The White Palace.
Figaro hung from the window frame, half his body exposed to the frigid Enayan air. His new attire was the ideal garment for the chilly climate a hundred metres above the ground.
The maid, Ellie, had almost fallen from his grasp, but was now suspended over the distant courtyard, her hand held in Figaro’s. She looked up at him with large, confused eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said, the words barely making it past her lips.
“Why?” Figaro shouted at her.
“Sorry,” she said, and she let go of his hand.
Figaro did not let go. He kept her there for a moment, finger desperately holding on, and then he saw the change in her expression, the stiffening in her body, the bracing for something about to happen. He let her go.
Hands clasped him, his waist, his shoulders, the clothing in his back, and dragged him back in just as the girl exploded.
The detonation shook the tower, the shockwave blasting through the broken window and rattling the chandelier in his mother’s chamber. The tower’s exterior was unscathed, the other windows unaffected. They were made from specially designed glass, virtually indestructible and able to withstand huge pressure from the outside, but as fragile as normal glass when struck from the inside, so as to make escape possible.
Figaro’s left hand was bleeding where he had gripped the frame. He stood surrounded by the Seneca Corps, each woman ready to kill him even though they were unsure what had just happened. In their eyes he was a danger, he was a saviour, but above all else, he was their source of embarrassment. They each knew they had failed in their duty.
Figaro knew it, too.
The door burst open and Captain Tek came storming in with an escort of more soldiers. She rushed toward Figaro’s mother.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes,” said his mother, with no great emotion, “thanks to my son.” There was an edge to her words that did not come out of tone or inflection, just from the simple act of being factual.
Captain Tek looked across the room at Figaro, blood dripping from his hand, flanked on all sides by women who could each take down a dozen men single-handed. They looked wary of the boy. It unsettled her.
“How did this happen?” demanded Captain Tek, although it wasn’t clear who she was addressing.
“The maid,” said one of the soldiers. “She had an explosive device. We checked her…” Shame, failure, embarrassment — no one here had been trained to handle this form of attack.
Captain Tek turned towards Figaro’s father. “She was one of yours.”
His father hadn’t said anything, hadn’t even moved from the spot where he’d been standing next to Figaro. He had a slight frown on his lips, but otherwise there was no sign he was upset about the near-death of his entire family. Figaro knew better.
“The device was implanted inside her body,” said Figaro. “I don’t know how long she’d had it. Years, maybe. She didn’t really seem aware of what she was doing. Possibly mind-controlled, or some other kind of sleeper agent. She was nervous, so she knew what was going to happen, but I don’t think she was happy about it.”
“Happy?” said Captain Tek. “Who the hell cares if she was happy?”
“I do,” said Figaro quietly. He lifted his red hand and gingerly walked towards his mother. The soldiers all drew their weapons, clicks indicating their organics were active, their hair standing up and their eyes flickering with telltale light.
Figaro’s father stepped forward, placing a hand on his wife’s shoulder. There was no click when his eyes lit up, his wiry hair remained close to his scalp. The light in the eyes of the Seneca soldiers immediately died. This was what made Figaro’s father one of the most powerful organics in any quadrant, his ability to prevent others from activating their own organics. The soldiers stumbled, clutching at their heads in confusion.
His mother raised her hand and gently placed it on top of her husband’s hand resting on her shoulder. He let the light fade from his eyes and the Seneca women regained their balance, if not their dignity.
Figaro ignored the threatening postures around him. Even if his father hadn’t intervened, they were hardly going to do anything to him with his mother present. She could have killed them all with a thought — that was what made her one of the most powerful organics in any quadrant.
“Do you have a medic among your escort?” said Figaro. “It’s not serious, but it really smarts.”
His mother, who had been looking at him strangely, no longer the fussing mother who enjoyed exasperating him but something else, something bigger, nodded at Captain Tek.
A soldier came up to Figaro and whipped out a small case from a side-pocket. He winced as she cleaned and dressed the cuts on his hand.
“How do you want to handle this?” asked his mother.
“This is a matter for the Seneca Corps,” said his father. “You have your protocols to follow, do you not, Captain?”
Captain Tek, decidedly unhappy with the way things were going, didn’t look too pleased to be addressed in such a casual way by a man. She was used to being treated with respect and at least a little apprehension.
“You want me to call in a strike force and quarantine your planet?”
“What I want is for you to have done your job, Captain.”
“The perpetrator was one of your people.”
“I don’t care if the perpetrator was me. I expect you to prevent harm to my wife and children. Both of my children.” He spoke with a coldness Figaro had never heard from him. There were sides to his parents they had never shown him, he knew that had to be the case. He wondered if some of those qualities were hidden inside him.
“Call in the strike force,” said his mother. “Isn’t this exactly what they’re on standby for?”
Captain Tek had the face of someone who was being told to do the thing they were already planning on doing, but didn’t like it to look like they were following someone else’s orders. But she had little choice in the matter. A protected asset had been attacked. The appropriate response was complete and utter annihilation.
It took two hours for six battlecruisers of the Seneca Corps to enter Enaya’s orbit. Their first act was to destroy or disable every spaceworthy ship in any port, private or public, using surgical strikes that minimised casualties. A flash of light in the sky and a vaporised cockpit.
They then dropped a Venus bomb in every major population centre. The large metal missiles landed in an open area of ground, sinking in halfway so their garishly painted tails stuck out, a message printed on the fuselage revealing their purpose.
This is a Venus-6 missile deployed by the Seneca Corps. Any attempt to interfere with its operation will result in it being activated. Its function is to release the Y virus which will cause all male humans in a 1000 km radius to become sterile with 99.6% efficiency. The Y virus is outlawed by the Second Universal Charter. The Seneca Corps is not a signatory of this charter.
It tended to work well as a threat, although there had been cases where the bombs had been detonated intentionally by the people they were meant to threaten. By their women.
The General Assembly was called to an emergency session. The chairperson of the assembly, Brin Adaye, a fearsome woman who Figaro’s father regularly clashed with over civic matters, issued a strongly worded condemnation of the Corps’ actions.
Footage of the attack was made available, and the seriousness of the matter became clear. Figaro’s role in the prevention of a massacre was overlooked. Without his hair and his face hidden by his robes, he looked more like a Seneca agent. No one corrected that impression.
The consequences of such an attack were known only too well. You would have to be a fool or a maniac to attempt something so direct against the Seneca Corps, and there was no reason to protect or defend anyone willing to endanger the rest of the planet so egregiously.
General Sway of the First Seneca Battalion appeared in the Great Hall, the full membership of the assembly encircling her in their tiered seating. She was still onboard the flagship in orbit, but her hologram looked entirely real and present. A stout middle-aged woman with a shaved head, a wicked scar that ran down the side of her face, which she made no attempt to hide, and metallic armour that shimmered in the light of the Great Hall like she was really in the room.
“The persons responsible will be brought to us or we will begin Phase 2 of the program.”
There was a pause, utter silence in the chamber, and then a man stood up. He was aged and withered, stooped as he spoke. “It was I, Debin, first of the Accrans, who was responsible for this terrible act. I beg your forgiveness, and ask that you do not punish others for my crime.”
He was an old adversary of Figaro’s father and a vocal opponent in the Senate. That he might attempt something like this was certainly possible, but it seemed an unnecessary act. Why anger the Corps?
The man had offered himself up, though. Would it be enough to save the rest of them? Every eye that was on Debin moved to General Sway.
“You confess to this assassination attempt?” she asked.
“No,” said Debin. “The target was not one of yours. It was the boy, Figaro Ollo. He was the one we were aiming for, we had no idea the Seneca Corps was present at the time.”
Turmoil rippled through the chamber and subsided.
Could he be telling the truth? Figaro was sure Ellie had seemed surprised to see him in his mother’s chamber, but that could be due to his missing hair and change of clothing. But if he was the true target, she could have got to him easily enough. This morning would have been the ideal time.
Figaro was watching proceedings from the simulation room in the palace, carefully studying Debin for any telltale signs. The screen showed the old man’s dark wrinkled skin, his milky white eyes and his greying hair. His loss would be no great sacrifice. He could hang on for several more years, but this was a man nearing the end of his life.
A scapegoat? Most probably. His whole bloodline would also be extinguished, but it was hard to be completely sure of getting everyone. If he had come here to confess his crime, chances were he had taken precautions to save some of his family members.
Figaro watched as his father rose from his seat to address the Assembly.