Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 23
“You are still a major in the Manzanita militia reserves,” Allenson said.
“Am I?” asked Hawthorn surprised.
“Yes, it’s an unpaid commission. However, there will undoubtedly be a rapid expansion of the military. We’d better put you back on the active list and bump you up to colonel so you have some clout over the new boys.”
Allenson took out his datapad and made a note. He had taken to making “to do” lists as he got older and his responsibilities multiplied like cockroaches in a bakery. Life was so much simpler when he and Hawthorn were young.
A waitress came and took their order for plum brandy and café. Both eschewed pudding. Allenson generally found them too rich and sleep-inducing at luncheon. Hawthorn had already eaten enough for two.
“There was talk of setting up an elite regiment of Hinterland men on one man frames to act as an independent fire brigade,” Allenson said, when she served the drinks and left them alone. “The commander’s commission would be at colonel rank. I could swing it for you if you like?”
Hawthorn poured some brandy into his café and stirred the mixture while he thought about it.
“You know I think I might pass on that offer. Colonel isn’t really a combat role is it? From what I remember it’s nine tenths office work and one tenth detailing other people to go off and do the difficult stuff and get killed.”
“Which isn’t really me, is it?”
“I guess not,” Allenson replied. “But I already have an aide, young Todd.”
Hawthorn held his hand out palm down three feet above the ground to indicate a child.
“What, Todd Allenson, your nephew but he’s just…”
“You’ve been away a long time,” Allenson said gently.
“Todd junior, well, well, who’d of thought it,” Hawthorn said. “I’ve another role in mind. You’ll no doubt be commissioned as captain general of the colonial army…”
“Probably not,” Allenson interrupted. “Colonel Buller sees himself in that position.”
“Who the hell’s Buller?” Hawthorn asked.
“Regular professional Brasilian soldier with some experience of senior command. He emigrated from the Homeworlds to the ‘Stream after you left.”
Hawthorn snorted. “Never heard of him. As I said, you’ll undoubtedly be appointed captain general and you’re going to need a security service.”
“A security service?” Allenson asked, astonished. “Whatever for?”
“To run a bodyguard unit, how long do you think before it occurs to your enemies that it’d be to their advantage if you had an unfortunate but very terminal accident?”
“Oh come on, no individual is that important.”
Hawthorn ignored him.
“You’ll also need a special unit to plug leaks of sensitive information and to run an intelligence network to find out what your opponents are up to. When I speak of opponents I don’t just mean the enemy. You know where you are with the enemy. They’re just trying to kill you. It’s the smiling bastards standing behind you that present an unknown threat. ”
“I suppose so,” Allenson replied, a little stunned. He hadn’t given such affairs any consideration but it was clear that Hawthorn had devoted considerable thought to the matter.
“The head of your security force needs to possess certain key abilities.”
Hawthorn counted them off on his fingers.
“Firstly total loyalty to you personally without independent political ambitions, secondly the balls to tell you want you don’t want to hear and not tell you what you don’t need to know, and thirdly and most important, enough common sense to distinguish between the two. A cynical nasty mind that sees the worst in everyone coupled with the personality of a ruthless bastard who’ll do what needs to be done wouldn’t hurt either.”
Allenson opened and closed his mouth like a pet fish waiting to be fed while Hawthorn continued remorselessly.
“If you know of anyone else who possesses these qualities to a greater degree than myself then I’ll gladly step aside. Otherwise I shall consider myself appointed.”
And that was that.
The afternoon session in the Assembly Hall was if anything even more balls-achingly tedious than the morning. Much time was given to pointless discussions about what form a ‘Streamer army might take.
“I see no need to repeat the mistakes of the past,” asserted Horntide, a sallow-faced Ascetic with an irritatingly pedantic manner. “The army should be an expression of the people and as such must conform to the sacred principles of the people. Accordingly it must consist of volunteers who choose where and for how long they wish to serve and under which officers they are willing to serve.”
“Quite so and all soldiers should’ve an equal say about how campaigns are conducted, possibly through a system of referenda,” said another Ascetic whose name Allenson hadn’t caught.
A murmur of disquiet went around the Hall.
“Are you people bloody mad!” Buller exclaimed. “You propose to take on Brasilian regulars with a poxy debating society? Grow up, you idiots. An army fights because its troops are more scared of their officers and NCOs than they are of the enemy. Soldiers have to obey without question, go where they’re sent, do what their told, and kill whomsoever they’re told.”
Buller jabbed a finger at Horntide who shifted uneasily in his seat.
“All else is bollocks and if you think I’m going to be humiliated by taking command of a load of bolshy barrack room lawyers who run at the first bit of bloodletting then you can think again. Give me a professional army that can win or get used to forelock touching every time some minor Brasilian popinjay wafts past. You may want to die at the end of a Brasilian rope but I don’t.”
At that Buller stormed to the door. A commissioner tried to explain that the Hall was in lockdown. Buller pushed the flunky roughly aside with a decidedly unnecessary comment about his mother’s sexual habits. He unlocked the door himself and stormed out without bothering to shut it behind him.
Obviously there were limits to Buller’s support for egalitarianism. There was a stunned silence in the hall as the more politically radical delegates digested an unwelcome force feed of reality.
“I thought the point of the exercise was to free ourselves from Brasilian control,” said a gentleman from the Lower Stream. “Not to try to create some sort of utopia for the proles. I don’t know much about running an army but I do know how to run a plantation and it ain’t done by letting the staff vote on whether they wish to work or not.”
Allenson could feel the unity of purpose of the meeting slipping way as reality punctured various cherished illusions.
“If I may make a comment,” he said, carrying on without waiting for permission. “Colonel Buller is essentially right that an army must be a trained and disciplined organization or it risks falling into armed anarchy. Enthusiasm is no substitute for professionalism.”
Allenson paused to let that fact seep in before continuing in a more conciliatory vein.
“However, I sympathize with Delegate Horntide in that a professional army must be under political control. A ‘Streamer army must serve the people of the colonies and reflect their aspirations. I see no advantage in replacing our masters in Brasilia with a local military dictatorship. Accordingly the army commanders, especially the captain-general, should be carefully selected.”
No one had anything more useful to add, which didn’t stop them adding it. Discussion diverted into uniform design and who would get the lucrative contract to supply said garments.
Allenson took the opportunity to tune out and consider his lunch meeting. Hawthorn wasn’t the hard young man he had tramped the Hinterland with but then, neither was Allenson – and neither would be much use to the Cutter Stream now if they were.
Hawthorn was undoubtedly right, though. Allenson would likely be appointed to some sort of senior commission in the new army. Not the captain-general of course, that was just Hawthorn’s loyalty to a friend talking, but some position of responsibility nonetheless. He would need intelligence and that would involve civilian spies as well as military scouts. Dealing with spies was always a tricky proposition. His spymaster would have to be completely discrete and financially trustworthy. He would control sizable unattributable funds needed for bribery and the like.