Chapter 7

“I don’t mean to sound skeptical,” said Jeremy X, sounding skeptical. “But are you sure you’re not all just suffering from a case of EIS?” He pronounced the acronym phonetically.

Princess Ruth looked puzzled. “What’s ‘Ice’?”

“EIS. Stands for Excessive Intelligence Syndrome,” said Anton Zilwicki. “Also known in the Office of Naval Intelligence as Hall of Mirrors Fever.”

“In State Sec, we called it Spyrot,” said Victor Cachat. “The term’s carried over into the FIS, too.”

Ruth shifted the puzzled look to Jeremy. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

“It’s a reasonable question, Princess,” said Anton. “I’ve spent quite a few hours pondering the possibility myself.”

“So have I,” said Cachat. “In fact, it’s the first thing I thought of, when I started re-examining what I knew — or thought I knew — about Manpower. It wouldn’t be the first time that spies outsmarted themselves by seeing more than was actually there.” He glanced at Zilwicki. “‘Hall of Mirrors Fever,’ eh? I hadn’t heard that before, but it’s certainly an apt way of putting it.”

“In our line of work, Ruth,” said Anton, “we usually can’t see things directly. What we’re really doing is looking for reflections. Have you ever been in a hall of mirrors at an amusement park?”

Ruth nodded.

“Then you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s easy to get snared in a cascade of images that are really just reflections of themselves. In this particular instance, the fact that Manpower so often works through intermediaries could be fooling us into thinking there’s more there than there really is.”

“Fine, but…” Ruth shook head. The gesture expressed more in the way of confusion than disagreement. “I don’t get it. We’re not dealing here with mercenaries or cut-outs. We’re dealing with correspondence between two different people — agencies, I should say — within Manpower itself. That seems pretty straightforward to me.” A bit plaintively: “Not a mirror in sight.”

“No?” said Cachat, smiling thinly. “How do we know that the person on the other end of this correspondence, back on Mesa” — he glanced down at the reader in his hand, then did a quick scan back through the report — “Dana Wedermeyer, her name was –”

“Could be a ‘he,’ actually,” interrupted Anton. “Dana’s one of those unisex names that ought to be banned on pain of death seeing as how they create nothing but grief for hardworking spies.”

Cachat and kept going. “How do we know that she or he was working for Manpower?”

“Oh, come on, Victor,” protested Ruth. “I can assure you that I double-checked and cross-checked all of that. There’s no question at all that the correspondence from the Mesan end of the stuff we dug out of the files –”

Here, youthful pride triumphed for a moment. “Thought they could erase that stuff from me, did they? Sorry. But the point is, I’d bet my life that those missives came from Manpower’s headquarters on Mesa.”

“I don’t doubt it,” said Victor. “But you’re misunderstand my point. How do we know that the person sending these from Manpower’s headquarters was actually working for Manpower?”

Ruth looked cross-eyed. A bit cross, too. “Who the hell else would be sitting there but a Manpower employee? Or high-level manager, rather, since there’s no way a low-level flunky was sending back instructions like those.”

Anton sighed. “You’re still missing his point, Ruth — which is one I should have though of myself, right away.”

He looked around for someplace to sit. They’d been having this discussion in Jeremy’s office in the government complex, which was quite possibly the smallest office used by a planetary-level “Minister of War” anywhere in the inhabited galaxy. There were only two chairs in the office, placed right in front of Jeremy’s desk. Ruth was in one, Victor in the other. Jeremy himself was perched on a corner of his desk.

The desk, at least, was big. It seemed to fill half the room. Jeremy leaned over and cleared away the small mound of papers covering another corner of his desk with a quick and agile motion. Barely more than a flick of the wrist. “Here, Anton,” he said, smiling. “Have a seat.”

“Thanks.” Zilwicki perched himself on the desk corner, with one foot still on the floor, half-supporting his weight. “What he’s getting at, Ruth, is that while it’s certainly true that this Dana Wedermeyer person was employed by Manpower, how do we know who he was really working for? It’s possible that he — or she, damn these stupid names and what’s wrong with proper names like Ruth and Cathy and Anton and Victor?—had been suborned and was really working for Mesa Pharmaceuticals.”

He pointed to the reader in the princess’s hand. “That would explain everything in that correspondence, without having to bring in the possibility that Manpower isn’t what it seems to be.”

Ruth looked down at the reader. Frowning, as if she was seeing it for the first time and wasn’t entirely sure what it was. “That seems a lot more unlikely to me than any other explanation. I mean, presumably Manpower maintains some sort of supervision over its employees, even at management levels.”

Victor Cachat sat a bit straighter in his chair, using a hand on one of the armchairs to prop himself up enough to look over at Ruth’s reader. “Oh, I don’t think it’s all that likely myself, Your Highness.”

She turned her head to glare at him. “What? Are you going to start on me now, too, with the fancy titles?”

Anton had to suppress a smile. Just a few months ago, Ruth’s attitude toward Victor Cachat had been one of hostility, kept in check by the needs of the moment but still sharp and — he was sure the princess would have insisted at the time — quite unforgiving. Now…

Once in a while, she’d remember that Cachat was not only a Havenite enemy in the abstract but was specifically the enemy agent who’d stood aside — no, worse, manipulated the situation — when her entire security contingent had been gunned down by Masadan fanatics. At such times, she’d become cold and uncommunicative toward him for two or three days at a time.

But, most of the time, the “needs of the moment” had undergone the proverbial sea change. Cachat had been present on Torch almost without interruption since the planet had been taken from Manpower, Inc. And, willy-nilly, since she was the assistant director of intelligence for the new star nation — Anton himself was the temporary director, until a permanent replacement could be found — she’d been working very closely with the Havenite ever since. Of course, Victor never divulged anything that might in any way compromise the Republic of Haven. But, that aside, he’d been extremely helpful to the young woman. In his own way — quite different way — he’d probably been as much of a tutor for her as Anton himself.

Well… not exactly. The problem was that Cachat’s areas of expertise were things that Ruth could grasp intellectually but probably couldn’t carry out herself, in the field. Not well, certainly.

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28 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 14

  1. Thirdbase says:

    It’s really annoying to read an argument/discussion about something that I haven’t read.

  2. Virgil says:

    I agree there seems to be some juming around on these snippetts.

  3. obelow says:

    Why do I get the feeling they are about to convince themselves to ignore the information that could lead them to the real players on the Mesan side?

  4. erispope says:

    @3 Because there isn’t enough evidence of the Mesan Alignment yet?

  5. Summercat says:

    @3, 4:

    The very idea and concept of the Mesan Alignment has been kept to a few handful of families. Now that they’re starting to implement their plans, hints are being exposed and facts are being correlated – I suspect no more than a few T-years before Intel operatives in the ‘Haven Sector’ start briefing their leadership on an updated dossier on Manpower, Inc.

    But until a few actions break loose, these Intel operatives are thinking inside the box, even when they think they’re thinking outside the box. It’s as if you’re painting with blues, greens, darker softer colors – and then you’re hit with red. It’s out of place, unsuspected. It’s something that currently has no frame of reference in the current mode of thinking.

    Sure, it’s obvious to /us/. That’s because we’re in the know. Things always seem to be obvious when you’ve all the facts, and others do not – and they’re trying to figure out what you already know.

  6. Nomad says:

    Erispope (4): Actually there is enough evidence that Mesa is acting like a hostile star nation instead of being a bunch of criminal organisation / corporations. However the evidence is mixed up with regular corrupt Solarian officials, Havenite war and other more usual Manpower and other Corporation activities.

    The main thing that is sticking out of shadows is the little matter of Talbott cluster and too many ships there (and also the Ex-SS fleet attacking Torch will be another one). However at this point/time in the story none of those overt actions have happened yet. So Tthe only people that can detect any irregularities are Anthon and Victor as they are extremely good analysts and they are focused on confrontation with Mesan instead of being focused on other areas.

  7. JN says:

    we may nit have read it, but it was covered from the Mesan side. There were indications that there was data to be had from captured databases. Since Jeremy is involved, we are probably about to be teased with a possible spynet on Mesa itself.


  8. Mark says:

    are they perhaps playing devil’s advocate to her

  9. John Roth says:


    I agree. It’s one of those snippets that’s half a scene, so the only clue we’ve got at to where Weber and Flint are taking it is Cachet’s last comment:

    “Oh, I don’t think it’s all that likely myself, Your Highness.”

    Also remember that they’re playing to a hostile audience: Jeremy X. He is not going to take kindly to the notion that the Ballroom has been fighting the wrong enemy.

    John Roth

  10. Drak Bibliophile says:

    John, I don’t think Jeremy X is a ‘hostile audience’ in that sense. He is a man who knows what happens when intelligence folks go off the ‘deep end’. It is very likely that the Ballroom contains intelligence folks that provide info on the targets hit by people like Jeremy.

    Like Anton and Victor, Jeremy knows of the limitations of intelligence gathering and how intellignece analysis can go wrong.

  11. Tony says:

    Jeremy X is definetly not a “hostile audience”…. because whatever else, Manpower is NOT the wrong target. Yes, it is a pawn of the alignement but at the end of the day, they ARE slavers and hence bad guys.
    Jeremy will probably reprioritize the targeting once the Alignement becomes apparent, but even then, targers from Manpower are legitimate in his eyes.

    And yes, feels like we are either lacking a snippet, or the explanation about the conversation gonna come in the next….

  12. wyrm says:

    One problem I have with the Mesan super-conspiracy is that, over the past 600 years, Beowulf intelligence should have spotted signs of the Mesan alignment. Surely, at least one Beowulf analyst would have speculated sufficiently far that Beowulf would have had suspicions, and (given the collaboration between Manticore and Beowulf) would have at least passed these suspicions on to ONI. Even as exceptional as Zilwicki and Cachet are, Beowulf should have had analysts of similar calibre (in far greater numbers) concentrating on Mesa. And if the “Biological Survey Corps” have been raiding Manpower establishments for centuries, Torch shouldn’t be the first time that revealing information had come to light.

  13. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Wyrm, Beowulf’s “Biological Survey Corps” are targeting the slave traders which would be unlikely holders of any info that might point to the Alignment. The Alignment would know the likely targets of groups like the “Biological Survey Corps” or the Ballroom.

    Torch was an unlikely target as it was a planetary operation which would be hard to capture.

  14. robert says:

    @6 Mesa IS a star nation. It is a mistake to think of them as an organization with no base. It is a planetary system with a government (albeit a bunch of puppets), businesses, commerce, etc. Manpower is, fictitiously, “just” another business entity on Mesa. Our gang of good guys is actually in the process of taking another look at Manpower through a different lens, so to speak, and that will eventually lead them to figure out the actual connection between Manpower and Mesa and from there to what Mesa really is. Note that this is really the first time we have seen anything like daily life on Mesa. Is it a closed up tight society? Can outsiders walk around on the streets? Can citizens come and go? Etc.

  15. John Roth says:


    I was referring to one of the scenes in Storm From The Shadows with the Detweilers where they opine that the Ballroom, for all of its inconvenience and occasional successful assassinations of key people is a very useful part of the distraction mechanism that keeps attention firmly focused on Manpower, and not focused on asking the question of whether there’s anything lurking in the shadows behind it.

    Keeping the pulsar pointed at Manpower, yes, but I suspect that Jeremy is going to be really, really pissed when he discovers that his real enemy has been using him. I don’t have a good enough read on his personality to tell how much of a fight he’s going to put up before he agrees with it.

    John Roth

  16. Nomad says:

    Robert (14): Mesa is a star nation, this is true but as far as interstellar politics go, it is a no-entity 1 star system by itself. quite unrelated to this book and scene, at the end of Shadow of Sanagami (some time after the Battle of Manticore) SEM intel departments discover that Mesa is not acting as a no-entity but as a star nation with Grayson or Erewohn comparable resources.

    Here, the gang discovers /have suspicions that Manpower itself hides some kind of shadow cabinet in it.

    Think of this from Jeremy’s perspective; he has been battling the bastards all his life and none of his snoops have ever smelled this (and Anti Slavery League probably has some very good sources). Would you or more precisely could you accept that your whole life and suffering and your sins were just a smokescreen without some fight?

  17. James says:

    Place where Occam’s Razor kills analysts

  18. robert says:

    @16 Nomad, it occurs to me that Grayson and Beowulf and Erewohn AND, by gosh, Manticore (until very recently with the joining of Trevor’s Star and the Talbotts to the Empire) are pretty much single star nations. Granted that Manticore is a binary, but that just made it a complex star nation. And there are many others that are well-off on their own terms even if not up to wormhole-wealthy Manticore.

  19. Nomad says:

    Robert (18): Grayson abd Erewohn are sişngle system star nations. If (and that is a big is) my memory is correct Beowulf did have some daughter colonies of her own (and she has access to a junction termini), so she is a bit more than your average first grade single star system.

    Manticore… well Manticore is a freak :D . It had access to 7 very strategical wormholes so its economic output was far too big compared to normal single star systems.

    What I tried to mean is the fact that despite being a star nation, Mesa was never thought as “Mesa the star nation”. When you saw someone with mesan credentials, you thought “this guy must be a Manpower/Jessyk/whatever operative”. When a mesan did something, people thought of it as the works of a corrupt corporation trying to make some more buck. When military analysts looked at their “normal” fleet, they saw a fleet of commerce protection, slave hunters, paid thugs. Their latest actions (discovered at the end of Shadow of Sanagami and onwards including attanck on Torch) however gives the analysts (more likely hits them on the head with a big club) a lot of info that Mesa can and does indeed have long range interstellar plans that are more than making cash.

    However don’t confuse that with whats here. Here the gang is seeing the first clues of a group that is hidden işnside manpower. It will take them a lot more digging and evidence but this part is the beginning of “something is (even more) rotten in the corporation of Manpower.

    Now JEremy and his men and their allies have been fighting Mesans and Manpower for a long time and they were never able to fint the true targets, and they were not even able to come close to sniffing that there is even more filth in there. This is what Jeremy will object. (And since he is quite a sharp cookie he will probably even guess that he was used if the gang can convince him….)

  20. Nomad says:

    Damn I am tired. sorry for all those typos… :(

  21. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Nomad, slight correction. To most other star nations, the Mesan government was seen as the tool of the Mesan corporations. While Manpower was the most infamous of those corporations, it was seen as only one of many Mesan corporations.

    As for the typos, Been There Done That (Have the T-Shirt). [Smile]

  22. Nomad says:

    Drak Bibliophile (21): Thats part of the point I was trying to explain. Mesan government is ruled by more than 1 head so it shouldn’t be able to make long range – long distance plans (that are harmful to the corporations’ bottomline). It should’nt be that strong and the corporations themselves have been portraying themselves as mony grubbing amoral selfish capitalists. This maskirovka is wearing thin at the end of Storm. (not here)

  23. John Roth says:

    @19, @22

    I disagree. My reading of the snippets shows that they’re saying right out “it’s behaving like a star nation.” I don’t think they’re going to be mislead by the idea that it’s a cabal -inside- of Manpower itself that’s doing it. There are certainly people inside of Manpower who are in on it, true. However, if it was coming from inside Manpower, they’d have to be awfully disciplined to avoid taking over the rest of the apparatus, and they haven’t.

    My biggest gripe with the way the story is unfolding is that Zilwiki and Cachet should have given the file to Honor when they met with her after Rat Poison. Then she’d have had the file (with Princess Ruth’s input as well) to give to intelligence.

    If Cachet hadn’t sent the file back home by that time, he’s an idiot. And Cachet is many things, but an idiot isn’t one of them.

    John Roth

  24. robert says:

    @23 I agree with you. John. I hate it when the protagonist(s) do the stupid and illogical thing in order to allow the author to get the story to where he or she wants it to go. And there was no mention of Honor reporting the meeting to her intel organization, which was also a wrong move. I bet that if you pressed Weber he would admit that those were mistakes like the whacky names in Safehold. If Victor had reported his info back to Pritchard would she have attacked Manticore or would she have tried to get the info to Manticore in some way? Maybe the lack of hard evidence made the two operatives leery about going public with what they had. But then why go to Honor? And why not go to her with more firepower like Ruth, Berry and/or Jeremy?

  25. Jerry says:

    @23, John, I must have missed something as I thought Rat Poison was still in the future of this book.

  26. Nomad says:

    Jerry (25): Yes, Rat poison is still in the future. thats why I was putting up signs saying “Now in Torch of Freedom” and “Then in Storm From Shadows” (Honor’s browbeating of Elizabeth about Haven and Mesa takes place about a year or two in the future if I am not mistaken from this scene).

  27. Nomad says:

    John Roth: Yes and no. Remember that despite all they could do by the time they go kamikaze on Honor, they were probably not successfull in penetrating Aligment. True; by that time they probably will have gathered the most detailed study and analysys of Mesa but you have to remember that for Haven and Manticore, Mesa is still small fry. They are grappling each other to death at that point. And Honor can’t go to E. and say : “Look the Havenite superspy and Cathy’s consort gave me these documents that say Haven is innocent”. She will probably make those files accessible to certain people in intel. community and they will work on those. Thats probably why the intel. community has turned around and is pointing at targets besides Haven when H. beats E.

  28. John Roth says:


    She did report it, IIRC. Granted, unless all three of them, having come to the same conclusion independently, decide they’re starting at shadows, the lack of a file to turn over makes no sense. Unless they’ve already turned it over and gotten the big ‘ho, hum’ from Manty Intel. Which also makes no sense, because M.I. has got to know that the same file is going to Haven, and that it contains (presumably thoroughly scrubbed) data from Mesa collected by the Ballroom.

    Except – I suspect that the scenario hadn’t been developed sufficiently by the time Weber wrote At All Costs for him to know that would be the logical thing to do.

    Well, we’ll know tomorrow morning what direction it’s going to go, the Gods of the Internet willing.

    John Roth.

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