Life on the Garu was heavily regimented. Everyone knew where they stood and who stood above them, but they also knew where the line you couldn’t cross was. Rules were enforced across the board. System, the shipwide computer that made life possible on the Liberator Garu, had the final word. No one was above System.
It kept the people on the Garu alive and able to cohabit peacefully. No one was oppressed, no one had to live a particular way, but if you tried to force others to do as you willed, if you used force against the people of the Garu without the express authority of the ruling council, you would be penalised.
Murder, rape, theft, all of them had been virtually eliminated. And when there was an infraction, the perpetrator was quickly apprehended and dealt with. Acts of aggression might cause a warning to be issued or a death sentence to be delivered, depending on the severity. Misdemeanours were usually settled by redistributing resource allocations between the conflicting parties. Rationing was an integral part of life on the Garu, and no one liked having theirs reduced.
System was everywhere. But System had no personal interest in what people got up to, as long as there was no attempt to hurt others. If no one made a claim, System would happily let an infraction pass, even though it knew what had taken place.
That didn’t mean life was fair. System had its own idiosyncrasies. It followed a very clear and well-defined set of rules, but it could be manipulated — it wasn’t the most adept at identifying nuances of human behaviour. And sometimes it would make decisions that didn’t seem to make much sense. It didn’t often explain its rulings.
But everyone accepted the word of the Liberator Garu Neural Matrix System as law. Even if it was sometimes wrong, it never targeted any particular person. Everyone was equally likely to get screwed over by the system.
What you had to do was take care to protect yourself. If you were going to commit a violent act, you had to consider the repercussions. If you planned to claim it was an accident, you had to make it look like an accident. System was good at spotting a fake claim, but it didn’t always make the correct judgement.
Some people insisted that System at times deliberately made the incorrect adjudication because it would better serve the long term future of the Garu. Most people thought that was perfectly acceptable.
“Those shit heads,” said Geezy. “It was like they were trying to provoke you.”
“It’s no biggie,” said Point-Two. He held his head under the med station outside the training room. The injury was very minor and healed almost instantly. “The blood will wash out.” There was a dark maroon patch on his white vest. It went quite well with the red and blue on his shoulder which identified his family.
“But to attack you like that…” Geezy shook his head. “He had to know he would get sanctioned. He didn’t even try to disguise it. I think you should be careful. They might be trying to set you up for something in the future.”
“Yeah, you could be right. Distrés are pretty opposed to everything my father does. Not sure what they think coming after me will do.”
“No, but that’s how they work, isn’t it. A long series of unrelated incidents that end up fooling System into thinking it’s all a big coincidence, and you end up with all your resource points wiped.”
“If that’s what they want, they should have asked. I don’t mind sharing. I’ll have about double what I have now once the adjudication goes through.” He lifted his head off the chin support and looked at himself in the mirror. “Shame. I would have liked a scar. Might make me look like a tough guy.”
“Really?” said Geezy. “You don’t think that ugly mug of yours does that already?”
The altercation wasn’t a big deal. Little skirmishes happened all the time. System dealt with them when it was required; usually it wasn’t. There was a code where young men prided themselves on taking care of their own business privately. They would arrange private duels, boxing matches or similar, and sort things out in a safe yet definitive manner. What they didn’t do was go running to System at the first sign of trouble as Point-Two had. That kind of behaviour could easily get you ostracised by the rest of your peers. But then, Point-Two didn’t involve himself in regular ship life very much.
Geezy went to get changed and Point-Two returned to his quarters, barefoot and blood on his shirt. He received a couple of curious looks as he walked down the corridor to his family’s deck, but nothing more. He looked like he had had an accident training, which he had.
He changed into his work clothes and decided to get something to eat before his shift. He was assigned to engineering, a respectable position with good prospects. Currently, he was in the position of respectable dogsbody. The upward climb was slow on the Garu.
It was approaching second meal time, and the family mess was filling up with his relatives, near and distant. The Hollet deck was near the front of the ship, where the better-off families were located. The three great families, the Joliets, Maigrets and the Distrés populated the very front and took up most of the seats on the council, but Hollets were considered one of the main families, just below the top three. They had enough influence to affect decisions, especially if the great families were in opposition to each other, which they usually were.
When votes were tied, the smaller families became the deciders.
“Not using your resource allocation?” said Hollet’s sister, Maria. She was his full sister, seven standard years older than him. Their mother had died giving birth to him and his sister had practically raised him, although in a family as large as his — four hundred and seventy-six at the last count, three more due within the next month — there was always someone around to tell you what to do.
“Hmm?” said Point-Two. “What do you mean?”
“Your plate. It’s not even half-filled.” She was looking at the plate of food on the table in front of Point-Two.
The ship had recently passed Germania, a farming planet. The stores were brimming with fresh produce only slightly suffering from the preservation process that enabled food to be kept indefinitely and, eventually, with no taste. The tomatoes were currently still juicy and mostly sweet.
“How do you know I haven’t already eaten half-a-plate’s worth?” asked Point-Two. He wasn’t particularly fond of salad, especially when it was on all three daily menus.
“You think I can’t tell when my baby brother hasn’t eaten properly?”
Point-Two smiled at the nostalgic feel of getting scolded by his sister. “I think you should worry about your own baby, Maria.”
He nodded towards her large round stomach. She was expecting soon, although her baby wouldn’t add to the family’s numbers. She had married into the Joliets, a good pairing everyone thought suited the two families. A second-grade son and a third-grade daughter. Their children wouldn’t contest anything important and would help bolster both families.
“Worry about this?” She slapped her protruding tummy. “It’s just a baby. He won’t be a worry until he comes out. That’s when the trouble starts.” She rolled her eyes.
Maria was Hollet 3.1, but girls received an actual name. They would lose their original ship designation on marrying, and become part of their husband’s family, as would her children.
In other parts of the galaxy, life on the Garu would be considered antiquated and sexist. Probably correctly. Traditions held longer and harder in an insulated society. It was hard to change without external pressures, and there weren’t any. Even the women seemed happy with the way things were, but maybe he was fooling himself. What was certain was that System refused to change the way it categorised people and no one knew how to reprogram it. It wasn’t that the men of the Garu were misogynists, it was just the system. And it was better than the opposite extreme. At least no one was as one-sided in their treatment of people as the Seneca zealots.
“Why are you here, Maria? Not just to check up on my diet, I hope.”
“Can’t I miss my baby brother?”
“I saw you last night at 1.6’s wedding.” It had been Hollet 1.6’s third wedding. 1.6 was doing very well for himself, part of the steering committee and a recipient of bonus allocations. Point-Two wasn’t a big fan of weddings but they served cake at them, and they had yet to find a way to incorporate salad into baking. R&D were probably working on it.
“I heard you got into a little altercation with a Distré boy,” said Maria, her face turning serious. “Were you hurt bad?”
“Oh, that. No, just a scratch. I didn’t fight back, if that’s what you’re worried about. They were trying to provoke me for some reason. They’ll have to try harder.” He braced himself and ate a green leaf that didn’t appear to have any taste to it, yet still managed to fill his mouth with an unpleasant sensation. Some of the planets they traded with seemed to hold a grudge over something that happened long ago, and only traded crops that their own livestock refused to eat.
“Have you spoke to Number One?” she said, concern still etched across her face despite his reassurances.
“No. Maybe later. Just to let him know they might be planning something.”
“Of course they’re planning something. And they’ve figured out you’re the best way to get to Number One. You have to be careful.”
Was she concerned for him or for their big brother? Her own husband’s future would be greatly hampered if anything were to happen to Number One. It was an unworthy thought and he put it out of his mind.
“It’s fine. I’ll see him before I start my shift, I have time. Would you like some avocado?”
Maria turned up her nose and waved away the proffered fork of blue fruit. Weren’t pregnant women supposed to crave weird foods? Avocados were traditionally green, he was almost certain, but these small worlds liked to pay homage to the origins by giving their produce ancient and inappropriate names for the sake of nostalgia — and because it made them sell better.
“No thank you. And make sure you clean your plate, or no dessert.” She walked off, leaving him with a small forest to clear.
Chapters one week ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino