Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 06
“I hope you will speak out for the ‘Stream back in Brasilia,” Allenson said, changing the subject.
“Of course but I doubt anyone will take any notice of my opinion,” Destry said. “Trance is convinced there will be war. That is why he has put up the money for Sarai and me to go home.”
Trance was the Paterfamilias of Gens Destry which made him one of the hundred or so most influential people on Brasilia. When Destry spoke of “putting up the money”, he was not just referring to the cost of the liner tickets, expensive though they were, but of the purchase of an estate on Brasilia suitable for the dignity of Destrys albeit minor colonial offshoots of the gens like Royman and Sarai.
“No one who has experienced war wants to go through it a second time,” Allenson said. “Let’s hope Trance is mistaken.”
“Yes, but he rarely is,” Destry said. “Probably because he is one of the people whose decisions mold the course of events so his opinions tend to be self-fulfilling”
“Is that why you have decided to go home?” Allenson asked. “Because of the rumors of war?”
“Partly,” Destry replied. “And partly because I think Sarai and I need a new start. Maybe she will agree to children if it goes well.”
A low wheeled car slid out of the terminal and drove towards them.
“That’s my transport,” Destry said. “Goodbye, Allenson.”
They solemnly shook hands.
“Sod it,” Destry said giving Allenson a hug, to his astonishment and no little embarrassment.
The chauffeur opened the door of the car for Destry to climb in. He held up his hand, preventing the door closing.
“Promise you will look me up, Allenson, when you visit Brasilia.”
“Of course,” Allenson replied.
Destry removed his hand letting the door shut. The car pulled smoothly away and Allenson watched it drive out onto the quay. In his heart he knew he would never see Royman Destry again.
He was going to miss him.
Allenson’s chauffeur attempted to open the door of the carriage but Allenson waved him back to his post at the front of the vehicle. The carriage looked a bit like an open sleigh, roofless and resting on two skids. The chauffeur sat in a small open cockpit with a control screen by his left elbow and a small stick on the right. Black rods projected out at forty five degrees at the sides of the coachwork.
Trina was already sat on the leather-upholstered bench seat at the rear. His wife was petite, a little plumper than current fashion dictated but attractive in a motherly sort of way. She watched him climb in beside her but she said nothing. She correctly gauged his mood as not conducive to chit chat. She was good at that, judging his mood. She knew when he wanted to talk and when it was best to leave him be.
“Home, sar?” asked the chauffer, turning around.
“Yes, Pentire,” Allenson replied, brusquely.
The chauffeur said nothing but turned back and busied himself turning on the power and keying the carriage’s automatics to Port Newquay Control. Even the damn chauffeur knew when Allenson was out of sorts. The fact that everyone could anticipate his humor so easily did nothing to improve Allenson’s mood. Neither did the fact that they sat stationary for second after second.
“If we don’t get clear soon we will be trapped for hours by the liner’s lift sequence,” Allenson said, irritably. “The new Control’s automatics were supposed to stop these pointless bloody traffic jams. Heaven knows Brasilia charged us enough to install them. I suppose we’ve been ripped off again.”
Trina unfurled a bright yellow parasol and adjusted the angle so she disappeared under it. The chauffeur switched on an eye shade colored a hideous bilious green through which swam the dark orange silhouettes of naked girls.
“Ping control, Farant, and tell them that Delegate Allenson demands priority.”
“I’ve just done that, sar.”
“Then bloody do it again.”
The chauffeur touched the control screen and leaned forward to mutter something into a microphone. There was no point, Allenson reflected, in having authority if you didn’t abuse it occasionally.
A hum from the centrally-located motor was the first sign that Control had acquiesced to Allenson’s queue jumping. Balls of green and blue light rolled down the rods and out onto carbon filaments that extended from the rods like spreading ice crystals. A faint shimmer in the air like a heat haze was just detectable around the carriage. Frame fields were theoretically invisible if exactly adjusted but when was any machine perfectly tuned? Not in the Cutter Stream, that was for sure.
The carriage lifted from the ground and turned away from Port Newquay, climbing slowly until it levelled out at a thousand feet. Trina fastened her lap belt and gazed at Allenson stonily until he did the same. Allenson was pleased to see that Farant kept his right hand on the control stick and his left on the screen even though they were on full automatic.
Farant was a competent and careful man. That was why Allenson bought his contract when he decided Trina needed a new chauffeur. That, and because the man was a proficient shot with an ion pistol. Allenson paid the indentured servant a generous salary that gave him every expectation of buying out his contract in a few years. Farant had every reason to be solicitous of Lady Allenson’s future good health.
Control routed them around the edge of Lake Clearwater to avoid flying over Manzanita City. That flight path was forbidden ever since an overloaded lighter frame with burnt out batteries came down onto the island despite the one sober crew member peddling like mad to generate power. It hit one of the villas along the shore killing the young mistress of a Member of the Upper House.
The surviving crew member, the sober one, was carefully questioned before being exiled to one of the more unpleasant Hinterland colonies. The interrogation revealed nothing that was not already known. The local frame technology was unreliable and half the stuff imported from Brasilia was crap. Brasilia did not permit its colonies across the Bight to trade freely with other Homeworlds. ‘Streamers had to put up with whatever Brasilia’s merchants chose to dump on them. Reflecting on this didn’t calm Allenson so he concentrated on watching the world go past.
New settlements were springing up all around the shores of the lake. Land on the original island shot up in value as Manzanita City grew in prosperity and population. Middle class citizens decamped out to the new suburbs on the mainland. With no Rider attacks on Manzanita in living memory, the need for a defensible island site became irrelevant. The island was now home just to the Cutter Stream local government, the wealthy owners of the villas on the shore and barrack-like buildings for the poor who provided the necessary cheap labor.
They passed over the site of a new settlement still under construction. Allenson was intrigued to see that it was not just utilitarian blocks of cheap flats but also more upmarket houses in terraces with individual gardens. The jetty was already up and being used to bring in materials and labor by boat.
There was still only one causeway running from the island to the mainland where it ended in Port Clearwater. Unused by anyone, that is anyone who mattered, it slowly fell into disrepair. Nothing ever came of the talk of putting in a new causeway to Port Newquay. Myriads of small private boats, ferries and lighters weaved backwards and forwards across the lake linking Manzanita City to its suburbs. Far too much money and hence political influence was tied up in waterway transport for a new causeway to get backing in either the Upper or Lower House.
The power supply in Trina’s carriage had been retrofitted from a Brasilian military lighter that Allenson had used his influence as Colonel of Militia to acquire. Terran Home World technology was state of the art so Allenson had every confidence in its reliability. Nevertheless, he was pleased to see from the movement of Farent’s shoulders that he was peddling every so often to keep the batteries charged. The chauffeur was indeed a careful man.
Allenson checked Farent’s background carefully before employing him. The driver wound up in the Cutter Stream after having been caught defrauding his employer to pay off gambling debts. He was addicted to betting on which dog could run the fastest. He became an indentured servant when his labor was sold to provide compensation for the theft. Farent was spared temptation in his new home as the Stream colonies had never felt the need to import racing dogs across the Bight.