Oct 142012

Read me the story:
abstract representation, in blues & grays on white, of binary dataThe look Jarvin gave her as she entered the Meeting Room would have peeled duracoat from titanium-alloy, and the impatient, skeptical looks on the faces of some of the other sixteen Seated Members promised signal vengeance for this disturbance visited upon them by (presumably) a female whim. She’d said very little in the three regular sessions they’d held so far, so it was hardly surprising they believed in her reputation as the eccentric, erratic, Kerant family ne’er-do-well. Only Undas Matlor, the cynical Member for Transport and a survivor of the old CivAdmin, knew her at all.

“Honorable Speaker, Esteemed Members,” she began, conventionally enough, but then dispensed with protocols that had evolved in a more leisured and less perilous era—all of twenty days ago. “The matter at hand is a notice from Ermetyne Finance Conglom that they have petitioned Galactibank Central for precautionary liens on our colony’s protectorates of Nerith Zeta, S’dernat, Lojau Hen, Surimaka Delta, and Aijala w’Oth. They have also placed the payment schedules of our primary and secondary notes under pending review.” She paused a beat.

“It is highly unlikely that the petition will be denied.”

She waited a moment for this to sink in, and sure enough, only half-a-dozen or so seemed to grasp the situation. One, for a wonder, was Jarvin, whose petulant expression had vanished into a half-frown. Another was Undas Matlor, who leaned back in his chair with a blank expression she knew meant he was connecting the dots… he’d be ahead of her in a minute or two, the old fox.

“I’ve routed to your screens,” she clicked the ‘send’ button, “a breakdown of those notes, the refinanced payment schedule that was contracted seventeen years ago, and a summary of the last semi-annual balance sheet. Please review.”

Frowning, the Seated Members turned attention to their screens. One by one, their looks of irritation, puzzlement, or indifference changed. Mostly to shock, but in some cases to wary confusion.

“Blessed Warrior…” muttered the Member for External Commerce, the other survivor (besides Jarvin and Matlor) of the old CivAdmin.

“But… I don’t understand! These figures… on the remaining notes outstanding… can’t be right! Certainly, we contracted additional obligations in the wake of the Mutiny, but those were a separate transaction. And short-term. Weren’t they?” Pentik Mabry was the newly-Seated Member for Planning Coordination. “And these figures are, uh, arranged differently than when they were presented at the last semi-annual review. Aren’t they?”

Zarel spared him an approving nod. Mabry might be young, but his family had been grooming him for a CivAdmin seat. He’d been following the issues of importance to his Seat, and since his hasty appointment, he’d been working hard to grasp the essentials of his division’s responsibilities. “Quite so, Member Mabry. A well-chosen word, ‘arranged.’ Without going into the sins of our predecessors,” she carefully avoided glancing at her brother, “past Finance reports seem to have aimed more at avoiding awkward questions than providing a clear financial picture.”

“The initial notes taken out from Rezprom Interhub after the Mutiny were secured separately with a revenue interest in the Lojau Hen protectorate. Once it became clear that the net revenues from Lojau Hen would remain, ah, inadequate, for an indefinite period, we offered to refinance. Rezprom refused. They sold the note to Ermetyne Finance Conglom, who offered us what seemed—then—favorable terms on a consolidation and refinance, to be secured by capital shares in the protectorates aforementioned.”

“I had no idea that the capital debt was still so large… Wasn’t the whole point of having protectorates to develop revenue sources to speed the payoff rate on our capital debts?” The Member for Air frowned.

Undas Matlor chuckled mirthlessly. “Theoretically. Unfortunately, the costs of the military operations required to take and hold the protectorates invariably exceeded—by a large measure—the expense estimates. And we’ve never been as successful as we’d like to think we are at generating revenue from protectorates.” He glanced sardonically at the Speaker.

Jarvin, to his credit, didn’t rise to the bait. Of course, he’d been Seated only three years ago, so it was still possible for him to blame any sins of his division on his predecessors.

The Member for Military Liaison, however, seemed to take a personal affront. “Perhaps if certain Democratic Companies in the military supply sector worried less about inflating profit margins, and more about meeting timelines and staying within budgets, there would be less discongruity between estimates and reality,” he sneered, glancing pointedly at the Member for External Commerce and at Zarel herself.

She snorted. “Member Nexep, having requested this Emergency Meeting to acquaint the CivAdmin with a very real and very immediate threat, I’ve done my job. If we don’t want to discuss this information further in any substantive way, I’m happy to adjourn the meeting, and you can convene a meeting to discuss the sins of our dead rivals at your leisure.”

She was older than anyone at the table except Matlor, and most of them were young enough to be her children. The tone of voice she used was one that had always been particularly effective with her own tiresome offspring during their pre-adolescent adjustment adventures. There was a momentary, rather shocked, silence.

Jarvin stared at her, eyes narrowed. All of Harlis’ warnings about their sister’s intractability, unfeminine willfulness, and filial disrespect came back to him in a rush, and it took a severe struggle of will to set aside the impulse to deal with a wayward sister, and address the crisis at hand. A crisis she’d brought to their attention, of course. He found himself on the verge of grinding his teeth, and pursed his lips, instead. She hadn’t actually created the crisis, after all.

“Order, please, Members. As Member Kerant has reminded us, this is her Emergency Meeting until she chooses to adjourn or until a majority votes for adjournment. Do I hear a motion for adjournment?”

He let the silence stretch a good fifteen seconds before he nodded at his sister. “Member Kerant.”

She nodded back. “Honored Speaker.” Then she looked around the big table. “Members, the facts are at hand. The liens will be granted, I can assure you. Nothing in Galactibank Central’s historical pattern gives us any hope otherwise. You have all seen our current balance sheet, and our current revenues and immediate projections. Even with full control of the protectorate revenues, we would soon have fallen behind on capital debt payments. I’d hoped we could squeeze five years out, to give ourselves time for contingency planning.”

She shook her head. “We would have faced the decision soon enough, in any case. But the Three must now chart our course of action in the light of this new information. It will be incumbent on us to ensure that our Speaker,” she nodded in Jarvin’s direction again, “has the information and support needed for these deliberations. Honored Speaker,” she addressed Jarvin directly, “What do you wish from our divisions, and from this body?”

He blinked a moment, then picked up his cue. He looked down at the figures on the screen, then back up at the others. All eyes were on him. He blinked again, and drew a deep breath. “Right now, we need to be sure we understand all the implications of this information, and develop some preliminary recommendations for action. I will have to present this information to the Supreme Commander and the Cardinal Prelate, and it might be useful to have some options to consider.”

“In addition, I would ask each of you to accelerate the timing on the resource inventories your divisions have been conducting. If the Member for CivAdmin Operations would be so kind, could you coordinate the receipt and summarizing of the inventories, Felep?”

Felep Kostak’s mouth dropped open, but he nodded. “Yes, Honored Speaker, certainly.”

“Very well. Member Kerant, if you accede, may we adjourn this Emergency Meeting, and I will convene a regular session in one hour from now?”

“The meeting is adjourned, Honorable Speaker,” Zarel bowed respectfully. Slowly, the eighteen civil leaders of Klaros dispersed.

Oct 022012

Read me the story:
A long oval table with pads, chairs, water & cups arranged for a meeting, against white walls and an artificial tree and "window" viewscreen.“There’s a three-flagged message, Member.” Zarel detected a faint resentment in her First Assistant’s voice—Porlot had expected her to give him the comcodes to screen all incoming traffic, but she’d limited him to low- and medium-priority matters. He’d be complaining to her brother Jarvin any time now, but let him. Until she had a better handle on Klaros’ financial position, she wasn’t letting any of Jarvin’s greedy little timeservers paddle their fingers in the tank.

Although it would have been a great relief to have someone she could trust to discuss things with—what she’d already learned was unnerving, to say the least. Even frightening. Why hadn’t the rest of the CivAdmin asked any questions of her predecessor, when the semi-annual financial presentations were reviewed? The colony’s capital debt was being reduced at a glacial pace, and the refinancing after the Lojau Hen mess had locked them into some very risky terms. There was going to be trouble, and this triple-flag message might be it.

She entered the security sequence on her comconsole, and looked up to see Porlot hovering in the doorway. “Yes, Mainyr?” she asked, with pointed civility. He vanished.

The message queue came up, and she selected the one with three flags and entered her decrypt key.

Half an hour later Porlot was startled by the abruptness of the ping on his comconsole, and the tension in the Member’s voice. It was even more ominous that she abandoned the meticulous politeness she usually used to him, addressing him without preliminary courtesies. “I need the backup cubes from the last semi-annual Statement, including detail on all balance sheet accounts, right now.”

Resentment at being so peremptorily ordered around by a female warred with a sudden, uncomfortable reminder of Zarel’s father’s manner when he was hot after some devious commercial maneuver. Or dealing with some incompetent subordinate.

The backups were among the cubes the Speaker—the former Speaker, Porlot reminded himself—had sent up in that last shuttle. They were readily available; all the Finance-coded cubes had been promptly routed to his office. He selected the correct cube, and took it to the Member, who barely looked up, and acknowledged him only with a nod, as he handed it to her. “Member…?”

“Not now.” Curtly.

Frowning, he left the office. Should he heads-up the Speaker? Surely Jarvin would be concerned to know the extent to which his crazy sister was exercising authority in the Finance office; he had assigned Porlot as her First Assistant to do the real work. But if Porlot complained, he’d likely be moved out of the office for failing to do his job, and the post given to some other of Jarvin’s hangers-on. That didn’t suit Otas Porlot, who had big ambitions.

Zarel was annoyed to see her hand tremble as she dropped the cube into the scanner. She was getting old, she supposed. And if the cube confirmed what she suspected…

It did. Warrior’s guts, but they were in trouble. And given their reluctance to deal with “bean counter” matters and their disdain for a female colleague, she’d have to have every single fact lined up and explained in one-syllable words for the rest of CivAdmin to see it. Not to mention her dear brother Jarvin.

It was any Seated Member’s prerogative to invoke an Emergency Meeting, though it was hardly ever done. But she could not waste the time it would take to explain everything to Jarvin, get him to understand the exact implications, and convene a regular session, even if it blew her meek pro-forma Seated Member act right through the dome.

She’d need, let’s see… she frowned over the backup documentation sent with the incoming message, and the certified digiseals. A couple of hours to download, transfer, summarize and lay out the information there. Another… three hours, maybe, to dissect those financials and extract the relevant, chilling facts. They’d have to meet at…half-sixteen. Uncomfortably late, but it couldn’t be helped. And in the mean time, she’d have to work in a private place, out of Jarvin’s orbit.

Entering her encryption code, she routed the Emergency Meeting Summons to all of the Seated Members’ desks, then gathered up the relevant datacubes and plastic flimsies, and stopped in her First Assistant’s cubicle on the way out.

“Mainyr Porlot, I’ve summoned an Emergency Meeting for half-sixteen. I’ll be back in time to convene it.” And she swept past him before he could ask any questions.

Sep 162012

A loan statement document, blank, with boxes for interest, payments, etc.“You’ve always been lazy. Bone lazy.”

It wasn’t necessarily true, Zarel thought, but it was probably fair. She inclined her head, a little stiffly. “As you wish, Brother. You are The Kerant.” She took refuge in formality, but it did not appease him. He glowered at her.

“Dammit, Zar, even if you don’t care about the family obligation, you might consider our duty to the people,” but even as he said it, he flushed, aware he’d overstepped. “I’m not discounting the sacrifices you’ve already made. But do you realize what’s at stake, here?”

Probably better than you, you little smarp, she thought, but allowed her face to show no trace of annoyance. She assumed a feminine meekness which, had Jarvin known her better, would have set off all kinds of alarms. “Brother, I’m well aware that civ is disastrously short of leadership, but so too are the Church and the Military. We are all, as you pointed out so eloquently in your last Emergency Message, in this pod together. You’d be opening yourself to considerable censure putting a female, and one who’s so near a relation, in such a sensitive post at this point— why take the risk? Of course I’ll do what I can to help, behind the scenes, as it were.”

He was mollified. Their brother’s advice, “Never let your guard down with her for an instant,” might have been ash floating in the vortexes that engulfed the ravaged planet below them, for all he remembered. “Trust me, Zar. It’ll work out all right. In this case, it’s not so much a case of having you in the position, as not having someone else there. A Tarvine, for instance. Or a Kleksal. You see? You’ve seen the rosters, you know who we’ve got to work with, reconstituting an Administration. The Tarvines and the Kleks—among others—both have to have significant roles, but can you see the surviving doyens of either family in that Seat?”

He had a point. The Tarvine and The Kleksal had both been killed in the Conflagration, among fourteen of the seventeen Seated Members of the Klarosian Civil Administration. Their responsibilities had necessarily devolved to the senior males surviving in each family, which meant in the case of the Kleks, (who were Kerant allies,) a promising but appallingly inexperienced cadet who’d been completing a Practicum rotation on the Port Authority, and in the case of the Tarvines, (who were Kerant rivals,) a venal time-server in Commerce who’d been “inspecting” some incoming cargoes on Kitran.

“Don’t you see? That hitch you did as Adlitem Trustee for Ranlis and Yallan makes it perfectly reasonable to put you in as Finance Pro Tem. Even Harlis agreed your performance was stellar, and that was a complicated Trust. It’s enough experience to make it a reasonable Pro Tem appointment, and without a Klek or Tarvine capable of contesting it, it will have to stand for now. And at least I won’t have that to worry about. I’ll give you some of the best fixers we’ve got left, all you’ll have to do is keep an eye on things and flag me if anything comes up.”

She surveyed her younger brother for a moment, without letting her amusement at his transparency show. He wanted a puppet in Finance, and would doubtless set her up with some fixer from his staff—Galdrin, maybe, or Porlot—to do all the work, while his “lazy” older sister attended Administrative meetings and looked meek and nonthreatening. She wondered, not for the first time, what Harlis could possibly have been thinking of, to confirm this youngest of their father’s sons to the Seat, rather than appointing a Pro Tem for his own younger son Duglis. Just as well, as it turned out, since Harlis, Duglis and his older brother Teb, their sisters and most of their cousins had been vaporized with Kelarant, the family dome, in the Conflagration. At least the Kerants had an adult, functioning doyen who was already in the Administration, which made him almost an automatic choice for Speaker.

She spared a thought for Wallen Torans, who’d died with his hand on the controls when the Conflagration had engulfed Center. There’d been a window of perhaps an hour or so, once the news of the chain reaction at Rayki had been transmitted. Torans could have evacuated—there was always a surface-to-orbit shuttle standing by for the Speaker’s exclusive use—but he’d chosen to load it, methodically, with crucial data cubes and a few priceless historical artifacts, and then put his Chief of Staff’s three young children, who’d been visiting their father’s office as part of a school project that day, into the passenger seats and ordered the shuttle to launch for Station One with seconds to spare before the Northring jathrin domes had begun to collapse.

Jarvin was no Wallen Torans, and Protectorate Affairs had been the least important Administrative Seat. But he’d always been ambitious, according to Harlis. Zarel hardly knew him, he was the son of their father’s fourth wife, and younger than any of her own children. Almost young enough to be a grandchild. “He’s a scrapper, though,” Harlis had said. “And not as stupid as he looks, which is a valuable thing, even if he does take after his mother. One of us—Teb or I—just has to sit on him from time to time to keep him in line. And the extra vote in a pinch is a Creator’s blessing. I let him vote against us from time to time, just keep them guessing, but I can yank him in whenever needed.”

She’d seen Jarvin less than half-a-dozen times, but had never been particularly impressed. He’d been a greedy, pushy, unattractive little boy, and grown into, so far as she could tell, a greedy, pushy, unattractive little man, acquiring nothing of value along the way except a thin veneer of subtlety and a Parkel wife. And now you’re not around to yank him in anymore, Harlis, and he’s an Oligarch, with his hands on the fate of nearly a million survivors, all that is left of Klaros.

But a Kerant Oligarch, at least. How their father would have laughed. Or maybe raged. It had been nearly a hundred years since the last Kerant had sat in the Speaker’s Chair. Tolvin Kerant had spent his whole life scheming to restore the Kerant fortunes after the disastrous Mutiny and the near civil war that had followed had decimated the family’s holdings, and he’d carefully groomed Harlis to be the next Kerant Oligarch. How bloody ironic that this youngest child, least regarded of his offspring, the late flowering of a final near-senescent fling with a fourth wife who had nothing more than looks to recommend her, would take the Chair.

Zarel stood, in a feminine deference that would have had Harlis’ eyes narrowing in suspicion, as Jarvin rose to take his leave, the cares of state almost visibly weighing on his shoulders. “Thank you, Sister. I knew I could rely on you. You’re not nearly as…” he chose a word, carefully, “…flighty, as family reputation makes you out, you know. Now if you can just, uh, tone down… some of your eccentricities… We have to inspire confidence, you know. We’re all the people have,” he said in his most solemn politician’s manner, seemingly oblivious to the offensiveness of his earnest advice.

She didn’t call him on it. She had nearly forty years on him, and a much better-developed sense of proportion. “I’ll do my best to be less eccentric,” she said; in a tone of voice dry enough to wrinkle the very air of the tiny cabin. It was wasted on Jarvin. “I knew I could rely on you to look to your duty in this time of crisis,” he repeated, and then, apparently dismissing her from his thoughts, he bowed perfunctorily and left.

Heavenly Bride! If Jarvin hadn’t been gifted with the infamous Kerant nose, it would have been easy to believe that fashionable mopstick of a bride had played her father false. Duty, indeed, and here it was, descending on her like an avalanche, she who had shirked duty and responsibility successfully, now, for nearly fifteen years. With a wry twist to her mouth, she turned to the datapak he’d left on the little fold-down desk, and began to make herself mistress of the financial affairs of a dead planet.

Aug 272012

Prelate's seat, with chair, canopy, and drapery around it.  A sketch showing the magnificent detail of fabric, construction, and decoration.Each day, a list of arrivals and departures to and from the Pykalt Interstellar Spaceport appeared in the current file of Prelate Lorgan Edrell’s comlink. Not all the arrivals and departures, naturally. Although the Church kept an eye on such comings and goings, routine traffic was handled by officials much lower in the food chain.

Only the names that appeared on a watch list of those tried for heresy or currently suspected of heretical intent ended up on Edrell’s comlink. For the Prelate of Avatar Kanstan’s was also a Senior Interlocutor on Doctrinal Purity.

It would have been an important office in a big downside Province. Unfortunately, Edrell had neither the family pull nor the money to qualify him for such an appointment. Avatar Kanstan’s was the second largest Seat in the Insystem Province, but if you dropped the whole Insystem Province into one of the big downside Provinces it would barely make a ripple. And it was a dead end. The Insystem Provincial was only fifty-two and not ambitious for advancement.

If Edrell wanted to continue his upward path in the Church hierarchy, there was no place to go but downside. He’d carefully schemed for the Doctrinal Purity appointment with that in mind—the Guardian of Doctrinal Purity was well-known to have the Archprelate’s ear.

Thus, Lorgan Edrell was always diligent about following up when the Spaceport monitor alerted him to a clearance application from someone on the Doctrinal Purity watch list. When the double chime alerted him to an incoming communication from that source, he set aside the quarterly tithe report immediately.

So Zarel Kerant was back Insystem. Edrell’s eyes narrowed, and he called one of his lay clerks. “Contact the Censor’s Office, and get copies of the logs and manifests from the Star Song. It just arrived today. Send them to Junior Interlocutor Garstad for analysis, and tell him I want a report at the earliest possible time.”

“Yes, Reverend Prelate.”

It was barely two hours later that the clerk announced Garstad. The older man bowed respectfully as he entered, his Fryar’s habit hushing softly around his ankles. “Reverend Prelate.”

“Please, be seated, Brother,” Edrell invited. “You have the report on the Kerant woman?”

“I do, your Reverence,” he handed over the sliver of mylar as he sat on one of the hard, armless plastic chairs across the desk from his superior.

“Hmmm…. Censor passed on the manifest without inspection, I see,” Edrell frowned slightly.

“Indeed, your Reverence.”

“Got around, didn’t she…? Vir Galan, Tawan Center… Ir Kavatti II…” he scrolled through the list of clearances from each Hub port that the ship had visited. “Oh, now this might be interesting. Auriga VI. Isn’t there a major University League institution there?” He looked up at Garstad.

The Palatinian Fryar rarely showed much expression, but Edrell picked up a clear chill in his innocuous, “That is so, Reverend Prelate.”

Edrell’s eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the man. “But you don’t think we should follow up on this.”

Garstad cleared his throat. “It might present… difficulties, your Reverence. If you will recall the disposition of her case…”

“I wasn’t even in Seminary yet when she was tried, Brother. Refresh my memory,” Edrell was frowning. Probably he should have been able to recall the facts of the case, but his appointment to Doctrinal Purity was recent, and all he recalled was the media sensation that had surrounded a Kerant being arrested for heresy. He’d only been twelve years old at the time, after all.

“Of course, Reverend Prelate. Zarel Kerant was arrested for heresy in two-three-twenty-six, on the basis of an accusation by Randell Tarvine, whose proposal of marriage she had rejected in terms which led him to believe that she held heretical views with particular regards to female duty.”

Edrell nodded. Everyone knew of the long-standing rivalry between the two wealthy Boardsman families.

“A Case for Discussion was opened, under the authority of the Guardian, who himself served as Interlocutor, given the, ah… potential implications.”

Again, Edrell nodded. Naturally, they’d proceeded cautiously, given the money and influence of The Kerant. “Rather surprising that a Case was opened at all, given the source of the accusation.”

“Well, the Mutiny was quite recent.”

Oh, yes. The Kerant had taken quite a hit in the purges that had followed that. Their position had been precarious, for a time. Doubtless The Tarvine had hoped to use the Church to finish off his rival. “I see. And…?”

Fryar Garstad’s thin lips tightened a bit. “I believe the Guardian was prepared to find the accusation baseless, a mere artifact of the old rivalry. However, when the Query was established, he was dismayed to find more than enough corroborating evidence of the original charge, as well as evidence of—at best—doctrinal heterodoxy in several particulars. He really had no choice but to order a full trial.”

“And the disposition?”

“I was not on the Tribunal, you understand, so I have no knowledge of how the disposition came about. The original charge was laid aside, upon representation from The Kerant that, in fact, his daughter had accepted the duties of Adlitem for the orphaned children of his cousin, Resnek. The other charges were reduced to Deviationism, and an administrative penance imposed, the terms of which Zarel Kerant has strictly abided. I believe they included the retention of a Chaplain to act as her personal spiritual advisor, and regular catechetical examinations, as well as in-lieu gratuities to a number of worthy institutions that promote the application of feminine duty.”

“There has never been any reason,” Garstad said with lips slightly twisted, “to connect the extremely generous endowment for the renovation of the Archprelate’s Chancellery, given by The Kerant in memoriam of his second wife, to the disposition of Zarel Kerant’s case.”

“I see,” Edrell said. He did see. The Archprelate and The Kerant’s accounts were neatly balanced, and the books closed. And given the current level of Kerant power and influence, unless Zarel Kerant paraded herself naked across an inverted triangle in the Glorious Revelations Basilica courtyard, the Office for Doctrinal Purity couldn’t touch her. He restrained a sigh. “Very well. Thank you, Brother.”

Aug 262012

Fountain crystals from Liralt-K, in an artificial vacuum display field.Five days before her world died, Zarel Kerant, the ‘eccentric’ older sister of one of Klaros’ wealthiest and most influential commercial barons, returned from a pleasure jaunt in her private yacht, the Star Song. The ship docked at Pykalt Interstellar, along the arm reserved for the cream of the private shipping trade, and she sent her crew—except her personal maid—on leave. Most of them left for the surface of Reveille C, where two sprawling rings of expensively engineered habitat complexes circled the planet just a few degrees from each pole, providing homes for nearly half a billion people.

Zarel’s home was there, too—the vast estate of Kelarant, in the exclusive Vardry Cluster. She had no plans to return there immediately, which was fortunate, as she discovered. Almost as soon as the Star Song had completed docking procedures, her personal comlink chimed.

She accepted the incoming transmission and, just as she expected, the head of the family, The Kerant, who was also her brother Harlis, appeared on the screen.

“Well, the stray lamb returns.” His smile reminded her irresistibly of someone trying to ignore gas pains.

“As you see, Brother,” she agreed amiably.

“Profitable trip?”

She shrugged. “So-so. Gems, foodstuffs, a few artifacts.”

His brow wrinkled. “Artifacts? Nothing…uh…controversial…?”

Zarel was amused. “Nothing that will raise a Censor’s eyebrows, dear Brother. Gharren weavings, some antique Galanian ceremonial weapons, fountain crystals from Liralt-K, that sort of thing. Barely enough to cover the trip expenses, if the truth be told. But I enjoyed myself.” Did he really think she was fool enough to try and smuggle forbidden artifacts past the Censors? Or stupid enough not to know what was on the current interdict list?

His smile relaxed a little. “Well, I’m glad to hear it. It’s been too long since we’ve seen you, Zarel. Ranlis was disappointed you weren’t back for the Yearturn holidays.”

“I got a relay from him when we stopped off at Kitran. Is the wedding scheduled yet? I haven’t updated my family calendar.”

“No, well, you’ve hardly had time, have you? That’s partly why I called… but no, the wedding isn’t scheduled yet. Still three months to run on the girl’s Presentation Year, you know. Bad luck to schedule a wedding before that.”

Something about his manner piqued Zarel’s curiosity, so she connected to the Family network and asked for a calendar update as she replied. “It seems like Ranlis’ Drone Year just ended, too, but it’s been, what… three years? I’ve lost a few hundred hours in the time-dilation lag.”

“Three and a half. You’ll see when you check your calendar.”

And she did, as the current family calendar opened in a window on her comscreen. She also saw a clue as to why Harlis, a man who rarely spared time for family chit-chat, had called her so promptly.

“I see you’re entertaining this Tenday. A reception for the newly-installed Prelate of Five Avatars. Impressive!”

“Ah. Yes.” Harlis cleared his throat, hesitated.

It was tempting to let him squirm, but she tried never to annoy The Kerant needlessly. Especially since there were so many occasions upon which he needed annoying.

“What a shame I won’t be able to make it. I’m planning on staying at Moonstation for a few days. There’s a dealer in Ruv Denal I want to see about these fountain crystals. And I’d like to discuss some refitting for the Song with Three Stars Chandlery. This and that. I notice the Kos Centrum Ancient Music Ensemble is playing at Pykalt Conservatory, too.”

Harlis didn’t let his relief show, she noted. But then, he’d learned a stoneface from their father, who had been one of the best in that line. “Well, I’d convey your greetings, but…” he said with unexpected humor.

She chuckled. “Why spoil what the Kelarant kitchens and wine cellars will effect? Insincerity is a minor sin, but one ill-suited to the presence of a Prelate… unless it’s the Prelate doing the sinning, of course.”

His smile froze again, momentarily, but he let it go with a snort. “Enjoy your stay upside. And if you run across Jarvin, try not to make too much trouble for him.”

“Jarvin? What’s he doing here?” Zarel had never had much of an opinion of the youngest member of the Family’s senior branch.

“He’s got the Protectorate Affairs Seat on the CivAdmin Council now. He’s upside for some kind of meeting. Gotta go now…I’m supposed to be at a senior staff conference. Creator bless you, Sister.”

“Warrior guide you, Brother. Love to Sirlet and the kids,” she broke the connection.

Well, she’d better get busy finding something to occupy herself with upside for a few days. The presence of the only Kerant ever to be tried for heresy would hardly be appreciated downside just now.


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