Chapter Twelve

It took no more than three days in the presence of Elfride Margarete Butre for Hugh Arai to figure out how the woman had managed to keep her clan together for half a century, in the face of tremendous adversity. Not just intact, either, but reasonably healthy and well-educated — so long as you were prepared to allow that “well-educated” was a broad enough phrase to include very uneven knowledge, eccentric methods of training, and wildly imbalanced fields of study.

Ganny El’s clan were probably the best practical mechanics Hugh had ever encountered, for instance, but their grasp of the underlying theory of some of the machines they kept running was often fuzzy and sometimes bizarre. The first time Hugh had seen one of Butre’s many grand-nephews sprinkle what he called an “encouragement libation” over a machine he was about to repair, Hugh had been startled. But, some hours later, after the mechanic finished with the ensuing work, the machine came back to life and ran as smoothly as you could ask for. And however superstitious the notion of an “encouragement libation” might be, Hugh hadn’t missed the underlying practicality. The “libation” was actually some homemade alcoholic brew that hadn’t turned out too well. Unfit for human consumption, even by the Butre clan’s none-too-finicky standards, the fluid had been set aside for the “encouragement” of cranky machinery.

Hugh had asked the nephew — Andrew Artlett was his name — whether the “encouragement” was because the machine viewed the rotgut liquor as a treat or because it was an implied threat of still worse liquids should the machine remain recalcitrant. Artlett’s snorted reply had been: “How the hell am I supposed to know what a machine thinks? It’s just a lot of metal and plastic and such, you know. No brains at all. But the libation works, it surely does.”

Ganny Butre would have made a pretty good empress, Hugh thought, if one given to some odd quirks. She’d have made a pretty good tyrant, for that matter, except she had an affectionate streak about a kilometer wide.

There wasn’t any sigh of that affection right now, though.

“– still don’t see why you” — here came a word Hugh didn’t know, but it didn’t sound affectionate at all — “can’t just go on your way and leave us alone. It’s not like we asked you to come here. What happened to respect for property rights?”

“Parmley Station hasn’t really been your property for a long time, Ganny,” Hugh said mildly, “and you know it as well as I do. If we just leave, it won’t be more than six or eight months — a year, tops — before another gang of slavers has set up shop here and you have to accommodate them. Whether you like it or not.”

Butre glared at him. It was an impressive glare, too, for all that it came from a woman not much more than a hundred and forty centimeters tall. What made the glare all the more impressive was that, somehow, Butre managed to convey the sense that she was a tough old biddy despite — going simply by her physical appearance — looking like a woman no older than her late thirties or very early (and well preserved) forties.

That was the effect of prolong, of course. First generation prolong, that was, which stopped the physical aging cycle at a considerably later stage than the more recent therapies. Hugh knew that Butre’s own family had been quite wealthy to begin with and her husband Richard Parmley had made his first fortune as a young man. So, even with the expense involved in those early days of the treatment, they’d been able to afford prolong for themselves and their immediate offspring.

But after her husband’s last financial debacle — it had been the third or fourth in his career, Hugh wasn’t sure which — and the long isolation of Butre’s clan here on Parmley Station . . .

For all that it was generally a blessing, prolong could sometimes produce real tragedies. And Hugh knew he was looking at one, right here — with quite possibly a still greater tragedy in the making.

Ganny El, the matriarch of the clan, would live for centuries. So would the two dozen or so relatives on the station who were her siblings, cousins or children, and who’d gotten the treatments before the clan fell on hard times. But the next generation in the clan, people of an age with Ganny’s great-nephew Andrew Artlett — there were at least three dozen of them — were simply going to be a lost generation, as far as prolong was concerned. Even if the clan could suddenly afford the treatments, they were already too old. Their parents — even their grandparents — faced the horror that they’d outlive their own offspring.

And the same fate would fall on the next generation, if the clan’s fortunes didn’t improve. And they had to improve drastically, and most of all, quickly. People like Sarah Armstrong and Michael Alsobrook were already into their twenties, and twenty-five years of age was generally considered the outside limit for starting prolong treatments.

If there was no real sign of Butre’s age in her face, there was in her eyes. Those weren’t the eyes of a young woman, for sure. They were colored a green so dark they were almost black, and when Ganny was in a temper they looked more like agates or pieces of obsidian than human eyes.

Hugh had gotten to know her fairly well over the past several days, though, and he didn’t think Butre was really in a temper today. She was just putting on a act. A very well-done performance, true — she’d have made as good an actress as an empress — but still a performance. There was a practical streak in the woman that was even wider than affection, and a lot harder than any mineral. If Butre hadn’t been able to accept reality for what it was, her clan never would have survived at all. As it was, at least within the limits given, you could even say they’d prospered.

A very scruffy sort of prosperity, granted, and one that couldn’t afford anything like prolong. But the absence of prolong had been the standard condition of the human race throughout its existence until very recently. All Hugh had to do was look at the little mob of enthusiastic and self-confident great-great-nephews and nieces who were always in attendance on Ganny to recognize that these were hardly people who’d been beaten down by hardships. Some of them, like Brice Miller and his friends, carried that self-confidence into outright brashness.

“– so fine,” she concluded the little tirade she’d been on. “I can see that you’re not giving me any choice. You” — here came another word in a language Hugh didn’t know. It sounded like a different language altogether than the one from which she’d extracted a curse just a couple of minutes earlier. Ganny was an accomplished linguist, among her other skills. Hugh was a good linguist himself, but Butre was in a different league altogether.

“You’re always welcome to cuss me in a language I know, Ganny,” said Hugh. “I’m really not thin-skinned.”

“No kidding. You’re a troll.”

She went back to glaring, but now at some of her great-great-grandchildren. “There’s no way I’m letting anyone else except me dicker with the Ballroom. If the murderous bastards are going to kill anyone, they can kill an old woman. And her most problematic offspring.”

Her little forefinger started jabbing at the crowd. “Andrew, you’re coming. So are you, Sarah and Michael.”

The finger moved on to point to a pleasant-looking young woman named Oddny Ann Rødne. She was the offspring of a marriage between one of the Butre clan’s women and an ex-slave who’d been freed in the first battle between the clan and the slavers, decades earlier. “Oddny, I’ll need a sane female to keep me from going batty myself. Stop pouting, Sarah, you’re already batty and you brag about it. And . . . ”

The finger moved on and settled on a tightly clustered trio. “You three, for sure, or there won’t be a station left when I get back.”

Hugh did his best not to wince. Brice Miller, Ed Hartman and James Lewis were not people he’d have chosen to include on a chancy mission to negotiate with the galaxy’s most notorious assassins. Less than a day after making their acquaintance, Marti Garner had bestowed upon them the monicker of “the three teenagers of the Apocalypse.” Nor would Hugh have included Andrew Artlett, whom Marti had singled out as the missing fourth disaster.

Apparently, Butre was confident enough that she’d been able to cut a deal with the Ballroom that she was more concerned with removing the most rambunctious members of her clan from whatever havoc they could wreak in her absence, than she was about how Jeremy X would react to them. Although . . .

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23 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 25

  1. saladin says:


    ballroom the next generation ™

  2. robert says:

    If the authors did not write the confrontation between Jeremy X and Granny B. in full. to the bitter end, I will be sorely disappointed IN THE WHOLE BOOK!!!

    I don’t really have any idea where this is going, but I hope the getting there is as much fun as this Snippet.

  3. Maxim says:

    @2 Tranquilo Robert, I’m sure the meeting between Jeremy and Granny will take place.

    This snippet was really fun to read. It answered also a question which I asked myself after DW described the financial difficulties the clan had. I mean the issue of prolong.

    I have to say the prolong treatment is a powerful motivator to achieve financial success.
    Though I ask myself if it wouldn’t be possible to achieve similar results with nanotechnology. Especially if you look at the stand of these technology used as weapon by Alignment.

  4. robert says:

    @3 Maxim, your comment is interesting. I had always thought that prolong was like getting a smallpox inoculation in childhood. That is, that the costs were modest and available to the entire planetary population in a modern civilized society. Clearly the Parmleys would not have such amenities (not even schools or medicine), just as Grayson, in its long isolation, didn’t. Another interesting point is that the genetic slaves, like Hugh, even had prolong, as that was one of his first concerns – the tragedy of the Parmley generations. Except a little bit in the case of Grayson – having prolong, not having prolong – Weber has never, to my knowledge, explored the social AND political implications of prolong. And I wonder how bottom-of-the-heap people like Berry and Lars, before their rescue, received prolong. Or did they?

    Prolong nanites! You have been reading Van Name! Jon Moore, Hamlet in an AI spaceship! Now both he and his ship have angst/guilt.

  5. Richard says:

    In “Storm From the Shadows” it says prolong is a constitutional right for Manticore citizens and efforts were underway to get it into the general population of the Talbot Quadrent. Talk about an incentive to vote for the annexation.

  6. Summercat says:

    Prolong sounds like an expensive treatment that, in a society and economy that is relatively rich and vibrant (First World), fairly well priced and more than likely state-subsidized.

    In a Third-Worldesque society, Prolong would be a huge expense, a luxury that even the tin-pot dictators wouldn’t be able to afford. In SoS, the whats-his-nammer from Rembrant managed to afford it for himself and his wife(although his wife was unable to do it), but he was also one of the leaders of a huge multi-stellar trade union.

    It’s interesting to see the implications of Prolong in a society – It’s a two-edged sword. On the one paw, you get to keep the best in their jobs for longer, and have time to consider what would be radical changes. On the other paw, changes slow, and if the birthrate doesn’t stay similar to the deathrate, you have a population explosion – and the people from three, four generations back are still in power.

    Elizabeth Moon does a very good treatment on the effect of Prolong-style treatments in her Familias Regnant series, especially the second half of the series.

  7. John Roth says:

    @6 Summercat

    In Shadow of Saganami, chapter 38, Bernardus van Dort tells Helen Zilwiki that he lived with his father aboard ship until he was 16, and that his father had him given the Prolong treatments in the Solarian league. They were not available anywhere in the Talbot cluster at the time. Suzanne was too old for the therapies when they got married, but they didn’t discover it until later.

    There are probably a gazillion ways of handling life extension, depending on what the author wants to do with it.

  8. Mike says:

    Weber himself has used about half of those gazillion ways in his stories. It’s obviously a hot-button issue for him, because pretty much every story features soem sort of life extension treatment. In Apocalypse Troll, for instance, the life extension was the accidental side effect of what was intended to be a deadly bioweapon.

    In these books, it is clear that prolong is something like pulser weapons — something the more rich and modern societies can afford fairly easily, but something the more backward societies don’t have much access too.

    It seems to be expensive, but not unaffordably so. Perhaps on the order of college tuition. Something that in some places is treated as a basic right, and in other places is available only to certain segments of the population.

    I think I recall that the expense of the treatment is related to the fact that it must be individually tailored to your genes. It’s not like just getting a diptheria shot.

  9. saladin says:

    i think prolong itself isn´t THAT expensive but it is difficult to create the infrastructure needed for prolong (instruments, knowledge, the scientific/medical stuff)
    think cancer treatment – in western europe you get it everywhere without big problems
    in the usa most people get it too but if you are living somewhere in sibiria or the amazonforest you have a problem – even with money

  10. Maxim says:

    @8 It is an interesting observation Mike. For me this topic and the way David Weber handles it is a big part why I like his books.
    @9 I think you have summed it pretty well up, the problem of the availability of the prolong treatment.

    .. For me the topic of prolong is so interesting, because of the technological changes which happen in our time (and which will happen in the next 50 years) I have even a small hope, that our generation (I’m 30 now) will profit from the technological developement in this direction.
    Probably it won’t be possible for us to live 200-300 years, but as the saying goes the hope dies as last.

    If you think about the changes which happened in the last 30 years, then anything seems possible. Perhaps you heard about the theory that the knowledge of the humankind accumulates and the development goes on in the faster pace.

    Now days it is not science fiction anymore that computers can be manipulated with the thoughts, the nano, bio, information technology progress at an amazing pace.

    (At this hopeful not I stop my comment, I am a little drunk and very good mood now, therefore I ignore the possible difficulties and problems which can arise along the way)

  11. Maxim says:

    “note” and not “not”

  12. robert says:

    @10 Drunk and happy on a Thursday evening. Dolce far niente…

  13. Maxim says:

    I am on vacation right now :)

  14. Maxim says:

    And it is early morning here already (4:22 am)

  15. Thirdbase says:

    @#4 Berry and Lars would never have gotten Prolong had they not been rescued. They certainly didn’t have the money to afford the treatment themselves, and they didn’t even exist to the government, so they weren’t going to get it free.

    Interestingly the society, at least in the Star Empire, is just starting to hit the point where they have to worry about the effects of Prolong. The people that received the first generation version of Prolong are getting to the point where they would be retiring/dying. The current generations will have it the hardest, as the distance between will be relatively short. What should/would happen is that generations will get longer, instead of 20-30 years, perhaps 60-80 years apart, cultural pressure to not have children “young” will help extend the length of generations. Age gap would also begin to mean less, marriages such as Honor’s and Hamish’s will become more common and acceptable. “Childhood” may also be extended, as there is less pressure to go and establish yourself and start a family.

  16. John Roth says:

    @15 Thirdbase.

    Spoiler Alert – there’s some info on the jiltanith site about prolong that was just added a week or so ago; there’s quite a bit about costs, infrastructure requirements, the Talbot cluster, Beowulf and so on and so forth. It mentions a few things that are upcoming in the book, so if you’re interested in not looking at spoilers, you don’t want to go there.

    If you do, it’s at Go to the bottom of the page, click on “infodump”, select the Honorverse and enter “prolong” in the search box.

  17. Douglas says:

    “There wasn’t any sigh of that affection right now, though.” It should be “There wasn’t any sign of that affection right now, though.”

  18. robert says:

    @16 Thank you John. I have not read the eARC and do not remember any discussions of prolong in Shadow of Saganami or Storm/Shadows, but clearly I was way off with my “inoculation” estimate. Someone said something like the cost of a college education–I would amend that to less than Stanford, more like out-of-state tuition at a UC campus (if any are left after the current batch of politicos gets done with mangling the State).

    I really don’t want to get into this because it is a touchy political issue right now, but in his August 13th piece on prolong, Weber implicitly (and later, in the piece you cited, explicitly) assumes governmental responsibility for the implementation of prolong and its infrastructure. And he justifies it with an argument based solely on the economic value of maintaining a healthy, er, oops, scratch that–long-lived populace. So I was even wrong to say that Weber did not address the social and political issues of prolong. Well, he didn’t in his books, but he does address the economic issues in the BAR posting. Good enough. Even though he missed the full implications of infrastructure re MRIs, which include the medical and staff training and their pay and benefits, facilities, etc. Not just equipment costs.

  19. Peter Z says:

    Robert, depending on the operational leverage involved, personnel costs may approach those of fixed costs. That is a facility requires 50 staff members minimum but that facility is so automated that it could handle a maximum capicity of patients with the same 50 staff members.

    In this situation the staff is effectively part of the equipment costs. They are the quality control element in the system.

    Now, if you are referring to a more basic level of education, part of those costs would be gladly borne by the motivated individuals who want to enter such fields. Attached Universities/Colleges/Tech Schools to these prolong clinics and more full featured medical facilities would be financed by the students. Government grants may not even be required in Talbot for such things as institutions like the Queen’s College expand their campuses.


  20. robert says:

    @19 Peter, I kinda disagree. The costs of higher education are either
    (1) born by the state, in full, or
    (2) by the state and the student in full, or
    (3) by a huge charitable tax-free endowment and a tax-free institutional status (the state again) and the student in full.
    Even if tuition and books are free, students have to live somewhere and usually eat something (a vivid digestion-destroying memory). For-profit institutions of learning (ha) require a subsequent investment in REAL training by an employer who usually gets a tax break for doing that. It ends up being a complex, back scratching legislative mess. And there are real social costs, as well.

  21. @20

    It is an extremely long time since college endowments except at a tiny number of schools were a substantial part of the school’s income. One of the issues that has affected private schools a great deal is that the expense structure has significantly outrun the growth in endowments, so tuition is not the only income stream, but it is much closer than some people think. If you are curious, you can pull down university IRS 990 filings off the web and read the details.


  22. robert says:

    @21 An argument for options 1 or 2, as I see it. I have attended both a private, ivy league university where my family paid what was a whopping tuition, room and board bill, and a totally free public university, and a state-supported university where I paid relatively modest non-resident tuition. If we had prolong, I would have gone to work for 10 years first, saved my money and had my choice. As I see it, one would have to re-school oneself every 50 years or even less just to avoid boredom or to avoid obsolescence.
    Is boredom the down side of prolong? Does the suicide rate go up when prolong has been around for a couple of hundred years? Does the divorce rate go up, despite late marriages? Etc.

  23. Peter Z says:

    @20 Robert, in a situation of extreme unmet demand participants will pay very high sums to get what they need. Prospective students will pay prodigous amounts for an effective education. Employers will pay similar amounts (tax credit or no) to get a trained workforce. The government does not have to step in.

    Our (the reader’s) experience with higher education came at a time where the supply of education (Universities and Colleges)available was closer to equilibrium withn demand than is the case in Talbot. So where the reader sees the cost of education available to him/her as being high relative to the rewards, the Talbotter just after annexation would see the massive returns on his investment in education. Going into debt for something that will generate such a high return is smart. Banks would see the potential benefit quicker than either students or employers. After all they can lend to both for the same education (student and employer); loan the tuition money to the student and loan the funds to set up the program to the employer.

    After an equilibrium sets in higher education will be seen more as a means of self improvement rather than an incredibly profitable investment. So intil that time both prospective students and prospective employers will be incentivized to create schools. Just think about the RMN’s need to set up classes for old talbotter military personnel to get up to speed. Translate that to the Talbot private sector which is much bigger and has far more diverse needs to fulfill. The result will be a massive boom in private education as the government run schools get swamped by people who want to get current with the newly expanded knowledge base. People qualified in modern theory and practice who choose to relocate to Talbot can set their own price and the students and prospective employers will consider themselves lucky to have such a qualified individual even when paying such high wages/fees.


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