Gorbol Training Academy.
Figaro checked the sensor readings which were back up and running. The news wasn’t good.
The compound was overrun with Vendx operatives and there was no sign of them standing down despite the orders from the Central Authority. No doubt they would have an excuse for why they charged in and killed everyone. Figaro wasn’t an expert on the Central Authority but he knew enough to not expect swift action. When they moved, they moved with an unstoppable force that no one could withstand, it was just getting them to that point that took forever.
“Please hurry,” Figaro said to Princep Galeli, who was standing beside him. “They’re closing on our position.”
“Yes, yes,” said the Princep. “These are delicate adjustments I have to make. I don’t do this sort of thing on a regular basis.” He sounded a little tetchy, which wasn’t surprising.
Figaro appreciated the awkward position he’d put Galeli in. He knew the guild had the capability, and used it quite often — the trainees who had washed out had undergone the procedure — but mind wipes were tightly regulated and required consent from the subject undergoing neural reassignment.
Each person’s neural map was as unique to them as a fingerprint or retinal scan, and far more precious. Trainees would have agreed to it in the contract they signed when they joined the guild, but for a very specific, localised piece of grey matter.
What the princep was now attempting was far more crude, and far more illegal. Figaro had been surprised he’d agreed so easily.
Then again, someone who had spent time living the life of an Antecessor site raider knew there was no point prolonging an inevitable decision. You only minimised the already small benefit from an unfavourable situation.
Figaro himself had been rigorously trained to remove unnecessary considerations when making a difficult decision. A posthumous reward was the least valuable kind.
“I’m going to hit them all at the same time,” said Galeli. “Please make sure the power remains stable. It’s bad enough, what we’re doing, I’d rather not leave them with no brain function at all.”
Figaro nodded. There wasn’t much he could do if the Vendx assault team cut the power to the building, but he could at least keep fluctuations to a minimum. He glanced over at the two mercenaries who had kept to themselves on the other side of the room. So far, they hadn’t made any suggestions or tried to interfere with what had happened, but Figaro knew too well how the Seneca Corps worked to think they had decided to play the neutral bystanders.
They were waiting for the right moment to get involved, their choice of target to be decided.
“You two,” said Figaro. “If we get interrupted before we finish, I’ll need those doors defended.”
It was not something many people would do, order around members of the Corps, even ex-members. But the two of them had treated him differently since finding out who his mother was, and you used whatever tools you had at your disposal, even if it left a bitter taste in your mouth.
Weyla nodded just once and moved over to the doors, followed by her sister. They were willing to comply for now, but if they saw an opportunity to take control of the situation, Figaro had no doubt they would take it. The Seneca philosophy was to consider all others to be inferior in assessment and guidance. If there wasn’t an outranking Seneca officer present, you were it.
“Captain,” said Galeli over his shoulder, “I’m going to need you to shut that down.”
Captain Hickory was with Jace, hovering over the communication device plugged into the Academy’s power network.
“One moment, we still don’t know what’s happening with the ship. It could—”
“Now, Hick,” said Galeli, his tone brooking no argument.
Frustrated, but astute enough to know where his immediate responsibility lay, Hickory tapped Jace on the shoulder. Jace pulled the plug and the lights on his device went out. The cube sitting on top continued to glow.
“Someone’s coming,” shouted Weyla.
“Lots of them,” added Leyla. They both had their firearms out.
“Don’t fire until they do,” said Figaro. “Alternative strategy three,” he added before either of them could refuse to follow his order. He didn’t even have to look at them to know the sequence of dismissiveness to surprise to outrage that had just crossed their faces.
“How did you—”
Weyla interrupted her sister. “You know how.”
“But he shouldn’t—”
“She never followed the rules.”
They were talking about his mother, and they were right. But that wasn’t how he knew how to give orders in the Seneca Corps own command language.
Their standard approach to any engagement was to attack first, with lethal force, and to leave no one alive. It was an effective if brutal method. But Figaro didn’t think Vendx would come in shooting. That would only attract attention to this facility from the drones the Central Authority would have deployed to observe and collect information. It might also damage the machine the company was so keen to get hold of.
The simulation machine was Figaro’s ultimate bargaining chip. Nothing was more valuable to Vendx than the machine, which meant he could keep it hostage. It also meant that once they had it, they would flatten the entire city. Not in any way that could be connected to them, of course.
They had landed a mobile base and then not attacked the Academy. There was a reason for that. They had used that time to engineer whatever catastrophic failure they considered necessary, using the infrastructure they themselves had installed. All they needed was to claim their objective and leave before everything died.
The Seneca Corps was used to being the meanest girl at the party, but they didn’t get to their current position by underestimating their enemy. His mother had taught him the ideology but he had gathered the rest himself, from his mother’s private vault. Like his father, she too had impressed on him the need to put emotional considerations to one side when dealing with matters of a certain magnitude, even when it came to family. It was a lesson he had learned from a very young age.
Alt Strat 3 was how you dealt with an opponent who intended to hit the doomsday button no matter what the outcome. There was no point going in preemptively, that would only accelerate the countdown.
“Everyone stand clear of the simulants,” said Galeli. He glanced over his shoulder once to make sure his instructions had been followed, and then threw the switch.
The lights went out, followed by sounds of gasping and groaning in the dark. Then the lights came flickering back on and the eleven Vendx team members were still shaking in their chairs like they were being electrocuted.
“No one touch them,” called out the princep, which seemed redundant since no one was going anywhere near them.
“They’re here,” said Weyla, backing away from the entrance to the simulation room.
“This is Chief Supervisor Mayden of the Vendx Corporation,” stated an amplified voice from out in the courtyard. “Put down your weapons or you will be considered in violation of the terms of your warranty. We are here to make repairs.”
It was standard non-threatening speech, the kind that made it possible to disavow responsibility while breaking any law that was deemed inconvenient.
“Central Authority has jurisdiction here,” Weyla called back through the door. “We will wait for them. Seneca protocols will be in effect until then.”
Figaro didn’t have to worry about how the two women would handle the situation. They were far more familiar with the Seneca playbook than he was. If they were required to stall, they would find a way.
A heavy silence followed.
Figaro had opened a panel and was stripping wires out of of the simulation machine, exposing the secondary panel to the core systems.
“What are you doing?” Galeli whispered in alarm. “Can’t you just remove the map?”
“No,” said Figaro. “Don’t worry, my father will buy you a new one.”
“I don’t think Vendx will want to keep us as customers,” said Galeli.
“My father will build you a new one,” said Figaro. He started the shut-down procedure.
“You are Seneca?” Mayden’s voice didn’t sound quite so full of bluster all of a sudden. “What’s your business here?”
“The assignment is classified,” said Weyla. “Your request for clarification will be passed on to Seneca High Command, Chief Supervisor Mayden.” She said his name with extra clarity so he knew she had it remembered.
“No, no need for that.” His voice was growing less confident with every exchange. “We only need the simulation machine, for upgrade work.”
“We don’t have you down to visit today,” said Leyla, reloading her gun unnecessarily. The mechanism made a loud chuh-chunk sound.
“Yes, it was an emergency call out. Engineer Ulanov, you can ask him.”
“No one here by that name,” Galeli shouted back.
Figaro shut off the simulation machine’s core. It would take another three minutes for it become inactive.
The console turned red and an alarm went off. Figaro had forgotten to disconnect it. Dumb.
“They’re opening fire!” said Leyla, diving out of the way as a barrage of gunfire went off and the door was blown to pieces.
Figaro took off his bracelet and ripped off the top of the secondary panel. He stuck his hand into the core.
The surge of power through him brought a scream from deep inside his soul. Darkness enveloped him. Nothing else existed.
When Figaro’s eyes opened, the room was quiet. His first thought was of his wrist. The bracelet was back on, somehow. Good training paid off even when you weren’t conscious.
People were standing around, Vendx and guild members, no sense of animosity between them.
A drone, unlike any he had seen in the guild or owned by Vendx, was floating next to Figaro, an orange insignia identifying it as Central Authority. The large cannons on either side of its body also marked it out. There were several more in the room.
“An unusual energy was recorded in this room,” said a voice through the drone.
Figaro looked around. The Vendx team were taking their people out of the simulation machine contact-seats. The guild members were standing in a close group, tight-lipped and looking at him.
The drone seemed to have identified him as the source of the energy.
“The machine malfunctioned,” said Figaro. He pointed at the console, which was smoking.
“And the Vendx team came to repair it,” said the voice, “before it malfunctioned.”
“Their service is exemplary,” said Figaro.
“You will come with me.” The tone was firm.
“I can’t,” said Figaro quietly. “I have to go home.” He felt so tired.
“You will come with me,” repeated the voice. It was cold and feminine. It reminded him of his mother.
“No,” said Weyla. “We will escort him home.”
“This is not a Seneca matter.”
“We are not Seneca,” said Leyla. “Not anymore.”
“What?” said a sharp, irritated voice belonging to a dark-haired man in a very fancy battlesuit. He began to stomp forward but stopped when canons targeted him from every angle, multiple red dots appearing on his chest.
“He is the son of Nigella Matton,” said Weyla.
“Nigella Matton-Ollo,” said Figaro. He hated his parents’ name being used to protect him, but if it was, they might as well get it right.
“Oh,” said the drone after a long pause. “I see.”
“We will see him home,” said Weyla. “You can approach Armageddon for an explanation, if you choose, through the appropriate channels.”
“Very well, but first I will deputise you as temporary agents of the Central Authority. It will avoid any further… mishaps. Do you accept the commission?”
Both women nodded and a green light shone on them from the drone.
“We should go immediately,” said Weyla, looking around the room at the heavily-armed Vendx team and the small group in the corner.
“One moment,” said Figaro. He went over to Princep Galeli. “I’m sorry about all this. I’ll speak to my father, I’ll make it right.”
“Don’t worry about that, Figaro,” said Galeli softly. “You take care of yourself.” He looked worried, far more than when they were under attack. “When you destroyed the machine, your eyes…”
“I know. It’s fine.” Figaro turned to Hickory. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with your ship.”
Hickory waved his hand. He had the same concerned look as Galeli. “Not your problem, lad. I’m sure it will turn out fine.”
“But what about Gipper?” said Bev. “He’s still on—”
“He can take care of himself,” said Hickory. “You go now.”
Figaro nodded. As he turned, Jace pushed a small cube into his hands. “He said to give you this. Said it would take you where you needed to go.”
The cube wasn’t glowing anymore but it felt alive in Figaro’s hands. He put it in his pocket and followed the women out. Time to go home.
One more chapter on Friday before short break.Afterword from Mooderino