Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 47
“I thought the dons had locked away their private possessions to protect them from us coarse soldiery,” Allenson said, noting the college coat of arms decorating the china.
“Did they, sar?” Boswell asked. “The lock on the senior common room door must have been faulty because it opened with just a little push.”
Trina covered her mouth but Allenson knew she was grinning from the sparkle in her eyes.
“You can put the tray down. I’ll ring if I need you,” Allenson said, wishing he hadn’t asked.
“I enjoyed helping you, quite like old times,” Trina said, sipping her tea. “You know, I’m glad Hawthorn has turned up.”
“Really?” Allenson asked, skeptically.
Trina waved a hand.
“I’ve never pretended to like the man. I admit I was not unhappy when he took himself off. Where did he go, incidentally?”
“Apparently he was running a Rider trading station deep in the Hinterlands.”
“I assumed it would be something like that. Imprisoned in a labor camp under an assumed name was the other possibility.”
“I thought he was dead,” Allenson said.
“I never did,” Trina replied. “The Hawthorns of this universe aren’t so easy to kill. As I said, he was never my favorite but I’m glad he’s back. He’s devious, violent, ruthless and suspicious to the point of paranoia. He’s also utterly loyal to you. I can’t think of a better man to watch your back.”
“He’s running a spy network inside Oxford.”
“Really, I would love to see what he’s found out.”
Allenson unlocked the file and let her flip through it.
“Astonishing,” she said. “Where’d he get all this?”
“On second thoughts don’t tell me. I suspect I don’t want to know the sordid details.”
“What do you think?” Allenson asked, pouring her another cup of tea.
“The same as you I expect,” Trina said neutrally.
“Humor me; I would value a second opinion.”
“If these reports of the Brasilian build up in Oxford are true and I suspect we are losing the logistic war. The balance of power is inexorably shifting in their direction.”
Allenson sighed. “I agree.”
“Presumably they’ll attack out of the city when they have a sufficiently favorable force ratio.”
“I would in their position but they may be content simply to make the city impregnable while letting us stew.”
Trina thought about that while she sipped her tea.
Finally, she said, “Yes that makes sense so why would you attack if you were the Brasilian commander?”
“Because the new pan-Colonial state consists of just two institutions, the Assembly and the Army. Of these the Army is by far the most important. The Assembly haven’t even managed to decide on a Declaration of Independence. They could never hold things together without the army. Brasilia can stop the revolt dead in its tracks by destroying the field army. It’s a hostage to fortune pinned down here outside Oxford. The Assembly by contrast is a shambles.”
“Then you have to break the log-jam immediately, Allen. Your situation isn’t going to improve.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Allenson replied, sharply. “Sorry Trina, I’m angry at my own lack of foresight, not you.”
“Look,” she said, “have you tried making a list of your assets and liabilities in the hope it might stimulate something. Come on, I’ll help.”
He slipped his notebook out of a pocket and fished around until he found a pencil.
“Your notebook. This is getting serious,” Trina said.
“Somehow the act of physically writing on organic material rather than dictating at a hologram fires my imagination. I used to use it to write poetry.”
“Very, very bad poetry.
“I know,” Trina replied. “I sneaked a look at it when you weren’t around. So what are your assets?”
Allenson jotted down notes as he went along.
“OK, let’s see, I outnumber them in light infantry, my troops are reasonably trained and enthusiastic, I’ve a few mortars and laser cannon, my logistical tail is uncutable and I also have some hydraulic pumps for what they’re worth.”
“My army is green, brittle and I’m desperately short of heavy weapons.”
“And their assets?”
“Professional troops who will withstand losses, a position damn near impregnable to light infantry behind a poisonous marsh, and a major port facility for shipping in supplies and reinforcements.”
“Everything has to be transported in through the Continuum but as I can’t stop them…”
“I’m not sure this is helping.”
“Give your mind time to dwell on the matter,” Trina said. “You made your reputation in the Terran wars by not doing things the proper way. We can’t defeat a Homeworld by playing the game according to their rules. You showed how to beat them by changing the rules and doing the unexpected.”
She looked him directly in the eyes.
“It seems to me Allen that you need to stop wallowing in self-pity and start thinking around the problem. You have to find an indirect approach.”
Hawthorn drank on his own at the end of a rough bar in a small village outside Cambridge. He was not exactly a social drinker; actually he was not exactly social under most conditions. The bar was almost empty. It had more patrons when Hawthorn arrived but the clientele drifted away as the evening progressed. The barman made an attempt or two at conversation with Hawthorn but gave up after repeated rebuffs. He moodily wiped a glass with a dirty cloth that probably added more smears than it removed. He approached Hawthorn.
“Anything you require, master,” the barman asked, tentatively.
“Will you be drinking it here or shall I wrap it to go?”
Hawthorn fixed him with piercing blue eyes but didn’t answer. The barman placed the container carefully on the bar and found something to do elsewhere. Hawthorn poured himself another slug from a bottle of tonk sporting a brand that was new to him. He took a pull. It was no better or worse than any other but then he hadn’t expected it would be.
The pub door opened. Hawthorn had his back to it but was able to monitor who came in or out in a mirror hung behind the bar.
The newcomer paused to check out the room as if looking for someone. He was splendidly attired in voluminous purple pantaloons and an electric blue cape. The man came and stood by Hawthorn.
“If you’re here to keep me company then you can bugger off, Boswell,” Hawthorn said, without turning round.
Boswell signaled the barman with a raised finger and ordered a plum cider. He said nothing until the barman provided the requested beverage and departed.
“No offence, colonel, but drinking with you is not my idea of a relaxing night out.”
Hawthorn grunted, amused.
“I need to tell you something and I wanted to do it where we couldn’t be overheard. In fact I didn’t even want anyone to know we had a private conversation.”