(14) Solving the Nakege Problem

The Regency Campaign (258-1123)

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258-1123 : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    0:00 today is 0:00 Imperial time.

    Night and day here depend on the positioning of the suns.  The locals measure day by the primary, but at this time of year the secondary will be in the sky for about half the night.  Since the world rotates anticlockwise and orbits the sun the same way, that means in autumn, like it is now, the secondary rises before sunrise.

    Sir Misha Ravanos has decided that watches were not necessary, but they have set up their hand puters to provide a video and audio feed back to Nightshade.
    His suite shares a wall and a mirror image layout with that of Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege.  There is a main central room, which goes through to a balcony.  Off to the side are several bedrooms, a couple of dressing rooms, and a kitchen.
    Mich Saginaw and Teri Cralla have smaller suites either side of these.
    Misha has checked Kalida's bedroom for exits: there are two ways into it, to the main room and to a dressing room that in turn leads to the main room.  That means there is no way in except through that room, and he approved the puter setup.

    Nightshade too settled for the night, taking up a locked position over the city of Crow.

    Kalida wakes up at 06:00.  Misha had already put in an order to wake him and Teri up when she woke, so they're up quickly too.  Mich is allowed to sleep off the night before, but Shark maintains a remote watch on him.
    Kalida knocks on the connecting door to Misha's room, and he pulls the bellrope to order breakfast.

    Breakfast does not, to Kalida's disappointment, come with coffee.  They haven't heard of coffee here, or cocoa for that matter.  Kalida -- who would be fine with chicory if that's what they had -- decides to wait and see what is delivered.  Teri has joined them by the time it arrives.
    Breakfast consists of toast, as well as large crusty bread, fruit perserved with bourbon, meats, soft and hard cheeses, accompanied by some hot beverage that is not something they've seen before.  The drink smells malty, definitely grain derived.

    Outside a light rain falls over the town and lake.  The dark red glow from the secondary barely pushes through the clouds, but the primary is starting to rise and illuminate a rose-colored dampness.

    On Nightshade, Chuck's usual concoction of sweet smoked and fried meat with a heavy bread is their breakfast.

    Mich still hasn't emerged.  The heavy atmosphere and copious Blockade Bourbon took its toll, and he is really not feeling well.

    Kalida rings for a servant, and asks for a meeting with the Gravella as soon as he is available.
    Five minutes later, there is a knock on the door.  The Gravella himself has arrived.  He greets them, and they settle down to business.
    Kalida asks for a brief top-level description of their operation here.
    The Gravella says their purpose is to make bourbon.  Everything else that is required to support the operation and the people is also done here.  They make their own casks from the forest wood, they grow their own grain, they operate their distillery.  The town supports the farming, the woodlands, and so on.  The whole community is build around crafting bourbon, and that is their purpose here.  They have limited trade with the outside.
    Kalida very politely feels him out on the subject of the blockade itself.  She knows what the smuggled bourbon makes once it's sold in the Imperium, but she asks what cut the locals get.
    The Gravella says they have an arrangement with Creative Imports.  They can sometimes make arrangements with the blockaders to bring stuff in and take stuff out.  Once in a while they can take a case of bourbon, depending on what arrangement they've made and what kind of financing they have.  THC gets 1000 Cr per bottle.
    Misha asks if they produce anything other than Blockade Bourbon.
    They produce custom wooden furniture and panelling.  There is a room on Mongo, the Gravella believes, that is outfitted entirely in Nakege work.  They do not get a lot out of what they export, certainly not enough to make a profit.  They are self-sufficient here.  Their hospitality is a good draw for certain types of trader too, to be able to relax here with a few bottles of local bourbon even if they can't take it out.  That too requires an arrangement or license with Creative Imports.  If the blockade did not exist, they would probably export only bourbon.
    Kalida feels him out further about the existing situation.
    The Gravella says they have mixed feelings.  The blockade prevents their main purpose, of course.  They would like most of their stock to be exported.  At the same time, they like their isolation.  Their culture, while affected of course by trade imports and a little technology, their society, their self-sufficiency, is a very good thing.  They like the cultural isolation.  They don't want exclusive resorts built here, or Imperial corporations exploiting their world.
    Kalida asks that since they own the land here, wouldn't they have to give permission to build?
    Technically that would be true, of course.  But when they'd have to walk halfway around the world to find a site some company had built, how would they know it was there?  Not until they started turning up at their doorstep could they even know about it.  At the moment there is no reason for corruption.  There is no profit in being here, there is no reason to take a large sum of Imperial currency to let someone build outside the town.  He himself would not let someone build, but who knows whether his grandchildren would?  From that point of view, they like their cultural isolation.
    Ideally, the Gravella continues, the world itself would remain as it is.  A decent capacity starport in orbit would allow trade to go through there without affecting the world below.  They could simply ship up the bourbon, ship down the limited technology and resources they need.  They are short on metals here -- any quality metal has been imported.  They do not have -- and do not want -- mining operations or smelting facilities.  They do not want to become part of the Imperial mainstream.
    Kalida observes that is not likely this far out.
    The Gravella nods.  They do not see much of what goes on in the Spinward Marches, what political undercurrents might be going on.  They do know they are very close to the border.  They have had warships come through during the Frontier Wars, but they have stuck to the gas giant.  The mainworld itself has no strategic resources or facilities.  But the Zhodani Consulate is a jump-3 from here, and that does make them an attractive waypoint in times of conflict.
    As Kalida points out, the blockade would have no effect on that whatsoever.
    The Gravella summarizes: they dislike the blockade, but they like some of its side effects.  The blockade is wrong on fundamental principles, since Tukera was never promised any stake in the system at all.  Their whole approach is based on corporate lies, and that should be punished and stopped.  The are other ways of remaining isolated without a wrongly founded corporate blockade.
    Back on Nightshade, Shark jokes that they should move their asteroid hotel here.  Great idea if they could get it here...
    The Gravella continues, saying that yes they want the blockade stopped.  The Marchioness's direct involvement in making sure that getting rid of one company just leads to an invasion of others, that is important.  They don't want free traders landing in the market square, loading up with bourbon, and taking off again.  That said, they prefer free traders to corporate ships, because they share some of a common attitude with them.  Perhaps they don't want an orbital facility after all, because that would allow larger ships.  Perhaps just an occasional subsidized merchant run would do it.  It's not like they are a volume producer, after all.
    Kalida points out that simply because a trader lands, that doesn't mean they have to sell them anything.  They can control the stock, and sell as much or as little as they want.
    As long as they have the firepower to defend themselves, Misha adds.
    This clearly shocks the Gravella.  This was not something they had ever considered.  That is very disturbing -- they had never thought that someone would try to take something with force.  They themselves would not, of course.
    Misha says that would be the Marchioness's responsibility.  The Marchioness herself clearly wasn't thinking along the same lines, but says nothing.
    The Gravella says that they will have observed that this building is defensible to a certain extent at least, but that was because they did not know how this world itself might threaten them, but it was not intended to defend against anyone in particular.  They have lapsed any security force they had in the past because it was no longer needed.  It seemed like an unpleasant addition that was no longer necessary.  The last thing they need are extra levels of management and departments demanding other resources, making other departments unhappy, introducing rules to make sure that activities are "secure".  That just gets in the way of business.
    Kalida mentions the blockade as an example.
    The Gravella respectfully disagrees: the blockade gets in the way of trade, but the business still goes on.  Now technically they owe some vast sum of money to the Bank of Mongo and it would be nice to reduce or eliminate that, but at a thousand a bottle he's not sure that would take some time to do.
    Kalida takes a deep breath and asks if he knows how much these bottles sell for outside Nakege.
    The Gravella has heard that some of the traders can occasionally get as much as a hundred thousand for one.
    Kalida and her entourage exchange glances.  On Regina, Walter Elliot bought their bottle from them for a full five million.  Kalida tells the Gravella about it, and that they could guarantee five million from the Emperor, and move a bottle very quickly indeed for two to three million.
    The Gravella is, once again, shocked.  He manages to suppress uttering what he obviously thought, but doesn't find any words to say instead.
    As Shark points out over the commdot, at two million each they could cut people a deal and pay off the debt with just five thousand bottles.  Ten thousand bottles and they could sell batches to distributors at a hundred a time and eliminate the debt in just a month or so.
    Kalida tells that to the Gravella, but adds that doesn't stop the blockade.  There is an Imperial Commission meeting to consider the matter, but she doesn't know when or exactly where it would meet.
    This too is news to the Gravella.  The Marchioness came here to find out about her world and the blockade, but the most important information seems to be going in the other direction.  The Gravella then wonders aloud why Tukera is so insistent on this blockade.
    Kalida explains that they are making a lot of money from it.  As prompted by Shark, she says that they write off the losses from the blockade and the interest against taxes they don't actually have to pay.
    The Gravella says that if they paid off the debt, then their profit would go perhaps?
    It would not, unfortunately.  A lot of the profit, yes, but the blockade expenses are still translating into corporate income in Aramis subsector.  And then too, if they became profitable, it would be worth Tukera pursuing their ownership claim on THC.  On the other hand, it reduces one of their vulnerabilities and pushes Tukera into a long term view rather than current cash flow.

    At this point, Mich wakes, decidedly the worst for wear.  Fortunately Shark added some hangover drugs into Teri's medical kit, knowing they were going to the Planet of Bourbon.  Teri slips out to assist Mich into the waking world.

    Shark suddenly realizes that bourbon has been produced here for about four centuries.  If as is likely they've been selling the current bottles, how much more could they sell bottles that were centuries old?  Just a thousand bottles delivered in the direction of Core would be worth a fortune.

    The Gravella wonders how they would get so many bottles off this world and out of the system.
    Kalida simply says they have ways.  Cargo capacity certainly wouldn't be an issue.  They can put 1800 bottles in one 1.5m square of storage.  That, assuming 9 bottles a case, is 200 cases in one standard storage square.  They certainly can do it from practical terms, but Shark and Misha are still not sure it will help.
    The Gravella also wants to think in terms of a business deal through the Marchioness.  She should double the amount to make sure she gets a reasonable 100% markup.  Assuming they do this and pay off the debt, step two would be making sure they don't want to own the company.  A company that can make so much profit on one trip is very attractive.  That then comes down to politics -- how much pull does the Marchioness have?
    She certainly has some political pull in Rhylanor, Mora, Regina and therefore Jewell, but this is going up against Tukera.  In her ear, Shark whispers that a look into the future might be a good thing here.  The commission was announced on 248-1122, with Baron Frederik Gaussla of Rhylanor as the head.  It really depends on when they are meeting, because the timing of paying off the debt is important.  They don't want Tukera to have time to react, and they don't want to do it after the Commission meets.  The Duke in charge of this Commission would be Rhylanor, who set it up, or the Duke of Regina when he gets here.
    However this works, the Gravella sees a glimmer of hope on this.  If the Marchioness can break the blockade, then she can handle the isolation herself -- the Imperium explicitly controls trade, and that is therefore exactly her jurisdiction.
    Kalida says, though, that he would have to back that up.
    The Gravella would prefer not to have a system navy.  That would introduce all sorts of problems.  Perhaps they could come up with a set of trade restrictions or practices, not to replace the blockade as such.  They could retain the Amber Zone if the Marchioness were to talk to the Travellers Aid Society who issues the travel zone notifications.  That would keep out the major players, allowing in the small traders they would prefer anyway.  Being out of the way and off the main routes would help.
    Misha asks Kalida if, once the blockade is gone, it would be within her purview as Marchioness to restrict what kind of ships could enter the system.
    Kalida believes so, but of course they would have to back that up.
    Misha thinks that is practical.  Given the healthy income even at the lower prices resulting from a controlled release, that would buy a lot of security.  He hints at what Shark just said to him, that they could do their own trading company.
    The Gravella says meaningfully that they would certainly be open to a benevolent monopoly.  There would have to be appropriate termination clauses on both sides to cover their successors.  If they think they can get it out of this system to get everything started... but he wants to know how.
    Misha says they can't talk about that.
    The Gravella says he needs to be able to assess that for himself before committing a large shipment of bourbon to them.  Clearly they have a trick: what is the trick?  He doesn't need to know the precise mechanics, but he does need to know that it was not going to be dumped into space by Tukera.  Is it a bribe?  Is it some knowledge of the precise nature of the Vemene patrols?  A bottle or two is one thing, a case even, but this is their bourbon and they will not allow a large quantity to be wasted that way.
    Shark says they could go out and bring in something they really need, like metals and so on.  Mich mentions the front end of the Wandering Pearl, but they wouldn't have the facilities to do anything with it.
    The commdot breath conversation creates a pause.  The Gravella breaks it by asking if they can at least tell him why they can't tell him.
    Kalida asks if they were able to leave and bring something back to him...
    That would not help, he says.
    Mich suggests quietly taking the Gravella himself as a passenger and bring him back, run one case with him aboard.
    Misha says they will need to talk about this.
    The Gravella respects that, and leaves politely.

    In private, the conversation continues.  Misha wonders if they can trust the Gravella -- is he simply a stooge for Tukera, or will he report back to them?  That could be a problem.  On the other hand, if Tukera doesn't already know what they can do, they just aren't trying.
    All agree.  Taking him through the blockade and bringing him back should be safe enough and achieve the purpose.
    Shark suggests Boughene, but would prefer somewhere they can get news of Norris's movements.  Unfortunately these subsectors are too long away for reasonable news travel.  Mora to Regina is 13 weeks by TNS.
    Possible places would be Mongo, or Jewell -- there are places nearby that would do the job.  They could sell a bottle or so to show that they are not lying about the price.  Mongo would not be a good idea for that, however, and just taking the Gravella should be enough.
    Before they do all this, however, Misha would like to visit the Marquisate holdings.  Everyone agrees this is a good plan.
    In the long term, however, Misha thinks they should get their own lawyers and accountants to deal with the commission and Tukera, and to advise them on the right way to proceed.
    Kalida says this is a political issue, not a legal one.  If they solve the politics, the legal issues will go away.  This is also a nice little sideline for Tukera, not a massive operation that they'll fight tooth and nail for.
    Shark wonders who they know on the Commission, and could they go to them directly and talk about it.  While Kalida doesn't know Baron Gaussla directly, he would know her since he was purposefully appointed by the Duke of Rhylanor to free Nakege from the blockade.
    The actual subject of the Commission would be whether Tukera actually had a claim on the ownership.  Since that happened 400 years ago, that is going to be hard to determine objectively.  Now if the Commission rules against Tukera, that does not directly affect the debt with the Bank of Mongo.  Tukera's next move could be to foreclose the debt through the Bank that they (secretely) own.
    That prompts Misha to say that they should hold paying off the debt in hand, using the political power they have to negotiate it down but not to get rid of it.

    The discussion continues for a while.  To summarize, they plan to take a shipment of bourbon and use it to pay off THC's debt.  They can sell it directly, or use it as collateral for another loan to pay off the Bank of Mongo debt, then pay that loan off from the planet directly.  That gets them out of being the salesmen, and put it back in the hands of the Gravella.
    To get the Gravella to buy any of this, they have to take him somewhere to show him they can do it.
    Also they need to talk to the head of the Commission, both to push him in the right direction and to find out more details about the timescale and location of its operation.  It's likely that the members would currently be on Regina, so that is where they would have to go for that.
    Misha in particular wants to avoid becoming bourbon salesmen.  They can set up a small scale operation to deal with the Gravella himself.
    Shark is emphatic that they need to kick Tukera out in a way which does not cause them to fight back, at least not too hard.  As he says, they need the Commission to shut that door and lock it.

    From Kalida's point of view as Marchioness of Nakege, these are the points she considers important to consider in their plans:
    Now in terms of an actual list of things to do, she lays out the following:

Step 0: (Nakege)

Step 1: (Jewell)

Step 2: (Regina)

Step 3: (elsewhere)

    And with that settled, they can move on to lunch and the afternoon...