The Liberator Garu, an H-class colony spaceship, housed slightly more than fifty thousand souls. It kept a permanent solar orbit around the twin suns of the second quadrant, Kelidon-1 and Kelidon-2, taking three standard years to complete a double orbit, a figure of eight around both stars.
Ten kilometres in length and four across at its widest point, the ship was a city floating through space.
Solar energy powered the ships propulsion and other systems, including the shuttles and defence craft that swarmed around it. There were also the remora, the ships that followed in the Garu’s wake, using its immense gravitational drag to travel the same course, visit the same worlds and feed off the Garu’s discards. Some considered them parasites, others thought of them as a part of the Garu’s ecosystem.
Movement provided gravitational forces that allowed the inhabitants of the huge vessel to move around as though they were on the surface of a planet, although the strength of gravitational pull varied, sometimes erratically.
Usually, it was somewhere between zero and two standard Gs, depending on where the ship was in its orbital path around the two stars. Where in orbit you were born was thought to have a profound effect on the kind of person you would grow to be, although the data on how true that might be was patchy at best.
The Garu had been on the same journey for over four hundred years. Before that, it had been stationed around another star in Quadrant One, the dead quadrant. The ship had been built as an escape transport during the Great Exodus that marked the end of humanity’s first wave of stellar expansion. It was built to save as many lives as possible before Plenus IV imploded. The white dwarf’s core had become unstable seemingly overnight, although it took several decades to reach crisis point. No one was able to determine why the star had collapsed, neither could they explain why it collapsed so slowly, continuing to fold in on itself to this day.
The effect of the slow implosion, termed the Keiger-Platt Effect, created a form of radiation so hostile, it made the entire quadrant uninhabitable and turned any kind of electrical device inoperable. Even organics would not function inside Plenus IV’s sphere of influence.
The Liberator Garu had been intended to deliver its human cargo to a cluster of inhabitable worlds in the fourth quadrant, a journey that would take one hundred and fifty years to complete. Many generations would be born and perish in that time, and the population was expected to grow, although strict regulations were meant to keep the numbers manageable.
As it turned out, the time spent as a spacebound community created its own culture, and a series of unforeseen events meant it was not possible for the ship to reach the original target location. With some engineering ingenuity, the ship was converted into a permanent colony rather than merely a transient one.
In time, as repairs and extensions were made, the ship became twice its original size. Still heavily regulated, and governed by a ruling elite, the Garu became both a home for the descendants of the original evacuees, and a place that conducted trade and commerce with the planets it routinely travelled within range of on its triennial orbit.
An insular, extremely-competitive population produced many talented individuals who became known for their effectiveness both as soldiers and scientists. Their services became highly sought after, although their ruthless methods were routinely the cause of dismay and sometimes outrage.
The Garuvian maxim ‘Defend the people’ defined ‘people’ as only fellow Garuvians. Other humans weren’t considered worthless, but they were considered worth less.
Hollet 3.2 was the second child of the third wife of Commander Hollet, who was the first child of the first child going all the way back to the original Mikail Hollet, who was part of the crew at ship’s launch. This lineage enabled 3.2’s father to keep his predecessor’s name intact. 3.2, or Point-Two as he was more commonly known, would not have that privilege when and if he started his own family. His elder half-brother, Hollet 1, would take the family name on their father’s passing, although the old man would probably live to a hundred, just like his father before him.
Such matters were not of concern to Point-Two, currently, even though he was twenty-three. Most men onboard had at least one wife by that age. Point-Two had little interest in settling down, even though there were many benefits and inducements to do so. The population of the Garu had slowly been dropping over the last several decades as young men in particular saw no real prospects for advancement within the strictly hierarchical society they had been born into.
The ruling class weren’t about to loosen their grip on their power, but the level of comfort onboard was enough to keep most people satisfied with their lot. It was a safe yet varied existence that a life outside of the Garu could not guarantee, and almost certainly would fail to provide. You had the chance to achieve more in the rest of the galaxy, but you also risked losing more, including your life. No one would rush you into medical care if you fell ill on an alien world in some far reach of the cosmos. On the Garu, your life was precious, and all possible measures would be taken to preserve it.
Still, many left to find their happiness elsewhere. Occasionally, they might return. If they did, it wasn’t usually as great successes come to share their wealth and tales of grand accomplishments.
Point-Two ran up the wall, across at a ninety-degree angle to the designated floor, and came down behind his close friend and current opponent, Gibber 184.108.40.206, commonly known as Geezy.
His movements were elegant and effortless in the reduced gravity of the training room, swiftly switching between surfaces as though the room was spinning to accommodate him.
Geezy was dressed in light-division competition gear. Point-Two was in a vest and loose running bottoms. His bare feet landed silently behind Geezy, his hand hooked under his friend’s chin and lifted him off the ground. Point-Two arched into a reverse bridge to throw Geezy backwards.
Geezy, who was taller and heavier than Point-Two, went slowly sailing through the air and landed in a roll, coming up with his tag gun pointed at where his assailant should have been. Point-Two had used the momentum of the throw to launch himself onto the room’s ceiling and was now running upside down, at least from Geezy’s perspective.
“That’s cheating,” called out Geezy, in a voice full of frustration.
It wasn’t cheating, but it shouldn’t have been possible, even in a 0.6 G environment.
Geezy raised the gun to line up his target, but he was leaning so far back he was in danger of falling over.
The rules gave him six shots to hit his target and he only had one shot left. His fear of missing kept him waiting for a guaranteed hit. His opponent had no weapon. This exercise was to help Geezy improve his shooting and his awareness of his surroundings. As such, it was pretty successful. His misses were getting closer to their target.
Geezy in no way expected to win and was doing his best to last longer than his previous attempts. Even a half-step closer to keeping up with Point-Two would help him surpass every other player in his own league.
Point-Two dropped from the ceiling at an angle, struck the opposite wall with both feet and pushed off. He came hurtling like a missile straight at Geezy, who fired at nearly point blank range. And missed.
Anticipating the shot, Point-Two twisted and the laser marker flew by him. He grabbed Geezy’s outstretched wrist and twisted his body so he tumbled in mid-air and landed on his feet in a crouch, Geezy’s gun in his hand.
“I knew it was a trap, but how could I resist an open headshot like that?” complained Geezy.
“How could you miss?” said Point-Two with a grin, handing back the gun.
Geezy looked up at the ceiling. “How did you remain inverted for so long?”
“It’s just timing. You have to use your momentum correctly.”
“You’re too good, man. You would crush if you entered the tournament.”
“Yep, top gun in a sport nobody else in the quadrant plays. My legacy would be assured.”
“Gravity adjustment zero point seven,” announced System. “Gravity adjustment zero point eight.”
Point-Two and Geezy exchanged surprised looks. Neither of them had given the command to change the gravitational setting. They both grimaced as their bodies adjusted to the increase in weight.
“Gravity adjustment zero point nine. Gravity adjustment is now standard.” There was a ping to indicate there would be no further changes.
The training room had two doors, one at floor level and one at ceiling, connected by a ladder bolted to the wall. The lower door opened and two people came in wearing heavy-division battle gear in pristine condition. The colours they wore, yellow, orange and brown, identified them as members of the Distré family.
“Hey,” said Geezy, “we’ve got this room booked for another twenty.”
“Get out of here, scrub,” said the shorter of the two men. “Priority booking. You can both clear out.”
Their gear was the most expensive available. Geezy’s, by contrast, was wearing one of his brothers’ castoffs, scratched and scuffed on every available surface.
“Come on,” said Point-Two, “let’s go.”
Geezy sucked in his lips but he knew they had no choice but to vacate the room when someone with higher status wanted it. That was how life on board the Garu was. Background made all the difference, and neither one of them had the type that mattered.
As they left the room, the taller man said, “You’re that Hollet kid, aren’t you? The one who thinks he doesn’t even need to suit up to G-tag anyone. Want to exchange a few moves with me? I’m a Diamond League player.”
“No, thank you,” said Point-Two, “I think you’re confusing me with my brother.” He headed towards the door.
“Don’t brush him off like that, scrub,” said the shorter man.
A helmet came flying through the air at Point-Two. He could have dodged it quite easily but he let it strike him with a resounding thunk, causing a gash to appear on his forehead. Blood spurted out. Point-Two didn’t make a sound, didn’t even flinch.
The thrower looked shocked. He hadn’t expected Point-Two to not react at all.
“System,” said Point-Two, one eye closed as blood dripped down his face. “Report infraction. Grade three, physical injury sustained.”
“Physical injury detected,” said System. “Report filed.”
“What are you doing?” said the Distré man.
Point-Two picked up the helmet and walked forward with his hand held out, offering it back. “System. Make personal injury claim against Distré family.”
“Claim approved,” said System.
“System,” said the Distré family member, who was now in big trouble. “Counterclaim. Accidental.”
Point-Two placed the helmet into jittery hands and turned around to leave.
“You’re a piece of shit,” the man shouted after him.
“System,” said Point-Two. “Add harassment to claim.”
“Harassment claim… accepted.”
Point-Two left the training room to silence.