Chapter Twenty

Several hours later, as Jack let himself into his own apartment, his thoughts drifted back to what his parents had said.

The truth was, he thought, that even though they might have a point about the importance of a sympathetic ear, Herlander Simões desperately needed more than Jack McBryde — or anyone else — would ever be able to give him. And despite his own training, and despite how hard he tried, Jack’s professional detachment wasn’t enough to protect him from the fallout of Simões’ despair.

He checked for any personal com messages without finding any and walked through the apartment’s sitting area towards his bedroom. At the moment, it was a rather lonely bedroom, without female companionship, and he suspected his own reaction to Simões had a lot to do with that. His last relationship had been working its way towards an amicable parting for several months even before Bardasano had called him in, but he had no doubt his absorption with Simões had hastened its end. And he had even less doubt that it had a lot to do with why he’d found himself unable to work up much enthusiasm for finding a new one.

Which is pretty stupid of me, when you come down to it, he reflected wryly. It’s not like turning myself into a monk is going to help Herlander any, now is it?

Maybe not, another corner of his brain replied. In fact, definitely not. But it’s a little hard to go leaping gaily through life when you’re watching someone come gradually apart before your very eyes.

He undressed, stepped into the shower, and keyed the water. Zachariah, he knew, preferred the quickness and convenience of a sonic shower, but Jack had always been addicted to the sheer, sensual pleasure of hot water. He stood under the drumming needle spray, absorbing its caress, yet this time he couldn’t fully abandon himself to it the way he usually could. His brain was too busy with Herlander Simões.

It was the contrast between the barren unhappiness of Simões’ current existence and his own family’s closeness, he realized yet again. That comforting, always welcoming, nurturing love. Looking at his parents, seeing how after all these years their children were still their children. Adults, yes, and to be treated as such, but still their beloved sons and daughters, to be worried about and treasured. To be (although he suspected his mother would be more comfortable with the verb than his father) celebrated for who and what they were.

For who and what had been taken away from Simões.

He’d tried — and failed, he knew — to imagine what that had truly felt like. The pain of that loss . . . .

He shook his head under the pounding water, eyes closed. Just from the purely selfish perspective of what had been stolen from Simões’ own life, the anguish must be incredible. But he’d spoken with Simões several times now. He knew that part of the hyper-physicist’s anger, his rage, really was the product of his sense that he’d been betrayed. That something unspeakably precious had been ripped away from him.

Yet those same conversations had made it clear to Jack that far more than his own loss, it was the entire lifetime which had been stolen from his daughter that was truly tearing the man apart. He’d seen the promise in his Francesca which Thomas and Christina McBryde had seen realized in their JoAnne, their Jack and Zachariah and Arianne. He’d known what that child could have grown up to be and become, all of the living and loving and accomplishments which could have been hers in the four or five centuries which the combination of prolong and her genome would have given her. And he knew every one of those loves, every one of those accomplishments, had died stillborn when the Long-Range Planning Board administered the lethal injection to his daughter.

That’s what it really comes down to, isn’t it, Jack? he admitted to the shower spray and the privacy of his own mind. To the LRPB, Francesca Simões, ultimately, was just one more project. One more strand in the master plan. And what does a weaver do when he comes across a defective thread? He snips it, that’s what he does. He snips it, he discards it, and he goes on with the work.

But she wasn’t a thread. Not to Herlander. She was his daughter. His little girl. The child who learned to walk holding onto his hand. Who learned to read, listening to him read her bedtime stories. Who learned to laugh listening to his jokes. The person he loved more than he could ever have loved himself. And he couldn’t even fight for her life, because the Board wouldn’t let him. It wasn’t his decision — it was the Board’s decision, and it made it.

He drew a deep, shuddering breath, and shook himself.

You’re letting your sympathy take you places you shouldn’t go, Jack, he told himself. Of course you feel sorry for him — my God, how could you not feel sorry for him? — but there’s a reason the system is set up the way it’s set up. Someone has to make the hard decisions, and would it really be kinder to leave them up to someone whose love is going to make them even harder? Who’s going to have to live with the consequences of his own actions and decisions — not someone else’s — for the rest of his life?

He grimaced as he recalled the memo from Martina Fabre which had been part of Simões’ master file. The one which had denied Simões’ offer — his plea — to be allowed to assume responsibility for Francesca. To provide the care needed to keep her alive, to keep private physicians working with her, out of his own pocket. He’d been fully aware of the kinds of expenses he was talking about — the LRPB had made them abundantly clear to him when it enumerated all of the resources which would be “unprofitably invested” in her long-term care and treatment — and he hadn’t cared. Not only that, he’d demonstrated, with all the precision he brought to his scientific work, that he could have satisfied those expenses. It wouldn’t have been easy, and it would have consumed his life, but he could have done it.

Except for the fact that the decision wasn’t his, and, as Dr. Fabre had put it, the Board was “unwilling to allow Dr. Simões to destroy his own life in the futile pursuit of a chimerical cure for a child who was recognized as a high-risk project from the very beginning. It would be the height of irresponsibility for us to permit him to invest so much of the remainder of his own life in a tragedy the Board created when it asked the Simões to assist us in this effort.”

He turned off the shower, stepped out of the stall, and began drying himself with the warm, deep-pile towels, but his brain wouldn’t turn off as easily as the water had. He pulled on a pair of pajama bottoms — he hadn’t worn the tops since he was fifteen — and found himself drifting in an unaccustomed direction for this late at night.

He opened the liquor cabinet, dropped a couple of ice cubes into a glass, poured a hefty shot of blended whiskey over the ice, and swirled it gently for a second. Then he raised the glass and closed his eyes as the thick, rich fire burned down his throat.

It didn’t help. Two faces floated stubbornly before him — a sandy-haired, hazel-eyed man’s, and a far smaller one with brown hair, brown eyes, and a huge smile.

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


16 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 50

  1. Paul says:

    Interesting…someone from Mesa has a conscience.

  2. Tabasco says:

    Had to happen eventually.

    They can’t always be chaotic evil, as satisfying as that would be when it came time to squash them.

  3. Mark L says:

    @1 Only problem is that he now seems to have *three* consciences — his own, one from Haven and one from Manticore. And considering that the Battle of Manticore cost half a million Havenite and Manticorian lives, I suspect those last two conscienes will be a tad more rigorous than his own.

  4. KimS says:

    I see JM becoming a bigger risk than HS. Although HS may have a reason, JM has the means and knowledge to successfully escape and defect. JM may even be able to get one of the new drive ships and defect with more data than HS ever would have access to. His best bet at this time would be terminating HS, but that won’t happen. Stockholm Syndrome in reverse, and since JM has no background to understand why he’s questioning things he will change. An interesting twist?!

  5. Rod says:

    @3 Unsure of what you mean by three consciences, as far as I recall Jack has no connection to manticore or haven and if you refer to the alignments general feeling about the battle of manticore, we have not seen that yet. But it is intesting to discover sympathetic characters on the alingment side. Kind of presents a good layered in evil, golden heart kind of perspective.

  6. robert says:

    @5 The endless war between Manticore and Haven has been “helped along” by Mesan agents (on Haven in particular) changing diplomatic correspondence, assassinating government officials, and creating conditions that played into Queen Elizabeth’s dislike (hatred, actually) of Haven–her father was killed by Haven agents. I think that is what Mark means. But most of that effort was being done at a higher level than Jack’s and it is doubtful that he has access to that kind of undercover mischief. So it is easy to wonder what Mark’s point is, unless he knows more about Jack than we do. Is Mark a snerker?

  7. Mark L says:

    @5 No I am not a snerker. But there at the end of the snippet we see (blurrily) two characters who are obviously Cachet and Zilwicki. Those two are hell on wheels when it comes to those who endanger or enable those that endanger things that they hold near and dear to them. I just re-read War of Honor, At All Costs, and Crown of Slaves over the last few weeks in anticipation of reading the new book, and that message comes out loud and clear. As it does in the first chapter leak of this book that was in Worlds of Weber. So now they are on Mesa . . . and as movie trailers would put it . . . this time its personal.

    Even if Jack is not high in the planning he falls into the enabler catagory. To anticipate that he is in deep, serious . . . merde . . . and that these two will serve as spurs to his conscience in the next few pages doesn’t take a peek at the ARC, just a memory of Cachet’s and Zilwicki’s past activities. To believe otherwise is like mixing flourine and oxygen and expecting that there will be no violently exothermic reaction.

  8. John Roth says:

    @5 Rod
    @6 Robert

    Well, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if Mark is saying anything relevant. It doesn’t seem to be relevant to any of the pieces I do know about.

    So let’s look at a detail. A few scenes ago, Jack was described as not having had an off-planet assignment in over ten years. That implies that he had off-planet assignments in the past. He’s also on familiar terms with Bardisano and high enough up that Bardisano doesn’t have any hesitation in mentioning Prometheus. In Chapter 5 his family is described as being at the highest level of the “onion” for the last four or five generations.

    In other words, we might reasonably conclude that Jack has been a high level field operative on the same level as Bardisano and whoever the woman was in Storm from the Shadows.

    Could he have been involved with the Haven / Manticore kerfluffle? Possibly. He certainly knows a lot about it – I’d suggest rereading Chapter 5, either in the snippet file or at to refresh a bit on Jack’s background.

  9. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Mark, those two faces Jack sees are the faces of Herlander Simões and Herlander’s daughter not the faces of our favorite secret agents.

    IMO it isn’t a snerk to say that our favorite secret agents will becoming to Mesa, but they don’t appear in this snippet.

  10. robert says:

    @10 Right!

    @9 If Jack has been involved in murder and mayhem, then it is completely out of character for him to be so very sympathetic to HS. He has to be “tougher” than he is being depicted in this snippet. OK, he loves his family and he fears Bardisano, but if he has been an off-planet operator, then everyone else should be just chopped liver as far as he is concerned.

  11. John Roth says:

    @11 Robert

    Reread Chapter 17, where he clearly ruminates on liking a position where he doesn’t have to kill people. It’s about 4 to 6 snippets back.

    It says:

    — quote

    McBryde ranked high among those subordinates. He wasn’t quite in the very uppermost tier, because he hadn’t gone operational off Mesa, or even held supervisory authority over any off-Mesa operation, in over a decade. On the other hand, he reported directly to her (whenever she was in-system, at any rate) in his position as the Gamma Center’s chief of security, which was probably one of the half-dozen most sensitive of the Alignment’s security services’ posts.

    Personally, he was happier running the center’s security than he’d ever really been operating off-world, and he knew it. Unlike Bardasano, who actively enjoyed what was still referred to as “wet work,” McBryde preferred a position in which he was unlikely to have to kill people.

    — end quote —

  12. robert says:

    @12 Then it is as I said, out of character. Even if he did not like doing it, he did it and seems to have suffered no effects.

  13. Thirdbase says:

    @ #2, Lawful Evil, not Chaotic Evil. They are too well organized to be chaotic. They are trying to create a totalitarian government with themselves at the top.

    It will be interesting to see whether or not Jack helps Herlander escape before or after he is ordered to eliminate Herlander.

  14. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Robert, we don’t know the situations where he had to kill. For one thing, it may not have involved mayhem.

    As for out of character, even people willing and able to kill *when* there is a need, can be bothered by the thought of killing somebody when there is no need.

    Also, it is one thing to kill outsiders who are a ‘danger’ to your society but another to kill one of ‘your own’. In Jack’s world view, Herlander and Herlander’s daughter are ‘one of his own’.

    In addition, Jack might be able to kill one of his own if that person was a true danger to his society. Unfortunately, he sees his own society at fault in this situation.

  15. robert says:

    @15 OK, Drak. I just can’t think like that. So I can’t understand it. Returning soldiers have a lot of problems with their experiences. I can understand that.

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.