Ramon, first of the Ollo family, stood before the Great Assembly of Enaya and waited for the gathered members to settle down.
Figaro watched on the screen and felt a tightening in his chest. What was his father going to do? They had attacked his wife and son and unborn child. He had a fearsome reputation, but Figaro had never seen his father truly angry. He had apparently mellowed since Figaro’s birth and learnt to use less volatile means to achieve his goals.
But there was a cutting edge in his father’s look that could slice people in half. It was in evidence today as the Assembly agonised in front of him.
Debin Accran remained standing. Figaro didn’t for one second believe the old man had acted alone. Sacrificing him was the best chance the others had of escaping blame and he had clearly agreed to make himself the sole target for the Seneca Corps. What promises had they made him for his self-surrender?
Figaro moved the camera around the chamber. There were so many cameras observing proceedings in the Great Hall, it was possible to choose any angle, watch any member of the Assembly you wished. Figaro scanned the seated members, looking for signs of something, he wasn’t sure what. But he found it in the first of the Nayans, who had been the original settlers of this world, and in the first of the A’po. Both displayed had the set features of satisfied men. They were pleased with how things were going. Their muscle tension suggested self-restraint, but not from anger or defiance — these men weren’t looking for a chance to attack. They were holding back from celebrating. They carried an air of everything going to plan.
If he saw it, he was sure his father did too. Ramon Ollo was a brilliant politician and a skilled negotiator. Everyone told Figaro he took after his mother, but it wasn’t just her hair he had inherited. He found having to deal with people he disliked and distrusted intolerable. His father did it every day.
Finally, his father spoke in a quiet, unwavering voice. “This man attacked my family in the most cowardly fashion possible. I believe he is partly responsible, but I do not believe he acted alone. He says my son was the target, but he is clearly lying. He wishes to take sole responsibility, but it is not for him to choose who should be blamed and who should be punished. If all those who were involved step forward alongside this man, then I will accept the innocence of this house. If not, I will assume you are all equally culpable.”
A wave of anger spread throughout the chamber. Voices cried out in protest. Figaro switched back to Godfrem Nyan and Afi A’po to see if there was any change in their demeanour. Both men seemed more tense and less celebratory.
“You would punish them all for my sins?” said Dembi.
“Not I,” said Figaro’s father. “The Seneca acts according to the Seneca Principle. If they do not believe in your claim, their mandate is intractable. General Sway, what if it was just my son who was the target?”
General Sway, still present in the middle of the Great Hall, took a breath, her heavily armoured chest swelling. “It makes no difference. The explosion, had it gone off in the room as planned, would have killed everyone in there. That would be nine members of the Corps and one prospective one. Frankly, I favoured taking our people and imploding this entire planet, but we were asked to limit our response to a more flexible one. Understand this, there are few people to whom the Corps would grant such a favour, but Nigella Matton-Ollo is one of them. It may not seem possible to you, but I served under her when she was in the Corps. We had a nickname for her, we called her Armageddon. Some of you will recognise that name, and know what it is capable of. You made a very bad mistake when you chose her as your opponent, but apparently she has a fondness for this world and would rather not see it turned to space debris. Pick your preferred method of destruction, ladies and gentlemen. There will be no last minute reprieves.”
The general seemed a lot older than his mother, but Figaro had heard the name Armageddon before. It was connected to some of the most barbaric acts committed by the Corps.
The Assembly was silent. No one stood up to admit their guilt. Then, Chairperson Adaye took the floor.
“Is this justice? Do you really intend to punish us all for the crimes of the few?”
“Yes,” said Ramon Ollo.
“Yes,” said General Sway.
Chairperson Adaye was angry and desperate and on the verge of tears. “And then what, Ramon? Will you reform the monarchy and rule as a king like your ancestors? Is that your plan?”
“No,” said Ramon. “I do not wish to be a king. I was happy to be part of the many, along with all of you. But you forgot it was my family that allowed you to be our equals. We weren’t forced, we weren’t defeated. We were not brought low — we lifted you up. And you became greedy and considered it your due. It is not. You will be replaced. Others will come and I hope they learn a lesson from your avarice. You are all replaceable. My family is not.”
The words, the sentiment, they were all familiar to Figaro. They were what he had been raised on.
“As you wish,” said Adaye wearily, her energy and anger deserting her. “You are correct, it was not Debin alone. It was I, the first of the Adaye. We were tired of your superiority, your generosity in allowing us to join you in your ivory tower. You are neither gracious nor magnanimous in your self-proclaimed largesse, King Ollo. We, the Adjaye and the Accrans, together with the A’po and the Nyan, we are all guilty of failing to stop you and your dynasty.”
“Brin!” shouted the first of the A’pos.
“She lies,” cried out the first of the Nyans.
“You foolish girl,” said Debin, as though speaking to a child. “What have you done?”
“It was only us four,” said Chairperson Adaye. “Please, do not punish the others. They hate you as much as we do, but they weren’t foolish enough to stand against you. I swear it.”
There was chaos around the Great Hall. Fights even broke out. General Sway seemed to be giving orders although her mic was off. Then her hologram disappeared. No doubt she had gone to supervise the destruction of the four families— everything they owned and everyone they loved.
Figaro turned away from the screen and found Captain Tek standing there. He hadn’t even realised she was in the room.
“It seems your father has managed to turn this into an advantage for himself.” She said it like this had been the plan all along. Hadn’t she been listening? If Ramon Ollo truly wanted to place the planet under his rule, he could easily do it. That was not his goal.
“You don’t know my father at all, Captain,” said Figaro. “Since you are here, I would like to ask you a favour.”
Captain Tek raised an eyebrow. “Another world you’d like us to conquer for you?”
“No. I’d like a ride. You’ve disabled every transport craft on the planet and I need passage to the Fourth Quadrant. Now would be the best time to go, when all eyes are elsewhere.”
“Don’t you think you should say goodbye to your mother?”
“No, Captain, I don’t.”
“But it—” She flinched as Figaro shot her a look of utter disdain and contempt he couldn’t hide any longer. “You really do take after your father.”
“Thank you,” said Figaro.
She made the arrangements over her communication device. He suspected she also informed his mother and got her approval for his request. The image of his mother coolly watching him crossed his mind. She hadn’t reacted at all, hadn’t tried to protect herself or the unborn child. She had just watched with the absolute certainty that he was doing the correct thing. It was both uplifting and terrifying to know she trusted him enough to not feel the need to help him.
Captain Tek walked Figaro out to the landing pad where his mother’s ship waited. A small shuttle landed silently next to it.
“This will get you to the Central Port in Q4,” said the captain. “You can make your own way from there, I trust.”
Figaro walked up the gangplank. No one would interfere with a ship with Seneca markings, and no one would assume it was taking a boy to his new school.
He wasn’t just leaving because it was the best time to slip away, he was leaving because he couldn’t stand to watch the slaughter begin. Whole families would be wiped out with casual disregard. People, real people, would die. The way he had let Ellie die.
He understood the purpose of death, of killing, had been trained to deal with it, had learned about the effectiveness of such matters. But his father was right, simulation was nothing like the real thing.
He took a seat as the ship lifted off. A soldier came up to him and said, “Can I get you anything, sir?” No resentment, no sense of superiority. She was young, much younger than the other troops. A new recruit, probably, maybe her first assignment.
“Yes, do you have a sick bag?”
She looked surprised for a moment and then hid it. She left and returned in a few seconds with a paper bag. He thanked her as he took it from her, and then he threw up.
Chapters one week ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino