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Second Quadrant.

Liberator Garu. Hollet 1 Quarters.

Point-Two’s brother, Hollet 1, had never married. He was twenty years older than Point-Two and was a very busy man, vital to the smooth running of the Garu, but he had always taken an interest in his younger brother. While their father had been a distant and mysterious figure to Point-Two, with little time for his extended family, Hollet 1 became something of a mentor and role model for him growing up.

By the time Point-Two was born, Hollet 1 had already been recognised as a brilliant mind and was being prepared for a leadership role. This brought its own problems. In a hierarchical society, you were expected to wait your turn. Special treatment for others was resented, even when it was deserved.

And there was a nagging suspicion that System liked him. Even Point-Two got that impression, even though there was nothing specific to base it on.

Hollet 1 dealt with these petty jealousies by refusing command positions that would have leapfrogged him over more senior applicants. Instead, he took up a scientific role, working with System to streamline and improve efficiency. Others would set the agenda, make the decisions, give the orders. And then they would come to Hollet 1 and ask him if it was possible.

Those capable of looking beyond their own ambitions could see that rather than back off, he had simply bypassed them. This, too, brought its own problems. A rival you could denounce, smear, ridicule. A person whose influence wasn’t based on popular support but on being able to control the environment they lived in had to be dealt with in subtler fashion.

Hollet 1 didn’t give them a chance to confront him or question his competence. He kept himself apart and buried himself in work, with little time to spend on defending his decisions. System accepted them, so what did the ship’s council have to complain about?

They plotted and planned, he knew, but as the ship’s Chief Engineer, he had no need to respond to their summons or soothe their concerns. He kept to himself and beyond their reach.

But he had seen something in the younger Hollet offspring — what that was, Point-Two had no idea. He’d asked him but only received shrugs by way of response. Point-Two had also asked his brother why he had never married — that got him a shrug with raised hands.

Of course, there were some men whose preferences ran in another direction, but even they were expected to take wives and help keep the population numbers stable. There was no reason why they couldn’t have other kinds of relationships outside of marriage if they wished.

Other sons, especially firstborns, were quickly pressured into arranged marriages that helped solidify political alliances. If you had someone you liked who wouldn’t provide the family with any advantages, you could marry them second or third. Monogamy was not considered a virtue on the Liberator Garu. Fidelity, on the other hand, was sacrosanct.

But Hollet 1 had never shown an interest in anyone of any sex as far back as Point-Two could remember. Did he see it as a weakness? A way for others to get to him? He genuinely seemed to have no interest in that side of life. He had always been at his desk, studying, writing notes, coming up with ways to increase efficiency of the ship’s engines or how to increase capacity in the fuel cells.

Their father wasn’t one to allow any family member to shirk their duties, but Hollet 1 was special. He was considered a genius, a mathematician whose calculations could predict space anomalies and warps to a level of accuracy no one could match, not even System. He was allowed to be his own master, at least for the time being.

Point-Two’s own love life had been rocky at best. He had entered into some casual dalliances, as most men his age did as they waited for a suitable match to be arranged. There were many young women from the lower families who would gladly accept being the third or fourth wife of someone from one of the main families, and there was a cruel dance of hope that happened on the ship that no one spoke about and everyone allowed to continue. Occasionally it worked out, usually it didn’t. Young men needed an outlet, it was said. Young women needed to try their luck.

All that had changed for Point-Two after his brother had his CQ tested. Now, the ship was not somewhere Point-Two could make a home. He had to leave as soon as possible.

“What are you doing?” asked Point-Two as he entered his brother’s quarters. The room was about four times the size of his, and only four times because Point-Two had his mother’s old quarters.

“Reading. You should try it sometimes.” Hollet 1 was a tall, thin man with sharp features and hair that always fell over his eyes. The two brothers shared the same prominent nose as their father, but little else. Point-Two generally favoured his mother, who had been from a relatively minor family, the Kabor clan who barely existed anymore. A lack of sons led to extinction — the thing every family dreaded most.

“I can read,” said Point-Two. “What are you reading? I’ve never seen one of those before.”

Hollet 1 held up the slim tablet. “It’s a book, a real one.”

Point-two took it from him and examined it. The book was grey and very light. The screen on the front displayed a page of text. The title at the top said ‘Moby Dick.’ Pornography? He didn’t read the rest and held the book on the flat of his palm. “What’s it made of?”

“Plastic. Real plastic, built to last. Doesn’t rot, doesn’t break down, not biodegradable. Our ancestors knew how to make things that would survive an ice age or two.”

“What’s an ice age?” said Point-Two.

Hollet 1 shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. What can I do for you, little brother?”

“Nothing. I just thought I should let you know I had a run in with a couple of Distrés earlier. I think they’re getting ready to try something.”

“Yes, I heard about your little run-in. Very petty of you to report such a minor infraction.”

“Thank you,” said Point-Two. “Do you think it will work?”

“Undoubtedly. The tournament is tomorrow. They don’t have time to wait.”

“You really think they’ll try something at the tournament? In front of all those people?”

“The real question is whether you will be able to do what you need to in front of all those people.”

“I think so,” said Point-Two.

“Oh, you think so. Good, good. As long as the entire future of every soul onboard isn’t on the line, I’m sure your lack of conviction shouldn’t be an issue. Oh, wait…”

“I am certain I can do what I have to,” said Point-Two. “I’m less sure this is the only way. It seems… needlessly cruel.”

“They would show you no mercy, please don’t try to be better than them, it will only get you killed. You have yet to see what ruthless men are capable of. Given the choice between being in command as we sail into the nearest star or stepping aside to let someone more capable lead us to safety, you would be surprised at how little contemplation it would require before ordering the ship into the corona.”

“We’ve been on this orbit so long, maybe we’ll just carry on going round and round.”

“My calculations are rarely wrong.”

“True,” said Point-Two. “But when they are, they tend to be spectacularly so.”

Hollet 1 smiled and took the book back. “We are also out of time. We need to get you off this ship and to a training facility as soon as possible. You’re not getting any younger. You’ll be a doddering old fellow by the time you’re fully trained.”

“And then what? I still have to find and implant an organic, assuming I have a suitable adaptation.”

“With your CQ, that won’t be a problem.”

“And where will I obtain one? We don’t have that kind of money. Do you expect me to go delving in an ancient ruin for one?”

“If that’s the only way,” said Hollet 1. “It’s what people have been doing for centuries. It’s known to be an effective strategy that works. Although, when it doesn’t…”

“Spectacularly so,” said Point-Two. He stood there, knowing these decisions had already been made, that he’d agreed to it. He would leave the ship and this was the best way to do it without raising suspicion. The unknown filled him with disquiet, and everything outside of the Garu was unknown. “Are you sure we shouldn’t tell Father?”

“More sure than you can possibly imagine. You may see him as a distant demigod who stands above all others—”

“I don’t see him like that.”

“—but he will be a much bigger threat to you if he finds out, far bigger than any of the other families. Someone with a compatibility quotient as high as yours hasn’t ever appeared among our inbred bloodlines. It’s a miracle to think you even exist. If he knew, he would shower you with all the attention you’ve craved from him in your young life, and you wouldn’t be grateful for it, believe me.”

“You always make him sound such a monster.”

“No, not a monster. A functional sociopath who can operate at a level of complexity and moral ambiguity most people can’t even begin to fathom.”

“We share his DNA,” said Point-Two.

“Yes, we do. It’s a frightening prospect.” He put down the book and looked up at Point-Two. “After you get out of here and go through the pain and agony of making something of yourself, that’s when your true suffering will begin, when you come back and save the rest of us.”

“I have no idea why you think I can do that, or what it is I’ll be saving you from.”

“Things are going to change around here,” said Hollet 1, “and not for the better. Only you can prevent the inevitable. Maybe.”

“Do you think you could be a little more vague and mysterious?”

Hollet 1 smiled in his usual enigmatic fashion. “If the other families capture and torture you for information, it would be best for you to know as little as possible. I’ve already said too much.”

For once, Point-Two agreed with him.

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mooderino

Bio: Moody writes: 'How to Avoid Death on a Daily Basis', 'The Good Student' and 'Deeper Darker.' How does he do it? Where does he find the time? Is he just a better person than me? All good questions.

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