TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 58
The expression on his face lightened. “Her name was Barbara Patten. The one she took, I mean, after we were freed. Patten was the name of one of the Havenite crewmen. She wound up marrying him a year or so later, I heard. But I haven’t had any contact with her in a long time now. Nice girl.”
Harper and Judson looked at each other. “The proverbial hell’s bells,” muttered Ferry. “The slavers would have had records of their cargo, so they’d assume that Tim here just vanished. Perfect way to disguise an identity, without running the risk of faking a number entirely.”
Zeiger was now frowning. “I don’t get it. If this other guy has the same number on his tongue . . . The way you guys check those numbers, there’s no way to fake them with cosmetics. They had to have been grown.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Harper said grimly, rising from the desk. “Tim, don’t leave the city till you hear from us again. Judson, I found Allen’s current whereabouts. He’s in a camp not more than a three hour flight from here. What say we sign out an air car and go talk to him?”
“After we pay a visit to the armory,” said Van Hale. On his shoulder, Genghis growled approvingly.
* * *
God damn Jeremy. Hugh Arai’s thought was simultaneously irritated and amused. Since the very beginning of this second audience he was having with Queen Berry, he hadn’t been able to stop thinking of her as a woman instead of a monarch. Which, of course, was exactly the effect Jeremy had aimed for. The notorious terrorist was also a shrewd psychologist.
The effect was pronounced, too. Hugh was discovering that the more time he spent in the presence of Berry, the more attractive she became. In his earlier audience with the queen, he’d had a hard time to keep from laughing at the all-too-evident way the three Butre boys had been smitten by the young monarch. Especially so, after Ruth blurted it out openly. Now, he was getting worried his own tongue might be starting to hang out.
Figuratively speaking, of course. Hugh wasn’t that far gone.
Still, the effect was striking. It had been a long time since Hugh had been this powerfully drawn to a woman.
That was her personality at work, he knew.
One thing being designed as marketable commodities did for genetic slaves was to make them automatically, one might almost say “painfully,” aware of the difference between outside packaging and contents. Pleasure slaves, for example, were specifically genengineered to be physically attractive because physical beauty made them more valuable, brought a higher price. Heavy-labor units, like Hugh himself, on the other hand, were often downright grotesque, by the standards of most humans, because nobody gave a good goddamn what they looked like. After all, they were really just vaguely human-shaped pieces of disposable machinery, weren’t they?
That left scars, whether the slaves wanted to admit it or not. Obviously, it was worse for some than for others, and the Beowulf medical community had worked with enough slaves over the centuries to be well aware of that fact. Hugh had undergone the standard psychological evaluations and therapy himself, although he’d actually gotten out light in that respect, compared to altogether too many liberated slaves. Still, the ultimate consequence was that, for better or worse, genetic slaves as a group were as well conditioned as any humans in history to ignore physical appearances and concentrate on the characters and personalities of the people they ran across.
The first impression most people would have of Berry Zilwicki was that she was a plain-looking girl. Attractive, overall, but only in the sense that any woman or man is attractive at that youthful age, assuming they are healthy and not significantly malformed in any way.
But Hugh had barely noticed her outward appearance at all. Instead, he’d focused from the outset on her personality. That was also somewhat superficial, of course, since personality and character overlapped but were hardly identical. Still . . .
If the human race held personality pageants the same way they did beauty pageants, Berry Zilwicki would surely be a finalist. Probably not a winner, because she just wasn’t quite flashy enough. But a finalist, for sure — and given that Hugh wasn’t partial to flashiness, that hardly made a difference.
God damn Jeremy.
Without realizing it, he must have muttered the words. Berry turned a friendly face toward him, smiling in that extraordinarily warm way she had. “What was that, Hugh? I didn’t catch the words.”
Hugh was tongue-tied. Odd, that, since he was normally a fluent liar when he needed to be. Something about those bright, clear, pale green eyes just made dissembling to her very difficult. It’d be like spitting in a mountain stream.
“He was cursing me,” said Jeremy, who was sitting near the queen — and not that close to Hugh at all. But Jeremy had phenomenal hearing as well as eyesight. The Secretary of War was trying not to smirk, and failing.
Berry glanced at him. “Oh, dear. You should really stop doing this, Jeremy. Being elbowed by the galaxy’s most cold-blooded killer isn’t actually the best way to get a man to overcome his hesitations about asking a queen out on a date.”
She turned back to Hugh, the smile widening and getting warmer still. “Is it, Hugh?”
Hugh cleared his throat. “Actually, Berry . . . in my case, it probably is. But I agree with you as a general proposition.”
“Well, good!” The smile was now almost blinding. “Where do you propose to take me, then? If I can make a recommendation, there’s a very nice ice cream parlor less than a ten minute walk from this office-pretending-to-be-a-palace. It’s got several small tables in the back where we’d even have a chance of enjoying a private conversation.”
She looked over at two very tough-looking women standing not far away. Her expression got considerably cooler. “Assuming, that is, we can keep Lara and Yana from sitting in our laps.”
The woman on the left — he thought that one was Lara, but he wasn’t sure — got a grin on her face. “Sit on your lap, maybe. No way I’m getting within arm’s reach of that cave man.”
“He is sort of cute, though, Lara,” said the other woman. “Clean-shaven, even. He must have a really sharp stone ax.”
Hugh took a deep breath. This was really not a good idea.
“Sure,” he said.
* * *
The Havlicek Pharmaceutics camp was larger than most such exploratory operations. That probably meant they’d found enough potential in the area to move toward setting up production facilities. The fact that they’d erected a permanent headquarters building instead of just using temporary habitats lent support to that theory as well.
Harper and Judson found the camp’s director in an office on the first floor. His name was Earl Manning, according to the plaque on the open door.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, as they came in. He didn’t look up from the paper on his desk. The question was posed brusquely. Not impolitely, just in the way that a very busy man handles interruptions.
“We’re looking for Ronald Allen,” said Harper.
That got Manning to look up. “And who is ‘we,’ exactly?”