Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 10

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 10 

Chapter 8

Looking around the office of his new boss, Lajos Irvine starting counting the ways.

The ways his new boss was so much worse than his old one, Jack McBryde.

True, his old boss had turned out to be a traitor. But if you left that one flaw aside, he’d been a real pleasure to work for. Lajos hadn’t appreciated how much so until he’d had some months to fully explore the depth and breadth of his new boss’ qualities.

Using the term “qualities” loosely and understanding that the term was neutral. A fetid odor was also a “quality.”

To start with, there was the fact that Lajos had been waiting for twenty minutes for George Vickers to make his appearance. Why had the man bothered to set the meeting at this hour in his own office if he hadn’t planned to be there himself?

If this had been a one-time event, Lajos would have assumed that Vickers had been delayed unexpectedly or had simply been absent-minded and forgot the time. But it wasn’t a one-time occurrence, it was an every-time occurrence. Vickers was wasting the time of his subordinate for the sole purpose of showing him who was the boss.

Not that there would have ever been any doubt about it, which made the whole exercise purposeless as well as annoying.

As a genetically-engineered specialist developed to infiltrate the societies of genetic slaves, Lajos Irvine was officially the equal of any other specialty line produced by the Alignment. Unlike the agents produced for the External Bureau, who were indistinguishable from general utility slave lines except for their special slave numbers, Lajos was a full member of the Alignment. Not the very innermost circles of the onion, true — although that was not precluded for him in the future — but he was still a genetic slave in form only. He’d been given prolong treatments, for instance.

Formalities aside, though, there was still a deep-seated prejudice against people like him that permeated the Alignment. Not all people shared it — McBryde hadn’t, for one — but many did. And even leaving the bias aside, the fact remained that Lajos was a specialty line and George Vickers was an alpha line.

There was no chance, no matter what his accomplishments might be, that he’d ever wind up replacing Vickers in this office — so what was the point of this rigmarole?

Everything about the office reminded Lajos of what a jackass his new boss was. His eyes fell on the wall behind Vickers’ desk. The equivalent of that wall in Jack McBryde’s office had been decorated with a few paintings and some simple images of the McBryde family. Jack himself had been in a couple of the images, but no more than that.

That wall had vanished, destroyed with the rest of GammaCenter. This wall, in contrast, was solid Vickers territory. Every single thing on the wall was about him. His images — fancy holograms, these, and expensive ones at that — and his awards and certificates and decorations. The only other people in the holograms on the wall were those of Vickers’ associates whom he obviously felt enhanced his own prestige. Some were his immediate superiors; others were images of people who were apparently very high up in the Alignment.

Then there was the desk. Jack McBryde’s desk had been a beehive of activity. There would have been three or four virtual screens up and running, and half the desk would have been covered with slips and sheets of papic. Jack had been fond of the old-fashioned way of taking notes.

“I don’t know why but I think better when I’m chewing on an idea I’ve written down myself.” He’d given Lajos a grin and added: “Would you believe I’ve even been to the paper exhibit in the Museum of Science and Technology?”

“What’s ‘paper’?” Lajos had asked.

Jack had picked up a sheet of papic. “It’s what they used to use instead of this. Looks just like it — they let me pick one up — but it feels a little different. Coarser. They made it out of pulped wood, you know.”

Lajos had made a face. “Sounds awfully unsanitary.”

“Oh, the paper was safe enough. The manufacturing process was destructive, though. Poisoned the environment like you wouldn’t believe. Once they figured out a way to make plastic biodegradable they got rid of paper.”

Vickers’ desk looked like it ought to be in a museum itself. The expanse was completely empty except for one virtual screen which simply displayed the agency’s logo — as if anyone who had the security clearance to get in here in the first place wouldn’t know where they were.

Other than that, there was simply a name plate perched on the corner of the desk. A big name plate, reading:

George Vickers

Assistant Director

Central Security Agency

Perhaps most telling of all, the nameplate didn’t face the visitor. It faced Vickers — or would, whenever the Great Man finally made his entrance.

Vickers had to have some genuine ability or he’d never have been given this post. The Alignment gave short shrift to bosses who were incompetent. But, so far at least, Lajos hadn’t seen any evidence of it.

The door to the office swung open and Vickers came in.

“Ah, there you are,” he said, as if Lajos hadn’t been sitting there for the better part of half an hour and Vickers had been looking for him.

Damn, he missed Jack.

A thought, needless to say, that he kept entirely to himself.


After George Vickers finished his explanation of Lajos Irvine’s new assignment, there was silence in the room for at least half a minute.

From the self-satisfied look on his face, Vickers assumed that the silence was due to Lajos striving mightily to absorb the subtleties and profundities of the strategic thinking involved.

Instead of, as was actually the case, Lajos striving mightily not to burst out with sentences that would be:

a) True.

b) Emotionally satisfying.

c) Useless.

d) Damaging to his career.

He knew that much from the beginning, but he couldn’t relinquish the sentences for half a minute.

That is the stupidest — Most of the sentences began with that clause.

What imbecile came up with this idea? Variations on that theme constituted a good two-thirds of the sentences.

What is the fucking point —

He finally managed to bring himself under control enough to utter his first words aloud.

“Uh, George, in my experience criminals make it a point to know as little as possible about anything that might be dangerous and brings them no income. As informers — on political activity, that is — they’re about as useful as — as –“

He tried to come up with an analogy. Sewer rats and alley cats wouldn’t do because such animals might actually provide a modicum of useful information. The absence of either one in an area might indicate the presence of a terrorist cell, for instance.

Or a big, mean dog, more likely. But there was still the possibility of usefulness.

Criminals? One of whose characteristics was the inclination to lie as a first reaction to any question and another of which was that most of them were damn good at it.

And another of whose characteristics was that they were prone to violence.

“That raises another issue,” he said. “I’m not trained –“

“Relax, Lajos,” said Vickers, waving his hand in a genial manner. Or what he took to be one, anyway. “We’re going to be providing you with some assistance. Nobody expects you to match muscle with hooligans.”


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33 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 10

  1. John Roth says:

    Nice filling in some details about Lajos. Settles a couple of strange things about his role in Torch of Freedom. I guess they decided not to promote him and send him to Darius after all. Unless this is on Darius, but I don’t see it in this book.

    So. Is Lajos going to make some kind of contact with Karen, etc? And then turn traitor himself?

  2. Steve says:

    Seems like they’re setting up Lajos as the token human being in the Mesan Alignment. He’ll probably get flipped at some point.

  3. Scott says:

    The next agent that will see the light and help the good guys.
    Now, just how much will it take to push him over the edge?

  4. dave o says:

    Somehow or other, Vickers seems remarkably familiar.

  5. Andrew Waughington says:

    Nice to know not all the Alignment are hyper-competent. I used to work with a MENSA member, he was ultra smart but I wouldn’t trust him to tie his own shoelaces. If I was a Beta line (for example) and had to work for someone like Vickers, I would be harbouring some fairly disloyal thoughts about this whole genetic superiority thing as he clearly seems not very superior.

    I would also like some more information on the reason why the Detweilers have set things up this way, why build a hierarchy of “supermen” with differing levels of capability in the first place. Why not try to make everyone in the Alignment an Alpha? Over the long term, some Beta or Gamma is going to come to the conclusion that he is as good as an Alpha and decide to do something about it, if there are enough of them then BAD THINGS are going to happen.

    • Mike says:

      That’s a good question about “why not all Alphas?” I think that the answer is probably inherent to their basic core beliefs. They think that genetics makes the person, and therefore they probably deeply believe that people should be designed for different roles. In their opinion, some Beta or Gamma can’t possibly ever be as good as the Alphas, so if one of them did try to rise above his genetic destiny he would fail.

      As to your co-worker, I’ve always thought MENSA was basically the equivalent of those “Who’s Who” scams where people pay money for the vanity of being listed in a book that no one else cares about. I went to MIT, and met a lot of really, really smart people there. Most of them were too busy actually doing things to want to join something like MENSA. Really smart people generally have no need to take tests to know they are really smart, just like really tall people don’t need to measure themselves to know they are really tall.

      • Greg Noel says:

        Humpf. I was in Mensa (it’s not an acronym, just a proper noun, so it’s only a leading capital). I didn’t do it to show I was smart; I did it for the social aspects. Not to put too fine a point on it, the women I’d dated after college were boring, so I joined in the hopes of meeting some smart girls who could hold up their end of an intellectual conversation. It worked; my social life took a definite upswing.

        As for the other half of your point, have you ever heard of the Tall Club (and its Tall Singles social group)? Yes, just like it sounds, it’s an organization for tall people. Indeed, the members don’t need to measure to know that they’re tall, but sometimes it’s nice to socialize with someone at your own level. {;-}

        Amusingly enough, I met my wife at a mixer for the Tall Singles. It turned out that she was also in Mensa, but just didn’t attend the same events I did.

    • Summercat says:

      I would assume they’ve read their Huxley.

      blockquote cite=”Brave New World, Chapter 16″>”I was wondering,” said the Savage, “why you had them at all–seeing that you can get whatever you want out of those bottles. Why don’t you make everybody an Alpha Double Plus while you’re about it?”
      Mustapha Mond laughed. “Because we have no wish to have our throats cut,” he answered. “We believe in happiness and stability. A society of Alphas couldn’t fail to be unstable and miserable. Imagine a factory staffed by Alphas–that is to say by separate and unrelated individuals of good heredity and conditioned so as to be capable (within limits) of making a free choice and assuming responsibilities. Imagine it!” he repeated.
      The Savage tried to imagine it, not very successfully.
      “It’s an absurdity. An Alpha-decanted, Alpha-conditioned man would go mad if he had to do Epsilon Semi-Moron work–go mad, or start smashing things up. Alphas can be completely socialized–but only on condition that you make them do Alpha work. Only an Epsilon can be expected to make Epsilon sacrifices, for the good reason that for him they aren’t sacrifices; they’re the line of least resistance. His conditioning has laid down rails along which he’s got to run. He can’t help himself; he’s foredoomed. Even after decanting, he’s still inside a bottle–an invisible bottle of infantile and embryonic fixations. Each one of us, of course,” the Controller meditatively continued, “goes through life inside a bottle. But if we happen to be Alphas, our bottles are, relatively speaking, enormous. We should suffer acutely if we were confined in a narrower space. You cannot pour upper-caste champagne-surrogate into lower-caste bottles. It’s obvious theoretically. But it has also been proved in actual practice. The result of the Cyprus experiment was convincing.”
      “What was that?” asked the Savage.
      Mustapha Mond smiled. “Well, you can call it an experiment in rebottling if you like. It began in A.F. 473. The Controllers had the island of Cyprus cleared of all its existing inhabitants and re-colonized with a specially prepared batch of twenty-two thousand Alphas. All agricultural and industrial equipment was handed over to them and they were left to manage their own affairs. The result exactly fulfilled all the theoretical predictions. The land wasn’t properly worked; there were strikes in all the factories; the laws were set at naught, orders disobeyed; all the people detailed for a spell of low-grade work were perpetually intriguing for high-grade jobs, and all the people with high-grade jobs were counter-intriguing at all costs to stay where they were. Within six years they were having a first-class civil war. When nineteen out of the twenty-two thousand had been killed, the survivors unanimously petitioned the World Controllers to resume the government of the island. Which they did. And that was the end of the only society of Alphas that the world has ever seen.”

    • AG says:

      Andrew Waughington wrote: “why build a hierarchy of “supermen” with differing levels of capability in the first place. Why not try to make everyone in the Alignment an Alpha?”

      Well, if everyone is a superman there is no one to be superior to. Who would do all the boring or dirty jobs? Would you trust the opressed slaves to do all the midlevel stuff?

      • Randomiser says:

        Or, looked at the other way, an awful lot of those supermen would be awfully bored by the jobs they actually had to do. They would end up plotting against those with the actual alpha level jobs and there would be endless conspiracies and political infighting at the very least.

      • Richard H says:

        I’m similarly reminded of the story in Brave New World about the colony of only Alphas, where they ended up spending more effort trying to fob off things like taking the garbage out on someone else than actually getting things done.

        Personally, I suspect that the real problem is sociological: if you tell everyone that certain things are beneath them, then they will do their damnedest to not do those things. So, if you’re trying to build a race of rulers, which I think the MA are doing, then, obviously, they need to build some subjects, too. In between, they need to build trusted lieutenants so they can spend some time enjoying their position, but they can’t build the lieutenants in a way that they might get an idea that it would be thinkable to usurp their superiors. The end result is that you get alphas, betas, etc., who are “superior” and “inferior” to enforce the hierarchy that’s already expected.

    • RichardK says:

      IIRC the whole Alpha, Beta, etc. is so they can test genes. Manpower is just making money off the info their research has dug up. In their future everyone will be perfected.

    • jaimehlers says:

      My guess is that the whole alpha/beta/gamma thing developed as a way of rating the general capabilities of various genomes. What it’s turned into, though, is a nascent caste system, with alphas at the top. If there’s going to be any internal unrest, it needs to happen before the system stratifies any further than it already has.

  6. dave o says:

    If I had a dime for every smart person I knew with no imagination and no flexibility. . .

    It appears probable that what Lajos will be asked to do will plan a few massacres to permit Detwiler and co to smuggle off ‘key’ personnel off Mesa. If he’s told why, or figures it out for himself, it will be interesting to see what he does when Michelle and her fleet arrive.

  7. hank says:

    Nice to see that the Peter Principle is still at work, even amongst the self-appointed “supermen.”

  8. John Roth says:

    I’m going to start consolidating comments; apparently this board doesn’t like too many comments in too short a period.

    @Bruce re Vickers

    I seem to remember Vickers being a name from WW I; it’s more likely that’s the reference than a current apparatchik in the Defense Department.

    @Andrew W.

    Prejudice can make people do some amazingly stupid things in evaluating other people’s capabilities. Even so, George Vickers seems to be remarkably tone deaf on the impression he’s making on other people.

    @Dave O

    We hit the timing problem again. Unless there’s a missing month stamp, we’re still in May, and Detweiller doesn’t come up with the idea for the “Ballroom Option” until June (ART-17, SoF 20). This is the same problem with Karen and friends listening to a tidal wave of propaganda about Ballroom terrorism that started months before Albrecht hatched the idea, let alone their decision to actually use it (SoF 26.1). I’m curious how this is going to be resolved, assuming it will be resolved.

    • jimhacker says:

      Vickers was a WWI era machine gun (made by Vickers Limited). Don’t see how that is relevant though?

    • dave o says:

      The bed of Procrustes is an uncomfortable place to sleep. Your dates exist in your mind. It seems to me that the text requires that the action be later than you believe.

      • John Roth says:

        The site seems to have eaten my previous attempt at responding.

        Dave Weber has graciously responded to my concerns on his site, in the Honorverse Forums section in the “Cauldron of Ghosts Snippets thread.” There are two main points:

        First, the propaganda effort warning about Ballroom atrocities did start immediately after Green Pines, and was sustained both for internal and external reasons.

        Second, the crackdown on the Seccies was also a lengthy sustained effort, so it makes some sense that Stephanie and friends could have gone underground and then had a more recent brush with security resulting in Karen’s injuries and the other guy’s death.

  9. John Roth says:

    One thing I noticed is that Lajos is from a “specialty line.” I wonder if Albrecht’s bodyguard is from another “specialty line.”

  10. msj says:

    So I woke up this morning and thought – “excellent, this is the day the first half of the book is available” – went to the Baen website and … started swearing under my breath because the book, unlike all the other books in the monthly bundle, is “forthcoming”. Not released yet. Considering Cauldron is the reason I bought the bundle (since an eARC wasn’t provided) I’m a bit put out.

    Anyone know what’s going on here and why the delay?

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      David Weber and Eric Flint were late handing it in. IIRC it was turned in last weekend. It may still need some work in converting it from MS Word to the HTML format.

      • msj says:

        That explains much. Given the delay in submission, I’m kind of surprised they left it on the schedule for April. I would have expected a slip of some sort. I wonder whether that will shift the dead tree version release date further.

    • Randomiser says:

      There were persistent rumours, and maybe even some posts by the writers, to the effect that they were considerably behind with the final version. Supposedly they had to figure out how to fit in enough more action actually on Mesa before Admiral Henke and the fleet arrive. Then the last thing was that the final 3 chapters were even later. I can’t vouch for it myself. However the April Baen bundle was at least a month late appearing on their website in the first place. I wondered about it but put it down to the holidays.

      • Mike says:

        We can see just from what has been posted here so far that there are a lot of editing issues with this book, trying to match it up with the continuity of the other books.

  11. laclongquan says:

    You guys dont seem to read the old books.

    Alpha, Beta etc are refering to the modified genetic lines.

    Alpha is top of the world, complete, final design. It contain most of the quality genes that the genetic board of onion consider to be worthy.

    Beta is one step short, still contain a few risky genes that they want to experiement with before introducing to the alphas. There’s one scene where detweiller idly contemplate informing a beta about his decision to incorporate her beta line back into his line. Put it simply (and not correctly) she might be receiving an offer of marriage and children with one of the beta. Put it correctly her children from that union will get modified gene splicing to ensure her proper genes resurface in them.

    Ditto with the rest, with understanding that some of them serve certain other functions, of day-to-day affairs, economic or scientific purpose other than genetics.

    The Detweiler is of the alpha, but alpha is not detweilers alone.

    The few side novels about Verge contain a few tidbits when they sidetracked into Mesan point of view.

    • John Roth says:

      That may be true, but it’s not the way I remember it. I thought the Alpha, Beta and Gamma lines were functionally different, intended for different roles in society, with the alphas being basically rulers and managers.

      I’ve made a comparison with the historical Hindu “caste” system a number of times in discussions on David Weber’s site, where that is definitely true, and nobody has seen fit to take a different viewpoint. Of course, most of the discussion seems to be more about the military aspects and things that go boom than about social and biological aspects, so it might just be a lack of interest.

      Could you point out where in the canon books this is spelled out, or at least alluded to clearly?

  12. Margo says:

    The whole alpha, beta etc genomic system is still a work in progress – e.g. Francesca Simoes (TOF) – just same are more equal than others. Also, not even all the alpha lines are aware of the existence of the onion – Anisimovna in SFTS – but Isabel Bardasano is actually an alpha (not beta) and much higher in the hierarchy, though Aldona didn’t know this until after the debacle in Monica — even if her genome has its problems (culled clone siblings) (and Albrecht was considering combining her with one of his clone sons {TOF}) .
    BTW as a proofreader, can I point out that it may be proof copy is delivered out of sequence or not seen by someone thoroughly familiar with the chronology or personnel of the series – or there are multiple readers. Fans are much more inclined to pick up these teeny tiny mistakes! As well as all the other slips, especially when our revered authors are multi-tasking, using voice recog., etc. Even they must get confused, sometimes.

  13. Margo says:

    And we’d still read them anyway!

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