10: Tournament Challenger

Second Quadrant.

Liberator Garu.

Promotion Tournament, Championship Arena.


Point-Two had been lost in thought sitting in the top row of his family’s seating area for the last hour and his legs were stiff. He could have gone to get something to eat — the snacks in the arena were virtually nutrient-free and didn’t cost many resource points — but he didn’t want to miss the moment his brother had assured him would come.

His whole row was empty, apart from him. The rest of his family were crowded into the lower tiers to get a better view of the action below, sitting on top of each other and squeezed together even though there was plenty of space. They were here to have fun, cheer on their brother and sisters who were competing, and to hang out while mercilessly making fun of each other. It was what families did.

Point-Two had always felt a bit of an outsider when it came to these kinds of social events. He wasn’t particularly close with anyone in the Hollet clan other than his sister and his elder brother, and Hollet 1 had encouraged him to keep it that way. Actually, it was more than that, he had insisted Point-Two keep himself apart.

What was strange was that Point-Two didn’t really mind. He preferred not to have to spend time joking and laughing with his siblings and cousins. Having to pretend to have a good time was exhausting.

System announced a gravity change and the crowd counted down the change with it, cheering as the new setting was reached for the next set of matches. It was impossible to keep the gravity effect limited to the playing area and a wave of heaviness rippled up the banks of seats. It gave his leg a nice jolt so he didn’t have to get up and stretch it.

The arena floor was divided into three separate courts with transparent walls and ceilings so the crowd could watch the action unobstructed. Large screens around the arena showed highlights and replays, and also faces in the crowd watching eagerly, picking their noses or realising they were on the screen and jumping up and down like happy idiots.

The arena could seat ten thousand people. Far more than that seemed to be here, filling out the very top rows by standing — the people from the lowest decks in the highest tier.

New players emerged for the team round and the noise the crowd made was like some gigantic engine warming up to fire. Point-Two knew that sound from working down in engineering, right next to the Garu’s sixty-four gravity drives. The only difference was that here the sound was louder. The people with the least enjoyed these kinds of events the most. Not because of the spectacle or the chance to meet up with friends, but because gambling resource points was allowed at major sporting events.

Nothing got the blood pumping like winning big, or having to eat basic rations for the rest of the month.

Geezy had already played his match and been eliminated. For all his desire to be a serious G-tag player and go pro, he didn’t have the right build for the game. Despite the manipulation of gravity, size made a difference. Mobility was key, and Geezy suffered from a lack of it.

So far, Point-Two had watched fourteen matches in the lower divisions, three matches at a time. One match had been called off because of an injury and the player had to default; a big disappointment for him and his family but mostly for the people whose bets were now void. Point-Two wouldn’t have minded if a few more had broken their legs before the start of proceedings. It would speed things along.

It was not a very kind thought, but most of the younger players weren’t very good. Point-Two had taken to G-tag with ease as a youngster, revelling in the sense of freedom it gave him. To be able to fly around with no restraint, to use any surface for support, to choose for yourself which way was up, it allowed him to let go of all the tiny concerns and niggling fears that plagued his mind and just be. Anger, resentment, doubt… nothing mattered when you restricted it all to two men in a box with no other influences to impact on them.

Geezy was right. If he was down there, competing with his peers, he would do well. He would, to be perfectly honest, wipe the floor with them. But Hollet 1 had also insisted he not do that. His somewhat aggressive style might not be appreciated by his competitors.

Three men walked up the stairs towards the Hollet area. From the way they dressed and moved, an exaggerated swagger only the truly insecure would bother with, they were clearly from the ‘Reservation’, the lowest deck where those without family (either through choice or expulsion) lived in anarchic bliss.

It was considered a necessary outlet. A phase some people needed to go through. An alternative that suited others better than life as responsible member of the People. You could do as you pleased in the Reservation. No job, no responsibility, no need to listen to orders. No one went hungry on the Garu. Basic rations were available for free — water, paste, pills. Everything you needed to stay alive, available to anyone who needed it. The taste was memorable enough for people to do their utmost to not need it.

Point-Two often wondered if he would have ended up down there, were it not for his brother.

Walking through a reserved area to get to the higher tiers was not unusual. There was no security, no barriers. Trouble was rare and System was swift to act. It just wasn’t worth it.

These three were something else, though. For starters, they were carrying weapons. They were concealed under their clothes, but Hollet 1 had shown him how to recognise the signs. The shift in gait, the asymmetry in outline, the tension in the face.

For all his studiousness, Hollet 1 was an adroit soldier. He had supervised Point-Two’s combat training and sparred with him regularly. Hollet 1 had a tall build with a long reach, while Point-Two had a more squat frame with a lower centre of gravity thanks to his mother’s Kabor genes. Point-Two had never won a single bout in any discipline against his brother.

What was the plan in sending hired goons? The final adjudication after the appeal had already come through. The Distré boy was reduced to basic rations for the rest of the month with his several hundred resource points now sitting in Point-Two’s account. It made no notable difference in there.

More notable was the additional ruling against the Distré family, taking away their priority privilege for two standard days, for everyone with the Distré name. That had to be galling. No jumping the line, no special treatment, no showing off in front of the lower deck plebs.

Point-Two would expect the family elders to be livid, if it wasn’t for the fact they more than likely had arranged things to be just like this.

The three men, enlisted by the disgruntled Distrés through untraceable means, were here to start a fight?

It seemed a less than brilliant plan. There had to be more to it. If Point-Two acted out of self-defence, System would find in his favour, and even if it didn’t, how would that put any pressure on his brother?

The three stopped at his row and the meanest-looking of the three — it was a close-run race — nodded at Point-Two. “Alright if we sit here?”

It was well within his rights for him to send them away, but the seats were empty and he was curious what they were going to do. He used one of his brother’s shrugs to allow them to take a seat. They lounged more than sat, long legs drooping over the seats in front. They were too far to reach him unless they were planning to throw something at him.

His own plan wasn’t going to change at this stage, but he would have to stay on his guard for some other attack. He looked around the arena as a cheer went up, the screens showing ecstatic faces in the crowd. Someone had pulled off an unlikely strike and the chance for an unfavoured win filled people with hope for a big payout.

“Don’t you wish you were down there sometimes? Your skills would get an even bigger reaction, I’d wager.”

Point-Two turned to find a man sitting next to him. He hadn’t even heard him approach.

The man was thin, with a long face, a bald and polished pate. He wore a flashy dark red suit with lots of jewellery — rings, bracelets, several chains around his neck. His teeth — exposed by a large, predatory smile — were gold.

“No,” said Point-Two. “I don’t. Do I know you?” He had never seen this man before. He certainly wasn’t a Hollet.

“No, not yet. You can call me Walter, and I will call you Mr Hollet.”

It was an odd sensation being called by the family name. It wasn’t exactly a taboo thing to do, but it intimated some kind of ambition, forced you to deny something you hadn’t even considered.

“What do you want, Walter?” Point-Two wasn’t one to be tempted by unnecessary bait.

“To make you an offer, a deal. I want you to do me a little favour, you see. I want you to step in for a friend of mine and play a round or two of G-tag, that’s all. I assure you, I will make it worth your while.”

Point-Two was a little confused, at first. This man was here to recruit him as a G-tag player? Had the Distrés sent him? They weren’t the only ones who might attempt to pull something tonight. Perhaps the whole Distré incident was no more than it had appeared — a mild altercation of no real consequence. Just boys flexing.

Was this the real attack or another feint? Maybe a combined assault by more than one family?

“No, thank you. I don’t find the game all that interesting, to be honest.”

“Ah, yes,” said Walter. “I suppose it’s all a bit too easy for you, hm? But let me clarify. It isn’t just yourself you would be benefitting, but also your maternal sister.” He smiled and his gold teeth sparkled.

“How would it benefit her?” asked Point-Two.

“Well, you see, it has come to my attention that your sister’s expected child — congratulations, by the way — will not be a Joliet, genetically speaking. These things happen, as I’m sure you’re aware. The ways of the heart are complex and who are we to judge? But there are ways to prevent these facts emerging. I’m in no way threatening you or your sister, you understand? I’m just sharing some information.”

Point-Two nodded. “I understand. Can I share some information with you?”


“The people who sent you here aren’t interested in G-tag. They know I won’t agree to your terms. They sent you here knowing I would kill you.”

Walter’s eyes widened and his teeth were exposed again, but this time in a painful grimace. “You would commit murder because of your sister?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” said Point-Two.

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Afterword from Mooderino
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