Altercation

A camera drone sits above the Terrace, hovering lightly as it observes the goings-on. It zooms in on the back of a female capsuleer walking towards the landing pad, categorizing the footage for record-keeping. After she is out of sight, it refocuses its lens on a familiar face–Lord Reginald Sakakibara fast approaching the Terrace. 

***

He knew he had heard her voice. Her voice. His sister’s voice. It had to have been.

He rushed onto the Terrace only to see Vlad Cetes sitting at the bar. He stopped for a moment to look at the android–the thing that he was certain had murdered his men. There had been conversations about Vlad, of course–conversations with Tigerfish Torpedo and Ryven Krennel. Tiger had essentially disowned the machine while Ryven accepted that Vlad’s involvement in the murder was probable. Tiger had even gone so far as to give Reginald leave to deal with Vlad, personally–through a trash compactor. Regi had even taken the liberty of moving it onto the grounds in preparation for Vlad being found guilty by Lady Lianne. But his mind was elsewhere walking onto the Terrace.

Still looking around for Naomi, he asked, “Was someone–Was someone just here?”

“Your sister was here.” Vlad responded.

Reginald snapped his attention towards Vlad, fears slowly becoming realized, “What?!”

“Your sister was here.”

“What did she want? Why was she here?” Reginald asked, becoming frantic.

“She wanted the identity of your girlfriend.”

Reginald gave Vlad a hard stare–a piercing gaze on top of his suspicions that his men were murdered by Vlad’s hand, “And?”

“And?”

“What did you say? Did you say anything?”

Vlad stated simply, “We had an exchange.”

“What kind of exchange?”

“Money for information.”

“What did you tell her?”

“Who she was.”

Reginald felt a burst of anger surge out of him. All this time, L had somehow managed to keep Kat’s name away from Naomi, slowly preparing the family’s delicate politics. But all she had had to do was walk onto the Terrace and ask Vlad? And he had volunteered it freely? Everything was falling apart. She would be running “Katerina Tzestu” through databases–her link to Pandemic Legion, her social status, and maybe even the MIO inquiry.

He lashed out at Vlad, “WHY?! That’s–Do you know how complicated that makes things?”

“That is none of my concern.”

Reginald was seething, “Damn you, you bloody murderous robot. I’ll throw you into a garbage compactor myself.”

“All talk, no action.”

Fists clenched, Reginald shot back, “We’ll see about that.”

He took out his datapad and started to write a message. It wasn’t addressed to anyone. He just wanted to give the appearance that he was writing something to someone important–Lady Lianne, Lady Aspenstar, Alexa de’Crux–it didn’t matter, Vlad just needed to believe. He had played this game before and he could play it again, “Let’s see how you like it when I offer to testify on my word as a Holder that you are the guilty party. Your benefactor has abandoned you and you have no allies here.”

“False.”

He didn’t bite.

Reginald lost his temper, “I have leave to throw you into a garbage compactor. If you do anything, ANYTHING that threatens Kat at all–I’ll see to it that that compactor follows every replicated one of your bodies to the end of time!”

“I see your weakness, then,” Vlad responded nonchalantly, “Tell me, would you sacrifice her if it meant you could ‘throw me into a garbage compactor’?”

Sacrifice her? The idea was completely alien. Suspicion and frustration boiled over into sheer anger. He wouldn’t let a robot talk about Kat like that, “Don’t you dare use her as a bargaining chip!”

He tried to return to the murder of his men, “You. Are. Guilty.”

“Anything is to be used. Used, abused, ultimately thrown away. Anything and everything.”

Reginald’s mind was ablaze with unspeakable images. Abusing Katerina? That was unthinkable, anathema to his very existence, of what it meant to be a gentleman, a Holder. He thrust the image out of his mind and focused his eyes angrily on Vlad. He called over for security guards–he would exact vengeance today.

“You sicken me, robot. And it only makes it all the clearer–you belong in a rubbish heap on its way to a star in a disposal unit.”

As Vlad was flanked by the security guards, Reginald added, “As I’ve said, you have no allies here.”

“Do you think I’m stupid? What are we surrounded by?”

Reginald, his mind singularly focused on bringing Vlad to justice, responded stupidly, “Lady Lianne’s security personnel?”

“No. Look up, see those mountains?”

Reginald glanced away at the peaks in the distance, then shot his gaze back to Vlad, “What of them?”

“Do you really think I am alone? Or that only ONE unit exists at a time?”

Reginald shook his head, “Is that how you killed my men?”

Not waiting for a response, Reginald motioned for the security guards to start dragging Vlad towards the trash compactor “And I’ve told you, Vlad. Tiger has already given me permission. There’s a Vlad-sized garbage compactor just over there.”

Without warning, Vlad suddenly rotated, flipping one guard to the ground. The other guard received a palm strike to the shoulder. Both were incapacitated in a matter of seconds. Other security guards started to investigate the scene, some of them preparing to draw weapons. Vlad declared, “I will not kill these men, but do not force my hand.”

Reginald raised his palms to show he was unarmed, “It’s clear to me that you’re guilty, Vlad.”

Vlad dropped a knee on the prone guard and grabbed the back of his neck. As the security guards raised their weapons in response, Vlad motioned to them, “Step away or I will kill him.”

Reginald looked at the hapless security guard. He wondered if his own men had the same fear in their eyes, frightened of mortality. He wouldn’t, no, he couldn’t burden Lady Lianne with their lives as well. He would stand alone against the robot.

“Do as he says, I don’t want your blood on my hands as well.”

Vlad picked up the security guard and threw him at Reginald, who helped him to a medical officer.

He told the guards who were standing around, “My quarrel is with the murderer.”

“You have no proof,” Vlad replied.

“Tiger has given me leave to throw you into a garbage compactor, you murderer.”

Vlad retorted, “And I have leave to disable you and throw you into a garbage compactor.”

Reginald requested a sidearm from one of the guards. Pistols were unwieldy weapons. Like all firearms, they were impersonal, dishonorable. He would have preferred a blade. But a firearm would have to do.

“… or more fitting, turn you into a True Slave, a machine with no free will, and watch a corner of your mind scream.”

Reginald shuddered at the thought. Katerina had already lost someone to the madman Sansha Kuvakei–her fiancee, the reason why she became a capsuleer. He had lost someone too. Was he taking too big a risk? Or was Vlad just bluffing? Regardless, he refused to back down, no matter the petty threats.

He raised the pistol deftly at Vlad–he thought it prudent, considering Vlad Cetes was a weapon. Responding to his claim to have leave to kill him, and feigning ignorance of his True Slave comment, Reginald asked, “Oh? And who might that be?”

“I need no authority, or leave, to conduct my business. Put that pistol away before you get hurt.”

Reginald said, “You’re no longer welcome here–Tiger has said it himself. You have no real contract. So what is your business in this place, aside from murdering the innocent?”

“My business is my own.”

Reginald kept the pistol trained on Vlad, “You’re a threat to everyone.”

“I am not a threat unless paid to be one, or threatened myself.”

“So be a good, obedient robot, listen to your betters, and march yourself over to the garbage compactor,” Reginald demanded.

“No.”

Reginald shot Vlad a cold, icy stare, “You’re going into that compactor one way or another. It’s up to you if you want to go there intact or in pieces.”

“I will not be going into a compactor, if anything,” He took a step towards Reginald, “You will.”

An image of being crushed to death flashed through Reginald’s mind. Instinctively, he released the safety on the pistol, “Another step and I put one through your head.”

Vlad raised his hands in surrender, his left hand roughly even with Reginald’s pistol. Reginald couldn’t suppress the feeling of relief.

“Good, glad that you’re now cooperating,” He jerked his head in the direction of the compactor, “Garbage compactor is–”

But he couldn’t finish his sentence through the sudden burst of pain. Instead he screamed in agony. Vlad had launched a ballistic knife from a hidden compartment right into his pistol hand. He dropped the weapon involuntarily, clutching at the knife that was now embedded in his hand.

“Take him!” He screamed at the guards.

But Vlad took the initiative while the guards remained stunned. He closed the distance between himself and Reginald suddenly and without hesitation. Grabbing the knife, he twisted it into Reginald’s hand until the tendon was severed. Reginald fell to his knees in sheer agony, screaming in pain.

Vlad turned to the security personnel, “Don’t make me do the same to you, stand down!”

Reginald muttered “Bastard. You’ll never–gah–get away with this.”

“Unlike you, I have not attacked. Only defended.”

“I didn’t pull the trigger.”

“No but you aimed, I would suggest you back down, before you get hurt again.”

Reginald forced himself to his feet, “For the sake of my men. For the sake–god damn it–justice. I refuse to back down!”

Reginald barked at the security guards, “Well go on, arrest the bastard!”

One of them responded meekly, his eyes following the trail of blood from Reginald’s torn hand, “We don’t take orders from you, sir.”

“Fine,” Reginald spat back. With his good, he picked up the pistol and trained it back on Vlad, “Now then, garbage compactor.”

“Do you want to keep that other hand? Put it down. Now.”

“I have leave from Tiger to throw you into that garbage compactor. You’re going in, if I have to do it myself.”

Vlad taunted, “How predictable, just like a childrens’ wind up toy, or Nauplius. You go on, and on, and on, about something you simply cannot do.”

Reginald cleared his throat, pain still searing through his hand, trying to hold the pistol as best he could with his non-dominant hand, “On the authority of her ladyship, Shalee Lianne, I am authorized to throw you, Vlad Cetes, into a garbage compactor. You’ve outlived your usefulness, robot. And no one stands with you.”

Vlad responded, “Look at you. A useless hand, no one supporting you. Simply blowing hot air. Put the pistol down.”

Reginald responded defiantly, “No.”

In reality, he wouldn’t back down. He was so close to meting out justice. And what was pain but penance? Penance for disrupting the investigation to start with. Penance on behalf of the souls of the fallen. Penance for betraying Lady Lianne’s trust.

Vlad swiftly lunged at Reginald’s hand. With only inches of clearance, Reginald sidestepped him, conducting a variation on a distance parry he had learned in his childhood. He raised the pistol at the back of Vlad’s head, muttered a prayer, and fired.

Vlad’s head seemed to explode with the impact. But when the effects cleared, there was only a small dent and some scorch marks on the dull gold armor. He turned back to Reginald and threw another knife at him–this time it went straight to his heart.

Reginald dropped the pistol, a look of utter surprise on his face. His mind started racing. Forgiveness. Mercy. Death. Kat. Then he realized that he couldn’t remember when he had performed his last mind-scan. As he fell to the ground, strength emptying from him, he urged his thoughts into a prayer.

Please God. If I have to die, please don’t take Kat away from me. Please. Just this once. Just once.

He crumpled onto his side, his hands fruitlessly clutching at the knife. He was going to die. This part of him. And he’d never live his last hours again. It would be over.

Vlad stepped next to Regi, then whispered into the dying man’s ear, “You shouldn’t have done that. Now you die like your men.”

Reginald tried to respond, his eyes wide, but could only manage a cough and some sputters. He felt his vision grow dark, first at the peripheries then until everything became dim. It felt strange, dying–there was something beneath him that was warm but he felt cold internally, as if something was flowing freely out of him.

The pain started to fade. Sounds and voices disappeared. There was no more color. And then there were no more thoughts.

***

The camera drone swoops down next to the corpse on the Terrace. It runs a scan to check for vitals, careful to not be knocked around by Alexa de’Crux’s kameiras. After a few minutes, it transmits the results to a central computer, to be downloaded into a hard drive at Cerra Manor for record keeping. 

Subject: Lord Reginald Sakakibara

Date/Time: November 11, YC116/03:46:00

Status: Deceased

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