Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Political Rookie   

118-1107, Aboard Golden Dawn, in hyperspace between Olt and Narmada

-- from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering

This will probably be the last chance I’ll have to write in this journal until after the Moot is over.  This evening, I had an informal meeting with Dame Diana Sabatini, Baron Harper Willow, Baronet Fletcher Willow and Sir Benson Pembroke – the outgoing Imperial Liaison for Olt.  It originally started out with Sir Benson talking about what his job on Olt had entailed.  As I listened, I started realizing that hanging out on those glorious beaches and working on one’s tan was something tourists had time do, but not the Imperial Liaison.  By the time he had finished, I had already decided that any notion I’d had of being a bureaucrat in paradise was over.  Olt’s a nice place to visit, but I don’t want to settle down there until I’m too old to burn holes through jump space.

The good thing is that Olivia feels the same way.  So, I’m going to have to do my damnedest to keep from getting roped into such a position.  After a talk with Baronet Fletcher, Harper’s uncle, I’m also going to have to flex some political muscle to keep Olivia’s path to her own noble title open.

“Viscount Trager Duvalier is going to be your primary problem in that regard,” he said around a sip of the last of my Ussan Saramani.  “The man’s got personal pride issues as it is.  Having one of the nobles under his nose turn out to be a traitor to the Imperium – for years, it would seem – must stick in his craw something awful.  The man is going to lash out to cover for his perceived deficiency, and I’m willing to bet he’ll back an effort to dismantle House Verne and distribute its assets among his other, more loyal houses.”

“That wouldn’t bode well for the orphan,” Sir Benson added, meaning François’ son Gerard.  “Or your own adopted daughter, for that matter, even if she doesn’t share his name.”

“Wouldn’t she still have a path to a hereditary title if I managed to gain one?” I asked.

“Possibly,” said Dame Sabatini.  “But Olivia would have more of a claim to a title by having a clear line to her noble heritage, even if her father was a traitor to the empire who had conceived her out of wedlock.”

So now I have a purpose being at the Moot – preserving my daughter’s future by convincing a prideful man to deny himself vengeance upon the source of his perceived humiliation.  Barring that, Plan B will be to put together a voting bloc in the Moot that will muster enough votes to block any effort to sink my daughter’s ship before it comes in.

We talked well into the wee hours, mapping out a path to victory.  It’s going to be slog in the dirtiest game mankind has ever invented – politics.  I hope I have what it takes, for her sake…

120-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven

Atopia noticed that Baronet Kogura Yuni was looking particularly healthy as Marquis Dr. Toyama Weston poured a round of fruit punch for the gathered throng.  His business suite in the penthouse of the arcology that was his fief had a total of sixteen members of the Peerage including himself.  Aside from herself, Dame Diana, Baron Harper, Baronet Fletcher and Sir Benson, other nobles from her exploits over the past two years were there as well.

Baronet Deidra Brogan, the Imperial Liaison to Dnieper, had fully recovered from her run in with a Dnieper Ursoid nearly two years ago, and held her glass in her cybernetic hand that was sporting freshly polished silver trim.

Baronet Leigh Denali had turned twenty in hyperspace aboard a commercial liner that had jumped into the system just ten hours earlier.  Atopia silently speculated that the youngster occupying the Imperial Liaison position to Sok had taken a stim to keep her going as she looked somewhat haggard from the trip.

Baronet Dr. Grace Fulda had arrived on the same liner as Baronet Leigh, though was looking far more rested.  She and Marquis Dr. Toyama had been comparing medical notes off and on as the throng had assembled.

Baron Eldon von Haas was his usual portly, jolly self, having made the jump from his fief on Teleajen aboard his safari ship Quatermain.  He’d been trading stories with Valo, the Golden Dawn's pilot and navigator, since his arrival.

To Atopia's mind, Baroness Orlena Lefevre looked somewhat out of place in a formal dress, but wore it well, regardless.  Orlena was doting on little Olivia, Atopia’s adopted daughter, telling her all about the Grand Entrance Promenades she’d seen over the years.

Sir Harmon Naicker had hitched a ride to the Moot aboard an IISS X-boat and looked somewhat rumpled from spending the past four weeks in and out of hyperspace.  He was sitting apart from the rest of the throng, quietly reviewing some official documents on his pocket computer.

Sir Onnab Sarak had arrived a week earlier, intending to take an extended break from his Imperial Liaison position on Karakesh.  He was discussing the finer points of the game of sobari to Baron Harper, whom Atopia and Onnab had soundly beaten the last time they’d played.

Dame Olivia Servantes was the group’s other loner, standing alone while surveying the grand vista of Narmada through a floor-to-ceiling expanse of transparasteel.  She’d arrived the day before aboard an Imperial Navy frigate – a sign that she was about to step up to her new title, Baroness of Moksha.

Finally, Marquis Renard Solono-Deleon had introduced himself to Atopia when she arrived.  Atopia had been on death’s doorstep the last time they’d met on Nan, after François Verne had shot her multiple times before Leif Grenfeld had ended the traitor’s life with a neurotoxin dart.  The soft-spoken Imperial Liaison to Nan had arranged for Atopia to undergo treatment with a medical fast drug at the starport, saving her life.

“A toast!” called Marquis Toyama as he raised a glass.  The room quieted as the group turned to face him and held their beverage glasses high.  “I am proud to announce that my beautiful wife and I will soon be parents for what will hopefully be the first of many times!”  There was applause and congratulations all the way around.

“Explains the fruit punch, at any rate,” commented Baron Eldon as he drained the last from his glass.

The Marquis gave Atopia a sidelong look and she nodded.  Soon, Toyama and Yuni were exiting the room, pausing just long enough to activate its security setting.  The lights took on a blue hue and windows faded to black as the Marquis shut the door behind him.

Baronet Leigh looked slightly taken back.  “What’s going on?” she asked.

Atopia stood where Toyama had made his toast.  “I regret bringing all of you here under a half-truth,” said Atopia, “but I need your help.”  She looked down at her daughter before returning her gaze back to the rest of the group.  “She needs your help.”

Baron Eldon nodded and smiled.  “Viscount Trager,” he said.

“Precisely,” said Atopia.  She spent the next few moments explaining what had been discussed aboard the Golden Dawn two days ago.  By the time she finished, all of the peerage assembled was nodding in understanding.

“So,” asked Sir Harmon, “the Marquis and Baroness are on board with this, too?”

“Not yet,” replied Atopia with a shrug, “but they did agree to use the announcement as a way for us to meet without arousing too much curiosity.”

“Doesn’t seem much like him,” said Baroness Orlena meaning Toyama, “I never known him to shrink from a fight.”

Atopia sighed.  “I can’t go into details about his situation,” she said, “but things among the Narmada nobility are on the fragile side.  They’re all stepping lightly right now.  The visit by Duke Wymark has a lot to do with that.”

“So we’re all agreed, then?” asked Dame Olivia.  “Everybody in?”

Atopia watched them all nod.  “All right,” she said, “including me, that’s fourteen votes in favor of Little Olivia’s future – let’s see how many more we can round up in four days.”

124-1106, Narmada, Red Sun City, Grand Assembly Hotel

She was admitted to the hotel room after passing through a weapon scanner and a pat down from a female bodyguard just off the elevator.  Atopia had left her weapons behind, along with Cassandra Mutabe for this formal visit.  She was wearing her formal Imperial Navy uniform adorned with perfectly polished buttons; service ribbons perfectly placed and aligned; the two braided command cords – one silver and one gold – adorned her left epaulet of her coat; the Meritorious Conduct under Fire award medal she’d received for the INS Polaris incident nearly nine years prior gleamed from its place below the ribbons.

Viscount Trager Duvalier rose from his overstuffed lounge chair and saluted her.  He was dressed in his house colors of purple and gold, perfectly tailored to fit his tall, lean frame.  He had to stoop down to embrace her and formally kiss her on both cheeks in welcome, which she returned.  He gestured to the chair across from his, bidding her to take a seat, only taking his when he was certain she was comfortable.

“I know why you are here,” he said after they had toasted each other’s health.  He waved a politely dismissive hand toward his staff.  They cleared the room and closed the door.  “You wish me not to pursue action against House Verne,” he added.

Atopia nodded.  “Gerard has already lost a father and two mothers,” she said, “The father – partially by my own hand – one mother to fate and the other to his father’s machinations.  I ask you not to take the boy’s house and staff away as well.”

Trager scoffed at that.  “Very noble,” he said, “but you and I both know that he’s not the reason why you care about this matter.”

“True,” Atopia conceded with a nod of her head.  “Olivia Miller, nee Verne, is the offspring of noble blood.”

“Is the offspring of a TRAITOR!” Trager shouted as he pounded the armrest of his chair with his fist, “Her as much as the boy!”

Atopia clamped down on the sudden spike of anger.  “You do realize that François had help in these matters,” she said slowly.  “He employed a network of people who aided him from within the house and from the outside.”

“This is truth, much to my shame,” he replied around a sigh.  “All of the houses of Yantra bear this hateful association with one of our own turning against both us and the Empire that we are supposed to love so very dearly.  How can any of us be trusted until the source of that shame is removed once and for all?”

“Precisely,” said Atopia, “since the specter of failure is hard to shake.  But the houses of Yantra are loyal to the Empire, as is Gerard Verne.  Surely you know that?”

“No, I don’t!” said Trager.  “This treason festered right under my nose for more than a decade!”  His clenched fist shook as a pained expression crossed his face.

And that’s the problem, Atopia thought suddenly, he doesn’t know who to trust anymore.

Atopia said nothing, but reached over and gently enclosed the quivering fist with her hands.  “Your excellency,” she said softly, “I am not your enemy.  I was responsible for the death of François, and I have taken on the responsibility for nurturing his orphaned daughter, as you well know.  I have met with Gerard.  I have felt his profound sorrow and confusion.  He has lost everything that was dear to him and yet he has a sense of honor, of duty, to those whom his father misled.  In a way, they are his family now.  He needs them to help carry him forward through his grief.”

The fist stopped shaking and Trager slowly opened his eyes to meet her steady gaze.  “More than that,” Atopia continued, “he needs you.  He needs your protection, your guidance, your trust, and most of all – your forgiveness.  He needs to hear from you that his father’s shame is not his to bear.”

Trager took a long, slow breath before speaking.  “I will consider your words.  You may take your leave of me now.”

Atopia nodded and stood.  She saluted him.  “Long live the Emperor,” she said.

He stood and returned her salute.  His eyes were swimming as he spoke.  “Long may he reign.”

125-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, The Grand Assembly

Little Olivia fidgeted by Atopia’s side.  The baronet gently touched the girl’s shoulder with a gloved hand.  Olivia looked up and smiled at her.

The girl was arrayed in a pink and lavender satin formal dress; her dark, curly hair carefully arranged into a simple, yet natural style.  The few days of careful exposure to Narmada’s sun had painted a light tan complexion onto her exposed shoulders and arms.  A simple silver pendant on a slender chain adorned her neck while matching earrings rode her earlobes.

Atopia smiled back at her daughter.  The baronet had donned a silver-gray silk dress trimmed in lace and pearls.  Her long blonde hair had been intricately braided and then arranged in cascading arcs to dramatically frame the curves of her face.  A shawl of golden gauze accented her bare shoulders while long white opera gloves completed the look.

They had been standing in line for nearly an hour, slowly shuffling forward as His Grace’s herald announced each member of the Peerage as they entered the Grand Assembly Hall.

Atopia was holding a short rod in her left hand.  It was capped with ornate iridium at both ends and was girded with rich windings of intertwined leather stained ivory and scarlet.  One end bore the sunburst of the Third Imperium while the other bore the coat of arms of House Alkhalikoi – the house of Emperor Strephon the First.

An usher touched Atopia on the shoulder and gestured for her and Olivia to enter the hall.  “Now entering,” called out the herald, “Her Ladyship, Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium!”  A raucous cheer erupted from the gallery above as she strode into the hall with Olivia hustling alongside her.  Atopia smiled and waved at the members of her ship’s crew as they cheered her.

Ushers guided her to a seat near the center of the third ring of the Peerage’s semi-circular rows of tables and chairs, helping Olivia into a chair so she wouldn’t dishevel her dress.  It took another forty minutes to announce and seat the rest behind her – knights and dames, mostly.  She acknowledged the few she knew as they passed by her to their places further back in the hall.

In all, there were one-hundred and seventy-nine nobles in attendance for the Moot.  His Grace, Duke Darius had been so busy getting things ready, he hadn’t been able to squeeze a meeting with her into his schedule.  His Grace’s aide Terrance had given her the rod just an hour before, along with the duke’s regards and a promise for a formal ceremony for the most recent addition to her title at a later date.

Atopia regarded the rod and allowed herself to feel just a little bit of pride.  Only a small percentage of all the nobility could lay claim to The Rod of the Defenders – and many of them earned theirs posthumously.

The herald moved to the center of the open floor, standing many paces from the circular dais that held two additional seats.  He raised his arms.  “Now entering!” he cried in the formal fashion, “His Grace, Duke Darius Ingersoll, Protector of the Narmada Subsector of Wayhaven Sector, Domain of Sol of the Third Imperium, Ruler of the Imperial Autonomy District of the world of Narmada, and Defender of Imperial Citizenry throughout known space and beyond!”

The assembled throng in the gallery as well as the Peerage below stood and applauded.  There were cheers and calls of “Long live the duke!” that thundered in the hall as the duke and his wife, Baroness Selene Fairfax, entered the hall and mounted the dais.  The duke embraced the baroness for a brief moment before helping her to her seat.

When he turned back to the rest of the hall, the cheers rose in volume once again.  Darius smiled and waved, drinking in the moment.  Finally, he raised his arms and slowly lowered them, encouraging the throng to take their seats while he remained standing.

“Welcome to the Nobles of the Moot, our honored guests, members of the media and onlookers all.  I hearby declare the Eleven-Oh-Seven Narmada Subsector Moot to be in session!”

Darius waited for the applause to die down before continuing.  “We of the Moot face the unique challenge of maintaining the Empire, bearing not only responsibility for its citizens’ welfare and safety, but also for our own actions in the execution of that responsibility.  This past biennium has proven to all of us that lapses have occurred and have been dealt with.  Many wagging tongues of both the nobility and of the citizenry have been quick to find fault at the actions that I and other members of the peerage have taken to resolve these lapses and restore the order that is expected within the Third Imperium.  And I say unto you all that order has been maintained!”

There was more applause, though somewhat less enthusiastic this time, most notably lacking from many members of the Moot.  Darius continued.  “The subsector continues to face many challenges to that responsibility we of the Peerage have borne and shall continue to bear – challenges to peace, challenges to order, and challenges to our own moralities.  These challenges are always there and overcoming them all is our duty.  How we accomplish these goals is the right given to us by His Majesty, Emperor Strephon the First!”

“Long live the Emperor – long may he reign!” was shouted by the assembled throng – so loudly, that Atopia thought for a moment it would shake loose the acoustic tiles in the ceiling high above their heads.

“In this meeting of the Moot,” Darius continued, “you shall be asked to direct the actions of the Imperial Authority in a number of weighty matters that have arisen since the last meeting of this August Assembly.  I know that there are other matters that have weighted upon both conscience and heart that are moving you to express them in this forum.  This is the time and place for such passions, and to see if others are moved as you have been and have the courage to take action upon them.  I heartily encourage all of you, even those among you who are attending the Moot for the first time, to embrace the possibilities and go boldly forward with your ideas!”

The applause was more polite than enthusiastic this time.  “There are a number of matters before this Moot that must be resolved before its ending – matters of great importance, all.  It is vital that we resolve these matters in a way that is both equitable and just, as well as being in the best interests of the Imperium.  The eyes of the Imperium are upon us all in these matters, as well they should be.  The privilege of leadership should always be balanced with scrutiny and constructive criticism by those we are responsible for.  But do not allow the weight of public opinion to sway your decisions on matters of importance in these proceedings – as we – must – lead!”

The members of the Moot roared their approval of the last for nearly a full minute before Darius continued.  “We have a special guest in attendance for this gathering of nobles.  In a few short days, His Grace, Sector Duke Wymark Gascoyne will address this Assemblage on matters that have come to his attention!  I consider it a unique honor that he has seen fit to join us and hope that all of us will extend his grace our very best hospitality and the full measure of our respect.”

The applause was interspersed with calls of “Long live Duke Wymark!”  Darius allowed himself a moment to smile before speaking up again.  “In closing, I say unto you all that while there is much work to be done, it is a genuine pleasure to see so many of you in attendance.  I look forward to meeting with all of you in the days ahead, as we, together, work toward the goals of prosperity and order for all under our rule.”

The applause for this was genuine and warm.  “I, Duke Darius Ingersoll, Protector of the Narmada Subsector of Wayhaven Sector, Domain of Sol of the Third Imperium, Ruler of the Imperial Autonomy District of the world of Narmada, and Defender of Imperial citizenry throughout known space and beyond, do officially decree the Narmada Subsector Moot of Imperial Year One-Thousand, One-Hundred and Seven to be open!”

The gallery and hall applauded once again, as the duke took his leave of the chamber.  A podium was brought out and placed on the dais.  One of the ushers brought out an archaic wooden gavel and placed it upon the podium.  Baroness Celene then rose from her chair and gaveled the hall to order.

“My husband is a man of few words,” said the baroness with a smile, “in public, at any rate.”  That earned a round of laughter.  “Do I have a motion to recess this body for the luncheon break?”  There were ample voices in favor.  The voice vote was unanimous.  “This body is in recess until seventeen-hundred hours.”

125-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven

“…so, including you, you’ve got twenty-six voting nobles who have officially indicated they’re voting in your bloc,” said Tabitha.  “With a total of one seventy-nine in the Moot this session, that mean your bloc constitutes around fourteen-and-a-half percent of the voting members.”

“Yay!” commented Olivia as she munched on a strawberry.  When she saw their expressions, her excitement dimmed somewhat.  “That’s not good?”

Tabitha smiled.  “Actually, it is very good,” she said, “especially for a Moot rookie like your mom.”

Atopia nodded as she chewed through another mouthful of salad.  “But still no word from the Viscount, I take it,” she said.

Tabitha shook her head.  “He’s going to be a tough nut to crack,” she said.  “I’ve done some background on him while you’ve been making the rounds on the glad-handing circuit.  He and François were pretty tight until the AZOOR Outbreak here got traced back to Verne by Marquis Toyama in 1105.”

“So perhaps Viscount Trager and Gerard Verne have more in common than they know,” said Atopia.  “Has anyone seen Gerard on Narmada?”

Tabitha shook her head again.  “If he is here, he’s keeping a low profile,” she said.  “But then, he doesn’t really have a place in the Moot these days, right?”

“Mommy?” asked Olivia suddenly.  “Is it something I did?”

Atopia gave her daughter a hug.  “No, honey,” she said after a moment.  “Your father did all this, I’m sorry to say.”

After a moment, Atopia released her and looked down at her.  “But don’t you worry, little one,” she said, “Your mommy is going to fix all of this – no matter what it takes.”

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