Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 21

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 21


Chapter 14

After the delegation from Torch had all entered the suite assigned to them in Mount Royal Palace, Berry turned to Thandi.

“But…” Her voice was very small. “If you go too, what’ll … I mean…”

Palane put an arm around her. “You’ll be fine, girlfriend. Your father will need me a lot more than you will. Jeremy isn’t really planning any coup d’états, as it turns out.”

“Lord, no,” said Jeremy, sprawling onto a couch in the suite’s central chamber. “I’d be a lamb among lions. The only woman on Torch scarier than the Great Kaja is the damn Queen herself.”

Berry gave him a reproving glance. “Am not.”

“Are too. The veritable reincarnation of that Russia czarina. Catherine the Great, wasn’t it? Except her husband was a squishy fellow — she had him deposed, if I recall correctly — whereas our Queen’s consort is one of those Beowulfan knee-breakers. Ogres flee at his approach.”

In a more serious tone, he added: “I’m really quite satisfied with the way our government’s turning out, Berry. Especially you.” He cast a colder eye on DuHavel, standing nearby. “I’m not even too disgruntled with our Prime Minister. Wishy-washy though he be, and given to far too many compromises with the establishment.”

“We are the establishment, Jeremy,” Web said mildly.

“Pah! Only on our own itty-bitty planet. I was speaking of the great behemoths of the galactic establishment.”

DuHavel eased himself into a couch at right angles to the one Jeremy was occupying. “In any event, whether or not I am indeed guilty of compromisitis, I think it’s all becoming a moot point. Or am I the only one who thinks we’re about to be tasked with providing the new anti-Manpower alliance with an occupation force for Mesa? Not all of it, of course. Not even most of it.”

Berry stared at him. “Huh?”

Jeremy smiled, very thinly. “I’m reading the tea leaves — say better, the entrails — about the same way as you, Web.”

Berry now stared at him. “Huh?”

“Same here,” chimed in Thandi. She was still on her feet, close to the door, in a parade rest stance. “In fact, I think it’s pretty much a done deal.”

Berry turned to stare at her. “Huh?”

The door buzzed. Thandi glanced at her watch. “About what I figured.” Leaning over slightly, she opened the door.

Victor Cachat came in, followed closely by Anton Zilwicki. A little behind them was Jacques Benton-Ramirez y Chou.

Thandi and Victor looked at each other, both very stiff-faced. Anton’s mouth quirked a little and he said: “You can blame me, Thandi. Victor was all for stopping at Torch first, but –“

“He’s lying,” said Victor.

“You’re lying,” said Thandi. Neither one of them looked away from each other.

“– I insisted that, oh, the hell with it. If the two of you won’t accept that perfectly workable attempt to provide everyone with a way to save face, drop it anyway. We’re got a mission to organize, not to mention laying plans for an occupation force for Mesa.”

Berry scowled. “I hate feeling like the dunce in a crowd. What are you all talking about?”

“If it makes you feel any better, Your Majesty, I’m scrambling to catch up myself,” said Jacques, closing the door behind him.

Berry was still grumpy enough to say: “Don’t call me ‘Your Majesty.’ I hate that title.” A bit belatedly, she added: “Please.”

“You’re not at home, Your Majesty,” Web said. “He has to and you have to let him.”

“What he said,” chipped in Jeremy. “Although now that we’re here on Manticore we’re going to run into a bit of a problem. There’s one too many majesties about. So we have to start adding modifiers. That’s how they used to do it back in the old days. ‘Your Most Christian Majesty,’ ‘Your Most Catholic Majesty,’ that sort of thing.”

He looked around the room. “What say you, gentle folk? I propose Her Most Modest Majesty.”

Berry sniffed. “Wasn’t three minutes ago you said I was the reincarnation of Catherine the Great.”

“I was hoping you’d forgotten. All right, then. Her Most Fearsome Majesty.”

Whether by conscious intent or not — and with Jeremy X you never knew; there was usually a method to his whimsy — his banter had eased some of the personal tension in the room.

Quite a bit, as it turned out. Thandi took three steps over to Victor, seized the back of his head and planted a quick, fierce kiss on his lips. “I forgive you,” she said. “Don’t do it again.”

Then, taking him by the hand, she led him over to another couch where they both sat down. This couch was the third leg of a U-shaped furniture arrangement in the center of the room. They faced Jeremy across a table that had presumably begun life as a coffee table but had long since mutated into a low-slung version of something that belonged in a banquet hall. Web DuHavel sat to their right, on the couch that formed the connecting link to the U.

Berry sat next to Web. He slid over to allow her room in the middle of the couch so that Anton could take a seat on her other side. Jeremy did the same so that Jacques and Ruth could share his couch. The Beowulfer leaned back in a very relaxed manner, something which the high-tech and expensive piece of furniture made easy to do. Ruth, as was her habit, perched on the edge of the seat. The couch put up a fight but she mastered the beast easily enough.

Once everyone was seated — or half-seated, in the case of Ruth — Jacques said: “I wasn’t actually trying to reassure Her Majesty. I really am trying to catch up. Am I correct in thinking that at least some of you are seriously contemplating using Torch troops as part of an occupying force for Mesa? If so, I suspect my niece is of a like mind.”

“And what do you think?” asked Victor.

“I don’t know. The idea hadn’t even occurred to me before this.”

The Havenite agent nodded at Zilwicki. “Anton and I spent a fair amount of time discussing the idea. Since we had plenty of time to spare, while we were drifting around in space. The logic is quite robust.”

“Sure is,” said Ruth. She started counting off on her fingers. “First, we’ve got to occupy Mesa. I leave aside for the moment the precise definition of ‘we,’ but at the very least it’ll include the Star Empire, the Republic of Haven, the Kingdom of Torch, and — this is a bit of a guess, but the odds are long in favor — Beowulf.”

“You can take that as a given also,” said Benton-Ramirez y Chou.

“Add to that Erewhon and Maya Sector,” said Victor. “Not immediately, but sooner or later it’s bound to happen.”

Jacques cocked his head at him. “Erewhon, I concur. But are you sure about Maya Sector? Barregos and Roszak are about as devoted to realpolitik as the Andermanni.”

“If ‘rayal politique’ means what I think it means,” said Berry, “I think you’re misjudging them a little. Luiz Roszak, anyway. I don’t know Oravil Barregos.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Anton. “Cold-blooded self-interest will drive them toward us just as quickly as whatever shreds of idealism they still possess.” A bit grudgingly, he added: “Which are some pretty big shreds, at least in the case of Roszak.”

“To get back to the point,” said Ruth, “once everybody figures out that we have to occupy Mesa sooner or later” — she held up another finger — “it won’t take them long to realize that sooner is way better than later. That’s because –“

Another finger came up. “A big part of this war is the propaganda front. Most people in the Solarian League still don’t believe our version of what’s happening. The single biggest step we could take to start turning that around is to overrun Mesa. Fast and hard. That way we can — hopefully — get access to their own records.”

Anton grunted skeptically. “I wouldn’t count on that. The very fact that McBryde could do the damage he did indicates the Alignment has contingencies in place to destroy any critical records if they need to.”

Ruth looked stubborn, an expression that came rather naturally to her. “Okay, maybe. But there’ll still be people who can be interrogated.”

“Unless they murder all of them,” said Jeremy, “which I wouldn’t put past the bastards for a minute.”


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11 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 21

  1. Randomiser says:

    Now this is a bit too cutesie. Surely Berry is good for more than comic relief?

    • John Roth says:

      Yeah, you’re seeing a masked infodump where the author is having someone explain what’s going on to a participant who isn’t keeping up with the rest of the crew. For this technique to work, you’ve got to have a slowest member, someone who needs an explanation, and Berry got elected to carry the Idiot Ball for the scene. Even so, it would be roundly criticized in a Creative Writing class.

      The plot, as they say, is thickening. Now we see why we had to get the entire Torch crew to Manticore in such a hurry.

      • Douglas E. Lampert says:

        In this particular case the slowest member is probably unnecessary. Going over the reasons for a major decision that is complicated to implement is a good idea even if the basics are obvious to everyone, because different people might have different reasons and goals, and it’s a good idea to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

        It would be a shame if Jeremy X for example just assumed you wanted Torch troops because you were trying to make the Terror from the French Revolution look like a kid’s party with lots of blood in the streets and blatantly torturing confessions out of people and no one else knew this till it was too late and he genuinely thought it was what they’d all agreed to.

        Periodic staff meetings where you go over goals and objectives really are a good idea, even if you think everyone knows what they’re supposed to do and why.

        • Matthew says:

          A staff meeting would make much more sense. Imagine that, intelligent people sitting around asking intelligent questions. Like how big would Torch’s expected contribution be? How would they get there? What would be their responsibilities within the occupation? What would be their main objectives?

          These are all questions that an intelligent person could ask while still understanding the broad strategic reasons for making Torch part of the occupation force.

          It also doesn’t make the monarchy look like such an idiotic system. We have the Queen because Manticore = British Empire, but it’s important that this is camouflaged plausibly.

          Otherwise, “random girl with well connected family and good last name becomes supreme executive,” gets harder to suspend disbelief about.

  2. Margo says:

    Berry had Oravil Barregos front and centre at her coronation. She may not have had much conversation but she has met him and was orchestrating the presentation of her guests to her new ‘subjects’, so? Another memory lapse by the authors?

    • Randomiser says:

      One may well have met someone and dealt with them briefly in an official capacity without knowing them in the sense of being sure as to the nature of their character, which is what the discussion is about.

  3. Matthew says:

    Way too cutesie and far too much…

    “Guys, check it out, we run a planet!”

    “No way, dude! Now, we can do all this cool stuff.”

    “Nah, bro, we got responsibilities, I’m all pulling a C town the great up in here.”

    “Ok, do all that planet stuff, but we can totally party next week.”

    Being the rulers of a planet and the way it’s discussed here make it feel like the planet of Torch is a car or a handbag. It’s just a thing that the main characters will pull out of their pocket at their convenience when the plot needs it.

  4. John Roth says:

    I think I got the discussion moving in the wrong direction by pinning it on Berry. She is, after all, quite young and has discovered one of her major emotional supports, Thandi Palain, is about to walk out the door on a mission where she might not come back – ever. She also has several very powerful and extremely experienced people running her government; her role is much more a conflict resolution facilitator than Chief Executive.

    Jacques, who really is a senior executive, got the meeting moving in the right direction. You’ll also notice his comment that Honor is probably thinking in the same direction, which means Manticore will eventually be on board with the plan.

    On a similar note, at Honorcon David announced this was the last Torch book.

  5. dave o says:

    It is generally considered not prudent to do detail planning before one has an idea what the whole mission is. For examples, who will conquer Mesa, what are the goals to be accomplished, who will be available to occupy the place. It is way too early to begin detail planning at this point.

  6. Margo says:

    Perhaps I should have said re Berry – doesn’t know “about” Oravil Barregos!

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