Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 13

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 13 

“Are you quite done?” said Cathy. This was an old jape of Anton’s. Most people would have let it go by now, but he was from the Gryphon highlands. One had to make allowances.

“By certain values of ‘town’ and ‘house,’ the label is perfectly appropriate,” said Cachat. His tone was as relaxed and casual as his expression. “To be sure, the values are ones that should be lined up against a wall and shot.”

That was said just as mildly. Cathy wasn’t fooled. She was quite certain that if — no, more likely to have been when — the Havenite agent ever lined someone against a wall and shot them, he’d do so in the same relaxed and casual manner.

Oh, this was going to be so delightful. She’d have to make sure she had a doctor in attendance, though, when she trotted Cachat out for his first public appearance at one of her soirees. He was bound to say something that would cause one or two of the more rigid members of Manticore’s upper crust to suffer cardiac arrest.


“He’s a little unsettling, isn’t he?” was Empress Elizabeth’s first comment after Haven’s delegation withdrew from the conference room. She looked at Honor Alexander-Harrington, who was sitting to her left a little way down the large table in the middle of the room. “Special Officer Cachat, I mean.”

Honor chuckled and reached over to scratch the ears of the cream-and-gray treecat perched on the back of the chair beside hers. “At least this time he wasn’t carrying a suicide device. I don’t think he was, anyway.”

Captain Spencer Hawke, her personal armsman, was standing just behind her. His already-stiff stance became rigid. “I assure you, My Lady, he carried no such device… this time. We checked him over thoroughly.” A bit grudgingly, the Grayson added: “So did the Queen’s Own, of course.”

“Not to mention that we had a trio of treecats keeping a beady eye on him,” added Hamish Alexander-Harrington, who was seated across from Honor with Samantha, Nimitz’ mate, curled up neatly in his lap. She made a very pleased with herself sound, and Nimitz and Ariel, the somewhat younger male treecat on the back of Elizabeth‘s chair, bleeked with laughter. Samantha deigned to open one grass-green eye and look at each of them with a predator’s thoughtfulness, then closed the eye once more.

Honor shook her head. “I’m afraid neither of you really understands Victor Cachat. First of all” — she looked at Elizabeth — “to answer your question, yes, he’s a little unsettling. But he’s not a monster or a maniac. He’s more like the closest thing a human can come to a treecat.”

Nimitz issued a sound that was halfway between a purr and a growl. Ariel echoed the sound an instant later, but Samantha merely flipped the tip of her tail.

“The point being,” Honor continued, “any suicide device he’d carry — anywhere, not just here — wouldn’t be a bomb, or anything that would wreak indiscriminate damage. It’d be very selective, with just himself as the target.”

She glanced back at Captain Hawke and then over at the two members of the Queen’s Own Regiment standing guard against the wall behind Elizabeth. “We analyzed the one he brought aboard Imperator when he and Zilwicki paid me that little visit. If he’d activated it, it would have injected him with a chemical compound which would trigger a previously implanted chemical compound that was inert in the absence of the right catalyst . . . at which point it would have sent his heart into severe ventricular fibrillation while simultaneously triggering both brain and pulmonary embolisms.”

The empress grimaced. So did Hamish. For that matter — Honor glanced around the room — so did all the other people seated at the table. Those consisted of William Alexander, Baron Grantville and Prime Minister of the Star Empire of Manticore; Sir Anthony Langtry, the Star Empire’s Foreign Secretary; and two admirals: Sir Thomas Caparelli, First Space Lord, and Admiral Pat Givens.

“So don’t be too sure what Cachat might or might not have been carrying,” Honor continued. “If he thought it was called for, he’s perfectly capable of having a biological mechanism designed so that we could only detect it if we gave him a complete somatic screening. Which we didn’t, of course. That would have been undiplomatic, to say the least.”

Prime Minister Alexander looked alarmed. “If I’d known he was capable of that, I think we should have insisted on a somatic screen.”

Honor started to answer, but the treecats beat her to it. This time, all of them issued sounds that were pretty much pure growls, and Nimitz followed up by pressing one true-hand’s palm to his mouth, then swinging it in a throwing away motion before touching the outermost finger of the same true-hand to his forehead. None of the humans in the room had any problem translating the sign for “bad idea,” and        Hamish barked a laugh.

“It seems none of the six-limbed participants in this little discussion agree with you,” he observed, then looked at Honor for a few seconds. “But I see what you’re getting at. The issue isn’t what Cachat could do but what he would do.”

Honor nodded. “Yes.” She turned back to Elizabeth. “You already knew what Anton Zilwicki’s capable of. Well, now you’ve gotten a feel for how far Cachat will go for something he thinks is really important, which is why you asked for him to come to Manticore. As partnerships go, I think the two of them are the most capable pair of spies the galaxy’s produced in a long, long time. Which is the reason they’ve turned out to be such a nightmare for our real enemies — ours and Haven’s  — and a blessing for us. Men like them don’t give their loyalty lightly, but once they do, it’s stronger than battle steel.”

The last phrase came out flat, certain, final.

“In other words, you’re telling me it’s time to quit shilly-shallying,” said Elizabeth.

“If you dress that up a little, yes. It’s time to decide whether you’re on the floor or sitting out the dance.”

The empress chuckled. So did Hamish. Both admirals just smiled.

For his part, Foreign Secretary Langtry looked unhappy, but didn’t seem inclined to say anything. Prime Minister Grantville sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.

“If I can put this into more formal language,” he said, “what Honor is saying is that while it’s possible Zilwicki and Cachat are wrong, it’s unlikely. And it’s not possible at all that either man’s loyalties are in doubt. Which means our course of action should be based on those presumptions.”

“Spoken like a true statesman, Willie,” said Honor. Nimitz issued a noise that seemed approving. So did Ariel.

Samantha just nodded once, in the gesture the ‘cats had learned from humans centuries ago.


“The meeting with the Empress went pretty well, I think,” said Victor later that night over dinner, in response to a question from Cathy. “Hard to be sure, of course. Nobody in that room got where they are by being easy to read.”

Cathy cocked her head. “Then… why do you seem a bit apprehensive?”

Startled, Cachat looked up from his plate. “I do?”

“Tense as a drum,” said Anton. “It’s pretty hard to miss, especially coming from you.”

“Oh. That.” Victor had barely touched his food. Now, he laid down his utensils. Much as a medieval knight on a battlefield might lay down his sword and shield as he conceded defeat.

“I wasn’t actually thinking about that at all,” he said. He glanced at his watch. “We sent the courier to Torch five days ago, right after we arrived here. It should have arrived at Beacon by now.”

Anton sucked his teeth. “Carrying your message to Thandi letting her know that, hey guess what, you’re now on Manticore. Having not stopped at Torch on your way to Haven.”

Cathy looked back and forth between the two men. “Do you think she’ll be upset with you, Victor?”

“Is Uranium 235 fissile material?” mused Anton.

“She’s going to kill me,” foresaw Victor.


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26 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 13

  1. John Roth says:

    This has almost got to be after the treaty-writing session, since they sent the courier to Torch after arriving at Manticore. On the other hand, that whole question about shilly-shallying makes no sense after the conversation and hand-shake agreement that ends Mission of Honor and is repeated elsewhere.

  2. laclongquan says:

    Invade Mesa is my guess.

    Haven have some spare taskforce to send there. But if Manticore send any, it will be a portion of her valuable defense.

    A decisive commitment to wipe out Mesa, that gesture would entail…

  3. Randomiser says:

    As the reader knows, the decision whether or not to invade Mesa has been (will be?) rather taken out of their hands!

  4. One might suggest that the defense of Manticore is like the ISLN fleet attacking it…changing its SD strength by 20% won;’t make any difference, as will be demonstrated if the backup ISLN attack fleet is not intercepted and recalled before it appears near Manticore to smite the star barbarians.

  5. Kruhn says:

    Well remember that the ending of Shadows of Freedom Mike’s about to open a can of whoop-ass on Mesa. Although Elizabeth could come with the idea independently, it’ll take a while for the Havenite SDs to 10th Fleet’s line of battle, so depending on the timing it could get late to the party.

    Remember that Mike is sending the letter as she’s about to hyper to Mesa.

    • John Roth says:

      As well as the discussion in A Rising Thunder about splitting the Anderman Empire off so they can deal with Mesa, leaving the GA to deal with the Solarian League. The general impression I get is that, as far as Adm. Henke knows, there isn’t a current campaign against Mesa in the near future.

      I think Manticore should learn Henke is attacking Mesa about the time it happens, via the Lynx terminus. I’m pretty sure it will be before news arrives via Visigoth and Beowulf. I have no idea whether we’ll see the reaction in this book.

    • Andreas says:

      That all sorts of people will be showing up at Mesa is clear by now: Henke, Maybe another Manty Fleet, Havenites, Andermani, Cachat and Zilwicki…

      The serious question is when and in which order. Most of it not even in this book I guess.

  6. Robert Gottlieb says:

    I think it would be very amusing for the Queen to knight Victor for his work in discovering the MAlign plans. Anton too, of course, but the thought of republican Victor being addressed on Manticore as Sir Victor is just too amusing to let drop. I suppose they would have to wait for the Queen’s birthday, anyway? IIRC, that is the day that honors are given out.

  7. dave o says:

    I think I see some major complications coming. Michelle will almost certainly reach Mesa first and control the surrounding space. But she almost certainly doesn’t have enough troops to occupy the planet. In addition, she still thinks Manpower not the Malignment is the enemy. I can see them throwing Manpower management to Michelle, at least those not in the onion, and maybe some of those. I doubt they have enough lift to get many of the crucial ones out of the system, unless they are prepared to run as soon as Michelle arrives. It’s possible that they will set off their own explosions on the surface for the propaganda value. Next to arrive will probably by a Manticoran fleet, Honor and all the tree-cats that can be mustered, with Cachet and Zilwicki. Shortly thereafter the Malignment suffers tremendous but probably not fatal losses. Unless this is the last of the series, which I hope not.

    • jimhacker says:

      IIRC, Mike does not launch her attack against Mesa before receiving the basic info about MAlign (but not the in-depth de-briefing they surely put Simoes through plus weeks of analysis). We know the alignment is already working to extract people under cover of the ‘ballroom’ setting off nukes in residential areas – can they do it in time.

      Plus, as I’ve said before Mike does not have a lock on getting there before Cachat and Zilwicki. I’m fairly sure they’ve got a few months as she launched her attack on Meyers only after learning of how Filaretta’s attack on Manticore went, which she shouldn’t hear about fo another couple of weeks. Then it’s almost a month’s journey to Meyers. Then at least a week (and it seemed like more than that to me) dealing with the aftermath of Meyers, interogating the Solarians etc. The a couple of months’ journey to Mesa from there. Wheras Z and C should be able to do it quicker – it all depends on how quickly they move and whether they decide to go ciricuitous by tramp freighter again or direct by courier ship etc.

      • John Roth says:

        I think this takes place in late May. The Battle of Meyers takes place in August, and it’s almost exactly a month to get from Meyers to Mesa, so Mike is going to arrive in late September. Make it at least 3 1/2 months, possibly longer.

        The news about Fillaretta’s Fiasco arrives just before Henke takes off for Meyers, and she gets additional updates forwarded to her in Meyers, so she’s probably up to date as of mid-July, which I suspect means that they don’t have a fleet headed to Mesa from Manticore by that time, or they’d have told Mike. At least, the end of SoF certainly doesn’t suggest to me that she knows there’s another fleet headed that way.

  8. Luc says:

    The eARC is available! Now going off on a reading spree…

    • Richard H says:

      Speaking of which, people were wondering how Victor and Anton can keep up their James Bond routine…

      From the blurb:
      But more information is needed to bring the Alignment out of the shadows. Now, defying the odds and relying on genetic wizardry themselves for a disguise, Zilwicki and Cachat return to Mesa—only to discover that even they have underestimated the Alignment’s ruthlessness and savagery.

      (there’s more, of course)

      • John Roth says:

        Um, yes. I’d like to keep this for discussion of the snippets as they’re posted, and take discussion of the e-arc and sample chapters (which have been posted through chapter 16) to David’s site in the Honorverse forum. I think keeping the two discussions separate will help people who don’t want to read ahead, or who want to wait for the actual edited book to be available in April.

        • Mike says:

          I was surprised when you said this, because the sample chapters are not up on the Baen website for the book. But then I went to their ebook catalog and found that you are correct, the sample chapters are up for the eARC.

  9. laclongquan says:

    Occupy Mes…. NO no my good man. You get it all wrong.

    They are all going to poke into the hornets’ nest.

    First, Mike’s force might be enough to swat aside the apparent defense of the system. IF there’s no trap/ambush currently set inside the system, which is a tiny chance.

    More than likely, she will have a major battle that might just nearly wipe her out. We are talking about the centre of the Alignment here, so my bet is on this possibility.

    Her taskforce would have been wiped out if not for the allied force arrive separately and unknowingly reinforce hers, thus saving total defeat. They might just have enough to occupy the system, or just be enough to withdraw, 50-50 either way depend on author’s discretion.

    This is a scenario I bet more likely than the other, in which the allied force get ambush and she arrive to save their ass. More likely because the force need to do so will be too big to hide.

    Of course, either way force Alignment’s hand and accelerate their campaign greatly. But that’s another topic.

    • dave o says:

      It seems to me that Malign has depended on covert operations until now, and is too weak in weaponry to defend themselves at present. They’ve started to change that, but everything they’ve developed up till now are prototypes. and too few to make a difference. Plus they have the disadvantage of thinking that they’re smarter than everyone else.

      • Randomiser says:

        I don’t think the MA intend to advertise their presence and capabilities to the whole Solarian League in that way. They know trouble is coming one way or another and their response is NOT to move in ships for an all-up defense of Mesa, but to accelerate Houdini – the plan to make all their important people vanish, mainly to Darius I guess. The whole mindset of the MA is to manipulate others and work incredibly patiently from the shadows. Even when it comes to the new world order they are going to work through their friendly systems rather than coming out immediately themselves. So no big battle with the MA in Mesa. The SDF and the Transtellars’ private forces may turn out to be way tougher and better equipped than the SLN though.

        Now if Our Heroes find Darius, then there may be a battle.

      • John Roth says:

        As far as I’m aware, the MAlign doesn’t intend to defend Mesa. Operation Houdini is intended to let them vanish down a rabbit hole and pull the hole in after themselves, leaving Mesa to twist in the wind while they continue the plan from somewhere else. Whether they can finish the plan before Adm. Henke arrives? They don’t know she’s coming.

    • laclongquan says:


      Damnit, there goes my perfectly good twist!

  10. Nimitz13 says:

    Thanks for letting us know that the eARC is out. I hope it fixes the date discrepancies we’ve seen. I won’t be getting any sleep tonight!

    Nimitz’s inability to speak telepathically to the other treecats seems to be ignored in this scene, as the cats all have the same responses almost immediately to most things their humans say. Nimitz theoretically understands spoken language better than any other treecat, given Honor’s psychic abilities, but even with decades of experience, neither of the other two treecats should be giving the same response WITHOUT receiving his telepathic response to what’s been said, which he understands better than they do – but Nimitz CAN’T communicate telepathically with his fellow treecats anymore. So either I’ve misjudged how well the other two treecats understand their human’s mindglows and what their humans are thinking, or Nimitz’s disability was overlooked in this scene.

    • dave o says:

      Three minds with the same thoughts

      • Mike says:

        Exactly. You don’t need telepathy to think the same thing as another person. All you need is a shared point of view.

        When a whole audience laughs at a joke at the same time, that wasn’t telepathy. It was just a good joke.

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