Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 08

Chapter 3 – Pentire

Farant smoothly phased Allenson’s carriage into the Continuum. Manzanita monochromed and faded away to be replaced by a sea of colored streamers. The predominant background tint was deep indigo. The calm Continuum conditions provided Allenson with at least a quantum of consolation.

He hated travelling by carriage. He would much rather have used a one-man frame but social position restricted his choices. Carriages rocked and corkscrewed cyclically in any sort of Continuum energy disturbance. Too small to crash through the waves and too big to ride over them, carriage travel caused Allenson dreadful motion sickness. One of the most irritating truisms about the things was that the driver at the front got the best ride. The pampered owners at the back suffered an exaggerated pendulum effect.

Carriage design was just another of life’s inefficiencies that a gentleman was obliged to endure. Allenson toyed with having a novel design of carriage constructed that reversed the positions of passenger and driver but shrank from the amusement it would cause. He already had an unwelcome reputation for eccentricity over such matters as the absurdly high living standards he supplied to his indentured servants. He actually paid them reasonable wages. As it would be intolerable to his conscience to adopt the norm in matters involving his personal honor, he felt obliged to be conventional on less important issues of mere personal comfort. It was, he thought gloomily, just another example of his moral cowardice.

Trina broke the silence.

“Do you wish that we were going home?” she asked.

“We are going home, aren’t we?” Allenson asked, puzzled.

“You know what I mean,” Trina said, allowing a measure of exasperation to enter her voice. “Going with the Destrys to the Homeworld across the Bight – going home to Brasilia. You recall where that is?”

“Yes, sorry, the question took me by surprise.” He considered. “I suppose Brasilia’s truly home for the Destrys but it wouldn’t be for us. You have never been there and neither have I. We don’t know anybody in Brasilia. What would we do there? How would we live?”

“I just wondered,” Trina said.

“We’d be mad to leave Manzanita. Everything we’ve built and worked for is here. I don’t want any other home.”

“I’m glad, neither do I.”

Trina slid across and squeezed his hand. He was forgiven for his poor mood.

Allenson managed a smile for her.

“But it’d be nice if Brasilians treated ‘Streamer gentlemen as equals. I’d like us to receive the respect due to our social rank and achievements and not be regarded as colonial flunkies fit only to carry bags.”

“You’re thinking of Destry’s Brasilian nephew?” Trina asked, with a grin.

“Yes, amongst others,” Destry replied.

The eighteen year old nephew in question had made free with his opinions about colonials on a visit to Pentire. Allenson put up with sneers and condescension from this sprig of Brasilian nobility for Royman’s sake. Matters came to a head when he caught the chinless twit attempting to cane a serving girl for rudeness.

The nephew wasn’t having it all his own way as the girl was putting up a spirited defense. She had already bloodied his nose. Allenson was a large fit man whose notoriously short temper had been pushed as far as it would go. He seized both cane and nephew. Holding him face down over a table with one hand, he vigorously applied corporal punishment with the other.

The boy’s humiliation was complete when Royman Destry flatly refused to call the Proctors to arrest Allenson.  Instead Destry offered the opinion that the boy was lucky Allenson abhorred dueling. Royman apologized profusely for the lout’s behavior and promised to write to his father. But then, Allenson reflected, Destry had always been first and foremost a gentleman in his dealings with others.

“Of course, there’s always an upside to every bad decision,” Allenson said. “If Brasilia weren’t so short-sighted, the colonies would probably be preparing to fight one another over conflicting claims in the Hinterlands. Instead we’re gathering in Paxton to discuss a common response to Brasilian demands.  There’s nothing like having a common enemy to inspire political unity.”

“Enemy is surely an unnecessarily emotive word,” Trina said. “Brasilia is our Homeworld so how could it be an enemy?”

“Of course you’re right,” my dear,” Allenson replied, in a conciliatory tone. “There’s no point in inflaming the situation. I should have used a more measured term.”

A scintilla of doubt wriggled in his mind like a worm in an apple. Trina was absolutely right. “Enemy” was a word better suited to a demagogue than a gentleman so why had he used it?

“The Destrys will be alright on Brasilia,” Trina said, doubtfully, breaking his train of thought.

“Of course, as I said it’s their home and they’ve family there.”

Privately Allenson had his doubts. Royman Destry represented a very big fish in the little pond of Manzanita society. Few equaled him in rank and he had no superiors this side of the Bight. All that would change when they went home. In Brasilia he would just be an impoverished cousin from the back of beyond. Sarai would not react well to being patronized as the daughter of a colonial who was “in trade”.

A chime indicated that the driver wanted to communicate.

“Connect,” Trina said without turning around to the screen.

“I’ve a lock with your private beacon ma’am. We’ll be phasing over Pentire shortly.”

“Thank you, Farent, carry on,” Trina said. “Cut link.”

The carriage locked onto an auto that would land it next to Trina’s private entrance to their complex. The villa autos would guide all other demesne traffic out of the way to ensure a speedy arrival.

The Continuum decolorized as the carriage phased into reality. Allenson leaned out to observe Pentire. From the sky he obtained a panoramic view that displayed the estate to a single sweep of the eye allowing him to properly appreciate its balanced proportions. The carriage phased in slowly. Phasing could be near instantaneous but the sharper the change the more disconcerting it could be to human physiology. Farent prided himself that his passengers got as smooth a ride as technology could provide.

Pentire appeared like a monochrome blur from an old memory. The image hardened, sharpened and saturated with primary color before decohering into the subtle shades of nature. Allenson stiffened. For a moment he thought he could see an unnatural line running through the red-lime bushes planted on the reverse slope of a hill. He quickly waved his datapad over the edge of the carriage. The line disappeared when the full complexity of the real world was revealed.

He considered ordering Farent to phase in and out again so that he could check the observation. A glance at Trina dissuaded him. She was tired and deserved to get home without him mucking about. She wouldn’t protest or complain at any delay. That only made it more necessary that he anticipate her needs to give them proper priority. Nevertheless the memory of that line irritated like an attention-seeking child plucking at its mother’s skirts. The thought of the line spoiled the enjoyment he normally found in his demesne.

A rectangular three story house formed the heart of Pentire Villa. Communication equipment and three point-defense lasers filled the flat roof. He chose to have three lasers because one was sometimes hors de combat while they waited for spares to be shipped in from Brasilia. All too often a tube failed after a short burst. Of course each laser had three independent tubes firing in sequence but…

The potent defense system was generally considered to be another example of his eccentricity. Manzanita hadn’t seen an enemy in living memory. Allenson inclined to agree that the lasers would probably never be fired in anger but he had seen war. He had inhaled the choking smoke, heard the screams and smelt the burning flesh. The merest, slightest whiff of an outside chance that this might happen to his household was all the incentive he needed to dig deep into his pockets.

Allenson had added two-story wings at right angles to the house. A high back wall enclosed a wilderness garden in the center. The children he planned to have with Trina could have safely played and explored there. Another thought best tucked away and forgotten.

Traditional red brick hid the villa’s syncrete walls. Similarly, a veneer of natural wood covered the exterior surfaces of the window frames and doors.  Allenson reproduced the texture exactly when he expanded the structure, including artificial weathering. The villa sat at one end of a small village of cottages where the estate servants and employees lived. He provided a club, school, health clinic and meeting hall for their social and other needs.

His neighbors shook their heads at such wasteful extravagance. Indeed, some took the view that Allenson risked undermining society and the natural order by indulging the lower orders so generously. He tried explaining how a content workforce was a productive workforce. Monies invested in a comfortable life for the demesne staff repaid themselves many times over.

Mere facts were as raindrops against the armor of fixed opinion. Why this should be so was a mystery to Allenson. He tended to change his mind if new data suggested he was wrong. Apparently, this was another mark of his eccentricity.