Unlike Ruth and Anton, Cachat was not a tech weenie. He was adept enough with computers, but he had none of Zilwicki or the Manticoran princess’s wizardry with them. And while he was an excellent analyst, he was no better than Anton himself. Probably not as good, actually, push came to shove — although they were both operating on a rarified height that precious few other spies in the galaxy could reach to begin with.

Victor’s greater age and much greater experience meant that he was still a better intelligence analyst than Ruth, but Anton didn’t think that superiority would last more than a few years. The princess really did have a knack for the often peculiar and sometimes downright bizarre world of the aptly-named Hall of Mirrors.

But Cachat’s real forte was field work. There, Anton thought he was in a league of his own. There might be a handful of secret agents in the galaxy as good as Victor was in that area, but that would be it — a literal handful. And none of them would be any better.

Anton Zilwicki himself was not one of that theoretical handful, and he knew it. To be sure, he was very good. In terms of fieldcraft, as most people understood the term, he was probably even as good as Victor. Very close, at least.

But he simply didn’t have Cachat’s mindset. The Havenite agent was a man so certain in his convictions and loyalties, and so certain of himself, that he could behave in a crisis like no one Anton had ever encountered. He would react faster than anyone and be more ruthless than anyone, if he thought ruthlessness was what was needed. Most of all, he had an uncanny ability to jury-rig his plans as he went along, seeing opportunity unfold whenever those plans went awry where most spies would see nothing but unfolding disaster.

There was great courage there, also, but Anton had that as well. So did many people. Courage was not really that rare a virtue in the human race — as Victor himself, with his egalitarian attitudes, was quite fond of pointing out. But for Cachat, that level of courage seemed to come effortlessly. Anton was sure the man didn’t even think about it.

Those qualities made him a very dangerous man, at all times, and a scary man on some occasions. With his now-extensive experience working with Victor, Anton had come to be certain that Cachat was not a sociopath — although he could certainly do a superb imitation of one. And he’d also come to realize, more slowly, that lurking beneath Victor’s seemingly icy surface was a man who was…

Well, not warm-hearted, certainly. Perhaps “big-hearted” was the right term. But whatever you called it, this was a man who had a fierce loyalty to his friends as well as his beliefs. How Cachat would react if he ever found himself forced to choose between a close friend and his own political convictions, was difficult to calculate. In the end, Anton was pretty sure that Victor would choose his convictions. But that wouldn’t come without a great struggle — and the Havenite would demand complete and full proof that the choice was really inescapable.

Princess Ruth probably hadn’t parsed Victor Cachat as thoroughly and patiently as Anton Zilwicki had done. There were very few people in the world with Anton’s systematic rigorousness. Ruth was definitely not one of them. But she was extremely intelligent and intuitively perceptive about people — surprisingly so, for someone who’d been raised in the rather cloistered atmosphere of the royal court. In her own way, she’d come to accept the same things about Victor that Anton had.

Anton had once remarked to Ruth, half-jokingly, that being Cachat’s friend and collaborator was quite a bit like being an intimate colleague of a very smart and warm-blooded cobra. The princess had immediately shaken her head. “Not a cobra. Cobras are pretty dinky when you get right down to it — I mean, hell, a glorified rodent like a mongoose can handle one — and they rely almost entirely on venom. Even at his Ming the Merciless worst, Victor is never venomous.”

She’d shaken her head again. “A dragon, Anton. They can take human form, you know, according to legend. Just think of a dragon with a pronounced Havenite accent and a hoard he guards jealousy made of people and principles instead of money.”

Anton had conceded the point — and now, watching Ruth’s half-irritated and half-affectionate exchange with a Havenite agent she’d once detested, he saw again how right she’d been.

It’s not that easy, all things considered, to hold a grudge against a dragon. Not for somehow like the princess, at any rate, with her horror of appearing silly. You might as well hold a grudge against the tides.

“Just trying to stay in practice,” Victor said mildly, “in the unlikely event I should be presented at the Manticoran court in Landing. Wouldn’t want to fumble with royal protocol, even if it is all a bunch of annoying nonsense, because it would undermine my secret agent suavety.”

“There’s no such word as ‘suavety,'” replied Ruth. “In face, that’s got to be the stupidest and least suave word I’ve ever heard.”

Victor smiled seraphically. “To get back to the point, Ruth, I don’t happen to think it’s likely myself that this Dana Wedermeyer person” — he pointed to the notebook — “is anything other than what she or he seems to be. Which is to say, a very highly placed Manpower manager giving orders to a subordinate — and orders which, furthermore, stemmed from the top echelons in Manpower, Inc.”

“But…” Ruth looked back down at the notebook, frowning. “Victor, you’ve read the correspondence yourself. The field people here on what used to be Torch complained again and again that Manpower was losing money — hand over fist, mind you, we’re not talking small change — by using the methods it was using to develop the pharmaceuticals.”

For a moment, the frown darkened into something very harsh. “The murderous and inhuman methods, I should say, since they amounted to forced labor driven to the point where people were deliberately and consciously worked to death. But the point for the moment is that even Manpower’s managers here on the spot were trying to convince their bosses that the methods were so inefficient that they were losing money.”

“Yes, I know. Apparently only Mesa Pharmaceuticals was turning a profit on this planet.”

Jeremy X cleared his throat. “Let’s not forget how closely most Mesan corporations collude with each other — and we’re certain that many of them are actually owned by Manpower.”

Anton pursed his lips, considering the point. “You’re suggesting, in other words, that Manpower was deliberately accepting a loss in order to boost the profits of Mesa Pharmaceuticals — in which they possibly have a major ownership share, even if they don’t control it outright.”


Ruth had her lips pursed also. “But what would be the point, Jeremy? That only makes sense if Manpower does own Mesa Pharmaceuticals — and then we’re looking at Peter robbing his own pockets to pay his flunky Paul. Why bother with the elaborate subterfuge? If their flunky Paul needed money, just give it to him. It’s not as if they ever expected a slave rebellion here would expropriate them and wind up leaving their supposedly-erased files to the mercies of” — here she smiled even more seraphically than Victor had done — “real whizzes like me and Anton.”

Victor nodded. “I agree, and that’s exactly why I don’t think there’s any logical explanation except…”

“Except what?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. But we’ve already agreed that there’s something rotten about Manpower that goes beyond their greed and brutality.” He pointed to Ruth’s reader. “So, for the moment, we can just add this dead fish to the smelly pile.”

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27 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 15

  1. catboy says:

    These snippets get posted very fast on the bar.

  2. robert says:

    @1 But the Bar must use the slowest damn software I have experienced in 15 years. It takes forever to pull up a post.

    Is the following a typo or am I dense:
    “The field people here on what used to be Torch complained again and again that Manpower was losing money — hand over fist, mind you, we’re not talking small change — by using the methods it was using to develop the pharmaceuticals.”
    Didn’t it “used to be” Verdant Vista and isn’t it now Torch?

    Follow the money Princess Ruth. You are on the right track.

  3. Alejo says:

    A mongoose isn’t a rodent. It’s in the weasel family and a carnivore in the very strictest sense of the word.

  4. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Catboy, the snippets here are posted automatically. I have to manually post them on the Bar and I don’t want to wait up to post them at the same time that they are posted her.

    Aleijo, I’m sure that David Weber and Eric Flint know that a mongoose isn’t a rodent. On the other hand, it is likely that the only thing Princess Ruth knows about about the mongoose is its appearance and that the mongoose kills cobras.

  5. jabulani says:

    Hehe, Robert, don’t worry about the typo. I’m sure a writer as sharp as either Mr Weber or Mr Flint (and they ARE sharp, to come up with such convoluted ploys) will notice it quickly enough…this is, after all, not quite the final edited version.

  6. robert says:

    @3 Anyway she called it “a glorified rodent” which is likely based on physiognomy rather than DNA.

  7. Drak Bibliophile says:

    On the typos, Eric and David haven’t (the last I heard) actually turned this in. What we’re seeing is a very rough version and may not be what they actually turn in.

  8. Dave says:

    Another but minor typo -princess Ruth is a some someone not a somehow.

  9. Alejo says:

    Pretty sure they do know and i understand what they were trying to do by having Ruth call it that. It just struck me as odd since I’d never thought of the mongoose that way. Btw, I was actually wrong in saying it was related to weasels. It’s in the same family as Meerkats (who knew?) and some can get as big as four feet long. Learned something new.

  10. Nomad says:

    Mongoose made me smile. Reminded me of a little barb at Eric Flint’s praise of the animal in Belisarius series. (Namely for the general himself and Valentinian. Now Valentinian was a weasel of a man but this is not the place to disscuss it :D )

  11. Maxim says:

    Now Valentinian charakter has been kreated with style.

    But as for the suspicions of Victor and Jeremy. This supicions are based on some very slim hints.

    For example the acceptance of losses by Manpower:
    “You’re suggesting, in other words, that Manpower was deliberately accepting a loss in order to boost the profits of Mesa Pharmaceuticals — in which they possibly have a major ownership share, even if they don’t control it outright.”

    Such inefficiancy could happen because of inner fighting of different departments for example.

    Only later, as the more information will become available, there will be something which could be used for example to convince the Manticore Queen, that Manticore should’t be at war with Haven, but that another force is manipulating both Manticore and Haven.

  12. But what was the point?

    Even allowing all these companies were truly owned by Eddore International, true masters of the Mesan Alignment, and a wholly owned subsidiary of Evil Overlords, LLC, …why run Congo as a low-financial-efficiency operation when this could readily be avoided?

  13. Peter Z says:

    I….shall…remain….quiet! See RH! I promissed and I shall desist!


  14. Peter Z says:

    On a completly unrelated topic. I suspect that Manpower is not only the stalking horse for the Alignment but the sacrificial goat prepared to appease the SL. The Alignment gains control, guts the SLN with Manty help and tosses the Manpower honcho’s to the wolves in a bid to show how Mesa as a whole isn’t Manpower. That Mesa is populated by people too, not simply money-grubbing, amoral, captialist monsters.

    This type of intel from a variety of sources will suggest that Manpower bigwigs are truly despicable and neatly redirect SL anger from the true culprits at Evil Overlords, LLC (cribbing from George’s post). This little gambit will make (as is hoped by the Alignment) the SL public as a whole less emphatically against EO, LLC’s hostile buyout. I assume this will be a buyout as opposed to a pure military takeover, but have not yet discerned the currency the SL public will be willing to accept.


  15. Nomad says:

    The point is covering up something. What? We have no idea at this precise moment. How does a new junction, buffing up a pharmaceutical company and a planet full of slaves come together and form a plan? We don’t have enogh to go on at this moment. I hate snippets :P

    *Slaves can’t tell what they don’t know / what they were working for / Junction means fast transit / pharmaceutical company means a bio-agent? Then again this is just a bad cliche “evil plot” I built from exising clues :D . MMW and EF ARE professional writers (unlike me) so you can expect a better story from them :P

  16. Peter Z says:

    @15 The reason for snippets is the same one for the current stock market; to satisfy our speculative urges.
    If you want certainty, do multiplication tables and give your money away. Both activities will provide a certain outcome.


  17. hank says:

    @12 history has many examples of slave owners retaining the system they know, for various reasons, even though it was not the most cost-effective way to operate. Consider the plantations in the southern USA in the 1850’s. Would have been cheaper to let the slaves go and hire labor as needed ( no need to worry about the health etc of people you hire) but very few plantation owners did.
    As for the case at hand, if Manpower admitted that slaves weren’t a good option at one of their own facilitys it would have given ammo to those trying to close them down elsewhere. In other words, the reason was political.

  18. John Roth says:

    Well, we know that there’s something really, really odd about that wormhole nexus, and we suspect that they’ve figured out part of it and are using the results for various military applications. Therefore there’s a strategic reason for keeping the planet itself occupied. If they left, they’d leave the nexus for someone else to explore.

    So one question is: while Manpower is losing money, and Mesa Pharmaceuticals is making money, what’s the balance sheet for the planet as a whole?

    Also, we don’t know the content of the memos that have been going back and forth between the managers and the home office – only that they’ve been recommending some kind of change in operations that would save money and lives. What changes? Would it bring in outsiders? Is the LRPB trying out some gene mods that it isn’t telling people about? Etc.

    On a more global note, I’m having trouble believing that they couldn’t synthesize whatever pharmaceuticals they’re getting off the planet. We are talking about an advanced civilization, and a planet that’s been heavily into genetics and biotech for centuries.

    John Roth

  19. Nomad says:

    John Roth (18): I’m sure they can but it’s probably about economics (x credits per ton for an agricultural world vs nx credits per ton plus a lot more technichal dependants for synthesizing it for the first time, not too big batches.) Also it seems the whole operation was just a front to explain their presence instead of a real need.

  20. robert says:

    @18 and 19 So what pharmaceuticals were being made on Verdant Vista? I don’t know if we were ever told, and if we were, who gave a mongoose’s tush at the time. Further, does anyone think it is relevant?

    Do the Torchies know about the wormhole yet? They must suspect, or least have a nagging feeling, that there was something about the place that was more important than the drugs. Which came first? The planet/drugs or the wormhole? And THERE is a question that is fraught, I do believe.

  21. Peter Z says:

    @20 Robert, yes, it is relavent. If drugs produced on torch can be brought to market cheaper than synthesized elsewhere, this speaks to the sustainablity of Torch. It also helps characterize Manpower execs as willfully brutal even at the expense of profits. The more sustainable Torch is the greater the lengths the Alignment must go to regain possession of it. From the prior posts it seems even some of the Mesan “A” lines view Manpower with a degree of distaste (Jack & Zack). So this effort to further characterize Manpower as black hearted villians must serve the Alignment’s Grand Plan some way.

    As to which came first, I think that matters less than HOW these assets were used.


  22. robert says:

    @21 Yes, Peter, but what are the drugs? Are they narcotic and evil or helpful and good? And does it matter if the real objective of Verdant Vista was to keep anyone else away from discovering the wormhole so the drugs and slaves were just a disguise to attract attention away from the real prize. I don’t really like that scenario because it is too devious. But still, we can all speculate away until the book comes out.

  23. KenJ says:

    @20 Yes, the existence of the wormhole is known generally. (see Crown) However, no one (outside of the Alignment) has done any research on it nor knows where the termini are. It is generally known however that it has indications of at least 3.

    It is interesting to note in Crown that it was a “Recently discovered” wormhole to the universe at large while in previous snips we learned that the Alignment has had it fully explored for decades.

  24. Nomad says:

    Robert (22): I know this will come across as nitpicking but there isn’t a good drug or a bad drug. It is what you do with the raw product that determines the good/bad part of it. Most of the organic stuff that is used as “drugs for getting high” are also the base for your regular treatment medicines.

  25. Nomad says:

    KenJ (23): As a rough estimate, the Torch Junction probably became a general knowledge (or Erewohn became aware of it) not long before/around the time of Buttercup, as it is not listed in Erewohn’s reasions for siding with SKM but listed as a thorn after the government change in SKM.

  26. robert says:

    @24 Yes, Nomad, but in the realm of science fiction certain drugs are terminally addictive, or at least very hard to kick.

  27. Nomad says:

    Robert: Those… things are called designer drug (chem eng here :( ) and those… things are always laced with (or treated with or bolstered with) artificial additives to amplify the addiction potential. And before you ask yes some of the RL drugs are indeed in this category. Those sick f**ks…

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