Political Rookie, Part II
126-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven
Baronet Atopia smiled as her daughter Olivia chased Fred the Chirper through the manicured park greenery. The small, scaly vaguely humanoid creature was very nimble, able to pivot and turn quickly, leaving her daughter skidding on the grass time after time. Baronet Deidre Brogan laughed on the bench beside her at their antics.
It was good to laugh, especially at the end of two long days of pomp and circumstance that had opened the Narmada Subsector Moot. The pair of nobles had spent the past half-hour hashing out their battle plan for tomorrow’s session, which would be dominated by the soon to be Baroness Olivia Servantes’ right to claim the planet of Moksha as her personal fief. She’d already been through a bull session with Marquis Toyama Weston about the other major item of the day on tomorrow’s agenda – what the Imperium should do regarding the humanitarian mission to Kiewa.
Atopia silently shook her head. It’s hard to believe that a murder investigation and subsequent treasure hunt started all that on Kiewa, she thought, but, it also netted the noble doctor a wife in the end, which I’m sure he least expected of the whole affair. And now they’re going to have a child, too.
“Hmmm,” said Baroness Olivia, stirring Atopia from her musings. “Were you expecting company?”
Atopia turned to look and saw that a member of the arcology’s security team was escorting a stately woman in a formal dress with a Victorian flare into the park. “Baroness Decima Bauffremont, I believe,” she said as her eyebrows rose. “She’s the wife of Viscount Trager Duvalier of Yantra.”
“He’s one of the few important people you’re not getting along with right now,” said Baroness Olivia as she rose. “I’ll go keep an eye on the kids so you two can talk privately.” She jogged off across the grass, the chrome trim on her cybernetic left arm and leg flashing in the sunlight brought down from the upper levels by fiber optics.
Atopia curtseyed to the newcomer as she glided over to the bench. “Your ladyship,” she said in greeting. Decima curtseyed in return, but her welcoming smile quickly faded as Atopia gestured to the bench.
“My apologies for coming to you unannounced,” Decima said as she sat down. The woman’s curly chestnut hair had delicate streaks of gray running through it, framing a pale face with dark blue eyes. She folded her gloved hands in her lap as Atopia sat down next to her.
“I also apologize for coming right to the point, but time is of the essence,” Decima continued. “I want you to know that I do not share my husband’s position on House Verne. I believe that nothing is to be gained by tearing down the legacy of a dead man, even a traitor such as François.”
“Then I understand the risk you’re taking in seeing me,” replied Atopia. “I take it His Excellency remains adamant about disbanding the house and distributing its assets among other nobles on Yantra?”
Decima nodded. “He is,” she said. She paused and looked back the way she had entered the park. Atopia glanced that way and saw the security man still standing there. “Because I am so strongly against this action against House Verne, I have clandestinely brought someone from Yantra against my husband’s wishes – someone who could aid you in your efforts against the viscount’s actions. Will you meet with him?”
Atopia nodded. “Of course,” she said.
Decima waived at the security man who nodded in return and then gestured to someone out of their view. A male figure dressed in a long black robe with a hood covering his head and face emerged and strode quickly over to the bench. It was only when the figure reached the bench that Atopia recognized that it was Gentleman Gerard Verne, the seventeen-year-old son of the late François Verne.
He bowed deeply to them both. “My apologies that you must bear my shameful presence,” he said.
Atopia rose and embraced him tightly. “Don’t you ever say that to me again,” she said to him as she released him, “Not ever.”
She could see his sad smile, nearly lost in the shadow of the dark hood. “You are too kind to me,” he said, “but I come to you in my hour of need and I ask you to act on my behalf.”
“Your fate is my daughter’s as well,” Atopia said as she sat back down on the bench, “as I am sure you are well aware.” She gestured for him to sit as well, but he shook his head.
“Yes,” said Gerard in reply. “It is no secret that you intend to oppose His Excellency’s position on erasing what is left of my shameful father’s legacy. I would fight him on this matter myself, if I was allowed a place in the Moot. I am prepared to call him onto the Field of Honor should you decide not help me.”
“My husband has spilled enough noble blood on account of his pride,” Decima said. “When I heard that Gerard was going to challenge him to a duel on Yantra, I had to do something.”
“No less than what I intend to do for my daughter’s sake,” Atopia replied, placing a comforting hand on Decima’s.
Decima nodded, reaching inside of one of her gloves and producing a datachip. “Then, this should be of help,” she said as she handed it over to Atopia. “It is a preliminary draft of my husband’s motion to disband House Verne, along with an outline of the presentation he’ll make to the Moot to support it.”
Atopia’s eyes widened as she accepted the chip, but she said nothing.
“I have read it,” added Gerard. “Even if His Excellency is successful, I have found hope for your daughter. The language of the motion makes no mention of stripping me personally of my nobility. That may be an oversight that has since been corrected. However, he takes great pains to call into question my loyalty to the Empire, implying that I knew my father’s plans and did not act upon them.”
“Please understand,” said Decima, “my husband isn’t normally like this. He and François were very good friends. He could hardly believe what was happening when Marquis Toyama came to Yantra going on two years ago. The final straw was the datachip that Saffron Marteau, your daughter’s birth mother, had managed to obtain.”
Gerard was nodding. “My father’s shameful association with the Ine Givar went back over ten years,” he said. “My father used Viscount Trager while he made all the arrangements, manipulating His Excellency while pretending to be his friend. The viscount’s attitude toward me changed overnight – where before he had been helpful and concerned, he was suddenly cold and uncaring.” Atopia could see the boy’s eyes were swimming. “Is it any wonder that he would hate me so, knowing that my father had lied to his face for years about their friendship?”
The sadness quickly changed to rage. “But the greatest wound of all to me,” he continued, “was seeing the speech he intends to use to slander me and what’s left of my reputation! I am a loyal citizen of the Imperium! I had no idea what my father was doing! Even when Saffron left, she never explained what exactly she’d seen in those files! I was eight years old! I didn’t know!” He wheeled away in his frustration. Atopia could see him shake with raw emotion, heard his stifled sobs as he fought for control once more.
And suddenly, her arms were around him. “I can help you,” she said. “But only if you agree to submit to questioning by the Moot on the verdicator. That’s the only way you’ll convince them – and the only way you’ll convince him of your innocence.”
His hands found hers. “Of course,” he said. “I have nothing to fear by telling the truth.”
]: TAS NEWS SERVICE
]: NARMADA (1918 Narmada/Wayhaven)
]: Dispatched 129-1107
¶ The fourth day of the Narmada Subsector Moot opened with the arrival of His Grace, Wayhaven Sector Duke Wymark Gascoyne aboard his Imperial Navy flagship INS Belaya as part of the Imperial Military Review. His Grace is expected to speak to a closed session of the Subsector Moot on 131-1107 and is not expected to address the general public until sometime afterward. The rest of the day’s activities in the Moot will involve a review of the readiness of Imperial Navy and Marine forces.
¶ In actions completed yesterday, the Moot unanimously approved Subsector Duke Darius Ingersoll’s actions to end the practice of slave labor on Moksha (2216 Narmada/Wayhaven) last year. The Moot also endorsed the presence of units of the Imperial Army’s 3517th Brigade and an Imperial Navy task force there in a peacekeeping role through the end of this year. Additionally, the Moot granted the world as the fief to Baroness Olivia Servantes. Her Ladyship commented that she anticipates the mission of the Imperial military to be purely a humanitarian one from this point forward.
¶ The Moot also endorsed the plan put forth by Marquis Dr. Toyama Weston to continue the Imperium’s humanitarian mission to Kiewa (2117 Narmada/Wayhaven) until the end of Year 1109. Nearly half the funding of the mission to this point has been through donations made by several megacorporations, nobles and private citizens. The new funding plan would shift the burden to the Imperium directly while allowing for private donations to continue.
131-1107, Narmada, Imperial Autonomy District, Estate of Subsector Duke Darius Ingersoll
For Atopia it was a familiar place – the fifth step of the grand staircase of Duke Darius’ home, where she’d been given her Imperial noble title just under two years ago. Wearing the same Imperial Navy dress uniform that she’d worn that day, she stood at attention as His Grace, Sector Duke Wymark Gascoyne ascended to her level, bearing the rod that had been handed to her just before her entry into the Grand Assembly.
Duke Wymark had the bearing of age far beyond what appeared at first glance. Where Duke Darius appeared hale yet well-worn, the matriarch who stood beside her seemed genuinely old in a way that was somehow beyond normal human capacity, yet strangely vibrant, as if the health of youth lay just beneath the thin veneer of stoic dignity he wore for the rest of the galaxy. Anagathics, she thought dismissively.
Duke Wymark turned and faced the nearly two hundred guests who’d turned up for the ceremony. They all fell silent in anticipation. “Nobles of the Third Imperium,” he announced to the throng, “Tonight we bear witness to a rare and memorable event – one that is seldom repeated in such lively surroundings as these.” A chuckle rolled through the group as they shared His Grace’s bit of humor.
“Tonight,” he continued, “We honor one among us who has demonstrated those qualities that exemplify why we accept the responsibilities bestowed upon us. Baronet Atopia Kesslering of the world of Nan has demonstrated her will, her judgement and her determination to uphold the Empire, to bring its enemies to justice, and to fearlessly face dangers at the risk of life and limb. And, she has done all this during the first two years of accepting the burdens and responsibilities that all of us in the nobility share.
“I am, therefore, both proud to be here to reward such sacrifice on behalf of the Empire, and humbled by the acts that it is my duty to endorse and accept on behalf of His Majesty, Emperor Strephon the First!”
“LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!” cried the throng as one. “LONG MAY HE REIGN!”
The aged duke turned to Atopia with the rod in his hands. “Baronet Atopia,” he said, “on this One-Hundred and Thirty-First Day of Imperial Year One-Thousand, One-Hundred and Seven, I bestow upon you The Rod of the Defender. From henceforth, you shall be known as Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium!”
“HAIL THE DEFENDERS!” shouted the throng. “HAIL THE EMPIRE!”
Atopia accepted the rod with both hands, allowing the duke’s hands to fall away before cradling it to her chest. Duke Wymark smiled at her before turning toward the crowd once again. “The Rod of the Defender is a token of the authority granted to those select few among us who have proven themselves capable and willing to defend the Empire, its citizens and its most sacred of morals unto death and beyond. Those who wield the Rod in life carry the power of Imperial Edict Ninety-Seven – the power to compel agencies of the Imperial military and government, the governments of its member worlds, and even its citizens to assist them in such matters that arise in defense of the Third Imperium.
“Such power is not meted out frivolously or with abandon. Those of us who have such power as part of our position know the terrible responsibility it carries. This why we exalt and respect those select few who are given such power, and why such an honor is often bestowed upon those who have given up their lives in pursuit of the ideals of the Empire. So let us celebrate that there is at least one among us tonight who has successfully upheld and, Great Maker willing, will continue to uphold that which is best in the Empire! I present to you, Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium!”
The tumult thundered so loudly in the hall that Atopia thought the delicate crystal in the chandelier above her head would shatter. It went on for so long that she found herself blushing at it all, laughing for no reason before finally acknowledging the crowd by holding the Rod aloft.
An hour later, she had collapsed into a very comfortable couch in alcove off the main hall. The party continued while she sought refuge from nobles she only knew by reputation toasting her health and success. It’s going to be Nine Hells of hangover on the morrow, she thought as her body tried to find some semblance of equilibrium once again. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on elements of the party she could hear for several minutes as she gently clasped the Rod in her lap. The musical tinkling of ice on leaded crystal brought her back from her musings.
Seated on either side of her was Duke Darius (her right) and Duke Wymark (her left). Before she could rise, hands on both her shoulders gently restrained her. “My dear,” said Duke Darius, “you are in no shape to stand right now.”
Duke Wymark held a detox tablet in his hand. Without a word he placed it in her mouth and allowed her a swallow of cool water to wash it down. “Relax and let it work,” he advised her, “we have serious matters to discuss.”
“So,” she said as the pill went to work, “do you really think there’ll be another war on the Imperial Frontier?”
“Unfortunately,” replied Duke Wymark, “I do. So does Emperor Strephon as well as Archduke Adair, so I’m in good company, if nothing else. Even though it is at the other end of the Empire, we of the nobility will have to keep our eyes open. The Imperium has too many enemies that would use the excuse of war to try to forward their own agendas if they should sense weakness in any of us.”
Atopia burped, fighting down the urge to gag on its wickedly acidic burning in her throat. Duke Wymark offered her another sip from his glass, which helped. “Okay,” she said at last, “I think I’m ready for serious conversation again.”
“By all accounts,” said Duke Darius, “you’re going to try tomorrow afternoon to go nose-to-nose with Viscount Trager Duvalier over the dissolution of House Verne. What do you think of your chances?”
“My bloc consists of thirty nobles at last count, Your Grace,” replied Atopia, “Plus, I’ve been working on countering his arguments, since I happen to know what they’ll be.”
“Then I’m going to make a small request of you,” said Duke Darius, “Don’t win in such a way that’ll divide the Moot.” Atopia looked over at him. “I mean it,” he continued, “I need these people working together, especially with war on the horizon.”
Atopia made a face but nodded all the same. “I won’t divide the Moot, Your Grace.”
Duke Darius smiled and returned the nod. “Thank you,” he said.
It was Duke Wymark’s turn after that. “I’m going to recommend to the nobles I control in the Moot not to nominate you for the Sector Moot coming up next year,” he said. “Of course, you are just as welcome as any noble to show up on your own and participate – that’s your right, after all.”
Atopia’s brow furrowed. “May I ask why, Your Grace?”
“It’s nothing sinister, I assure you,” he said with a chuckle, “I just don’t want you to get burned out on politics, especially since I am formally inviting you to accompany me to the Grand Imperial Moot on Capital in 1110. Your starship crew and daughter would be welcome to accompany you as well.”
That took a moment to sink in. “I’ll have to think about it, Your Grace,” she said, “but I do want to say yes.”
“That’s understandable,” replied Duke Wymark. “It’s a long trip to Capital from Belaya, even in a jump-four-capable warship. Plus, the Grand Imperial Moot usually runs a couple of cycles, at least. On the upside, it would be your chance to meet His Majesty in person. I know I am looking forward to doing so. Anyway, I will send you my travel itinerary within a few cycles, but count on being busy for the better part of a year.”
“I’m honored,” she said, “I really don’t know what to say, Your Grace.”
He patted her shoulder as he and Duke Darius rose to their feet. “Think about it,” he said, “but not too hard for right now. You’ve got Nine Hells of a day coming up tomorrow, and I would hate to think I distracted you.”
133-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven
-- from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering
It’s the wee hours of the morning and I simply can’t sleep. Maker knows, I’ve tried. So much happened yesterday… and there’s the reason why I can’t sleep. If I can organize it, perhaps the wheels in my mind will stop spinning long enough to catch forty winks.
I spent the morning sick with the hangover I’d been expecting. Detox tablets can sober you up for a while, but they can’t fight off the aftereffects of simply imbibing way too much alcohol over too long a period. As a result, I just barely made it to the Naval Assessment Committee meeting. The crowd of Navy veterans there gave me a standing ovation – partly for being named Defender of the Imperium, but mostly for surviving the celebration after the ceremony.
I was dreading the afternoon, but I knew I was going to have to simply do my best. I tried not to look at the verdicator set up to the right of the chairwoman’s podium, but it was there anyway, waiting. When Baronet Decima nodded my way, I knew that Gerard was waiting in the wings.
I’ll hand it to His Excellency, he was prepared for a fight. Trager outlined all of the crimes for which François was guilty, providing proof for each one, each time insinuating without naming names that those crimes were impossible to accomplish without some kind of assistance. Including the summary, it took over an hour for him to lay it all out.
Then he detailed the reasons to end House Verne, mostly centering on the idea that the entire house had been complicit in the treason of François and how that any offspring of his, legitimate or otherwise, were undeserving of the honor of being considered Imperial nobility. He also implied that all within that accursed house were Ine Givar sympathizers, as was anyone who defended them.
Baroness Selene gaveled the Moot back to order after he finished. It was fairly obvious that emotions were running high. The ADF troopers in the gallery had to subdue and remove several audience members during the presentation, mostly those who agreed with Trager’s argument who’d gotten carried away.
“Does the Moot stand united in this matter?” asked Her Ladyship.
I took a breath and stood. “It does not!” I called from my place on the third ring of the Assembly.
“The Chairwoman recognizes Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium,” said Baroness Selene. “Come forth and say thy peace.”
The walk to the podium was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I could hear the murmur from the Moot mingling with the babble of media reporters in the gallery above. Baroness Selene tapped the gavel several times to gently remind the rest of the throng that the Moot was still in session.
And then I began taking the Viscount’s carefully crafted case apart, point by point. I was very careful to argue directly to him, only making eye contact with him and no one else. I could see him seething as I made each point, providing perfectly plausible explanations to counter his. He was reaching the boiling point when I announced that I had an expert witness to bring additional testimony to the matter.
When I called for Gerard Verne, the Viscount exploded. “I will not stand for the son of a traitor to stain this honorable institution!” he yelled. Several others in the Moot objected loudly as well. The gallery bordered on chaos.
The gavel’s rifle report cut through noise and brought all of it to an immediate halt. Even I had flinched at the sound of it. “The Moot will come to order!” she shouted. “No further outbursts from the gallery will be tolerated. Members of the Moot who wish to speak must stand silently until whomever has the floor recognizes them.”
After a pause, the Baroness continued. “Gerard Verne has been called to bear witness before this body,” she said. “Sergeant-at-Arms, please escort him into the hall.”
Gerard still wore the hooded robe as he entered into the chamber. He bowed before the assembled nobles. “My apologies that you must bear my shameful presence,” he said. He pulled back the hood revealing his features before turning back to face Baroness Selene. “I am Gentleman Gerard Verne, son of the traitor François Verne of Yantra.”
Baroness Selene regarded him for a moment before speaking. “Do you understand that if you bear witness before this body, you will be subject to additional questioning by other members of the Moot?” she asked.
“I do,” he said, “and give my consent to have my statements confirmed by the verdicator.”
Baroness Selene gestured toward the chair with the large globe above it. The Sergeant-at-Arms aligned all the sensors and then indicated he was ready.
I stepped forward and looked at Gerard. “I’m going to ask the one question that should have been asked at the beginning,” I said evenly. I turned toward Viscount Trager and watched him as I spoke. “Gerard, are you traitor to the Imperium?”
“No,” he replied. By Trager’s expression, I could tell the globe was blue – Gerard was telling the truth.
“Gerard, did you ever knowingly aid your father in acts against the Imperium in any way?”
“No.” Again, the globe was blue.
“When did you begin to suspect that your father was a traitor to the Imperium?”
“When Marquis Dr. Toyama Weston arrived on Yantra in 1105 to rescue Count Lars Wyndham. It was at that time that His Excellency explained to me his suspicions that tied my father to the Ine Givar plot to infect the populace of Narmada with the weaponized AZOOR virus.”
Blue, yet again. The globe showed not a single flicker of purple or red. The anger was slowly melting away from Trager’s face.
“When you helped Saffron Marteau escape from Yantra in 1098, did you know what the datachip you were helping her smuggle off-world contained?” I asked as I took a step closer to Trager.
“No,” he replied. Still the globe was blue.
“Then why did you help her?”
There was a pause, the globe was flickering purple – a sign of emotional stress.
Trager stood and spoke, but his voice was surprisingly gentle. “Answer the question, Gerard,” he said.
“Because… she was like a mother to me… and I loved her,” he said as tears began run down his cheeks.
The globe was blue. Gerard was sobbing. Trager left his seat and embraced Gerard. The Viscount started to weep as well. Somehow, Olivia was there, clutching me tightly, and she was crying too.
It took many minutes for everyone to regain the handle on their emotions. Finally, Baroness Selene tapped the gavel to bring the Moot back to order. “The Chairwoman recognizes His Excellency, Viscount Trager Duvalier of Yantra,” she said.
“In light of the evidence presented by Her Ladyship,” he said, “I motion that my original motion for the dissolution of House Verne of Yantra be withdrawn and that Gentleman Gerard Verne be formally acclaimed as heir to the property and assets of that house when he comes of age.”
There was no lack of seconds for the motion. It carried unanimously on a voice vote.
There were more tears for me afterward. Ian Richards, the oldest son of the late Baron Alton Richards, was formally acclaimed at His Grace, Duke Darius’ residence last night. Baron Ian Richards invited me to visit his fief – Arcology Delta Emerald Six Nine – after the Moot is ended.
Motherhood calls. Little Olivia is fussing in her sleep. Maybe she can help me get some of mine own...