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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

Story By JA Baker[]

Follow The Money
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written August 10th, 2020
Story Era Civil War Era

Twenty-Four Quadrillion Dollars. That's the number twenty-four, followed by fifteen zeroes. With a dollar sign in front.

Sounds like a big number, right?


Still can't get your head around it?

Well, that was, conservatively, the estimated combined net-worth of House Cameron when Stefen Amaris decided to remove them from the equation, permanently. And that's before we consider exchange rates between Star League dollars and anything in use today, or inflation.

It took six generations, over two centuries, to accumulate that wealth. Six generations of investments, speculations, acquisitions and deals. All resulting in a bank balance that would put some nation-states to shame. It wasn't all just cash money. The Camerons certainly had that to spare, but the vast bulk of their fortune came in less tangible assets. It was no secret that they owned vast tracks of land across the entire Inner Sphere, including countless residential and commercial buildings, farms, mines and ranches. They held shares in innumerable businesses, mostly through blind-trusts and holding companies, with so many cut-outs that untangling the web of trust funds and numbered bank accounts would take a lifetime. And yes, they owned artworks and antiques and all of the other entrapments of having enough money to just buy a small nation, but, in the grand scheme of things, all of the vaults and safety deposit boxes accounted for only a fraction of their wealth.

Sure, they spent a lot of money every year: even leaving aside their living expenses that weren't covered by the Hegemony government, they were patrons of hundreds of charities and foundations, funding everything from schools to hospitals and symphony orchestras. They endowed universities and research centres across the Inner Sphere, on top of countless smaller, more personal gifts and donations. But, even with all this taken into consideration, it was only a fraction of their income, and their wealth only grew with each passing year.

So, how much was left when General Kerensky liberated Terra?

Zero. Zilch. Nowt. Nothing. Bupkis. Nada. Diddly-squat. Nought.

The single biggest accumulation of personal wealth in all of human history... vanished.

Kerensky looked for it, certainly, as did Jerome Blake and countless others over the past couple of centuries. Most people assume that Amaris stole it, hid it away or spent it on the massive defensive projects and Wunderwaffe's that so fixated him during his brief tenure as self-proclaimed Emperor of the Star League. But, even then, much of the Cameron fortune had been spread out among the various nations of the Star League, outside of his direct control. The House Lords didn't take it. They kept their hands off of it just incase a surviving member of the Royal Family was found, and by the time it became clear that no claimant was forthcoming, the money had already vanished.

All in all, it believed that Stephen Amaris was able to get his hands on and liquidate half the Cameron fortune, spending it all on projects that were destroyed during his war against Kerensky, or the first two Succession Wars. But that still leaves twelve quadrillion dollars unaccounted for, and thus was born one of the greatest mysteries of our time: what became of the Cameron Fortune?

Oh, people have spent their entire lives, and not an inconsiderable sum of money, looking for it down the years. Expeditions have been launched to abandoned colonies, distant Periphery bases and every major and minor financial hub in the known galaxy, but each and every one of them has ended up chasing their own tails.

So, what does any of this have to do with me?

Well, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Michael Ali, but as we are all friends here, you can call me Mickey if you like. I was born on the planet Goito, in what was then the Free Rasalhague Republic, and attended Gonzaga University, where I achieved my CPA, before moving on to become a CRFAC. Or, to put it another way, I am a freelance forensic accountant. I was fortunate enough to be away from home on business when Clan Ghost Bear invaded, and have spent the years since plying my trade across several worlds and nations. I have worked for individuals, companies, nobles, nations and even mercenaries on occasions, and have managed to build up a reputation as a dogged, and discreet, investigator.

Yet, I was somewhat surprised when I was invited to Hachiman to meet with Chandasekhar Kudita, old 'Uncle Chandy' himself. While he was every bit the gracious host someone of his standing and reputation would expect, he very quickly got down to business. One of his agents, he never gave any details as to who or where, had uncovered previously unknown information concerning the missing Cameron Fortune, and he wanted me of all people to see where it led. I don't think he was interested in the money itself; he was, after all, probably the richest man in the Combine at the time, arguably one of the ten richest people in the entire Inner Sphere, and already had more money than he could spend in a dozen lifetimes. No, if pressed he was more interested in who had taken control of the fortune, and to what ends where they using it?

Accountants are not, by nature, adventurous people. We generally prefer everything neat and tidy. Ordered, if you will. But, the chance to perhaps unravel the greatest financial mystery in human history? Well, I would have been a fool to turn him down, so I headed to the obvious place to start...Sian.

Okay, admit it. You all thought I was going to sat Tharkad, weren't you? Well, that's a little too obvious. Yes, House Steiner may well be known as the richest family in the Inner Sphere, but Alliance banking regulations are notoriously byzantine and all but impenetrable to an outsider. No, Sian is where you go if you need to launder vast sums of money, no questions asked. Everyone, and I do mean everyone makes use of House Liao's Chinese Laundry, with the Celestial Wisdom getting their 1% off the top. I know that 1% may not sound like much, but there isn't so much a river of dirty money flowing through Sian as there is an ocean. All those 1%'s really add up after a while, and it probably does more to keep the Confederation afloat than all of Sun-Tzu's reforms put together. Hell, even the Davions make use of Sian banks to avoid any unfortunate questions about where some of their money comes from.

War may be hell, but business is business after all.

Well, the archives on Sian allowed me to pick up the trail of Lady Kodi Rosario, the personal financial advisor to Simon Cameron before his death. One of the people holding Richards purse strings. I was able to track one of her lesser known aliases, and link her to a director of the New Earth Trading Company who'd been visiting Sian on. Shall we say, personal business, when the shit hit the fan back on Terra. Rosario gave him control over a number of blind accounts before she vanished, never to be seen again. Now, most people would think that this was an obvious double bluff. That the handover was an obvious fake, meaning that it was actually legitimate, and that Rosario was trying to set herself up as the obvious target before going on the run.

Well, that's why I'm the forensic accountant, not you.

No, the correct answer is that neither of them were the true bag-man, or bag-woman, in this particular heist. It was all just a shell game, write large. You think you're following where the ball is hidden, but it's already off the table. Rosario was just too damn obvious, too obvious to even be "hiding in plain sight". No, she was loyally doing her duty to House Cameron, running interference, and probably paying with her life. Same goes for the NETC executive, who was scoped up by Amaris' goon squad the moment he let his guard down. Surviving records indicate that he lasted two days before his heart gave out, and he gave them nothing of any use. People don't go through all that just for money, even enough money to gold-plate an entire star system. Which can only mean one thing: they were operating under the orders of someone they were willing to die for, and not die easily.

Insert your favorite "lost Cameron heir" conspiracy theory here. Doesn't really matter, because none of them are true.

So, why did I go to Sian if it was obviously a fake-out? Well, firstly, I've always wanted to go there, and this way I got someone else to pick up the tab. Mostly because it was the nearest of two possibilities, so I was on to Stewart.

If Sian is where the great and good, or at least rich and powerful hide their ill-gotten gains, Stewart is where the criminal elements of the galaxy send their dirty laundry. Money comes in from all corners of the Inner Sphere, all the classic vices: theft, murder, extortion, prostitution, drugs, protection rackets, numbers games, backstreet bookmakers and pirates. And the banks on Stewart spread it out, send it out through countless investment funds, holding companies and credit brokers. Money made through selling drugs on New Avalon funds the building of a factory making consumer electronics on Atreus. People are usually too busy to ask where all this money is coming from, and the banks, or cause, have everything covered at their end. But, the truth is, nobody asks, because the entire economy of the Inner Sphere and much of the near Periphery is built on ensuring that money, no matter the source, keeps flowing.

Nobody ever wants to see how the sausage is made.

So, if you needed to hide vast sums of money, and Sian is just too obvious, Stewart is the next best place to start. And, thanks to Uncle Chandy, I had a name, Benedict Lamoureux. And oh boy, is that a big name for anyone in my profession. Lamoureux was essentially the evil twin of a forensic accountant, as while it is our job to find order in chaos, to uncover that which others had hidden, he made his name sowing chaos and generally muddying the waters. He was so good, in fact, that he became known by the alias Schrödinger's Cat, as it was said he could make the same money appear to be in two different places at once. It took the Hegemony more than ten years to find, arrest and convict Lamoureux, and even they admitted that they had probably only scratched the surface of what he had done. He had been imprisoned in an Ultra-Max prison on Epsilon Eridani at the time of the coup, and he simply vanished two days later.

It had long been assumed that some accomplice had used the resulting chaos to break him out, or that he had been recruited to work for Amaris. But, the newly uncovered records showed that his release had actually been the work of Rosario, who had evidently entrusted him with the task of hiding what he could of the Cameron family fortune, probably in the hopes that someone survived and would be able to reclaim it at a later date. I'm sure that the opportunity to pull off the single greatest act of financial misdirection in human history probably appealed to Lamoureux's ego, as he apparently accepted without reservation.

So, we have a planet full of shady bankers, a high functioning sociopath with about twelve quadrillion dollars to play with and a galaxy exploding into war.

Want to bet what Lamoureux invested in?

Anyone who said the arms industry should go to the back of the class, you're obviously not paying attention. No, Lamoureux was smart and he was thinking long-term. Nobody knew just how long the war was going to last, and just how much of the Hegemony was going to be left standing when it was all said and done. It's also clear that he was following instructions from someone, through probably not Rosario, who had to know that he'd days were numbered, and that there was the risk she'd crack under questioning. She was a banker, after all, and that's not a job that tends to include training in resisting torture for prolonged periods of time. No, someone was pulling the strings, someone who managed to cover their tracks pretty well. The only reason we even know they existed was because of the effects they had on others.

Think about a rock submerged in a fast flowing river. You can't see it, but you can see the affect it has on the water.

You could spend a lifetime trying to track down every fund, every investment and project Lamureux poured money into. Not all paid dividends for sure, but he could afford to lose billions, trillions. If it meant hiding where it had all come from. Some of the choices he made were obviously intended to fail, the economic equivalent of a smoke screen, but he was damn good at his job, as the surviving records I was able to access indicated that he actually made money rather than lost it.

Now we have to face the proverbial Elephant In The Room. Even after Kerensky had Amaris put up against a wall and shot, no confirmed claimant to the Cameron throne came forward. Oh, sure, hundreds, thousands, of people have claimed that they are the rightful heir to the First Lords throne have come forward over the centuries. Most hare crazy, a few misinformed, many grifter and a few jokers. But each of the Successor States, not to mention ComStar and the Clans have the Cameron family DNA profile on record, and nobody has ever passed the test.

Or have they?

See, after the war, Lamureux suddenly changed tactics. He started making long-term investments. Investments that could take decades, even centuries, to pay-off. He wasn't looking to hide the Cameron fortune, so much as to ensure that it would be there for centuries to come, a self replenishing fountain of money that would never run dry. All traces of Lamureux vanished about the time that the House Lords started their little game of "you and who's army?", but by then he'd put in place a framework flexible yet durable enough to not only survive the Succession Wars, but thrive amid the chaos.

To quote the original Sun-Tzu, In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.

So, the fund grows. Oh sure, it takes a few hit. Usually when something it had invested in took a hit from a NBC attack, but it was dispersed and diverse enough to always be able to not only survive. Providing the means to rebuild.

Enter everyone's favorite band of robes freaks, ComStar. Oh no, not the open, secular ComStar we know and love today. We're talking ComStar from the good old days, the bad old days, the all-or-nothing days, when they'd happily engage in a little extrajudicial violence to maintain their monopoly on technology. They made moves, attempted to seize the fund, only to suddenly back off and keep their distance. Almost as if they uncovered something they were afraid of. Just what could frighten ComStar like that and didn't go by names like Smoke Jaguar and Jade Falcon. I don't know, and don't care to.

I'm an accountant: I don't do brave.

The money is still out there. It's still nowhere near the same level it once was, but it's there. All evidence is that someone is siphoning off the excess, but who and why? Again, I don't want to know. They cowered ComStar at the height of their power, and have connections everywhere. So, I sent my report to Hachiman, and got the hell out of dodge. I don't know what he's going to do with the information I gave him: everything I found indicated that Mars was the centre of the Web, but I have no intention of digging any deeper.

Who knows; maybe Uncle Chandy knows someone willing to go all the way to the bottom of the rabbit hole, just to see what's waiting for them there?

The End

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