* * * * * * * * * *

“Would you like some more potatoes, Jack?”

“Um? Ah, I’m sorry, Mom. What did you say?”

“I asked you if you’d like some more potatoes.” Christina McBryde smiled and shook her head. “Your father and I are delighted your body could join us for dinner tonight, of course, dear, but it would be kind of nice if your brain could keep it company next time.”

Jack snorted and raised both hands in chuckling surrender.

“Sorry, Mom — sorry!” He extended his hands in front of him, wrists together. “Guilty as charged, officer. And I can’t even argue that my parents didn’t teach me better when I was a sprout.”

“I’d heard you’d had a proper upbringing,” his mother told him, dark eyes glinting. “I have to admit, though, that until just a second or two ago, I would have found the rumor hard to believe.”

“Ease up a little, Chris,” Thomas McBryde intervened with a chuckle of his own. “The accused has admitted his guilt and thrown himself on the mercy of the court. I think a little clemency might be in order.”

“Nonsense!” Zachariah put in from his end of the table. “Throw the book at the bum, Mom! Off to bed with no dessert!”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that to him,” Christina replied. “We’re having carrot cake with butter cream icing.”

“Oh, my. Your carrot cake?” Zachariah shook his head. “That would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Yes, it would,” Jack agreed emphatically.

“Why, thank you,” his mother said with a dimpled smile. Then her expression sobered just a bit. “Seriously, Jack, you’ve been distracted all night. Is it something to do with your job, or can you talk about it?”

Jack’s blue eyes warmed as he looked across the table at her. Christina McBryde was a sculptress and a painter, one whose light sculptures, in particular, commanded high prices not just here on Mesa, but in the Solarian League’s art markets, as well. She’d never really wanted him to go into law enforcement, far less into Alignment Security. That was a job she knew someone had to do, but she’d been afraid of what a career in AS might cost her older son’s soul along the way. She hadn’t stood in his way, especially when all of the LRPB’s aptitude tests confirmed how good he’d be at it, but she’d never liked it.

His father had been more supportive, although he’d had more than a few reservations of his own. He himself was a senior administrator in the Department of Education, and he’d never made any secret of the fact that he’d been both relieved and happy when his and Christine’s oldest child, JoAnne, had decided to go into childhood education. Their second daughter — and their youngest child — Arianne had turned out (not surprisingly) to share Zachariah’s scientific bent. She was a chemist, and despite her relative youth (she was only forty-nine T-years old) she’d recently become a scientific advisor to the CEO of the Mesa System government. The McBryde family could take solid, quiet pride in its contributions to the Alignment and to its homeworld (which weren’t always the same things), yet there was no denying that both of Jack’s parents worried about him.

And with good reason, he thought. He managed to keep his own expression light and semi-amused, but it was difficult. Just as it was difficult to realize that barely a T-month had passed since his first conversation with Simões. It didn’t seem possible that he could have become so aware of — and oppressed by — the other man’s pain and its inevitable final outcome in so short a period. Yet he had . . . and with the becoming, for the first time in a long time, he understood exactly why his mother had wanted him to do something else with his life.

“In some ways, Mom,” he told her, “I really wish I could talk about it with you. I think you’d probably be able to help. Unfortunately, it does have to do with work, so I can’t discuss it.”

“You’re not in any sort of . . . trouble?” she asked quietly.

“Me?” His laugh was at least three-quarters genuine, and he shook his head. “Believe me, Mom, I’m not in any kind of trouble. It’s just –”

He paused for a moment, then shrugged.

“I can’t really talk about it, but I suppose I can tell you it’s just that one of the people I’m responsible for is in a lot of personal pain at the moment. It doesn’t have anything to do with his job, or with me, really, but . . . he’s hurting. And even though the reason he is doesn’t have anything to do with his job, it’s to the point where his emotional state could start affecting the quality of his work. And because of the nature of what he does and what I do, I’m one of the very few people he can talk to about it.”

He glanced at Zachariah from the corner of one eye and saw from his brother’s explanation that Zack had realized exactly who he was talking about. Zachariah’s blue eyes darkened, and Jack knew he, too, was comparing their family life with what happened to Herlander and Francesca Simões.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that!” Christina’s quick sympathy was genuine, and she reached out to lay one hand on her son’s forearm. “At least if he can only talk to a few people about it, I know at least one of them is going to have a sympathetic ear,” she said.

“I try, Mom. I try. But it’s one of those cases where there’s not really much anybody can do except listen.” He shook his head, his eyes shadowed. “I don’t think this story’s going to have a happy ending,” he said quietly.

“All you can do is all you can do, son,” Thomas told him. “And your mom’s right. If he’s got you to talk to, then at the least this person, whoever he is, knows he’s not all alone with it. Sometimes that’s the most important thing of all.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” Jack promised.

There was a moment of silence, then he shook himself and smiled at his mother.

“However, in answer to the missed question which started this entire conversational thread, if we’ve got carrot cake for dessert, then, no, I don’t want any more potatoes. I’m not about to waste any space I could use on a second or third helping of carrot cake on mashed potatoes!”

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19 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 49

  1. Zathras says:

    Could Jack defect too?

  2. Dean says:

    More likely he’ll find out that Simoes is defecting ahead of time, and will be torn about whether to say anything.

  3. Zathras says:

    He will probablly have three options. Activly stop, help, or join.

  4. robert says:

    Help is the same as join. If he helps HS defect then he will be seen as not having done his job…or worse. So he either has to stop or join.

  5. evilauthor says:

    Defect or not, it would seem that we’re finally seeing the other side of Mesa other than the cackling, card carrying villains that run the Alignment. Well okay, they don’t cackle, but still…

  6. Summercat says:

    The Mesan Alignment just wants what is best for Humanity.

  7. John Roth says:

    Just a second. The Alignment is that open a secret on Mesa? At least among the Mesan Alphas?

  8. Drak Bibliophile says:

    John, from earlier text evidence I’d say that even most Mesan Alphas don’t know about the Alignment. However, it is obvious that the McBryde family among the few that know about the Alignment.

    IIRC when we first met the McBryde brothers, we saw that they were ‘deep within’ the Onion. Here we see that their family is also.

  9. saladin says:

    the human side of the enemy
    with the food we (europe,usa) waste every day we could feed the world
    are we guilty of massmurder–not directly
    but we know that they are dying
    we could help them
    and we don´t do it
    so indirectly we are guilty

    the ma is evil – but their people think that they are the good guys

    we don´t know yet the ultimate goal of the ma
    maybe it is even a good thing
    but the way they do business is evil (and we know what evil things good people can do if they think they have to do it for a good enough reason)

  10. robert says:

    @9 You mean…like a “second or third helping of carrot cake?”

    Sorry. Just unable to resist. You do have a point, although there is no realistic solution. “Give a man a fish…” etc. More and more land will be out of agricultural production in coming years because of global warming, which, in my opinion, cannot be stopped in time to do any good. Humans are very short-sighted people and most of us live in the today, not the tomorrow. Life is short, you see. So many more will starve unless population controls are in place and that will never happen, thanks to the godly.

  11. Summercat says:


    Robert, last time I checked, global warming will actually open up more areas for agricultural production, not shut ’em down. I’m also waiting on the Pacific El Nino cycle to begin, and see what that does.

    I suggest you look up Penn and Teller’s video on Paul Erdos.

  12. saladin says:

    global warming is happening (now we see the results of our actions 30 years ago)
    we now have to stop polluting if we want to survive (but we are short-sighted)
    well some readers often wonder how the people of the inner worlds can ignore the slave trade and ofs and so on
    well we do it too today (hunger, health care worldwide, slavery, sex trade/sexslavery, genocide,…)
    nobody can say:”i didn´t know this happend”

  13. saladin says:

    well nobody knows exactly
    what is clear: areas where food is produced will be destroyed
    some new areas will probably be open to devellopement (some parts of sibiria/russia) but not in time to offset what is lost
    what is worse: areas where a big part of the human race lives will become uninhabitable
    malaria and other diseases will become more widespread
    natural catastrophes will become worse and more usual
    biodiversity will shrink
    it will be a nuch harder world to live in/survive

  14. robert says:

    @11 So that is why the Sahara is expanding! The last few El Nino predictions have been wrong. In the Pacific Southwest we hope for El Ninos so we can get off the water rationing regimen. If things are warming up, then where will the snows fall that feed the great rivers of the West? And without those snowpacks where will the water for western agriculture come from? And without that agricultural base, we have wheat and corn and…what? We will be OK in this country, but elsewhere who knows what will happen.
    I promise to never get off topic again. Back to ToF.

  15. pete says:

    I can’t resist… global warming shows up everywhere… where are the debunkers?
    No doubt there is climate change. There has been for many many years. Whether the most recent fluctuations have a human cause may be open to discussion…
    400-500 years ago Vikings were growing wheat in Greenland. No one is growing wheat there today. Somehow the polar bears survived that era… — Please let Al Gore know…
    Did humans cause that global warming?
    What caused the globe to cool and end agriculture there?

    The bottom line is that there are many sources of climate change… I suspect human impact has a tiny influence…

    All these conversations are kind of irrelevant… Becasue if you listen to another batch of navel gazers we are going to shortly run out of fossil fuels anyway… perfect! This solves our principal source of global warming, right???

    on to TOF— I have no sneaks.. but my bet is Simoes and(?) McBryde will be connecting with Manticore before the end of this story..

  16. @13 “snows fall that feed the great rivers…” They will instead be fed by the rains that well, when the temperature was too warm for snow. Indeed, since the water will not sit there for six months as snow, ablating all the while, the amount of water coming downhill will go up. However, perhaps the amount of precipitation will change; warm air carries more water.

  17. The notion of an airlock door without a ‘something is in the way detector’ as seen on many elevators, e.g., at SF conventions, is a bit odd. However, Goth may not have the right experience with technology to know this.

  18. robert says:

    @15 ?? Witches? Not Torch–no Goth here.

  19. John Roth says:

    @15 George, @16 robert

    I suspect that the comment belongs with the Witches of Karres snippets.

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