TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 09

TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 09:

Chapter 4

Thandi Palane closed the door of her suite in the palace behind her, and then moved over to stand next to the man sitting at a large table by the window overlooking the gardens below. He seemed to be studying the gardens intently, which was a bit peculiar. The gardens were practically brand new, with more in the way of bare soil than vegetation — and what vegetation did exist was obviously struggling to stay alive.

Most of the plants had been brought from Manticore by Catherine Montaigne. A gift, she said, from Manticore’s queen Elizabeth, plucked from her own extensive gardens.

Berry had appreciated the sentiment. Unfortunately, most of Torch’s climate was tropical or sub-tropical, and the planet had its own lush and diverse biota, much of which was quite aggressive. Only the diligence of the palace’s gardeners had managed to keep the imported plants alive in the weeks since Montaigne arrived. Now that she was gone, Thandi was pretty sure that Berry would quietly tell her gardeners to let the Manticoran plants die a natural death.

It was not a sight one would have thought would lend itself to the sort of rapt concentration that the man at the table was bestowing upon it. But Victor Cachat’s mind often moved in a realm of its own, Thandi had found. It was quite odd, the way such a square-faced and seemingly conventional man — which he was, in fact, in many respects — could see the universe from such unconventional angles.

“And what’s so fascinating about those poor plants below?” she asked.

He’d had his chin resting on a hand, which he now drew away. “They don’t belong here. The longer you study them, the more obvious it is.”

“Can’t say I disagree. And you find this of interest because . . . ?”

“Manpower doesn’t belong here, either. The more I think about it, the more obvious it is.”

She frowned, and began idly caressing his shoulder. “You’re certainly not going to get an argument from me — anyone here — that the universe wouldn’t be a far better place if we were rid of Manpower. But how is this some sort of revelation?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t make myself clear. What I meant was that Manpower doesn’t belong in the universe in the same way those plants don’t belong in this garden. It just doesn’t fit. There are too many things about that so-called ‘corporation’ that are out of place. It should be dying a natural death, like those plants below. Instead, it’s thriving — growing more powerful even, judging from the evidence. Why? And how?”

This wasn’t the first time that Thandi had found her lover’s mind was leaping ahead of hers. Or, it might be better to say, scampering off into the underbrush like a rabbit, leaving her straight-forward predator’s mind panting in pursuit.

“Ah . . . I’m trying to figure out a dignified way to say ‘huh’? What the hell are you talking about?”

He smiled and placed a hand atop hers. “Sorry. I’m probably being a little opaque. What I’m saying is that there are too many ways — way too many ways — in which Manpower doesn’t behave like the evil and soulless corporation it’s supposed to be.”

“The hell it doesn’t! If there’s a single shred of human decency in that foul –”

“I’m not arguing about the evil and soulless part, Thandi. It doesn’t act like a corporation. Evil or not, soulless or not, Manpower is supposed to be a commercial enterprise. But lately it’s been acting more like a star nation — and one which, furthermore, has access to more resources than I can account for. And has influence that seems to go beyond anything a corporation should be able to exert.”

Thandi started to reply, but the doorbell chimed. “Open,” she commanded.

The door slid smoothly aside and Anton Zilwicki came into the room, followed by Princess Ruth. In a shocking display of topsy-turvy royal protocol, Queen Berry tagged along behind them.

“You can come out of hiding now, Victor,” said Anton. “She’s gone.”

Berry came to the center of the room and planted her hands on slender hips. “Well, I think you were rude, I don’t care what Daddy says. Mom’s a really curious person and it drives her nuts not to have her curiosity satisfied. She never stopped asking about you, the whole time she was here. And you never came out to meet her even once.”

“Curiosity may or may not have killed cats,” replied Victor, “but it has certainly slaughtered lots of politicians. I was doing the lady a favor, Your Majesty, whether she wanted it or not and whether she appreciated it or not.”

“Don’t call me that!” she snapped. “I hate it when my friends use that stupid title in private — and you know it!”

Anton went over to sit in an armchair. “He just does it because for reasons I can’t figure out — he’s a twisty, gnarly, crooked sort of fellow — using flamboyantly royal titles in private scratches some kinky egalitarian itch he’s got. But don’t worry, girl. He doesn’t mean it.”

“Actually,” Victor said mildly, “Berry’s the one monarch in creation I don’t mind calling ‘Your Majesty.’ But I’ll admit I do it mostly just to be contrary.”

He looked up at the young queen, whose expression was cross and who still had her hands on her hips. “Berry, the very last thing your mother needed was to leave herself open to the charge that she spent her time on Torch consorting with agents of an enemy power.”

Berry sneered. Tried to, rather. Sneers were just not an expression that came naturally to her. “Oh, nonsense! As opposed to leaving herself open to the charge that she spent her time on Torch consorting with murderous terrorists like Jeremy?”

“Not the same thing at all,” said Victor, shaking his head. “I don’t doubt that her political enemies will level that charge against her, as soon as she gets home. It will get a rapt audience among those who already detest her, and produce a massive yawn on the part of everyone else. For pity’s sake, girl, they’ve been accusing her of that for decades. No matter how murderous and maniacal people may think Jeremy X is, nobody thinks he’s an enemy of the Star Kingdom. Whereas I most certainly am.”

He gave a mildly apologetic glance at Anton and Ruth. “Meaning no personal offense to anyone here.” He looked back up at Berry. “Consorting with Jeremy simply leaves her open to the accusation of having bad judgment. Consorting with me leaves her open to the accusation of treason. That’s a huge difference, when it comes to politics.”

Berry’s expression was now mulish. Clearly enough, she was not persuaded by Victor’s argument. But her father Anton was nodding his head. Quite vigorously, in fact.

“He’s right, Berry. Of course, he’s also now exposed as a piss-poor secret agent, because if he’d had any imagination or gumption at all he would have spent time visiting Cathy, while she was here. Lots and lots of time, to do what he could to make Manticore’s politics even more poisonous than it is.”

Victor gave him a level gaze and a cool smile. “I thought about it, as a matter of fact. But . . .”

He shrugged. “It’s hard to know how that would all play out, in the end. There’s a long, long history of secret agents being too clever for their own good. It could just as easily prove true, years from now, that Catherine Montaigne being in firm control of the Liberals — and with an unblemished reputation — would prove beneficial to Haven.”

Anton said nothing. But he gave Victor a very cool smile of his own.

“And . . . fine,” said Victor. “I also didn’t do it because I’d have been uncomfortable doing so.” His expression got as mulish as Berry’s. “And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.”

Thandi had to fight, for a moment, not to grin. There were times when Victor Cachat’s large and angular pile of political and moral principles amused her. Given that they were attached to a man who could also be as ruthless and cold-blooded as any human being who ever lived.

God forbid Victor Cachat should just say openly that the Zilwicki family were people who’d become dear to him, Manticoran enemies or not, and he was no more capable of deliberately harming them than he would be of harming a child. It might be different if he thought the vital interests of Haven were at stake, true. But for the sake of a small and probably temporary tactical advantage? That was just not someplace he would go.

She wouldn’t tease him about it, though. Not even later, when they were in private again. By now, she knew Victor well enough to know that he’d simply retreat into obfuscation. He’d advance complex and subtle reasoning to the effect that retaining the personal trust of the Zilwickis would actually work to Haven’s benefit, in the long run, and that it would be foolish to sacrifice that for the sake of petty maneuvering.

And it might even be true. But it would still be an excuse. Even if Victor didn’t think there’d be any long-range advantage for Haven, he’d behave the same way. And if that excuse failed of its purpose, think up a different one.

Judging from the Mona Lisa smile on Anton Zilwicki’s face, Thandi was pretty sure he’d figured it out himself.

Anton now cleared his throat, noisily enough to break Queen Berry out of her hands-planted-on-hips disapproval. “That’s not why we came here, however. Victor, there’s something I need to raise with you.”

He nodded at Princess Ruth, who was perched on the arm of a chair across the room. “We need to raise with you, I should say. Ruth’s actually the one who broached the issue with me.”

Ruth flashed Victor a nervous little smile and shifted her weight on the chair arm. As usual, Ruth was too fidgety when dealing with professional issues to be able to sit still. Thandi knew that Victor considered her a superb intelligence analyst — but he also thought she’d be a disaster as a field agent.

Cachat glanced at Berry, who’d moved over to the divan next to Anton’s chair and taken a seat there. “And why is the queen here? Meaning no disrespect, Your Majesty –”

“I really, really hate it when he calls me that,” Berry said to no one in particular, glaring at the wall opposite her.

“– but you don’t normally express a deep interest in the arcane complexities of intelligence work.”

Berry transferred the glare from the wall onto Cachat. “Because if they’re right — and I’m not convinced! — then there’s a lot more involved than the silly antics of spies.”

“All right,” said Victor. He looked back at Anton. “So what’s on your mind?”

“Victor, there’s something wrong with Manpower.”

“He doesn’t mean wrong, like in ‘they’ve got really bad morals,'” interjected Ruth. “He means –”

“I know what he means,” said Victor. Now he looked at Berry. “And I hate to tell you this, Your — ah, Berry — but your father’s right. There really is something rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Berry and Thandi both frowned. “Where’s Denmark?” demanded Thandi.

“I know where it is,” said Berry, “but I don’t get it. Of course there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. It’s that nasty cheese they make.”

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Comments

23 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 09

  1. RobertHuntingdon says:

    Heh. Now that is funny. Granted it will still take them a LONG time to actually learn anything substantive or prove it, but recognizing reality a bit earlier than everybody else is kind of fun to read.

    RH

  2. Nomad says:

    Conaidering how sharp this batch of cookies are and the little fact that unlike rest of the universe they are in a first row confrontation with manpower and indirectly with rest of the Mesan bunch (Jessic Combine, Technodyne and so on. Although some of them are Solarian instead of Mesan but you get the meaning.) it is the logical point to make them the beginning of the unrevealing of mesan threads.

    I wonder if we will see some space actions with light combatants and limited forces like the beginning of HH branch of this universe or if this branch will focus on the human to human actions like Victors little bath under Chicago

    Personally I would love to see some Escort Lac Carriers (E-Clac), Frigates (FG) and Destroyers(DD)duke it out with Mesan Defence Forces or Frontier Security Goons/Mercenaries.

  3. Karsten says:

    @Nomad: At least the big clash will be against ex-havenite vessels; remnants from the late Pierre/St. Just government (so it is written in Storm from the shadows, at least) – and I really doubt, that Mesa will get out of the shadows with own ships, if they have useful proxies available … At least, they will it not do during “Torch”, I bet ;)

  4. robert says:

    @2 Don’t worry. Your wishes will soon enough come true. Those way advanced very fast spacecraft that were about to attack Manticore-B at the end of Storm from the Shadows were also on their way to Torch and in even greater force. Wonder if that will happen during this book-time or during Mission of Honor book-time?

    Does anyone else get the feeling that DW is having a lot of fun with the new kids he’s created in Shadow of Saganami, Crown of Slaves, The Service of the Sword, From the Highlands, and I forget the name of the short story where the fetal Ruth was introduced? The books and stories just seem livelier than the HH books since Ashes of Victory.

  5. Virgil says:

    Okay, the problem I have is keeoing track chronologically, This feels like before the attack with the nanovirus against Berry, so its really a long way before the Shadow book, so its going to have to really stretch to catch up wiht the end of Shadow. What book was waiting for this one to get out?

    And it really is nice to know that there are some real sharp knives looking at Mesa.

  6. Shadow says:

    Chronologically the book start right after the end of Crown of Slaves (the coronation ended just weeks ago), so in Manticore the High-Ridge governement is still in place, and Pritchard hasn’t declared the end of cease-fire yet. And Torch of Freedom will very likely cover the attack of torch by the ex-statesec ship Mesa hoarded. Attack that was just mentionned in Storm from the shadows. I doubt this book will cover much about the Alignement attack on Manticore or Grayson, unfortunately, we’d have to wait for Mission of Honor in 2010…

  7. Nomad says:

    Virgil: It is indeed long before the “Rat Poison” The beginning chapters are all at the time of Erewohn’s departure from alliance, the first days of new government in SKM etc.
    At the moment there seems to be /will be at least 2 major actions in this book. Thandi’s plans on visiting a mesan colony to say “Hi” and Maya’s battle with the Ex-SS units.

    I suspect this book may contain the whole timeline from Erewohn’s departure to Honor’s little pep-talk with E. at the end of Storm. (As there will be a lot of times where MMW and EF will have to skip major time portions blue due to interstellar travel times without Junctions.)

    Anyway, as far as I can determine, at the time this little chat happens the Torch Navy (TN or RTN? it might even be called CN or VVSDF or whatever :)) consists of at least 7 or 8 Frigates (Pottawatomie Creek and her sisters. There were 7 ships operational at the start of Ruth and Berry’s journey to the funeral with the plans for 2 (reduced) RMN squadrons of 6 ships each, 12 ships total) and 1 Freighter (Felicia 3 or Hope as it was renamed).

  8. Nancy says:

    OK – This is not book related – Why do you refer to David Weber as MMW?

  9. Alejo says:

    When did Mesa’s assassination attempt happen? It’s told about in At All Costs but I’m trying to determine if we’ll see its aftermath in this book or not. If so, I imagine it’ll be a pretty big deal and take up quite a few pages.

  10. robert says:

    Can somebody tell me where The Timeline is posted? It must be somewhere! It can’t just be in The Head of Weber.

  11. RobertHuntingdon says:

    robert, the unofficial one is here… http://infodump.thefifthimperium.com/timeline/Harrington … and there is no publicly released official one.

    Alejo, that is a good six months to a year or so off yet I think. But I’d say there is almost no doubt that it will be covered in this book. Which I am actually looking forward to, although I’m sure there will be those who disagree.

  12. robert @9:

            No, the timeline is not just in The Head of Weber®.  It’s also on The Harddrive of Weber®, and The Harddrive of Joe Buckley® .

  13. robert says:

    #10 Thank you Stephen. I found it. Of course it should be graphical or pictorial or…, rather than a text list, but it helps.

  14. Alan says:

    I see we have a lot of ground to cover in this book. The break of Erewhon from Manticore and the treaty with Haven. The attack on Queen Berry fron Torch’s view point, the trip by Anton and Victor to see Honor from their view point. Their trip to the Maya sector, Mesa, and who knows where else, but MWW knows. The battle at Torch. More build up of the Maya sector fleet (maybe see their improved small combatants at Torch. And that’s not even covering the tidbits from chapers 9 & 11 that have been released else where. This is going to be very interesting and make the wait till next July for “Mission of Honor” pure agony. Oh well, such is life. I just hope that I live to see it all. You just never know what twists in life the Lord has for you.

  15. robert says:

    @12 Hang in there Alan. Eat well and get enough exercise and you might last long enough to see the end of the Honorverse Saga. Apologies to Trollope.
    One more thing to be covered in this book according to the blurb (or rather, the Product Description info on Amazon) is, in Jeremy X’s absence, the budding romance between the Beowulf commando assigned to Berry’s security and Queen Berry. So the real question is, when will Anton and Cathy become grandparents. We already know that Helen has her eyes on a fellow naval officer and Lars is…what Lars is.

  16. John Samford says:

    Has Robert Jordan disease set in? You know, 60 pages to describe a table cloth and 110 for the place setting? At least it’s better then the Safehold series, which is starting to look more Jordanish with every book. What happened to the Webber of “On Basilisk Station” fame. The taut, quick Webber that kept every page interesting, every paragraph exciting? Has a missing person notice been put out on him yet? Reams of dribble packed between cardboard is not the Webber we know and love.
    If Webber is going to make more money, he needs to go to Hollywood. Puffing up one book into 3 isn’t the answer. The first three Honorverse books would make a great movie. We are talking Jurassic Park type numbers. One movie will make him more money then a hundred books. There is enough Honorverse materiel to make a “Star Wars” type series of movies. Complete with instant audience.
    Starlets will be shedding blood over who plays Honor. Jolie? Umma? How about the runner up Miss California. She is a hottie and the right sort of dye will make her brunette, at least for the camera. Hallie Berry needs a part.

  17. Karsten says:

    @13 (Robert) – Helen may discover in later times, that her personal Prince Charming has died in the Battle of Manticore … in case, he was assigned to Home Fleet, after his graduation at Saganami Island. She simply doesn’t know it yet, because she was on her way to Talbott some days before the battle occured. And her relationship was not an official one; so noone informed her about her lost …

    That’s why, Lars is, in my opinion too, the more probable source for grandparentship of Anton and Cathy in a future not so far away …

  18. Nomad says:

    Alan (12) : Don’t forget the little visit to the Mesan outpost on Kuy Thandi was musing about
    John Samford (14): Not really, these are all the opening or warm up or to use the Tv term “previously in honorverse” parts worth of 4-6 pages so far.

    Obscure Trivia: Hope is about 5 Mton craft. I guess it can be classified as Medium-Large Freighter.
    Also I seem to have forgotten about the small “civilian grade” armed craft (Point defence weapons and so on) the ASL and similar groups possesed. And the pirate hunters (Qships and armed merchantman) that probably have ties with them too.

  19. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Nancy, MWW stands for “Mad Wizard Weber”. I’ve heard that it comes from his tactics in Role Playing Games.

  20. Nomad says:

    Sorry Nancy, I totally missed your post so I did not answer it. Thanks Drak Bibliophile for the answer :)

    At this point of the story / in this book we won’t see any Mesan ships using Spider Drive. Those will be seen in Mission of Honor (After the end of Storm which ends a bit later than At all costs) and there is a lot of ground for this part of the series to cover. We may not even see them in the next Torch book if the story does not skip ahead a bit / unfolds slowly in some parts of this book.

    In space we are most likely to see new generation Mayan light combatants (DDs and a few CLs) kick the butt of some (or a LOT) Ex-Havenite/Ex-Statesec combatants with the help of their “new” arsenal ships. Despite the tech inferiority Ex-SS ships do range up to Battleship range so they will be hard customers.

    On Torch side there are 12 frigates with solarian grade weapons with cutting edge manty systems, a 5 Mton slaver/freighter and whatever they can steal from Mesan Merchant Marine :). Personally I would like to see an E-Clac (Escort Lac Carrier or LAc Carrier Light. A ship hauling about 2 or 3 squadrons of Lacs a battalion or 2 of marines and their landing craft.) hitting Mesan outposts but I guess in a pinch the Torch Navy can use its frigs and Hope for the same results.

    Does anyone know what happened to the 15 Mesan LACs in Torch system after the takeover?

  21. Nomad says:

    Karsten: Mesan Ships are “cutting edge” “Solarian Tech”. I was not talking about the Spider Drive ships but the regular Mesan Navy we saw at the end of Crown of Slaves. Remember the Battlecruiser, 2 Heavy Cruisers, 3 Light Cruisers and 14 Destroyers that came knocking after the takeover and were shooed away by Gauntlet and Solarian Commodore Squadron? It seems Mesa has also deployed its forces in a Citadel formation with a concentration of ships servicing as reserve for more than one system while the actual system defence is done by lacs and a courier or two.

    Depending on how many “citadels” there are, Mesan “regular” “old style” Navy may have up to 200-300 ships on active duty. Sure they would have 20 BCs, 50 Cruisers and rest would be DDs and FGs but it still gives them a big pool of trained Naval spacers that they can use.

  22. robert says:

    @16 Yeah John, me too. Every time I reread On Basilisk Station or Path of the Fury I wonder what happened to the guy who wrote them. But forget Hollywood. They always screw up by having too many cooks stirring the pot (script). Further, Weber (one B) is clearly NOT a screenplay writer. And with the exception of Sigourney Weaver, who is now a bit too um, mature for the role, there really is no one who can play Honor well in movies right now.
    The trouble is Weber writes stories that are too complicated, with too much scope, and too many characters who have too much history and require a fat back story. Then he has to find a mechanism to explain all that and it results in pages of somewhat tiresome conversation where nothing happens. Were I qualified to give advice, I would suggest he read some of Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano mysteries. He can do a character’s entire back story in a half paragraph and write a very satisfying novel in under 200 pages.

    Meanwhile I order every book he writes, except for the ultra boring Multiverse books.

  23. Peter Z says:

    Could someone please tell me how the characters in the Honorverse have failed to come to this conclusion a century ago?

    Other than sex slaves, robots could do any job a human slave can do, only better. If one needs a decision making capacity, trusting a slave without safeguards out the wazoo is suicide. Enough safeguards to eliminate any cost advantage to using slaves to begin with. The cost and development time for each sex slave would make them cost prohibitive, meaning they are only for the wealthy few. That market by definition is limited and not nearly large enough to sustain a galactic interstellar corporation. Expecially not one that has poured rivers of bribes to a significant chunk of the SL government. Yet, there is Manpower growing more and more wealthy for FIVE centuries.

    Are all Honorverse analysts deaf, dumb, blind and stupid to boot?

    Peter

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