Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 09
The protective hedges around the Pentire living quarters kept unwanted visitors out, not the servants in. An indentured servant had not run from the complex for many years. The last case had a love affair at root. Allenson solved the problem by buying the contract of the other party in the affair, finding them a position on the estate. It was not unusual for servants to request to stay on at Pentire as employees when they had worked off or bought out their contracts.
Beyond stood the utilitarian warehouses and barns required by a working agricultural demesne. The Fleek paddocks occupied an isolated position, located suitably upwind to the prevailing weather.
Only one entrance pierced the gunja plants forming the hedge around the buildings. An angled and narrow approach restricted and slowed access. The reinforced gate stood open to allow estate vehicles in and out. It could quickly be shut, sealing off the compound. Two men in the green and white livery of Pentire Demesne stood each side of the gate, lasercarbines slung on straps from one shoulder. Allenson was pleased to see them upright and hence reasonably alert.
Two similar armed guards stood by the low wall running around the roof of the main house. All four watched the carriage descend into the formal garden. Farent hopped out and opened a carriage door so Trina could alight. Trina’s maid hovered at the entrance to the east wing where his wife had her apartment, alerted to her arrival by the automatics. The new wings were more comfortable than the old building and the rooms cozier if less impressive.
“If you’ll excuse me, my dear, I need to pop up to my office to check something.”
“You go ahead,” Trina said. “Eight convenient for dinner?”
“Eight, right,” Allenson replied. That didn’t give him long as it was already late afternoon, Pentire local time. He went into the old building and ran up the back stairs two at a time to the first floor where he had an office. Shrugging off the uncomfortable formal jacket and loosening his necktie, he tossed the datapad onto his desk and turned it on.
In the room the pad could draw on the greater analytical capability of his desk. He put up a solid hologram that showed the view of the estate from the air as the carriage phased in. He ran the video backwards and forwards, changing the mix of frequencies from ultraviolet to microwave until a linear shadow across the red-lime bushes clearly showed up.
One had to be a little careful of overanalyzing pictures. One could easily create artefacts but unfortunately he had no doubt this was real. He overlaid a schematic of the new drainage system fitted last year to this part of the estate. One of the pipes ran directly under the shadow.
Allenson swore softly under his breath. The damn pipe was leaking something that affected the plants. It might not be particularly toxic to red-lime but that wasn’t the point. He had paid premium price for inert long-life ceramic pipes imported from Brasilia. The blasted things were breaking down in the Manzanita soil after only a year: so much for the manufacturer’s guarantees.
It might just be an unfortunate and unforeseeable chemical interaction but it was more likely that his Brasilian supplier had dumped second-grade stock on him at first grade prices. In theory, he could sue but – all the way across the Bight – in a Brasilian commercial court?
He thought he might as well check through his letters and skim through the various reports accumulating in his in-tray. As usual, there was more than he had anticipated. Well not anticipated, make that more than he hoped for.
A cough from the doorway caught his attention. Allenson groaned inwardly at the sight of Bentley, Trina’s major-domo. Bentley was bald and middle aged. He had probably been born middle aged but that was no excuse for being bald. Appropriate genosurgery was hardly expensive and, God knows, Trina paid the man enough.
“The Mistress asked me to remind sar that dinner is at eight,” Bentley said.
“What time is it now?” Allenson asked.
“Then I’ve plenty of time so go away.”
Bentley failed to disappear.
“Was there something else?” Allenson asked.
Bentley coughed again.
“I’ve run sar’s bath and laid out suitable evening clothes,” Bentley said. “The Mistress was most insistent that I should remind sar of dinner in good time so sar did not have to rush sar’s toilette.”
“Tell me Bentley, do I smell?”
“Then I do not need a bath rushed or otherwise.”
“If you say so, sar,” Bentley said with a carefully blank expression.
The major-domo left, shutting the door behind him.
The blank expression worried Allenson. He could live with Bentley’s disapproval but a blank expression raised alarm signals.
Allenson crossed the room in two strides. He flung open the door, to find himself nose to nose with the servant. Clearly Bentley expected him to have second thoughts.
“What is it you know that I don’t?” Allenson asked.
“I really couldn’t say, sar, since I don’t know what sar doesn’t know,” Bentley replied.
“Bentley, stop pissing me around. You only put on that blank expression when you think I’m about to make some dreadful social cock up. So what don’t I know?”
Allenson spelt out each word of the last sentence slowly.
“Possibly sar has forgotten that sar’s sister in law is dining here tonight.”
“Lady Destry, yes sar.”
“Dining with us?”
“Obviously, sar, or she could not dine with sar,” Bentley said patiently, as if explaining teetotalism to a drunk.
“Why did no one tell me?” Allenson asked.
“I put it in sar’s social diary some two weeks ago myself,” Bentley replied.
“Ah,” Allenson said.
He had erased the social diary from his desk after it had interrupted his work with a reminder about something of such monumental unimportance that he just could not recall what it had been about. It was not impossible that it had been about Linsye’s visit.
“Possibly I should dress for dinner,” Allenson said.
“Yes, sar,” Bentley replied.
“And you’ve put something out?” Allenson asked.
Bentley’s eyes gleamed.
“On the mistress’ instructions, sar, your blue dinner suit with lilac ribbons and accessories including your lemon ruffed shirt and stack-heeled two-toned boots.”
“Oh dear God!”
“I look like the doorman of a second rate brothel with upmarket pretensions,” Allenson muttered.
He examined himself in the mirror with something akin to horror. This year’s fashionable colors in Manzanita society were, if anything, even more garish than usual. The suit tied across the top with a complicated white silk loop. Allenson experimented in fixing it in various ways settling eventually for a granny knot at the base of his throat. At least he would be fashionably clothed for his funeral if he choked on the damn thing.
A discrete cough sounded at his elbow.
“Did you cough, Bentley?”
“Yes, sar, if I may assist.”
Without waiting for a reply, the major-domo retied the ribbon in a complex flat bow and positioned it over Allenson’s right breast. Actually it did look better. Now he could pass as the doorman to a first rate brothel.
“And your campaign medals, sar?”
“I think not.”
Allenson shuddered. Medals reminded him of war and of people more heroic than him who had failed to return to wear any. Bentley looked crestfallen.
“I suppose you spent half the afternoon polishing them?” Allenson asked.
“Not quite half the afternoon,” Bentley replied carefully.
“Very well, just this once,” Allenson said.
Bentley brightened up immediately and carefully arranged the medals to hang over Allenson’s left breast. They were such innocuous looking little ceramic and crystal rods in the Manzanita colors of purple and gray shot with gold threads recreating symbols of Old Earth. Each one represented blood, pain and sacrifice. The medals held no more glory than the battles they represented.
He made his way along the corridor to Trina’s dressing room. She stared thoughtfully at herself in a full length mirror, turning to left and right to check the folds in her rose-colored dress. A necklace of polished chromite and serpentine crystals from one of the Hinterland worlds set it off. Her maid fussed with her hair but she already looked wonderful. Trina had taste. She knew what to wear and how to wear it. She knew how to blend colors for best effect. By the standards of ‘Streamer gentility, she dressed with understated elegance.
“How do I look?” she asked.
“Perfect, as always,” he replied, truthfully.
“You look very distinguished as well,” she said, lying politely. Or perhaps love really was blind.
He held out his hand and escorted her out of her apartment into the formal dining room main building. They stopped in the atrium to wait for their guest. Bentley served wine fortified by plum brandy in small crystal glasses.
Linsye arrived in the atrium at exactly the prescribed four minutes after her hosts. A tall, rather gaunt woman, she was striking rather than beautiful. Her clothes were expensively tailored, probably Brasilian imports, but chosen for convenience rather than fashion. People like Linsye set the fashion rather than follow. When she could be bothered, that is.