnesota. Winter had long since descended upon the land, and a withering January cold cut through the air. In the freezing forests and bluffs south of Canada stood a great mansion that had seen almost a century of bitter cold and blazing warmth. Once bustling with family and business, climate change had rendered the region nearly uninhabitable during the winter. Despite the deadly temperatures, however, the house would be far from empty today.
Lucas sat in his father’s old office, a cozy room in the center of the house. The CEO of EarthCorp, one of the largest companies in America, Lucas was a quiet man who believed in the power of tradition and loyalty. He had naturally assumed leadership after his father’s death and established himself as one of the strongest men in the corporate world. However, the meeting that was about to take place worried him. It had been years since he and his brother had last spoken. Once best friends, they became bitter enemies when their father kicked Nelson out of the company. Lucas had spent years trying to forget; that is, until he got an email from his brother six months ago with a proposal that would change the future of the company. Nelson was a dangerous man. There was little that could change his mind once it was made up, and he wasn’t going to back down easily. Lucas hoped that holding the meeting alone, in their father’s old house, would be the safest way to deal with the threat at hand.
But one thing was certain. No matter what his brother offered him, no matter what lucrative deal he had on the table, Lucas was not going to give in. He had made a promise that he wouldn’t let Nelson get the power he wanted. And damn it, he was going to keep it.
After several agonizing minutes, finally there was a knock on the door. Lucas sat up straighter and steeled himself against what he knew was coming next. A broad-shouldered gentleman, dressed in a glorious three-piece suit, stepped into the office like a judge entering his courtroom. Nelson was as strong as the day Lucas had last seen him. However, there was no denying that he was not the man Lucas had loved when they were younger. Years fighting in the corporate world had transformed the passion and optimism of Nelson’s youth into relentless ambition and dangerous charm. His red tie accentuated the fiery gleam in his eyes. This was a man who was used to winning, and it was clear that he intended to do so today.
“Lucas!” Nelson exclaimed with a too-genuine smile. “It is so good to see you again. How have you been? It’s been so long, and my wife and I have dearly missed seeing you more often.”
Lucas smiled in return with white-knuckled courtesy. “As have we; Rebecca constantly tells me how much she misses playing with your little ones.”
“Well, they’re not so little anymore. Remember, it’s been almost ten years.”
“And whose fault is that?”
Nelson’s eyes glowered, betraying a fury that was all too familiar. However, the warm smile spread across his cheeks refused to fade. “I’m not sure that’s something you want me to get into right now, Lucas,” he chided venomously.
The hairs on Lucas’s neck stood on end. He was going to have to be careful; one wrong word could cause everything to come crashing down on top of him.
“Please. Take a seat,” Lucas said through clenched teeth.
“I thought you’d never ask.” Nelson sauntered to the chair opposite his brother and threw his briefcase down on the desk with a great thud. With two clicks he opened it and placed several documents in front of him, his eyes gleaming. “Now. I’m willing to guess that you know exactly why I proposed this meeting.”
Lucas sighed. “You want to take EarthCorp to space.”
“Bingo! Glad to see you haven’t lost that old wit of yours,” Nelson teased, beaming like a proud gameshow host. “But anyway. I just want to start off by saying that I’m proud of the way you’ve handled the company so far. EarthCorp’s mission has always been to promote sustainable production and preserve Earth’s resources for generations to come, and you’ve done just that. It’s exactly what dad would have wanted. I would know; I was on his right hand side for fifteen years.”
Lucas eyed his brother warily. “Go on.”
“Well. As I’m sure you know, I’ve been in talks with leaders in aeronautics and spaceflight. Top researchers from all over the world. We have the technology to send thousands upon thousands of people to habitable planets lightyears away. I want EarthCorp to invest in this technology and champion the mission to finally colonize the stars! I just need your help to do it.”
Lucas crossed his arms. “That’s quite the bold proposition. But you’ve mentioned going to space dozens of times in the past. Why should I trust you now?”
Nelson gave Lucas a sly grin. “I thought you’d say that. So I came prepared. Not only will this be huge for mankind’s future, but it’ll also be huge for the company. I did all the numbers for you. Take a look.” He took a few more papers out of his briefcase and placed them on the table for Lucas to see.
With a hesitant glance at his brother, Lucas looked over the spreadsheets and graphs that Nelson had laid before him. There were nearly a dozen pages of calculations and predictions. He hated to admit it, but this initiative would allow EarthCorp to completely overtake its competition. Still, something didn’t feel right. Lucas pushed the papers back across the table to Nelson.
“EarthCorp has thrived for so long by focusing on one thing and one thing only: planet Earth,” Lucas said, echoing the company motto. “Dad created this company to protect the environment and make Earth a sustainable home for future generations. Nowhere in that blueprint was going to space an option.”
“Going to space was never a possibility back then. Times are changing, Lucas.” Nelson rose from his chair and began pacing back and forth. “This initiative would revolutionize space travel and allow for permanent human settlement outside the solar system. Just imagine it! If you let it happen, we’ll be able to save the world.”
This wasn’t going the way he planned. Staying on Earth had always been the best course of action. Lucas couldn’t deny that this proposal would be an amazing deal, but there was one factor that didn’t quite add up. He decided to get right to the point.
“Okay, Nelson. Cut the crap. Tell me why you really want this initiative.”
Nelson stopped pacing and put his hand to his heart with a frown. “I’m not quite sure I understand. Is it so hard to believe that I want to make a positive difference in the world?”
“There has to be a catch. There’s always a catch with you.”
Nelson sighed. “Well, if you’re going to make me say it, I will obviously need an executive position in the company in order for this initiative to go through. But that should be easy for you; after all, you’re CEO! Just pull a few strings, and Voila! We’re running the company together, just like we always dreamed of.”
There it was. Nelson just wanted his power back. He had genuinely hoped that he was a changed man. But it was just more of the same.
“I can’t believe you,” Lucas began with a cold glare. “Even after all this time, you just can’t let go of that control, can you?”
Nelson looked at him like he was crazy. “What? Lucas, this is far more important than you can possibly conceive. You’ve let yourself become blinded by dad’s naivete and outdated values. This is going to change the world! Don’t you want to become a part of that? ”
“Change the world? Listen to yourself, Nelson,” Lucas retorted. “Did you really think that I was going to fall for this?”
“Wow. So that’s how it is, Lucas. It’s not about the money, or dad, or some moral bullcrap. It’s me. You just don’t trust me, do you?”
Lucas hesitated; he was about to enter dangerous territory. He took a deep breath and prepared to go into battle.
“Have you ever thought to wonder why I don’t trust you, Nelson?” Lucas started, a crescendo of suppressed anger rising from his chest. “After everything you’ve done? You threatened to remove dad from power. You sold family and company secrets for your own personal gain. And once we finally got the sense to kick you out, you turned everyone you could against us.”
“I did that because I had to, Lucas!” Nelson countered. “You know what dad was going to do with our technology. I was trying to protect my family and my planet! What’s so wrong about that?”
Lucas ignored his brother’s reasoning. He wasn’t going to stop now. “You have no right to call yourself a part of this family. You’re the one who tore us apart and destroyed what we had with your selfishness.”
“Me? I’m the one who tore this family apart? You were the one who stopped talking to me after Dad wrongly fired me. You were the one who refused to listen when I tried to steer this company back on the right path. The only reason we’re not a family anymore is because you couldn’t see what was right in front of you.”
Lucas couldn’t take it anymore. “Nelson, you didn’t even go to dad’s funeral. You didn’t say a word when the family that you claim to love was drowning in grief. That was the moment that I needed you most. And you weren’t there.”
Nelson averted his brother’s gaze, a sigh escaping from his lips. “I know I’ve made mistakes in the past. But I want to make it up to you, and you’re not letting me. We were best friends. We were going to take on the world together. Don’t you want that for us?”
“You shattered that possibility the moment you turned your back on this family.”
Nelson shook his head and looked Lucas dead in the eye, a fire burning behind his own. “Either you’re going to let me do this, or I’m going to make your life a waking nightmare. I don’t want to do this to you. But I am not afraid, Lucas, of divine punishment. I’m not afraid of losing everything. I know that what I’m doing is right. Do you?”
An intensely cold silence grew between them as Lucas stared down his greatest fears. Finally, he spoke, his voice icy and bitter. “I’m not going to let you tear down everything this family has stood for. My answer is final. As long as I live you will have no place in this company or this family. Now get out of my house.”
Nelson opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it with a shudder. His face became ghostly white, his eyes sullen and doubtful. He put his head in his hands and scrunched his shoulders in unbearable tension. Lucas cautiously watched his brother, unsure about what to do next. Finally, after an agonizing silence, Nelson raised his head and stood up from his chair. He walked to the door behind him and pulled a small rusty key from his pocket. With a quiet click, Nelson locked the sole entrance to the room and let the key fall to the ground.
“Damn it, Lucas.” Nelson pulled a pistol, black and dull, from out of his suit pocket. “Your blood is on your own hands.”
Lucas’s heart immediately jumped to his throat. He leapt from his chair and began backing away from his brother’s reach. “Wait. Nelson, wait. We can still talk about this.”
Nelson simply shook his head, his eyes pained but glowing. “I have to do this. Once you’re out of the way I can finally fix things. I have to do what’s right.“ He spoke as if he was trying to convince himself, but Lucas knew better. Nelson had clearly arranged this meeting with the full intention of murdering Lucas by the end of it. He couldn’t believe he had fallen for another one of his tricks.
“Nelson. Nelson, please,” Lucas pleaded, fighting the intense fear that was sinking into his chest. “Killing me won’t do anything. I’m just one man. They’re going to find out what you did. Unless… no, Nelson, you can’t!”
His brother was beyond reason. Nelson’s face was a silent, fiery mess as he aimed the pistol at Lucas’s forehead. Lucas fell to his knees and raised his hands in surrender, desperate tears streaming down his face.
Time stood still as they faced each other for perhaps the last time. The gun shook in Nelson’s hands as Lucas waited for the deadly shot.
Finally, with a pained roar, Nelson lifted the gun and fired several times in the air. The bullets burst through the air with thunderous release. However, one of the bullets cut through the chain that supported a dazzling chandelier with dozens of burning candles. The chandelier crashed onto the table in an explosion of sparks and embers, igniting the table underneath it in an instant.
Lucas scarcely had time to sigh a breath of relief before the air was filled with smoke. The flames leapt from the desk to the floor, eating through the ancient wood as if it were cotton. For a moment, Lucas sat numb, helpless in the face of the growing blaze threatening his life.
“Come on! Let’s go!” Nelson screamed, breaking through his brother’s trance.
Lucas shook himself from his stupor and followed Nelson, who had already grabbed the key off the ground and was struggling to unlock the door in the suffocating heat. After several moments, Nelson suddenly broke into a coughing fit and threw the key to the ground.
“The key’s melted. Useless. We’re stuck,” Nelson gasped.
Lucas looked around the room desperately for an escape. Seeing no easy exit, Lucas ran to grab his father’s old chair, offering one side for Nelson to hold. “Alright. Together now,” Lucas commanded. The two men thrust the chair into the door with all their might, banging and banging against it as they strove to outpace the flames growing behind them.
After nearly two minutes of effort, the heavy door finally collapsed to the floor with a mighty crash. Stammering through the doorway, Nelson and Lucas found that the fire was burning through the entire house above them. The heat of the fire had destroyed the heating and gas lines, causing great explosions of wood and fire to burst in every direction. Lucas and Nelson shared a knowing look and ran together to escape as their former home came down on top of them.
Suddenly, they were kids again, traversing through the woods, jumping over logs and ducking under low hanging branches. Lucas navigated the perilous halls with ease, Nelson following closely behind. They worked together as if the past ten years had never happened, pushing each other forward as burning wall crashed into burning wall in every direction.
“This way!” Lucas beckoned to his brother. “We’re almost out!”
They were just forty feet from the front door when the roof above them collapsed without warning, causing a burning pile of debris to fall on top of Nelson and pin him to the floor. Nelson cried out in desperate rage as the flaming wood burned into his back. Lucas turned around as soon as he heard the crash and saw his brother at the brink of death. The same man who had pointed a gun at his head just fifteen minutes earlier.
“Lucas. Lucas, please,” Nelson coughed.
Despite the thick cloud of smoke circulating between them, Lucas gained an incredible sense of clarity. Nelson had spared his life. But he wasn’t going to change. He wasn’t going to stop. There was only one way for all of this to end.
His breath caught and his eyes burning, Lucas turned his back to Nelson and walked out the door of the dying house. The last he heard was a muffled cough and the great groan of the remaining walls crashing down behind him.
Lucas got as far as he could outside of the house before collapsing onto the snow-covered ground, desperately gasping for air. The icy flakes soothed his burns and cooled his aching muscles. However, the subzero temperatures soon attacked his vulnerable skin and lungs. He struggled to his feet and stumbled back toward the house, seeking the warmth of the fire he had narrowly escaped from. Lucas warmed his hands against the heat and watched as everything his father hoped and dreamed for their family came crumbling to the ground.
At last, the fire diminished to a shadow of its former self. Lucas stood numb in the pale moonlight. A burden as great as the house that once stood before him was lifted from his shoulders. Finally, Lucas would be free. Free from change, free from conflict, free from Nelson.
Free from his brother.
Lucas fell to his knees and wept, bitter tears falling on the frozen ground.
The fire department arrived two hours later, informed of the conflagration by distant neighbors. By the time the chief stepped foot on the abandoned property, the house had long been reduced to a pile of charred debris. There was only a faded trail of footsteps leading out into the woods and the dying light of a flame amidst the frigid, unforgiving silence of winter. And it was all so cold, much too cold for any of them to bear.