Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 21
He sat back and let the delegates argue, confident that he had scored a point. Self-interest and avarice focused minds wonderfully. It was also understood that vested interests in Brasilia would hardly welcome the breaking of their cozy trade cartels so some degree of political rupture with the Homeworld was inevitable.
Buller ranted for some time on his favorite subject, the injustice caused by preferment of inbred Brasilian aristocratic half-wits blocking the rightful rise of those who deserved advancement due to superior ability. Many of the delegates nodded and muttered “hear, hear” at Buller’s eloquence, clearly identifying themselves with the group demonstrating superior ability. Allenson wondered how they would react when their own social inferiors demanded similar opportunities.
A great deal of hot air got expended over what form the governance of the independent state might take. The lower colonies’ gentry wished to preserve the status quo while the Heilbronites pushed for social revolution. For Allenson this was like debating the flavor of the icing before you decide how to bake the cake. He let his mind drift with just one small subroutine of consciousness monitoring the exchange.
Allenson came to with a start when he realized that the meeting had gone quiet. Everyone looked expectantly in his direction. He ran the recorder of his memory to extract the discussion. The delegates had been agonizing about war and whether they could ever beat Brasilia. A Heilbron Ascetic with no experience of warfare had announced that one free man could beat a hundred professional soldiers because his heart was pure and his cause just.
A cynical delegate from a Lower ‘Stream world replied that the hypothetical pure at heart colonial would indeed have to be superhuman as there were more than a hundred Brasilians for every ‘Streamer. Buller chipped in that a professional army could only be fought by a professional army with a unified chain of command, a blatant job application.
The reputation Allenson earned in the Terran War, undeservedly in his opinion but there it was, made him the local authority on colonial warfare to Buller’s obvious annoyance. That was why all the delegates waited upon his opinion. Fortunately the prolonged pause before replying made him look statesmanlike and thoughtful rather than slow-witted.
“It depends what you mean by victory,” he finally replied. “I take it no one has delusions of crossing the Bight and conquering a Homeworld?”
This provoked the expected laughter.
“To win we do not have to beat Brasilia. We merely have to survive and make a Brasilian victory too costly to be worth the effort. Military power is eroded by distance and the Bight is a sizable obstacle. Brasilia would have considerable logistical difficulties supplying large conventional forces here given the low industrialization in the colonies. I saw that for myself in the Terran War.”
Buller nodded in support, albeit somewhat reluctantly.
“There is also the fact that Brasilia has far more powerful rivals than us to contend with who are much closer to home – Terra for one. For all these reasons then, yes, I believe we could beat Brasilia provided we define victory carefully. I would also add that in my opinion Colonel Buller has a point. Revolutionary fervor is fine but is no substitute for discipline, training and professionalism.”
Here he paused and looked around the chamber at each delegate in turn.
“However, no one who has seen the brutality and wastefulness of war would ever want to provoke another one. Provided we are reasonable in our demands and don’t push Brasilia too far I believe we can achieve effective political and economic independence while leaving Brasilia a face-saving formula recognizing its nominal sovereignty. Frankly, we are not important enough for Brasilia to go to the wall over. I would add that political negotiation is recognized as completely different from armed rebellion in one important sense. They don’t hang you for it or confiscate your property if you lose.”
The meeting ground on but eventually broke up for lunch. Allenson noted a messenger hurrying to the Heilbron delegates once the hall doors were unlocked. He idly wondered what could be so urgent. However Todd intercepted him by the door so he put the matter out of his mind.
“No doubt you recall that you have a luncheon meeting with two Paxton bankers,” Todd broke off to check his datapad.
Allenson inwardly groaned. The things he did for his country. A networking lunch with a couple of merchant bankers was about as attractive as catching his privates in a rock grinder. Todd flicked his finger over the pad, sifting through pages.
“They are Sar Josson of Bank Agricole and Sar Huang of Emerald Office.”
“Fine, lead me to them,” Allenson said, practicing planting a phony smile on his face. He would have master this skill in the next few days.
Todd guided him to where the two men sat in the anteroom. They rose and extended their hands as Allenson approached. Josson was tall and lean, almost cadaverous with sunken cheeks and a concave chest. Huang was physically his opposite, a short tubby rolly-polly sort of man who looked as if he would bounce upright if pushed over. In his head Allenson christened them Little and Large as a mnemonic aid. He couldn’t help thinking that they would cut an impressive figure if fused into a single body.
The men presented their cards. Allenson patted his pocket prior to explaining that he had omitted to bring his own when he discovered a pack in his pocket. Boswell must have printed some on his own initiative. He sneaked a glance as he handed a card to each man. The style was more florid than Allenson would have chosen but who was to say that Boswell was wrong. The man was on home ground after all.
Allenson glanced over Huang’s head, not a difficult task. A tall man with blonde hair and pale blue eyes leaned patiently against the door frame. He stood out not just because of his appearance, which was far from the human norm of brown eyes and hair, but also by his casual wear. A line of white hair from an old wound ran across his scalp almost hidden by his blonde coloring. Allenson blinked, half expecting the figure to disappear, to be a phantasm from his memory. It was still there after the blink, grinning at him. The man raised a hand to his brow in an ironic salute.
“Sar Josson, Sar Huang, I must convey my abject apologies but I regret that something urgent has come up at the last moment. I have to cancel our meeting. I deeply regret the inconvenience to yourselves and assure you no slight is intended.”
He turned to Todd.
“Lieutenant, please take these gentleman to the best restaurant in town at my expense and make a careful note of the issues they wish to raise. Then reschedule our meeting at a time convenient to them. They are to have absolute priority.”
The last comment was a polite fiction. He was either free or he wasn’t but it was politic to smooth ruffled feathers and he did dislike rudeness. He waited until Todd took the bankers from the building and then walked over to the door.
“Hello, Allenson,” the blonde man said.
“You bastard, Hawthorn,” Allenson replied. “Where the hell have you been? I thought you were dead.”