We are pleased to present the sixth excerpt from Futures: A Science Fiction Series—this time from A Point of Honor by Aeryn Rudel.
The United States has instituted archaic dueling codes overseen by a government agency called the Bureau of Honorable Affairs. Victims of slander and libel, among other crimes, can force their tormentors to face them in state-sanctioned combat. Jacob Mayweather is challenged to a duel by a man he has never met. The accusation is for a considerable crime, and Jacob must choose whether he will fight or be blacklisted as a duel dodgers.
A POINT OF HONOR
by Aeryn Rudel
Jacob opened his mailbox and froze. The sight of the scarlet envelope between the bills and advertisements twisted his stomach into cold knots of dread. He’d never seen a declaration from the Bureau of Honorable Affairs in person.
He glanced around the quiet, empty street, terrified someone might see. He snatched the declaration from the mailbox, tucked it into his robe, and hurried inside.
Sara stood at the kitchen counter drinking coffee. “Anything in the mail?”
He pulled the declaration from his robe and tossed it on the counter. It looked like a fresh bloodstain on the white tile.
Sara’s eyes widened as she covered her mouth with one hand. “Why do you have that?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t hurt anyone.”
“Of course you haven’t. You’re a forty-year-old computer programmer.”
He grimaced at his wife’s blunt assessment. “Maybe it’s a mistake. They’re a big government agency. They screw up, right?”
“Yes. Yes, a mistake.” Sara seized on this scant hope. “Has to be.”
There was only one way to know for sure, but the thought of touching the declaration made Jacob nauseous.
“Open it,” Sara said, deciding for him.
Jacob slid a finger beneath the sealed flap and ripped open the envelope. Inside was a single folded sheet of white paper with the words Challenger: Mr. G. Olsen printed at the top. His mind raced through names of coworkers, friends, acquaintances, even extended family. Relief flooded through his body. “I don’t know him.”
“Let me see.” Sara took the paper and read, her blue eyes darting across the page. “Well, whoever he is, he’s really pissed. He’s stating you ‘offered him grave and lasting insult’ and ‘irreparably damaged his standing among his peers.’” She shook her head. “This thing reads like it was written two hundred years ago. Oh, he also wants to kill you.”
“He chose lethal?” Relief became exasperation. “That’s ridiculous. How the fuck can I ‘offer grave and lasting insult’ to a guy I’ve never met?”
“Calm down,” Sara said. A guiding principle of their relationship was that he didn’t get to be mad; that was her job.
“Can we ignore it?” Jacob said.
Sara’s eyes widened. “Ignore it? Are you stupid?”
“I…I’m not stupid.”
“You can’t ignore it. That would be forfeiture of the duel, and then we’d be screwed. Remember Larry Schilling?”
Jacob had met Larry, a short balding guy, at a Christmas party hosted by Sara’s work. A few weeks after that, Larry had too much to drink at a local bar and got into a political debate with another patron. There had been some shoving and name-calling, but the bouncer broke it up. Unfortunately, the guy’s friend recorded the altercation on his phone. Larry received a declaration from the Bureau of Honorable Affairs the following week. He was in his fifties with a heart condition and in no shape to fight anyone. He ignored the declaration and the bureau listed him as a duel dodger. Shunned by friends and family and unable to get a job, he put a shotgun in his mouth a month later.
Jacob swallowed. “Okay, what do we do?”
“You have fourteen days to answer,” Sara said. “So we go down to the Bureau, talk to an agent, and figure this out.”
“Yeah, okay.” Sara always knew what to do. “They’ll see the mistake and withdraw the challenge.”
Sara dropped the declaration on the counter and put her arms around him. “It’s gonna be okay.” He took comfort in another principle that held their marriage together: she loved him, and he loved her. Sometimes that even made up for the bad stuff.
The Bureau agent loomed behind his desk like a grim office warlord. His face, maybe handsome at some point in the distant past, seemed to be molded entirely by violence. He had more scars than Jacob could count, a nose that had been broken until only a squashed lump remained, and misshapen cauliflower ears reminiscent of flesh-colored potstickers.
Jacob and Sara sat in front of the man’s desk, and he flashed them a smile that somehow made him more fearsome. He’d not given them his name. “Mr. Mayweather.” The agent’s voice was surprisingly soft and measured. “I’ve reviewed your case, and everything looks to be in order.”
“How can that be?” Sara said. “Jacob doesn’t know this person.”
“I looked into the matter, and it is quite evident your husband does know the challenger,” the agent said.
“I’d like to see some proof.” Jacob hated the way his voice shook. He didn’t want to look afraid in front of this man, but he couldn’t help it.
“Of course,” the agent said. “The Bureau of Honorable Affairs is a transparent organization.” He opened a drawer, pulled out a folder, and slid it across the desk. “These transcripts should clear things up.”
Inside the folder were three sheets of paper, each a record of a conversation. There were two participants: Sandman69 and GabO. The second name stole the breath from Jacob’s lungs. GabO could only be G. Olsen.
“What does it say?” Sara asked.
He tried to think of a way to explain it all to his wife, but he couldn’t. It was too absurd.
Sara pulled the folder from his hands and examined the contents. Her eyes grew wider as she read, and her lips curled in disgust. “What is this?”
The agent answered. “That is a transcript of a conversation between your husband and a man named Gabriel Olsen. The conversation took place over a service called LiveWire. It’s often used so individuals playing cooperative video games can communicate with one another.”
“A video game?” Sara said. “You know this guy from a video game?”
“It’s not a big deal,” Jacob said, knowing how ridiculous it all sounded. “When I play Path of Honor, I mess with people sometimes. It’s called griefing. Everybody does it.”
Sara turned to him, her eyes chips of ice. “Are you telling me you said all the horrible things written here? I’ve…I’ve never heard you use some of these words, these slurs before.”
“I don’t use words like that in real life,” Jacob said. “Come on, nobody takes that shit seriously. It’s not real.”
The agent smiled again, showing teeth, a predator’s gape. “Mr. Olsen takes it quite seriously. Moreover, the Bureau has now made allowances to handle insults levied over services like LiveWire.”
“Hey, I’m not gonna fight this asshole,” Jacob said.
The agent shrugged. “That is your right, Mr. Mayweather, as long as you understand the consequences.”
“You’ll be a duel dodger.” Sara slumped in her chair. Disgust and rage warred for control of her features. “You’ll be on the list. You’ll lose your job and everyone will know you’re a coward.”
The agent nodded. “If you refuse the duel, we’ll make the announcement through the normal channels, and we’ll add your name to the list.” He leaned forward and put his broad, callused hands on the desk. “You know, Mr. Mayweather, a lot of people think being on the list is worse than dying.”
The memory of Larry Schilling and his shotgun loomed. “No, this isn’t fair,” Jacob said. “I don’t deserve this.”
“You hounded this Gabriel Olsen like a schoolyard bully. Did he deserve that?” Sara asked.
“It’s not like that,” Jacob said. “I was just fucking around.”
Sara flipped to the last page in the folder and shoved it at Jacob. “This is just fucking around? You hacked his social media accounts. You posted all this awful shit and made it look like it came from him. All his friends and family saw it, his boss, his coworkers.” She was shouting now. “How could you be so stupid? How could you be so…cruel?” Tears streamed down her face, and that, more than her anger, crushed him.
He looked at the ground, unable to meet her gaze. “People do it to me too.” The excuse felt like ashes on his tongue.
“And that makes it okay?”
He shook his head, fighting tears of his own. He’d started picking on Gabriel through Path of Honor, taunting him because he sucked at the game. Gabriel asked him to stop, pleaded with him through direct messages, but that awoke something in Jacob. It felt good to have someone beneath him. It was easy to hack Gabriel’s accounts, and watching him scramble to take down all the terrible things Jacob posted was so satisfying.
Sara was still shouting, still reading aloud from those damning transcripts. He tried to shut that out and turned to the agent. “How did he find me?”
The agent held up one hand. Sara fell silent. There was no denying this man. “Mr. Olsen brought us the transcripts and showed us the rest of your activities. We decided he had grounds for a challenge.”
“You helped him find me,” Jacob said. A chasm of fear and darkness opened beneath him.
“Of course,” the agent said. “This is a point of honor.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. He is the author of the Acts of War novels by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, Factor Four Magazine, and Pseudopod, among others.
See more of his work at rejectomancy.com.