Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 11

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 11 

Great. I’ll be saddled with brainless goons. Which meant his already slim chances of turning up any information by infiltrating the Mesa seccie underworld just went on a starvation diet.

“But what –“

Vickers waved his hand again. The gesture, this time, was firm; decisive; not genial at all.

“It’s been decided, Lajos. Just do it. We haven’t gotten anywhere in weeks following the usual methods, so the power-that-be upstairs” — he pointed at the ceiling, in blithe disregard of the fact that CSA headquarters was two miles to the west and there was nothing on the floors above them except a lot of computers and clerical workers — “have decided to try a flanking approach. It’s obvious that our firm and decisive measures have driven the terrorists to bay. They’re huddling in their shelters, now. If they want to do anything, they have to use criminals as their intermediaries. So –“

His chest swelled a little. “Operation Capone.” He bestowed a sly smile on Irvine. “I came up with the name. Capone was a notorious Roman gangster in ancient times. The orator and philosopher Cicero even talked about him.”

Operation Capone. Lajos had never heard of anyone by that name. What he did know was that all you had to do was lop the “e” off the end of the name and you had a castrated rooster. A near-mindless critter that made a lot of noise and couldn’t accomplish a damn thing.


After he left Vickers, Lajos went down to the mess hall in the basement. He did have his own office in the building but he didn’t like to use it. The room they’d given him was more like a cubicle with delusions of grandeur than anything he’d call an “office,” and Lajos didn’t like feeling cramped whenever he had to do any serious thinking.

And serious thinking was called for here. Whatever he thought of them, orders were orders, and the basic law of hierarchies applied just as much to the Alignment as to any other institution in human history.

Shit rolls downhill. If this idiot scheme came apart at the seams, or just came to nothing at all, Lajos would be the one blamed. Not George Vickers. Not whoever on high gave Vickers his orders. Certainly not any of the Detweilers.

Poor put-upon Lajos Irvine, that’s who’d get the fault laid at his feet.

The first thing he had to figure out was his cover identity. None of the ones he had already established would work well in this assignment.

Thankfully, the powers-that-were hadn’t been stingy as well as stupid. The budget Vickers had given him was enough for Lajos to set himself up in whatever identity was most likely to be successful.

Forget being a robber, contract killer, any of that business. Lajos had neither the skills nor the temperament to pull off such identities successfully. Not long enough, anyway. Even Vickers was willing to allow that this maneuver was going to take a fair amount of time before it produced any results.

A fence, then. And he’d have to be selling something fairly exotic, in order to explain why no one in the criminal underworld in the capital’s seccie quarters had run across him before.

So… sell what? Drugs were out. Sure, there was always some sort of new design pharmaceutical coming on line, but that was a very well-established market with well-established suppliers. Well-established suppliers with a long and well-deserved reputation for violent retaliation against newcomers and interlopers, to boot.

No, it’d have to be something less obvious. Stolen art was a possibility. But the problem there was the market was too upscale to be likely to prove very helpful in tracking down Ballroom terrorists in hiding.

Lajos didn’t think there were nearly as many such terrorists as his superiors seemed to be believe, anyway. Not ever — and certainly not now, after the savage reprisals carried out in the seccie areas following Green Pines. Anyone even remotely suspected of having ties to the Ballroom had been targeted, and the authorities had been indiscriminate in their application of violence. The way they looked at it, “collateral damage” was just another term for a job well done.

Lajos estimated that somewhere around two thousand people had been killed, and at least twice that many badly injured. He was quite sure that most of the casualties had had no connection to the Ballroom, but some of them would have. The point being that he didn’t think there were really that many terrorists still at large, and they’d be deep in hiding and…

Casualties. Fatalities. Desperate need for money…

Body parts and tissues. That was the market he’d aim for. There was a small trade in such goods in seccie areas. More modern medical methods were available and not even that expensive, but there were always some people who wanted to stay off the official grid for one reason or another. For such people, going to an established hospital for regeneration treatments posed too much of a risk, even compared to the risks of undergoing primitive organ-replacement surgery in unlicensed clinics.

The market was too erratic and marginal to have a well-established network of fences in place. There’d be some, sure, but they’d be freelancers. What the underworld called gypsies. Savage, often, but they’d be individuals or very small groups, not large gangs. The goons Vickers had promised to provide Lajos should be able to handle any problems of that nature that came up.

And he’d certainly not have any problem coming up with a supply of goods to sell. Not with the resources of the entire Mesan penal system at his disposal. Mesan authorities had no hesitation when it came to using the death penalty as a means of disciplining the population. Lajos wasn’t sure of the exact number, but there’d be at least half a dozen people being executed every month. Their bodies were normally cremated, since the body parts and tissues market was too small to be of interest to the giant corporations that dominated the planet — and the wealthy individuals who ran those corporations had other and better means to provide for their medical needs.

Just a little change in methods, for a while. Cut up the executed corpses to provide Lajos with the supplies he needed, cremate what was left and hand those remains over to the grieving relatives when there were any. Would anyone bother to weigh the ashes and try to calculate if everything was accounted for? Not likely. Not that class of people. And if they did, so what? Nobody cared what they thought anyway.

His spirits were picking up now. This…

Was still a stupid idea. But at least it’d be workable, wouldn’t pose too many risks — and, who could say? Maybe he’d even turn up something.

Hearing a slight noise behind him, he turned in his seat and saw that two men had just entered the mess hall and were headed his way.

Large men. The muscle, obviously.

When they reached the table, one of them said: “Vickers sent us.”

“We’re supposed to give you whatever help you need,” said the other. “I’m Borisav Stanković,” he said. “Call me Bora.” He pointed a thumb at his partner. “This is Freddie Martinez.”

Martinez nodded.

Lajos rose from the table he’d been sitting at and stuck out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“What’s the job?” asked Stanković, once the handshakes were done.

“Sit down and I’ll explain it to you.”


After he finished, Stanković and Martinez looked at each other.

“Piece of cake,” said Stanković. Martinez nodded.

A promising start, Lajos decided.


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25 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 11

  1. John Roth says:

    And now we see the connection.

  2. Robert H. Woodman says:

    His chest swelled a little. “Operation Capone.” He bestowed a sly smile on Irvine. “I came up with the name. Capone was a notorious Roman gangster in ancient times. The orator and philosopher Cicero even talked about him.”

    That got a chuckle out of me.

    • Mark L says:

      20th-century American gangster, late-Republic Roman politician — what’s the real difference? Close enough for government work.

      • Mike says:

        Does the Alignment really count as “government” though?

        • Drak Bibliophile says:

          Depends on your definition of “government”. They have the power and faults of a government. IMO about the only way that they can’t be called a government is that they are publicly known to exist.

  3. Mike says:

    OK, so at least there was some consideration given to the concerns we all spotted earlier, about how a black market in organs doesn’t really make much sense in this society. I still don’t think it makes much sense, but since they went to the effort to handwave it, I’ll give it a pass unless it becomes a critical plot point.

  4. Matthew says:

    How big is the Mesan population?

    The numbers given, “Almost 2000 people” or “Lajos wasn’t sure of the exact number, but there’d be at least half a dozen people being executed every month.” That’s nothing in terms of totalitarian regimes.

    If Mesa is like the Manticoran planets which have 3 billion people each, those numbers are actually an incredibly enlightened society.

    Imagine if Earth right now could keep the global execution rate per year to just 72 people? We’d be ecstatic . This is Amnesty international saying that 2012 was good year. “At least 1,722 people were sentenced to death in 58 countries in 2012. This is a decrease from 2011, when at least 1,923 people were known to have been sentenced in 63 countries worldwide, and a reduction for the second year running (2010: 2,024 death sentences in 67 countries).”

    We know that Mesa is the entire planet not the city so, if they are only having a half dozen executed a month, hat’s off to the bad guys for their reluctance to use the death penalty.

    • Andreas says:

      It’s even more problematical: There are supposed to be big operations breeding genetic slaves on Mesa. No way they are killing less than a dozen of them per month.

      And incidents like the Simoes’ daughter come to mind.

      By the way, the Chinese are looking for the “math gene”…

      • akira.taylor says:

        He seems to only be thinking about the penal system, not failed genetic slaves/experiments. Yes, that would be an additional source of parts, but he might not need it.

      • Robert Krawitz says:

        They probably don’t think of genetic slaves as “people”. Lajos may be genetically engineered, but he isn’t a slave and doesn’t identify with them.

      • Matthew says:

        My issue was just with the scale. It makes Mesa seem like a small town not a whole planet. It was like the Dr. Who episode where there was a planet sized library and everyone died. And when they saw the amount of the dead it was… 4000 people. The library was an entire planet and only 4000 people were there. The scale is wrong. I feel like the scale is wrong here as well. Maybe if it was changed from Mesa as a whole to “the capital” or somesuch it would be better

        • Terranovan says:

          We’re not sure how much Lajos has researched the execution rate – and he might not have access to all of Mesa’s penal system’s death rows. For that matter, he might have immunological tissue matching limiting his supply as well.

          • Randomiser says:

            He’s speculating, off the top of his head, about numbers in the prison system, which he’s probably never cared about before. Also he is trying to figure out how he can get hold of a supply of bodies easily. I’d bet he is thinking about local numbers, not planet-wide ones.

        • Andreas says:

          I think in this particular episode nobody died. I think. But dying in Doctor Who is a complicated thing. Even River Song somehow promised to return…

          Anyway…. Gallifrey falls no more!

      • John Roth says:

        By the way, the Chinese are looking for the “math gene”…

        That project has been going for a while. The rest of the genetics community is in danger of dying while rolling on the floor laughing.

        Seriously, the notion that there’s a “gene for math,” or a “gene for” anything else is regarded as pretty dang unlikely at this time. The way the brain operates is slowly coming into view. As I understand it, to do a particular task the brain activates the appropriate areas in a network to do it and suppresses areas that aren’t needed or that would conflict. Next task, new network that may or may not have anything to do with the previous one. Nothing to do? It activates the “default network” that’s used for, among other things, daydreaming and reflexive consciousness.

        If you want to optimize a particular task, like mathematics, everything in the appropriate networks needs to be tweaked, and that will have effects in other networks that use some of the same areas.

        • Andreas says:

          I actually think they might find something, but probably something very weak, like most associations beyond the simplest mendelian traits. I only brought it up because Simoes’ daughter was from a program to optimize mathematical ability.

    • Peter says:

      You are talking about Mesa. The majority of the population is subject to summary and swift extrajudicial punishment with extreme prejudice. They don’t get to have their day in court.

      So you might be talking just about the free full-rights citizens. It’s a bit skewed and unfair comparison, but as of this moment Qatar has 1.9 million population – and just 250 000 are citizens.

      You’re also talking about advanced society which in general would have a much lower crime rate due to obvious reasons. Expect also the majority of sentences in general to be time-served or fines. So…

  5. Andreas says:

    Still not entirely convinced about the small-scale organ transplant operation. It sounds plausible to non-medical ears that advanced treatments should be more expensive or exclusive than more primitive ones. But think about it: Transplanting any organ is a non-trivial exercise. Even shaving off most safety precautions, it’s still a job for a team of highly trained doctors.

    Even if they don’t have official degrees or training, they still need the education and training. It takes years for someone to learn how to open a human and close him up again with reasonable survival chances. Unless the surgery is done by extremely intelligent surgical robots. Which would be probably more expensive and less convenient than a black market “regen” device. For example if these robots are open source or pirated, so could the regen technology.

    • Mike says:

      We don’t know what “regen” is. Maybe they grow you new parts in vitro, and then surgically attach them to you. More likely, they activate the DNA sequences that first caused your body to grow, and then you grow it again. Or maybe some of both.

      I highly doubt there is any kind of “regen machine.” Those machines in some stories where you slide a person into a box and later they pop out all fresh and healed have always seemed more like magic than science.

      • Andreas says:

        What I imagined from the books is that regen is meant to regrow parts of the body, but it’s not magical, and not foolproof.

        Because of embryology, you can’t just tell one cell “Here, grow a new kidney!”

        So what I think they would do is first surgically prepare the patient, for example remove what is left of the damaged kidney, and then let stemcells go through the motions, just a lot quicker. I think you would need some technological support for that, to guide the development in a way a growing body would do.

        This would be one part Biochemistry – putting the cells in the right system-biological trajectories, and one part automated microsurgery for example to make sure the blood supply works and the new kidney doesn’t get blown to pieces by an overenthusiastic Arteria renalis…

        Limbs are more complicated, because more of their features are shaped by physical stress and the mechanical system they operate in during adulthood. A “regen” device would for example induce bone remodeling to fake 20 years of growth and use.

        Some “Genies” don’t respond to regen therapies because for one thing some of the system-biological assumptions on the cellular level don’t hold anymore, and their response to mechanical stimuli is at least slightly off.

        • LM says:

          Lots of things are left to the imagination of the reader.

          The idea I got from reading the snippets is that what is called regen is actually a “tailored” regen therapy that’s “easier” because it does not require tissue/organ donors and once completed is like having the original stuff back with almost zero side efects or follow-up therapy, but it must be quite complex (especially because a “fast” tissue regrowth is a process like a very fast and highly controlled tumor growth) and the equipment required for “programming” the priming, regrowth and stabilization has to connect to genetic databases and other assets under surveillance by mesan government, so the data exchange gives too much information about the subject under treatment (i.e. DNA signature, hints about injured body parts and type of damage, etc.).
          So, for certain subjects that absolutely do not want to attract attention from mesan security agencies, tissue/organ transplant coupled to less effective “generic” regen treatments and long term use of immune suppressors (or use of post-transplant chimera-like tissue compatibility primers) seems a better alternative.

  6. John Roth says:

    As far as I’m concerned, the medical technology here is basically arm-waving, not in the sense that it’s impossible from a current standpoint, but in the sense that there’s 2000 years of development between now and then. We have no idea of what’s possible and what isn’t. The one thing that I think is apparent is that the organ transplant technology is an old technology, in the sense that it’s been replaced by regen technology and a variety of prosthetic technologies – think Honor’s prosthetic eye and arm. There’s also a forum comment by DW that there are entire planets where prosthetic technology is a high art. So the technology is basically there; people just don’t use it very much because there are better options available.

  7. LEDs happen to be widely made use of in as displays and indicator lights for almost 40 years. Only not too long ago, though, have engineers figured out proven methods to make and mass-produce vibrant, white LEDs which could be made use of for general-purpose lighting. The high brightness and point-source traits of LEDs have created them the initial selection for visitors lights and car or truck tail lights, where visibility and dependability are important.

  8. Mike says:

    Lajos is totally set up to be the next traitor to the alignment. He liked and admired McBride, but can’t respect his current boss. He is discriminated against and disliked by most other members of the alignment. He hangs out with the seccies and probably sympathizes with them to some extent.

    I bet he falls for the seccie/ballroom girl we met in the earlier chapter and then ends up in a position of being asked to betray her to her doom. He can’t do it, and ends up being a double agent against the MA instead.

    That’s my guess.

  9. John Roth says:

    Well, yes. That’s so obvious that I wonder if DW and EF don’t have something else in mind, just to keep us guessing.

    What I wonder is who recognizes who first. Remember that Lajos has a very personal relationship with Victor and Anton – to the extent of a massive fist in the face during the Daring Trio’s escape.

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