This is stupid, he thought. I can’t change any of it, and neither can Herlander. Not only that, I know perfectly well that all that pain is just eating away at him, adding itself to the anger. The man’s turning into some kind of time bomb, and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. He’s going to snap — it’s only a matter of time — and I was wrong when I downplayed his probable reactions to Bardasano. The break is coming, and when it gets here, he’s going to be so damned angry — and so unconcerned about whatever else might happen to him — that he’s going to do something really, really foolish. I don’t know what, but I’ve come to know him well enough to know that much. And it’s my job to keep him from doing that.

It was bizarre. He was the man charged with keeping Simões together, keeping him working — effectively working — on his critical research projects. And with seeing to it that if the time ever came that Simões self-destructed, he didn’t damage those projects. And yet, despite that, what he felt was not the urgent need to protect the Alignment’s crucial interests, but to somehow help the man he was supposed to be protecting them from. To find some way to prevent him from destroying himself.

To find some way to heal at least some of the hurt which had been inflicted upon him.

Jack McBryde raised his glass to take another sip of whiskey, then froze as that last thought went through his mind.

Inflicted, he thought. Inflicted on him. That’s what you’re really thinking, isn’t it, Jack? Not that it’s just one of those terrible things that sometimes happens, but that it didn’t have to happen.

Something icy seemed to trickle through his veins as he realized what he’d just allowed himself to admit to himself. The trained security professional in him recognized the danger of allowing himself to think anything of the sort, but the human being in him — the part of him that was Christina and Thomas McBryde’s son — couldn’t stop thinking it.

It wasn’t the first time his thoughts had strayed in that direction, he realized slowly as he recalled past doubts about the wisdom of the Long-Range Planning Board’s master plan, its drive to master the intricacies, shape the best instruments for the attainment of humanity’s destiny.

Where did we change course? he wondered. When did we shift from the maximizing of every individual into producing neat little bricks for a carefully designed edifice? What would Leonard Detweiler think if he were here today, looking at the Board’s decisions? Would he have thrown away a little girl whose father loved her so desperately? Would he have rejected Herlander’s offer to shoulder the full financial burden of caring for her? And, if he would have, what does that say about where we’ve been from the very beginning?

He thought about Fabre’s memo again, about the thoughts and attitudes behind it. He never doubted that Fabre had been completely sincere, that she’d truly been attempting to protect Simões from the consequences of his own mad, quixotic effort to reverse the irreversible. But hadn’t that been Simões’ decision? Hadn’t he had the right to at least fight for his daughter’s life? To choose to destroy himself, if that was what it came to, in an effort to save someone he loved that much?

Is this really what we’re all about? About having the Board make those decisions for all of us in its infinite wisdom? What happens if it decides it doesn’t need any random variations any more? What happens if the only children it permits are the ones which have been specifically designed for its star genomes?

He took another, deeper sip of whiskey, and his fingers tightened around the glass.

Hypocrite, he thought. You’re a fucking hypocrite, Jack. You’ve known — known for forty years — that that’s exactly what the Board has in mind for all those “normals” out there. Of course, you didn’t think about it that way, did you? No, you thought about how much good it was going to do. How their children, and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren would thank you for allowing them to share in the benefits of the systematic improvement of the species. Sure, you knew a lot of people would be unhappy, that they wouldn’t voluntarily surrender their children’s futures to someone else, but that was stupid of them, wasn’t it? It was only because they’d been brainwashed by those bastards on Beowulf. Because they were automatically prejudiced against anything carrying the “genie” stigma. Because they were ignorant, unthinking normals, not an alpha line like you.

But now — now that you see it happening to someone else who’s also an alpha line. When you see it happening to Herlander, and you realize it could have happened to your parents, or to your brother, or your sisters . . . or some day to you. Now you suddenly discover you have doubts.

He dragged in a deep, shuddering breath and wondered how the warmth and love and caring of his family could have crystallized this dark, barren night of the soul for him.

It’s only fatigue — emotional and physical fatigue, he told himself, but he didn’t believe it. He knew it went deeper and farther than that. Just as he knew that anyone who found himself suddenly experiencing the doubts he was experiencing, asking the questions he found himself asking, should immediately seek counseling.

And just as he knew he wasn’t going to do anything of the sort.

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22 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 51

  1. Thirdbase says:

    Damn that conscience.

  2. Mike says:

    First you have to have some sympathy, some empathy, for someone else. Then, and only then, can you suddenly feel like you might owe them some human rights.

    That’s why we have always demonized the “others”. So that we could treat them as we wanted without feeling any remorse over it.

  3. Thirdbase says:

    Except that there are those out there that deserve no sympathy.

  4. efg567 says:

    this is what happens when good men do nothing.forty years worth.

  5. Mike S says:

    IMHO, yes, they do deserve sympathy. As a retired professional Soldier, I never had to kill someone in thirty years of service. But if I did, it would be a dispassionate act, not of hatred, but of sorrow, and an acceptance of the burden of guilt and sin for killing another human being. There are no “gray” areas in the Gospels on the evil of harming, much less killing, others. Just because someone is “evil” and has to be removed for the good of society and their fellow humans, dosen’t mean they don’t deserve sympathy for what they are and how they became that person. To hate that person for what they are is an act just as “evil”. And that path leads back to where anyone associated with that person becomes just as “evil”, just as “disposable” in the name of social order and justice. Sympathy for even our enemies is a measure of our own humanity.

  6. Tabasco says:

    Well said, Mike.

    I think everyone saw something like this coming, but even so I’m rabidly curious where this goes.

  7. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Tabasco, do you know that the ebook is now available for only $6?

  8. Douglas says:

    OK, I was wrong earlier when I said they were just burnishing the Alignment’s evil credentials – looks like Herlander Simões or Jack McBryde will at least try to defect … maybe even succeed.

  9. John Roth says:

    @8 Douglas

    What goal would defecting serve for either of them? How would defecting help to accomplish that goal?

  10. robert says:

    @9 For Herlander, revenge, plain and simple. For Jack, realizing that he has been on the wrong (evil, bad, mean, rotten) side, he decides to switch. Just sayin’. Could be wrong. Authors write, I read.

  11. robert says:

    @7 OK Drak. Now everyone bails out of here. Doesn’t matter, I guess, since the official pub date is 11/1.

  12. John Roth says:

    @11 Robert

    The last I saw, the date on David’s site was 11/3, and the date on was 11/17. Barns and Noble agrees. Given how late the manuscript was turned in, I’d think the latter was more likely. Wikipedia also says 11/3, but I think they picked that up from David’s site.

    Anyway, the e-arc has been available for several months. That isn’t anything new, although I suspect lots of people don’t know you can buy titles via webscriptions.

  13. Thirdbase says:

    @ #5, You are mistaking hatred with lack of sympathy. There is sympathy for enemies, but there are people out there that are so evil, that they don’t deserve any sympathy. Most of those people are criminals, a few have made to positions of power within their governments. I do not necessarily hate them, but what they have done.

  14. robert says:

    @11 John, I thought that the Baen site had the pub date as the 1st. I know that Amazon shows a later date–my shipping date is the 9th. I await the UPS truck. I like to take my current read along with me, and not just to Starbucks.

  15. John Roth says:

    @10 Robert

    To get back on track, let’s consider the classical triplet: method, motive and opportunity.

    While Herlander has lots of motive to do something, it’s not clear what he’ll consider worth doing. Yet. There’s nothing to show that he has either a method or opportunity to defect, or that he’s even aware that defecting is a viable possibility.

    Jack is in a very different situation. He’s coming to the conclusion that the Alignment’s current goals are simply wrong, and he’s got to come to a moral conclusion: what, if anything, to do about it. Since he’s a top level operative in Alignment Security, we can assume that he has all the opportunity he wants, and can put together the method once he decides on what he wants to do.

    Of course, we know something that they don’t: the Security Nightmare (Cachet and Zilwiki) is about to arrive, possibly with Jeremy X’s blessing and the Ballroom’s background information on Mesa.

    So. Who is going to defect? We have four possibilities: Both Herlander and Jack, Herlander himself, Jack himself, and neither.

    The most valuable person, from Manticore’s perspective, would be Herlander. He knows the theoretical basis for the Streak Drive and is working on the theoretical basis for improvements. Since Manticore is about to be in the position of having to rebuild their warship building infrastructure from scratch, that could be very, very important to the next ship classes a few years down the road.

    Jack is less valuable. He knows where a lot of the security bodies are buried. He can out Isabel Bardisano and probably several other top level field operatives. He can almost certainly finger the Detweiller clones. He may or may not know something about the nano-tech assassin stuff. If the Torch wormhole has been surveyed, he probably knows where it goes and what the strategic issues are. He undoubtedly knows about the streak drive, and he may know about the Spider drive and the strategic and tactical issues around it. Or he may not.

    However, all this is data: it can be put on a chip. That’s not to say it’s unimportant, but Jack can only go to one place, while copies of that chip can go to Manticore, Haven, Torch and Beowulf. Not to mention the Andermani Empire, the Maya sector, Erewhon and Grayson. And probably other places. It’s likely to be a huge wake-up call for the Ballroom.

    Herlander, as a warm body who’s capable of standing up at a whiteboard and teaching what he knows, is far more valuable. However, he can also only be at one place at a time, and given the military situation, he’s likely to be more valuable to Manticore than Haven.

  16. Drak Bibliophile says:

    John, don’t forget that where ever Herlander or Jack goes, Cachet has a ‘vote’ in the matter. My guess (no snerk) is that Herlander will finally go to Beowulf assuming that there isn’t a Peace treaty between Manticore and Haven. Jack is, as you said, a different matter than Herlander.

  17. John Roth says:

    @16 Drak

    That’s a point I’d overlooked. While I can’t see a reason why Herlander would think of defecting to Manticore or Haven, the same doesn’t apply to Beowulf. It is, after all, part of Mesa’s common cultural background, and I’d assume that, if he thought of defecting at all, Beowulf would be the obvious choice.

    The reason I’m assuming Manticore is that, given the assumption of a major data spill about the Alignment, its activities and its plans, Cachet will see a peace treaty in the offing, and agree that Manticore is the best use of Herlander’s talents.

    I’d assume that all the theoretical background and possibly engineering specs are on chip, so sending Herlander to Beowulf and giving everyone else the chip would create more of a level playing field. Since Herlander wasn’t involved with the hardware side of things, his primary use would be twofold: teaching and giving information about cultural issues at the top level of the Alignment. That could be done on Beowulf as well as anywhere. And Manticore is close enough via wormhole that a day trip for a consultation isn’t out of the picture.

    And of course, being a couple of days away from Sol would really put the fat into the fire.


  18. Rod says:

    I think perhaps we are looking to hard at the possibility or defection. Yes given the oppurtunity and motivation both Herlander or Jack could do a considerable amount of damage to the Alignment by defecting to Manticore, Haven, Beowulf or somewhere else. But I think they could be even more effective in say some active collaboration while still on the inside of the onion. Say if the terrible two were to somehow come into contact with either Herlander or Jack and convince them, or be convinced by them to not only out the mesans to the rest of the galaxy but maybe destroy some vital research or handover classified technology. The possibility is simply delicious. I’m not saying this is more or less likely then defection, I just don’t think we should focus on only one aspect of what might happen. The authors could always throw in a ringer or two, what fun!

  19. robert says:

    I have questions about timing.

    We know that Cachet and Zilwiki will go to speak to Honor about their suspicions. So far, all this is happening well before the Battle of Manticore. At what point, assuming that they do go to Mesa, do Victor and Anton show up on her flagship? And how far is Herlander from falling apart completely? Will he cave before those two get to him, if indeed they do (a big assumption we are all making)?

    In short, is there enough of a time span for all this to get done? We also do not know whether they find out anything really solid because when they go to Honor they have no concrete data and still do not have any before Haven makes the decision to launch the all out attack on Manticore. And whenever they do find out everything, it is also too late to prevent the Alliance’s attack on the Manticore System.

    I wonder if they even go to Mesa. I guess I will be able to stop wondering around Veterans Day when UPS arrives. And writing Veterans Day brings to mind an off point point. Last night the US Marine Corp Band gave a concert at UCLA. Like all their concerts, it was free, but I’d have paid top dollar for a ticket. If you ever hear of them appearing anywhere in your neck of the woods, get tickets and GO! It was a great show.

  20. Lethargo says:

    I wonder if Bardasano could be using Herlander (or even Jack) as bait for Cachat and Zilwiki. Maybe that would violate the KISS simplicity principle for field ops, but if Bardasano even considers it a possiblity, she could be keeping an eye on things…or could she could be expecting Jack to do so?

    At any rate, it should be fun to find out. I’m looking forward for the book to be available on paper. (I’m also looking forward to seeing the space amusement park hillbillies again.)

  21. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Lethargo, it is a definite violation of the KISS principle.

    Also, while she wants to catch them and is looking for them, she does not know where they are.

    Cachat and Zilwiki are professionals. They will make it has hard as possible for her to know when they arrive on Mesa.

    Also, if she knows they are on Mesa, there are easier ways to capture them than using Herlander as bait.

    In addition, to use him as bait would involve revealing why he would be useful.

    Remember his work is top secret and most Mesan citizens don’t know of his work.

    Reveal his work and Cachat & Zilwiki won’t be the only ‘spies’ wanting to get their hands on him.

  22. JN says:

    I dont see a defection to Manticore as being necessary, though certainly its possible. What you have is the person best situated to cover up a conspiracy, start looking for a conspiracy to cover. If there is a defection, the soon to be rogue sector makes more sense.


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