The regular snippet schedule for these will begin Friday the 3rd.
TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 01:
TORCH OF FREEDOM
David Weber & Eric Flint
PART I. Late 1919 and 1920 Post-Diaspora.
(4021 and 4022, Christian Era)
Beyond the Protectorates, starting at a distance of 210 light-years or so from Sol and extending for depths of from 40 to over 200 light-years, was the region known as “the Verge.” The Verge was very irregularly shaped, depending entirely on where and how colony flights were sent out, and consisted of scores of independent star systems, many of them originally colonized by people trying to get away from the Shell Systems, which could be considered the equivalent of what were called “Third World nations” in pre-Diaspora times. Individually, very few of them of them had populations of more than one or two billion (there were exceptions), their economies were marginal, and they had no effective military power. Many of them had all they could do to resist piratical raids, and none of them had the power to resist the Office of Frontier Security and the League Gendarmerie when it came time for them to slip into protectorate status. There was a constant trickling outward from the inner edge of the Verge to the outer edge, fueled more than anything else by the desire of people along the inner edge to avoid the creeping expansion of the Protectorates. Indeed, some people living in the Verge were the descendants of ancestors who had relocated three or four or even five times in an effort to avoid involuntary incorporation into the Protectorates. Their hatred for the Office of Frontier Security — and, by extension, the rest of the League — was both bitter and intensive.
From Hester McReynolds, Origins of the Maya Crisis. (Ceres Press, Chicago, 2084 PD)
November, 1919 PD
Sector Governor Oravil Barregos, Governor of the Maya Sector in (theoretically) the Office of Frontier Security’s name, stood and held out his hand with a smile as Vegar Spangen escorted the dark, trim man in the uniform of a Solarian League Navy rear admiral into his office.
“I expected you last week,” the governor continued, still smiling. “Should I assume that the fact that I didn’t see you then but do see you now is good news?”
“I think you could safely do that,” Rear Admiral Luiz Rozsak agreed as he shook Barregos’ hand with a smile of his own.
Barregos glanced at Spangen. Vegar had been his personal security chief for decades and the governor trusted him implicitly. At the same time, he and Spangen both understood the principle of the “need to know,” and Vegar interpreted that glance with the experience of all those decades.
“I expect you and the Admiral need to talk, Sir,” the tall, red-haired bodyguard said calmly. “If you need me, I’ll be out there annoying Julie. Just buzz when you’re ready. And I’ve made sure all the recording devices are off.”
“Thank you, Vegar.” Barregos transferred his smile to Spangen.
“You’re welcome, Sir.” Spangen nodded to Rozsak. “Admiral,” he said, and withdrew in the outer office where Julie Magilen, Barregos’ private secretary, guarded the approaches.
“A good man,” Rozsak observed quietly as the door closed behind Spangen.
“Yes, yes he is. And yet another demonstration of the fact that it’s better to have a few good men than hordes of not-so-good ones.”
The two of them stood for a moment, looking at one another, thinking about how long they’d both been working on assembling the right “good men” (and women). Then the governor gave himself a little shake.
“So,” he said more briskly. “You said something about having good news?”
“As a matter of fact,” Rozsak agreed, “I think Ingemar’s tragic demise helped open a couple of doors a little wider than they might have swung otherwise.”
“Some good should come of any misfortune.” Barregos’ voice was almost pious, but he also smiled again, a thinner and colder smile this time, and Rozsak chuckled. There was something a bit sour about the sound to the governor’s experienced ear, though, and he cocked an eyebrow. “Was there a problem?”
“Not a ‘problem,’ exactly.” Rozsak shook his head. “It’s just that I’m afraid Ingemar’s brutal assassination wasn’t quite as ‘black’ as I’d planned on its being.”
“Meaning exactly what, Luiz?” Barregos’ dark eyes hardened, and his deceptively round and gentle face suddenly looked remarkably ungentle. Not that Rozsak was particularly surprised by his reaction. In fact, he’d expected it . . . which was the main reason he’d waited to share his information until he could do it face to face.
“Oh, it went off perfectly,” he said reassuringly, with a half-humorous flick of his free left hand. “Palane did a perfect job. That girl has battle steel nerves, and she buried her tracks — and ours — even better than I’d hoped. She steered the newsies perfectly, too, and as far as I can tell, every single one of them drew the right conclusion. Their stories all emphasize Mesa’s — and especially Manpower’s — motives for killing him after he so selflessly threw the League’s support to those poor, homeless escaped slaves. The evidence could scarcely be more conclusive if I’d, ah, designed it myself. Unfortunately, I feel I can say with reasonable confidence that we’ve fooled neither Anton Zilwicki, Jeremy X, Victor Cachat, Ruth Winton, Queen Berry, nor Walter Imbesi.”
He shrugged insouciantly, and Barregos glared at him.
“That’s an impressive list,” he said icily. “May I ask if there are any intelligence operatives in the galaxy who don’t suspect what really happened?”
“I’m pretty sure there are at least two or three. Fortunately, all back on Old Earth.”
The rear admiral returned Barregos’ semi-glare levelly, and, gradually, the coldness oozed out of the governor’s eyes. They remained rather hard, but Rozsak was one of the smallish number of people from whom Barregos didn’t attempt to hide their hardness as a matter of course. Which was understandable enough, since Luiz Rozsak was probably the only person in the entire galaxy who knew exactly what Oravil Barregos had in mind for the future of the Maya Sector.
“So what you’re saying is that the spooks on the ground know we had him killed, but that all of them have their own reasons for keeping their suspicions to themselves?”
“Pretty much.” Rozsak nodded. “Every one of them does have his or her own motive for seeing to it that the official version stands up, after all. Among other things, none of them wants anyone to think they had anything to do with the assassination of a Solarian League sector lieutenant-governor! More to the point, though, this whole affair’s offered us a meeting of the minds that, frankly, I never expected going in.”
“So I gathered from your reports. And I have to say, I never would’ve expected Haven to play such a prominent role in your recent adventures.”
As he spoke, Barregos twitched his head at the armchairs in the conversational nook to one side of an enormous floor-to-ceiling picture window. The view out over downtown Shuttlesport, the capital of both the Maya System and of the Maya Sector from the governor’s hundred and fortieth-floor office was stupendous, but Rozsak had seen it before. And at the moment, he had rather too many things on his mind to pay it the attention it deserved as he followed the governor across to the window.
“Hell with Haven!” He snorted, settling into his regular seat and watching the governor do the same. “Nobody back in Nouveau Paris knew what was coming any more than we did! Oh, the Republic’s signed off on it after the fact, but I suspect Pritchart and her bunch feel almost as much like they’ve been run over by a lorry as anyone on Manticore. Or Erewhon, for that matter.” He shook his head ruefully. “Nobody’s told me so officially, but I’ll be very surprised if Cachat doesn’t wind up running all of Haven’s intelligence ops in and around Erewhon. After all, given his recent machinations, he’s probably the only person who really knows where all the bodies are buried. I don’t often feel like I’ve been caught in someone else’s slipstream, Oravil, but he’s got to be the best improvisational operator I’ve ever run into. I swear to you that he didn’t have any more notion going in of where this was all going to come out than anyone else did. And like I say, unless I’m badly mistaken, no one in Nouveau Paris ever saw it coming, either.” He snorted again. “As a matter of fact, I’m pretty damned sure not even Kevin Usher would’ve turned him loose on Erewhon if he’d suspected for a minute where Cachat was going to end up!”
“Do you think he’s going to be a problem down the road?” Barregos asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, and Rozsak shrugged.
“He’s not really a lunatic, or even a loose laser head, for that matter. In fact, I’d say our friend Cachat has a good bit in common with a warmhearted rattlesnake, if the simile doesn’t sound too bizarre even for me. Although, to be fair, Jiri’s really the one who came up with it. It’s apt, though. The man tries hard to hide it, but I think he’s actually extraordinarily protective of the people and things he cares about, and his response to any threat is to remove it—promptly, thoroughly, and without worrying all that much about collateral damage. If you convince him you’re going to be a threat to the Republic of Haven, for example, it’ll almost certainly be the last thing you ever do. The only thing likely to get you killed quicker would be to convince him you’re a threat to one of the people he cares about. Which, by the way, is a very good reason we should never, ever, in even the remotest back corner of our minds, think about eliminating Thandi Palane just to tie up the loose ends of Ingemar’s assassination. I’ll admit, I wouldn’t want to do it anyway, but it didn’t take me very long to realize that bad as Cachat’s reaction might be, he wouldn’t be anywhere close to the only enemy we’d make in the process. Trust me on this one, Oravil.”
His voice was unusually sober, and Barregos nodded in acknowledgment. Warnings from Luiz Rozsak were best heeded, as several no longer breathing people the governor could think of right offhand might have testified. Assuming, of course, that they hadn’t been no longer breathing.
“On the other hand,” the rear admiral continued, “if you aren’t a threat to someone or something he cares about, he’s perfectly prepared to leave you alone. As far as I can tell he doesn’t hold grudges, either — which may be because anyone he’d be likely to hold a grudge against is already dead, of course. And he recognizes that sometimes it’s ‘just business’ even if interests he does care about are getting pinched a bit. He’s willing to be reasonable. But it’s always best to bear that image of a rattlesnake basking in the sun in mind, because if he does decide you need to be seen to, the last thing you’ll ever hear will be a brief — very brief — rattling sound.”
“Anton Zilwicki is just as dangerous as Cachat, in his own way. The fact that he’s got even better contacts with the Audubon Ballroom than we’d thought gives him a sort of unofficial, ‘rogue’ action arm all his own. It’s got a lot less in the way of a formal support structure than Manty or Havenite intelligence, but at the same time, it’s less likely to worry about the sorts of constraints star nations have to bear in mind. It’s a lot more likely to leave its back trail littered with body parts, too, and it’s got one hell of a long reach. He’s smart, and he thinks about things, Oravil — hard. He understands just how dangerous a weapon patience is, and he’s got a remarkable facility for pulling apparently random facts together to form critical conclusions.
“On the other hand, our initial appreciation of him was considerably more thorough than anything we knew about Cachat, so I can’t really say he threw us any surprises. And the bottom line is that even with his links to the Ballroom and people like Jeremy X, I think he’s less likely than Cachat to reach for a pulser as his first choice of problem-solving tools. I’m not saying Cachat’s a homicidal maniac, you understand. Or that Zilwicki is some kind of choirboy, either, for that matter. Both of them are of the opinion that the best way to remove a threat is to remove it permanently, but at heart, I think, Zilwicki is more of an analyst and Cachat is more of a direct action specialist. They’re both almost scarily competent in the field, and they’re both among the best analysts I’ve ever seen, but they’ve got different . . . emphases, let’s say.”
“Which, now that they’re more or less operating in alliance, makes the two of them more dangerous than the sum of their parts. Would that be an accurate summarization?” Barregos asked.
“Yes, and no.” Rozsak leaned back in his chair, frowning thoughtfully. “They respect each other. In fact, I think they actually like each other, and each of them owes the other. More than that, they have a major commonality of interest in what’s happening in Congo. But at heart, Zilwicki’s still a Manty and Cachat’s still a Havenite. I think it’s possible — especially if the Star Kingdom’s and the Republic’s foreign relations keep dropping deeper and deeper into the crapper — that the two of them could find themselves on opposing sides again. And that, trust me, would be . . . messy.”
“You said ‘possible,'” Barregos observed. “Is that the same thing as ‘likely’?”
“I don’t know,” Rozsak replied frankly, and he shrugged. “What they have is a personal relationship and, I think — although I’m not sure either of them would be willing to admit it — friendship. And it’s complicated by the fact that Cachat’s hopelessly in love with Palane and Zilwicki’s daughter’s become Palane’s unofficial little sister. So I’m guessing that the most likely outcome if the coin ever drops between the Republic and the Star Kingdom again would be that the two of them would give each other fair warning and then retire to their corners and try very hard not to step on each other. The wildcard, of course, is the fact that Zilwicki’s daughter is also the Queen of Torch. The man’s a Gryphon Highlander, too. He’s got all the ingrained Gryphon loyalty to the Manty Crown, but he’s also got that personal, almost feudal loyalty to family and friends. It may well be he’d give his primary loyalty to Queen Berry, not Queen Elizabeth, if it came down to an outright choice. I doubt he’d ever do anything to harm Manticore’s interests, and I think he’s equally unlikely to stand by and allow something to damage those interests because of simple inaction on his part. But I also think he’d try to balance Manticore’s and Torch’s interests.”