“You’re a killer?” Walter’s eyes were round as portholes, and then shrank to bolthole size as doubt crept into his voice. “No, no, you’re trying to intimidate me. Nice try, I like your style, but it will take something a bit more believable than that.”
Murder was the one thing that System went out of its way to prevent. Fights, rapes, kidnapping, all these things were possible. They would be punished, but only after they occurred and were reported. But a clear and deliberate attempt to take a life triggered an immediate response.
Point-Two didn’t agree with System’s programming when it came to prevention versus punishment. He felt there were other violations as well as murder that should be cause for immediate action.
“I was only nine, and System sealed the case. A man tried to force himself on my sister — she was sixteen — and there was no one to help us. I guess I got lucky.”
“It was an accident?” asked Walter, his horror and curiosity mingling into a ghoulish leer.
“No, I mean I was lucky System decided to let me off. It helped that the man was a relative. The family weren’t going to demand reparations from one of their own, obviously. My brother vouched for me, put himself up as collateral. If I break the covenant, he pays the price.”
Walter’s face relaxed as his eyes sank into his face. He was thinking his position over.
“I imagine,” continued Point-Two, “that’s what they were hoping for. I lose my temper over my sister, and take it out on you. I get punished, my brother gets removed from his position of authority, they move into the vacancy. Something like that.”
“But you would have to kill me for that to happen,” said Walter. All thoughts of bringing him in as a ringer for a game of G-tag had vanished. He tapped his thin lower lip with a heavily-ringed finger.
“Yes, but I’m sure they’ve arranged other lines to pursue in case things don’t go to plan.” Point-Two looked over at the three thugs who were doing an excellent impression of casually watching the action below.
“You don’t seem very upset about your sister,” said Walter, his peacocking attitude no longer in evidence.
“Like I said, she had a very traumatic experience at a young age. She found it very hard to trust men after that. My father tried to match her with a suitable husband, but she refused. She’s a very headstrong girl, my sister. It was only after my brother intervened and found a minor member of the Joliets who wasn’t expected to amount to very much that she finally agreed.”
“Your brother took good care of you both,” said Walter, sounding like he approved. Was Walter a family man?
“Yes. I’m not really sure why. But what I do know is that my sister doesn’t view sex as a casual thing to dabble with — she recovered from her ordeal, but she really is an incredible prude. So, I think it’s very unlikely she had an affair. Although, I’m sure System will claim otherwise.”
“It will... but how?” Walter was so fascinated by these revelations, he was as avid an audience member as the rest of the crowd, just for a different sport.
It was a strange threat to make in the first place. System named every child that was born on the Garu. Each child was named after its father — its genetic father. You couldn’t hide an illegitimate child, not from System and not from your husband.
“You said it yourself. They have ways of keeping the information quiet. If they can get System to shut up, why can’t they get it to lie?”
Walter’s mouth dropped open. He was a man of the underworld, dealing with the seamier side of life, but even he was shocked. Point-Two had heard there were all sorts of dubious activities going on down in the Reservation, even some areas shielded from System’s all-pervasive sensors. But to attempt to re-engineer System was akin to blasphemy.
“They can do that?” said Walter in barely a whisper.
“I imagine they’ll do it whether I killed you or not. Get System to announce the baby’s name as something or other, drive my sister insane, make the two families fall out, and so on. It makes a lot of sense, if you were that way inclined.”
Hollet 1 had told him he suspected System was being compromised. In small, negligible ways so far, but that would eventually change. It was why he was moving things along so quickly.
Corrupting System was a dangerous thing to attempt. The People of the Garu relied on System. They trusted System. If someone were to break that trust, society could collapse. But then, some men were willing to steer into the sun, just as long as they got to play at being the captain.
“But who…” said Walter, “who would do something so insane?”
“You would know better than me, wouldn’t you?”
Walter looked horrified to be implicated in the crime he was clearly neck-deep in. “No, no. It was all done through third-parties. No one knows who initiated any of this. And if they’re as capable as you claim, the trail will lead back to no one.”
He was right, of course. There would be no culprit at the end of the trail. Certainly no one from any of the big families. Whichever family or families were behind this, many of the elders might not even be aware of it.
Point-Two looked up at the screen showing a replay of a fairly mediocre move. The shot cut to the crowd, who cheered.
“I can’t believe it,” said Walter. “I would never have got involved if I knew. You have to believe me.”
“I do,” said Point-Two. “But there’s not much I can do. You see, the thing is, their plan to use you to make me break the covenant, that’s also my plan.”
Walter’s confusion returned. “What do you mean? You want to break the covenant your brother made? But doesn’t that mean…” He looked past Point-Two, his eyes urging action. Immediate, violent action — now, now, NOW!
Point-Two knew where he was looking, could sense the movement at the end of the row. Sandwiched between the louche gangster and his surly henchmen, it wasn’t hard to guess their intentions. Keep the target hemmed in, apply pressure, close in. They weren’t here to hurt him, they wanted to make a deal, make some money, a mutually beneficial arrangement. Nothing System would have an issue with. Point-Two had changed their plans.
People were cheering, some were booing. The matches were over and System announced another gravity shift.
“Yes,” said Point-Two. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to fulfil their expectations and kill you.” A wave of lightness spread across the arena. The screen changed to a shot of a child with his family colours painted on his face, then a pretty woman roaring her approval of the players, and then of Point-Two. It had taken forever for the camera to turn on him.
He pushed off the chair, riding the wave of dropping gravity, moving effortlessly, dodging the thug’s arm as it flailed at him, then caught the wrist as it passed his face. He twisted and the thug went sailing through the air.
The gravity change wasn’t very large, but the differential was enough if you had the right timing. Timing and momentum — you could move planets if you had that.
Hollet 1 could calculate exactly how much of each you would need, but Point-Two went by instinct. In their training sessions, Hollet 1 told him he had the most natural talent of anyone on the ship, and that was from someone who had trained with the ship’s elite troops. Talented, he might be, but he had still never beaten his brother. You needed more than talent to win a battle. You needed experience. But not for these thugs.
The second thug came in low. The crowd realised what they were watching on the screens and gasped. They had no bets placed on this fight, but their interest didn’t need spicing up with risk and reward. It was obvious to everyone that this was something entirely different to a game. This was real and raw — something their climate-controlled lives were protected from by the ship. But System was in the middle of changing the gravity and couldn’t respond immediately. Timing and momentum.
Point-Two bounced off a stream of heavier air and easily jumped over his lunging attacker. He kicked him in the back as he passed underneath, sending him sprawling into the next row.
The third was already falling as he ran, his eagerness to help his buddies hampered by the narrowness between the rows of seats and his own clumsiness. If they were in an open space, at a steady zero Gs, maybe their number advantage would have made a difference. Maybe. But under these inconsistent gravitational conditions, they had no chance. They couldn’t even stay upright.
Point-Two landed on the delinquent’s head and stepped off, catching ripples of gravity like he was climbing invisible stairs. He walked around in a circle, inverting so he faced Walter upside down.
The terrified gangster had sunk into his chair as his men failed to protect. Finally, the thought he should try to get away had occurred to him and he was rising from the chair in a panic, struggling against the variable gravity. Point-Two punched him in the face and gravity returned him to his seat.
The first thug emerged from the adjoining row with a mix of rage and embarrassment scrawled across his face. His fists were balled and ready to strike.
There was another gravity shift. Point-Two went from floating majestically upside down to sharply dropping to the ground like he’d been tugged down hard by a rope attached to his feet. Going from 0.9 Gs to 0.8 Gs was very different from experiencing either one at a steady exposure. The ship’s gravitational drives didn’t just gradually turn a dial like turning up the heat, it shifted between positions. Gravity wasn’t a wave or a particle, it was a ball on a string, and you had to yank on it with incredible force to get it to move the tiniest bit.
Most people didn’t handle the change well. It was advised to stay still during a gravitational shift.
Point-Two landed into a deep squat to counter the shift. He bounced back up as the shift dropped, and kicked the grimacing thug under his chin. His head snapped back and Point-Two moved in, his arm stretched out. His hand slid into the thug’s jacket and reemerged holding a knife. A unified gasp rose from the crowd.
It was a fancy blade, shiny and curved to a wicked point. Had it ever been used? It didn’t look like it. For show, for intimidation, for peeling fruit, but not for stabbing people.
Point-Two grabbed the gangster out of his seat and placed the flashing blade at his throat. A piercing sound filled the arena, instantly recognisable to all — the SUDM alarm. Shut Up, Don’t Move. They could, but they had been conditioned not to.
Point-Two turned to show the gangster’s face. His movement was as shocking as the knife in his hand.
“System, report infraction. Grade one, attempted murder.”
“Evidence required,” said System. “Provisional report filed.”
“This man was hired to kill me and harm my sister. I suspect one of the greater families to be responsible, an attempt to remove my brother, Hollet 1 from office. I will now ask this man—”
“System,” called out a voice from the other side of the arena, clearly audible in the silence. “Enact privacy mode.” The man speaking appeared on the screens around the arena. He was Admiral Joliet, the most powerful man on the ship.
Chapters one week ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino