Runan’s brother lay dead in the dust, and droning music rang in his ear. He wanted to cast the comm device down to the corpses, but he didn’t.
This call was necessary.
“Please hold the line. The next available registrar will be with you shortly. Please hold the line.”
His brother’s eyes looked up at him; demanding or accusing?
No, just dead.
His servant scrambled past, sad eyes on his brother’s corpse. “Are you coming, lord? The attackers are still out there!”
Runan shook his head, still hooked to his device. Holding the line. “Deal with them.”
Laser fire erupted in the distance; lingering was a luxury for a grieving lord. The servant left.
“Please hold the –“
A crack in the hopelessly outdated line.
“Welcome to the Jupiter Blood Feud Registry. Thank you for doing your duty to keep our planet safe. In order to ensure you the most efficient service, we kindly ask you to state your request. If you would like to register a blood feud, please choose option number one. If you would like to withdraw a blood feud, please choose option number two. If you would like to mark a blood feud as satisfied, please choose option number three. If you have any further questions regarding the Jupiter Blood Feud Registry, please choose option number four.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Runan grumbled and pressed number one for feud registry.
“Please hold the line.” The music returned.
There were shots in the distance, and the dusty air was darkening.
“You know,” said the man in the temporary laser cage. “It’d be quicker to just kill me.”
The cage holding his brother’s killer was buzzing. “And turn into a barbarian like you and like our ancestors.”
The man shrugged one of his bony shoulders. “Not saying you should.”
“Good evening, this is the Jupiter Blood Feud Registry. My name is Sinvan. How can I help you?”
At last. “I’m Lord Runan of New Marienburgh. I want to register a blood feud. It’s my brother’s killer–“
“I see you’re calling from Santa Maria Desert. Please be advised that due to the high volume of warlike activities, blood feuds in this area cannot be–“
“The bastard broke into our fortress and killed my brother! This is not a war, this is–“
“One moment please.”
“Fuck!” Runan took the device from his ear and glared at it.
“You could just let it go. Not worth it, is it?” Dark eyes under dark brows tried to look sly, but the dread in them would not be disguised.
“Oh no,” Runan said, finally feeling the anger that his brother’s death had failed to bring about. “Oh no. You will die. You will die here by my hand.”
The man pursed his thin lips.
“Thank you for waiting. Did the attacker arrive on his own, or as part of a group or a concentrated attack?”
Runan sighed. “There was an attack. But that’s not the point. He breached the defences and–“
“One moment please.”
That slow, droning music.
Then, “He’s lucky.” His prisoner pointed at the corpse.
Runan strained to contain himself, pressure rising within him. “Pardon me?”
“My brother wouldn’t call a blood feud over me.”
“Are you fucking serious?” The fury wanted a vent, be hissed out into the world.
The prisoner shrugged again. “Last minute epiphanies.”
“And you think now’s the time?”
“Well, it’s not like there’s much time left, is there?”
The music droned on, suggesting there was all the time in the world.
Runan groaned and rubbed his forehead.
The music stopped. At last, an end to this –
“Thank you again for waiting. As it turns out, we cannot process this kind of request. Would you like me to forward you to the department specialised in wartime blood feuds?”
“Are you fucking serious?” Runan yelled into the comm device.
The prisoner grinned at him. “You going to ask that of everyone you talk to?”
“You shut the fuck up!”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the registrar said. “I cannot help you with this. I will transfer you to the specialised department.”
“Not you, dimwit –“
A crack in the line.
The prisoner bit his lip, bit by bit chewing back his grin until he looked almost serious. “Sorry.”
Runan exhaled slowly.
More shots in the distance. Screams. Belonging to anyone and no one. Life was as cheap as it had always been. And here he was, trying to keep order alive. Trying to keep the value of even one life intact.
His brother’s eyes were still staring. Always wanting something.
Or just dead.
“I’d have liked someone who’d call a blood feud over me,” said the prisoner. “Guess I blew that.”
The music was playing on.
“What did you even want? Is this war? Feud of your own?”
The prisoner smiled, silently. Then, “No, just to steal something. We figured, in that chaos, nobody would care. Wasn’t smart.”
Runan swallowed. “And why,” his eyes fell on his brother’s again. Accusing. “Why did he have to die?”
“It was an accident! I was trying to stun him, but the switch jammed, and then he screamed, and I wanted to silence him –“
Runan stood still, then sighed again.
“Would he have called a blood feud over you, do you think?”
A question to behead someone over. But a valid one. “He knew his duty,” Runan said at last.
He shrugged. “Life can’t be cheap again. That’s how we ended up here.”
“It can’t but it is, huh?”
“What the fuck do you know–” He broke off. Then he just shook his head. “A blood feud doesn’t mean you’re not lonely. No need to envy anyone.”
“Welcome to the Jupiter Wartime Blood Feud Registry. Thank you for helping to ensure life has value even in wartime. My name is Andria. How can I help you?”
Laser shots in the distance. Some nobody screamed.
Somebody here was sorry.
He turned off the laser cage.
Dark brows shot up.
Runan grit his teeth. “I’m running out of men.”
“Excuse me? Sir, if you are under attack, I must advise you that it is not permitted to register multiple blood feuds at once for singular incidences, as those are covered under –”
He turned off the comm device.
He knelt down next to his brother’s corpse and closed those eyes.
No more of that.