Fights, like everything else on the planet Aurora, are ritualized. Two women of the knight caste stand in full body armor, scarred and mended from years of use and mending. A ring of knights surrounds them. Their liege-lady sits in a chair on a raised platform. Between the women, a cyborg priest drones on in the Holy Speak, its voice modulator making noises no biologic can emulate.
Translation: “By the blessings of his Holy Majesty and his noble representative here, this is a melee between equals. Armor shall be worn and in use. Weapons shall not be allowed. No blood shall be spilled. Limbs may be broken in a way that may be mended. This fight shall last until one of you yields through assent or by loss of consciousness. Your liege assents. Do both of you?”
One woman, a meter and a half tall, nods. She doesn’t have her helmet on. Her hair’s shaved close to the scalp. A battle scar runs from her forehead, down her nose, and through her lips. The shape has given her a nickname no one dares utter to her face. Clover. With a small grunt, Clover says in vulgarspeak, “Of course I, the Lady Pallas, assent. I’m the one who called us here.”
A few of the crowd chuckles. The cyborg priest’s metal face can’t curve into a frown. “This is a serious matter,” it says in vulgarspeak, as if the words might burn out its circuits.
The other woman, taller, back straighter, polished helmet dangling from her gauntleted hand, sneers. “Let’s get on with it, priest. I want to have breakfast after I break Pallas’s arms. I, the Lady Janice, assent.”
The cyborg priest continues on in Holy Speak. “Lady Pallas charges Lady Janice with trespass and theft of property.”
“Theft?” asks Janice. “You dare call it theft? He doesn’t belong to you. Never mind that you couldn’t keep him even if you did…”
Clover curses in vulgarspeak. The crowd goes quiet. With a bestial snarl, she says, “I demand a duel to the death instead!”
Everyone’s eyes turn to the woman on the platform. She’s dressed in formal silks cut in the complicated style of nobility. “No need to rub salt in the wound, Janice. Apologize so we can get this melee done with.”
“I will not apologize to that monster, baroness,” says Janice, pointing at Clover. “She wants to fight to the death, I’ll be happy to oblige.”
“Apologize, now!” bellows the baroness. Janice winces as if slapped, but she says nothing.
“Hotheaded knights, the lot of you,” says the baroness. “Fine, priest, I will agree to let them duel.”
Both women put on their helmets and gesture to their squires. Two girls come forward, weapons in hand. Clover takes her chain sword and powers it up with a trigger on the hilt. The cutting chain screeches to life, metal sliding on metal, spinning fast enough that Clover has to fight to keep it facing the right way. Janice takes a plasma pistol and a small dagger from her squire. The girls run back to the crowd.
Murder, like everything else on the planet Aurora, is highly ritualized.