Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 14
Allenson glanced surreptitiously at the power gauge on his datapad. They were moving against an unexpected Continuum current. That shouldn’t have been a problem. His carriage had been fully charged before leaving Manzanita. It theoretically had power to spare to reach their first port of call, Syma. Now he was beginning to become concerned.
His personal carriage was entirely self-powered and designed for longer hops through the Continuum than Trina’s conveyance. It did away with the need for a chauffeur and was navigated entirely by automatics controlled from the passenger compartment. He bought the machine from Synclare of Brasilia. Its specs were impressive but the workmanship was shoddy and it never seemed to hold a charge properly. Perhaps the energy converters were malfunctioning. Whatever the reason it never achieved the advertised speed or range.
He checked their route in case he had to displace to another closer colony. There were one or two possibilities but they were all backwaters. It was doubtful that they would have the technology to refuel the batteries. He would have been content to dump the carriage and continue on by one man frame but he was carrying passengers. There was also the matter of his gravitas. Important delegates arrived by carriage. They did not peddle in on a frame.
The method of arrival shouldn’t matter to his way of thinking but he accepted that he was out of step with his contemporaries on this. It was one of those inexplicable facts of life – like why the man had to apologize after a row with his wife irrespective of fault or the relative merits of their arguments.
Todd noticed his concern and turned to engage the other passenger in conversation to distract him from what Allenson was doing. Such matters were an important part of an aide’s duties. In this case Allenson thought Todd’s intervention superfluous. Renald Buller was not the sort of man who noticed anything except that which was immediately important to Renald Buller.
“I understand you have had a fair amount of military experience, Colonel Buller?” Todd asked, encouragingly.
Buller puffed up like an amphibious tetrapod trying to attract a mate.
“Not a fair amount, young man – considerable, considerable military experience.”
Buller jabbed a finger aggressively in Todd’s direction to punctuate his word, looking like a child poking holes in a pudding.
“And not marching around in pretty uniforms either like you young fops from the so-called better families. I mean real combat experience – up at the sharp end.”
Todd smiled. “I heard you were attached to the 12th, sir, but were fortunate to miss the Chernokovsky disaster in the Hinterland.”
Brigadier Chernokovsky had led two battalions of light infantry, the 12th and the 51st, on an expedition to eject the Terrans from Larissa. The expedition was ambushed and cut to pieces with all the senior officers killed. Allenson had managed to extract the survivors of the 51st and get them home but the 12th were wiped out to a man.
Allenson glared at Todd. It was not politic to raise the Larissa debacle with members of the Brasilian military, not even ex-members like Buller. Fortunately, the man was too thick skinned to notice the implied slight.
“Had I been there we would have seen a very different outcome young man I can tell you. A professional soldier to provide leadership instead of a ragbag of chinless wonders and colonial amateurs makes all the difference,” Buller said complacently.
He then seemed to recollect Allenson’s involvement and held a hand palm up.
“No insult to you, Allenson. Sure you did your best. Not your fault you were out of your depth.”
“One tried,” Allenson replied, dryly.
“What engagements have you seen, colonel,” Todd asked quickly, changing the subject.
“Stormed the Terran colony at Genran with the 103rd. Lost a leg and was out of it for the remainder of the Colonial Wars while it regrew. Then fought with the 103rd when we put some backbone into the Piwis in their revolt against Frankistan. Got a field promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.”
The state of Frankistan occupied the primary continent of Hiwa, one of the less important Homeworlds which had always enjoyed a close relationship with Terra. Piwi was a collection of islands in the Hiwa world ocean that at various times was part of Frankistan or independent. Mostly it occupied some confused political status of semi-dependence. Brasilia found it useful to aid the Piwi’s revolt as a tangential way of eroding Terra’s authority in the Homeworlds without actually declaring war. It was a kind of colonial war at home.
Terra responded by sending aid to Frankistan. The war devastated both Frankistan and Piwi before the business wound down to the point where a politically face saving compromise was possible. It was not clear who had won. Probably, nobody – nobody often did.
“You know what reward they gave me when the 103rd returned home?” Buller asked, rhetorically.
Todd opened his mouth but never got the chance to speak.
“Nothing that’s what,” Buller said. “They disbanded the regiment to save money and put me on the beach. They kept Guard popinjays who’d never fired a shot in anger and who’d probably shit themselves in fear if they ever saw a body but the Fighting 103rd was disbanded to save money. We weren’t fashionable you see.”
Buller made the word fashionable sound like it described a particularly virulent strain of anti-social disease.
“So I went east as a soldier of fortune and became General and aide to the King-Emperor of Quorn in his war against the Syracusian Confederacy. Gave up on Brasilia and emigrated out here when the King-Emperor was poisoned by his wife.”
Buller appeared to think that the King-Emperor had deliberately died to spite him.
“Bought a plantation on Prato Rio. I’m damned if I’ll pay taxes to support an army led by popinjays who couldn’t protect the Stream from a bunch of society ladies armed with cream puffs.”
“Quite,” Todd said, faintly, when Buller finally wound down.
Allenson convinced himself that he had enough power to reach Syma but took the precaution of running a continuous analysis of fuel with a warning set if the situation deteriorated.
“That’s why you emigrated,” Allenson said, joining the conversation to Todd’s palpable relief. “Because you felt your abilities were being unfairly overlooked in Brasilia.”
Buller snorted, “Too right, Allenson. Brasilia’s run as an old boy network for the dim-witted sons of the well connected. There’s a complete block on real talent to cut out the competition.”
Allenson found himself sucked into the conversation.
“But is it better here? Brasilian trans-Bight colonies reflect the Homeworld’s social structure, do they not?”
“Damn right which is why we have to cut ourselves off from Brasilia and get full independence.”
“I am not sure we could sell that to the Brasilian establishment,” Allenson said.
“Hardly,” Buller said. “We’ll have to fight for independence.”
“You mean war,” Allenson said.
Buller thrust his chin forward.
“Of course I mean war. You think the ruling families will just sign away their privileges?”
It had always been Allenson’s contention that those who had actually seen combat would be less keen on repeating the experience. He began to wonder whether that opinion was optimistic. The smell of war wafted around the ‘Stream like an odor from something that had recently died under the floorboards. Not yet a stench, but unchecked it soon would be.
“And we’ll need an army. Need men who’ll stand their ground against Brasilian regulars. A disciplined force commanded by a professional,” Buller said, striking a fist into the palm of his other hand for emphasis.
“Such as yourself?” Allenson asked, already knowing the answer.