Stories / Spirals /

Aftermath

a short story by Lexi Summer Hale

Baroness Crane Voidblossom folded her arms. “You? You are the last person I would be expecting to show up on my veranda. Can you give me one single reason I shouldn’t have my security beat you to a pulp and hand you to the Justicariat on a gilded platter?”

Raven Windhand smiled, her teeth gleaming white under the perpetual evening sun of the Twilight District. “Milady.” She bowed deeply. “I know you think I’m a criminal psychopath and you blame me for the destruction aboard your void-station. It’s why I felt the need to come in person, really. There is a great deal of misunderstanding between us, and I would like to take full responsibility for that.” She snapped her fingers, and a man in a smart suit stepped forward, opening a case to reveal a bottle of wine. “That’s why I’ve brought a peace offering. A 744 Carnelian moscato, from my own wine cellar. I can personally attest to the vintage. I was hoping it might buy a moment of your very valuable time.”

Lady Crane sighed, and gestured at the porch swing. “Take a seat.”

“Thank you.” Raven smiled, sliding her slim, boxy sunglasses down her nose as she sat. “Milady, you are owed an apology for the destruction aboard Lotus - an apology and much more. I truly, deeply regret that I could not control the situation on Lotus well enough to prevent damage to your property, and I would very much like to make amends to you.”

“If I sold that wine to the highest bidder, it might pay about a tenth of what it will cost to repair Lotus and appease all the corporations you pissed off.” Lady Crane shook her head. “Morningstar has already pulled out. Do you have any idea how much money I made from them?

“The wine is my own gift to you, nothing more. I would very much like to help you recoup all the damages owed you.”

“Recoup damages? You make it sound like a lawsuit.”

“Because I think that’s the best way for us to get what we both want.” Raven intertwined her fingers absently. “The Justicariat did not warn you or attempt to work with you when they boarded Lotus. Her Majesty’s government disrespecting the rights of common business owners I cannot abide, let alone those of a landed peer.”

Lady Crane laughed bitterly. “I admit I bear the Justicariat no love for their indiscretion, but none of this would have happened if you hadn’t turned Lotus into your personal headquarters. I’ve long been tarred as an accomplice of yours by the gentry; it is no doubt why the Justicariat chose not to coordinate with me. You’ve been a cancer on my reputation for far too long.”

“Which is ridiculous,” said Raven. “Although I have always attempted to respect your rights and ownership of Lotus, we have never once collaborated.”

“You have always paid your rent on time,” Lady Crane admitted. “You’ve committed many crimes, but until now none against me, as I reckon it.”

Raven laughed. “I’ve been accused of many crimes, certainly. Much as you’ve been accused of associating with me. It is easy to smear those whose power you fear, something I think we’ve both been victims of.”

“You are nothing like me,” Lady Crane shot back. “I am a Peer of the Realm, and you—”

“I am an honest businesswoman, who does not fear working with the desperate and the marginalized of our society. It is not a clean business, I would never pretend otherwise, but it is a necessary one.” Raven leaned forward, removing her glasses. “Lady Crane, I respect you greatly. I know if someone had done to me what the Justicariat has done to you, I would want justice. That is why I’m here today. To help you find either justice, or at least compensation.”

“Speak plainly, Windhand. What are you offering me?”

“Two things. Firstly, a zero-interest loan of one billion credits, to begin repairing the damage done to Lotus immediately. Secondly, full financial backing for a lawsuit against the Governor and the Justicariat to recover damages from their attack. Thirdly, all skilled personnel available to me to carry out repairs on Lotus at no cost to you. And if you lose the legal battle, I will fully and unconditionally forgive the loan.”

Lady Crane blinked several times.

“I must be losing my hearing,” she said. “What did you just offer me?”

“What the true culprits here never will.” Raven stood, stepped forward, and gently took Lady Crane’s hand. The attack on Lotus was an affront to us both. It is your property, my home. We should be working together. And I know you don’t trust me. That’s why I am assuming all risk. I want to show you that, despite what those blithering idiots who call themselves your peers have to say, I am an honorable woman.”

“So you want me to sign a contract with you? With you!?”

“Nothing of the sort. I offer the loan as a gentlewoman’s agreement. I am an honorable woman, and I believe you are as well, milady.”

“I—” Lady Crane shook her head. “I need to think about this.”

“Of course.” Raven bowed. “Take all the time you need, milady.” A business card snapped into her fingers. “I will be returning to Lotus tomorrow morning, but this has my link numbers. Contact me whenever you’ve made up your mind.”

Her hand shaking, Crane took the card. “Yes. Well. Well, I might. I’ll consider it.”

“That is all I ask. A pleasant evening to you and your family, your Ladyship.” She raised a hand in farewell, as a slim black-windowed groundcar rolled up in front of the manor. “I do hope you enjoy the wine.”