The Oberlindes noble family started the shipping company 614 years ago when the Spinward Marches was a colonists' paradise attracting Solomani settlers.
The family matriarch, Roxanne Oberlindes, established the first line to bear the name in the Regina subsector, employing tramp Free Traders and moving anything that could turn a profit.
This first incarnation of Oberlindes Lines prospered in the feverish growth that characterized the sector in the aftermath of the First Frontier War. Back then, major trade routes were few in number. The region's shipping/communications infrastructure was just being founded, and the frontier was growing.
Oberlindes Lines grew along with it. The company thrived and survived through the centuries and the multiple wars that have burned across the sector since.
Half a millenium later, Oberlindes expanded its fleet to include naval surplus vessels in an effort to spearhead the company's movement outside the Imperium into the new markets of the Vargr Extents.
The company made Traveller News Service headlines with one of these vessels. It was late 1049 - some 56 standard years ago. The memory of the Solomani Rim War was fading from the minds of the citizenry and the Imperial Admiralty alike. Three cruiser divisions centered around Azhanti High Lightning class vessels were decommissioned, declared surplus, and disposed of to commercial interests. Six of these vessels were sold to transport lines through government auction, and although their armament had been removed, bidding for the vessels was fierce.
Oberlindes Lines won one of the cruisers despite the efforts of larger shipping lines and megacorporations alike. This ship was the Sparkling Distress. Oberlindes re-christened her Emissary.
Through a convoluted, irregular, slightly shady, and completely unprecedented procedure, the complete military weaponry package on that vessel was left intact. The Oberlindes family rightly felt that the ship's weaponry was necessary for trading expeditions into the Vargr territory coreward of the empire, home of the infamous Vargr corsair bands.
Because of the public bitch, and pressure from the other trading companies at the release of this information, an Imperial ruling was mandated. The emperor - no doubt due to the influence the Oberlindes family had on the royal court - commanded that Oberlindes Lines would be left in possession of the ship and all its arms and defenses, but the vessel would not be permitted to operate within the borders of the empire.
And this suited Oberlindes' plans fine.
Oberlindes established a trading center and base for Emissary at Pandrin in the Uthe subsector, at the trailing edge of the Gvurrdon sector beyond the reach of Imperial rule. Trade increased drastically between the empire and the Vargr - mainly because of the initiative made by Oberlindes.
In addition to numbers of cultural items exchanged back and forth across the frontier (items of literature, art, and music primarily), the Emissary hauled Imperial high tech machinery into the Extents, returning with bulk loads of lanthanum - one of the most valuable ores known to exist.
Lanthanum is used for the construction of the inner coils of jump drives. Lanthanum is also used to construct jump grids on the hulls of starships - the jump grid being the primary tool used to open a route into jump space enabling a starship to leave normal space when making a jump. Other metals have been used to replace lanthanum, but no ore other than lanthanum has been found better suited to the requirements of jump drive construction.
Even when the price of lanthanum varies, the ore's importance to an interstellar empire remains paramount. Without lanthanum, jump drive does not exist, jump routes do not exist, there is no interstellar communication or transportation, and, under those conditions, an interstellar empire cannot exist. Lanthanum makes an interstellar empire possible.
The Vargr world of Scangen remains today a primary source of this vital ore, and Oberlindes Lines remains a primary importer.
The efforts of Oberlindes Lines, through use of the IMV Emissary, have since been recognized as the catalyst for the current boom in trade with the planets and governments of the Vargr Extents.
Emissary's near-60-year voyage has been made possible because of the ship's heavy armament. The weapons Emissary is able to bring to bear on potential raiders command respect by the Vargr and discourage interference by corsairs and rival Vargr governments. In its near-six-decade voyage, Emissary's guns have never been called upon to speak in anger.
The company's success with Emissary caused Oberlindes officials to look hard at acquiring additional naval surplus vessels. Just two decades ago, events transpired and coincided to allow the company the opportunity to achieve that goal and put Oberlindes Lines on a path to becoming the major shipping power in the Spinward Marches. Many industry analysts, in fact, believe that Oberlindes Lines is now a seed that may someday grow into a megacorporation.
In 1084, The Fourth Frontier War with the Zhodani Consulate came to a close. As a direct result of Emissary's track record, the Emperor granted Oberlindes Lines a charter to begin large fleet operations, bolstering Oberlindes' focus on feeder routes and allowing the company to expand operations by bringing service to major jump lanes as well. The charter allowed for the company's acquisition of naval vessels - surplus warships and support ships from the Fourth Frontier War. These vessels, numbering in the hundreds, have allowed Oberlindes Lines to reinvent itself, placing itself in direct competition with the more established major shipping lines.
The Emperor's major initiative took advantage of the economic growth driven by the war and sent it into overdrive, preventing the recession that normally follows a large scale conflict. The Emperor's intent was to spread maximum prosperity to every Imperial planet in the Spinward Marches, and Oberlindes Lines was one of his tools.
Emperor Strephon's March Program was born at the end of the Fourth Frontier War, a piece of this major initiative, and Oberlindes, with its new fleet, became custodian of the new Program.
Today, Oberlindes Lines is one of the fastest growing shipping powers in the Spinward Marches. Its power base is still the Regina subsector, and its business niche is still primary service of feeder lanes, but the company is currently working to expand its operation into the Aramis subsector.
Along the way, the company has alienated many of the older and more conservative shipping agents, especially Tukera Lines, which Oberlindes is in direct competition with on the major jump lanes.
The Emperor, though, has been pleased with Oberlindes Lines' part in his grand scheme. Four years ago, in 1101, Emperor Strephon awarded Sergei hault-Oberlindes, House patriarch and controller of the company, a baronial patent, complete with estates on Feri, for Sergei's contribution to the economic recovery in the Marches over the last two decades.
Sergei has recently stepped down, retiring to the baronal fief, passing control of the company to his son, Marc, who is now the new Baron of Feri and personally spearheading the company's entry into the Aramis subsector.
The War Hero
Shawn Grey's Imperial Army enlistment stretched from 4 years to 8. He surprised himself with his success. The mentality of a soldier suited him. He found a new career.
The Imperial Army, under the Duke of Regina, was an institution light years ahead of Porozlo's National Marines in training, organization, and command. It is the best trained, most heavily armed ground force known to exist. And, Shawn Grey excelled.
He moved up through the ranks fast, and on the last tour of his first term, he was selected for elite trooper training: Commando School. They were honing the edge of a killer.
Shawn was not distraught when the empire enacted the mandatory reenlistment clause on him. Grey figured the Duke was getting his credit's worth out of him for the expense the Imperium incurred in Shawn's specialized training and his ship's storage. What had started out as a move of necessity had turned into the best decision of Shawn's life. The extra term represented an additional measure of safety between himself and the secret he kept on Aramis. And Shawn was just plain good at his job. He liked it.
He saw a lot of action, and he was shipped across the sector. He was a member of one of the Duke's groundpounder commando crews, and he fought pirates (real ones this time), went against the Zhodani on the wrong side of the border, and even pulled his last year keeping the peace on his birthworld - when that powder keg exploded again.
Shawn wondered at the cyclical nature of events. What had brought him back there? 20 years before he had left his homeplanet, nursing a wound that had almost killed him, a naive, brainwashed kid whose entire belief system had been shattered by a wreck with the force of reality. He had never returned in all that time - never in two decades, not even to see his family. He had no reason to.
Now, he commanded his crew against National Marine hostiles, his old service. Irony cannot begin to describe the advent of a man fighting one side of a battle, being shot in the conflict, waiting 20 years, switching sides, and fighting the same battle from the opposite side of the field two decades later.
It can only be described as fate.
Shawn Grey found himself on the flip-side of an event he had run from a lifetime ago, but the event ended in the same result. Be it irony, be it fate, or be it a portent warning Grey never to return to his planet of birth, Shawn Grey was shot again.
But, his condition was not as grave as it was the first time, mentally or physically. Maybe it was the quality of Imperial medicine. Maybe it was his training. Or, maybe it was due to his life experience, but Shawn's perspective was different this time - optimistic. He knew who he was, and he knew what he had done. Most importantly, he could answer the question "why?". During his time as an Imperial Army non-com, he had healed.
Irony - Fate - Whatever the cosmic motion behind it, Shawn Grey again found himself propelled off his birthworld. He was given a medical discharge 7 months shy of his short-date, and he became one of the few recipients in the Imperium to receive the empire's highest commendation, the Starburst for Extreme Heroism.
Shawn Grey had won the medal of honor, and he returned to Aramis a war hero.
During the last month of 1104, he set foot back on the planet he had run away from 8 years before. He was 40 years old and looking forward to creating the future he had waited so long to create. His captaincy of the IMV March Harrier would be so much more profitable than that of the vessel's previous owner.
But, as Shawn Grey maneuvered to reclaim his ship, he had no idea that two men from the planet Tureded would destroy everything he had waited so long to achieve.
There is no honor amongst thieves.
The First Man From Tureded
Its an earth-normal planet on the trailing edge of the Lanth subsector, part of the spinward main, just under 10 light years from Shawn Grey's birthworld, Porozlo. Somewhat removed from the major trade routes in the Marches, Tureded is perfect as the domestic planet of the noble families governing the largest black market syndicate in the sector.
The world government is listed as a representative democracy in the sector directories, but the Houses, as the families of Tureded are known, keep strict control of the election process. The elections themselves are not "fixed" in any way, but it is the Houses who decide which candidates the people may choose on any given election.
This is the main reason Tureded's law directory rating is 0: No Law. The Houses have complete control, exercising that control through political manipulation. Each House governs its own planetary territory as it sees fit. There is no planetary standard, and laws vary depending on the region and which House holds sway. Laws are generally conducive to the House's business interest.
Tureded is the birthworld of a serf named Ulric Harrisani. He was an indentured servant who clawed his way off planet by talking his way into an administrative position with one of the large freight shippers that frequented Tureded's starport. Al Morai Lines sponsored Harrisani's admission to the Mora Merchant Academy when Harrisani turned 18, the contract on his second generation servitude paid in full. In 1093, Ulric graduated and was hired as a trading clerk on an Al Morai freighter.
It wasn't long, though, before Ulric found he had traded one form of captivity for another. He hated being a spacer. In his first years working for the company, he traveled the whole of the sector, saw planets and wonders, and even had his share of women. But, the newness of the experience wore off, and he realized that spacers did not spend most of their time planet side. They spent most of their time in space. That's where they got their name.
A ship, no matter its size, is not that large to a being when he spends all of his time in it. There is just not that much to do when a person is locked up in a tin can for half his life. Boredom sets in. It is a form of captivity.
Ulric could not wait to touch down for a precious couple of days at the next port, and he would dread the time when he was required to spend another week of his life in space. Many of his crewmates would find an interest to keep them busy during off periods aboard ship. The ones who didn't would pick up another shift in order to make some more credit.
For Ulric, it was computers. Bored, he learned to tap into the captain's personal log. Sometimes, he would rewrite it. One time, he found something he was not meant to see.
What started out as a prank turned into Ulric's major source of income. Like many of the Al Morai skippers, Ulric's captain made extra credit ferrying items for Tureded's Great Houses. These transactions were kept strictly off company records, but the captain kept his non-official record in his personal log - a reference he could consult when it was time to get paid.
Ulric discovered the hidden file, and he decided to tax the captain's extra-curricular earnings. This lead to a less than friendly relationship between captain and crewer, but there was little the captain could do. Ulric had too much on him. Harrisani never received a promotion, and he never received a raise. But, he made more money than anyone else on that vessel.
When the time came to renew Ulric's contract, he wasn't surprised to see that he had been turned down. The captain wanted him off the ship, and Ulric knew enough about the Great Houses of Tureded to know that a person in his position did not want to become someone that they noticed - though the captain hadn't gone that far yet in interest of his own hide. Harrisani decided he would quit while he was ahead of the game.
Sinzarmes was Ulric's next employer. It is a much smaller line than Al Morai, and the company provides transport from the many backwater worlds in the Regina subesctor to worlds on major trade routes. Based on Efate, just two parsecs from the Imperial border, Sinzarmes specialty is mail transport on the frontier.
Banks and other financial institutions have no other choice but to use the mail transport system to move currency - whether electronic or hard cash - between locations. The Imperial Interstellar Scout Service carries the majority of these transactions via the X-Boat system, but X-Boats travel major trade routes only. It is companies like Sinzarmes who are contracted to carry mail from hub worlds out to worlds lying on major trade routes and back.
Sinzarmes has proven to be a capable carrier - its majority of trouble stemming from pirates who plague all interstellar shippers. Ulric changed that perception single handedly.
Banks eventually began to notice that their incoming shipments were coming up short. This was not noticed immediately because arrival audits indicated that the cash was always correct. Electronic ledgers always balanced. The dispute rose when it was discovered that the sending bank's records did not match the records of the receiving bank. The time lag was due to the nature of interstellar communication - information traveling at the speed of a starship.
An investigation was initiated, and it was discovered that someone had hacked into the electronic ledgers and transferred credit to a series of accounts. The accounts were traced, and the traces all ended in dead ends. Money would disappear before the trace was completed, or credits were left abandoned, recovered by the bank without a clue as to who had transferred the credit in the first place.
The traces were difficult because money was constantly being shifted, in a seemingly random pattern, between non-connected accounts on different worlds. When the investigators thought they had found a master account, they would seize it, attempting to recoup the missing funds, only to find the account empty.
But, a break in the case presented itself. A common denominator was found. Delivery of suspect funds always occurred when transported by one ship. It was a Sinzarmes freighter - Ulric's ship.
The entire crew was suspended and placed under investigation, but nothing was found. No substantial sums of money or assets could be traced to any of the crewmembers. Then, the occurrences of the missing sums were traced backwards - leading investigators on a trail that started almost 4 years before. There were three new crewmembers taken aboard at that time, and Ulric Harrisani was one of them. All three were charged with grand larceny, but the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.
Again, Ulric's contract was not renewed. He received no promotion, no raise, no bonus. He was still a trading clerk, just like he was after his first year out of the academy, and he made less salary than he did with Al Morai. His work records were making him unemployable.
But, that didn't matter much to Ulric Harrisani. He was 30 years old, and he had become a millionaire.
Eyes were watching him. Ulric knew he couldn't spend any of his wealth. He had to play the innocent victim ruined by scandal. He had to lay low and find another job. He couldn't touch any of his hidden funds for fear of being caught by investigators he knew still shadowed him. Playing like he was poor was easy because his legitimate account had next to nothing in it.
Ulric played the part of a down-on-his-luck spacer looking for a break, and he found that break with Oberlindes Lines.
He liked his new employer, and he actually performed well for them. His 8 years of experience as a trading clerk helped him secure a promotion to assistant broker, and Ulric was playing it clean, biding his time until he could take legal ownership of the 7.5 million credits he had obtained.
Three years into Harrisani's service with Oberlindes, the company opened an office on Aramis - a planet where Tukera Lines holds a near monopoly. The idea wasn't to establish a new profit center for Oberlindes - far from it. The goal was to gain a foothold on a planet dominated by Tukera - a place from which Oberlindes could grow. Competition between interstellar trading companies can be fierce, and Oberlindes Lines had survived the past 300+ years by continually developing designs on the future.
Ulric was chosen to open the single-employee office on Aramis, which he accomplished six months ago. During this time, Ulric would still make discreet inquiries into his personal account, looking for signs that the trail was getting cold. But "they" weren't giving up, and Ulric wondered if the other two Sinzarmes suspects were receiving the same treatment.
It became clear to Harrisani that he would have to get creative if he would ever be able to enjoy the money he had earned, but he had no idea that the answer to his dilemma lay right under his nose, in this Oberlindes office, on the planet Aramis.
A Wrench in the Plan
One of the responsibilities that came with Ulric's new position was that of subsidy manager for the Aramis Trace, but Oberlindes had not had a subsidy ship servicing the Trace for the last 8 years. There was some sort of scandal that had occurred around the ship concerning the vessel's original owner, and the new owner was serving the Duke in the Imperial Army while the ship was moth balled at a long term berthing facility in Aramis' naval yard.
Late last year, an Army veteran named Shawn Grey contacted Ulric about resuming the Oberlindes subsidy contract on the March Harrier.
It was hard to bullshit a man like Ulric. Harrisani had bullshitted with the best of them, and he had the 7.5 million credits to prove it. Harrisani pulled the records on the ship and read the investigation. It didn't smell right to him, and he could see from the reports that Grey's version of the facts did not smell right to Naval investigators either. They just couldn't prove anything.
Ulric did some checking, digging into the old records. The last cargo the March Harrier had picked up before the alleged pirate incident was out of L'oeul d'Dieu. It was registered to a nobleman on Tureded.
"Well now," Ulric thought, "Wadda ya know. Home."
Harrisani thought that's what Grey might be afraid of - that's what he was hiding. Grey might have been telling the truth and needed to get away from the ship where his friends had been abducted - maybe the guy just needed to get away for sanity reasons.
But, Harrisani doubted it.
Ulric, of all people, knew what the Houses would do if someone upset them. A nobleman from Tureded can only mean that the Great Houses were involved.
That was their cargo the pirates absconded with!
Ulric saw that the load was taken aboard blind. That didn't surprise him. The Houses usually worked that way. What did surprise him was the cargo was not listed as the property of just any Tureded nobleman. The cargo was listed under THE nobleman from Tureded: Baron Praygor, the highest ranking noble on the planet, patriarch of the most powerful House.
Harrisani reasoned that if he was able to trace the cargo back, 8 years into the past, to Baron Praygor so easily, and the cargo was registered legitimately, then House business was not at stake. The cargo must have been some personal transportation for the Tureded Baron.
Ulric decided to contact Tureded. Maybe the Baron would be interested in finding the guy who lost his personal cargo shipment 8 years before.
Maybe he would be thankful for Ulric's call, and maybe he would be a little generous with his thanks.
If not, good standing with the largest noble House on his birthworld was something Harrisani favored.
Shawn Grey, in the mean time, went about outfitting his vessel. The March Harrier needed an overhaul, and Grey needed a crew. Ulric found out that Grey had enlisted the help of a man named Glynnth Connal - a man that Shawn had hired as his supply officer. Grey had been handling the ship while Connal focussed his attention on filling crew positions. The pair had already landed two soldiers recently discharged from service on Aramis.
Ulric had to laugh, though. He had more than likely just thrown a wrench into Grey's plans. Or, at least, Ulric had made it a little difficult for the prick. Grey had come into the Oberlindes office, throwing himself around like he had some weight, trying to bowl Ulric over with his bullshit and arrogance.
The guy was hot headed and had just plain pissed Ulric off, and Harrisani couldn't give a fuck if Grey had won the medal of honor. The son-of-a-bitch was up to no good, and Harrisani wanted a piece of it - or to profit from it.
The decision wasn't hard. Ulric made that communication to Tureded, and the Oberlindes employee did not have to wait long.
But, it wasn't a message that came in return.
A man came calling at the Oberlindes Lines Aramis office - a man Ulric was sure was the Baron of Tureded himself.
It had taken Baron Vaan Praygor eleven weeks to travel from Tureded to Aramis after receiving Ulric's message. The nobleman was average sized, handsome, and about the same age as Harrisani. Ulric had mentioned in his original message that he was also from Tureded, and this seemed to make the Baron more comfortable with the conversation.
Ulric could see that the Baron recognized a mutual understanding between them, and Praygor came straight to the point.
"I intend to take the March Harrier for myself and put Shawn Grey in prison or have him killed." The Baron said, "And, I'm going to reward you, Ulric, for your part in this small matter."
Ulric liked the Baron right from the start.
The Laundry Scheme
Baron Vaan Praygor had investigated on his own 8 years ago. Ulric had been correct about the cargo. It was a personal transportation for the Baron.
Being the highest ranking noble of all of the Tureded Houses, Praygor had channels available to him that the Navy investigators of 8 years ago did not. The Baron had put out an inquiry when he lost his cargo to discover which pirates had attacked Grey's ship. Vaan found that it was a certainty that none of the known pirate organizations were operating in the Aramis system on that date.
Even the Baron of Tureded's information is not 100% accurate, but Praygor ruled out Vargr corsairs. Grey himself had said the raiders were human. And none of the larger pirating groups would stand steadfast against the might of the Great Houses of Tureded.
This left a few possibilities. It could have been a one-time operation, or it could have been a small time operation that slipped through the Baron's information net. More than likely, though, someone was lying, and the Baron suspected that person was Shawn Grey.
The Baron's plan was simple. He was going to turn over much of the information from his personal investigation to the authorities, forcing a re-opening of the case. If that plan of action met with less than desired results, Praygor would pay to have Grey killed.
The March Harrier would then be without an owner, and Praygor had already checked with Ulric to ensure no other persons could claim rights to the vessel. The Baron intended to put his own money into the ship and refinance it himself. He would pay Ulric to grant him a new subsidy, and Harrisani was more than willing to grant any favor within reason - reason being a relative term, of course.
As Praygor outlined his plan with Harrisani, Ulric realized what he wanted for his part in the scheme. This whole, crazy, convoluted, 8 year long situation seemed to be designed just for him.
Ulric told the Baron that he wanted to be part-owner in the franchise.
Harrisani told the Baron about his financial situation, and Praygor immediately understood. One of the Baron's biggest headaches was money laundering - skirting around Imperial currency laws.
Ulric wanted to put his money into the ship, but he wanted it to appear as though his money was the Baron's money. As the ship made money, Ulric would pull his "laundered" credits out as payment for his ownership-share in the ship.
It wasn't the fastest way to start enjoying his fortune, but Ulric could not think of a better way - not with a banking task-force waiting for him to slip and fall. Besides, Ulric had 12 years of trading and brokering behind him, and he knew his way around a starship. The Baron could use him, and if Ulric had to go into space again, then doing so as the owner of the ship was the way to go.
The deal made sense. The Baron agreed, and the two shook hands.
The Baron had Ulric take Praygor's investigation findings to the authorities as a neutral third party - just an Oberlindes rep looking out for the company's best interest in the subsidy interest. The next day, Shawn Grey was arrested, and Ulric declared his claim to the March Harrier in default. The Baron insisted that the papers on the vessel be drawn up and authorized as soon as possible. It was a risk working a new subsidy agreement before Grey's case was resolved, but Ulric gambled that Grey would disappear should the charges be dropped.
Praygor poured 55 million credits of his own money into the Harrier for overhaul and upgrade. New weapon turrets were added, and conveniences designed for Vargr were refitted for human crewmembers. He approached the crew that Shawn Grey had assembled, and to Ulric's surprise, they stayed on to the man. Praygor found that a couple of the crewers hadn't even met Grey yet, working through Glynnth Connal as their main contact.
Ulric laundered close to 6.5 million credits of his own through the ship, netting him 11 points of ownership. He kept a million in cash in case this scheme did not work out as well as they were planning.
The March Harrier was being re-created in a version better than before, and work on the ship would be finished soon. Crewmembers were arranging their affairs, and the ship's subsidy agreement had been approved. Oberlindes Lines accepted Harrisani's resignation.
The Baron still needed a navigator and a port side gunner, but those positions would be filled shortly, Ulric was sure.
But, in spite of all this, Ulric Harrisani felt uneasy.
It was because a Baron from one of the most powerful noble Houses in the sector would rather operate a tramp trader than return to Tureded. It was about as likely as Baron Marc hault-Oberlindes quitting the shipping line his father had grown for him, coming to Aramis to share a single vessel with one of his former employees.
Definitely, it was something that made Ulric nervous.