Chapter Nine

As he watched Parmley Station growing in the screen, Hugh Arai shook his head. The gesture combined awe, amusement, and wonder at the inexhaustible folly of humankind. Hearing the little snort he emitted, Marti Garner eyed him sideways, from her casual sprawl on the chair in front of the viewscreen. She was the lieutenant who served as his executive officer, insofar as the command structure of Beowulf’s Biological Survey Corps could be depicted in such a formal manner. Even Beowulf’s regular armed forces had customs which were considered peculiar by the majority of the galaxy’s other armed forces. The traditions and practices of the Biological Survey Corps were considered downright bizarre — at least, by those few armed forces who understood that the BSC was actually Beowulf’s equivalent of an elite commando force.

There weren’t many of them. The Star Kingdom’s Office of Naval Intelligence was probably the only foreign service whose officials really understood the full scope of the BSC’s activities — and they kept their collective mouths tightly shut. The tacit alliance between Manticore and Beowulf was longstanding and very solid, for all that it was mostly informal.

The Andermanni knew enough to know that the BSC was not the innocuous-sounding outfit it passed itself off to be, but probably not much more than that. The BSC didn’t operate very extensively in Andermanni territory. As for the Havenites . . . .

It was hard to be certain what they knew or didn’t know, although it hadn’t always been that way. Indeed, there’d been a time when the Republic of Haven had been almost as well connected with Beowulf as Manticore, but that had ended over a hundred and forty T-years ago.

For the most part, Beowulfers had been less than overjoyed when Haven officially became the People’s Republic after the Constitutional Convention of 1750, but it was the Technical Conservation Act of 1778 which had effectively put the final kiss of death on the once cordial relationship. By making it a crime for engineers or professionals to seek to emigrate from the Peoples’ Republic for any reason, the Legislaturalists had pushed Beowulf’s meitocracy-worshiping public opinion beyond the snapping point. The PRH had responded to Beowulf’s highly vocal criticism by launching a vigorous anti-Beowulf propaganda campaign (Public Information had been an old hand at such tactics even then), and relations between the two star nations had nosedived.

Military cooperation between the PRH and Beowulf had been dwindling well before 1778, of course, but it had terminated completely after the Legislaturalists passed the TCA. By this time, the Beowulfers were pretty sure that the regular armed forces of the Republic of Haven thought the Survey Corps was exactly what it passed itself off to be: a civilian outfit, but one which, given that it often ventured into the galactic equivalent of rough neighborhoods, was pretty tough. Nothing compared to a real military force, of course.

But that might not have been true of Haven’s State Security, back in the days of the Pierre-Saint Just regime. And just how much of State Sec’s institutional knowledge had been passed on to the succeeding intelligence outfit — which had also been one of its executioners — was an open question.

However, it probably didn’t matter that much. Beowulf’s Biological Survey Corps had never spent much time in Havenite space.

First, because that had become . . . impolitic following the collpase of Haven-Beowulf relations. But, second, because there was no reason to, given Haven’s longstanding hostility to genetic slavery. Say what one might about the Legislaturalists — and, for that matter, the lunatics of the Committee of Public Safety — their opposition to slavery had remained fully intact. Personally, and despite a personal partiality for Manticore, Hugh had always been prepared to cut Haven quite a bit of slack in other areas, given its aggressive enforcement of the Cherwell Convention. He was pretty sure most of his fellows in the BSC shared his opinion in that regard, as well, although certain other braches of Beowulf’s military might feel rather differently. The Biological Survey Corps’ primary mission could best be described as that of conducting a secret war against Manpower, Inc. and Mesa, however, which gave its personnel a somewhat different perspective. Theirs, after all, was a pragmatic, narrowly defined purpose — a point Hugh was cheerfully prepared to admit with absolutely no trace of apology. Beowulf’s continuing galactic prominence in the life-sciences affected all aspects of Beowulfan culture, including that of its military, and that was especially true of the BSC. Assuming you could have gotten any one of the its combat teams to discuss their activities at all — not likely, to say the least — they’d have probably said something to the effect that a person shoots their own dog, when the critter goes rabid.

As the centuries passed, most of the galaxy had forgotten or at least half-forgotten that the people who founded Manpower, Inc. had been Beowulfan renegades. But Beowulf had never forgotten.

“What in the name of God was he thinking?” Arai murmured.

Marti Garner chuckled. “Which God are we talking about this week, Hugh? If it’s one of the more archaic Judeo-Christian-Islamic varieties you seem to have developed a completely incomprehensible interest in lately, then . . . ”

She paused and looked to the team member to her left for assistance. “What’s your opinion, Haruka? I’m figuring the Old Testament maniac — excuse me, that’s ‘Maniac’ with a capital ‘m’ — would have commanded poor old Michael Parmley to build the screwball station to demonstrate his obedience.”

Haruka Takano — he’d have been described as the unit’s intelligence officer in another armed force — opened his eyes and gazed placidly at the immense and bizarre amusement park that was continuing to swell in the screen.

“How am I supposed to know?” he complained. “I’m of Japanese ancestry, if you remember.”

Garner and Arai gave him looks which might charitably have been described as skeptical. That was perhaps not surprising, given Takano’s blue eyes, very dark skin, features which seemed more south Asian than anything else — and the complete absence of even a trace of an epicanthic fold.

“Spiritual ancestry, I’m referring to,” Takano clarified. “I’m a lifelong and devout adherent to the Beowulfan branch of ancient Shinto.”

The gazes of his companions remained skeptical.

“It’s a small creed,” he admitted.

“Membership of one?” That came from Marti Garner.

“Well, yes. But the point is, I have no idea what some deranged deity from the Levant might have said or done.” He raised himself from his slouch to peer more closely at the screen. “I mean . . . look at the bloody thing. What is it? Six kilometers in diameter? Seven?”

The fourth person on the ship’s command deck spoke up. “‘Diameter’s a meaningless term. That structure doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to a sphere. Or any rational geometry.”

Stephanie Henson, like Hugh Arai, was on her feet rather than sprawled in a chair. She pointed an accusing finger at the object they were all studying on the screen. “That crazed construction doesn’t resemble anything outside of an hallucination.”

“Not true, actually,” said Takano. “When he built the station, over half a century ago, Parmley was guided by some ancient designs. Places back on pre-diaspora Terra named Disneyland and Coney Island. There’s nothing left of them materially except archaeological traces, but a number of images survive. I spent a little time studying them.”

The station now filled most of the screen. The unit’s intelligence specialist rose to his feet and began pointing to various portions of the structure.

“That thing that seems to loop and wind all over is called a ‘roller coaster.’ Of course, like every part of the station that isn’t contained inside the pressure hull, it’s been adapted for vacuum conditions. And, at least if I’m interpreting the few accounts of the station I could track down correctly, they incorporated a number of micro-gravity features as well.”

He pointed to the one and only part of the huge structure that had a simple geometric shape. “That’s called a ‘ferris wheel.’ Don’t ask me what the term ‘ferris’ refers to, because I have no idea.”

“But . . . what does it do?” asked Henson, frowning. “Is it some sort of propulsion mechanism?”

“It doesn’t exactly do anything. People climb into those pressurized cabs you can see and the wheel starts — that much of the name makes sense, at least — wheeling them through space. I guess the point is to give people the best view possible of the surroundings. Which, you have to admit, are rather spectacular, in orbit around Ameta and with Yamato’s Nebula so close.”

“And what’s that?” asked Garner, pointing to yet another portion of the station they were approaching.

Takano made a face. “It’s a grotesquely enlarged and extravagant, absurd and preposterous — the terms ‘insensate’ and ‘ludicrous’ spring to mind also — version of a structure that was part of ancient Disneyland. The structure was a very fanciful rendition of a primitive fortified dwelling called a ‘castle.’ It went by the name of ‘Fantasyland.'” He pointed to a spire of some sort rising from the station. “That’s called a ‘turret.’ In theory, it’s a defensive emplacement.”

The com beeped, announcing an incoming message. Arai made his own grimace, and straightened up from the chair.

“Speak of the proverbial devil,” he said. “Wait . . . let’s say seven seconds, Marti, and then answer the call.”

“Why seven?” she complained. “Why not five, or ten?”

Arai clucked his tongue. “Five is too few, ten is too many — for a slovenly crew engaged in a risky enterprise.”

“That took just about seven seconds,” Takano said admiringly.

But Garner was already starting to speak. She didn’t bother making any shushing gestures, though. Despite its battered and antiquated appearance, the equipment on the Ouroboros’ command deck was like the rest of the ship — the product of up-to-date Beowulfan technology, beneath the unprepossessing exterior. No one on the other end of the com system would hear or see anything except Marti Garner’s face and voice.

Her response to the signal would, needless to say, have appalled any proper military unit.

“Yeah. Ouroboros here.”

A man’s face appeared on the com screen. “Identify yourselves and –”

“Oh, cut the bullshit. Check your records. You know perfectly well who we are.”

The man on the other end muttered something that was probably a curse. Then he said: “Hold on. We’ll get back to you.”

The screen went blank. Presumably, he was consulting whoever was in charge. In point of fact, there would be no records of the Ouroboros on Parmley Station — for the good and simple reason that the ship had never come here before. But Arai’s team had gauged that the erratic and unstable manner in which the slavers who used the station kept it staffed, insofar as you could use that term at all, meant that the absence of records would just be attributed by the current overseers of the operations there as the product of sloppiness on the part of their predecessors.

Parmley Station was a transshipment point of convenience for freelance slavers, not one of the depot ports Manpower itself maintained on a regular basis. That corporation, as powerful and wealthy as it might be, was still a commercial entity, not a star nation. Manpower directly managed the core portions of its operations, but its activities were much too far flung — not simply throughout the immense reaches of the Verge but even through large parts of the Shell — for it to personally supervise all of them. So, just as it often farmed out paramilitary operations to mercenaries, Manpower also farmed out many of the fringe aspects of the slave trade to independent contractors.

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21 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 18

  1. Maxim says:

    Now this is an interesting developement.

    I realy, realy hope, that the “clan” will be on the right side of the war from the beginning.

  2. I forget, what kind of government does Beowulf have? And do they control any other star systems? I believe I remember that it is one of the oldest off-earth settlements. This crew sounds like a fine addition on the side of the angels; another force aimed at Manpower/Mesa.

  3. robert says:

    @1 Maxim, 3 or 4 more snippets and you’ll see where this is going.
    @2 Beowulf has a very loose, easy-going society, based on what we know about Honor’s mother, so we can assume that the government is one we all could easily live with…er, in(?). But they are clearly not asleep at the switch.

  4. Peter Z says:

    @3 Robert, you might have missed that referrence (in Echoes of Honor I believe) about the extreme level of PC which exists there. Honor’s mom found the whole thing rather stifling. I suspect my rather traditional sensibilities would also find it stifling.

    There is a difference between easy going and aggresively anti-judgemental. The first accepts and allows for some people being judgemental and the latter judges the judgemental both vigerously and harshly. This speaks to being free to agree but not to disagree.


  5. John Roth says:

    We don’t really know a whole lot about Beowulf, other than it’s one of the oldest and wealthiest of the core worlds, it’s got one of the Manticore junction wormholes, it’s probably the number one bio-tech hub (Mesa being number 2), and it’s got a very inflexible medical code of ethics, which is why the Detweilers and their group left to settle Mesa in the first place.

    The fact that it’s got a rather weird sexual system (from most of our viewpoints, at least) and that it’s taken the separation of civil society and religion to another extreme doesn’t mean that they don’t have a core set of mores that you violate only at your extreme peril.

    As far as I can see, any functioning society has to have a core structure that essentially everyone agrees on. That doesn’t necessarily mean the laws, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that absolutely everything is settled and static.

    While it doesn’t have much to do with this story cycle, I think a good reference might be the four Generations books written by Strauss and Howe.

  6. whiddon says:

    A group of Beowulf snake-eaters.Just does not have the right ring.

  7. Nomad says:

    But you are wrong. These guys are not snake eaters or anything coarse like that. They are just pest-exterminators :P

    Besides, they probably have a nice amount of ex-slaves and other odds and ends that don’t really fit in Beowulf Civilian Life. (You know, a well run military being a place to use the troublemakers for the good of the country instead of having them as criminals and/or malcontents…)

  8. Maxim says:

    I agree that we do not know much of Beowulf yet.

    But I think this snippet makes it clear, that they will be “good guys” in the story.

    First they are waging a war against Manpower, second their ties with the Manticore.

    Another Question is whether Beowulf will participate in the big war which will come, once the mayor plans unravel and Manticore and Haven see their real enemy.
    (It is only speculation, but I think it is inevitable)

    And when the big shooting starts the Beowulf’s Biological Survey Corps will have a prominent role to play, I think.

  9. Maxim says:

    @3 Robert, I think that I would personally prefer to live in a world such as Manticore.

    “Honor’s mom found the whole thing rather stifling. I suspect my rather traditional sensibilities would also find it stifling.” (@4 Peter)
    These words I agree with, but I suspect the majority of people who live on Beowulf accept the standards of their world and do not find it “stifling”, therefore I think your criticism of @3Robert is too strong.

  10. John Roth says:

    @9 Maxim.

    IIRC, she found Manticore rather stifling, not Beowoulf.

  11. robert says:

    @10, etc. Yes, that is what I thought, which is why a Sphinxian “homestead” in the hinterlands was just fine with her. It was all that gossip and the aristocratic BS mores on Manticore that she disliked (as would I).

    A Beowulf BSC commando who is a former heavy labor slave and a Queen of Slaves (book title!) who is a former orphaned street urchin – what a pair they will make! Add add Anton, Victor & Honor and Mesa is cooked.

  12. RobertHuntingdon says:

    If she found Manticore “stifling” and Beowulf NOT so, why the HELL would she leave the latter to go to where things are WORSE (from her perspective at least)? Makes zero sense at all.

    No, there is enormous pressure (her words, BTW) to conform on Beowulf. The fact that the model they ask you to conform to is extremely licentious and nearly anarchist doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure to conform to that model. Doesn’t necessarily mean the model is wrong either (although I much prefer it as a fictional society I can laugh at than the idea of living in it), but there is still pressure to conform no matter how you slice it.

    As for disliking the gossip, the way I read her words is that she enjoys “scandalizing” her new neighbors, in part because she knows they don’t like it and are willing to admit so but that’s ALL they do. IMO that is in fact the truly ideal “liberal” society. Do what you want. Say what you feel. And that’s IT. You don’t like something, nobody shushes you for saying so. You do like something nobody else likes, same thing. You do something nobody else likes and everybody talks about you even to your face, but unless its actively illegal (and it NEEDS to be so) in some fashion that’s ALL they do. And I think she feels exactly the same way.


  13. Peter Z says:

    @9 Maxim and Robert, I wasn’t trying to be critical of Robert. If it came accross that way, my apologies Robert.

    I only wanted to continue my speculation that an underlying theme of this story will center on morals, mores and values and their justification. Beowulf just struck me as an extreme example of a society with very subjective values. As RH posted the expectation to conform exists even there, so accepting is it really to non-conformity?


  14. Peter Z says:

    @13 This should read “how accepting is it really to non-conformity? blasted so-and-so typoes!


  15. Peter Z says:

    @11 Indeed, Robert, Berry may suffer from a bit of an Electra complex. Anton’s description does resemble a heavy labor slave’s body type, doesn’t it? Well, maybe an Electra complex is too strong a description. It does show that little girls do measure any potential mate against their father.


  16. Henrik G says:

    Just thought you should know that the eARC is up on webscribtions. Here’s the link to it:

  17. Peter Z says:

    Torch of Freedom ARC is available at the Bar. Excuse me for a few days while I read it.


  18. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Does it take you that long to read it? [Wink]

  19. robert says:

    @16 Right. Just got the email from Baen. Have fun Peter. Please remember to avoid giving anything away ’til Nov. 17th. I am waiting for the book because I need to read while perching all around the house.

  20. Maxim says:

    Peter, what do you mean with the words:”extreme example of a society with very subjective values.”?

    Regarding expectation to conform, I think that it is in the nature of men. In every society there are only very few who can break through the constrains and standards of their world. The overhelming majority of people think bevore all how it is regarded by ones peers. (Neighbours, friends, family and so on.) And this is not devaluation of this behavior in general, because I think that it has something to do with the valueable ability of humans to adapt themselves into the society.
    And to avoid the efford to think for themselves, what is realy bad and what is good. Again not necessarily a bad thing, because if you do not spend effort on one thing, you have more time and strength to spend on other things.
    Such things always depend on particular situation, I think.

    And additionally, If you look at the people who question what is generaly thought to be true, these people are mostly outsiders(with exceptions).

  21. Peter Z says:

    @19 Maxim, standards or justification of morality are either subjective or objective. The view that no particular moral value is better than any other moral value is subjective. That Hitler’s moral standard is no better intrinsically than Mother Theresa’s. The only difference was that more people agreed with Mother Theresa. So that morality like beauty is only in the eye of the beholder.

    Objective standards assume that there is some true moral good and moral evil. Perhaps they are revealed by God or are intrinsic to existance, they remain true regardless of what anyone may believe.

    I don’t have issues with the need to conform to socially accepted behaviour. I also happen to prize testing boundries to what is socially acceptible, as long as the testing is based on a solid moral framework. The civil rights movement in the US was just such a period of testing and resulted in Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. This was probably one of the best encapsulations of an American ideal ever written.

    Balancing between an individual’s responsibility to live a moral life as that individual sees it and the good of the society as a whole are what societal rules should be about. Unfortunately they often aren’t and at this point it becomes the individual’s responsibility to do what he can to effect change through persuasion not compulsion. So, my comments about Beowulf address how Beowulfians tend to discourage such testing in favor of very strongly encouraging (may even border on compulsion) conformity.


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