Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 11
“The Carinas served Pinot Chaasuar last time I dined at their demesne. It may have been a Pinot but it had never been closer to the Chaasuar than the nearest chemical laboratory.”
“Did you feel the need to point that out to them?”
“Well, obviously,” Linsye replied, clearly wondering why he asked such a stupid question. “They needed to know that they had been cheated.”
Todd looked sorrowfully at Allenson.
“Generally, I only escort mother somewhere twice – the second time to apologize.”
Even Linsye laughed.
The dinner progressed with the usual small talk. When Allenson was young he considered such conversation to be a waste of time. Experience and Trina taught him how useful gossip could be. People revealed details in dinner conversations. Details that when put together provided invaluable information about the shifting political and commercial alliances within the ‘Stream – insofar as the two could be separated.
Bentley presented the platter of the main dish to Trina for her approval which was duly given. Allenson forced down the urge to scream. Wine to him, meat to Trina, what an utter waste of time? His life used to be so much simpler when he was young.
“Wildfowel in jaffa sauce,” Linsye exclaimed in delight. “One of my favorite dishes.”
Trina smiled: the choice of menu was always tailored to the tastes of the honored guest. One had to be careful praising a dish too highly in company or you could find yourself served it at every dinner party for the next year or so.
“The jaffa fruit is from your own demesne,” Trina said. “Your estate manager flew a crate over last harvest.”
Jaffa was a ‘Streamer crop in demand in Brasilia where it fetched ridiculous prices. Homeworld farms grew the crop but wealthy aficionados declared the taste inferior to imports from the Cutter Stream.
“I hope the wine is real?” Allenson asked. “It cost me enough.”
Trina frowned at him. Bentley’s expression went professionally blank. It was not done to discuss the cost of such things over dinner.
Linsye rolled it around her glass and inhaled the bouquet before tasting.
“Quite genuine,” she pronounced. “Perhaps a little past its best but we can forgive that as the bottle has travelled far to grace our table.”
“Oh good,” Allenson said. “I won’t have to shoot my supplier.”
Todd looked at his uncle quizzically as if trying to work out whether he was joking or not.
“Ignore him, nephew,” said Trina, shooting Allenson an exasperated look. “My husband has a peculiar sense of humor. He wouldn’t really shoot his wine merchant.”
Linsye said, “Quite right, sister in law.”
She tapped her finger on the table for emphasis.
“Shooting is too good for a wine fraudster.”
She definitely wasn’t joking.
They applied themselves to the meal.
“Tell me, Linsye?” asked Allenson in between courses. “Were you not tempted to join your brother and go back to Brasilia?”
Linsye cocked her head to look at him.
“I thought we covered this a long time ago on Paragon. In my opinion there is no future for my children and grandchildren back in Brasilia. That is why I chose a marriage alliance with a promising local family even if they were social inferiors.”
Todd coughed into his hand at this point. Linsye ignored him.
“My children do not carry the Destry name. Even if they did, there is nothing more pathetic than impoverished relatives living off the charity of other members of a Great House. Their gens association would be a curse not a benefit.”
Trina asked, “You think Royman has made the wrong decision?”
“My brother must do what he feels is best for his situation,” she replied, delicately.
“You refer to Sarai?” Trina asked, pushing the conversation to the edge of what was acceptable.
Linsye half nodded before cancelling the gesture.
“Not entirely, Royman does not I think possess the appropriate skills and interests for life across the Bight but as this is a private family gathering then yes, I refer to his marriage.”
Of course, there were servants present as well. Linsye like most Manzanitans of “the better sort” tended to regard them as part of the house fittings, forgetting that they were furniture with tongues.
Allenson tried to remember where he had heard that expression. It may have come from the slave economies of Old Earth. The destroyed bureaucratic Third Civilization had left such copious records in so many different formats that vast amounts of data about their doomed world was extant. Much of it had never been properly collated and put into context even to this day. However, enough was known to outline their history and culture. Such a bold and self-confident society – and so blind.
His train of thought drew an uneasy comparison between the indentured servants of Brasilia and the slave economies. The comparison, he assured himself, was not apt. Indentured servants were not slaves. They were people with legal rights albeit restricted ones. Their contracts could be bought and sold but the people were not property. They could hope to buy out or work off their debt. An irritatingly rebellious component of his mind reminded him that even the old slave economies had the concept of Freedmen.
There was no doubt though that the indentured servant system used by Brasilia to dump its unwanted population on the colonies displayed all the wastefulness and inefficiency of a slave society. Not that Brasilia’s colonial problems were unique. The harsh realities of Terran society ensured an excess of convict labor making their colonies just as shambolic.
Trina deftly changed the subject. She engaged Linsye on the subject of a play she had seen in Manzanita City by a promising new avant-garde playwright.
Linsye asked, “How did you find the work, Allen?”
Trina had insisted on her husband escorting her to the theatre.
“Most, ah, stimulating,” Allenson replied.
Trina cut in. “Really, I thought you dozed off.”
“Just resting my eyes to concentrate on the dialogue,” Allenson replied.
“I see,” Trina raised an eyebrow. “Are you aware that you have developed the habit of snoring when resting your eyes to concentrate?”
“I sympathize, my dear,” Linsye said. “His brother was just the same. Todd declared that the word culture always made him want to reach for a laserrifle.”
Wasn’t that another quote from some ancient philosopher, Allenson wondered? No, it couldn’t have been. Their strange superstitions about the physical nature of the universe precluded them developing the technology for laserrifles.
Allenson turned to Todd to include him in the conversation. “How did you find school and college on Brasilia?”
“Oh it had its ups and downs but I fitted in tolerably well,” Todd replied.
“You weren’t bullied at all because of your colonial background?”
“There’s always a degree of good natured banter, uncle,” Todd said without further elaboration.
Allenson struggled on.
“How did your studies go? Let me see, you read…”
Allenson’s memory balked at divulging the necessary information.
“Politics, history and anthropology.”
Todd deftly lifted Allenson out of the hole he’d dug for himself.
“I took a degree but barely scraped a third. I regret that I’m not academic material unlike Uncle Royman.”
“Much good it did him,” Linsye remarked somewhat sourly.
“It did all of us a great deal of good against Terra,” Allenson said, perhaps rather more tartly than he had intended but Royman had stood his ground with his comrades. “Indeed, Royman’s contribution as intelligence officer made him possibly the one indispensable man in our army.”
Todd said, “Praise indeed especially coming from you uncle. Most people have suggested to me that you were the indispensable man.”
“Most people are ignorant,” Allenson replied, without heat.
Todd raised his glass.
“Well then let’s drink to Uncle Royman’s new life in Brasilia.”
So they did which neatly changed the mood at the table. Trina conferred a smile of approval on her nephew’s tact.
Allenson put down his glass and examined him.
“You look rather well on university life.”
And he did. Todd was not particularly tall but wiry without a gram of excess fat on his body.
“I won a racing dark blue,” Todd said.
Blue Horizon athletic teams wore dark blue uniforms.
Allenson was impressed.
Todd added diffidently, “I rowed power wheel on the University Eight against the light blues.”
Blue Horizon’s main rival, Oak Hill University, were the light blues. These, the two oldest and most prestigious universities on Brasilia held an annual frame race. As most of the ruling families were educated at one or other of these institutions the race received media attention more suited to a major sports event. The whole world watched. A great deal of money and prestige depended on the result. Competition for a seat on one of the two frames was accordingly intense. You either had to be well connected or very, very athletic – preferably both.
Allenson asked, “How did your team do?”
“Not too badly, uncle,” Todd replied.
Linsye said with a mother’s pride, “They beat the light blues by five lengths.”
“I see, congratulations,” Allenson said, raising his glass once more but in Todd’s direction. “What do you intend to do now?”
Todd opened his mouth but Linsye cut into the conversation before he could speak.
“I thought he could be your aide.”