Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 25
“That’s odd. I don’t remember him,” Allenson said.
“Well you wouldn’t. Unfortunately he was taken ill when the regiment mustered and had to delegate command to his deputy.”
Allenson merely raised an eyebrow and Stainman’s face reddened. He would not be in charge of the Trinity Delegation if he was an unsophisticated man so he took the unspoken point. The Heilbron colonies had been pitched into outright combat with professional forces from the Homeworld by a military commander with zero combat experience.
“So the Heilbron Worlds are already at war with Brasilia. You must be concerned that the other colonies will let you swing in the wind through inaction?”
From the look on the faces of the Heilbronite delegates they were not so much concerned as bloody terrified. They looked like small boys who have suddenly discovered that manly actions like plotting insurrection against the headmaster can have awful bloody consequences.
“What do you think of Colonel Buller?” Stainman asked, abruptly switching subjects.
The Heilbronites looked at Allenson sharply. It appeared that much depended on his answer. Allenson broke a piece of bread, wiped spices from his plate, and chewed slowly to give him time to consider his answer.
“Colonel Buller’s an intelligent student of war and has considerable practical experience of command.”
The Heilbronites appeared to be expecting more but Allenson kept his council until he understood the context more fully.
“But what of his political opinions?” Tobold eventually blurted out, unable to contain himself.
Allenson kept his attention on Stainman.
“In what sense do you ask the question?”
“He’s a Brasilian senior military officer, a class that don’t notably hold egalitarian views. Do you think he’s genuine?” Stainman asked, motioning for Tobold to be quiet.
“I have no reason to doubt Colonel Buller’s sincerity or to think that he’s merely reacting to the failure of his own hopes of preferment through what he considers to be political interest,” Allenson said carefully.
“It appears that his love of democracy doesn’t extend to the military,” Tobold remarked sourly.
Allenson recharged his glass, mostly with water.
“You know my opinion on the matter, gentlemen. Colonel Buller’s essentially right even if he’s perhaps a little harsh in his tone. Everyone in an army down to the lowliest soldier is deserving of fair and just treatment but I’m not going to pretend to believe that everyone is equally talented simply for political reasons.”
A sudden clatter from the kitchen made the Heilbronites jump. They really were keyed up.
“Just a cook dropping a pan,” Allenson said gently.
He gave them a moment before he continued.
“An army must obey the legitimate orders of the command structure. Otherwise it descends into an armed mob more dangerous to the community than the enemy. It can’t be a debating society, not and win wars anyway.”
“So if you were captain-general would you demand obedience from all?” asked Tobold.
“If I were in such a position – which I have not sought.”
Allenson tapped the table for emphasis.
“I’d be the servant of every citizen of the Cutter Stream. I’d serve my masters to the best of my ability as I have always tried to do and I’d expect the same from those who served under me.”
He poured himself another cafÃ©.
“Why’re we here, gentlemen? What is it you want from me?”
“You’re quite right, Colonel Allenson,” Stainman said. “Events’ve overtaken us in the Heilbron Worlds. The precipitous action of a handful of fools has landed us in a shooting war that we can’t win alone.”
He rubbed his face with both hands, suddenly looking very old and stretched.
“We need the support of the rest of the colonies. We need a commander who not only has experience of leading armies but who will unify the colonies. That means a captain general from the Lower Stream, someone reputable from their own class to reassure their delegates concerned about radical political views.”
“Which in practice means a captain general from Manzanita as it is the only Lower Stream colony with the necessary sophistication,” said Allenson.
“Yes, Colonel Buller seemed like the ideal choiceâ€¦” Stainman’s voice faded out.
“But?” Allenson asked.
“The problem is that he’s a braggart and a slovenly oaf,” said an elderly Ascetic who had not yet spoken. “Oh his radical politics could play well in the Heilbron Worlds but their opinions no longer matter as they’re committed by events whether they like it or not. It’s the lower Stream’s opinion we have to court.”
“The colony worlds may want independence but I doubt many of the Lower ‘Stream demesne owners or Nortanian businessmen want to see their wealth divided up amongst their servants,” Allenson said, drily.
He stood up and gave a small bow.
“Gentlemen, it’s getting late and we have a full day tomorrow. I thank you for a most excellent meal and such a useful exchange of views.”
Allenson fished out his wallet.
“In return you must allow me to pick up the tab. No, I insist,” he said, holding up a hand, although none of the Heilbronites had made any but a token protest.
Buller hijacked the morning meeting of the assembly. He turned up in the same shirt that he wore the day before, judging by the dinner stains on the collar. He demanded that the Assembly declare independence and appoint a captain general immediately. He also wanted to talk about the remuneration that would be required to attract those with the right military skills. This latter point clearly came as something off a shock to delegates. They were used to thinking in terms of militia who were at best semi-professional and whose officers had other sources of income.
A Trent delegate derailed the vote for independence by proposing a counter motion calling for Brasilia to accept subsidiarity in its relations with the colonies especially in the economic sphere. Trent was the primary jumping off point for ships returning along the trans-Bight chasm to the Homeworlds. The delegate pointed out that Trent enjoyed a thriving import-export business. He expressed doubts about the impact of full independence upon same. It became clear he also worried about the social and economic revolution that might accompany radical political change.
Allenson surreptitiously checked the dictionary on his datapad for the exact meaning of the word subsidiarity. He noted with relief that many other delegates did likewise. It transpired subsidiarity meant pushing decision making down to the lowest relevant level of administration to avoid unnecessary centralization. This seemed an eminently sensible strategy but no doubt it generated considerable hostility from all right thinking bureaucrats on religious grounds.
The chairman called for a vote on which motion to adopt. Unsurprisingly the delegates opted by a sizable margin for compromise. At this stage it was probably the best that could be achieved.
Buller then resubmitted his motion to appoint a captain-general of all the colonial militias. Before a vote could be taken, Stainman added a codicil making Allenson the favored candidate. A Wagner delegate seconded the motion so promptly that Allenson suspected collusion. The Lower Stream and Heilbron colonies, who made half the delegation, expressed their support in turn confirming Allenson’s suspicion.
Evansence said, “As Colonel Buller rightly suggested we need to discuss financial terms before the appointment.”
Stainman turned to Allenson.
“What remuneration would you require as captain-general, colonel?”
“I don’t need paying to serve my countrymen,” Allenson replied, “although I would be grateful to have my expenses defrayed.”
At that the Trent, Nortanian and other non-aligned colonies fell into line so in the end the Chairman declared a formal vote unnecessary. Allenson was appointed unopposed.
He glanced over at Buller. The man glared at him with something close to hatred.