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The megacorporations, beyond the reach of any national or international law, are capable of dictating terms to any government in the world, so tight is their hold on the world’s economy. However, the same economic system also binds the megacorporations as surely as it does any of their customers. Corporations exist solely to generate profit, so they depend on the ability to continually gain market share and produce new products to sell to their customers and to draw in new customers. This ongoing competition between nation-spanning giants might well have degenerated into open warfare among the megacorporations without having to resort to the needless destruction of company assets. The Corporate Court is the invisible force operating behind the scenes of the megacorporations to maintain the delicate balance between them; keeping the most powerful forces on Earth from each other’s throats and so keeping the unsuspecting citizens of the world safe from what could escalate into the most devastating war humanity has ever known. -Professor Henry Gallow, The Invisible Hand: The Corporate Court and World Economics, MIT amp;T Press, Boston, 2052 The Corporate Court was called into session shortly after Lynn Osborne’s visit to her Fuchi colleague, once all of their fellow justices had arrived on the orbital. Osborne showed up early and watched the other justices slowly file into the central area of the station to take up their positions in the courtroom. The Rotunda, as the central core of the orbital was called, was made up of a single hexagonal shaft to which the other station tubes and modules connected like branches spreading out from the trunk of a great tree. It was large by the cramped standards of a space station, capable of holding the gathered justices and their trusted aides and assistants comfortably, although it was rare for all thirteen members of the Corporate Court to gather together in the same room. Like David Hague, most of the justices preferred to conduct their business via the Matrix, only visiting the court chambers of the Zurich-Orbital on the gravest occasions requiring utmost security. Like now. It was difficult to create a dignified courtroom atmosphere in the zero-gravity of the orbital, but the Court had done its best to see that tradition and the decorum were upheld. A narrow ledge ringed the cylindrical chamber. Between the ledge and the wall was a gap wide enough for the court justices to position themselves, held in padded harnesses to the wall. The ledge formed the “bench” from which they dispensed justice. It held sophisticated computer displays and information-retrieval systems linked directly into the Zurich-Orbital mainframe, one of the most sophisticated computer systems ever designed. Designed by Renraku, in fact, Osborne recalled with a bit of a chill as she ran a finger over the flat black macroplast surface of her console. Renraku’s specialty was computer architecture and, although Fuchi, Mitsuhama, Ares, and others had provided much of the hardware to build the system, Renraku had pioneered the algorithms and the software to run it. The floor of the court chamber was reserved for the few assistants needed on hand for any particular occasion as well. Only rarely were others allowed into the chamber with the justices. Most testimony and evidence presented to the court was carried over the Matrix using the sophisticated holographic systems built into the bench-ring, which could project nearly any image in three dimensions into the center of the chamber for all to see. But the Zurich-Orbital would not be communicating with the Matrix for now, not while the court was in session. If what Fuchi and the other megacorps believed about Renraku’s surge of new technology was true and Fuchi’s security was compromised, the Matrix could not be entirely trusted, and so the court would be isolated, cut off from the rest of the world while they heard evidence. Osborne carefully reviewed each justice and his or her position in her mind as they entered the central chamber and made their way to their appointed area. David Hague was one of the first to enter, and Osborne had no serious concerns about him. Hague was loyal to their mutual employer and Osborne knew from their talk earlier that, while Hague had his doubts and concerns about Fuchi’s plans, he would do nothing to endanger his employer or his own position of prestige on the Court. Hague was a native of Europe, and his loyalties shifted between the Yamana family, who controlled Fuchi Pan-Europa, and the Villiers family, which currently controlled Fuchi North America and the corporation as a whole. He had been a compromise choice between the two camps. Osborne was loyal to Villiers and had been chosen more recently, when Richard Villiers was in a strong enough position to dictate terms to the rest of Fuchi. That, and Osborne’s reputation for getting things done, was why Fuchi-which meant Richard Villiers, these days-wanted Osborne to handle this matter rather than Hague. The next to enter the courtroom was Jean-Claude Priault, elder statesman and chief justice of the Corporate Court. He carried himself with unassailable dignity and grace even in the awkward environment of free-fall, and his fringe of gray hair was neatly trimmed in the finest European style. Priault was in the employ of Saeder-Krupp Heavy Industries and supposedly answered directly to the great dragon Lofwyr himself, who had bought the corporation with some of the riches from his fabulous horde after emerging from his centuries-long sleep. Having served on the Court longer than anyone else, Priault had certainly earned his status as Chief Justice. Osborne knew Priault was sharp as a monoblade and

wouldn’t miss a trick. The man had a reputation for conducting court business in a fair and impartial manner and his dragon boss always seemed to back up whatever angle Priault wanted to take. Osborne knew Priault wouldn’t hand Fuchi a decision in the matter-he didn’t really have the authority for that-but she also knew that even Lofwyr and Saeder-Krupp were getting edgy about some recent Renraku developments. Priault had to know the score. If the gravity of the meeting weighed on the old man at all, he didn’t show it, making his way to his position along the bench with deliberate care and grace. After the Chief Justice came Mitsuhama’s court representatives. Korekado “Corey” Doi practically oozed charisma from his every pore, looking completely at ease in his fine-tailored suit, casually exchanging a joke with his companion and smiling enough to light up the room. Osborne knew from experience that Doi’s charming and cheerful demeanor concealed a cut-throat negotiator rumored to have ties with the yakuza clans, who were the real backers of Mitsuhama Computer Technologies. Doi’s companion, Jonathan Msaki, also served as head of one of MCT’s major subsidiaries. That kept him more closely in touch with the activities of the megacorporate giant than Doi was, but Msaki was often more concerned with his other affairs than the business of the court. Osborne noticed he tended to follow Doi’s lead on most issues and let the more charismatic MCT mouthpiece do the talking. Msaki was better at gathering information, and Osborne knew that very little escaped his notice. That was why she moved so quickly to secure Mitsuhama’s support. Doi and Msaki made a formidable team, and Mitsuhama had suffered more from Renraku’s rise in fortune than any other member of the court. Osborne suspected that she could put that to good use. Mariene Carstairs, the other Saeder-Krupp representative, looked distinctly unhappy about being on board the orbital. Osborne knew that Carstairs liked neither space travel nor the orbital’s zero-g environment, and she distinctly enjoyed any occasion for Carstairs’ discomfort. Mariene Carstairs had made her share of enemies in her years on the court, and Osborne counted herself among them. She knew Ono from Ares didn’t get along with Carstairs either, but it was the spectacular breakup between Mariene Carstairs and the late Renraku justice Sam Violet that Osborne was counting on. The two had had a tempestuous affair that went down in flames when Carstairs vindictively arranged for Violet’s wife to find out about it. Osborne suspected that Carstairs had also had something to do with the commuter plane crash that ended Violet’s life just as he returned to Earth after failing his bid for re-election more than two years ago. Mariene Carstairs was a cold slitch, and everyone knew she had shed no tears for Violet. Osborne hoped Carstairs’ hatred of the late Renraku justice would be enough to keep her from fragging with Fuchi’s case out of malice. The Saeder-Krupp justice was a believer in the adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and Osborne planned to make it work in her favor. Along with Carstairs came Domingo Chavez, who had also just made the shuttle-flight up to the orbital. Chavez, like Carstairs, made no secret of his dislike for visiting the orbital, but the dislike was well-founded. Chavez was a mage, a man with a talent for shaping the magical energies of the Awakened world. It was a power that had changed the face of the Earth since the Awakening in 2011, and the megacorporations knew magic as a powerful tool to be used and respected, which had put magicians like Chavez in positions of power among them. Unfortunately, all of the evidence suggested that the power of magic was strongly tied to the living Earth, and so did not work as expected outside of the atmosphere. In space, magicians who attempted to call upon their powers went mad or even died. Some simply vanished, never to be seen again. All of the corporations and many others were investigating the problem, but it seemed for now that the use of magic simply wasn’t an option in space. Magicians were safe so long as they did not attempt to use their powers. That was why so few magicians were chosen to serve on the court, and why Chavez was so loathe to come to Zurich-Orbital in person. A thin sheen of sweat coated his dark brow, and he mopped at it nervously with a linen handkerchief as he made his way carefully around the perimeter of the chamber to his place. Aztechnology was always a wild card in court decisions. The megacorp had the dubious honor of being the first to be punished by the court some ten years ago for their activities in Southern California and in Aztlan, the nation that had taken over the former territory of Mexico and much of Central America with encouragement from Aztechnology. It had been necessary to teach Aztechnology a lesson, and the Court had acted decisively. Osborne knew that lesson still stung for many in positions of power in Aztechnology. She couldn’t help but wonder if it would keep Chavez from approving similar measures against Renraku or if the Aztechnology justice would welcome an opportunity to pay back some of what his corporation had suffered to another member of the court. The next to enter the courtroom were the Ares Macro-technology justices on the court. Paul Graves came first, looking like a linebacker or a marine someone had dressed up in a thousand-nuyen designer suit for the occasion. He moved through the freefall of the station like a solider traversing an obstacle course he had run a dozen times before. Osborne knew Graves was no stranger to living and working in space, being a regular visitor to Ares’ own Daedelus orbital platform as well as the Zurich-Orbital. Graves was one of the military types so typical of Damien Knight’s inner circle of business associates and subordinates, a lethal weapon to be pointed and fired at any target Knight chose. Behind Graves came Akae Ono, moving through the room like a fish in water to reach his “seat” along the bench. Despite his age, Ono moved about the orbital easily. He was the only justice who lived on the station full-time and had done so since his appointment to the court some seven years before. Rumor had it that he was there for the life-prolonging effects of living in a zero-gravity environment, and it certainly seemed to agree with him. The septuagenarian justice looked and acted more like a man half his age. Osborne knew that Ono was the one holding onto Graves’ leash for Damien Knight. If she could convince the old man that Fuchi’s interests were Ares’ interests, Osborne would certainly win Graves over as well. The remaining two female members of the court entered the room together, although neither was overly fond of the other. Yoshiko Hino of Yamatetsu was physical perfection as only twenty-first-century biosculpt surgery could make it. Osborne smiled briefly at the pronounced effect zero-gravity had on Hino’s breasts, which were a bit too large for her body, and how fond the vainglorious Hino was of using the effect to her advantage whenever circumstances brought her to the orbital. In fact, Osborne believed that Hino’s holo-image transmitted through the Matrix was “enhanced” in the same way to provide a distraction for her largely male audience. Yamatetsu was a hungry corporation that had forced its way onto the Corporate Court only a few years after it was established, and they still worked under the stigma of “the newcomer” even years later. The corp had been a vocal supporter of the action against Aztechnology, and Osborne suspected Hino would be eager to join in with anything that would make her employer part of the majority. In contrast to Hino’s “corporate bimbo” image, Mariko Kiyonobo was all business. She was the director of Shiawase’s active Envirotech Division in addition to her duties on the Corporate Court and juggled the two jobs with considerable skill. Although only a junior member of the court, appointed in the past term to replace the lackluster Lorraine Wakizaka, Mariko was not intimidated in the slightest by the other justices and pushed the agenda of her company forcefully and skillfully. Osborne liked her and thought the feeling was shared by Kiyonobo. Shiawase was not overly concerned with Renraku’s activities, but Osborne believed that Kiyonobo would do what was best for her corp and the Court. The last to enter the courtroom and take his place on the bench was Francesco Napoli, the Renraku representative who so concerned Hague. “Paco” Napoli did have a considerable reputation as a corporate bulldog and “resources adjuster” for Renraku Computer Systems. His career before coming to the Corporate Court was littered with the carefully buried bodies of people who had gotten in his or Renraku’s way at some point, but Osborne wasn’t concerned about any danger Napoli posed to Fuchi’s case. Ever since the unfortunate demise of Sam Violet, the only place Renraku hadn’t prospered in the past couple years was on the Court, where Napoli remained their only representative. Some took it to mean Renraku had decided they were above being concerned about the august body, but Lynn Osborne chose to interpret it as a serious error in judgment by Renraku, one she aimed to exploit to her full advantage. If Napoli was at all concerned about the hearing in the courtroom, he didn’t show it. Osborne had to give him credit for that. Napoli was a cool one. His blood must be like ice, she thought, quietly watching him out of the comer of her eye while she pretended interest in the display screen built into the surface of the bench. Napoli settled quickly into place and exchanged pleasantries with Hino to his right. Osborne gritted her teeth as Hino laughed at some joke or comment of Napoli’s. Jean-Claude Priault took an old-fashioned gavel-made of real wood, no less-from its resting place clipped to the side of the bench facing him and rapped it slowly several times on the bench to get everyone’s attention. The cost of carrying the gavel into orbit for the use of the Corporate Court probably could have supported the average family of four for a couple of months. The megacorporations spared no expense where authenticity was concerned. “The Court will come to order,” he said in his deep voice that revealed only the slightest accent of his native French. “This meeting of the International Corporate Court is now in session.” The room fell silent, and Osborne felt a dozen sets of eyes watching her as she gathered her thoughts. She patiently waited through the official roll call and the reading of the Court’s charge “to protect and ensure the prosperity and security of its members.” Then, they were ready to get down to business. Priault would normally have had the secretary of the Court read the current item on the agenda, but no one apart from the justices were permitted in this session, so Priault personally read it aloud from the display on the bench. “The subject of this hearing is whether or not the Corporate Court should censure Renraku Computer Systems, Inc. for the use of unfair practices and violations of the concords of the Corporate Court and whether or not the Corporate Court should order any reparations by Renraku Computer Systems or authorize any other action against Renraku on these grounds. The case has been brought by Justice Os-borne of Fuchi Industrial Electronics, who will address the Court on the issue. Justice Napoli of Renraku will also be given the opportunity to speak. We will now hear opening statements from the two parties.” Well, Osborne thought. Here goes everything.

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