Chapter Twenty-Three

“What’s on your mind?” Harper S. Ferry asked, when Judson Van Hale came into his office. The former Sphinx Forestry Service ranger was frowning and the treecat perched on his shoulder seemed unusually somber as well. “You’re looking disgruntled this morning.”

Van Hale gave him a quick smile, but there wasn’t any humor in it. “Whatever happened to the background check you were going to do on Ronald Allen?”

“Ronald who?”

“He was one of the ex-slave immigrants who arrived here about two months ago. Genghis thought his mental — ‘taste,’ he calls it — was a little wrong. I brought the matter to your attention and you were going to do a more thorough background check.”

“Yeah, I remember now. Hm. Good question, actually. I’d forgotten about it. Let me see what Records has to say.” Harper began keying entries into his computer. “Spell the name, would you? The last name, I mean.”

“Allen. A-L-L-E-N, not A-L-L-A-N.” Judson drew a memo pad from his pocket and thumbed the entry he’d pre-selected. “Here. This is what he looks like.”

Harper glanced at the screen in Van Hale’s hand and saw a tall man in a brown jumpsuit. Going by his appearance, he was probably one of what Manpower called its “general utility lines,” which they designated either D or E. That was a fancy way of saying that they hadn’t bothered to do much in the way of genetic engineering.

A screen came up on Harper’s computer. After studying it for a few seconds, he hissed in a breath.

Judson could feel Genghis tensing on his shoulder. The treecat was picking up the emotional aura Harper was emanating as a result of whatever he’d seen on the screen. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“God damn all business-as-usual clerks,” Harper said. “This should have been flagged and brought to my attention immediately.”

He swiveled the screen so Judson could see it. The screen read:

Background search
Allen, Ronald
scanning error

“Oh, hell,” Judson said. “Where’s Zeiger? And what happened to Allen?”

Harper S. Ferry was working at the keyboard again. After a moment he said: “Zeiger’ll be easy to find, thankfully. He’s a resident of Beacon” — that was the name the ex-slaves had bestowed on Torch’s capital city not long after the insurrection — “and, better still, he works for the Pharmaceutical Inspection Board. He’s a clerk, too, not a field agent, so he ought to be right here.” He gestured at one of the windows. “Well, just a few blocks away. We can be there in five minutes.”

“And Allen?”

Harper keyed in some final words. “Oh, wonderful. He also works in the pharmaceutical industry, but he’s a roustabout. He could be anywhere on the planet.”

“Which company does he work for?”

“Havlicek Pharmaceutics. One of the Erewhonese firms.”

“Well, that’s a break. They’ll have good personnel records, unlike most of the homegrown outfits — and you didn’t hear me cast that aspersion upon our stalwart native entrepreneurs.”

Harper chuckled, and pulled out his com unit. “I’ll see if I can track down Allen’s whereabouts, while I’m pulling up the scanning records. Meanwhile, trot over to the PIB and see what’s up with Zeiger.”

Judson headed for the door.

* * *

He was back in half an hour, with a stocky, balding, middle-aged man in tow. “This is Timothy Zeiger. Tim, meet Harper S. Ferry. Harper, his number checks out.”

Without being prompted, Zeiger stuck out his tongue. Ferry rose from his desk and leaned over. There, quite visible, was the number at issue: D-17d-2547-2/5.

Harper glanced at the treecat. “What does Genghis say?”

“He thinks Tim’s kosher. A little apprehensive, of course, but that’s to be expected. Mostly, he’s just curious.”

“I sure as hell am,” said Zeiger. “What’s this all about?”

Harper didn’t answer him immediately. He’d resumed his seat and was studying the screen. “You’re pretty well-established, aren’t you? Married eighteen months ago — less than half a year after you arrived, congratulations — one child –”

“And another on the way,” Zeiger interrupted.

Harper kept going. “You belong to Temple Ben Bezalel. Hipparchus Club, center bowler for the club’s torqueball team, and you and your wife even belong to an amateur theater troupe.”

“Yeah. So what? And I’m asking again — what’s this all about?”

Harper leaned back in his seat and looked up at Van Hale. “What do you think, Judson?”

“Same as you.” He hooked a thumb at Zeiger. “He checks out all across the board. What about Ronald Allen?”

Ferry scowled. “He smells worse and worse the more I study him. He seems to have made no serious attachments since he got here. And he has no regular address.”

“Being fair, most roustabouts don’t. And he hasn’t been here that long.”

“True. Still . . .”

Zeiger was obviously on the verge of exploding. Harper raised a calming hand and said, “What this is all about, Tim, is that somebody else was registered with your genetic marker number. Which, so far as anyone knows, doesn’t ever happen. At least, I’ve never heard of Manpower duplicating numbers.”

“There wouldn’t be much point in it, anyway,” Judson said, shaking his head. “If we assume for the moment that there’s a covert operation involved. You’d run too much risk of the duplication being spotted, it would seem to me. Here on Torch, anyway. We’ve never kept quiet the fact that we require all ex-slaves to register when they arrive.”

Zeiger had an odd look on his face. Whatever emotions were stirring in his head were enough to perk Genghis’ interest. The treecat was looking at him intently.

“Uh . . . maybe not,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“The way I got freed was something of a fluke. A Havenite warship intercepted a slaver convoy — this was about thirty-five years ago –”

“Convoy?” Judson was a little startled.

Ferry nodded. “It’s not unheard of. Usually slaver ships operate solo, but there are some exceptions. So what happened, Tim?”

“Well, the Havenites sprang the trap a little too early. Most of the convoy was able to translate into hyper before they could be run down. The ship I was on was the last one and the Havenites destroyed it, just a couple of minutes before the slave ship ahead of it made the transition.”

Harper pursed his lips. “So . . . they’d have seen your ship blow up, is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah. And according to the Havenites who rescued me, it was pretty spectacular. They were astonished to discover any survivors. There was just me and a girl and the two slaver crewmen who grabbed her and dragged her into a lifeboat. I scrambled in just before they closed the hatch. They were mad enough to beat me a little, but not much, since they were mostly desperate to get free. I guess we left the ship just in time.”

For an instant, his heavyset face got savage. “The Havenites pitched the two slavers into space less than an hour after they rounded us up. Without skinsuits. So me and the girl wound up being the only survivors.”

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17 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 57

  1. Rod says:

    Aha possibly back story into the assasination attempt, or discovering alignment attempts to infiltrate Torch? Of course it might be someone besides the alignment, but as for who else, you got me.

  2. Summercat says:

    It’s nice to know that no matter how far Haven fell, it still held true to SOMETHING good.

  3. efg567 says:

    Well it looks like a slave is not always a slave. Torch has a problem.

  4. John Roth says:

    Hm. This is still moderately weird, because I’d assume that Manpower wouldn’t duplicate numbers at all, and since they’ve got the records, they shouldn’t have to. So it looks like someone else — possibly Alignment Security. Although why they’d risk duplicating numbers is a good question — they ought to be able to slide new numbers into the system without lower levels being able to detect it.

    They’d better be careful picking him up — he’s almost certainly a Mesan Alpha.

    As a minor nit — assuming that the slave population of Mesa is one billion (and it’s probably closer to two or three billion) that number is at least two digits short.

    @2 Summercat.

    Well, Haven has always been portrayed as adhering to the Chertwell (anti-slavery) Convention.

  5. Woff'65 says:

    @4 If a genetic slave is on Torch, they are there because someone released them. Whilst it would be easy for the MA to add a file into Manpowers records, those records are unlikely to be available to those outside Manpower.

    Therefore, it would make sense to eliminate the risk of blowing their agents cover by picking a “legend” for the operative which could not be disproved. As slaves are raised in pens, there is a risk that if they selected an ID at random or added one to their records, they may either encounter someone who knew them in the pens or had come across them in a work assignment somewhere. Given that, I can’t think of a better way of selecting a cover than by appropriating the ID of a slave that had been killed when his ship was destroyed. No doubt, the Alignment would have been certain of what had happened to the slaves in that convoy and I am certain no one else is either alive or had ever escaped. It’s a shame the Peep’s hadn’t got the records from that ship as I’m certain other slaves on that ship have been “resurrected” by the Alignment as and when necessary.

  6. Thirdbase says:

    How come you never hear about people showing up to work gruntled?

  7. robert says:

    Webster says gruntle means “to put in a good humor.” You are talking about work, the object of which is to disgruntle, it seems.

  8. Robert Woodman says:


    As a minor nit — assuming that the slave population of Mesa is one billion (and it’s probably closer to two or three billion) that number is at least two digits short.

    Okay, I’ve looked the number over, and I agree that it looks to be inadequate. Does anyone know if DW has a numbering scheme for Manpower Slave ID numbers that would account for all the slaves?

  9. Thirdbase says:

    Assuming that all the letters are used, and all are born in groups of 5 I come up with 33,800,000,000, seems like plenty of identity numbers to me, well perhaps a digit short.


  10. Apropos of nothing, wasn’t Harpers Ferry a military post in Civil War times where an attack was supposed to spark a slave revolt?

  11. robert says:

    @10 John Brown’s body IS moldering in his grave!

    It is in W. Virginia and is now a National Historic Park.

  12. Mike says:

    Yes, several of the ex-slaves have names taken from the US abolitionist movement.

  13. Mike says:

    At least it’s less cute than “Rob S. Pierre”. These guys have an explainable reason for having names like “Harper S. Ferry”.

  14. bookseller says:

    Just as an aside, the hard cover issue of TOF is starting to show up in distribution. The bookstore i work at received copies today, with on-sale date of Nov 17

  15. Robert Woodman says:

    Yes, Thirdbase, after I posted that comment I stumbled across Snippet 19 again. Realized I was commenting while sleep-deprived and came out sounding not-so-bright. DW does have a coherent numbering system, and it does make sense. If we run with the reasonable assumptions you made, the system will cover quite a few slaves before needing to be tweaked.

    I apologize for not catching that before I posted.

  16. saul says:

    You assume they are numbered in a base 10 system. It could easily be a base 16 system etc.

  17. Steven says:

    On facing pages, somebody missed that a digit was dropped:
    quite visible, was the number at issue: D-17d-2547-2/5.


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