Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 14

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 14 

Chapter 10

Thandi Palane glowered at the figures on the computer screen. She was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole: make a too-skeletal logistics network support the number of combat units she wanted for Torch’s military. Palane believed in a teeth-to-tail ratio that belonged to a tiger rather than a tadpole, but the tadpole was fighting back pretty fiercely.

Her mood wasn’t helped by the fact that the person sitting next to her, Captain Anton Petersen, had told her so. Several times, in fact, albeit politely. He had far more experience than Thandi did with these sorts of problems. Her own experience as a company grade Solarian Marine officer had been heavily concentrated in combat operations. Logistics on the level with which she was now trying to grapple had been something she left to others.

Her experience was short in other areas, as well. So, very soon after Torch was founded, Thandi had put in a request to both Manticore and Haven for training missions to be sent to provide her with advice and assistance.

Both star nations had agreed, although it had taken Haven a while to put their own mission together. Petersen and his aides, on the other hand, had arrived within two months. He was a former officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy who’d compiled an impressive record in command of two destroyers and the light cruiser HMS Impulse before he’d been badly wounded. During his regeneration and physical rehab he’d moved over to the staff side and discovered he was even better at that than at commanding a Queen’s ship. His superiors had thought so, as well, and he’d been working directly for its Chief of Naval Operations, Sir Thomas Caparelli, before his sudden transfer to Torch.

Anton had now been with her for more than a year, and he’d been invaluable. Although he was still technically nothing more than an “adviser,” he was one of Palane’s handful of chief subordinates and for all practical purposes he was in charge of Torch’s navy. Even the Havenites got along well with him, after they arrived.

None of which improved her disposition at the moment, however. I-told-you-so may be a fine fellow but he’s still not likely to be welcomed with open arms when he tells you so.

There was a buzz at the door to Thandi Palane’s office. “Open,” she said.

Colonel Shai-gwun Metterling came in. “A courier just arrived from Manticore. It seems — ah…”

Hearing the hesitation and trace of trepidation in her aide’s voice — Shai-gwun was normally a sanguine fellow — Thandi looked up immediately. “What is it?”

“Well. It turns out Special Officer Cachat and Anton Zilwicki went to Manticore from Haven instead of, ah, as we thought they would — Cachat would, anyway — returning here.”

Thandi stared at him for a couple of seconds. Then said:

“He’s a dead man walking.”

Metterling opened his mouth; closed it. Advising his commanding officer on matters of the heart went farther outside his military occupation specialty than — than —

He couldn’t think of an appropriate comparison. Composing an opera, maybe?

“Dead,” Thandi repeated. Abruptly she rose from her seat. “Don’t let that courier ship so much as shift a kilometer out of its orbit. I’ll be taking it to Manticore. Anton, hold down the fort for me.”

“Yes, General Palane. When do you expect to return?”

But she was already brushing past him and out the door. Moving like one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Death, to be specific. Famine, Pestilence and War would be straggling far behind.


Although he wasn’t willing to insert himself into a domestic quarrel between Palane and Cachat — talk about Scylla and Charibdys! — Captain Petersen didn’t feel he could in good conscience say nothing to anyone about his superior officer’s plans. She was so riled up she seemed oblivious to the fact that she was about to go AWOL. That was bad enough if you were a rating. If you were the commanding officer of the entire military…

He put in a call to Hugh Arai. In doing so, he was going completely out of channels, since Arai had no official position in either Torch’s military or government. Torch had never gotten around to adopting a formal definition of a monarch’s consort.

In the real world, however, he was the right person to contact. Arai was privy to all the plans and discussions of the “inner circle,” people listened to him, and Petersen had a great deal of confidence in his judgment.

In the event, the captain’s concerns proved overblown. As furious as she was, by the time Thandi got to her apartment — that took fifteen minutes — and packed her bag — that took three minutes — she’d calmed down enough to realize she couldn’t simply commandeer a courier vessel and head off to Manticore.

So, she put in a call to Petersen. “Sorry, Anton. I… sort of lost my temper, there. Cancel the hold on the courier. I’ll be back within the hour.”

But by then, Petersen had already alerted Arai and the consort-in-fact-if-not-in-name had informed his monarch and bed partner. He’d also given her his advice and, as she usually did, Berry accepted it.

She called Thandi at her apartment — not more than thirty seconds after Palane had broken off her call to Captain Petersen. The conversation that ensued was the last thing Thandi had expected.

“What can I do for you, Your Majesty?”

“Since when do you call me ‘Your Majesty’? I’ve got great news, Thandi! It turns out that Daddy and Victor wound up on Manticore. Imagine that! So I’ve decided to kill two birds with one stone. Well, I guess that’s a silly way to put it, but the point is that I want to combine seeing Daddy again with an official state visit to the Star Empire. I started to give the orders myself but then I realized that was probably inappropriate and you should do it instead. So tell the captain of the Pottawatomie Creek to get ready to leave for Manticore as soon as possible. Oh, and you need to pack a bag. I want you to come with me. Captain Petersen can manage things and you’ll want to see Victor anyway. I’m bringing Web and Jeremy too. Hugh will stay here and hold the fort while we’re gone.”

Thandi stared at the image of the young woman on the screen. Her brain seemed to have taken flight like a startled bird and was flapping around aimlessly.

She heard someone’s voice behind Berry but couldn’t make out the words. Then, another voice, but she couldn’t understand what it was saying either.

“What do you mean you can’t do that?” said Berry, looking over her shoulder.


“Oh, that’s ridiculous, Hugh!” said Berry. “God, I detest stupid formalities.”


“The so-called ‘integrity of government’ can kiss my sweet royal ass. Call Web. Tell him to make you a member of the cabinet.”


“How should I know which cabinet post, Jeremy? Who cares, anyway?” She looked back at Thandi, her expression that of someone sharing the absurdity of the world’s workings with a close friend. “Can you believe this crap?”

Berry looked back over her shoulder and said: “Make him the cabinet member in charge when the queen and prime minister are out of the system. Call it the… Hell, I don’t know. The Department of the Posterior.”


Berry‘s lips tightened. “Is that so?” She looked back at Thandi. “Time to take off the royal gloves.” Then, looked back over her shoulder again.

“The law says I can order one person exiled every year, right? Totally at my discretion? No appeals, no arguments, no ifs, ands or buts. I am correct, am I not?”

Voices-talking-but-the-words-were-not-comprehensible. But given the brevity of the speech it had to have been a three word response: Yes, Your Majesty.

Berry looked triumphant. “Fine. Spread the word far and wide — have it announced on all the news stations; hire people to shout it from the rooftops — that the first jackass who questions Hugh’s right to run the show while we’re gone is immediately exiled. How’s that? Are we satisfied now, Mister Galaxy’s-Worst-Terrorist-Turned-OCD-Protocol-Fussbudget? How about you, Doctor Anal-Retentive-Former-Coldblooded-Commando?”

She turned back to Thandi. “How soon can you get here?”

Thandi’s brain came to roost where it belonged.

“About half an hour.”


By the time Thandi got there, Ruth Winton had decided to come along also.

More precisely, the princess had announced her decision to join the party headed for Manticore but various objections were raised, centered on the fact that with Anton Zilwicki gone the princess was needed to oversee Torch’s intelligence community. Said objections were over-ruled by Berry in a peremptory manner on the grounds that a traveling monarch needed a companion and if anybody didn’t like it see aforementioned provisions for summary exile and since when was intelligence a community anyway?

L’état, c’est toi,” Hugh muttered.

“What was that wisecrack?” demanded Berry.

“T’wasn’t a wisecrack but the now-revealed godawful truth,” said Jeremy X. He started singing the verses of La Marseillaise.

Under his breath.


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41 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 14

  1. John Roth says:

    We’re off, we’re off, we’re off to see the Wizard.

    Well, at least we’re off.

  2. Steve says:

    It’s a good thing that Queen Berry is mostly concerned with making her friends happy, because she’s invincible. The universe bends around her whim.

    • Mike says:

      Agreed, Queen Berry has a whim of steel.

    • Chris says:

      It might just be that the authors are taking the opportunity to remind us that it isn’t actually necessary for the top people to be present all the time IF their subordinates are competent and trustworthy. Look at the way ambassadors and naval commanders dealt with these things before the telegraph and the radio were introduced.

  3. Stewart says:

    I will be curious to see Honor’s and Nimitz’s “taste” of Thandi’s mind glow.

    • Bruce says:

      I anticipate a cat name of “Soft Inside” or “Heart of a Child” vs. “Prowling Predator” or “Fights for Freedom.”

      Did Genghis give her a name before his tragic death in the assassination attempt?

  4. Lyttenstadt says:


    It’s lame. No, seriously – really sickeningly lame. An adult people who are supposed to run an independent star nation at war with the ruthless amoral murderous conspiracy in the far future… behave like a pack of teenagers in the heat.

    “Matters of state? What matters of state?! I’m an Author’s Antropomorphic Personofication of lefty-wingy/down-to-eath/power-to-the-People Acrhetype! I can do anything!”

    And all this “not-comprehensible-backgroud-noise” – then snappy retort typicall for the author… Seriously, Mister Flint! It was funny and original, well, the first time I read it (Years ago. Whan I was in University. Studing history. Reading “Belisarius”. And now I’ve just used your another tiresome technique – sans punchline) but it’s too overused now.

    It’s already Chapter 10 and I still see not a sign, that David Weber is a co-author (for better or for worse). It’s your typicall Eric Flint prose, again – for better or for worse. Don’t get me wrong – I really like Honorwerse and Ring of Fire Series. But, let’s be honest here – we also know that both authors have their own set of weak points and biases, that can potentially ruin the book.

    • John Roth says:

      Well, the Torch arc is Eric Flint’s part of the series. It may be his last book in the series as well, given comments he made about the logistical difficulties in doing a collaboration with David Weber. They’re both very busy people with numerous commitments that have hard delivery dates, and they have horrible difficulties arranging schedules to work on joint projects.

      I’m pretty sure there’s a deus somewhere in here that’s machinating, and it probably doesn’t have a lot to do with getting Thandi to where she can glare at Victor in person.

    • beege says:

      I find myself, up to a point, in agreement with you.

      On a superficial level this is amusing (and not even *that* amusing) but underneath that it’s goddamn ridiculous. This sort of behaviour is something I can accept from Berry because a) It’s in line with her established personality, b) Her informality is generally considered one of her virtues by the Torchians and c) She’s the least professional of the lot. From the others however it strains credulity.

      On the other hand, though, Torch is a *very* young nation whose government is still being worked out – a situation in which all sorts of curious things can happen. The scene we’ve just witnessed is outrageous, but not necessarily any more outrageous than some actual incidents in the histories of countries when they were first forming.

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      I found it hard to suspend disbelief in order to read through this snippet. The behavior of Berry is barely believable, but the behavior of the other people in the scene is not.

      • John Roth says:

        That’s why I said there was a deus machinating somewhere. MINOR SPOILER: they have to get to Manticore to mix in with some other plot elements, and in the ordinary course of events an invitation wouldn’t have gotten there in time, even if anyone had thought to invite them.

        In a chapter not all that far away, Jeremy said: “I’m reading the tea leaves – say better, the entrails – about the same way as you, Web.”

      • Vince says:

        Don’t forget that Berry _is_ a teenager.

    • Matthew says:

      Agreed, important figures have to ask for leave and make official state visits. Jetting off because you miss your father is nice, but there are several hundred thousand people on Torch who depend on the government to safeguard their families.

  5. Scott says:

    Yep, Eric’s fingerprints all over this one.
    This chapter is to cutesy for me, the only reason I’ll keep reading is that sometimes in history weirder things have happened.
    At some stage someone will have to pull up her majesty or she’ll step right in the messy stuff. Whimsy is cute in a teenager, not in someone in charge of a government.

  6. DG says:

    Who knows how much Berry actually has to do with running the government? How much of a figurehead is she? And if she is, a visit to Manticore to play nice with your patron government (or one of them) is not terrible idea. Palane leaving a foreign national with no official appointment in charge of the military is much worse.

    I suspect Flint models a lot of Torch on 1948ish Israel, where stuff like this actually happened, especially in terms of various senior people meeting patrons in other places. And it was a similar level of informality with former terrorists and scholars trying to run a government with sympathizers from patron governments (including a few who went native). I was somewhat concerned that Thalane was going to go the way of Mickey Marcus.

  7. Margo says:

    On the other hand re visiting heads of state, etc – that was a feature of ART – and a lot of that is probably going to be filled in by this book – Torch and Erewhon have already shown up, with mention of Maya Sector as well and given the blurb for the book, and the demonisation by the MA of the Ballroom the links are joining. The main gripe I have is the hand waving of the travel time factors and a few minor paragraphs that don’t make sense in that context. But Berry and Ruth have shown these characteristics before, when Anton went off to Smoking Frog in COS – and he has been away for over a T-year! Thandi IS a bit off her usual game – but her appointment as head of the military was in much the same style as Berry or Ruth’s – not set in stone and she has obviously used her ‘foreign’ helpers as virtual subordinates. And Torch is NOT a typical planet or new nation. It was ramshackle to start with really and it’s only about 3 years old.

  8. Mike says:

    The extreme unprofessionalism of Torch’s leadership is supposed to what the people love about it. Or so we are told, anyway. I would think that would get old mighty quickly, though.

    The fact that they are at war with Mesa does not really mesh with the idea that this stuff is supposed to be cute and funny.

    It does remind me a lot of the Belasarius books, including why by the end of that series I could barely manage to finish reading them.

    • Lyttenstadt says:


      Statring with Book 4 in Belisarius Series the level of handwaving important things off (like Industrial Revolution taking place in early 6th centaury… in just a few year timeframe!) in favour of plot “developing” became too much for me. As if David Drake totally abandoned series, just wrote a short description of final battle in the far future, and then said: “Ok, the rest is yours, Flint!”

      • Mike says:

        As I understand it, Drake had little or nothing to do with the books except for some initial development of the story.

        Dave wrote detailed plot outlines (5,000-15,000 words) plots for other writers to develop into novels. As Dave says, “They did the real work of developing the outline into a novel. I don’t consider my involvement to be that of a real co-author, but my name goes on the cover, so we’ll list them here.”

  9. Edward Truss says:

    Whoopee! Just finished reading the Baen ebook and now I don’t have to bother with snippets and fatuous speculations about the deep philosophical meanings of the book.

  10. John Roth says:

    Let’s see if we can leave off the Flint bashing and talk about the plot and its implications? The comments from people who have read the eARC at David’s site are, that once the book gets rolling, it’s awesome. Better than ART.

    This is almost certainly Eric Flint’s last Honorverse book. Apparently DW announced at Honorcon that this was the last Torch book, which isn’t quite the same thing, but it’s close enough. Personally I have to agree with the criticism; I quit reading the 1632 series some time ago.

    If you really want to take out your spleen on someone, head on over to David Weber’s site. It seems to be open season on Evergreen and Top Cow. (For people who haven’t heard, they’re responsible for the movie version of Honor of the Queen and the “Tales of Honor” comic book series respectively.) There’s actual art posted.

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      “Art” being a relative term, of course. :-)

    • Matthew says:

      In 1632, the informality and whims of monarchs make more sense. 17th century kings didn’t have the same feeling of responsibility to the state and the Grantville people are already friends and are only 3000 people.

      I pointed it out earlier with Mesa snippet, but the scale of this book seems off for being entire planets.

  11. The suspicious plot element is that the iric teenage head of state is not taking her current bedpartner with her, assuming I remember that plot element accurately.

    • Mike says:

      Yeah, but that’s OK. I know lots of people who are more gung-ho about hooking other folks up than are actually all that worried about their own sex lives.

  12. Stanley Leghorn says:

    First off, Manticore is a week or so by Hyper and Wormhole transit from Torch, so this is not like anyone is going to be that much out of touch. Add in that there might have been some invite to get a more in-depth breifing on Simoen (sp) than would be safe doing by message chip. I agree that it seems childish for Thandi to get so angry about a guy who is a spy going to report to his boss than take some time off for personal time. OTOH, Berry has manipulated thing like this in the past. “So, you just called him a cold blooded monster and he got a little miffed. No biggie.” She has survived by manipulating people around her and as a Monarch, that is what she has to do to keep her nation going. Not that she ever THINKS in that manner, she is far too instinctive about it. Which is why, if she lives, she will be remembered as “Good Queen Bess”.

    If you give up on a story when people act irrationally, how do you handle life?

  13. Randomiser says:

    I don’t get why everyone is so uptight about this snippet. Thandi is a jumped up former marine lieutenant with a very disturbed past life and a documented temper who hasn’t seen her relatively new lover for 8 or 9 months who finds that, after reporting to his boss on Haven, he has gone off somewhere else rather than come and see her. She is still getting used to being the boss and working out what she can and can’t do. Despite that her spat lasts for all of 20 minutes before she realises she is being irresponsible and calls the office to say she’s coming right back to work.

    As for Berry, why on earth is everybody assuming that the reason she gives out is the real reason she is going to Manticore? She is unconventional and a people rather than a process person, but she gets things done, which is why she is queen. She can be a bit of a flake, but she also uses that reputation as a cover for her real motives. Hugh Arai is NOT a flake, and you did notice that she based her decision on his, unrevealed, advice?

    Her head of security and Haven’s most notorious agent have returned from a long top secret mission against her planet’s biggest enemy and immediately gone into shuttle diplomacy between the capitals of the two main powers in the area without reporting to her or stopping to see their loved ones. Gee, why would a queen want to find out what was going on in those circumstances? Or wonder if the big powers might be trying to cut her out of the action? Especially if she had heard something about a certain president who hadn’t been seen in public for a while.

    NTM the need for her government to be represented at Prince Roger’ s wedding.

    • Stanley Leghorn says:

      Agreed. In fact, if Eric mentions that Berry had ALREADY been invited to the wedding, her inclusion of Thandi as chief bodyguard and girl friend would make sense from a personal perspective. It would ALSO make sense from the ART point of view looking at the expansion of the war on Manpower to brief her and Jeremy personally. This all hinges on what Aria told her. Her “flaky” presentation could be a continuation of her cover as being less intelligent than she is. She helped her brother survive in the warrens on Earth. She is NOT an idiot, tho presenting herself as one allows her to manipulate people more easily. When she hits 20, she will have to re-think this ploy, or more likly notice that it is losing its’ effectiveness and switch to a more mature mode. Personally, I have too much time invested in the Honorverse to toss chunks of it away for no good reason.

      • John Roth says:

        One timing point here: this happens sometime in June (early June, I think) since chapters 12-14 happen after ART 15, possibly after ART 19, definitely before Fillaretta’s Fiasco in ART 20, which happens on the 11th according to the timeline from the pearls site. The Royal Wedding (ART 33) isn’t until sometime in July, so Berry and crew are not heading there to attend the wedding.

  14. John Roth says:

    Now that I think of it, I suspect the decision logic followed from thinking about a single question: why would Victor Cachet head for Manticore from Haven? That’s similar to the one that the people on Erewhon considered. Berry might not think of it, but Web duHaval certainly would.

    • Randomiser says:

      Hugh Arai also considering that his background is black ops. Why would Berry take along her Prime Minister and her Minister for War (? Jeremy X) as well as the head of her armed forces while leaving her partner behind if this was just a trip to go off and see her dad? OTOH covering for a serious visit with some flaky excuse makes perfect sense.

  15. Margo says:

    As to why Victor went to Manticore – Chapter 1 – he was told to go by his bosses! The one who seems to be lost by the authors is Yana! She travels with Anton and Victor right through to Haven – declines audience with Pritchart et al – is mentioned as continuing on with them to Manticore, in 1st chapter then gets lost again!

    • John Roth says:

      While that’s true, it just puts the question back one level: why would his bosses have sent him to Manticore? They’re still technically at war, and he’s a high ranking intelligence operative who they’d love to get their hands on. The conclusion is inescapable: whatever they turned up on Mesa is incredibly important, is going to realign the relationship between Haven and Manticore, and Torch’s government needs to be in on it as quickly as possible. Hence…

      Good point on Yana. She seems to have gotten misrouted somewhere.

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