Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 05
Chapter 2 – Rumors of War
“All rather different from when we were young men,” Destry observed, glancing around the dock.
Port Newquay’s syncrete aprons glittered white in the bright Manzanita sunshine. The amber field in front of Destry’s eyes lightened and darkened as he turned his head. It responded to the changing strength of the polarized waves of light and ultraviolet bouncing into his face from the perfectly flat surface.
This year the fashion among the upper classes was a field shaped like a great curved visor hanging in the air ten centimeters from the face. Hints of smoky fractal patterns in darker brown formed and disintegrated seemingly at random.
“Yes, there was just Port Clearwater then. It impressed me when I first saw it fifteen years ago,” Allenson replied.
Port Clearwater was still there, a kilometer or so along the shore of Lake Clearwater. Wealthy tourists and business men alighting at the trans-Bight terminal would not have their vision polluted by its appearance but it was close enough to move goods to and from. Port Clearwater catered for the tramp ships and barges short-hauling freight around the Cutter Stream worlds along the edge of the Bight.
The conversation between the two old friends was surreal, not least because it was likely to be the last. There were many things Allenson could have said even should have said but the words wouldn’t come. There was a pause in the conversation while both men studied the massive rectangular grey box of the Interworld liner. It floated, moored to a long solid quay projecting into the lake.
It was difficult to grasp the ship’s true size as the entry ports were mostly closed so the vehicle was featureless. Even the field support rods projecting from every surface gave little clue to scale.
“I envy you, brother-in-law”, Destry said quietly.
“What?” Allenson asked, startled. “Why?”
“You started with every disadvantage…”
“Hardly,” Allenson interrupted. “You make it sound like I was born in a stable.”
“Of course not,” Destry waved a hand in denial. “I didn’t mean to suggest that you were one of the great unwashed but you didn’t have my advantages.”
“Very few people did have your advantages,” Allenson replied, with a smile to show he meant no offence. “Mind you we Allensons did enjoy a link to Gens Destry when my brother Todd married Linsye.”
“Alliance with the Allensons was definitely one of our better decisions. It was down to my sister you know,” he said, turning to face Allenson. “Father was initially reluctant to sanction the match as he had plans for her to marry on Brasilia. Linsye can be most forceful when she chooses.”
“I know,” Allenson said, making a rueful face. “She gave me one hell of a wigging when Todd died on Paragon. I wallowed in self-pity but she knocked me out of it.”
“I watched the conversation from a window,” Destry said.
“You never said.”
“No, well, I’ve been on the end of Lynsye’s tongue far too often myself to bait a fellow sufferer. I never wanted to discuss her advice to me with a third party so I saw no reason why you would.”
He gave Allenson a sly grin which he switched off after a tenth of a second.
“I envy you because you have achieved so much while I have stood still my whole life.”
“That’s nonsense,” Allenson said forcefully. “You played a critical role in the Rider and Terran Wars and have well-deserved combat and campaign medals to prove it.”
“We did do rather well, didn’t we?” Destry asked.
“Indeed, we did!”
“But you know what I take most satisfaction from?” Destry asked.
“That first trip into the Hinterlands with you and Jeb Hawthorn. The Harbinger Project set up the exploitation of the new worlds and we achieved that – just the three of us. And dammit, Allenson, we were young and everything was new and such fun.”
For a moment they were both lost in the past.
“What I most remember about that expedition is fear,” Allenson finally said, as much to break the silence as anything.
“You, afraid?” Destry snorted derisively. “I recall you charging a pack of renegades single handed. You remember. Your gun crashed so you whirled it ’round your head like a club.”
“You mistake stupidity for bravery,” Allenson said, dryly. “But it wasn’t death I was afraid of.”
Being afraid of death always seemed pointless to Allenson. After all, it was the one inevitable in life and at least then all your problems were over.
“I was afraid of failure, of disgracing myself in the eyes of my peers since I had no idea what was going on half the time let alone what I should do about it.”
“You always know what to do,” Destry said simply. “That is why you are so successful.”
“Rubbish, I’m just a gentleman-farmer who got lucky and inherited my brother’s estate.”
“A shrewd businessman who is now one of the largest landowners in the Cutter Stream,” Destry corrected sharply.
Destry’s eyes focused on infinity and he cocked his head, listening to a private holographic message that only he could see or hear.
“Sarai is going aboard,” Destry said.
The Interworld liner was fuelled, loaded and ready to sail. Destry and his wife would join at the last moment. Even in first class, room on an Interworld ship capable of crossing the Bight was extremely limited with much space given over to fusion motors and iron heat sinks. Metallic elements like iron created enormous drag in the continuum. Drag must be overcome by power, power that created heat, heat that needed heat sinks to dispose of, and so on and so on. When it came to ship design, everything was a compromise.
The transBight colonies only existed because of a major chasm, the Cutter Stream. Chasms were permanent rivers of energy flowing through the Continuum. This one linked the Home Worlds to the colonies. Without that free push across the Bight colonization of the Cutter Stream Worlds would have been uneconomic as there were no intermediate inhabitable worlds to use as stopovers.
The liner was scheduled to sail down the edge of the Bight to the Brasilian Colony of Trent. There it would shed heat before joining another chasm that would boost it back across the Bight to the Home Worlds. Its first class staterooms looked luxurious enough. Clever camera angles appeared to show spacious lounges and restaurants but that was all an illusion. By the end of the journey Destry and his sensual wife would barely be on speaking terms. So passengers boarded in reverse order of rank, stateroom guests last.
“I fear Sarai is disappointed in her marriage,” Destry said. “Disappointed in me.”
“That’s nonsense,” Allenson said, somewhat curter then he had intended. “Sarai lucked out when your families agreed the marriage contract. As Lady Destry she has enjoyed far more status and luster than she could ever have hoped to attain as the daughter of a Manzanita merchant. If she is disappointed in that then the fault is with her not you.”
Destry shrugged. “Her family had money but little status. Mine, as you know, lacked the financial wherewithal commensurate with membership of one of the ruling gens of Brasilia. That was why my great grandfather came out to the colonies in the first place – to make his fortune. My marriage alliance with Sarai was a good match for both families. We have both fulfilled our contractual commitments but sometimes I wish she could show me the affection she has found for others.”
Allenson struggled for an answer. He had grown acquiescent if not entirely comfortable in Sarai’s presence but it hadn’t always been like that. Old memories, old feelings long suppressed rose unbidden from the swampy depths of his memory – feelings of guilt and shame but most of all passion – terrible all-encompassing passion.
“Cocktease am I?” she had asked throatingly. “What makes you think I am teasing.”
Her thin orange gown tore easily under his hand and how she had opened her legs in blatant invitation.
“You and Trina enjoy a good marriage,” Destry said.
“That is true,” Allenson agreed, mentally shoving the past back in its box.
“She clearly adores you.”
Allenson stared at his friend. Trina was a loyal, attentive and affectionate wife, he supposed, but that was not what he meant by a good marriage. She brought money and useful connections to the contract. Over the years he learned to rely on her good sense and political instincts but he had never hungered after Trina as he had after Sarai. Perhaps that was one reason it was a good marriage.