A new voice came into the discussion. “Problem solved!”

Everybody turned to look at a young woman perched on a chair at the back of the room. Brice had noticed her, naturally, when they first came in. First, because she was an unknown young female; secondly, because she was attractive, to boot. But his attention had soon become riveted on the queen, and he’d almost completely forgotten the presence of the other young woman.

That was odd, in a way, because the young woman sitting at the back of the room was quite a bit better-looking than the queen herself. Still not someone you’d call a beauty, true, but by any standard criteria of pulchritude she had Berry beat hands down. Her figure was fuller, for one thing, although she was also slender. For another, her somewhat darker complexion and really rich chestnut hair were a lot more striking than the queen’s. And while her blue eyes were not as dramatic as the queen’s green ones, they were still attractive in their own right.

What was her name? Brice tried to remember the initial introductions. Ruth, he thought.

“Problem solved,” she repeated, coming to her feet. “I come along too — I might even help in the distract-dumb-males-or-lesbians department, although obviously not as much as Sarah — but I can pose as Michael Alsobrook’s wife.” She pointed at Brice. “We can claim him as a child, very plausibly, given his somatic features. Michael and I might be older than we look, given prolong. That only leaves James to be accounted for and that might even be an advantage even if it’s necessary at all which is probably isn’t because by now the human genome is so mixed up with so many recessive features that keep popping up that you never know what a kid might look like but even if somebody assumes there’s no way that Michael could be the father I could certainly be his mother in which case” — here she gave Alsobrook a gleaming smile that was simultaneously fetching, amused and apologetic — “I’ve either been cheating on my husband or I’ve got loose habits, either of which might intrigue a nosy customs official –”

She hadn’t taken a single breath since she started the sentence. It was pretty impressive.

“– although we’ve got to face the fact that if anybody does a DNA match the whole charade goes into the incinerator and it’s the easiest thing in the world to gather DNA samples.”

“Actually, it wouldn’t,” said Ganny, whose spirits seemed to be perking up. “It might even help. The fact is that all of us except you are related — too damn ingrown, to be honest — and while your DNA won’t match, so what? There could any number of explanations for that. I can think of three offhand, two of which would certainly intrigue a nosy customs inspector with an active libido and an orientation toward females.”

Zilwicki and Cachat practically exploded. “No!” they both said, almost in unison.

Ruth glared at them. “Why?”

Zilwicki’s jaws tightened. “Because I’m responsible for your safety to the Queen, Princess. Both queens. If you get even hurt, much less killed, Berry’s just as likely to skin me alive as Elizabeth Winton.”

Princess, was it? Brice felt himself getting intrigued. That was less of a fantastical stretch than a young queen, after all — in fact, the more he thought about it, “queen” seemed rather stuffy — and the Ruth woman really was very attractive. Very talkative too, apparently, but that was okay with Brice. Seeing as how he’d probably be tongue-tied, anyway.

The princess jeered. “Don’t be stupid, Anton! If I’m killed — even hurt — there’s no way you’re still going to be alive either. Not with this plan. So what do you care what happens afterward? Or do you believe in ghosts — and think ghosts can be subjected to corporal punishment?”

Zilwicki glared at her. But . . . said nothing. Brice began to realize that Cachat and Zilwicki hadn’t been exaggerating when they said this mission was possibly dangerous.

Cachat tried a different tack. “You’ll blow the mission.” Sorrowfully but sternly: “Sorry, Ruth. You’re a brilliant analyst, but the fact remains that you’re not really suited for field work.”

“Why?” she demanded. “Too jittery? Too jabbery? And what do you think these three kids are? Suave secret agents? Who just somehow can’t keep their tongues from hanging out whenever they run into a female anywhere this side of nubile and short of matronly.”

She flashed Brice and his friends a quick smile. “S’okay, guys. I don’t mind and I’m sure Berry doesn’t either.”

Brice flushed. And made sure and certain his tongue was firmly inside his mouth. He had just encountered the second of the Great Truths, which was that a female intelligent enough to be attractive for that very reason, no matter what else, was also . . .

Intelligent. Bright. Perceptive. Hard to fool.

He felt a profound wish that a dragon might show up. Frightening, taloned, clawed, scaled, to be sure. But probably not very bright, and certainly not able to read his mind. Well. Read his limbic system. Being honest, there wasn’t all that much “mind” involved.

“Besides,” Ruth continued, “you’ll need somebody on Ganny’s ship who’s a computer and communications whiz. Anton, you can’t be two places at once. If things do go into the crapper, probably the only chance you’ll have of getting out is if somebody in the backup getaway ship can substitute for your skills manipulating God-knows-what in the way of Mesan security systems. ‘Cause you’re not likely to have time to do it, what with all the guns blazing in the getaway and probably having not much more than a tin can and some wires to worth with even if you did. Have enough time, that is.”

Now, she flashed that same quick smile at Uncle Andrew. “Meaning no offense.”

“None taken,” he said, smiling back. “I’m a whiz with anything mechanical or electrical, and I’m even pretty good with computer hardware. But that’s about it.”

Ruth looked back at Cachat and Zilwicki, triumphantly. “So there. It’s all settled.”

“I’m for it,” said Ganny forcefully. “In fact, I’m making it a condition. Either the princess comes with us, or the deal’s off. I could give you all sorts of reasons for that, but the only really important one is that I’m getting even with you for playing tricks on my boys.” She gave Brice and his friends a look that could best be described as disgusted. “Taking advantage of their stunted forebrains! Ed, put your tongue back in your mouth. You too, James.”

She said nothing to Brice. He felt very suave, although he’d have to double-check the dictionary to make sure the word meant what he thought it meant. Now that Princess Ruth was coming along, he had a feeling he wasn’t going to get away with his usual vocabulary habits. Use any long and/or fancy-sounding word you want, serene in the knowledge that your dummy cousins won’t know if you got it wrong.

Didn’t matter. What he was already thinking of as The Great Adventure would probably be better with a smart princess along. Even if such a fantastical creature was completely absent from the classics.

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15 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 54

  1. Rod says:

    hehe, trust Ruth Winton to finagle her way into a critical mission while her parents and aunt around to stop her. She may not really be suited for wet work, as everyone says, but I’d say she has a taste for it. And with all these capable minds now headed presumeably for Mesa, the chances that something about the alignment will be blown after all. I won’t say a defection is certain, but somethings gotta give with all that brain power focused their way.

  2. Thirdbase says:

    The question is, how does the assassination attempt on Queen Berry and Ruth change things.

  3. JustAGuy says:

    My guess – the assassination attempt turns it from a few weeks/months of “We really should go to Mesa and without Princess Ruth, if we can think of a plan” to “Ruth, pack your bags. We’re going.”

    And maybe add someone else to the mix.

  4. Robert Krawitz says:

    Or Ruth packing her own bags and daring Zilwicki and Cachat to keep her off the ship.

    That could lead to interesting political ramifications if the two queens disagree on this…

  5. John Roth says:

    @4 Robert K.

    Manticore is several days away from Torch via high speed courier ship, somewhat over a week by freighter. They have to go Torch == Erewhon — Phoenix == Phoenix — Manticore. (== means a hyperspace trip, — means a wormhole transit.)

    Anyway, I doubt if Queen Elizabeth III is going to be consulted. What ought to concern Queen Berry is that Torch’s three best intelligence analysts are going off together, leaving that function to Ballroom Intelligence (and I’m assuming that the Ballroom has an intelligence branch. It seems likely, but it hasn’t been spelled out.) Also, Cachet is supposed to be Haven’s Head of Station for the Erewhon sector.

    @3 JustAGuy

    I have no idea. As far as I’m concerned, this plot segment has now gone from “Weird but doable” to “Officially Off The Wall.”

  6. Robert Krawitz says:


    Elizabeth: You let my daughter do WHAT???????????????

  7. John T Mainer says:

    Masada/Winton genome is an oddball. It won’t read Manticore, it won’t read Grayson either. Her presence isn’t one of those things that would be automatically caught by a simple genescan. Subjected to high level scrutiny by someone who had access to the Winton Genome might set off some alarm bells, but from what Honour said in earlier books, the Winton Genome’s mods were something of a state secret.

    They look like an oddball group from a cr@phole space station on the back end of nowhere. A group of losers too far onto Mesa’s hook to be worth a second thought, let alone a second glance. It is really hard to hold someone in contempt, and still remain properly alert to potential threats. As a soldier one of the lessons that gets drummed into you is that the one you didn’t think worth a glance will be the one that kills you. Mesa has spent too long acting like slavemasters to be ready for war to the knife.

  8. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Robert, Ruth is Elizabeth’s niece by marriage.

    John, Ruth is an adopted Winton and is geneticly Grayson/Masaden with no Winton genetics.

    Ruth’s mother was already pregant with her when she met Elizabeth’s brother.

  9. Robert Krawitz says:

    Oh yeah, I forgot, it was so long ago I read CoS :-)

  10. Bewildered says:

    Another typo/talko? “…and some wires to worth with even if you did”. Should that be “…and some wires to worK with even if you did”? Something for the proofreaders to worry about :) {Hopefully!}

  11. Rod says:

    forgive me if I misremember it but as far as I can recall Ruth wasn’t present for the assasination attempt. She was on Torch but not in the palace at the time, or at least not with Berry. So I don’t think that would be an insurmountable obstacle to her going on the trip.

  12. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Rod, you’re correct about where Ruth was at the time of the attempt.

    However, it isn’t a snerk to say that Torch is going to be more security conscious after the attempt and the Manticore Royal Family will be more paranoid concerning Ruth’s security.

  13. Thirdbase says:

    @ #11 & #12, actually Ruth was just about to enter the room where the assassination attempt occurs as it happens. She was with Saburo, and Lara throws Queen Berry to Sabura before dying. (No I don’t have the books memorized, but they are on my hard drive and looking up what happened is easy.)

  14. John Roth says:

    @7 John T. Mainer.

    Drak has already commented on the gene scan issue with Princess Ruth so I won’t. The more significant thing is that they may be able to tag three of the people as respectively Manticoran, Havenite and Grayson. And it’s the Grayson genome that will stand out and ring alarm bells if any of them do – Graysons have gene mods that are required to live on Grayson, and it’s unlikely that the Masadans removed them from their genome. I doubt if they’ll see anything specific in either Cachet or Zilwiki’s genome simply because Haven and Manticore have been settled only for around 600 years – that’s 30 to 40 generations, with substantial immigration through most of that time. That’s not enough time to create a distinctive planetary profile.

    Your point about not looking at tourists too closely is probably well taken. However, that’s going to be because it’s Mesan government rather than Mesan Alignment Security who will be looking at the scans. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if Zilwiki and Princess Ruth will be messing with the immigration equipment as they walk through. Given the comments about the Ballroom operating on Mesa (not too successfully, but still operating somewhat), there have to be gaping holes in immigration security.

  15. 00Bob says:

    @14 Graysons/Masadans may have distinctive genetic prfiles it’s true but will the Mesans have anything to match it to? Do they have a ‘planetary figureprint’ database. Considering how many backwater worlds there are, and Grayson, like Manticore was, is still considered barbaric outsystem, it seems unlikely. Yes if they have a list of special traits and know of the Graysons/Masadans it will be obvious but if not they won’t have anything to match it to.

    A second thought. What are the genetic differences between Masada and Grayson? Maybe the ‘girl’ is simply the outcast rebel female offspring of one of the Masadan madman that made it offworld and has been employed by scum like Mesa?

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