Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 12

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 12 

Chapter 9

“So I finally get to meet you, Special Officer Cachat. You made yourself impossible to find when I visited Torch for Berry‘s coronation.” Despite the reproving words, Cathy Montaigne’s tone was friendly and she was smiling. She strode forward and extended her hand.

Victor shook her hand and then executed a flourishing bow; the sort of gesture that had once been part of Haven’s social protocol during the Legislaturalist era and was still part of Manticoran protocol — although you rarely saw it done outside of some formal royal occasions. And then it was done only by some members of the aristocracy and usually done badly. Cachat’s performance, on the other hand, had been flawless.

Startled, Cathy looked at Anton Zilwicki. “You told me he was a rabid republican.”

“I said no such thing. ‘Rabid’ means raving; slavering with fury; downright witless. Victor neither raves nor slavers and he certainly isn’t witless. Setting that aside, yes, he’s a republican. Sort of the way plutonium is radioactive.”

She turned back to Victor. “But he did that perfectly.” She waggled her fingers. “Maybe just a shade too flamboyantly.”

“I figured it was better to err in that direction than the other,” said Cachat. “Given the nature of the exercise.”

“But… you’re too young. From what Anton tells me. You wouldn’t have been more than a boy during the Legislaturalist era.”

“And born and raised in a Dolist slum to boot,” added Anton.

“Then how would you have learned –?”

Anton made a loud snorting noise. The sound conveyed an odd cross of derision and grudging admiration. “He would have practiced it in a simulator on the way here,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how much faith Victor has in the gadgets. He never travels without one if he can manage it — he even squeezed one into the courier ship — and he spends at least an hour a day in there practicing whatever. I’d accuse him of idolatry and worshipping golden calves except he’s as much of an atheist as he is a republican.”

Oscar St. Just was a monster,” said Victor. “Doesn’t mean he wasn’t smart. He believed in the value of simulator training and I learned it from him.”

Cathy started to make a flippant remark but stopped. A thought had just crossed her mind. She’d never met Victor Cachat before this moment but she had seen him before, in a manner of speaking. One of Jeremy X’s people had made a video recording of the gun fight in the bowels of Old Chicago between Cachat — later joined by Jeremy himself — and a group of Havenite soldiers and their Scrag allies. That had happened during the so-called Manpower Incident.

The quality of the recording had been quite poor; what you’d expect to get from a cheap handheld device in bad lighting conditions. But even so, two things had struck her powerfully when she’d watched afterward. Jeremy hadn’t wanted to show it to her but she’d insisted and he owed her too much to refuse.

The first was the sheer brutality involved. “Gun fight” was far too antiseptic a term for the slaughter produced when people shot each other at literally point blank range and the person doing most of the shooting had been armed with a flechette gun.

He’d known how to use it, too, and that had been the second thing Cathy had been struck by. Once the fight began, Cachat had been nothing but a blur. Partly that was the poor quality of the recording, but mostly it had been Cachat himself. He’d moved quickly, surely, spinning, shifting aside — while every shot he fired went true. He hadn’t seemed like a man so much as a killing machine.

He would have been what, at the time? Twenty-one years old? Twenty-two? Certainly not more than twenty-five.

“The fight in Old Chicago,” she blurted out before she could stop herself. “When you saved Helen. You practiced that in a simulator.”

Victor frowned and glanced at Zilwicki. Who, for his part, spread his hands.

“Don’t look at me. I kept my description vague. Really vague. And it was all over before I got there anyway.”

“Jeremy,” Victor muttered. “Damn him. He told me — I asked, later — that there hadn’t been any recordings made.”

“He’s been known to lie.” That came from Anton.

Cachat’s frown faded into a mildly irritated expression. “Sort of like plutonium is radioactive.”

He looked back at Cathy. “Yes, I trained for it in a simulator. A much bigger and more sophisticated simulator than the portable one I take with me, of course. How else could I have managed it?”

She felt like she was being extremely rude, all of sudden. Whatever might be Victor Cachat’s exotic history and peculiar attitudes, he was the man who had saved the lives of all three of her adopted children. And done so at incredibly great risk to his own.

So she extended both her hands this time and took both of his, in a gesture that was not formal in the least. “Please. Be welcome in this home. Now and always.”

Cachat’s poise faltered for an instant. “Well… thank you,” he said awkwardly, seeming to shed a decade and two inches of psychic armor in the process. Cathy now understood the truth of something Anton had once said to her about his Havenite partner: that somewhere deep underneath Cachat’s ferocious skills and adamantine willpower there remained a shy and lonely boy from the slums. Only a handful of people in the universe were ever made privy to that inner core, he’d told her — and Anton himself wasn’t really one of them. Or only partly so, at any rate.

“I’m not sure if he lets anyone into that sanctum, except Thandi Palane and Ginny Usher,” he’d told her. “Probably Kevin Usher, too.”

Cathy decided then and there that she’d add herself to that small list. First, because she owed the man that much. Second, because she enjoyed a challenge. And finally —

She couldn’t keep herself from giggling. At her age!

“What’s so funny?” asked Anton.

“Never mind.” She didn’t think even Anton would understand, not really. He thought — she was sure almost everyone did, except Jeremy X and Web DuHavel and maybe Empress Elizabeth, who’d been a close childhood friend — that Cathy’s rebellious history stemmed from her deep political principles. And…

That was indeed true enough. But she couldn’t deny that at least a part of the reason for her notorious past was simply a juvenile glee in thumbing her nose at the establishment. Any establishment.

As Countess of the Tor, Cathy’s coat of arms carried the family motto I cannot, which according to family legend referred to the heroic stance taken by an early politician who refused to sign on to a popular but unwise law. Cathy had her doubts about the legend, but the motto suited her well enough. In the interests of full disclosure, though, she’d sometimes thought she should add to the motto Épater la bourgeoisie — or use it altogether as a substitute.

She’d already scandalized Manticoran polite society with her longstanding association with the terrorist madman Jeremy X — now, sadly for polite society’s amour-propre, reborn as a respectable cabinet member of Torch’s government. Now she could add the scandal of a friendship with the man who was rapidly becoming the Republic of Haven’s most notorious secret agent.

How delightful.

She led the way through the foyer and into the rooms beyond. The first of which had the official title of “the salon” but which Anton insisted on calling “the extravagansory.” Or, sometimes, “the playing field.”

Cachat looked around, his expression one of mild interest.

Anton grinned. “Didn’t miss a beat. Congratulations, Victor. The first time I came into this room I said ‘holy shit!’ It took me four hours in here before I worked up the nerve to ask where the bathroom was. Were, as it happens. There are eight of them. Would you believe she calls this a ‘town house’?”


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31 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 12

  1. John Roth says:

    They’ve arrive. And added Cathy to the mix, which ought to be interesting. Do I smell a press conference in the offing?

  2. Margo says:

    Not if they’re thinking of a return to Mesa. It is nice to get a view of Anton and Victor’s visit to Manticore – they only came in on the introduction to Elizbeth of the Havenites in MOH and ART – other than some retro fill-ins up to their arrival in Haven.

  3. John Roth says:

    They’d come up with another disguise, of course. They’d have to. However it was done, Albrecht knows about the two of them surviving and the disclosures. See his “oh, shit” moment (ART-17, SoF-20). I suspect they’ll need a full bore press conference to get the true story of Green Pines out in the public eye.

    The question with the disguise is, of course, would it be good enough to fool Lajos Irvine when they run into him?

  4. justdave says:

    can’t fool a DNA check

  5. dave o says:

    It seems likely that if Cachet and Zilkowski return to Mesa, it will be after Michelle and Fleet have arrived and treated the place to some kinetic strikes. So the need for cover stories and disguises will be non-existent.

    The probable reaction to any press conference the two might hold is: “of course they’d say that. Means nothing.” So I rather doubt that they’ll bother.

    • jimhacker says:

      i think he means a press conference in manticore. Remember, this is still before all the stuff about the MAlign, Simoes etc has been released to the press – it’s still all restricted to the high-level military and political people. They still need to tell the normal Manticorans and Havenites. Whereas you seem to be thinking about a MAlign or maybe Solarian reaction.

      And while I agree it’s unlikely they will make it to Mesa before Mike arrives, it is at least possible – remember that time-line wise there is still a few weeks before Mike launches her strike against Meyers, so she is unlikely to be attacking Mesa for at least a couple of months. A fast ship (eg, military vessels, civillian couriers, etc) *might* be able to deliver them sooner than that. Especially if they don’t dilly-dally and Mike gets delayed. I’m not saying it’s likely, mind you, but it is possible.

      Also, I suspect that Mike will not be subjecting Mesa to kinetic strikes. That could become a real PR nightmare, especially if some people’s suspicions about MAlign contingency plans prove accurate.

      • dave o says:

        Whenever Michelle arrives, her mission is to stop Mesan plots against Manticore. She can control Mesan space: their navy cannot begin to match hers. But this does no good unless she can control the planet. Since she doesn’t have the troops to occupy it, what can force them to surrender?

        On second thought, Malign has been sneaking around so long that they tend to ignore military power. They have plenty of cops, but may not have much of an army.

        C & Z are the worst possible persons to give a press conference. No one, not even on Manticore, will be convinced by them saying “we didn’t do it.” Especially since it would be unwise to tell how it actually happened.

        • jimhacker says:

          Sorry, people on Manticore wouldn’t believe Zilwicki? He’s something of a national hero – and generally trusted by the public.

          Also, we know from books which have a gone further ahead in time that they do go public (although not whether or not Cachat himself does a press conference). I assume you’ve read the other books?

    • Cobbler says:

      Kinetic strikes? Doesn’t that violate the Eradi Edict? (Or whatever it is.)

      “I know we’re not supposed to use those weapons of mass destruction. But we’re going to anyway.”

      That’s a bad idea when you’re entering into a war with someone who A: Has the same weapons, but B: has agreed to not use them. A bad idea as in, dozens of planets on both sides blasted back to the no-one-home-but-us-bacteria stage.

      Do we know kinetic strikes are on the schedule?

      • dave o says:

        It’s Eradani Edict. And no, kinetic strikes don’t violate it. Mesa may have the same weapons, but, for now. doesn’t have a fleet which in any way matches Manticore’s. And they would have no hesitation about using kinetic strikes if they were able. They already planned to, by proxy.

        • jimhacker says:

          Actually, kinetic strikes do violate the Eridani Edict unless those whom you are bombarding are failing to comply with a surrender demand. What makes you think that Mesa wouldn’t at least pretend to surrender?

          Given what we know about how they are planning to extract the onion, kinetic strikes are pretty much the worst thing Mike could do. She doesn’t know that, but she has to realise just how much bad PR (worse than Green Pines) it would generate to bombard Mesa for anything less than obvious and provable non-compliance with a demand for surrender.

          • Cobbler says:

            I haven’t kept up with all the books. But isn’t Manticore still at war with the Solarian League? IIRC the SL has a big space navy and plenty of big guns. Wouldn’t blatantly violating the Eradani Edict have the same effect on the League that bombing Pearl Harbor had on America? I don’t see where kinetic strikes are a sane idea, let alone a good one.

            • Iranuke says:

              The SL already tried what they would do on an EE violation in “A Rising Thunder”. They did it for a different reason, but no matter what the reason 400+ SDs were destroyed. The reason that Manticore will not do an EE violation, is that they won’t need to.

  6. Margo says:

    There was no mention of Zilwicki et al on “Into the Fire” which commented on the announced presence of Pritchart and the existence of MA in ART, or Honor’s meeting with Chien-Lu von Rabenstrange. And Mike wants evidence, Difficult if you flatten the place – and she is trying to stay the “good guy”, given Green Pines and Filareta’s MA-arrsnged demise. Manticore is still small despite the Grand Alliance. And is trying to improve its public profile!

    • jimhacker says:

      Sorry, I should have been clearer: my response that ‘we know from other books they did go public’ was specifically to DaveO’s point ‘it would be unwise to tell how [green pines] actually happened’. We know that they do end up going public with full details of what happened, just not with Zilwicki and Cachat themselves.

      However, we also know that Important People ™ feel that one way of chipping away at Mesa’s credibility is to show that Zilwicki is alive afterall. And that they want Cachat to testify before the Havenite Senate. And that Cachat’s cover is pretty thoroughly blown, just like Zilwicki’s was several years ago. I’m not saying that they definitely will (or even should) do a press conference and a round of interviews, but it is certainly possible as there is going to be no way of keeping their identities out of it.

  7. dave o says:

    My point was that Zilwicki was indirectly responsible for Green Pines. Not that he intended it or anything like it, but it would not have happened had he not been on Mesa. Full disclosure would make this evident.

    • John Roth says:

      He was more than “indirectly” responsible. He was in on the planning for where to plant the bomb and he knew that David Pritchard, the person who would position it and set it off, wanted to maximize casualties by setting it in the middle of Pine Valley Park. See ToF Chapter 51, p 451 of the hardcover, scene beginning “Anton looked around the table.”

      • dave o says:

        He did not order the attack or make it. Or wish it to have happened. That means indirectly to me

      • Iranuke says:

        The nuke that Pritchard set off was supposed to be set off in a vacant soccer stadium. He was told to abort when McBride couldn’t get out of the Gamma Center and chose to blow it up. He went of and landed in the park at random (more or less) with terrible pr results.

  8. The Solarian League is not yet at war with Manticore. The otehr direction is less clear. The Eridani edict is worthless against powers with whom the SL is at was; it is like Satan telling his minions to go to Hell. Most people in the book seem not to have figured this out yet.

    • jimhacker says:

      You are right: the solarian league cannot enforce the Eridani Edict against a power it at war with. However, violating the edict would be almost as bad as invading the Sol system in terms of giving a rallying cry to both the Solarian league and any post-war splinter successors looking to take on the SEM

      • Richard H says:

        I’ve always understood the Eridani Edict as the Honorverse’s equivalent of the Geneva Conventions against chemical warfare. Sure, someone might violate it eventually, but only when they have nothing left to lose, because they’re guaranteed to get the same tactics thrown back in their face with a vengeance. The Solarian League just happens to have promised that they would execute on said vengeance.

    • Dave R says:

      Strictly speaking, this is true. The EE cannot compel the Solarian League to do anything, and the threat of facing the League’s vengeance is of little deterrent value if you’re already at war with the League.

      However, if the SLN were perceived to have deliberately done something that would constitute and EE violation for anyone else, it would probably cause the League to disintegrate quickly (instead of slowly, which is already happening) and large-scale mutiny within the SLN (on the scale of the SLN, the games in the Maya sector are small-time). And if Manticore were perceived by its allies to have deliberately done something that would constitute and EE violation, it would lose such allies (and quite likely the Star Empire’s government would fall and, barring a High Ridge-esque scenario, the monarch would be removed from the throne). The people of the Honorverse take this Really Seriously (which is a good thing, because otherwise there would be far, far fewer people in it).

  9. Margo says:

    If Mike, Anton and Victor could gain proof that the MA exists and was responsible for the Yawata Strike (MOH), that might make consideration of Eridani Edict violations moot, but it would be more like Terekhov’s pinpoint hit on Brigadier Yucel and friends and he had called for surrender anyway, so sort of allowable. (SOF). And I can’t recall any press conferences with either Zilwicki or Cachat – only Pritchart and Elizabeth’s minions.

    • John Roth says:

      Look at the way the Cachet and Zilwiki return scenes are distributed through four (!) books in a very disjointed fashion. If you want to read them in order you almost need Captain Midnight’s Secret Decoder Ring! The fact the press conference scene (if indeed there is going to be one) wasn’t in a previous book really doesn’t count for much. I think Zilwiki has to be visible and explaining, in person, exactly what happened and went wrong for Green Pines. As another poster said, Victor may be on the courier back to Haven to testify before the Senate, or he may stay on Manticore to prep for a return to Mesa. We won’t find that out for a while.

  10. The League can enforce EE violations against people it is at war with “I am Admiral of the Starry Seas Kluless, and I have here three light cruisers, so you neobarbs with your 400 freighters covered with paper mache SD outlines can just surrender peaceful-like”. It’s just that the threat of enforcement has no extra content.

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