Monday, November 13, 2017

Count Your Blessings, Part I                        

Belladonna Paradox Ship’s Log, 050-1105, Departing Ussan
Entry by Captain Bella Torres

The ship is carrying 80 tons of cargo in two lots; 10 tons of Blue-Eyed Angel herbal tea, and 70 tons of pallets holding active seed beds of Blue-Eyed Angel wildflowers with lighting and irrigation systems for same. This cargo is part of the charter arrangement with Duke Darius Ingersoll and has been categorized as emergency medical supplies for priority landing privileges under the Imperial Edict issued by His Grace and carried by Marquis Toyama Weston. The ship has a full complement of low berth passengers, eight passengers with middle passages, and Her Ladyship Baroness Olena Lefevre has submitted a high passage ticket for her transit.

We are in transit to Narmada. The trip out was routine and the transition to hyperspace was unusually smooth. Belladonna’s computers are estimating a 136 hour transit which will put us on target for arrival in the Red Sun City Starport around mid-morning local on 056-1105. The middle passengers are settling in nicely. If all the passengers I get from Ussan are this well-behaved, I’ll have to make it a regular stop.

The galley is stuffed with fresh food from Ussan. My compliments to George Albens, our steward, for doing such a good job in taking care of the ship while the rest of us were taking care of the Duke’s errand. I’m not a big fan of placing gun sights on people, but sometimes that’s part of the price of doing business. This business with the Wyndham Group has turned decidedly serious since we found explosives in the prefab cabin the range burners were using, along with a bunch of indoctrination literature from Ine Givar.

The Marquis’ new ward, Clyde of Ussan (apparently only land stewards are entitled to family names on Ussan), is hoping for a new start on Narmada in His Lordship’s arcology farm as his punishment for breaking The Traditions on Ussan. He seems to have the good sense to take what’s offered, even if it is more than “fair wages for a day’s work.” It might be why he kept getting in trouble on Ussan, but the instinct will serve him well on Narmada, that’s for sure.

Wardy Foste tells me that he’s keeping an eye on the ship’s hull flux readings this transit. They’re borderline high for a typical transit and he’s hoping we don’t encounter an ion storm. All other sensor readings are nominal, at least for now.

Since we transitioned, Tornado Hansen has been busy cleaning blood off of his Vacc Suit. As long as he keeps the process in one corner of the cargo deck out of sight of the passengers, it shouldn’t be a problem. After all, His Grace was promising a bonus if we could keep this situation of his on the QT.

Well, I know that people have their secrets, but George told me his this evening, and it blew me away. It started with his formal request to remain on as ship’s steward after the current mission is done. After telling him that as far as I am concerned he can stay on as long as he likes, he shuts the door to my office.

George Albens is an alias for Jorges Alkhalikoi, the youngest offspring of Her Majesty, Empress Arbellatra Alkhalikoi, the 32nd ruler of the Third Imperium! He said he’s about 467 years old and owes his longevity to genetics and the fact that both is mother and father had been using anagathics for many years before he was born. Add to that he’s been long sleeping – spending 50 or more years at a time in cryonic hibernation – to distance himself from his auspicious past. I told him I would keep his secret, and this log is the last place and time I will mention it.

Earlier this evening, Tornado, George and Baroness Olena got into a spirited game of Tork in the passenger lounge. After a few hours, Tornado’s pile of cash was the largest. I don’t think he was used to having an audience, but several of the middle passengers came out to watch, so the game doubled as entertainment for the evening, too.

Wardy is still keeping on an eye on the hull flux readings, which stubbornly refuse to drop back to baseline. No shipboard systems appear to be affected yet, and all portable equipment is unaffected as well. He’s gone to recording hourly readings for it and has also had a utility scanner out checking to see if the flux buildup is concentrated someplace or is evenly distributed. So far the latter has been the case, knock on wood. (Not that there’s any aboard ship, but…)

Well, discovered something else unusual aboard my ship today. I was performing routine servicing and maintenance on the ship’s air scrubbers and discovered why #8 wasn’t working – it was the hiding place for a book! It is an actual, vellum pages with gilded edges and a leather cover book! It’s some sort of journal written in Old Anglic, apparently by multiple authors dating back to Imperial Year 750 or so. Marquis Weston knows the language, but he says most of the authors aren’t entirely familiar with the language, as there are many co-opted words and slang that makes no sense, with large gaps of time between the authors. The journal also contains drawings of star maps and terrestrial maps, and some very nice portraits of people’s faces, too. His Lordship offered to buy it and recommended I turn it over to a historical society for preservation. But I want to keep it, for now.

It seems very strange to find such a book aboard this ship. Belladonna is only 20 or so years old. Whoever put it up for storage was very careful about the packaging and wrapping of the book…

The emergence light just came on, which means it is time to get back to work.

Port Master’s Activity Log
Red Sun City Starport, Narmada

1838: Met with Tornado Hansen regarding case #92D-18673-H36A, homicide of transient Orlando Hogan on or about 039-1105. Interview lasted until approximately 1850 local time. Hansen denied knowing Hogan, other than the two of them living in the same section of the Whiskey Amber Oh Seven arcology. Hansen could not adequately explain how Hogan could have come into possession of his IdentiCard. With no other evidence to tie Hansen to crime, I think it likely that Hogan stole the IdentiCard to clear port security. Hansen didn’t claim any of Hogan’s possessions as his own. Those items – Cr 855, a pocket computer, three memchips and a men’s fashion ring – will be remitted to unclaimed items for sale at the duty free store. I returned Hansen’s IdentiCard to him. Due to lack of additional evidence and lack of next of kin, I am recommending this case be closed and cleared.

Marquis Toyama Weston’s Business Office
Level 287, West Sector, Whiskey Amber Oh Seven Arcology, Imperial Autonomy District, Narmada
2025 local, 058-1105

There was a page from his secretary’s desk. Marquis Weston sighed as he set aside the pile of documents he’d been signing and or applying his thumbprint to. “What use is there in having a staff if I still have to approve everything they do?” he asked aloud.

“Your Excellency?” said filtered voice through the speaker aperture.

The noble sighed. “What is it, Madeline?”

“Your Excellency, I have a man here who’s been waiting to see you – a Mr. Leif Grenfall, a retired Scout,” said Madeline. “He’s been credentialed, milord.”

“Credentialed by who?” he asked.

“By His Excellency, Count Lars Wyndham,” replied Madeline.

Weston felt his brow furrow. The Count had unceremoniously taken his leave of Narmada a few weeks ago. His star yacht Wynds of Change had been participating in the affairs of his shell company The Wyndham Group, which had bought up all the Blue-Eyed Angel wildflower tea on Ussan and set a crew of toughs to burn any remaining plants they found in the foothills of the Eastwall Range. He’d been forced to kill one of them, personally, and his compatriots had killed three others. All of this while the weaponized AZOOR virus was spreading rapidly on Narmada, and the only thing that could slow or eradicate the virus happened to be the compounds in those innocent wildflowers on Ussan. Such an amazing coincidence…

He made a growling noise in the back of his throat. Weston did NOT like coincidences one bit.

“Beg pardon, your excellency?” asked Madeline.

“I’m sorry,” Weston said. “Show him in.”

“Should I ask him to disarm?” she asked. “He’s carrying a blade and an automatic pistol.”

“It’s all right,” he replied. And to himself as he touched the hilt of his katana, “If he causes trouble here he’s either suicidal or a damned fool – or one of those damned Ine Givar maniacs, who happen to be both.”

The man who walked in was a very average and plain looking man.  He was wearing the functional, rugged cargo pants and field shirt with the familiar brown suede and tan nylon service jacket of the IISS.  He wore a short, thick beard and mustache, with his dark, curly hair spilling out from under his service cap as he removed it.  His service boots were well-worn, as was the pistol and holster that rode his right hip. “Your Excellency,” he said as he bowed.

Weston gave the man a slight nod of acknowledgement but said nothing.

“I am here on urgent business from Yantra,” he said reaching into a small pocket on the left upper sleeve of the service jacket. “I apologize for not getting here sooner, but I sustained damage to my ship leaving Yantra and was forced to layover on Ussan while I made repairs.”

The scout passed a folded slip of paper from his pocket to Weston. “I last saw His Excellency, his wife and daughter on Yantra,” said Leif. “They were under the close guard of troops under Baron Francois Verne.”

Weston read the message silently.

“043-1105, Ville du Verne, Yantra
“I hope this reaches you in a timely fashion. I’ve run into a bit of trouble. I am terribly sorry for troubling you, but I can trust you to be discrete in this matter as it will destroy my reputation if it goes public.

“Much to my dismay, I have discovered my ‘investment opportunity’ is just a front for a cell of Ine Givar fanatics here. I promised the man delivering this message to you Cr 50,000 for taking the risk. He will know how to find me, should he accompany you.

“I believe the Viscount Trager Duvalier doesn’t know what is going on here, but DO NOT trust Baron Francois Verne – he is a traitor to the Imperium! I also believe these devils mean to release a bioweapon into the general population on Narmada as a means to hide their true ambitions, though I don’t yet know what those are.

“I must close now. Long live the Emperor and long live the Imperium.

“Count Lars Wyndham”

Weston considered things for a moment. “How did you come by this?” he asked, gesturing to the note.

“Not all scouts who are ‘retired’ actually are, in the strictest sense, your excellency,” Leif replied. “I am on detached duty with the IISS. I was advised to look into a situation on Yantra when I was at Logone. While I was investigating that, I recognized the Count and shadowed him for several hours before making my approach. His wife and daughter distracted the guards long enough for him to hand-off the message. I left as quickly as I could, but the Baron’s forces followed me. I shot it out with three of them at the starport, then managed to execute a ballistic launch to avoid getting shot down by the defense batteries, though my ship was slightly damaged. When I got to space, there were two system defense boats vectoring in, and I executed a ten-diameter jump without cancelling my outbound vector. I laid over on Ussan to affect repairs and then continue on to Narmada with all due speed.”

“They recognized you?” asked Weston.

“Yes, your excellency,” said Leif. “But they won’t pull that off twice. I’m excellent with disguises.”

Weston thought a moment longer. “Have you been paid?” he asked.

“I have not,” the scout responded.

“Go to the Travellers’ Aid Society hostel nearest the starport,” Weston said. “When I get the money to you there, head for Yantra and maintain constant surveillance of the Count and his family until I arrive there. We’ll be looking for a good way to extract the Count and his family. I'll also need anything else about the Baron Francois Verne you can find out. Is that clear?”

“Yes, your excellency,” replied the scout.

“Then go,” said Weston with a dismissing wave of his hand. The scout left.

In the scout’s wake, Weston addressed the secretary’s desk. “Contact Ms. Bella Torres, please,” he said.

Belladonna Paradox Ship’s Log, 059-1105
At Red Sun City Starport, Narmada
Entry by Captain Bella Torres

We finally got the last of the cargo from Ussan out of the hold and on its way yesterday, but I’ve been busy. I will say that while it is nice to have a few extra eyes watching out for me, a squad of Imperial Marines wasn’t quite the idea. Fortunately, the pallets are off to various arcologies around here to grow, so no need to guard my cargo bay now that the “emergency medical supplies” are gone.

Tornado apparently went to a street surgeon and installed some subdermal armor with his share of the Duke’s reward. He picked out a good one, because he’s only a little sore today. And the crew’s neo-luddite – Wardy – has finally joined the rest of the planet and purchased a computer. There must be something pretty important he wanted because he’s spent every free moment looking at something on it. I wonder if it could be that lady Navy Ensign he had dinner with the other night?

I also wonder what keeps George so busy at night. He’s been off the ship after dinner every night since we’ve been in port. He isn’t gone for very long, only a couple of hours, but he’s always pretty happy when he gets back. Maybe I’m playing matchmaker because I don’t really have anyone right now. Maybe I don’t want anyone. Or maybe I’m just too worried about making the next ship payment to do the work and am trying to live vicariously through my crew.

Anyway, now that this business with His Grace is done, it's time to find cargo and passengers and clear port before I have any further entanglements with the Peerage.  I've had quite enough cloak and dagger for now and am looking forward to doing some legitimate business for a change...

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