Chapter 299 [Bonus chapter] The First Vote
Media drones buzzed about in the air, their camera eyes whirring and clicking as they took in every little piece of this scene. A scene, Aldrich was coming to realize, that was historic. He would quite literally be in a page on a history book.
To some, that might have shaken them up, but to Aldrich, it was just more motivation to get things done. Everyone was watching him. Relying on him.
It was time to step up.
The way the hearing was setup, Aldrich was at the lowest point in the room with representatives looking down at him from what were basically booth seats. It reminded him of the Roman Colosseum. Gladiators fighting down in pits while the free and wealthy watched from above.
In Aldrich's case, he was fighting for freedom. Not just that. Much more. The freedom to do whatever he wanted. To be a Sentinel.
Had Aldrich been deemed more of a threat, he would have been separated from the audience by a forcefield, but evidently, the presence of multiple S rankers made everyone confident enough to lose that layer of separation.
Before this, Aldrich had used Fler'Gan's potion. For an hour and a half timeframe, he could activate his ten second window of hypnotic suggestion. He had some worry that the hearing might last longer than that, but he had confirmed with Aarav over the plane that, most likely, it would not go over an hour.
"Think of it like an auction, really," was what Aarav had said, and had not refused to elaborate further on as he took a long nap through the rest of the trip.
Aarav was not here, however. He already had a deal with Aldrich. No point in him wasting time when he had gotten what he needed and done what he could do to help.
"Proceeding special grade hearing S64." A woman's voice resonated through the room, reaching everyone's ears with crisp quality. There were microphone and speaker systems inlaid throughout all the surfaces here to make sure volume was never going to be an issue.
Aldrich looked up to the source of the voice. It was a woman covered from head to toe in a mechanical suit of white and black that made her look almost like a bot. She was all smooth surfaces, joint segments, plating, and glowing strips of energy.
She stood atop a floating strip of solid blue energy, surrounded by a small fleet of technical and security drones.
The only part of her that was discernibly human was her face, but event hat still had marks of cybernetic augmentation. Her eyes shone a bright teal green, energy lines of the same shade running lengthwise from her forehead, crossing over the eyes, and reaching down to her chin.
The teal green eyes indicated she was an Operator, a higher level operative for the Panopticon responsible for maintaining important tasks like drone fleet mobilization or, in her, maintaining this space station and running the hearings.
An Operator of an entire space station like this was a serious force to reckon with on her own. If push came to shove, Operators could freely manipulate Panopticon tech around them using a shared technopathy, making them extremely dangerous as Panopticon tech was practically everywhere.
Supermind sat on a hovering wheelchair behind her as the Arbiter meant to facilitate discourse between Aldrich and his examiners.
"This hearing brings forth the case of the enhanced individual known as 'Thanatos', who henceforth from now shall be referred to as the 'examined.'
The purpose of this hearing today is to ascertain the examined's threat, and, if determined sufficiently low, their potential to integrate into the military-hero complex that we depend upon to maintain stability and order," said the Operator.
"To begin with, I will introduce to the examined his examiner's-,"
"Skip that part." Though sound carried well through the room, it was still easy to pinpoint where it came from. This time, it came from Imugi War Art's section.
Specifically, the CEO: Park Jin-Woo.
Everyone turned to stare at him, as did Aldrich. The man sat cross legged, leaning back in his chair lazily. Nothing really distinguished him from the rest of his company personnel; they were all dressed in slick, formal black suits. Typical corporate wear.
That is, nothing except his face, covered as it was under an angular helmet shaped in the visage of a dragon's head.
Aldrich had little to no idea about the CEO. He was incredibly reclusive, as were most of the Council of Fortune CEOs. At that level of influence, there was no need to show up for PR stunts or tours or silly little interviews.
All a Fortune company's CEO had to do to project power was simply exist.
Showing up in the public eye too often only put a target on their back.
Out of everyone in the hearing, all the government officials and company executives, the big shots with the most weight to push around were Park Jin Woo, Tychus Colt - CEO of ARMA, the other Fortune company here, and Dracul, the Sentinel.
"Pursuant to relevant codes, it is advisable to allow the hearing to continue under procedure," said the Operator. "As ignoring it may infringe on the rights afforded to the examined-,"
"Rights? What rights. You've taken him in by force already. And those of us up here that matter don't follow the rules anyway," said Jin-Woo. "So let's skip the part where we introduce nearly a hundred interested parties here and get to the real auction.
Because, let's be honest, that's what it is. An auction."
"I will remind you that we are on live news," said the Operator.
"Does that matter?"
"Now, now, let's not get too worked up here, Mr. Park." Tychus Colt spoke this time, baring a broad, silver toothed smile under a wide cowboy hat. He was of hearty build, wide with a portly belly, though still muscular underneath a fat layer built on fine dining. "Let the cute Operator missus do her thing."
"No. I agree with Jin Woo." Dracul spoke, a faint Eastern European accent tinting his voice. "Move on."
"Moving on then." The Operator reached out and tapped various holographic screens. "Then moving forward to the first case. Is Thanatos a threat to global security? The examined is allowed time to present a defense of his own case, after which, a round of questioning will follow.
Proceeding questioning, votes will be cast.
As per procedure, a two thirds majority vote is required from all examiners to close a case."
"Skip this too," said Jin Woo, impatiently waving his hand forward. "What? Are we really going to throw Thanatos away? The only one in this entire world that can control Locuses and variants like that? Hm? Is that what's going to happen?"
There was subtle threat in his voice, as if to say that anyone who had the gall to cast a no vote was going to hear from him personally.
"Heh, I'd like him around, that's for sure," said Tychus. "Long as he sees my way of seein' things."
Dracul did not say anything, but two Fortune members voicing their opinions was enough. Nobody else voiced a dissenting opinion.
"Move on to the vote," demanded Jin Woo.
The Operator looked to Supermind.
Supermind nodded, unfazed, almost as if he had expected this.
"Moving on to the vote. When all votes are cast or at the end of an hour timeframe, whichever comes first-," began the Operator.
"One hour? Ridiculous. All of you better cast your votes within five minutes. I value my time. And I assume you all value your own time as well." Jin Woo pressed on a helper bot's screen, presumably putting his vote in with zero hesitation.
Aldrich was impressed. The sheer amount of influence Jin Woo and Tychyus had was astounding. Dracul could ignore everyone because of his Sentinel status, but that did not mean anyone had to obey him.
But Jin Woo and Tychus were different. As the heads of two military megacorporations that had thrived on the chaos of variant conflict, they had their tendrils locked throughout the world, in the economies of practically every country.
ARMA's mass produced weaponry and outsourced policing forces helped keep the streets safe on a near global scale.
Imugi was less widespread than ARMA, focusing more on high end specialty tech, but their influence at the top level, in creating contracts directly with national militaries or governments, was unmatched.
And, seeing this, Aldrich got a good idea of what Aarav had meant when he said this was going to be like an auction.
This hearing was not meant to determine whether Aldrich was going to super-jail or not.
No, it was going to decide who got to keep him on their side. In essence: a bidding war.
Within five minutes, the votes were all cast.
"The examiners of this hearing have declared in a 94-0 decision that Thanatos is not a threat to global security," said the Operator.