TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 07:

Chapter 3

Catherine Montaigne looked down at the very large suitcase on the bed. The look was not an affectionate one.

“Do you realize, Anton, what an archaeological relic this is? We’re coming close on two thousand years since the human race left our planet of origin — and we still have to pack our own bags.”

Anton Zilwicki pursed his lips. “This is one of those damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t, and damned-if-I-try-to-keep-my-mouth-shut situations.”

She frowned. “What is that supposed to mean?”

He pointed with a thick, stubby finger to the door which led to the personal services bay of the bedroom. “There is a household robot in there with a perfectly functional travel program. I haven’t personally packed a bag myself in . . . oh, years. Can’t remember how many, any longer.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, sure. You’re a man. Three outfits to your name, leaving aside socks and underwear — identical socks and underwear — and the sartorial imagination of a pot roast. Meat, potatoes, carrots, what more do you need?”

“Like I said, damned any way I turn.” He glanced at the door, as if seeking an escape route. “The last time I looked, our daughters Helen and Berry were both women. So is Princess Ruth. And not one of the three has personally packed a suitcase in years, either.”

“Well, of course not. Helen’s in the military, so willy-nilly she’s been tainted by male attitudes. Berry grew up without a pot to piss in, and she still accumulates personal belongings as if she had the budget of a rat in the Terran warrens. And Ruth is just plain unnatural. The only member of the royal family in . . . oh, hell, ever, who wants to be a spy.”

She straightened up and squared her shoulders. “I, on the other hand, retain normal female customs and views. So I know perfectly good and well that no fucking robot is going to pack my suitcase properly. Being fair to the critters, I’m still making up my mind what to put in the suitcase until it’s closed.”

“You’re also one of the richest females in the Star Kingdom, Cathy. Hell, the Star Empire — for that matter, the whole damn galaxy, since the wealth of the Manticoran upper crust matches that of almost anybody in the Solarian League, damn their black and wicked aristocratic hearts. So why don’t you have one of your servants pack your suitcase?”

Montaigne looked uncomfortable. “Doesn’t seem right,” she said. “Some things a person has to do for herself. Use the toilet, clean your teeth, pack your own suitcase. It’d be grotesque to have a servant do that sort of thing.”

She stared at the suitcase for a few seconds, and then sighed. “Besides, packing my own suitcase lets me stall. I’m going to miss you, Anton. A lot.”

“I’ll miss you too, love.”

“When will I see you again?” She turned her head to look at him. “Best estimate. You can spare me the lecture about the temporal uncertainties of intelligence work.”

“Honestly, it is hard to know. But . . . I figure a number of months at a minimum, Cathy, and it could easily stretch to a year or longer.”

“Yeah, that’s about what I figured. Dammit, if I could . . . ”

“Don’t be silly. The political situation on Manticore with the Liberals is far too critical for you to leave the Star Kingdom again once you get back home. As it is, you probably stretched it by staying here on Torch for so many weeks after Berry’s coronation.”

“I don’t regret it, though. Not for one moment.”

“Neither do I — and, for sure, Berry appreciated it. But while I figure you can afford one extended vacation” — he smiled as crookedly as she had earlier — “given that the occasion was the coronation of your daughter — you can’t really do it again. Not until the political mess gets straightened out.”

“It’d be better to say, ‘political opportunity.’ The repercussions of that quick trip you took back home a few weeks ago will have had time to percolate, by now.”

Between the time Anton had returned to Erewhon from Smoking Frog with the critical information he’d found concerning Georgia Young and the time he’d had to help with the liberation of Congo, he’d been able — just barely — to return to Manticore and, with Cathy, confront Young and force her into exile. They’d also forced her to destroy the notorious North Hollow files that had played such a poisonous role in the politics of the Star Kingdom, before she fled.

“So they will,” he said. “So they will.”


When she was finally done packing the huge suitcase, Anton began to summon the household robot. But Cathy shook her head.

“Not a chance, buddy. I’m not about to risk my valuable possessions being hauled around by a mindless machine when I’ve got a personal weightlifter at my service.” She gazed approvingly upon Anton’s dwarf-king figure. He was a number of centimeters shorter than she was, and seemed to be at least a meter wider.

Cathy had once heard someone at a party remark that Anton’s shoulders could double in a pinch as a parking lot for ground vehicles. Everyone present had disputed the statement, pointing out that it was absurd. But not before they’d spent several seconds studying the shoulders in question.

He picked up the suitcase by the handle on the end and lifted it onto his shoulder. The motion was as smooth and easy as if he’d been handling a broom instead of a valise that weighed well over fifty kilos.

Cathy slid her arm around his waist on the side opposite the suitcase. “Now let’s be off — before our blessed daughter decides to launch yet another innovation in Torcher royal custom. An eight-hour-long goodbye party for the royal mother, that’ll leave me stuffed like a goose and wobbly with liquor.”

On their way out the door, her expression became pensive. “I hadn’t thought about it before now. According to Torch protocol, am I a dowager queen or something like that?”

“I doubt it, sweetheart. There’s practically nothing yet in the way of royal protocol on Torch — and, given Berry, that’s not likely to change much as long as she’s still sitting on the throne.”

“Oh, that’s such a relief. The moment I spoke the word ‘dowager,’ I felt like I’d gained thirty kilos.”

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16 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 07

  1. robert says:

    Flint wrote this chapter. Weber wrote the ones before. So obvious.

  2. evilauthor says:

    Yeah, there’s a definite difference in the way they write dialogue.

  3. Nomad says:

    Have to agree, while MWW is one of the people who can build and keep the most complex situations realisticaly, his analytical approach does make his characters a bit too stiff (not sure “stiff” is the right adjective but my mind fails me at the moment). Then again Eric is also prone to too dramatic gestures. Just like real life; an unholy but enjojable mess :D

  4. RobertHuntingdon says:

    Lets see… technical discussion of military buildups… semi-romantic departure scene between two lovers parting for an extended period of time. Hmm, naw… there’s absolutely NO chance the same person was just writing in a different style about a different topic…


  5. Mike says:

    Completely different focus, too. The other chapter was all about star system politics. This one was about the morality/acceptibility of having servants (even machine servants) packing your suitcase for you.

  6. robert says:

    @4 and @5 But nobody snorted. There were many snorting opportunities, yet no snorts. Clearly not DW, unless he has stopped doing snorts between chapters.

  7. KenJ says:

    @6 *SNORT*

    There, are you happy.. :)

  8. robert says:

    From the Highlands by Eric Flint in Changer of Worlds

  9. She appears to be *on Torch*, packing to *go home*. There is no *choose* aspect here.

    If Anton where really suicidally inclined, he would point out that everything must go from closets into the suitcase.

    The perhaps odd part is that it has previously been established that suitcases routinely have antigravity generators and enough AI to follow their owner.

  10. RobertHuntingdon says:

    Um, can you point out where you saw that GP? Because all I remember was *military lockers* having antigrav, but even they still had to be hand-towed by their user/owner.


  11. Nomad says:

    Considering Cathy’s position in Manty uppercrust, I would not be suprised to see her luggage to be handcrafted wooden “old” style suitcase (With the usual cutting-edge high-tech anti-tampering systems and armoring artfully concealed within the wood exterior and satin (?) covered interior). Any hick can get an antigrav harness(ed) plain hightech metal container.

  12. Nomad says:

    On a different note, I wonder how Jeremy will present his new toy to the rest of the cabinet of torch. “With my allocated court jester (black ops) funds, I bought a space amusement park and had it fitted with basic sails. It will be here in 2 weeks.” :P

  13. @10 That’s it, the military locker — which may be smaller than her suitcase. You don’t get 100 pounds of clothing into a bag with no crumpling unless it is huge.

  14. zathras says:

    Another thing that any advanced suitcase could have, from any civilization with the ability to manipulate gravity, is the ability to compress clothing, much the same as you can vacume pack clothes today.

    Just don’t turn the compression up too high (this is, afterall, technology derived from the grav bottle.

  15. DouglasWM says:

    @6 and @7:There were also no ellipses, out of the dialogue. Neither was there any discussions of honor, with or without the use of convoluted logic to state something obvious, like who is on whose side.

  16. Dave says:

    Didn’t Anton AND Cathrine go back to Manticore to confront the dirty tricks Lady?

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