Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Influence Game                

Guidelines for Running a Meeting of the Moot


For the referees out there who would like to try a politics session or three with the players, here are some guidelines on how to set up and run a Subsector Moot scenario.

It Starts With an Agenda
A typical Imperial Subsector Moot will run ten to twenty standard days, depending on the number of agenda items that are expected.  Total the population digits from the UWP's for the worlds of the subsector (Narmada's total is 248, by the way) and divide it by 12, dropping any fraction.  This produces the total number of agenda items for the Moot.  (In Narmada's case the total is 20, so I fudged a bit.)  Schedule 1D/2 items per day.  For every five to seven days allow for an open day so that any agenda items that have to be tabled can be completed without disrupting the schedule too much.

So what items could be on an agenda?  Anything the characters have been involved with recently - directly or indirectly - along with any subplots that have been percolating.  If there are planetary issues that are outlined in a world's description, the Moot might be forced to intervene.  Assessments and reviews of the military branches of the Imperium - Army, Marines and Navy - are needed as well, along with "nobles only" briefings from the intelligence gathering units of the Navy and Scouts.

There should also be a day or two for items being brought up by the nobles themselves - ranging from requests by planetary governments forwarded to the Moot through the Imperial Liaisons, to more personal items such as recommendations to the Subsector Duke / Duchess on policy, enfeoffment and acclamation requests, Ducal pardons and/or clemency for private citizens, etc.  So, basically anything a noble thinks should be brought to the Moot's and/or the Duke's or Duchess' attention - as long as a noble can get at least 10% (rounding up) of the Moot in attendance to agree it needs a vote (and therefore an ad hoc committee to work on it).

Finally, there should be pomp and circumstance - these are nobles, after all.  The first day of the Moot should be ceremonial.  The Narmada Moot starts with The Grand Promenade where each noble in attendance is formally announced to the media and onlookers.  Then the Duke addresses the Moot with a "State of the Subsector" speech.  After a break, the nobles then have the opportunity to address the Moot, airing whatever personal observations, statements of support, motions they intend to make during the Moot, etc.  The last day of the Moot should also be mostly ceremonial.

How Many Nobles Attend?
I go with the guideline that there is approximately one noble for every population digit in the subsector's world - the higher population worlds tend to have more to make up the slack for lower population worlds.  Since it is unlikely all of them will show for a Moot, throw [(1D/2)+5] x 10% for the total number.  Narmada has a pop digit total of 248 and I threw 4 on the die for 70%, or 173.6.  The actual total for the 1107 Moot was 181, though only 179 actually were voting - The subsector Duke/Duchess doesn't vote in the Moot. Their spouse is generally tasked with being the chairperson of the Moot and cast a tie breaker vote if one occurs.

To determine the makeup of the Moot, you can either throw 2D on the table below for each noble, or you can go with the rough percentages provided.

  2D   :   %    : Ranks                                             : Influence Points
 2-8   : 70% : Knight / Dame                                  : 1 Influence Point
 9-10 : 20% : Baron / Baroness / Baronet             : 4 Influence Points
  11    :   6% : Marquis / Marquesa / Marchioness : 9 Influence Points
  12    :   4% : Count / Countess / Contessa          : 16 Influence Points
   X     :   XX : Duke / Duchess                               : 25 Influence Points

For comparison, the 1107 Narmada Moot had 138 Knights, 27 Barons (one of whom was Baroness Selene, Duke Darius' wife, who chaired the Moot and would only have voted to break a tie), 10 Marquis, 5 Counts and Duke Darius (though he doesn't vote, he's still a factor).

PC's Voting Bloc
The nobles among the players will automatically have themselves in their voting block, plus any good noble friends their characters have made during the period since the last Moot (two Imperial years IMTU).  Characters should also note which nobles are favorable to them, though not in their bloc as the characters arrive for the Moot - preferably a one week or so before it starts.

Baronet Atopia had a total of 14 nobles in her bloc when she arrived on Narmada - five knights/dames, eight barons/baronesses/baronets (including herself) and one marquis.  She also had nine nobles who were favorably disposed toward her that were not in her block - one knight, three barons/baronesses/baronets, one marquis, two counts/countesses/ contessas and Duke Darius.

Influence Points
The characters and their friends will have total influence equal to the sum of the squares of ten less than their Social Standing characteristic as indicated on the table above.  The influence from favorable nobles is totaled and divided by four, rounding up.  Atopia got 49 Influence Points from her block and twenty more from those favorably disposed for a total of 69 Influence Points to start.

Influence Points are used to increase the total of dice throws made during attempts to influence or sway nobles to join one's voting bloc.  Expending one point gives a +1 to the throw, expending three points gives a +2, six points gives a +3, and ten points gives a +4 to a throw.

Increasing the Voting Bloc
Characters wishing to bring nobles into their voting bloc have to meet with them.  For game purposes, there are six time periods during the day to meet with people - morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, evening, nighttime and late night.  The Moot normally meets during the time periods of morning, early and late afternoon.  Characters can meet with 1D/3 random nobles when the Moot is in session, and 1D/2 random nobles in the evening, and 1D random nobles during each of the nighttime and late night periods.

For random nobles, throw 2D to determine a noble's rank on the table above and another 2D for that noble's initial disposition, as indicated on the table below.

   2D     : Initial Disposition
 2 - 3    : Negative - The noble doesn't like the character at all.
 4 - 5    : Unfavorable - The noble is cool and stand-offish toward the character.
 6 - 9    : Neutral - The noble has no opinion of the character one way or the other.
10 - 12 : Favorable - The noble likes the character or admires the character is some way.
   XX     : In Bloc - The noble is a friend and agrees to vote with the character.

The character then engages in a discussion with the noble, represented by each throwing 2D and adding +1 if a knight, +2 if a baron, +3 if a marquis, or +4 if a count.  If the character's total is greater, he/she may attempt to sway the noble.  If the noble's total is equal or greater, then the character is unable to sway the noble.  Note that Influence Points may be expended to alter the character's total.

To sway a noble, the character throws 2D, adding his/her Social Standing characteristic modifier (+1 for 9 or A; +2 for B or C; and +3 for D, E or F).  If the total is 8+, the noble moves one level of disposition closer to being in the character's bloc; if the total is 12+, the noble moves two levels of disposition closer to being in the character's bloc.  Note that influence points may be expended to alter the character's total.  In general, if a noble starts with a negative disposition, the characters may be advised to simply exchange pleasantries and move on.

If the noble is of favorable disposition, the character may add one fourth of that noble's influence points to his/her pool immediately - in the case of knights, the character will need to have four favorable before gaining an influence point.  If the noble moves into the character's block, the character adds the noble's influence points to his/her pool.  Once a noble is in the character's block, there is no risk another noble will woo him or her away.  So, some of the higher ranking nobles are well worth the effort of courting heavily, though there will be other blocs angling for them as well!

Events
There are a number of social events that coincide with the Moot, providing opportunities the nobles to mix and mingle, and possibly blow off some of the stress of a demanding schedule and weighing important moral and social issues.  Events are typically held during every evening and nighttime time block, with the nighttime blocks often running into the late night block as well.

Some of the events are traditionally hosted by the Subsector Duke / Duchess.  Typically, there are formal dinners for The Upper House (Counts and Marquis), The Lower House (Barons and Knights with hereditary titles), and The Honors (Baronets and Knights who aren't hereditary - that is, cannot pass their title on to their offspring).  There is also a Mixer  or Ball which is a large cocktail party or formal dance held for all nobles regardless of rank.

Most of the events are not hosted by the Duke / Duchess, however.  They are slightly more private affairs hosted by nobles looking to increase their presence, status and influence.  On top of all that are the acclamations - the bestowing of a noble title upon someone, or bestowing a higher ranking title upon a noble.  Such events are typically hosted by the Subsector Duke / Duchess.

An event adds a number of potential nobles to meet based on the ranking noble hosting it - knight +1, baron +2, marquis +3, count +4, duke +5.  Events also add the possibility of having a random event as well...

Random Events

To spice things up, you can create the possibility of something unusual coming up.  For each event a character attends, throw 2D - if the result is 8+, throw d66 on the table below and reference the result.  Note that a particular event (with the exception of an "X" result) only occurs once, so cross it off the table once it happens.  If the same result is thrown later on, re-throw.  This throw should be made once the character has completed all attempts at swaying nobles at an event.



1
2
3
4
5
6
10
A
X
K
X
Q
X
20
X
B
X
L
X
R
30
G
X
C
X
M
X
40
X
H
X
D
X
N
50
O
X
I
X
E
X
60
X
P
X
J
X
F






A) Duel – One member of the Peerage calls out another for bloody satisfaction – one of those affected is somebody the character tried to influence (select randomly).  The duel will be resolved during the following morning's time block.  Throw 2D for the result of the duel - a result of 5- means the noble was slain and is removed from the bloc (along with an appropriate number of influence tokens for him/her); a result of 6, 7 or 8 indicates the noble was wounded but survives, with the character losing one-half (rounding up) of the influence points that noble provided; a result of 9+ indicates the noble won the duel, gaining the character an influence point bonus of one-quarter (rounding up) of the noble's normal amount.

B) Confrontation – Two nobles have a small scuffle over a difference of opinion – and one of those affected is somebody the character tried to influence at the event.  While nothing comes of it, all attempts to influence either noble will be unsuccessful for 1D-3 days.  All influence points expended in the attempt are lost.

C) Personal Affairs – A noble the character tried to influence has some matter that is more pressing.  The noble will be unavailable to sway for 1D-3 days, and all influence points expended on that noble are lost.

D) Crossed Up – A noble the character tried to influence misses the meeting / event.  The noble will be apologetic and arrange a personal meeting after the Moot is recessed the next day.

E) Belongs to Somebody Else – A noble the character tried to influence is already part of an opposing block (select randomly).  All attempts to sway this noble will automatically fail, but all influence points expended on the noble are lost.

F) Favorable – A noble the character tried to influence at the event wants to meet him/her for personal reasons.  The character may shift a noble that was formerly favorable or neutral into his/her voting bloc.

G) Heard Good Things – The character's reputation has preceded her.  A favorable noble the character tried to influence at the event may be shifted into to the character's voting block.

H) Veteran – If the character has former military service (Army, Marines or Navy), a noble who was formerly favorable turns out to be a veteran of that service as well and is shifted into the character's voting bloc. 

I) Upstart – The character's reputation has preceded her, not in a good way.  Shift a noble who is favorable at this event back to neutral and the character loses any influence points gained from that noble.

J) Unfavorable – A noble the character attempted to sway has a very negative impression of him/her.  Shift a favorable noble from this event to unfavorable, losing the influence points gained from that noble as well.

K) Flat Refusal – A noble the character attempted to sway refuses to meet with her or flatly rejects her attempts.  Select a favorable noble and move him or her to negative, losing any influence points gained from the noble.  All further attempts to influence this noble will automatically fail.

L) Holding Court – A noble the character attempted to sway, actually used the encounter as a means to embarrass the character.  The character must make a Social Standing task throw of 8+ or lose 1D influence points.  If the result is 12+, the character turns the tables on the noble and gains 1D influence points instead.  Select a random favorable noble and move him or her to unfavorable, but the character keeps any influence points initially gained.

M) Whispering Campaign – A favorable noble is actually a plant by another voting bloc who attempts to discredit the character and nobles in his/her block before the character or one of the nobles in his/her block discovers it.  Throw 2D-7; if the result is positive, throw that many dice and reduce the character's influence pool by the total thrown.  Move this noble from favorable to negative.  The character is also within his / her rights to call this person out for a duel of honor.

N) Just Happy To Be Here – A favorable noble is just here for the good times, not to do any actual work.  This noble cannot be placed into the character's voting bloc.

O) Head of a Block – A favorable noble the character attempted to sway controls a block of 2D other nobles.  Successfully bringing this noble into the character's voting block will bring all of the others into the block as well!  However, all further attempts to sway this noble require three times the normal amount of influence points to alter dice throws.

P) Head of a Small Block – A favorable noble the character attempted to sway controls a block of 1D other nobles.  Successfully bringing this noble into the character's voting block will bring all of the others into the block as well!  However, all further attempts to sway this noble require two times the normal amount of influence points to alter dice throws.

Q) Party Invitation – The characer gets an invitation to a social gathering the next night.  If the character accepts, he/she will get the opportunity to influence 1D nobles in addition to the normal amount.

R) French Politics – A favorable noble is interested in a little more personal one-on-one during the late night time block.  If the character agrees, the noble will automatically be the character's voting bloc the next morning.  If the character refuses, all other attempts at swaying this noble will automatically fail.

X) Nothing Special – No random event after all.  Proceed as normal.




How Things Are Done In The Moot
For major agenda items, the nobles most directly affected or those nobles representing the planet(s) directly affected will make a presentation to the Moot.  Nobles are permitted to query the presenter(s) after the initial presentation.  Usually, this isn't the first anyone has heard of the item, and any noble who stands in opposition to it may present his/her case to the Moot as well.  The floor is typically opened for questions from the nobles not on one side or the other.  Finally, when all questions have been answered, it takes a simply majority vote to close debate, and then a motion to vote on the measure is made.  A simple majority vote determines if the measure passes or fails.

For assessment / review items, which are typically reports and budgetary requests from the major parts of the Imperium that operate in the subsector, the Moot first hears the report (usually lasting no more than one hour) and then accepts nominations from the nobles present to form a committee to review and make a recommendation to the Moot on discretionary budgeting items.  These committees consist of five members of the Moot and typically meet for part of each of three days.  At the end of that time, a full resolution is formulated for presentation to the Moot, which takes a simple majority to pass.  If the resolution doesn't pass, the matter is left to the Duke's / Duchess' discretion.

For submissions items, which are submitted by members of the Moot, the procedure is slightly different.  Initially, the noble makes a ten-minute presentation of the item to the Moot.  Then, there is a call for support.  If at least ten percent of the Moot shows support, the item then goes to a committee.  Again, there are five people on the committee, and they must come from the nobles who indicated they support the item.  After meeting to draft an official resolution, the committee issues the resolution, giving it time to circulate among the Moot.  When it is time for a vote, a simple majority decides if the items passes or fails.

Conducting a Vote
Each vote in which the characters' voting block participates, starts with determining how much of the Moot is represented by the character's voting bloc.  Divide the total number of voting nobles are present in the Moot by twenty rounding any fractions up.  This represents 5% of the total votes in the moot.  In Narmada's 1107 Moot, 5% of 179 is 9 votes.  To determine the  influence of the character's bloc on voting, divide the total number of nobles in the bloc by the 5% figure, dropping any fraction.  The result is the modifier to add to the voting results roll (detailed below) when determining the total number of votes in the character's favor.  At the start of the moot, Atopia's bloc had 14 votes, giving her bloc a +1 to voting rolls.  As soon as she acquired another four votes, it increased to +2.

Before the Moot begins, determine the overall disposition of the Moot toward each item on the agenda by throwing 2D and referencing the result on the table below.

2D      : Moot Disposition  :  Vote Modifier (in favor / against)
2-3     : Negative               :  -3 / +3
4-5     : Unfavorable          :  -1 / +1
6-8     : Neutral                  :   0 / 0
9-10   : Favorable              : +1 / -1
11-12 : Positive                  : +3 / -3

Votes of the Moot will be measured to the position of the characters' voting bloc.  The roll determines how many voted the same way as the characters' bloc.  Throw 3D-3, factoring in the Moot's Disposition Modifier and the modifier for the characters' bloc.  The result is steps of 5% of the vote that went the characters' way.  The result must be 55% or greater for the vote to go the characters' way.

Example, by the time it came around to vote on whether the Moot should recommend the Imperium help Teleajen investigate three murders there, Baronet Atopia's bloc numbered
51 (!)  votes, giving her block a total modifier of +5.  For the vote, Atopia's bloc was against the resolution.  The Moot had started out Unfavorable, but enough blocs supported the measure to move it to a Favorable position.  (Teleajen's influence, perhaps?).  Since Atopia was against the measure, the modifier for the roll is -1, dragging her modifier down to a total of +4.  The vote throw of 3D-3 was 7; so the total was 11 with Atopia's bloc modifier.  That becomes (11 x 5% =) 55% of the vote against the resolution.  The measure is not adopted and Atopia manages to avoid putting more suspicion on Marquis Toyama (who by that time was part of her bloc).

By the way, any vote that scores less than 10% becomes 10% - it is assumed there was at least that much support to bring to the Moot for a vote in the first place.  Any vote that scores more than 100% becomes 100%.

So What Do The Rest of the Non-Nobles Do?
There's always intrigue going on at a Moot.  The non-noble characters can be checking up on the blocs apposing theirs, getting dirt that can leverage the higher ranking nobles who are still uncommitted, running interference for the nobles in the bloc, making media releases for the bloc to influence public opinion, etc.  Who knows, maybe one of the characters might even rub shoulders with some of the elite under the right conditions...



Sunday, January 28, 2018

Political Rookie No More            



]: TAS NEWS SERVICE
]: Narmada (1918 Narmada/Wayhaven)
]: Dispatched 137-1107
          ¶ The thirteenth day of the 1107 Narmada Subsector Moot ended with the selection of ten nobles to accompany His Grace Subsector Duke Darius Ingersoll to the 1108 Wayhaven Sector Moot.  Notable among them are Contessa Chantal Dasani of Narmada, Marquis Dr. Toyama Weston of Narmada and Marquis Renard Solono-Deleon, who is stepping down from being the Imperial Liaison on Nan (2015 Narmada/Wayhaven) at the end of this year.
          ¶ Many observers to this year’s Moot have commented that Her Ladyship Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium, has been one of the political movers and shakers this time around.  Fresh off her success in getting nobles in her substantial voting bloc recommended for Imperial Liaison posts for three of the seven openings this session, our sources report that she continues to lobby other nobles ahead of the Presentation and Consideration of Submissions by the Moot the day after tomorrow.
          ¶ By all accounts, Her Ladyship will have more opportunities tonight, during Marquis Dr. Toyama’s first mixer at Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven.  The official guest list is well over two hundred names long as His Excellency and Her Ladyship Baronet Kogura Yanni celebrate the public announcement of the consummation of their wedding last year.

137-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven

Atopia collapsed onto a padded lounge chair with a groan, allowing her body to conform to its contours as she fought back the all-too-familiar dizziness associated with having too much to drink – again.  “Great Maker,” she sighed, “it’s no wonder they only have these things every other year.  Everybody needs the off year to recover!”

She was dog-tired from keeping up with committee meetings, the wants and needs of the nobles in her voting bloc, the endless messages that needed replies, meetings with nobles heading up other voting blocs to test the waters of various proposals – not to mention dividing what little time she had left between eating, being little Olivia’s mother and the one she missed the most of all, sleep.  Even with twenty-eight hours in a day on Narmada, there still wasn’t enough time for it all.

A masculine chuckle to her left roused her from her musings.  She saw a trim man in an Imperial Navy dress uniform sitting on another lounge chair smiling at her.  He wore his glossy dark brown hair in a short but stylish cut that complemented his light tan complexion and mossy green eyes.  His rank insignia and division patch marked him as a Lieutenant Commander with the Navy’s Medical Corps.  Her eyes strayed to the medical satchel resting on the seat next to him.

“You got any detox tabs in that bag, Commander?” she asked, “If I have to, I’ll play the damsel in distress to get one.”

He opened the satchel, rising from his seat as he did so.  Atopia took in the view as he bent over to rummage in the bag for a moment before producing a tablet for her along with a small bottle of water.  He smiled as he handed them over to her with a nod.

She gratefully washed down the pill, taking a deep breath afterward and closing her eyes.  After a moment, the familiar heartburn signaled the pill taking action.  “Great,” she muttered, “now I’ll need something to eat to make the burn go away.”

Something rattled in front of her face.  She opened her eyes to see the Commander offering a pair of crackers wrapped in clear plastic to her.  She took them, tore the wrapping off and started munching the first.  “Are you always this prepared for a girl in need,” she asked, “or am I a special case?”

He sat back down, choosing a chair that was next to hers.  “The Moot is a special case,” he replied.  “You aren’t the only noble in town that has problems finding the happy medium between being a social drinker and being intoxicated.”

“So this isn’t your first Moot,” Atopia said with a sigh.

“On the contrary,” he said, “it is.  I was here for the last one, but only to get acclaimed, so I wasn’t a participant.”

“I don’t remember you,” Atopia said.  “But then, I was still in the process of mustering out of the Navy as well as keeping tabs on the Moot.”

“You do seem to keep yourself busy,” he said with a smile.  “I can see why Baronet Yunni admires you so.  I may have to start a fan club.”

Atopia chuckled a bit at that.  “You obviously know who I am,” she said, “So who are you?”

He offered a hand to shake.  “Sir Winston Blakely, M.D., Your Ladyship,” he said as she grasped his hand.  “Formerly of the Imperial Navy, but I’ve spent the last year and a half on Kiewa, as part of the Imperial Humanitarian Mission there.  Thank you for your support in extending that mission, by the way.”

“You’re welcome,” she said as she flagged down a waiter bearing a tray of glasses.  “How are things going on Kiewa these days?”

“Considerably better now that the Globiovirus Gamma outbreak has been contained,” he said as he plucked a lowball glass containing three fingers of the arcology’s most famous product.  “I’ve already thanked Sir Onnab Sarak and the people of Karakesh for their prompt charity last year.  I believe I owe you a debt of gratitude for delivering it to us.”

“Can’t accept it, I’m afraid,” replied Atopia as she took a tall glass of sparkling water from the waiter’s tray and nodded politely to him.  “Sir Onnab paid me quite well to express that shipment, though I still contribute to the Kiewa Humanitarian Fund on a regular basis – among several others.”

“Well, thank you all the same,” replied Winston as he idly swirled the whiskey in his glass.  “I hope it’s not too personal a question,” he continued after a moment, “but what is it like being a gypsy merchant?”

Atopia took a drink from her own glass before replying.  “Interesting,” she said at last, “and I mean that mostly in a good way, but sometimes in a bad way as well.  There’s been more than one transit where I’ve had to deal with death on a very personal level.  One of my crew very nearly got killed last year because of a decision I made that put us in harm’s way.  Another associate and friend of mine on Moksha wasn’t so lucky.  I’ve also had two dead passengers that I feel responsible for, even if the ITCC has absolved my crew and me of blame in each case.”

Atopia paused for another drink, admiring Winston’s good looks and his ability to listen without looking for an opening to interrupt her.  “On the other hand,” she continued, “my crew and I have made many good friends in our travels and exploits – something that’s now paying dividends at the Moot for me.  Plus, there’s the stowaway who became my adopted daughter last year and helped exonerate a young man and his noble house just the other day.  And, of course, there’s the money – starships are expensive, after all, but business has been exceptionally good of late.  I’ve been able to afford taking time off to attend the Moot and give my crew several extended liberties with a few extra credits to spend, as well.”

Winston nodded in acknowledgement, taking a sip of his whiskey in the process.  “Do you think that being named a Defender of the Imperium will change things for you?” he asked.

Atopia shrugged.  “No telling,” she said.  “I honestly thought that my noble title was just going to be an honorific to hang on a wall, like a high school diploma.  If I had known that just a few weeks later I would be in a life-or-death firefight with both an Imperial war criminal and a rogue noble – and losing – I might have reconsidered the whole thing.”

“And yet,” replied Winston, “you’re smiling about that.  How does that work?”

“It led to better things,” said Atopia.  “Like this moment that I’m spending with you, for example.”

It was Winston’s turn to smile.  He held out his glass to her.  “Here’s to the unexpected outcomes, then,” he said, “They are the spice of life.”

Atopia touched his glass with hers and drank.  The spice of life, indeed, she thought.

139-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven

-- from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium

Ugh.

Great Maker, preserve me from this Ninth Hell of being exhausted and completely unable to sleep!

Nope.  I’m still wide awake, curse the luck.

Fine, I’ll go over the day just past and perhaps that will allow me the luxury of a few blissfully vegetative hours before things start all over again.  "Just two more days," is what I keep telling myself – a mantra that promises an end to this political slog.  After this, I will no longer look down my nose at Imperial bureaucrats – they are either a specially attenuated breed and deserve admiration, or they are cursed and deserve sympathy.

Sir Winston and I talked nearly until dawn this morning – and with the extra-long days and nights here, that’s saying something.  He’s got that special quality of being able to draw me out and get me talking about whatever I happen to be thinking about.  And here I am, thinking of him and smiling again.  He’s pretty special, that one.  I hope I can spend some more time with him before the Moot comes to an end.

I met with Sir Charles Barlow a lifetime ago when the sun was low in the east.  He’s the son of Baroness Danielle Barlow, the widely-despised lady who owns the planet of the same name.  I initially thought he was paying a visit to rally support for her dead-on-arrival resolution for getting the Imperial Bureau of Planetary Development to fund terraforming efforts there.  I’m happy to declare that I was completely wrong in that regard.

Turns out that Sir Charles fell pretty far from the family tree, and actually has both compassion and a conscience.  Long story short, Barlow (the planet) has a transient problem – like eleven percent of the seventy-odd thousand people living there.  The baroness doesn’t want anyone shipped out on hers or anyone else’s credits because (publically) she says that would only encourage more people to come there looking for work without the means to return home.

Privately, there are a number of credible reports that she’s in cahoots with a number of criminal syndicates, possibly even heading one of her own, and needs desperate warm bodies willing to do anything for a credit to make it affordable.  Sir Charles is very, very quietly making arrangements to smuggle the most vulnerable among the transients there to Narmada.  So, while my ship will be chartered to haul the baroness, Sir Charles, their staff for the Moot and about seventy d-tons of terraforming equipment – the sort of stuff the baroness wants the Imperium to pay for – to Barlow when the Moot’s over.  Then, we'll take whatever cargo Sir Charles can put together while smuggling ten people through customs that I have to hide aboard my ship until we can clear port and put them in low berths for the rest of the trip back.  If it’s possible, I might take on a dozen more and fill the passenger cabins, too.

Sir Charles is paying for the passengers with opals that are mined on Barlow.  When he showed them to me, they took my breath away.  I can honestly say they are the most beautiful stones of the type I have ever seen – cobalt blue with rich veins of silver running through each.  I’m thinking about getting a full set of jewelry made with them – after I get back to Narmada, that is.

I already knew that His Grace Sector Duke Wymark wanted me to accompany him to the Grand Imperial Moot in 1110.  I managed to rally my bloc behind Marquis Dr. Toyama’s bid to go as well – so not only is he going to be at Belaya next year, but he will also take the long haul with me across the eighty-odd parsecs that lie between here and Capital the year after.  The good news is that the marquis has a very competent staff that can handle things in his absence, since I am sure he would not want to be parted from Baronet Yanni or their newborn child for any length of time.

Sir Winston officially joined my voting bloc today and asked if he could accompany me to The Honors that night – a formal dinner for the vast majority of nobles in the subsector like me who have no fief to go with their titles.  I fired off a quick message to Terrance, Duke Darius’ personal aide, about my suddenly having a date to bring to dinner – kind of a problem since I was going to be sitting at His Grace’s table.  I shouldn’t have worried.  Terrance made the arrangements before the first round of voting in the Moot was completed.

Olivia answered the door when Sir Winston dropped by my apartment at the arcology to pick me up.  I had already told her about the knight, and she was every bit the perfect hostess, as she and he got along splendidly while I primped and double-checked everything in my bedroom before emerging in my best formal gown.  It had the desired effect; there was about ten full seconds of awed expression before he found his voice and complimented me rather copiously for the rest of the trip over to His Grace’s residence.

And I’m smiling again.  Wow.

Duke Darius looked troubled at dinner, though.  I thought I might have committed some faux pas or maybe didn’t know Sir Winston’s history as well as I should.  His Grace pulled me aside during his glad-handing session with nobles that were getting their sole opportunity to bend his ear, saying that I needed to meet him early this morning for a continental breakfast and coffee.  I’m guessing it’s going to be bad news – maybe something else about war breaking out on the frontier for… what would this be – the fifth time, I think?  I’ll just have to see.

And now sleep seems like a possibility, so good night.

]: TAS NEWS SERVICE
]: Narmada (1918 Narmada/Wayhaven)
]: Dispatched 139-1107
          ¶ 50-year-old General Uzuri Sumari of Narmada’s Autonomy Defense Force (ADF) announced his retirement at a media briefing early this morning.  General Sumari has headed the ADF since 1099 and is generally well-regarded by the nobles and citizenry of the Autonomy.  No reason was given for his sudden announcement, but his resignation was accepted by His Grace Subsector Duke Darius Ingersoll.
          ¶ General Sumari’s replacement, 34-year-old Colonel Cassandra Mutabe, has been on detached duty off-world for the past seven cycles.  She was a member of the Imperial Army for twelve years before joining the ADF in 1103.  A spokesman for the ADF stated that Colonel Mutabe will be promoted to the rank of General in a ceremony to precede the Transfer of Command ceremony on 142-1107.  Colonel Mutabe could not be immediately reached for comment.

139-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, The Grand Assembly Hall

Atopia gnawed on her dataslab stylus as she watched the tally for the vote run up on the central holographic display.  “I say, this one’s got the Moot nearly split,” commented Baron Eldon von Haas as he sat beside her at her table.  “Wouldn’t have thought that the week before the Moot, given the mood of what nobles and His Grace were then.”

What was it that His Excellency, Marquis Toyama had said last year, she wondered as she watched the display.  “You no longer have anything to fear from SuSAG.”  But what in Nine Hells did you do that made you so confident, Your Excellency?  How many laws did you break?  How many lives did you end to exact your vengeance for the life of Baron Alton Richards?

“Bloody Hells!” exclaimed Baron Eldon, “There’s less than a score of votes to count and it’s tied at eighty-all!”

Atopia glanced down at her dataslab.  She could read the title of the resolution currently before the Moot – Formal Request by the Government of Teleajen for Interstellar Investigation Resources.  The planet’s Imperial Liaison, Dame Lydia Harcourt, had put forth a measured, reasoned argument in favor of the resolution – formulated, no doubt, by the best lawyers the plutocratic government of that world could hire.  Atopia had listened to that speech, parroted perfectly by a noble who’d studied at the legendary Performing Arts Academy of Landor, refusing to be swayed; but only because she suspected what it would really mean for Marquis Toyama if the resolution passed.

She knew he was capable of these things.  “I’ve killed a dozen people this year to protect the Duke, this world and the Empire,” is what he’d said to her when they first met nearly two years ago.  He was proud of what he’d done because he knew the reasons why such things had to be done.  But at what point do such things cross the line?

Atopia knew that she wasn’t pure, either.  She’d willingly helped Baronet Fletcher Willow bury his criminal past by chucking a cargo container full of incriminating evidence into jump space.  She’d done it to protect the man who had protected her friend, Baron Harper Willow, for decades – much in the same way the marquis had for her.

She glanced over her shoulder at Baroness Olivia Servantes, seated in the row behind her.  Olivia wore the same hard expression she had when they first met on Moksha.  Olivia didn’t bother mincing words for the Atopia, at that time a newly-minted noble.

“Every noble in the Peerage is one kind of son-of-a-bitch or another,” Baroness Olivia had said then.  Most of them slap on a thin veneer of civility in public while they make life-and-death decisions on a daily basis that will potentially affect the welfare, futures and lives of billions of people.  They have to decide who lives, who dies or who isn’t worth the effort of saving.”

A chime sounded softly but clearly, precisely the right tone to cut through the rising murmurs of the two hundred simultaneous conversations taking place within the hall – the final tally was up.  Baroness Selene stepped up to the podium and gaveled the hall back to order.  “On Resolution Number Eleven-Oh-Seven-dash-Six, the yeas number eighty-six, the nays number ninety-three.  The Resolution is not adopted by this body.”

Atopia didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath.  She gasped involuntarily and focused on breathing until the sudden overwhelming dizziness passed.  When she looked back up at Baroness Olivia, the noble still wore the same expression while looking straight at Atopia.  She nodded.  So did Atopia.  The matter was resolved.

Baroness Selene was gaveling the body to order again.  “The Moot shall now consider Resolution Eleven-Oh-Seven-dash-Seven, titled: Acclamation of Olivia Miller, nee Verne, including declaration of inheritance of future title from Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium, et al.  In support of the resolution, the chair recognizes Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium, for an allotted time of ten minutes.”

“Right,” said Baron Eldon as he rose with her.  “I’ll fetch the little lady.”  He chuckled at his own joke as he caught her gaze.

Atopia smiled as she moved to the aisle and began her descent to the floor of the chamber.  “Let’s hope,” she said.

139-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Juliette Azure Oh Nine

Atopia handed the man a small card.  He read through it carefully, his lips moving as he silently practiced saying the words in his mind.  He nodded to Atopia, gesturing for them to proceed.

“Announcing,” called the Herald, “the arrival of Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium; Sir Winston Blakely, M.D.; and the Lady Olivia Verne!”

All three of them smiled as a cheer rose from the assembled throng at Armando's Restaurant.  Yup, thought Atopia, the spice of life.