TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 22

TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 22

By now, Brice was pretty sure the people from the Ouroboros were planning to take out the slavers who currently occupied the turret. And given the ruthlessness with which they’d dealt with the first two slavers, he was also pretty sure that “take out” was a phrase which, in this instance, was not going to be combined with soft-hearted terms like “prisoners.”

He didn’t spend much time chewing on that issue, though. Brice didn’t care, when it came right down to it, how ruthlessly the newcomers dealt with the people who currently controlled slaving operations on Parmley Station. The killing of the two slavers he’d just witnessed had been shocking, certainly, because of its violence and suddenness. Beyond that, however, it had no more effect on him than witnessing the slaughter of dangerous animals. Brice’s clan maintained practical relations with the slavers, but they loathed them.

The really important issue, still unsettled, was: who are these people, anyway?

He re-attached the com unit to the wire strung in the passageway. Ganny Butre’s voice came into his ear. “Who are they, boys? Can you tell yet?”

Ed Hartman was the first to respond, not surprisingly. Brice liked his cousin a lot, but there was no denying that Ed had a tendency to go off half-cocked.

“They gotta be another slaver group, Ganny, trying to muscle in,” he said confidently. “Poachers. Gotta be.”

James’s voice came next. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that . . . ”

Brice shared James’s skepticism. “I’m with Lewis,” he said, as forcefully as possible when you were trying to whisper into a com unit. “These people seem way too deadly to be just another batch of slavers.”

He added what he thought was the clincher. “And one of them is a slave himself, Ganny. Well . . . was a slave, anyway. I saw his tongue markers.”

“So did I,” said James. “Ed, you had to have seen it too. You were the closest.”

Brice wondered where Lewis and Hartman were right now. Like him, they would have scurried out of sight once they realized some of the people from the Ouroboros were coming into the ducts. Also like him, they’d be cautious but not overly worried about the matter. There were many kilometers of air ducts running all through Parmley Station — and the only blueprints and schematics still in existence were hidden away. If you wanted to pass through the ducts, you either had to move slowly and constantly check your location with instruments, as the crewmen from the Ouroboros were doing, or you had to have memorized the network — as Brice and his cousins had done, over the years. Even they only knew part of it. There was no way the newcomers could catch them, once they were in the ducts.

Ed’s reply was a bit slow in coming. That would be caused by nothing more than Hartman’s reluctance to tacitly admit that, once again, he’d used his mouth before his brain. “Yeah, okay. I saw it too.”

“Well, ain’t that sweet?” said Michael Alsobrook. “Ganny, we’re screwed. They gotta be from the Ballroom.”

Brice had already considered that possibility. And if so . . . The clan could very well be in serious trouble. Ballroom killers on what amounted to an extermination mission weren’t going to look gently upon people who — at least, from their point of view — also profited from the slave trade, even if they weren’t slavers themselves. And they’d have no reason to keep the facility intact, either, the way slavers did. Even assuming Ballroom killers would observe the Eridani Edict, it only applied to planets, not space stations. They could just stand off and destroy the place with nuclear-armed missiles. Or, for that matter, rip it apart with their ship’s impeller wedge without even wasting the ammunition.

Brice heard Ganny mutter what he was sure was a curse, but in a language he didn’t know. Ganny knew a lot of languages. Then she added: “That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question, isn’t it?”

Brice frowned. Ganny also used a lot of ancient and stupid old saws. What was a “dollar?” And why did the number sixty-four thousand mean anything?

He’d asked his uncle Andrew about it, once, after the first time he’d heard Ganny use the expression. Artlett’s explanation was that the expression dated from the days — way before the Diaspora — when the human race was still confined to one planet and mired in superstition. Dollars were maleficent spirits notorious for sapping the moral fiber of those foolish enough to traffic with them. The number sixty-four thousand had magical importance since it was eight squared — eight no doubt being a magical number in its own right — and then multiplied by a thousand, which, given the antediluvian origins of the decimal system, was surely a number freighted with mystic importance.

It was a theory. An attractive one, even. But Brice was skeptical. His uncle Andrew had about as many theories as Ganny had old saws, and plenty of them were just as silly.

Still . . .

“I’m not so sure, Ganny,” Brice said. “There’s something . . . ”

“Yes?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never actually seen Ballroom assassins at work, but –”

“Damn few people have, youngster,” said Ganny. “At least, not ones who survived the experience.”

Brice winced. Ganny sometimes also had the habit of rubbing salt into wounds. Did she really need to say that, to someone who was sharing an air duct with possible Ballroom maniacs?

“Yeah, well. Ganny, these people just seem too . . . I dunno. They seem more like a military unit, to me.”

Alsobrook spoke up again. “Ganny, that just doesn’t make sense. Who’d be sending a military unit to Parmley Station?”

“I have no idea, Michael,” replied Ganny. “But don’t be so quick to dismiss the opinion of somebody who’s actually seen the people we’re talking about. Which, being blunt about it, you haven’t.”

Now, Ed spoke up again. “Ganny, they’re getting real close to the command center. The people from the Ouroboros, I mean.”

Brice tried to figure out which of the adjacent ducts Ed had to be in, to have seen that. Probably . . .

What difference did it make? Brice had come to the same conclusion, anyway. Staying ahead of the two Ouroboros crewmen who’d come into the air duct, he was now himself positioned almost over the slavers’ command center.

What to do? He was certain that all hell was about to break loose, and was torn between two powerful impulses. The first was simple survival instinct, which was shrieking at him to get out of the area now. The other was an equally powerful urge to observe what was about to happen.

After a mental struggle that lasted not more than five seconds, curiosity triumphed. With Brice, it usually did.

The question now became: From what vantage point could he watch the upcoming events without exposing himself too much?

There was really only one answer, which was the small maintenance compartment located in one corner of the command center. As was frequently the case with such maintenance stations, it was built directly into the air duct network.

There was a risk involved, though. Unlike the air ducts, that compartment was designed to be easily accessible. It wouldn’t take more than a few seconds for anyone in the command center who was seized by the urge to open the access panel and climb in. There’d be no need for a hoist, either, or even a stepladder. The maintenance compartment wasn’t elevated more than a meter from the deck of the command center.

So be it. Hopefully, in the event that happened, Brice would manage to scramble back into the air ducts in time.

* * * * * * * * * *

When he got there, he was disgruntled to see that Ed had gotten there ahead of him. And disgruntled again, not more than thirty seconds later, when James piled in too.

Disgruntled, but not surprised. For Hartman and Lewis, as for Brice himself, the survival instinct was usually trumped by curiosity. Uncle Andrew said that was because they were teenagers and so part of their brains hadn’t fully developed yet. Specifically, that part of the prefrontal cortex that gauged risks.

It was a theory. Plausible and attractive, like most of his uncle’s theories — but, also like most of them, probably flawed. The flaw in this case was the theorist himself — Andrew Artlett, who was of an age where his prefrontal cortex should certainly have been fully developed but who was notorious for taking crazier risks than anybody.

With three of them in there, the compartment was packed tight. And their ability to observe what was happening in the command center was going to be impaired by all three of them having to squeeze next to the entrance panel. Fortunately, the panel was more sophisticated than a simple mechanical one. Instead of narrow open air slits, it had a much larger vision screen. And the screen’s electrical shield, designed to keep insects from wandering into delicate equipment, also blurred anyone’s ability to look into the maintenance compartment from the command center.

Unless, of course, they turned off the shield so they could look inside for a quick inspection of the compartment without having to open the panel. That was part of the design, too — and the screen could be turned off with a flick of a finger.

So be it. Life was never perfect. Which was no doubt the reason that evolution, in its cunning, had seen to it that the prefrontal cortex of adolescents was not fully developed. If you looked at it the right way, that was simply a necessary adaptation to the invariant cruddiness of existence.

Across the large command center and off to the side, Brice saw the entry hatch begin to open.

James hissed softly. “Showtime.”

This entry was posted in Snippets, WeberSnippet. Bookmark the permalink.
Skip to top

Comments

14 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 22

  1. Zathras says:

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned before, if it has, I apologize, if not, I don’t know if it is intentional, or not, but if you look at the cover of the book, the ship flying towards the station definitaly is not a standard impeller design.

    Any comments?

  2. Mike says:

    Obviously they will be discovered. But it’s clear the commandos already know about the clan and don’t have anything against them.

    The question is, how does this wacky space station play into the story enough that it makes the cover of the book?

  3. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Mike, why is it clear that the commandos already know about the clan?

    Nothing the commandos has said establishes that they know about the clan.

  4. Summercat says:

    Mike: “But it’s clear the commandos already know about the clan and don’t have anything against them.”

    Drak: “Nothing the commandos has said establishes that they know about the clan.”

    From Snippet 19: “As best as Arai’s team could piece together the fragmented data, it seemed that Parmley Station had fallen into the hands of the slave trade about three decades earlier. There had apparently been some initial resistance put up by the people who inherited Michael Parmley’s foolish enterprise, but so far as Takano could determine, those people had either been driven off or killed.”

    They think everyone on the station is a slaver.

  5. robert says:

    @1 Good eyes! To my eyes everything looked like part of the definitely not understated amusement “park.” What I think is that the author and the cover artist don’t ever even say “Hi” much less talk about what Honor really is supposed to look like, for example, or what an impeller means. Nor apparently does the publisher, who has a wonderful impeller ship drawing on their web site.

    Unless Beowulf uses something we don’t know about in order to get around. Or are we seeing a different part of the book being illustrated? Mesan?

  6. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Robert, the craft on the cover could be a shuttle craft not a regular Honorverse impeller spaceship.

    If this the same artist that created the Crown of Slaves cover, then both Baen and David Weber believe that he does good work.

  7. Zathras says:

    I thought about a shuttle craft, but I recall reading in one of the books that there were two types of shuttle craft (cutters and pinicals). Cutters are reaction drive only, so this makes scense, however, cutters were being retired. (This may have been all the way back in OBS). The ship on the cover definitally looks armed. I suppose somebody could still be using armed cutters, but they would be very tactically limited.

  8. robert says:

    @5 Drak, David Mattingly DOES good work (when he is not being Honor’s bodyguard?). The cover is great fun. But I remember one author, I think Lois McM. Bujold, commenting on how her books’ covers often did not look like what she had imagined.

  9. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Robert, you could put in the name of hundreds of authors who didn’t like the covers of their books.

    Some of the time, it isn’t the artist’s fault as they never get the chance to see the book before they are assigned to paint the cover.

    By the way, David Mattingly wasn’t the first artist who did Honorverse covers and some of the early covers ‘stunk’ as far as David Weber is concerned.

  10. robert says:

    Cover art doesn’t seem to engender the kind of discussion that it used to back in the letters section of the science fiction magazines. Or does the Bar have those and I missed it due to impatience with so much slowness in loading?

  11. Drak Bibliophile says:

    It happens from time to time, but it’s not one of the ‘big discussions’ there.

    By the way, I access the Bar via Newsreader (Outlook Express) and it’s much faster that way.

  12. Maxim says:

    I took a look at the cover of the book, and I have to say I’m also not happy with it. (Especially with the design of the amusement park.)

    @2 Mike, I would also like to know, why you think that “the commandos already know about the clan and don’t have anything against them.”
    I think the amusement park on the cover indicates, that the clan will play even a larger role in the book that I thought initially.

    @9 Drak, Does David Weber have any influence regarding the design of the book or the distribution process?
    I assumed that an author of his caliber (success, expierience…) has pretty much to say about such things.

  13. John Roth says:

    Remember that submission draft of the book itself got turned in very late, so if the artist was working on anything, it was a very rough draft that may not have contained the relevant details.

  14. Mike says:

    I remembered that they realized there had been resistance, but I didn’t catch the comment that they thought the clan had been driven off or exterminated. My mistake.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.