Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 16
The restaurant itself was a circular bowl with terraced seating under a ruby-red ceiling fluorescing from spotlights projecting up into the glass. Streams flowed down from the edges of the bowl. The water meandered around the tables to drain under the kitchen hub in the center. Few staff assisted the diners. One found a table, ordered via datapad from the menu and collected the food in person from automaton dispensers in the hub. It was all rather egalitarian in a high tech sort of way.
Allenson chose a seat up on the bowl where each table was made from a different colored mineral marbled with various contra-colors. The seats were likewise constructed. Allenson scored them ten for fashion but minus several hundred for comfort.
The restaurant was almost empty. Allenson checked his pad and found it was an odd time for dinner on local time. That was the problem with frame travel. The local time zone was usually never convenient but here it had worked in their favor.
Allenson ordered a stew more or less at random from the hologram over the table while Todd chose something complicated from the Terran section. Todd trotted off to get them a couple of beers while their meals were prepared.
Allenson was pleased to see that the boy returned with simple lagers only mildly flavored with elderberry.
“I don’t understand how Colonel Buller can hope to be put in command of the colonial militia regiments,” Todd said, when they had slaked their thirst. “Surely you already hold that position?”
“Indeed, no,” Allenson replied. “True I was the last Inspector General of Colonial Militia until my retirement but that position was never refilled.”
“Why not?” Todd asked.
“Well, as it’s a gift within the control of the Brasilian Colonial Office, you would have to ask them. I’d imagine that they saw no useful purpose in a unified military command this side of the Bight once the Terran colonies were defeated.”
“But mother said you were elected Colonel in Chief of the Colonial Militia Regiments.”
“Not exactly, I was elected Colonel in Chief by each Regiment which is not the same thing at all.”
Todd looked at him blankly, clearly not understanding.
“It’s not a unified command.”
“Sorry, Uncle Allen, you’ve lost me.”
“Maybe an example would help,” Allenson said. “Suppose I wanted the Wagner, Manzanita and Prato Rio Regiments to go to, say, Leyland. I would have to give the Commanding Officer of each Regiment a personal order as his superior. Now further suppose I want to conduct a military operation on Leyland in Brigade strength. How would I do that?”
“You would have to be present at Leyland to order each Regimental CO personally unless the operation was so simple that you could send them out with fixed orders,” Todd replied slowly.
Allenson was pleased to see that Todd grasped the problem immediately, not that he expected his brother and Linsye’s child to be slow.
“In my experience everything is simple in warfare but to do the simple is extraordinarily difficult. In my experience if the enemy have only three different choices of reaction to your plans you may expect them to take the fourth, the one not foreseen in the original orders. Now assume I also want other militia regiments to conduct a simultaneous brigade operation deep into the Hinterland.”
“You would need to learn to pedal really fast,” Todd said with a grin.
Allenson laughed. “And then some. Sure each regiment will take orders from me personally but only a proper military organization can conduct a prolonged campaign, let alone a war.”
“One might almost think that Brasilia planned it that way,” Todd said.
“Never assume the enemy. I mean the opposition, is stupid,” Allenson replied, remembering his conversation with Trina.
The table hologram flickered and chimed.
“Ah, I think our meal is ready and here comes Buller.”
“Oh joy,” Todd replied.
The first bite of winter lay on the steppe and a thin smear of frost on the thick grass hinted at the cold to come. The coating was a prelude to the main symphony of thick snow and iron-hard ground. Hawthorn pulled back the heavy wooden door. The chill steppe wind swept gleefully into his workshop. It pried playfully into the nooks and crannies including some rather personal to the owner. He shivered and made a mental note to look out his furs. When he walked back to the counter he limped slightly on his left leg.
Hard wood was at a premium on the steppe so it only used for the skeletal frame of the building and the doors and window shutters. The walls were made of a lattice of interweaved stems generously coated in a sticky mix of mud, dried leaves and animal dung. The smell wasn’t too bad once it had dried. In winter, anyway, things got a bit whiffy in high summer.
A small collection of Riders waited stoically outside, their skin turning blue with cold under their furs and trade-cloth blankets. The first in line was a Rider woman, looking about eighty but probably nearer thirty. Riders aged quickly because life in the wilderness was brutal and short. Those who praised the noble ways of the simple savage from the depths of a comfy armchair would be shocked by the reality.
The woman produced a small statuette, a crude representation of a Rider on a Rider beast. Hawthorn examined it, turning it over in his hands. It had probably been hand-carved by a blunt trade knife wielded by a Rider male too old to hunt. Ivory from the tusk of some animal provided the raw material. In short it was just the sort of one-off unique item that would appeal to a collector in the Homeworlds where rarity was at a premium. Homeworlders prized imperfect uniqueness, conditioned as they were by the cheap availability of automaton mass-produced perfection.
He offered the woman ten trade tokens using Kant, the lingua franca Riders used for inter-clan communication. The fact that “foreigner” and “enemy” were the same word in Kant spoke volumes about the nature of most interclan communication.
Her eyes widened. Ten was a good price, worth twenty in goods from his own store. Each token was valued at an exchange rate of a few Brasilian pennies. The work would sell for several crowns in a Brasilian art shop specializing in the primitive provided it was accompanied by a certificate of provenance signed by every dealer along the trade route but that was there. Here, at a trading post deep in the Hinterlands, ten tokens was a good price.
The “box-people” astonished Riders. Why would anyone so imaginably rich in possessions want to exchange valuable items like knives and blankets for a piece of old tat that anyone with two thumbs could knock out in an hour?
The woman elected to take half the payment in a bottle of tonk and some cloth. Hawthorn carefully measured out the length from the roll chosen by the woman. The material was bright red with black zig-zag patterns. Riders liked loud colors but who was he to criticize their taste? After all, his people paid ridiculous prices for “primitive art”.
“Tonk” was the universal word for rotgut gin. Riders had no access to alcohol before humanity crossed the Bight so the human word had found its way into Kant. A little went a long way with a Rider but, in its way, tonk was as useful for keeping out the cold as furs or trade-cloth.
The word originally came from a shortening of Tollins Superior Berry Distillation. Tollins was still a popular brand in the Stream for those with shallow pockets but deep thirsts. Hawthorn drank it himself when he was out of plum brandy. The only thing superior about Tollins product was that it was guaranteed not to actually blind its customers provided they didn’t drink too much or they didn’t get a dodgy batch rushed through on a Friday afternoon, or – well, you get the picture.
Hawthorn served his little band of customers. He traded cloth, tonk and ceramic tools for furs, gem minerals and curios. Eventually he worked through the queue of Riders and was left alone with his thoughts. That was nowhere he wanted to be so he used a trick he had perfected of clearing his mind and just being.
A soft chime switched his intellect back on. He retrieved his datapad from a shelf under the counter. An icon flashed red, activated by a solar powered instrument package on the roof that monitored ripples in the Continuum.