Book 2 – 4: Arbitration Now

Third Quadrant

Quicksilver Dworkin (Rapier class)


Figaro leaned over the console and prepared to speak. He didn’t have to lean — the microphone would pick up his voice from any position — but it felt like his message would be clearer if he was closer. He was feeling nervous. The two Seneca women waiting to see what he would do weren’t helping.

He knew what he needed to do. And he was perfectly capable of speaking in public. But there were so many ships out there, representing the most powerful corporations in the galaxy. Seven Seas Navy Rigogo Company, Neswam Incorporated, Hi-Rize Corporate, Feshang Holdings — he could see their familiar logos plastered on the sides of the huge warships.

Seasoned and battle-hardened, each crewed by hundreds of people, and he was about to directly challenge all of them. This wasn’t like a simulation. They weren’t going to react according to an algorithm. He had to be ready to handle whatever they threw at him.

“Hello?” He closed his eyes. That wasn’t how he had meant to start. Still, it was good to get mistakes out of the way at the start. Whatever it was that was making him doubt himself, its work here was done. Time to move on.

“Attention, ships in Tethari space.” Once he started, it wasn’t so bad. “This is Figaro Ollo of the Ollo Dynasty, owners of the asteroid and wormhole you are currently maintaining unauthorised orbit around. Please be advised that anyone attempting to land on the asteroid will be in violation of space-maritime law, statute three in regard to trespass and illegal descent on a claimed property.”

Figaro leaned back in the chair, relieved to have not stammered or misspoken.

“You think they’re going to be scared off by a little warning?” said Leyla.

“Your secret weapon is to tell them to shoo?” said Weyla.

Neither woman looked very impressed. Dozens of huge vessels, all heavily armed, stood between them and the asteroid. Even if they could find a way through them, it was unlikely they would allow the Dworkin to land before they had a chance to analyse what was going on here, and why Ramon Ollo had sent out that rather baffling message.

They knew who Ramon Ollo was and what it would take to put him in a position of peril. They also knew the lucrative possibilities of a new Antecessor site becoming accessible.

“First, I need to engage them in conversation,” said Figaro. “The best way to do that is with a mixture of weak threats and a low-expectation of success. They don’t believe I can do anything to stop them landing on the asteroid — nothing they can’t talk their way out of if they have to explain themselves at a later date.” It helped to talk it through. He had been trained to handle these sorts of situations. He knew what to do. “The big corporations are always happy to let their legal department handle the clean up after they’ve got what they wanted.”

“Yes,” said Leyla. “And they’re very good at it. How will getting us stuck in the middle of their red tape extravaganza help?”

Figaro could understand the way she felt. Sitting around talking, trying to coerce and cajole the other party into giving ground, making concessions, was how big business operated. It wasn’t how the Seneca Corps operated. The Seneca way was to go in all guns blazing and killing anyone who tried to negotiate. A counter-offer was met with a counter-offensive.

But these women didn’t have the Corps watching their backs, and Figaro needed to clear away these war machines masquerading as merchant ships before he could reach his father.

“Figaro Ollo,” said a thick and throaty voice, suggestive of considerable weight and heft. “This is Captain Greentree of the Neswam Cruise Ship, The Entrepreneurial Spirit.”

Figaro didn’t know the ship or its captain, but he knew of Neswam, manufacturers of food and drink, and vicious raiders of resources from any planet that couldn’t adequately defend theirs.

“Yes, Captain,” said Figaro. “What can I do for you?”

“Ah, good to talk to you, Mr Ollo. The son, is it?”

“That’s correct,” said Figaro.

“Wonderful. We are here in response to a distress call. We aren’t trespassing, you understand? This is a mission of mercy.”

There were some sounds of agreement in the background.

Leyla’s hands danced across the console. “Looks like they’ve all linked up on the one channel. Everyone’s listening.”

Figaro nodded.

“Unfortunately,” continued Captain Greentree, “we have been unable to contact the control station on the asteroid, which is worrying, I know. As soon as we can determine what is going on, our only intention is to offer help and assistance. I feel I speak for all of us here when I say, our priority is the safety of your father. He is a valued member of the galactic community.”

More sounds of agreement filled the channel.

Figaro had no doubt that the only reason none of the ships had landed already was because they were in a stand-off with each other. No one wanted anyone else to gain an advantage in claiming whatever it was his father had discovered. They were willing to destroy each other before they allowed someone else to benefit at their expense.

“Thank you, Captain,” said Figaro. “I’m sure my father would be flattered. But to correct you, it wasn’t a distress signal my father sent out, it was a private message meant for me. I was mentioned in the message, as I’m sure you’re aware, and I am here to handle the situation. As a family matter, the involvement of any other parties is not required and not requested.”

There was some grumbling in the background and then complete silence. Were they discussing the matter on another channel at the same time?

“They’ve opened a new channel,” said Leyla. “Do you want to listen in?”

“No,” said Figaro. “Let them discuss in private.”

After a few moments, Captain Greentree spoke again. “Mr Ollo, our combined study into the distorted message your father sent suggests a high likelihood it was an emergency request for assistance. Do you have some kind of evidence that it was some kind of personal message to you?”

“I don’t require proof when it comes to how I wish to proceed with my family’s business. On the contrary, it is you who require proof of permission to land on our property. Do you have such proof, Captain?”

“The distress sig—”

“It was not a distress signal, as I have explained. If you believe otherwise, you are entitled to do so. What you aren’t entitled to do is act on that belief in direct opposition to the official Ollo position. I wouldn’t tell you how to run your business, please don’t try to tell me how to run mine.”

“But young man—”

Figaro didn’t give him a chance to finish. “I understand that it was an incomplete message and therefore easy to misconstrue, which is why we will not be pressing charges against any of you for intercepting a private communiqué — a simple mistake on your part. You will need to produce the appropriate documents from my father’s office before you can legally set foot on the asteroid. Do you have the requisite paperwork?”

There was a long pause, probably as the captain of The Entrepreneurial Spirit consulted with his fellow captains.

Once Figaro got going, the apprehension had disappeared. It was a lot like fighting. It didn’t matter what you thought. You weren’t guided by your thoughts, you were guided by your weapon.

“I take on board what you’re saying,” said Captain Greentree, “and I will pass it on to our head office for a ruling. This is beyond my pay grade, you understand, hehehe.” His chortling sounded like someone drowning in gravy. “Until we receive a reply — which may take a little time — we are bound by space-maritime law to act in the best interest of any parties we perceive to be in danger of—”

“Captain,” interrupted Figaro, “do you know the case of the Three Captains?”

There was no response.

“I’m sure you do. Three ship captains claimed they could not contact their superiors and so acted in what they believed to be the best interests of all parties. You might also remember their respective companies disavowed any responsibility for their employees’ actions and the men were sued as private individuals, all three ending up bankrupt and ruined. Two of them took their own lives, and one is currently in an institution for the insane. You know of the case?”

There was more silence.

“Or perhaps you know it better by the name on the court document, Three Captains versus Ramon Ollo? The Ollo in the title is, of course, my father, and his legal team are still very much on retainer and are intimately familiar with the procedure to arraign each of you as private individuals. I have taken the names of your ships and downloaded the manifest. The names of the captains registered at the last port of call have been passed on to the firm of Mesingue, Shenha and Ustad. They will not bother with your head office or your direct superiors. As you have already stated, on the record, you have not received orders on this matter from them. Any action you take will be of your own volition and entirely down to you.”

The silence continued.

“This is the most powerful weapon in the galaxy?” said Weyla.

“For each battle, there is a perfect weapon,” said Leyla.

Figaro smiled at hearing the old Seneca maxim.

“The most powerful weapon in the galaxy is the one that causes the greatest damage to the opponent in front of you,” he said. “We don’t need to blow up any ships, we just have to threaten the personal wealth of the men giving the orders. Not one of these captains cares about their company more than they care about themselves. They know their superiors will gladly abandon them if it becomes necessary, or convenient. If they don’t have a record of being ordered to act on the company’s behalf, they will have to shoulder full responsibility. There is nothing more terrifying to an avaricious man.”

“Very well,” said Captain Greentree. “We will wait for orders from our Directors. In the meantime, we will wait here, just in case we are needed. Unfortunately, our positioning will prevent your ship from approaching the asteroid. I apologise for the inconvenience. In addition, the defence grid on all ships are active. Due to your father’s incomplete message, the nature of the threat isn’t clear, so we have taken to protect ourselves. I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to pass through the grid until we receive instructions from head office.”

“I understand,” said Figaro. “I will be heading down to the planet. The asteroid’s own defence grid can be operated remotely from my father’s office. I will be conducting a full diagnostic check, including firing tests, within the hour, standard time. As notification of test firing is not required when no ships have permission to be within range, you will not be notified. It will be a live test, of course.”

“Ah, I see,” said the captain. “And what is the range of the defence grid?”

“I’m afraid that is private information I am not at liberty to divulge. But, as you know, my father likes to push the weapons he builds to the most extreme specs possible. Far beyond the kind of mass-produced weapons you have on your ships.”

Figaro turned off the comms.

“You think that will work?” said Leyla.

“For now,” said Figaro. He was suddenly very tired. Diplomacy was exhausting. “Would you mind taking me home now? I’d like to get some rest before I blow all these ships into tiny pieces.”

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