Around the Horn
133-1106, Narmada, Imperial Autonomous District, Whiskey Amber Oh Seven Arcology
-- from the personal journal of Olivia Marteau
>>COMPUTER TRANSCRIPTION ON
OLIVIA: My name is Olivia and I am seven years old! Atopia has a book she writes in sometimes and I wanted one, too. My friend Tabitha showed me how to get the computer to write what I say, so I’ll do it like this until I can write better.
I played OUTSIDE today! The sun was bright and hot and it felt so good on me! They have all these places with REAL GRASS and those things with leaves that stand so tall! I ran and ran, laughing and shouting until I fell down but the grass was soft and smelled so good! Diana was there with me because Atopia had to talk to people at the starport, but she came by later and played with us, too!
When the sun got tired and went to bed, we all went inside and had dinner with REAL FOOD! I had these red things with small yellow seeds that tasted SO GOOD! I wanted to eat more, but Atopia said no because I might get sick eating so much real food when I ate synth a lot when I was young. I have to go to bed soon but I want to go outside again tomorrow. Good night!
138-1106, aboard the Silver Dawn, in hyperspace between Narmada and Alagon
-- from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering
Finally, I have some time to sit down and think. The three days I spent on Narmada are a blur. Diana and I gave Olivia her first taste of the outdoors. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry at her reaction when I opened both doors of the main airlock. She screamed when I did, fearing that I was killing us all.
She grew up on Alagon, an airless world, and the first planet she visited was Yantra, with its environmental domes. I didn’t even think she might have agoraphobia. Thank the Maker that she didn’t. She held my hand as we walked out into the stark sunlight and heat of Narmada’s midday sun. Harper was quick with the sunblock on the little girl’s night-pale skin. After I saw how white my own skin was, I quickly followed suit.
I met with Marquis Toyama and Baronet Kogura that day. The baronet will make a wonderful mother, I think, for Olivia took right to her as they wandered out of the Marquis’ offices. According to Toyama, I no longer have anything to fear from SuSAG. From personal experience, I know that he can be viciously persuasive when he wants to be. I didn’t ask how; the hard expression he wore while giving me the news was enough. I assume whoever was responsible for the attempts on my life and the murder of Baron Alton Richards paid a very dear price, indeed.
On a lighter note, he invited the crew and me to dinner the next night. As usual, his aide Philip rose to the occasion, making a truly masterful dinner. I’m glad Olivia isn’t a picky eater. I also noticed that Kogura had set up a play area away from the lounge to hold the attention of the youngest member of my crew.
Only a few hours before dinner, I met with Duke Darius and passed him the datachip Gerard Verne gave to me on Yantra. The files that Saffron Marteau had smuggled off of that world were nearly eight years out of date, but held more than enough clues to keep His Grace’s operatives busy through the end of next year, at least.
Before I left, His Grace very formally presented me with a holoframe from Wayhaven Sector Duke Wymark Gascoyne. It was a recording of his official acknowledgement of my ascension and a message informing me that he’d sent his recommendation for approval to Archduke Adair.
Darius explained that up until now, I only really had any authority in Narmada Subsector. With Duke Wymark’s approval, now I would be recognized throughout the Sector. Assuming Archduke Adair likewise approved, I would then be legitimate across all four sectors of the Domain of Sol. And, that last pass up the chain, to His Eminence Emperor Strephon, meant I would be recognized across the Imperium. So now, Duke Darius is expecting me to attend the Narmada Subsector Moot next year.
144-1106, Alagon, Alagon Main Starport
Official Report, Incident #IX34209-87-023786 – Filed by Port Master Isaac Jones, Alagon Starport Authority – 143-1106 – Alagon Main Starport
Incident Type: Attempted Piracy of an Imperial Interstellar Trade Vessel
Time of Incident (local): 1016 hours, 143-1106
Location of Incident: Approximately 460,000 kilometers from Alagon
Aggressor(s) – One. Whydah (Type A2 Far Trader, Imperial Empress Marava-class, original designation Lake Placid, Registry – Volga)
Victim(s) – Two. Tequila Sunrise (Type A Free Trader, Imperial Beowulf-class, Registry – Narmada) and Silver Dawn (Type A2 Far Trader, Imperial Empress Marava-class, Registry – Narmada)
Description of Events:
At approximately 1000 hours, Captain Owen Holt of the Tequila Sunrise detected a spacecraft (later determined to be the Whydah) with active weapon scanners on an inbound intercept with his vessel. The inbound vessel’s transponder was either non-functional or deliberately shut off. Captain Holt sent notice of this to Space Traffic Control and declared an emergency.
At approximately 1015 hours, the inbound vessel achieved weapons lock and fired a volley of four missiles at the Sunrise. The Sunrise’s pilot minimized aspect as its gunners destroyed two of the inbound missiles. The remaining missiles were proximity-fused, detonating approximately dorsal and to the port side aft, causing damage to the ship’s maneuver drive, its dorsal turret and its low-berth section. The volley caused the immediate death of two low berth passengers and injuring a total of five other passengers when their cabins were penetrated by shrapnel from the missile warheads. The Sunrise returned fire on its attacker with its ventral turret lasers but only inflicted superficial damage.
At approximately 1018 hours, the Silver Dawn emerged from hyperspace nearby and responded to the Sunrise’s distress call. Captain Baronet Atopia Kesslering brought her ship into laser range and opened fire upon the attacker who was maneuvering to keep the Sunrise at optimum missile range. The Dawn’s two double laser turrets damaged the Whydah’s hull, fuel tanks and disabled the starboard side turret. The Whydah fired two missiles at the Dawn, neither of which could gain a target lock.
As the Dawn continued to close range on the Whydah, Captain Arman Klein attempted to minimize aspect to it as his gunner attempted to reacquire a weapons lock. However, this maneuver exposed the ship’s drive section to the Sunrise’s ventral turret gunner. The laser hits destroyed the ship’s computer and penetrated the engineering section, rupturing the powerplant’s reaction chamber. The resulting explosion destroyed the maneuver and jump drives; plus it vented the ship’s remaining fuel to space.
The Dawn matched vectors and docked with the Sunrise at approximately 1040 hours. Her crew immediately began rendering assistance to the injured and provided technical support to make temporary repairs to allow the vessel to return to Alagon Main Starport. Dawn also took on the Sunrise’s most seriously injured passenger for continuing medical treatment.
At approximately 1705 hours, the ships separated with the Sunrise returning to Alagon and the Dawn pursuing the wreck of the Whydah to rescue and detain any survivors. The Sunrise touched down at 2106 hours. The Dawn achieved hard dock at approximately 2215 hours and boarded the crippled vessel. The four crew members of the Whydah surrendered without further resistance. The Dawn remained locked onto the other vessel, using its thrusters to place the wreck into a temporary orbit about Alagon. This was accomplished at approximately 0245 hours on 144-1106.
The Dawn then broke contact with the Whydah and landed at the starport at 0534 hours on 144-1106. The prisoners aboard the Dawn were remanded to Starport Authority Custody upon their arrival, while the injured victims were taken to the Central Medical Center for treatment.
Aftermath of Incident:
The crew of the Whydah remains detained at the local jail until secure transport to Narmada can be expedited so they can all be arraigned on formal charges there. One of the injured continues to receive treatment at the local medical center at this time. His prognosis is good. The other four injured have been treated and released. The Sunrise has sustained significant hull and subsystems damage and will require approximately ten days to complete repairs. The Dawn has claimed salvage rights upon the Whydah which have been approved.
153-1106, aboard the Silver Dawn, in hyperspace between Alagon and Narmada
-- from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering
She’s sleeping now. I told her as gently as I could, but in the end we cried together in each other’s arms for some time. Olivia’s mother is missing and presumed dead. The story I’ve been able to put together goes something like this:
About eight years ago, Saffron Marteau, pregnant and scared of her child’s father, Baron Francios Verne, copied the incriminating files on her datachip and ran to Alagon aboard a surplus Type S Scout/Courier – the Midnight Vagabond. She managed to convince the leader of that world, Prefect Jones, to hide her and her child there under cover identities. After the birth of her child, Saffron Marteau, now Susan Miller, went to work at the medical center as a lab technician.
For seven years, the secret remains safe as the infant becomes a toddler and then a young girl. But the wheels were turning back on Yantra. The AZOOR virus is successfully weaponized and Baron Francois sends his operatives afield aboard the Far Trader Merry Ruben to tie up a loose end on Alagon. I believe his operatives had probably located her the year before, but were waiting for the right time to move.
The ship has an “accident” as it transitions to normal space near Alagon and has to spend days "affecting repairs." During this time, two men – Marc Roatta and Bernard Pernet – carefully and quietly seek out Saffron. When she is found, she is drugged. Olivia’s young mind interprets this as her mommy being sick. The two men, whom the child identified from their passport photos, tell her that they’re going to take care of her mother and spirit her away to the ship. During the transit to Narmada, she is expelled out an airlock into hyperspace.
The Merry Ruben arrives and delivers the weaponized AZOOR virus to Ine Givar operatives in Red Sun City, possibly bribing and/or murdering anyone who might give away their plans to the authorities. Back on Alagon, Olivia is discovered living alone in her mother’s apartment. She is given to foster parents, but as prospectors they are ill-equipped to handle the difficulties of a grieving child. Olivia begins to retreat from the community by making forays deep into the ventilation ducts, perhaps searching for her mother, or perhaps just so she can suffer alone in the darkness where nobody will hear her grief.
One day, the locals stop scouring the ventilation systems trying to find her. Her foster parents finish working their claims and leave Alagon. Olivia is forgotten and unseen, save by a few around the starport as she begins to seek out the man who her mother has called Olivia’s father – Gerard Verne. Finally, she finds a ship – my ship – that is heading to Yantra and manages to sneak aboard, taking advantage of the damage an intense solar flare has inflicted upon the ship’s internal security scanners.
And now, Olivia is part of my life. Prefect Jones got all of the identity documents in order for me and made sure that Olivia really wanted to be with me, since her step-brother Gerard had insisted I look after her. I’m going to do my best to be the kind of mother she needs for the years ahead. I’m going to do the best I can for her. As she is a blood relative to a former member of the Peerage, I owe her that much. But it will also be a pleasure, I’m sure.
I think I’ll close now and watch her sleep for a while.
162-1106, Narmada, Red Sun City, Duke Darius Ingersoll’s Residence
The Duke touched his glass to hers. “Congratulations on your newfound responsibility,” he said with a smile. “I’m sure you and your crew will do quite well in raising a future member of the Peerage.”
Atopia smiled in return and took a drink of the dark, sweet wine in her glass. The smile faded. “I’ve been meaning to ask,” she said, “and I hope I’m not out of line, Your Grace.” The Duke’s brow knit as he set his own glass aside and she continued. “Why did you take such interest in me?”
The Duke didn’t give her the smile or chuckle she’d been expecting. “Because I knew I was going to have to ask a lot of you,” he said. “I intended to put you in harm’s way from the very beginning, but you were used to that. Your service in the Imperial Navy spoke volumes to me about a person who could accomplish much. Someone I ask so much of deserves at least some of my time so he or she can know how much I appreciate the efforts they make on my behalf and for the good of the Imperium.” He picked up his glass again before continuing. “And because I like you. I consider you a good friend of mine.” He nodded to her as he drank the last of the wine from the glass’ depths.
“That’s why I want you to consider my advice carefully,” he continued as one of his aides took the glass away. “Olivia will become an adult in ten or eleven standard years. You are already her legal guardian. While I don’t know what plans you have for a family in the future, I would recommend that you acclaim her as your heir – sooner rather than later; perhaps at next year’s subsector moot.”
“But I am a Baronet,” said Atopia. “My title won’t pass on after my death – at least, that’s what I’ve been lead to believe.”
“And that is true,” replied Darius, “but there is also the possibility of gaining a more permanent title along with a fief. There is the possibility you could serve a stint as an Imperial Liaison, though there are many other ways as well. Given your actions since your ascension last year, I’d say you’re on a collision course with a hereditary title whether you want one or not.”
“Or,” Atopia said, “I could be killed in any number of ways and my crew and Olivia along with me. Being an independent merchant has many risks, Your Grace, as I am sure you are well aware.”
He nodded. “If I were in your shoes,” he replied, “I wouldn’t joke about such things – especially when a child is involved.”
“Your Grace,” Atopia said with just the slightest hint of irritation. “I don’t joke about my safety, nor anyone else’s – especially a child’s. But I do accept the risks of what I do and make sure that Olivia is aware of them as well. She’s not like other seven-year-old children. She spent nearly a year on her own, and knows what is expected of her. She knows that at any time she decides she wants to be with her step-brother on Yantra, that I will get her there.”
The Duke nodded. “Then I will say no more on this matter unless you or Olivia bring it up again,” he said. She rose and he stood up, stepping up to stand before her. “Clear skies to you.”
“And to you as well, Your Grace,” said Atopia as they clasped shoulders with one another. “As for me, I must answer the call of interstellar commerce. I do have a ship to pay off and a crew that gets very cranky when they don’t get paid on time.”
The Duke smiled. “Do remember to return to Narmada in time for Marquis Toyama’s and Baronet Kogura’s wedding,” he said.
“Of course,” said Atopia as she bowed to him and then left the confines of the Duke’s Study.
166-1106, aboard Silver Dawn, in hyperspace between Narmada and Teleajen
-- from the personal journal of Olivia Miller
>>COMPUTER TRANSCRIPTION ON
OLIVIA: Harper says we’re heading for Teleajen. I asked him if we could go outside after Atopia’s business is done. He said no, but the next place we’re going to we can. He said the next place we visit – Kolan – is his home world. He said that he has to attend to his family’s business concerns before we can head out again.
Things are much better now. After Atopia told me what she thought had happened to my mom, I cried and cried. But Atopia was there. She cried along with me. She cares for me so very much! Somedays, I miss being in the vents. I miss crawling through them, moving when no on else can see me. But being with Atopia is better.