Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 20
“Half now, half on satisfactory completion of service,” Allenson said firmly, not wanting to give the impression that he was an easy mark.
Boswell agreed with alacrity suggesting that he expected Allenson to have driven a harder bargain.
“What’s first, guvnor?”
“I’m going to take a short walk to clear my head. I want you to unpack my military dress uniform and press out any creases. No doubt your niece can give you a key to my room.”
“Right you are, squire.”
Boswell touched his cap brim with his forefinger.
Allenson sat quietly in the convention hall, checking through the agenda of the meeting. He was early so delegates still filtered in. Most of them looked at him with curiosity. Boswell had done a fine job with the Honorary Colonel of Militia dress uniform. He managed to get Allenson into it without overly disturbing the knife edged creases. Gold braid around the neck and on both sleeves shone brightly against the purple and grey of Manzanita. Parades of flashes in various colors down his arms denoted the militia regiments of which he had been voted honorary colonel.
Buller was the only other person in a military uniform but he wore a crumpled field combat dress. Perhaps the Brasilian thought the uniform would emphasize his credentials as a regular soldier or possibly he didn’t care what image he presented. Either way his demonstration was not likely to impress. The other delegates wore business or colonial official clothes. Some sported brighter garments than Allenson but none were more splendid.
One group stood out in a display of Spartanism and simplicity by wearing one-piece garments of unrelieved charcoal grey. No lapels or cuffs let alone jewelry or marks of allegiance disturbed the effect, the severe style underscored by unadornment. The Ascetics of the Heilbron Colonies came from some of the wealthiest and most developed settlements this side of the Bight. Not every Heilbron Delegate was an Ascetic but even the independents wore clothes that were somber by Lower Stream standards.
The Heilbron colonies attracted voluntary immigrants in greater numbers than the other Cutter Stream worlds. They tended to be a special sort of colonist, the disgruntled dissatisfied with Homeworld society or their place within it. These discontents created a social and economic class quite distinct from the impoverished gentry and exiled criminals who had provided the bulk of the lower ‘Stream populations. Ascetics were simply the most powerful group of these radicals.
Allenson had little direct experience of them but from what he read they opposed the activities that ordinary people thought made life worth living. A dour lot, they were sure of their righteousness with an unfortunate tendency to preach. Their social values were of little import to Allenson, of more significance was that they had a strong political ideology favoring independence. They intended to build a new society without social class distinctions and the ostentation that went with an aristocracy.
Personally Allenson thought they deluded themselves that any human society could be classless. The best you could hope for was a relatively flexible class system that allowed reasonable social mobility. Something that avoided ossifying into a caste structure. Any society that left no legitimate path to advancement for talented, aggressive, ambitious young men was doomed to violent revolution. Whereas a society where gentlemen invited potential revolutionaries into their clubs and upper class ladies invited them into their beds was likely to be as stable as anything built by human beings even if it was no utopia.
The Ascetics desire for independence made them potential allies for Allenson’s political goals provided their radicalism could be kept in check. The Lower ‘Stream gentry were unlikely to take kindly to revolutionary social policies.
The delegate chairs in the Assembly Hall were arranged in a horseshoe with the chairman’s podium between the open wings. An outer ring of seats for observers and officials perched on a raised balcony around the edge of the hall. The circular walls were windowless and painted with fantastic agricultural scenes of verdant greenery. The Paxton Ruling Council met here and the artwork presumably reminded everyone where the money came from. Natural light filtered through the semi-transparent crystalline dome of the roof. Strip lighting around the base of the dome reinforced the illumination, eliminating possible shadows.
Allenson surreptitiously checked his data pad for security. Recording and signal nullifiers blanked the hall. Anything said in the Assembly would be confidential.
The Chairman of the Assembly, a Nortanian called Evansence, called the meeting to order. His duties included an introductory address welcoming the delegates. He managed to talk for twenty minutes without actually committing himself to anything or even expressing a view. The Nortanian establishment appeared fairly happy with the status quo and just wanted to be left alone. There was a subtext of fear in Evansence’s evasions that rippled through the room like a fast flowing ebb tide. Another word for failed rebel was traitor and all right thinking people agreed that traitors must be punished to the limit of the law.
Allenson understood the delegates’ apprehensions and to some degree shared them. He was not afraid of being executed, after the Terran War death held little fear. Once you reached the mind-set of expecting sudden random termination at any moment you either accepted the inevitable or went mad. What did concern Allenson was the shame and ignominy that execution as a traitor would bring to him and by extension to his family. That was not to be tolerated.
A number of “hear, hears” sounded from delegates from the smaller colonies. The Heilbron delegates frowned. One with a face like thunder slammed his hand down and opened his mouth.
Allenson cut in quickly to stop the meeting falling apart before it had properly commenced.
“If I may make a point.”
Evansence looked grateful at the interruption.
“The chair recognizes Colonel Allenson,” he said, quickly.
Allenson looked at each delegate as he spoke.
“Nortania has a reliable business supplying genosurgeoned crop extracts to Brasilia and it is understandable that Nortanians are alarmed at any threat to this trade.”
“Quite,” Evansence said.
“The products sell for a considerable mark up in Brasilia but how much of that value added accrues to Nortania?”
Falco, one of the Nortanian delegates, jumped in before the chairman could reply.
“Off the top of my head less than five per cent,” he said.
“But we just supply the raw material,” Evansence protested. “The complex chemistry is carried out in Brasilian factories. That’s where the market is.”
Allenson tilted his head.
“But suppose you manufactured the finished products here?” Allenson asked. “After all, they’re low volume, high value, cheaply transportable organics.”
Falco looked thoughtful.
“Then we would get nearer forty or fifty per cent of the mark-up,” he said. “More if we controlled the transport and wholesale distribution to the Homeworlds.”
Evansence shook his head.
“But what if Brasilia simply refused to purchase finished products?”
Allenson replied. “Then you sell to any Homeworld with the money to buy but I doubt that Brasilian business would cut off its nose to spite its face by prolonging an embargo.”
“But that would take capital that we don’t have,” Evansence said. “Lots of it.”
“You don’t think that financial institution all over the different Homeworlds wouldn’t rush to invest in such a lucrative business and break the Brasilian cartel’s monopoly?”