Blind Ambition, Part II
1441 050-1105, Grand Magistrate’s Office, Belle Plain, Ussan (1818 Wayhaven)
Rene Vidal was reflecting on the beautiful midsummer’s afternoon over a cup of herbal tea when a knock on his office door shook him from his revere. “Yes?” he said as he swiveled away from his office window in his overstuffed desk chair.
Jean Brochard, Belle Plain’s Constable, was standing in the doorway with a manila folder stuffed with paperwork. “Good afternoon, Grand Magistrate,” he said. “I’m afraid I’ve brought you a fair piece of work to do.”
Rene saw the man’s expression and gestured for him to sit down across the desk from him. “It must be serious to disturb you so,” said Rene. “Would you like some tea to calm your nerves?”
“Please,” said Jean. Rene poured a measure from the insulated carafe into a plain white ceramic cup and passed it over to the constable. He waited for Jean to take a sip or two before gesturing for the folder, which the constable carefully handed over.
“There’s been a full-fledged firefight overnight,” said the constable as he set down his cup. “It happened in the foothills of the Eastwall Range’s western spur, about 800 kilometers southeast of here. A group of locals were attacked by a group of off-worlders.”
“Your report states that one of the off-worlders is an Imperial noble,” commented Rene as he glossed through the pile of paperwork in the folder.
“Yes,” replied Jean, “His Lordship Marquis Toyama Weston of Narmada. He has stated that the other off-worlders were acting under his direct authority.”
“Have any of them been before a magistrate in the past?” asked Rene.
“Only one,” said Jean, “Tornado Hansen of Beleton. He was involved in an altercation last year related to a card game at the Lonely Bull tavern here in Belle Plain. He got into a fight with two other men after one of them accused him of cheating. His actions were judged to be self-defense and the matter was dropped.”
“Interesting company the Marquis is keeping these days,” commented Rene as he continued shuffling through the papers. He suddenly stopped and picked up several sheets that were clipped together. “Three fatalities, constable?”
Jean nodded, gravely. “And two more who were injured in the fight; one of them is hospitalized with over two dozen fire venom beetle bites. The doctors are keeping him sedated until his body can purge the venom.”
“That will take a couple of days, at least. It appears that only locals were injured or killed,” said Rene as he read through the medical reports. “Perhaps you could give me a summary of what is known?”
“Around 0335 this morning, the six locals were ambushed by the four off-worlders at a camp just west of Finnegan’s Gorge. The off-worlders sneaked into the camp and one of them, Hansen, threw a bag of the fire venom beetles into their prefabricated cabin – “
“Hold,” said Rene as he looked up from the paperwork. “Where did our locals get advanced technology like that?”
“The survivors claim they’d been hired by an off-world company,” replied Jean. “It’s an outfit called The Wyndham Group, apparently. The Chief Expediter says the group filed a flight plan to haul the cabin and the six locals out to that site about three weeks ago.”
“Was there any mention of why this Wyndham Group wanted these men out there?” asked Rene.
“No,” replied Jean, “but according to the Marquis, they were out there doing controlled range burns to destroy patches of Blue-Eyed Angel wildflowers.”
“Hmmm,” grunted the Grand Magistrate. “I would imagine that no one has told Baroness Olena Lafevre about this yet, otherwise she’d be here already having kittens over that little detail.”
“Well,” said Jean, “she’s apparently had some interaction with the off-worlders already. She’s hired a group of seasonal workers to make seed beds of those wildflowers to ship to arcology farms on Narmada. She raises them on her farm to make herbal tea, of course. The Chief Expediter mentioned that the Wyndham group bought up all of the Baroness’ surplus tea when they were here, as well.”
“Which means we have three people dead and two more hurting over a bunch of wildflowers, Constable?” Rene tossed the paperwork he’d been holding onto the desk and rubbed his eyes. “The last time we had people dead around here in a firefight was over possession of a herd of goats, but at least that had the advantage of making sense.”
There was another knock on the door frame of the office. Both Rene and Jean looked up and saw a woman who’d spent many years in the sun and wore simple blouse and skirt outfit made of synthetic cloth only available off-world. Both men stood and bowed to her and she curtseyed in return. “Grand Magistrate, Constable,” she said as she nodded to each, “good afternoon. May I come in?”
“Of course, Baroness,” said Rene as Jean offered her a chair.
She sat and took an offered cup of tea. Rene saw her look at the paperwork on his desk as she sipped from her cup. “I’m guessing that we’re all here for the same reason, then,” she said.
“That would only make sense,” said Rene, “considering you are the Imperial Liaison for Ussan and one of those involved is a member of the Peerage. But I assume you have personal reasons to be here as well?”
She favored him with a smile. “You know me too well, Rene. The actions of these local men rises to the level of criminal behavior in my not-so-humble opinion.”
“That is a very serious accusation, milady,” replied Rene. “But I understand your position on preserving this world’s biodiversity. However, the actions of these men hardly rises to the level of a reprimand, if The Traditions were observed.”
“On the contrary,” the Baroness said with some measure of reproach, “these men were paid an inordinate amount of money to engage in activity that runs counter of The Traditions. They disrespected the gifts of the Great Maker by burning them willfully to deny their potential benefit to others, and they took more than a fair wage for a day’s work, which violates The Traditions as well.”
“I am the Grand Magistrate here, milady,” Rene retorted sternly, “and I believe it is my duty to decide what violates The Traditions and by how much, thank you.” He softened his tone. “But your input is both noted and appreciated, so long as it remains couched in the tone of advice and not that of command.”
The Baroness nodded. “Of course, Grand Magistrate. My apologies.”
“Accepted,” said Rene. He examined the papers for several moments in silence before looking up at the Baroness. “So it appears there are some extenuating circumstances for the Marquis’ actions in this matter. Are you aware of them?”
“I am,” she said. “The Marquis is acting at the behest of Duke Darius Ingersoll, who sent him here to acquire samples of Blue-Eyed Angel wildflowers. Marquis Weston spent time here on Ussan while he was acquiring his medical degree, studying the benefits of the various homeopathic remedies developed here. The Marquis diagnosed a weaponized biological agent that has been disseminated among the populace on Narmada and remembered a similar case here that had been treated with compounds obtained from this plant species.”
“And members of The Wyndham Group,” interjected Rene, “they were obviously trying to prevent him obtaining any to study. I see now why you are so adamant about this matter, milady. Now that I have all the facts in hand, I am inclined to agree with your earlier assessment.” He set the paperwork in a stack in the folder and closed it.
“Unfortunately for the Marquis,” he continued, “I don’t see an easy path to the justification of taking human lives in this matter. According to what I’ve read, this man Hansen killed one man by stabbing him to death while he was still in his sleeping bag.”
“It is my understanding,” replied the Baroness, “that this ‘victim’ was armed with a whippet shotgun and was attempting to bring it to bear on Hansen even as another man in the cabin was grabbing a revolver to use against him. The local men might claim self-defense, but I believe Jean is quite familiar with the six in this regrettable situation.”
Rene turned his gaze to the Constable who nodded somewhat uncomfortably. “Well, you know that I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, your honor – “ he began.
“This is a professional matter, Jean,” said Rene gently, “but I understand how you feel.”
Jean blew out a breath before continuing. “Great Maker forgive me, but I do not believe the six local men kept The Traditions well. I have had run-ins with all of them over the years, each on multiple occasions. I did the best I could to keep the peace, your honor, but two of them did bear arms against me in separate incidents and the other four I do know have had multiple violent assaults on other members of the populace and against off-worlders as well.”
“In your professional opinion, Constable,” said Rene carefully, “would these men have surrendered peacefully to the Marquis’ authority if given adequate opportunity to do so?”
“No, your honor,” said Jean quietly, “I do not believe so.”
“Very well,” said Rene as he pulled open one of the drawers of his desk, extracted a series of forms and a fountain pen. “Milady,” he said to the Baroness, “it will take some time for me to complete the necessary forms. If you are willing to transmit copies of them to the Belladonna Paradox, I believe we can lift the departure restriction immediately.”
“Very good, your honor,” said the Baroness with a smile.
“Don’t be too happy about this,” said Rene. “While I am absolving Marquis Weston of responsibility in this matter, the taking of human life is still an egregious violation of The Traditions. I’m sure that the Harvest Coordinator will take the matter up with you in the near future, milady.”
“He already has,” she replied. “I’m to meet with him tomorrow. He’s already indicated that he wishes me to bear his concerns in this matter to His Grace on Narmada. I hope I can convince him otherwise.”
“I doubt you will,” said Rene as he started to write on one of the forms. “Alchard Dumont does not have a favorable view of Imperial nobility in the first place, and he certainly has no love of anyone who violates The Traditions. Even I will have to rigorously defend my judgement in the coming days. Jean, I believe you’re done here. Would you mind telling Claude at the starport that the Marquis and his entourage are free to leave?”