Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 18
Chapter 6 – Paxton
Allenson’s carriage phased in over Paxton and began a slow circular descent through a sky crowded with frames. He had read about Paxton and seen video clips but the reality was still astonishing. The population must be four or five times that of Manzanita.
Buller and Todd ignored the view. They concentrated on a heated discussion of the merits of various Brasilian football teams, particularly their chances in upcoming league matches. Both Brasilians were familiar with cities that made Paxton look like a village. Allenson wasn’t so he welcomed the chance to play tourist.
Paxton had been founded as a commercial venture by Exoticana Services, a consortium owned by three powerful Brasilian gens. It was really a series of towns strong along the edges of a ria, a drowned river valley complex. At some point the world of Nortania must have been in the grip of a snowball climate. When it warmed, water from the melting ice sheets had carved out steep-sided valleys which subsequently flooded as sea levels rose.
The hinterland behind the city must once been a mountain range but glaciers ground it down flattening the peaks into a plateau. Rising sea levels then turned the terrain into a flat coastal strip partitioned by deep saltwater channels that acted to mediate weather already temperate.
An astonishingly rich and agriculturally productive land resulted. Soils formed from glacial loess added to the fertility: something to do with varied mineral content, porosity and cation exchange capacity according to the farming manuals.
The salt-water channels served as ready-made canals to move agricultural produce down-estuary to Paxton. Interworld ships could land directly there on the deep-water ria close in to the shore. Waterborne traffic was slow but extremely cost effective. The plants were in no hurry so the canals were still in use despite Paxton’s modern prosperity.
A cross-Bight transporter and yacht lay floated at anchor. The cargo ship was docked at an industrial terminal, the yacht next to a bank dominated by the stepped up villas of the local gentry. Lighters shuffled between a dockside warehouse and the transporter, moving bales of plant material.
Paxton was perfect for the growth and distribution of the genosurgeoned crops. That made it ideal for the mass production of high value exotic products such as narcotics, drugs, and perfumes. The low organic content of the soil was convenient as it facilitated the spraying of chemical precursors to fine tune the molecular constituents in the crops. Paxton Freeport prospered until it was one the most important commercial centers this side of the Bight.
The extraction and blending of the target organics in the genosurgeoned crops was done on Brasilia under the direct control of Exoticana. The three families that owned the company shares had little interest in Nortania as such provided Paxton continued to supply a steady output of raw material.
Neither Paxton nor Nortania as a whole had a Brasilian governor because the powerful gens involved hadn’t been keen on officialdom poking its nose into their business activities. The company maintained an office and small administration to oversee plant exports. Otherwise the commercial consortium was disinterested in government except in so far as it affected their business so the colonists on Paxton largely governed themselves. The locals had no interest in interrupting the trade on which their prosperity was based so everyone was happy: everyone except for a few political radicals and hot heads who were easily weeded out at intervals and exiled.
Being centrally placed, neither of the Lower nor Upper Cutter Stream colonies, made Paxton an ideal neutral meeting place for the Assembly. The world had a suitably developed infrastructure capable of handling an influx of the great and the good. Such people could hardly be expected to live in tents and dig their own latrines while they discussed weighty matters of state.
Allenson’s carriage descended to a commercial area behind the coastal villas. The region overflowed with shops, restaurants and inns. They parked beside Verdant House, a two story public house built from dark varnished hardwood logged from forests deep in the lands beyond the Paxton agricultural zone.
Buller booked into a different inn much to Allenson’s relief. A little of Colonel Buller went a long way. The man alerted his hotel of his imminent arrival before landing so a complimentary ground carriage awaited him at Verdant House.
Two large animals pulled it. They looked like descendants of an Old Earth tetrapod species although Allenson was unfamiliar with the strain. The beasts stood about shoulder high on the long thin legs of running animals. Muscle was concentrated at the top to lighten the limb itself so it could be swung backwards and forwards with minimal expenditure of energy in reversing momentum. The animals possessed a covering of wiry fur that flowed into long-haired tails and manes.
Animal transport was rare in the Stream as the cost of keeping the animals usually outweighed any advantages conferred by a motor that reproduced itself. Of course, Paxton enjoyed a surplus of animal feed from the unwanted parts of the cash crops – provided the animals in question were plant eaters. This weighted the cost effectiveness of living compared to powered vehicles in the animal’s favor.
One of the beasts looked at Allenson reflectively before issuing a tremendous methanic fart as a prelude to depositing a large pile of steaming waste. The composition dispelled any doubt as to the creature’s herbivorous habits. Allenson could see similar deposits around the frame park and resolved to watch his step.
“Is that thing likely to do that often?” Buller asked the driver who was busy loading his bags into the carriage boot.
“Old Buttercup does blow off a bit now and then, but don’t pay no mind,” said the man cheerfully. “Boys come round later and shovel it up to sell as fertilizer.”
Allenson and Todd heard Buller complaining loudly over his datapad to his hotel about their complimentary transport as his carriage pulled away. Buttercup, whose ruminations had no doubt been excited by exercise, celebrated their departure with another sonic contribution.
“..where’s the proper cars you keep for important guests..” Even Buller’s booming voice eventually faded with distance.
Allenson thought Buller the sort of fellow forever doomed be disappointed by other people’s behavior. The universe would always fail to live up to his expectations.
Allenson discovered he was hungry so he went in search of food right after unpacking. He couldn’t be bothered to chase around to find a restaurant so he elected to eat at the inn.
“Is it possible to get a table for dinner, mistress?” Allenson asked the Verdant Green’s receptionist.
“Of course, sar,” the receptionist replied.
The young woman wore a tightly cut employee’s uniform that emphasized her slim figure. Her hair was tinted green with orange highlights in shades that complimented her yellow dress. She sat perched on a stool with a holographic screen open beside her. The receptionist peered at it, suggesting her eyesight was less than perfect at close-in focusing. Presumably glasses were beneath her dignity and genosurgery beyond her means.
“In fact we provisionally reserved a table for you – just in case. Will your aide be joining you?”
The girl smiled for the first time. He reflected that he always seemed doomed to travel with men who elicited smiles from pretty girls.
“Ah, no, I believe he has friends in town that he intends to look up,” Allenson said, wondering why he was explaining himself when no would have sufficed. Pretty girls tended to have that effect on him. The girl switched off the smile as if a switch had been thrown.