Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Change of Plans                

Combined map of the Belaya and Narmada Subsectors for reference.

110-1108, Belaya, Crodo Landing, House Gascoyne Residential Complex

The wine was starting to work its magic on Atopia by the time the surprisingly light and informal dinner was cleared away by Sector Duke Wymark’s staff.  His Grace and his wife, Countess Dyota, had made small talk during the dinner they had shared with her and her fiancée, Sir Winston – mostly talking about their upcoming wedding and which of the dozen-odd navy ship captains would have the honor of joining them in matrimony.  But now, both host and hostess had grown quiet as the servants and aides quietly hustled away the last of the food, plates and utensils, pushing a portable wet bar into the room before bowing and being dismissed with a slight wave of the Countess’ hand.

After the last servant had exited the small but airy lounge, His Grace drew his pocket computer from his jacket, tapping a few icons on its screen and murmuring a command.  The grand bay window’s view of the sprawl of the Crodo megalopolis habitat from five kilometers up faded to black as the lights inside the room brightened while taking on a blue hue.  And now to business, Atopia thought as she set her wineglass aside and straightened up in her couch.

“Over the past three years,” said Duke Wymark as he pocketed the computer, “there has been an uptick in disruptive and outright seditious activity in both the Belaya and Narmada Subsectors.  The recent reports you have provided along with correspondence from His Grace Subsector Duke Darius Ingersoll regarding incidents in that subsector leads me to a singular conclusion:

“We have an active Ine Givar base of operations within this volume of space.”

Atopia nodded.  “I believe that is reason you wanted me here for the upcoming Wayhaven Sector Moot, Your Grace?”

“Indeed,” he replied, “your testimony, along with that of members of Duke Darius’ entourage that is due to arrive within a few days, will be used raise awareness of this situation among the Peerage and to spur the Moot to action on this matter.  However, I did not take on the responsibilities of this post to patiently wait for others to act; nor did I bestow one of the Imperium’s highest honors upon you to do the same.”

“I am yours to command, Your Grace,” said Atopia in the formal response.  “How may I serve the empire?”

“I will need you to take definitive action in my name,” he replied as he nodded to his wife.  The countess turned in her seat and pulled a holoframe from behind the couch, handing it to her husband.

The Duke regarded it for a moment, composing himself before tapping the surface of the rectangular slab of transparent plastic.  “I, Sector Duke Wymark Gascoyne, Ruler and Protector of Wayhaven Sector, Domain of Sol of the Third Imperium, and Defender of Imperial Citizenry throughout Known Space and Beyond; do hereby authorize Baronet Atopia Kesslering, Defender of the Imperium, to take whatever actions she sees fit to end the threat and influence of the Ine Givar terrorist group, or groups, currently operating within the volume of space encompassed by the Belaya and Narmada Subsectors.  It is my command that those elements and organizations of the Imperium and its member world governments honor this edict and provide whatever assistance is requested and required to allow Her Ladyship to execute my will in this matter.”

His Grace tapped the frame again and then offered it to Atopia with a bow.  Atopia rose and curtseyed in return as she accepted it.  His Grace gestured for her to return to her seat.

“It is the belief of Imperial Naval Intelligence,” said Countess Dyota as she retrieved her own pocket computer from the end table beside her, “that the Ine Givar have established a base of operations on Logone in this subsector.  There is much evidence, much of which stems from your direct actions, stretching back over the past decade or more to support this conclusion.”

A holographic projector mounted in the ceiling powered up and the empty space between the couches filled with words and three-dimensional images as she spoke.  “Around Imperial Year 1095, the traitor François Verne, then a Baron on Yantra, was initially contacted by representatives of the Ine Givar.  Over the course of the next two years, he received several visitors who travelled there from Logone.

“Using the traitor’s connections to Helix BioTech, they convinced him to start a bioweapons development program to aid the terrorist organization’s efforts to destabilize Imperium member worlds and target those members of the Peerage who could impede or thwart their efforts in future years.  It was from that source that the weaponized AZOOR virus outbreak on Narmada came, as well as the repurposed microsurgical nanites that were intended for use untraceable assassination weapons.”

“Which also,” interjected Atopia, “led to the murder of my daughter’s birth mother, Saffron Marteau, at the hands of two of the thugs her father employed, several years later.”

“Marc Roatta and Bernard Pernet were not in the employ of the traitor,” replied Her Excellency.  “Their identity cards had been issued on Logone, leading the I-N-I to believe they were working for Ine Givar as well.  Ms. Marteau was an operational liability in their plans that had to be dealt with to delay the response to the threat of the virus on Narmada.

“In the months leading up to the release of the weaponized AZOOR virus, Ine Givar operatives befriended Count Lars Wyndham, a particularly wealthy and approachable member of the Peerage.  Using the traitor’s name, they lured him, his wife and daughter into a trap on Yantra, holding them prisoner while gaining access to his funds and businesses to forward their agenda.”

Sir Winston shook his head in disbelief.  “It’s hard to believe that a terrorist organization would have this capacity for long-range planning, Your Excellency.”

“True,” replied the Countess, “but the Ine Givar has always received funding from sources outside the Imperium for its activities.  This time around, it is evident that at least a few members of the Peerage in this volume of space have been complicit in their activities, possibly to the point of giving the organization financial and logistical support.”

“If that’s the case,” said Atopia, “I’ll find them and deal with them, personally.”

“As you see fit,” said Dyota with a nod before continuing.  “The actions of Marquis Toyama and Leif Grenfeld to both head off the effects of the AZOOR virus and to rescue Count Lars and his family exposed the traitor’s link to the Ine Givar, and forced François into hiding on Logone.  The only way he could have joined a legitimately registered mercenary outfit like Rogue Moon is with counterfeit identification – something only the Ine Givar could have provided with help from the Logone Consortium, the government of that world.

“The traitor had extensive holdings in SuSAG – a fact which the late Baron Alton Richards, acting at the behest of Duke Darius, had uncovered shortly before he was assassinated by mercenaries hired by Rand Tyler, who had extensive dealings with the megacorporation in previous years.”

“But," interrupted Atopia, "François was already dead by that point.  I had assumed that SuSAG was trying to protect its reputation, or that the order had been given before I traveled to Nan pursuing reports of Doc Frankenstein trying to ramp up his bioweapons research programs again.”

“And you found that the traitor was working alongside a war criminal to continue the efforts of the Ine Givar to produce new biological terror weapons,” replied Dyota.  “With his legitimate assets frozen by Duke Darius’ decree, where could he have obtained the funds for such ambitions?”

Sir Winston’s brow furrowed.  “Another noble,” he said suddenly, “living on Logone?”

Dyota nodded with a shadow of a smile.  “Very good, Sir Winston; there is such a noble living on Logone - Contessa Gretl Iyayesu Schunamamm.  She is a nearly direct descendent of the original founder of SuSAG, and holds a major portion of the shares.  She also owns majority shares of the corporations and companies of the Logone Consortium, as well as a good chunk of the mercenary outfit Rogue Moon.”

“Someone with that much money and power would command a much higher rank in the Peerage,” said Duke Wymark, “if not for SuSAG’s support of telepaths during the Psionic Suppressions.  After all, SuSAG earned its first fortunes synthesizing psi-enhancement drugs.  If they hadn’t branched out their operations significantly, the suppressions would have been the end of them.”

“Marquis Toyama’s actions on Teleajen,” said Dyota, “while extreme, did produce the evidence of the connection between SuSAG and the Ine Givar.”

Atopia repressed a shudder.  After the Marquis had used a truth drug on Rand Tyler to get the names of the four people who’d hired him to recruit assassins, the noble had traveled to Teleajen clandestinely with a black operations team pulled from his arcology’s security forces.  He beheaded three of them with his katana to get the last one to produce the evidence.  And I protected him by blocking any further investigation of those murders by Imperial authorities at the Subsector Moot last year, she thought.

“So Contessa Gretl’s the key to the Ine Givar?” asked Atopia aloud.  “But why would she be working with them?  It couldn’t be for revenge, could it?”

“That,” said Duke Wymark, “is what I want you to find out.”

112-1108, Belaya, Crodo Landing Starport, Main Terminal

Olivia was blinking back tears as they descended the escalator to the passenger level.  Valo squeezed her hand but said nothing.  His timeworn IISS duffle bag was slung over his other shoulder.  Atopia and Winston rode on the step behind them, saying nothing as well.

Atopia winced, thinking about her daughter watching yet another person who had been part of her adopted family leaving her life, possibly forever.  The list was getting quite long and showed no signs of stopping.  At least I managed to get Tabitha, Hawk, Lisa, Samantha and John to stay on, Atopia thought as they reached the bottom and stepped off.

Valo Arenson had made his intentions known during the Narmada Subsector Moot that while he had appreciated the opportunity to be her starship pilot, he had no intention of travelling with Atopia to the Grand Imperial Moot on Capital.  Ever since Baroness Olivia Servantes had taken over on Moksha, Valo had desired to return home and help with the rebuilding effort there.  He’d also agreed to look in on Atopia’s fledgling mining operation and keep her appraised of its situation at regular intervals.

But none of that was making this any easier for her daughter.  “You’ll write me letters?” Olivia asked of him yet again.

Valo stopped and dropped to one knee so he could look Olivia in the eye.  “Letters with lots of holographs,” he said with a smile.  She gave him a hug which he returned.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” she said, “but mom says this is what you really want to do.”

“It is,” he said.  “Moksha is my home world.  I left there because it was a terrible place when I was growing up.  Now that Baroness Olivia is in charge of things, it has a chance to be someplace much better.”

“I miss Alagon sometimes, too,” replied little Olivia, “but not as much as I used to.”

“Yeah,” said Valo.  “But, you’ve got family right here.”  He gave her a kiss on the forehead.

He stood and shook Winston’s outstretched hand.  “Sorry that I’m going to miss the wedding,” he said.

“It is a fool of a person who doesn’t follow where their heart leads,” said the doctor with a smile.  “Don’t worry about it.  I’m sure a whole slew of holographs will be wending their way throughout the X-boat network.”

Valo turned at last to Atopia.  She gave him a hug.  “You be careful,” she said.

“That’s my line,” he said, “since you’re the one with the bad habit of going in harm’s way.”

For that, she had no answer.  Valo nodded and they silently regarded one another for a moment.

“Well,” he said at last, “I’ve got a transport to catch.  Clear skies to you all.”

He turned and walked away without looking back, disappearing into the busy foot traffic of the passenger terminal.

131-1108, Belaya, Crodo Landing Starport

--from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering

She’s still got that new ship smell.  I got to go aboard her for the first time today.  She hasn’t even been christened.  I already have a good name for her.  I’m hoping that I’ve hired up a good crew, because she’s a lot larger than Golden Dawn – six hundred displacement tons and thirteen crew members, not counting Olivia and I.

Olivia should be happy, though.  She’ll be getting her own cabin aboard the Silver Starlight.  I’ll be getting a cabin to share with my fiancée for a night or two before the big ceremony.  The honeymoon will have to wait, though, as I can’t put off my mission to His Grace any longer than that.  Belaya to Prahova to Mengrenel to Logone is the route we’ll take – straight into harm’s way, as Valo said.

And once things are settled around here – assuming all goes well, of course – then we’ll turn our backs on Wayhaven Sector and begin the long run to Core.

There’s not been much time for politics or partying for me at this Moot.  I had to be hooked up to the verdicator again.  Apparently, there were several powerful nobles who needed convincing about the threat of the Ine Givar and they grilled me for nearly two hours over every detail.  Marquis Toyama was hooked up for nearly three hours, but nobody asked him anything about what he’d done on Teleajen, thank The Maker.

The rest of the time has been spent selling Golden Dawn so I’d have a down payment for the Starlight, and finding enough crew to fly her.  With the endorsement of His Grace, at least I won’t be paying any interest on the rest.  Even with the Dawn tossed in, I own half again as much as I owed on my previous ship.

Okay, I’m just rambling now.  It’s time to call it a night.

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