Wednesday, May 15, 2024

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Seventeen: Of Plunder and Planning

The awkward moment passed, as they are wont to do, and it was then with a shared and singular purpose that I found myself in common cause with Diego and his people. Having considered the information before us, and following a period of intense discussion amongst all parties present, it was decided that a small group should sally forth to reconnoitre the nearest Caddiganite encampment, a forward base established only recently ten miles from our current position.

Getting to that decision, however, was rather more complicated than one might have expected, or perhaps precisely as complicated as one might have expected, depending on how well one understood the People’s Front and their processes for determining to do anything.

“We got a couple of images from one of the four drones, right before they brought it down,” the fierce dark-haired woman had said. Her name, or so she shared before our planning began in earnest, was Lucretia, and she was evidently Acting Chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee. “Not sure what to make of this, exactly, but they’ve recovered a couple of large objects and are trucking them back to their firebase. Rebecca? Any thoughts?”

I peered at her ancient screen, upon which an image was evident, showing a truck bearing an item of cargo; I recognized it immediately, even though the picture of it was blurred.

“This is, by design and profile, what remains of the Firedrake’s primary railgun, which I know in basic form from a schematic Father once showed me. It appears so damaged as to be inoperable, although it is likely to have some parts that can be cannibalised.”

“Great,” said Diego, sarcastically.

Lucretia swiped to the left, and another image appeared. “What about this one?”

The next object had been captured perfectly, although that was of rather less help than I would have hoped. It was a large rectangular solid, perhaps ten by ten by fifteen feet in volume, or so I quickly estimated given its size relative to the truck that bore it. It was wrought of a gloss black alloy, upon which were cast intricate and ornamental patterns in gold and silver, decorative flourishes that highlighted Her Majesty’s Crest, which was proudly emblazoned in the centre of each face of the prism. It was utterly undamaged, having survived the plummet and the fire with nary a scratch, and bore about it a fierce dignity, yet also a sense of menace; what first leapt to my mind was that it had about it the form of a great sarcophagus.

“I do not know what that might be,” I said, honestly. “But I suspect, given that it is of our most sophisticated construction, such that it could survive the crash undamaged, that within that dark object must be the cargo the Firedrake was charged with carrying to Williamsburg. I cannot speak to the nature of it any further, for such information is not known to me, but I fear from what I do know that this is a terrible turn of events for both your people and my own.”

Diego leaned in, carefully regarding the dark image on the screen. “Do we know where this is now, ‘Cretia? Like, it’s for sure in that firebase?”

Lucretia shook her head. “We don’t. Can’t get close enough with standard drones to confirm. Could have been moved deeper into the territory they control.”

“In which case we’d be pretty xxxxed,” Diego rumbled. “We have to know. I propose a quick light recon, get us close enough to overfly them with a Sounder, get the hell out. If it’s there, then we get the word out to the RCC, try to take it down. I ask approval.”

This, evidently, was how the group signified that a conversation and decision point was necessary, and in order to reach the point of action (which did eventually occur), there needed to be a process that established consensus. I had witnessed some of their decisionmaking upon my arrival at the compound, and what ensued was a convoluted ritual that made the proceedings of the Ladies Aid Society feel like a pleasant afternoon frolic.

This is, of course, precisely the blight that so inevitably imperils the earnest efforts of utopian anarchists, for while consensus and procedure are perfectly acceptable in when one is debating the colour of the table linens, times of existential crisis require considerably more expeditious choices. I am convinced, from my studies of the Spanish Civil War of the early twentieth century, that this is why the brutish fascists of that era had overwhelmed the passionate, inchoate republicans.

I would describe what came to pass in all of its peculiar detail, if only as a matter of giving insight into the idiosyncrasies of their society, but if I am to be absolutely honest, I was unable to follow their byzantine and seemingly arbitrary logics. Motions and amendments to the motion, I grasp, and like most members of the Ladies Aid Society, I have more than a passing understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order; what played out before me felt like a non-Euclidian parliament, or perhaps one of those mythic Babylonian debates in which every participant was required to imbibe to the point of drunkenness.

Why was Diego waggling his fingers in the air? Why was Lucretia mimicking his action, but with her fingers pointing downwards? Why were they moving about the room, grouping and ungrouping, rising and sitting? Was this farcical dance intentionally or inadvertently comic? I could not begin to tell you the answer to any of these questions, and therefore I shall not try, for:

“Lorsqu’on se retrouve en compagnie de personnes d’une autre culture et que cette culture se présente d’une manière qui semble absurde à notre sensibilité, il est toujours nécessaire de rappeler qu’ils sont probablement du même avis sur la vôtre.”*

Madame Toussaint’s advices on the matter are rather more extensive than that summary, but her essential principle remains most helpful; at a bare minimum, it helped me refrain from giggling.

After about forty five minutes, the group arrived at the conclusion that they should do the exact thing that Diego had suggested, and, rousing myself from a sense of torpor, I stirred myself to interject.

“Ernest and I shall, of course,” I said, “be accompanying you in this effort.”

It was Lucretia who responded, cutting off what seemed to be another outburst from Diego. “Look, Rebecca, I appreciate that you want to be helpful, and you have been. But this is some serious xxxx we’re heading to do here. It’d be better if you and your bot stayed where you’re safe.”

I smiled. “I do appreciate your concern for my person, Lucretia. I can assure you, however, that our participation in this reconnaissance is necessary to ensure its success. Ernest is, as I’m sure you’ve noted, a remarkably capable and formidable footman, and I am not some hothouse orchid that requires tender care and protection. I am able bodied, capable of defending myself, and the only one in this room who has any knowledge of Peerage machines.”

Diego again began to speak, but I raised my hand to indicate that I was not finished, and he…somewhat surprisingly…did me the courtesy of stilling his voice.

“I am also, more significantly, the only representative of an interested party in this affair, a…how do you say it…a ‘Beautiful One’...and it is essential that I have direct knowledge of any discoveries that might be made. For the furtherance of our alliance, it is imperative that Ernest and I be part of this effort; that decision is mine alone to make, and I have made it.”

“She’s not part of the collective,” Shain pitched in. “We don’t technically have any authority over her, not that’s been ceded.”

“Agreed,” said Raj. “The points are valid, my siblings.”

Lucretia glanced meaningfully at Diego, who shrugged.

“OK. Fair enough. We have consensus. Looks like you’re coming along, then,” said Diego, and to my immeasurable surprise, there was no further discussion on the matter.

Really, sometimes it is as easy as that.

“When one finds oneself in the company of those of another culture, and said culture presents itself in ways that seem to one’s sensibility preposterous, it is always necessary to recall that they likely are of the same opinion about your own.” Toussaint, p. 137