Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 26
Chapter 8 – The Great North Road
The next morning Allenson held a private meeting with Todd and Hawthorn in his hotel room. First, he checked the suppressor on his datapad was on to guarantee the exclusion of eavesdroppers.
“I need to get to Trinity before the situation blows up in our faces,” Allenson said.
“This Masters chappy,” Hawthorn asked. “Keen I take it?”
“Apparently so,” Allenson replied, “and very, very inexperienced.”
“What do you intend to do about Buller?” Hawthorn asked.
“I will have to give him a senior commission of Lieutenant-General rank. His military skills are too valuable to waste.”
Hawthorn grunted in agreement.
“And it would be better to have him pissing out of the tent instead of in. I suggest you bring him with us as your advisor. He could be useful.”
Hawthorn turned to Todd.
“Take note, kid. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”
Poor Todd looked rather shocked. Hawthorn had that effect on people when they were dealing with him for the first time.
“I can’t imagine Buller riding a frame. We’ll have to use a carriage and that means taking the Great North Road to Port Trent before turning off for Trinity,” Allenson said. “We will have to stop three or four times to recharge the batteries all of which will take time.”
“That might be no bad thing,” Todd said, speaking for the first time. It will give a chance for people on the intervening worlds to see you. That could be very politically advantageous.”
Allenson regarded Todd with suspicion.
“You want me to parade through the countryside like a barbarian king conducting a laying on of hands for the peasantry?”
“The kid’s right,” Hawthorn said, ignoring Todd’s flush of anger at his use of the term. “Right now the only pan-Bight institution is the army and the army in practice is you. You have to be visible. I hate to say it but you do look rather impressive in full uniform, quite the military aristocrat. Of course the people glimpsing the splendor won’t know the real you as we do.”
He winked at Todd who didn’t know how to respond so ran through a few facial permutations before settling eventually on a neutral half smile.
There was a hesitant knock at the door.
Allenson nodded and Todd opened it. Boswell stood in the doorway twisting his yellow cap in both hands. Today he wore orange loose fitting pantaloons and a blue and pink striped shirt.
“The replacement carriage you asked me to buy, your honor. I have it outside,” Boswell said.
“Replacement carriage?” Hawthorn raided both hand palm outwards in exaggerated enquiry.
“The power storage on mine is stuffed, something wrong with the charging system,” Allenson replied. “It would never make it up the Great North Road. We could end up marooned on some backwater mudball with no charging facilities. At best it would be a slow trip.”
“So you always intended making a procession through the countryside,” Hawthorn said sarcastically, throwing Allenson’s words back at him.
“I anticipated it might be necessary.”
He turned to Boswell.
“Let’s go and inspect the vehicle.”
They processed behind to where he’d parked a large flat rectangular box about ten meters long and colored olive green. Scrapes on the hull revealed the livery of many owners during its no doubt long and eventful life.
“Don’t tell me that’s it?” Hawthorn asked.
“Ah, yes sar,” Boswell replied nervously.
Steps with a single hand rail were mounted on the front. Allenson pulled himself up.
A well contained a cycling position on each side and a raised pulpit in the center for the driver. He or she navigated the barge from a standing position so had an excellent view out to all sides. The middle section was filled in but most of the hull was given over to a cargo bay at the rear. Walkways and hand rails ran down the sides.
Boswell used one of the handrails to swing up besides Allenson.
“The tail gate comes down for easy loading, sar. But the real reason I chose her was this.”
He shuffled over to the center section and unclipped a concertina-hinged inspection panel. A series of wired up control modules and three large cells filled the compartment. The registration plate had a series of letters indicating a Terran military source.
“The previous owner wanted something reliable for trading out to the Hinterland colonies so he acquired this power pack from a sort of friend of a friend who was also a cousin of mine.”
Boswell dropped the inspection panel which slammed shut with a sharp click.
“The owner was getting on a bit and needed something reliable. I heard he’d dropped out of the tree so to speak and made his widow an offer. It’s yours if you want it. I know she ain’t pretty but she’ll do the job.”
That she will. This will do nicely, Boswell, very nicely indeed,” Allenson said. “Add ten per cent for yourself as a finder’s fee and charge the Assembly.”
He turned to look down at Hawthorn.
“Might as well start as I mean to go on.”
Boswell jumped down.
“I can get seats put in the back and even a food dispenser. It wouldn’t take much to rig up a canvas cover and foldaway beds in case you need to camp out.”
“Good idea, can you find someone to undertake the task within twenty-four hours?”
“Of course I can, general. I know just the man.”
“A cousin?” Allenson asked.
“Nephew, sar, the brother of the hotel receptionist. I find it pays to keep business in the family. That way I can keep an eye on things. Make sure they’re done right if you follow.”
“I do indeed Boswell.”
“Captain-general?” asked a voice behind Allenson.
He half turned to find a slim man of indeterminate age and swept back oiled hair. The man tilted his head to one side and studied Allenson forensically.
“Carry on Boswell,” Allenson said, turning to face the newcomer squarely. “And you are, sar?”
“Timmon’s Redley, at your service, sar. I practice at the Nortanian Bar.”
Which in plain language meant he was a local lawyer.
“The Nortanian Delegation at the Assembly believed I might be of some use to you as a Special Political Advisor as I have some little experience of the legal and social customs of the Upper Bight colonies.”
Redley wore a sober grey suit of modest cut quite unlike the normal flamboyant Nortanian dress.
“You are not Nortanian born then?” Allenson asked.
“Indeed, no. I went to college in Port Trent. I obtained a masters in law on Brasilia although I spent much of my early life on Trinity.”
Port Trent Law School had only been open for a few decades so Redley must be in his early thirties. Theoretically it conferred degrees recognized by Brasilia but in practice no Brasilian academic institution would accept a colonial certification on terms of equality. There were Brasilian colleges that specialized in “quicky” masters for colonials as a way of sanitizing their qualifications.
Allenson shook Redley’s hand.
“Well, I confess that now I consider the matter an advisor with local knowledge would be helpful but we will be leaving almost immediately for Trent.”
“Yes, general, I know. With your permission I shall come with you.”
“So be it. You will need a military rank to be taken seriously, say, colonel. I have the authority to appoint you but not, I regret, to pay you a salary.”
“I have no need of one, sar.”
“In that case, welcome aboard Colonel Redley. May I introduce you to my aide, Lieutenant Todd Allenson, and Colonel Hawthorn who is my head of SP.”
“I see,” Redley said, looking up at the massive figure of Hawthorn standing hands on hip on the barge. “SP?”
“Special Projects,” Hawthorn replied.
“Special Projects,” Redley repeated, pursing his lips.
Allenson noted that he ignored Todd’s outstretched hand. Clearly mere lieutenants flew below Redley’s radar horizon even when they shared the same surname as a general.
“I heard about that cock-up you made of siting a base at Nengue,” Buller said. “Really Allenson, on a flood plain in the rainy season and overlooked by hills as well.”
Buller chuckled and shook his head.
“Have I ever told you how I took Castle Aikan by storm?”
“No, I never heard that,” Redley said, gazing at Buller in admiration.
“Quite a pretty problem it was. Aikan is sited on two hills with fortified walkways linking half buried bunkers. A river looped around three sides leaving only one possible line of attack. Of course they had that covered by all their heavy weapons.”
Buller arranged bits of the meal he was eating to represent the layout of the battlefield.
“I think I need to check how Boswell is getting on,” Allenson said.
He climbed over the engine compartment of the barge using the hand rail to steady himself and looked around.