Two more snippets after this one.


“Immigration Services.” Harper pulled out his ID and laid it on the director’s desk.

Manning actually examined the ID. With considerable care, too, more than was really warranted given the rarity of identity theft on Torch. Judson got the impression the camp director was one of those people whose instinctive response to government authority was to dig in his heels.

“Okay,” he said sourly, after about ten seconds. He handed the ID back to Harper. “What’s this about?”

Manning’s attitude was triggering off an equivalent response from Ferry. “That’s not actually any of your concern, Mr. Manning. Where’s Allen?”

Manning started to bristle. Then, made a face and jerked a thumb at the window behind him. “You’ll find him operating one of the extractors. On the south edge of the camp. If you don’t know what he looks like –”

“We do know,” said Harper. He turned and left the office. Judson followed.

Once in the corridor and after having walked most of the way to the outside door to the building, Harper muttered: “What an asshole.”

Judson just smiled. He was quite sure that Manning had uttered — or at least thought — equivalent sentiments after Harper left his office.

Genghis bleeked his amusement, confirming Judson’s guess.

Once they were outside, they consulted a map of the camp that was posted on the wall of the building. It was hand-drawn, insofar as the term meant much given modern drafting equipment.

“Close enough to walk,” Harper pronounced. He headed south, tugging lightly on the grip of his pulser to make sure it would come easily out of the holster. Judson followed suit. For the first time, it registered clearly on him that they might be on the verge of a violent incident. Despite his intensive training and proficiency with weapons, Judson’s work as a forest ranger back on Sphinx had been a lot closer to that of a guide and sometime emergency medical technician. SFR personnel were policemen, as well, and they took that part of their training seriously, but Judson had never actually found himself acting as a policeman.

Not yet, at least.

Harper S. Ferry didn’t have a policeman’s background either, of course. He had one that had been a lot more violent. Judson could only hope that the year and half which had passed since Harper gave up his old profession had placed at least a patina of restraint on the man.

Something of his tension must have shown. Harper glanced at him and smiled. “Relax. I don’t intend to shoot the guy. Just find out why he’s got an identity number he’s got no business having.”

* * *

It didn’t take them more than ten minutes to reach the south edge of the camp and find Allen working on the extractor. The machine wasn’t particularly big, but it was incredibly noisy.

Noisy enough that Allen never heard them coming. The first he knew of their presence was when Harper tapped him on the shoulder.

The man turned a control, placing the machine on idle and drastically reducing the noise. Then he turned his head and said: “What can I do for you?”

He was quite relaxed. Then his gaze moved past Harper and fell on Judson, with Genghis perched on his shoulder.

The treecat’s ears suddenly flattened, and Judson could feel his claws tightening on his shoulder. There were protective pads there for precisely this purpose. Judson knew that Genghis was readying to launch an attack.

“Be careful –” he started to shout at Harper. But Harper must have spotted something in Allen’s stance or perhaps his eyes, because he was already reaching for the pulser on his hip.

Allen shouted something incoherent and struck Harper with his fist. The blow indicated the immigrant had had some martial arts training, but was certainly no expert at hand-to-hand combat. Harper rolled with the punch, catching it on his arm instead of his rib cage.

Still, the blow knocked him down. Allen was a big man, and very strong.

A lot stronger than Van Hale, certainly. But between his own pulser and Genghis’ formidable abilities as a fighter, Judson wasn’t really worried.

Allen apparently reached the same conclusion. He turned and darted around the extractor, heading for the nearby forest.

He was fast as well as strong. Judson probably couldn’t have caught up with him, and he was reluctant to just shoot the man down when they still didn’t really know anything.

But Genghis solved that problem. The ‘cat was off Judson’s shoulder and onto the ground and racing in pursuit within two seconds.

It was no contest. Genghis caught up with Allen before the man had gotten even halfway to the tree line. He went straight for the big man’s legs and brought him down in two strides.

Allen hit the ground hard, screeching. He tried to knock Genghis away but the ‘cat’s razor-sharp claws were more than a match for his fist. A human being in good condition and with really good martial art skills had at least a fair chance against a treecat in a fight, simply because of the size disparity. But it wouldn’t be easy and the human would certainly come out of it badly injured.

Allen didn’t even try. He wriggled around onto his stomach. Then, oddly, he just stared at the trees for a few seconds.

By then, Judson had reached him. “Hold still, Allen!” he commanded. “Genghis won’t hurt you any further as long you don’t –”

He saw Allen’s jaws tighten. Then the man’s eyes rolled up, he inhaled once, gasped, gasped again . . . and he was unconscious and dying. Judson didn’t have any doubt of it. From his little screech, neither did Genghis.

“What in the name of . . .” He shook his head, not sure what to do. Normally, he’d have begun CPR treatment, even though he was pretty sure there was no way to save Allen’s life at this point. But there was a nasty-looking greenish slime beginning to ooze out of Allen’s mouth, which he was almost certain was the residue or side effect — or both — of some sort of powerful poison. Whatever the stuff was, Van Hale wasn’t about to get close to it.

Harper came up, cradling his arm. “What happened?”

“He committed suicide.” Judson felt a bit stunned. Everything had happened so fast. From the time Harper tapped Allen on the shoulder to the man’s suicide, not more than thirty seconds could have passed. Probably less. Maybe a lot less.

Harper knelt down next to Allen’s body, and rolled him onto his back. The former Ballroom killer was careful not to let his hands get anywhere near Allen’s mouth.

“Fast-acting poison in a hollow tooth. What in the name of creation is an ex-slave immigrant doing with that kind of equipment?” He looked around, spotted a sturdy-looking stick within reach, and picked it up. Then, used the stick to pry open Allen’s mouth so he could look at the man’s tongue.

“And . . . that’s a Manpower breeding mark, for sure and certain. No chance at all it’s cosmetic.”

He straightened up from the corpse and rocked back on his heels, now squatting instead of kneeling. “What the hell is going on, Judson?”

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28 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 59

  1. Mike says:

    Mole. Obviously. Why are they even confused?

  2. Thirdbase says:

    Because they are confused as to why a slave would work as an operative of Mesa/Manpower.

  3. Mike says:

    Again, “mole”.

  4. robert says:

    I Agree. That is just dumb. They MUST realize what Allen really is if they have any brains. Bad plotting/writing?

  5. Lars says:

    not a simple mole, two people with the same Gene Marking.

  6. EM says:

    I wonder if the corpse was an agent for Manpower or for the Alignment.

    I wouldn’t put it past the Alignment for them to have a quiet birthlab & creche somewhere where they create custom slaves using known dead slaves’ numbers for use as covert agents. Slaves are apparently raised in pens/creches and IMO indoctrination/brainwashing can be assumed to happen as part of that process.

    Remember Kyrillos Taliadoros, Aldona’s bodyguard? He could well come from a similar creche and probably went through similar indoctrination.

  7. Rod says:

    definte mole, but doesn’t make him an alpha does it? I would have expected one if this was an important mission. Wonder what he was up to?

  8. efg567 says:

    this means afreed slave, may not be a freed slave. How would you tell? Ow would you protect your government.Berry always believe the people were best protection. Not are more.

  9. Lars says:

    3 lines so far. Alpha, Beta and Gamma

    btw nice Book

  10. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Remember this is a Mole with a real Manpower breeding mark which can’t be faked. It is likely that Manpower (not the Alignment) would believe that he’s a real slave.

    Harper and Judson don’t know about the Alignment and are wondering why Manpower would create such a Mole and expect that Mole to be loyal to Manpower.

    As for EM’s comments on indoctrination and/or brainwashing, IMO there are limits to that even in the Honorverse.

  11. John T Mainer says:

    I keep coming back to the timeline. To use a viable number with an adult grown and conditioned to purpose doesn’t add up unless the alignment is able to fake (ie clone tongue with markers and graft on) the unfakeable number. What Manpower “knows” is unfakable will define what its ex-slaves will suspect is unfakable. Who would suspect their are genetic slavery secrets Manpower doesn’t know?

    Glad Genghis and company got one of their own before the assassination took them out. Hate to think the Alignment was being as successful in an ad-hoc mission like Torch as against the enemies they’ve been working on for generations.

  12. KimS says:

    There is another Alignment possibility. The Alignment bred some additional clones, grown at the same time as the original Manpower slaves. The Alignment then set up the ‘convoy’ to be intercepted by Haven. Knowing this, their ‘agents’ could be slipped in almost anywhere a ‘slave’ is needed or permitted. Even inner circles of the Ballroom. Safe slaves that had a documented Manpower ID but never a true ‘slave’. TRUST NO ONE!

    Also, has Genghis been taught to sign? It would be interesting what was ‘seen’ before he bolted and committed suicide.

  13. John Roth says:

    @11 John T. Mainer
    @12 Kim S

    Going back a couple of snippets, that ship was lost 35 T years previously. So there’s lots of time to grow some clones of the ones that got killed in the convoy — or at least reuse their numbers. And I wouldn’t put it past Manpower rather than the Alignment to be doing it — they do have to worry about slave revolts and possibly penetrating the Ballroom as well. Of course, if Manpower is doing it, there’s nothing preventing the Alignment from taking advantage of it.

    The old “poisoned tooth” trick. Was that ever really used outside of cheap fiction? I wonder how long it would take some smart guy to whomp up a detector?

  14. saladin says:

    the number can be faked (and removed)
    it is only extremely expensive

  15. robert says:

    @12 The question is whether this occurs after Honor comes up with the idea of teaching signing to Nimitz, and whether the communications technique has spread very much. I am hazy on just when this is all happening–how soon before the assassination attempt, when in relation to everything else going on. The timeline on the Buckley site is too sparse and ends too soon to be of use at this level of detail.

  16. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Genghis does know how to sign. It was mentioned earlier in this book when we first meet Allen. However, Treecats can’t read Human Minds. The most Genghis could do is read/report on Allen’s emotions when he killed himself.

  17. Mike says:

    This whole “indelible number” thing is rather silly, actually. But it’s fiction.

    The key here is that if each person created has some sort of unique ID coded into their genome when the first cell division happens, then that will be in every cell of the person’s body. There will almost certainly be no way to remove it, unless it is possible to do retroactive genetic engineering on a living person.

    However, we currently can map the DNA of a person to the level that we think we can identify each person individually. We do this now. No need for thousands of years of genetic research. So all that Manpower really needed to do was keep a database of DNA typing on all their products, and that would have served the same goal. Heck, the US military does that for its soldiers today.

    The only advantage this tongue idea has is that it can be read without any tools — but if you don’t have any DNA testing tools available then how can you check to see if it’s been faked?

  18. Thirdbase says:

    We know that the number can be removed, Lady Young had hers permanently removed. Since Manpower/Mesa created the system there is no reason to believe that they couldn’t modify an existing existing number or add a number to slave born and bred to be an infiltrator, once they identified a number belonging to an unknown dead slave.

  19. John Roth says:

    @17 Mike

    Consider the threat profile. On Mesa, there’s no point to removing it, since it would require gene mod facilities that aren’t likely to be available to the seccy community.

    Off Mesa, it’s so what. Once Manpower sells a slave, they (probably) don’t care in the least unless the slave joins the Ballroom and tries to penetrate them, and they’ve (probably) got other checks that keep that problem down to something they think they can handle.

    There are undoubtedly ways of insuring that a number can’t be faked. The way I’d do it would be to use some form of public key signing on the actual code in the DNA. We know that some form of public / private key tech is available in the Honorverse because of the way that the diplomatic correspondence was handled.

  20. John T Mainer says:

    In the armed forces, your service number is related to some other pieces of data independently verifiable. Looking at a service number, and checking related info tells those “in the know” if the person holding the ID has a valid service number based on who they are.

    How much easier is it with technology like the gene-sniffers used in Crown of Slaves. Given a tongue code, it looks for a dozen genetic markers that should be present and confirms or denies that ID for this individual. Its not unbeatable, but its pretty damn tough to beat.

    If you are the originators of the code and know the algorithms, you can have an agent prepared with a list of possible ID numbers, and just wait for or arrange a death when you need to insert your mole.

  21. Richard says:

    I got my copy of the book today at Barns and Nobel. It is finaly out. It also came with a CD

  22. John Roth says:

    @22 Richard

    Got mine Friday. Came with the CD, but the CD doesn’t have Torch on it. According to the guy at B&N, they only got two copies in.

    So this is likely the last snippet. Good talking to you guys, and see you again when Eric starts snippeting Mission of Honor.

    More comments? Check out the Snerker’s Only forum at Baen’s Bar at

  23. Drak Bibliophile says:

    John, there will be two more snippets of the book.

  24. robert says:

    @22 Which snippets come first, Mission of Honor (not on the Baen on-line Schedule yet nor shown on Amazon) or A Mighty Fortress (available for pre-order on Amazon)?

    As was mentioned above, there was a price difference on Amazon between the price listed for this book and the price I was being charged, which was $2 more than the new listed price. I called Amazon and got them to give me a $2 discount on my next order, which they did. And yes, Amazon has a telephone–even a toll-free one. I do not know how my wife found it. Secrets of a former Research Librarian. I could never find it.

  25. John Roth says:

    @24 Robert

    Darned if I know – that depends on what David, Eric and the publishers want to do. Since there are four books being snippeted at the same time here I doubt if “first” really means anything.

    I think Mission of Honor is targeted for June or July 2010 — the spoiler at says July. I know it was turned in some time ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s been fully edited yet!

  26. Any ideas on the general plot lines for MISSION OF HONOR and A MIGHTY FORTRESS?

  27. efg567 says:

    Mighty Fortress is due out in March 2010 and Mission of Honor is now due out in July 2010.Ha David and Eric please stay healthy and please keep the books coming. May God be with you. TKS.

  28. robert says:

    @26 Not too hard to guess the plot line for Mighty Fortress given all the stuff in the previous book. And the title sorta gives us several good guesses for the Mission of Honor storyline. But I have a feeling that MoH will be a wonderful read the likes of which we will not have had since Echoes of Honor.

    @27 Amen

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