Episode 21 — The Long Way Home

On the return from Stigmata, the ship has no trouble getting through the Gwynneth system, but once in Criticorum has to detour to the inner planet Aristotle, and there to the Herodotus domed mining center where the Neilsen hong has its headquarters. The lanet has never been terraformed and its atmosphere is not breathable for humans. Campbell sets up a meeting for Aquilegia and NeVaga with Bosun Peter Giles, representing the Neilsen hong.

The two guests are taken to a very functional meeting area; Giles is dressed in a suit, not in the outlandish fashion of many Charioteers, and gives them a warm and courteous greeting. He explains that the Neilsen hong has had past run-ins with Campbell; in particular he seriously annoyed the hong back on Leagueheim by undercutting them, but they're willing to close all accounts and let him continue as a freelancer as long as he moves some cargo for them from Criticorum to Manitou, unintercepted. Giles assures them that the cargo will fill available space on Campbell's ship, is non-living, and does not emit radiation or constitute a biohazard.


Aquilegia and NeVaga go back to Campbell to discuss the offer. They can go either through Li Halan space or Decados space; Campbell already has keys to Cadavus, Malignatus and Kish, but will want to keep the either to Cadiz or to Icon. On the next meeting, Giles provisionally agrees, and the agreement is later confirmed by hong higher authorities. They settle on the Criticorum-Cadavus-Malignatus-Cadiz-Manitou road going through Decados space, longer by one stop than the one going through Li Halan space, but where Aquilegia's contacts may be of some use and where the cargo is less likely to be simply destroyed (but more likely to be seized by the Decados.)

The group cools their heels for one more week until the cargo is loaded onto Campbell's ship. As soon as they are off Criticorum, Aquilegia goes to inspect the nature of the cargo, and finds the hold filled with proscribed books, from trashy Second Republic novels to Stan and Stulzy comics to engineering manuals to revolutionary philosophy. Aquilegia spends the months of travel trying to read as much as she can! Despite the temptation to stop on Cadavus, they just jump on to Malignatus as soon as they can to avoid lingering around with illicit cargo. They will likely be back through after the trip to Manitou, and Aquilegia is easier to convince with the distraction provided by the books.

After many uneventful weeks and as short a a stay in each star system, they reach fabled Manitou. They know little about the planet, a joint protectorate between the Vau and the Imperium of Known Worlds. The Vau allow humans to rule one continent, Anthos, and to set foot nowhere else without invitation. The Joint Administrators Guild manages the day to day affairs of Anthos, under the authority of the Order of St. Nikita, the psychic coven that rules Anthos. It is in fact the Order of St. Nikita who is buying the entire cargo of books aboard Campbell's ship.

Another surprise on Manitou is the discovery that Marquis Claudio Masseri, Aquilegia's father and the discredited head of House Masseri, has a rather lavish estate near Mount Athos and is reportedly in residence! Although she is momentarily distracted – and distraught – by the discovery, Aquilegia focuses on the matter that brought her here.

While Campbell looks for another cargo to bring back in order to make his trip profitable, Aquilegia and NeVaga have a few days to investigate. The firm that obtained and used the letter to Stukeneneer, Pantokratoros & Offspring, is a large banking firm that operates out of Mount Athos, the capital, and one of the oldest on the planet. Aquilegia approaches Pantokratos & Offspring with an offer: although the bidding on the letter is over, she has an offer from a third party who would buy from the bid winner if they can reach an agreement. They meet Mr. Kris, a man groomed and dressed impeccably, in a very nice meeting room. They discuss the offer and he tells them that he will take the offer to his client and let them know the outcome. If the parties are available, it might take as little as twenty minutes. Aquilegia and NeVaga wait for an hour before Mr. Kris returns, and are then told that the client needs to consider the matter for a while. Mr. Kris will contact Aquilegia to let her know the client's decision.

In the mean time, Aquilegia tries to make connections with the local and visiting nobility to learn whatever she can about the presence of her father, a man who tried to betray not only the Known Worlds but all of humanity to the Symbiot, apparently allowed to walk free.

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