-- from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering
Time keeps slipping away from me. Between the duties of keeping a commercial starship in the black, being a member of the Peerage and learning the ropes of foster motherhood, I’ve let this journal lapse yet again. So much for my Holiday resolution, it would seem. Oh well, now’s a good a time as any to catch up.
Baron Harper Willow’s homecoming to his fief on Kolan made for interesting times for all of us. He’d spent his idle times in hyperspace going through the paperwork lot I’d bought at the Bandalor auction at the end of last year. Strangely enough, it was related to the operation of his family’s fief. Not all of the information was good news, however.
He confided his concerns to me while we were transiting from Teleajen to Kolan. It seems that Harper’s grandfather, Bailey Willow, was awarded the family fief but did little with it, as he had already massed a small personal fortune and was content to spend it sparingly for the rest of his life. What was left of his funds went to Harper’s Aunt Claudia while the title and fief went to Harper’s father, Tanner.
Harper’s Uncle Fletcher had been passed over because he had done little to endear himself with Bailey while growing up. Tired of bearing his father’s scorn and contempt, Fletcher joined the IISS to get as far away from him as possible. Fletcher didn’t get back to Kolan until three years after Bailey had passed away. During those three years, Tanner had completely bollixed his go at being a landlord and was only getting by on a stipend from the Imperium – Peerage Welfare, if you like.
Fletcher immediately threw himself into saving the family legacy, using his connections with the IISS to come up with crops and livestock that would actually turn a profit without bankrupting his brother in the process. The advice was solid, but the funding was scarce. Tanner had already run to his credit limit with all legitimate funding sources. In desperation, Fletcher turned to the Yellow Sail Syndicate.
The money came and the fates cooperated. Soon, a two-thousand hectare bamboo forest was producing tons of saleable stalks every cycle, owing to the ideal growing conditions. Fletcher rolled the profits into genetically manipulated Zebu, a humpbacked bovine whose guts were fine-tuned to thrive on Kolan’s available forage.
Just as the initial herd was calving, Tanner and his wife died under mysterious circumstances. Given what Harper has told me, I’m thinking the Yellow Sail boys were making a statement about what happens to people who don’t do as they’re told. It was shortly after their deaths that Fletcher was acclaimed Baronet and appointed steward of Harper and his fief until he came of age. It was also about the time the papers began detailing a very troubling series of transactions.
Long story short: Fletcher was in hip deep with Yellow Sail. Even as his workers seeded the first crop of sunflowers and buckwheat, some of them were certainly syndicate men, laying low. The tall stalks of bamboo and sunflowers concealed other contraband crops and cargos of stolen goods. Fletcher did deals with shell companies owned by the syndicate to launder their ill-gotten gains. Deliveries arrived at the rail station and were buried deep in the fields in the murk of moonless nights, to lay anonymous and forgotten until nature had claimed them all.
All the while, Fletcher sheltered Harper from the dark side of the business, driven that much harder to pay off the syndicate and be rid of them once and for all. On Harper’s twelfth birthday, Fletcher assembled the paper trail and managed to slip it off of Kolan aboard an IISS Type S Scout/Courier. That paperwork wound up in a storage unit on Bandalor unclaimed for just long enough for me to purchase it at auction at the end of last year.
I see now that Fletcher was attempting to leverage that paper trail against Yellow Sail getting their hooks into Harper. The Yellow Sail’s thugs weren’t just looking for the nanites when they broke into the facility the night before the auction – they had traced the papers to Bandalor as well. And that’s how they got caught and wound up with neither nanites nor papers. ISB Agent Griggs killed the rest of the syndicate’s thugs, inadvertently allowing us to escape with the evidence.
I really hate the term “fate” but “blind luck” doesn’t come close to covering this unlikely series of events.
And so there Harper and I were, hashing out the events that had shaped his life. He’d chafed at his uncle’s insistence that he stay sheltered on the farm when a galaxy of experiences lay waiting for him. Without waiting for his ascension, Harper joined the Merchants and spent twenty years away from the farm and the uncle he had always thought was over-protective. When he finally did come home, he spent scarcely three cycles there before using the excuse of the Subsector Moot to get away from the farm and his uncle once again.
“I owe him one hell of an apology,” said Harper at last. “I only hope he can accept it.”
The good news is he did. While Harper and Fletcher caught up and came to terms with one another, I got the nickel tour of all the improvements that the steward of the Willow River Ranch had suffered so much to build. It was an impressive list – it took all of the morning and some of the afternoon to see it all. Of course, the ranch covers over eight thousand hectares, so the scale of it runs large in all things.
Harper broke the news to all of us that night: he was going back to the farm to stay this time. “Uncle Fletcher has been saddled with a burden that he didn’t want for over four decades,” he said. “I think he’s earned a retirement. I also think it’s high time that I be a responsible member of the Peerage by tending my fief and seeing to the needs of the Imperium.”
Late that night, Harper pulled me aside and asked me a favor. “I need you to destroy the papers,” he said, “all of them.”
“You realize what you’re asking me, right?” I asked.
“I am,” he replied. “I wouldn’t dare ask anyone else.”
“Won’t that bring Yellow Sail down on your neck?” I asked.
He shook his head and told me how Baronet Fletcher had assembled a team of a dozen good troubleshooters while Harper had been away. After four cycles of having members of their syndicate dying of acute lead poisoning, Yellow Sail waived the white flag. “Uncle Fletcher has lived under the gun long enough,” he said. “I think he deserves a quiet retirement, don’t you?”
Harper hosted the last word in going away parties the next night. We all traveled to his family mansion and spent the night in revels that lasted until dawn. We parted with a few tears and got back to the business of interstellar commerce. Fortunately, I’m a passable gunner and Dame Diana has a Class I medical certification, so we could partially cover Harper’s absence. We found a steward on Kolan who was willing to pull a working passage to Olt and off we went.
During the transit, the starboard side cargo airlock “malfunctioned.” We lost a standard cargo container to the depths of hyperspace. I wrote it up for the insurance, just to make it all “legal.” In reality, I have committed a crime – the destruction of evidence of organized criminal activity. It’s hard to berate people for something you know they weren’t responsible for. Hawk and Tabitha spent the rest of the trip doing diagnostics on all the airlocks, just to make sure it doesn’t happen again…
To make up for it all, I paid the crew their wages for the cycle a few days early and took a week’s liberty on Olt. Much as I would have enjoyed working on my tan on the Ebonstrand, I think I enjoyed exploring the islands with Olivia even more. By the time liberty was over, all of us – even Hawk – were bronzed from the eternal summer sun that shines there.
I’ve been running very flush of late – my speculative cargoes have paid off better than I could have hoped. After Olt, we went to Oban and are now hauling a wedding present for Marquis Toyama and Baronet Kogura from Baroness Sybella back to Narmada. Given that the insurrection forces there are somehow getting automatic weapons now, the Baroness has no time to attend the wedding. I’ll make sure to take some holographs for her.
We didn’t have time to find a replacement steward on Oban. Honestly, with Olivia’s safety to worry about, I almost had Valo take off before the Baroness’ gift was aboard. We could hear firefights raging in the hills surrounding the starport; and I saw showers of tracer rounds arcing across the heights after night fell. If the Baroness is smart, she’ll request an Imperial intervention sooner rather than later, regardless of the personal embarrassment it might cause her with Duke Darius.
So now we’re on our way back to Kolan, a full cycle since we left without Baron Harper on board. It’ll be good to see him. I hope everything is going well for him and Baronet Fletcher. In the meantime, somebody has sneaked out of her bunk past bedtime, so I get to be mom again. I know I’m supposed to be angry, but all I can do is smile when I think of her…