Sunday, February 4, 2018

For the Love of Money                


142-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven

“Mommy?” A small hand gently shook Atopia’s shoulder.  “Mommy,” said her daughter, “Samantha says you need to wake up.  Dame – um, Baroness Olivia just dropped by.”

Atopia stretched and yawned while rolling over onto her side to face her daughter.  “What time is it, honey?” she asked.

“Ten-thirty,” Little Oliva replied.

A quick look past her daughter’s face to the wall chronograph confirmed the time – roughly three and a half hours past the typical sunrise time in Red Sun City.  Of course, Atopia thought, morning is relative when one has spent most of the night socializing.  Duke Darius’ Farewell Mixer, the final event of the Subsector Moot, had been very well attended and had went exceptionally well, now that the political maneuvering was done – at least for another two years or so.  After making the rounds of a number of congratulatory toasts to the newly minted nobles and farewells to friends, she’d spent the rest of the evening into the early morning hours in the company of Sir Winston Blakely, M.D.

Initially, she had tried to convince herself that it was just because he needed to be convinced to join her crew.  However, he’d been charming enough that she had to abandon that pretense entirely within the first ten minutes.  They had departed the mixer early and spent the rest of night enjoying each other’s company.

Her daughter cocked her head to one side and smiled at her.  “Mom, what are you smiling at?” she asked with a hint of a laugh.

Atopia caught up her daughter in her arms and pulled her into the bed with her.  “My beautiful daughter,” she said as they hugged.  She let the moment pass before letting Little Olivia go.  “Okay,” added Atopia, “go tell Samantha I’m up and getting dressed.”  The child bounded out of the bedroom and the door obediently slid shut behind her.

Atopia groaned as she rose and made her way to the sonic shower to start another day.

Baroness Olivia was already savoring a mug of freshly brewed coffee at the dining table as Atopia entered the main room of what would soon become someone else’s apartment.  Samantha handed her a steaming mug and placed a small plate with a breakfast scone in front of her.  Atopia nodded politely to her ship’s steward – a subtle sign for her to take Little Olivia out of the apartment for a while.

The baroness looked like she was ready to travel, wearing a stylishly rugged long-sleeved olive tunic and brown pants with a number of functional pockets.  Her leather boots were black as well, with a series of brushed steel buckles accenting their richly polished sheen.  It took a moment for Atopia to realize that it was actually a military uniform with her newly-made family emblem – vert per chevron tenné, triad lance heads argent – on a hexagonal patch on her right shoulder.

Olivia waited quietly while Atopia had her bite of breakfast.  “I apologize for calling on you so early,” she said as Atopia was finishing her last bite of the scone.  “My transport back to Moksha will be leaving soon.”

“I guess I needed to catch up on my beauty sleep,” replied Atopia as she dabbed crumbs from the corners of her mouth.

Olivia nodded.  “I wish I had that luxury,” she confided, “but I’ve a planet to rebuild and I can’t rely on His Grace’s generosity if I’m going to make that happen.”

It was Atopia’s turn to nod.  “And I have to get my ship back to commerce if I’m every going to pay her off,” she replied.  “It may not be a planet, but it and the people who help me run it mean the world to me.”

The baroness looked down in her coffee, heaving a quick sigh but saying nothing.  Atopia saw her shoulders quaking as she set mug on the table and brought her hands to her face.  “I’m sorry,” she said after a moment while wiping her eyes.  “With everything that’s been going on, I really haven’t had time to deal with…”  She didn’t finish the thought.

Danforth, Atopia thought, He meant everything to her, even if she didn’t know how to show it.

“I am so very sorry that we couldn’t save his life,” Atopia said softly.

“I know,” said Olivia, “but you did everything you could.  His sacrifice and your efforts helped me bring an end to the war.”

The baroness wiped her eyes, the act allowing her replace the soldier’s mask she typically wore for the public.  “I never properly thanked you for saving me,” she continued, “but I’m here to remedy that.  You mentioned before that you would be interested in investing in Moksha?”  Atopia nodded and Olivia continued.  “I’ve reserved the right for you to claim the mineral rights of up to twenty-five hundred hectares of the gem fields of the Glaurung Mountains before anyone else gets to file a claim.”

Atopia blew out a breath.  “That’s… almost… excessively generous, Your Ladyship,” she said.

Olivia shook her head.  “No,” she replied, “you’ll still have to invest a rather significant sum to develop your claim, plus bring in people – trustworthy people – to run the enterprise while you’re being a gypsy merchant.”

“Wouldn’t you rather have locals doing that?” Atopia asked.

“What locals I can employ are staying,” said Olivia, “but I need outside investors – profitable ones – whom I can tax to support the infrastructure that the Imperial Army Corps of Engineers are in the process of building for me.  And that means I need population to make it work – laborers, specialists, engineers, technicians and more.  Your contribution would be one of the first steps in that direction.”

It took a moment for Atopia to process that.  “I’ll think about it,” she said at last.  “I have to make a run to Barlow, first.  I’ve already been chartered by Baroness Danielle to haul her entourage and seventy d-tons of environmental equipment there.”

“And smuggle a handful of transients out of there as well, no doubt,” added Olivia with a tight smile.  When she saw Atopia shocked expression, she chuckled.  “The Golden Dawn wouldn’t be the first ship hired to do that, you know.  In fact, I think the only person in the subsector who doesn’t know, is Sir Charles’ mother.”

]: TAS NEWS SERVICE
]: Narmada (1918 Narmada/Wayhaven)
]: Dispatched 142-1107
          ¶ Reports of an outbreak of a potentially lethal form of Immune Reconstitution Inflammatory Syndrome (IRIS for short) on the world of Barlow (2017 Narmada/Wayhaven) were confirmed today by Her Ladyship Baroness Danielle Barlow, who attended the recently concluded Subsector Moot.  She indicated in a prepared statement for the media that the outbreak has so far been confined to that world’s transient population and that a response team from Doctors Without Orbits would be underway for Barlow within a few days.
          ¶ The IRIS outbreak may have been aggravated by an outbreak of viral meningitis among the nearly eight thousand transients on Barlow last cycle, who are forced to live in less than ideal conditions due to the lack of habitat space on that nearly airless world.  Baroness Danielle’s statement laid the blame for the outbreak squarely upon both the Subsector Moot and the Imperial Bureau of Planetary Development for repeatedly rejecting her requests for help in terraforming Barlow.
          ¶ IRIS is not normally infectious to healthy individuals, so there is no quarantine in effect on Barlow at this time.  Doctors Without Borders confirms that it is sending an assessment and triage team to Barlow from here aboard a star liner within three planetary days.

142-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Juliette Azure Oh Nine

The shadows were falling long across Incineration Solitude as Atopia, Sir Charles and Baroness Danielle finished their dinner in Armando’s Restaurant.  It hadn’t been a particularly comfortable dinner, as it was obvious both Sir Charles and his mother were exhausted.  Even in the finery of nobility, the pair looked haggard, eating mechanically but hardly speaking.  Atopia had carried on the conversation on her own for the meal trying politely to engage either of them and failing utterly.

Finally, Baroness Danielle looked across the small table at Atopia.  “I know what my son thinks he’s been doing behind my back for these past few years,” she said, “even if it was expressly against my wishes and he was stealing from the family fortunes to do so.”

Sir Charles nearly dropped his fork.  “And yet you did nothing stop me,” he said after a moment of incredulity.

Danielle shook her head slowly.  “Because you were right all along,” she said to him.  “This fatal IRIS outbreak proves it.  I’ve got the deaths of over four hundred people on my conscience now.  I had the means to solve the problem and simply refused to act.”

Danielle turned back to Atopia.  “I believe my son has already paid you quite well to smuggle some of the transients aboard your ship?” she asked.

Atopia nodded.  “Ten low passengers,” she said.

“If memory serves,” said Danielle, “you have room for another ten middle passengers?”  Atopia nodded again.  “Then I will pay full price for those this time.  If you come back for any more, I’ll pay you twenty-five hundred a head so long as your berths and cabins are full of them when you leave.  If you have any other ship captains you can trust, let them in on the same deal – just sign a document to that effect, understood?”

Atopia nodded and began to smile.  Danielle looked at her quizzically.  “What?” she asked.

“Oh,” she lied, “I was just thinking you look like you both haven’t slept recently.  I’m happy because it isn’t because you are fighting with each other.”

Sir Charles managed a laugh at that.  “No,” he said, “we both were out very, very late last night – the Mixer and an after-party or two.  Then the story about the IRIS outbreak back home came out, so we’re both run ragged now.”

Atopia nodded, still smiling inwardly.  Talk about killing two birds with one stone! she thought as she took a sip of her wine.

143-1107, Narmada, Red Sun City Starport, Landing Pad 137

“…and that brings us to the bridge,” Atopia was saying to Sir Winston as they stepped through the hatch into the compartment.  “This is where you’ll usually find our pilot and navigator, Valo.  During normal space operations, I’m usually in the co-pilot’s couch, there.”

Sir Winston touched the stud that closed the hatch, pressing a second stud that secured it after it hissed shut.  “But since the ship isn’t flying, we’re the only ones up here, Your Ladyship,” he said with a smile as he took her into his arms.  They shared a lingering kiss, and then another.

“So what do you say?” she asked him when their lips finally parted.  “Is twenty-four hundred a cycle plus the occasional bonus enough to lure you aboard and be the Dawn’s doctor?”

“And here I thought the bonus was being able to be with you,” he said with a smile, “or is this how you hire all your crew?”

She playfully pummeled his shoulders before embracing him again.

175-1107, Olt, The Ebonstrand

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

Just a couple more days here in the sun, on the sand, by the water, then I’ll get after being a merchant once again.  But for now, the drinks are cold, the weather is warm, and the scenery is lovely.  That means I have plenty of time here to catch up my journal to the present once again.

I sent ADF General Cassandra Mutabe a digital “Wish You Were Here!” postcard yesterday.  I was very happy for her when she was promoted and took command of the troops of the Autonomy.  It was a marvelous ceremony with a military parade – the marching band was on loan from the Imperial Marines, apparently. Aside from a time or two she’d been with my little girl, I’d never seen her so happy.  Do us all proud, Cassandra!

The transit to Barlow was subdued, to say the least.  Samantha wound up doing very little in her job for them for the first half of the trip – the nobles and their staff kept to their rooms and slept a lot for the first three days.  Apparently, both Her Ladyship and Sir Charles had been working the nobles of the Moot, trying to get some traction for her submission for the two weeks leading up to the session and all during it as well.  I had Winston check up on all of them when they were more rested, but they were just plain worn out.  The rest of the trip seemed a bit more normal – until we got to Barlow, that is.

Conditions on Barlow were worse than even Baroness Danielle had suspected.  The viral meningitis had crossed over into the residential population by the time we got there.  Winston had all of us on anti-viral drugs before we landed, but the death toll from this strain of IRIS had risen to nearly six hundred, and over eight percent of the general population had contracted the viral meningitis, which had killed nearly a dozen victims all by itself.

Even with all that going on, I had to interview potential passengers.  I still have to smile about the idea that struck me at Armando’s.  I wanted to open up a mining operation on Moksha and Barlow had too many miners for the work.  The twenty people I brought aboard are now the core of Moksha Dawn Mining, a subsidiary of Dawn Transport – including Isiah Tombrey, the down-on-his-luck belter I put in charge of the startup, with the financial purse in the hands of Olga Belovol, formerly of Gray Twlight, who’ll get a percentage of the profits for her services.

I got a rough idea of how rich those gem fields are when Baroness Olivia told me about the stash of gems she’d liberated from Colonel Kimani’s compound.  She lowballed the estimate at fifty megacreds and was using the booty to fund the installation of all the basic infrastructure that Fool’s Landing had been lacking for decades.  It’ll include a fusion power plant with enough excess capacity for industrial concerns along with starport improvements and wholesale urban renewal.

“Once all that gets accomplished,” she’d said to me, “this town is going to lose its old name – Fool’s Landing will be renamed Port Danforth.”  I had to nod.  It’s got just the right ring to it.

Even though we’ve run from Moksha to Olt for a bit of pre-emptive R&R, I fired off messages to several nobles I know on Narmada, asking them to send any tactical support types my way when I get back.  Hopefully, I’ll find two that’ll work as bodyguards and combat specialists, as I feel the need will soon arise for that sort of activity once again.

After Narmada, I’ll be heading to the coreward sections of the subsector to finish visiting every world of this volume of space before heading into Belaya Subsector and moseying my way to the capital to participate in the Sector Moot next year as an “at large” noble.

So, with all that ahead of me, it’s time to put down the stylus and go see what sort of mischief my daughter has gotten into while I wasn’t looking…

ex-Navy Lt. Cmdr Sir Winston Blakely, M.D.  56AAAB  4 Terms, Rank 3, Age 36
Medical-3, Auto Pistol-1, Computer-1, Electronics-1, Gunnery-1, Tactics-0
Travellers', Cr60,000

ex-Belter Isiah Tombrey  596B86  5 Terms, Age 40
Jack-of-All-Trades-3, Prospecting-3, Carbine-1, Computer-1, Forward Observer-1, Gambling-1, Instruction-1, Vacc Suit-1, Admin-0, Leader-0
Carbine, Cr3000

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