Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 07
Competent people in the colonies were always in short supply, especially if they had saleable skills. You either paid ridiculous sums of money to persuade a qualified young employee from the Homeworlds to work on a short term contract so he could build up a nest egg before going home or you took what you could get. And what you got could be pretty undesirable. Better an indentured servant exiled from the Homeworld with a known vice you could live with than an unskilled local or worse, an incompetent immigrant.
This terrible social system hobbled colonial society. It might have been designed for maximum inefficiency but you worked within the system you had. Most people in the colonies never gave it much thought. After all, they knew nothing else. The wealthy, of course, had no incentive for change because they were already at the top of the tree. Sometimes in an idle moment Allenson dreamt up better ways for mankind to spread across the Bight but he was a pragmatic soul and recognized the pointlessness of fantasizing.
Brasilia’s main Homeworld rival colonizing across the Bight was Terra, still licking its wounds from losing the last colonial war. They used convicts as forced labor in their colonies rather than indentured servants. It was a distinction without much difference and just as inefficient.
The carriage rose and fell, overtaking slower-moving traffic. Trina keyed the screen beside her elbow. Background noises cut out and they could converse without the driver overhearing.
“I shall miss the Destrys too,” she said, squeezing his arm.
Allenson managed to smile at her.
“Yes, it was nice to have one friend who wasn’t after anything. Someone could be relied upon to tell me exactly what he thought even if I didn’t want to hear it.”
“Sarai was extraordinarily kind to me when I was sick,” Trina said.
Somehow it always came back to Sarai. Allenson could not decide whether he was sorry or relieved that Sarai was out of his life forever. Perhaps he was both. The Destrys were regular guests at Pentire when they had business in Manzanita or Sarai wished to visit her family. In return, the Allensons occasionally stayed with the Destrys on Wagner when Allenson was required to sort out whatever mess his stepmother was currently making of his late father’s demesne.
He and Sarai behaved as would properly be expected between in-laws with no overt impropriety. But there was always the glance, the touch on his arm, the flash of her eyes: things that Trina and Royman Destry carefully failed to notice.
“She was good at that, caring I mean,” Allenson said. “She nursed me once.”
“I know, she told me,” Trina said, squeezing his arm again to show it was alright.
“Maybe Destry is better out of it the way things are going,” Allenson said absentmindedly, still remembering Sarai’s tears when he married Trina.
Sarai never could see that a liaison was impossible. She married Royman Destry, his friend, and that was the end of it. A properly discrete fling would have been socially acceptable. It did not matter even if everyone knew provided no one acknowledged that they knew. But it would never be just a fling between Sarai and him. It would never be just another meaningless adventure. The passion ran too deep, burnt too fiercely, and Sarai was incapable of discreteness.
Sooner or later she would have precipitated a crisis. Destry would have been publically cuckolded. He would have call Allenson out or be humiliated and dishonored. Whatever happened then would ruin four lives. He had been right to end it almost as soon as it began. But sometimes, just sometimes, in the dark of the night he remembered her legs opening beneath him like the petals of an exotic flower.
“Why do you say that?” Trina asked.
Allenson dragged his thoughts back to reality.
“That maybe the Destrys are better off leaving.”
“Because of the political crisis,” Allenson replied.
“Oh that! Isn’t there always a political crisis? I mean, crisis seems to be the normal state for our political system. What makes this one any different from all the others?” Trina asked.
A soft beep sounded and an amber triangle came up on Trina’s screen. She turned away from him to touch it with a finger.
“Pardon the interruption, ma’am, but we have permission from Control for free flight. I propose to phase out,” said Farent’s voice over the intercom.
“By all means, carry on,” Trina replied, removing her finger from the screen to break contact.
“It’s the new taxation proposals,” Allenson said.
“No one likes paying taxes. It’s not unreasonable that the colonies make some contribution for their defense. We couldn’t expect the Brasilian taxpayer to shoulder the burden alone indefinitely. Why should this tax be so more unpopular than any other?”
Allenson almost snapped at Trina for asking such a damn fool question but bit back the jibe. Increasingly over the years, Trina looked inward to her family. Her role as matriarch of a great estate meant she took little interest in politics and events of state, content to leave such matters to her partner. For that she should not be blamed. She had much to occupy her attention.
Her son, Reggie, took after his biological parents. He combined his mother’s charm with the cheerful irresponsibility that marked his father’s life. Money slipped through his fingers and any sum “lent” to Reggie must be marked as permanently lost. He occasionally “borrowed” sums from his stepfather’s study without troubling Allenson by asking first.
The list of schools from which Reggie had been expelled read like a guide to the finest education establishments this side of the Bight. Trina had tried enrolling him in everything from a military academy – Reggie had taken out one of the dormitories with a homemade fifty centimeter mortar constructed to celebrate his birthday – to a liberal arts academy – where he had been caught running a protection racket among the younger boys.
Trina’s son was always contrite, always apologetic when rebuked for his misdeeds. He faithfully promised never to repeat them. To be fair he rarely did. The next catastrophe would be something novel. Trina doted on the boy and could rarely be cross with him for long. Allenson gave up trying to apply discipline early on since Trina robustly defended her son against such interference, even scolding Allenson in the boy’s presence.
Allenson quickly realized that further efforts on his part to constrain Reggie would merely further undermine any authority he had left with the boy and drive a wedge between him and his wife. He contented himself with a stepfather’s duty of good stewardship of the lad’s inheritance until he came of age. He had no expectation of a good result long term but that would be neither his fault nor his responsibility.
And then there was Trina’s daughter, Minta. Poor beautiful sweet Minta, another victim of the genetic damage from the biowars that preceded the collapse of the Third Civilization. The terrible legacy of bioweapons struck too close to home. He suppressed the thought, packing it neatly in a mental box marked “do not open here be daemons”.
“You are very preoccupied, husband,” Trina said.
“What? Oh, sorry, may dear. I was just ordering my thoughts to answer your question. It’s not the tax as such. As you say, the colonies would eventually have to take over the cost of their own infrastructure spending. It’s the way the tax is being applied.”
“Look, if you’d asked me twenty years ago, ten even, how we’d govern the Brasilian Trans-Bight colonies like the Stream, I’d have confidently assumed that Brasilia would be withdrawing its governors and officials. I envisaged the Homeworld gradually replacing them with diplomats and technocratic advisors. Instead they are moving in the opposite direction and curtailing the powers of the Manzanita Houses. Local government’s become little more than City Councils arguing about how often the ferry boats run and how many life belts they should carry.”
“Taxation without representation.” Trina said, looking at him.
Allenson got out his datapad.
“That’s a rather pithy phrase, my dear. I must make a note of that.”