Admiral Joliet’s intervention was not entirely surprising. He was a senior member of the ship’s ruling council and would obviously want to ensure things were handled correctly since he was here. Although, it wasn’t normal for such a high-ranking individual to be at this kind of event.
When he spoke, people listened, and then they did whatever he told them. He had the kind of authority some people wore like a mask, but his suffused his entire being.
It did occur to Point-Two that the admiral might be preventing the gangster from speaking to protect himself. Joliets could easily be the ones who had hired these thugs.
If there really was a way to influence System, then secrecy was paramount. As long as no one knew what was said behind closed doors, they would trust in System’s adjudication. Who would believe System was just following orders?
“System,” said Point-Two, before the ruling on the admiral’s filing could be given. “Open hearing requested by the claimant.”
Muttering and confusion from the crowd percolated around the arena. They were cowed enough by events to not go any louder than a murmur, but it was impossible to be totally silent when a minor nobody of a middling family stood there with a knife in one hand while defying the will of an elder.
It was Point-Two’s right. He was the injured party, so to speak, so his preference in how the investigation was conducted took precedence. The accused had already been identified publicly, not that System often bothered to protect the identity of the accused — once they were found innocent, no one doubted System’s findings. And everyone had seen Point-Two take the knife from the thug. They had come here armed and ready to cause trouble while they were off the Reservation.
Point-Two’s face was gigantic all over the arena. All cameras were on him. You couldn’t get any more public than this, which was why his brother was so keen to bring things to a head here and now. They thought they had chosen this time and place. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Request granted,” said System. “Proceedings to remain unrestricted.”
No one had really expected anything else, given the circumstances, and many were secretly pleased to be able to witness events first hand, even as they wallowed in their outrage at the impropriety of it all. Now they wanted to hear what this was all about, who was behind it and why. If the popcorn sellers hadn’t been transfixed, gawping like everyone else, they could have made a fortune. Even the players for the next match stood staring up at the screens.
“I ask System to reconsider on a matter of shipwide security,” said Admiral Joliet.
Shock rippled through the crowd. Very few people could ask System to reconsider a ruling once it had been made. Obviously, the admiral was one of those people, but this was a scuffle, a conflict between thugs and nobodies, wasn’t it?
The faces of the people in the arena shared one sentiment: What is going on?
Point-Two had already claimed there was some kind of conspiracy taking place, but his accusation had been vague and fanciful. Could it be true?
“I second the request,” said another voice, one with an equal level of gravitas. The screens showed a new face, that of Admiral Distré — another giant at a minor sporting event. Now there were two greater families standing against him, which only made them look more suspicious.
Had he pushed them into revealing themselves? It seemed very unlikely. He had barely said anything, and yet these two great men were rising to prevent him going any further. Not using a proxy this time, not even a senior member of their family. They were here in person, ready and willing to be seen.
It could only mean this was all going to plan. Theirs.
Was it these two families working in tandem? Were the Maigrets in on it, too? Would they step up next to stop him exposing the truth, whatever that was?
They were hardly doing a good job of keeping things discreet and in the shadows by grandstanding here. Which made it all the more worrying.
How long had they been planning all this? Probably a lot longer than Point-Two had spent thinking about his options. He was relying on instinct and a clear end goal provided by his know-it-all brother. He knew where he needed to get to, he just didn’t know exactly how he was going to get there.
Meanwhile, these men of limitless power were conniving to find a way to claim a little more power. Just a tiny bit more. One drop to add to the huge vat of liquid domination they bathed in daily. It seemed unnecessary. What did they plan to do with it? Rule with even greater unopposed supremacy?
“I was attacked,” said Point-Two, “not the ship.”
“We protect the People,” said Admiral Joliet.
“I am the People,” said Point-Two. “Protect me, first.”
It was a simple enough rejoinder — every life on the Garu was precious — easily winning over the crowd. Perhaps too easily. Point-Two felt like he was being led into a trap, but that was fine. It would save him having to look for it.
Hollet 1 had been right, as usual. This was where they would make their move. They wanted it to be public, too, which meant they weren’t going to use System to achieve their goal — at least, not the new and improved System. They most likely wanted to keep that ace up their sleeve for something more important. Like turning on each other.
This was a minor conflict to be dealt with quickly. Hollets out, someone dependable in. For what purpose, he had no idea, and Hollet 1 refused to tell him.
Soldiers had appeared at either end of the row. They wore Joliet colours and carried rifles. That wasn’t unusual, they always carried rifles, and side-arms. It was all for show, like the thug’s shiny dagger. They were obeying orders, but they wouldn’t act without System’s approval, which hadn’t been given. Yet.
Everything was finely balanced, just as Hollet 1 had predicted, exactly what he had trained Point-Two for. He looked at Walter, shaking with fear, faking it.
He was faking it.
If you wanted to fool System, you had to have an excuse ready.
It was an accident, I had no idea that was going to happen, I don’t even know who this is….
And you needed to be a pretty good actor.
Terrified Walter winked at him, or maybe it was a nervous twitch, and then he lunged. There was a knife in his hand, a big one. Point-Two hadn’t seen any signs the gangster was carrying a weapon and he had looked closely, but there it was.
A piercing siren rang out and everyone crumpled in their seats. System was taking steps to avoid a death, but Point-Two and his assailant ignored the sonic scream with duelling grimaces of pain.
Point-Two deflected the incoming blade and slid the one he was holding into the base of Walter’s neck. Both men slumped, one for the last time.
The soldiers, fitted with earplugs that prevented them being affected by this frequency (but not others) rushed in, just in time to save no one.
The siren had ended, but it felt like it was still clinging to the insides of people’s ears. Slowly, the crowd looked around for some kind of explanation.
“Hollet 3.2, you are in violation of Statute 4. You are in violation of Statute 6.1. You are in violation of Covenant 456. Hollet 1 has been advised.”
“System,” said a voice over the arena speakers, “this is Hollet 1. Request privacy ruling, internal Hollet family affair.”
“Request granted,” said System, like it was just another request.
New troops arrived, wearing Hollet colours. They escorted him out of the arena.
Point-Two was left confused. An internal family matter? How? The other families were clearly involved, but their furious requests for access to the adjudication process were denied.
After asking for things to be made public, as he’d been instructed by Hollet 1, everything was made private, by Hollet 1. A family matter — the one mitigating circumstance that would prevent the full weight of the covenant breach from affecting Hollet 1.
Point-Two sat in his quarters, Hollet soldiers guarding the door, more for the sake of appearances than anything else, and perhaps to prevent the other families from sending someone to talk to him.
He thought about it and then asked the empty room, “System, what was the original designation of my victim?”
“Victim designation Hollet 0.1.”
A Hollet. He had killed his own illegitimate brother.
He didn’t feel particularly remorseful about it, he didn’t know Walter, their genetic connection didn’t cause him any tears. That wink, though, it weighed on Point-Two’s mind.
What disturbed him even more was the thought that Hollet 1 had arranged for them to hire a Hollet without knowing it.
It wasn’t unusual for people to hide their origins. The Reservation was full of people who had no use for their true designations. Everyone had to come from somewhere, but they didn’t need to hang on to a name once it became of no practical use, or a burden.
His sister came to him first, upset and enraged. At him, for what he’d done, and at them, whoever they were, for questioning the legitimacy of the child in her stomach. A Joliet child.
“Did you take the test?” he asked her.
“Yes, of course. Hollet 1 insisted, even though the results were obvious.”
A DNA test before the child was born, by several doctors, made it impossible for them to use System to spread false allegations. Assuming that was what they were planning and not something Hollet 1 and Walter had cooked up between them. In any case, his sister’s reputation was protected. She didn’t need to know any more than that. He was beginning to think like his brother.
Hollet 1 came later in the day.
“You sacrificed him.”
“Who, Walter? No, not really. Most of it was his idea, to tell you the truth. He had a devious mind, took after the old man in that regard. And we came to an arrangement. He needed me to do some things for him that I’d rather not go into. It was a fair trade, let me assure you. Speaking of sacrificing people, you’re next.”
Even though it was an internal matter, Point-Two had to be punished, and severely. He was. He was exiled.
Why that particular penalty, how the decision had been reached, the details about the accusations of the conspiracy, all of it was sealed behind the sanctity of a private family matter. When people heard the sentence, it felt suitably harsh, that was all they needed to know.
His sister was remarkably sanguine about it. She knew how close he’d come to a much worse fate. Her attitude was almost as though she had expected it to come to this one day, which Point-Two found a bit galling. He didn’t correct her, though.
Hollet’s position was still safe but he’d had to sacrifice his brother to do it, or so it appeared. The true reason for getting Point-Two off the ship was still not known to their enemies. There was no need to look any further than a Hollet doing what was necessary to hold onto power.
Point-Two was given provisions and a set of locations to choose for his new home, none of which he intended to visit. To anyone paying attention, the Hollet’s had lost a valuable asset and Hollet 3.2 would be lost in the wilderness of the second quadrant.
Geezy came to see him off, the only chance he’d had to speak to anyone outside of the family. His father hadn’t contacted him once.
“I could come with you,” said Geezy, distraught at the severity of the sentence. “We could explore the quadrant together.”
Point-Two turned down the offer. “I’ll be fine. It’s only a temporary expulsion. I can come back in ten years.”
Geezy raged and ranted on his friend’s behalf. Promised revenge and a shrine to his memory. He even gave him his precious G-tag promotion pin, the one Point-Two had helped him win when they first met ten years ago.
The shuttle would drop him off on the busy port planet of Lenworth. From there, the rest of the quadrant was open to him. Getting to his true destination would take a little more time and effort.
He watched the Liberator Garu move away from him, or he from it. It rotated and then stopped, and then rotated again. Was he spinning or was the Garu? Both in different directions? Hollet 1 would have been able to tell him, and then shown him the calculations to be able to predict what would happen next. For Point-Two, it was enough to watch his home for the last twenty three-years perform a strange dance of farewell against the abyss of space.
“Are you sure there isn’t something more to it?” asked Admiral Joliet.
“Yes, sir,” said Geezy. “He doesn’t even know where he’s going himself.”
“I don’t like it. It was all too neatly handled. This was planned.”
“I’ve been watching him for the last ten years,” said Geezy. “I know him. I assure you, Admiral, he won’t be coming back. I think he might even be happy to be leaving. He never really fitted in.”
“I know,” said the admiral, “that’s what was interesting about him. I want him followed.”
“Yes, sir. I placed a tracking device on him. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, but we’ll know exactly where he is.”
Chapters one week ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino