Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 24

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 24


The big problem with this upcoming discussion, from Yuri’s point of view, was that he knew damn good and well that within five minutes he’d be out of his pay grade; within fifteen minutes, he’d be way out of his pay grade; and within half an hour his pay grade would be an invisible microbe whimpering in the dust somewhere far, far below.

What was worse — oh, so very, very worse — was that he probably wouldn’t be able to wriggle out of the situation by pointing to that selfsame oh-so-very-very-modest pay grade. The Erewhonese didn’t think in those terms. The Mayans probably did, as a rule, but Yuri was pretty sure they were going to be pitching the rules here.

And what was absolutely certain was that Yuri and Sharon weren’t going to be able to claim that their superiors kept them on too tight of a leash for them to be able to say or agree to much of anything.

Alas, their immediate superior — for Sharon, officially; and if not Yuri, it amounted to much the same in practice — was a certain Victor Cachat. That is to say, the person who more than any other human alive today paid no attention whatsoever to pay grades. His own, least of all.

The first and most ancient law for all government officials like Yuri Radamacher — bureaucrats, to call them by their right name — was Cover Your Ass.

But how do you cover your ass when you’re trying to cover it from the likes of Victor Cachat? The only way to do it was to satisfy him that you did your best — that is to say, your very very very best — to take advantage of every opportunity that came your way.

Such as the opportunity to expand an alliance against the galaxy’s largest and most powerful star nation and its most vicious and cunning cabal — respectively, the Solarian League and the Mesan Alignment — by bringing in Erewhon and Maya Sector.

If Cachat were sitting in this very seat at this very moment, waiting for Captain Watanapongse to return with a pot of coffee — and the Mayan officer was even now headed back this way — would he be whining and pissing and moaning to himself that he was way above his pay grade?

Ha. The murderous brutal sociopathic reptilian callous son-of-a-bitch would be licking his chops, that’s what. Because he was dead sure and certain that he was a supremely competent murderous brutal sociopathic etc., etc., etc.

Watanapongse set down the pot and cup. Yuri poured the one into the other and took a careful sip.

Then, sighed.

“Good, isn’t it?” asked the Mayan intelligence officer.

Yuri sighed again. That seemed easier, simpler and safer than saying anything. And within five minutes —

Jack Fuentes cleared his throat. “Thank you both for coming. The reason we asked for this meeting –“

No, two minutes. Easier and simpler and safer were terms that would be as foreign to Yuri Radamacher as words written in ancient Sumerian.

He wondered if the ancient Sumerians had had a term for “pay grade.”

Probably. He knew they’d had executioners.


“Oh, come on, Yuri. That wasn’t so bad.” Sharon climbed into the capsule whose hatch Yuri was holding open for her. The system of mass transport the Erewhonese had chosen for their capital city was a variant of the vacuum transport method. It was fast and efficient, but it required the use of smaller vehicles than either of them were used to. Climbing into the capsules was easier if someone gave you a bit of assistance.

Once Sharon was in place, Yuri slid into the seat behind her, spoke their destination and pressed the button indicating that the coupling was finished. The capsules could be linked in a chain as long as sixty capsules, but they were so small in diameter that two people could not sit next to each other unless one of them was an infant.

Sffffttttt. The joined capsules sped off. The arrangement made conversations a bit difficult, though.

“Admit it!” Sharon said. She started to turn her head until she remembered that she could pull up a virtual screen that would allow her to look at Yuri directly.

“Admit it,” she repeated, after the screen came up.

For a moment, Yuri was tempted to claim that the awkward seating arrangement made it hard for him to get his thoughts in order. But the moment —

Sttttfffff. A chime announced they’d arrived.

— was brief. It really was a fast and efficient system.

“Okay,” he said, after they climbed out. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. Mind you!” He held up a cautionary finger. “That’s not saying a lot. I’m told that root canals weren’t as bad as they were thought to be. But they were still pretty bad.”

Sharon rolled her eyes. “Nobody’s had a root canal in… hell, what is it? Two millennia? Outside of planets that were lost and cast back into medievalism, anyway.” She took Yuri by the arm and led him toward the exit. “You’re just being grumpy because you think it’s an art form at which you’re a maestro.”

Her tone was cheerful. “And speaking of maestros, I think you did damn well today, myself. For a measly high commissioner and envoy extraordinary.”

They passed out into the open. The sunlight was bright — and also quite cheering, even if the color was a little off to them. Erewhon’s star was a K5, smaller and dimmer than Haven’s or La Martine’s, which were both G stars. To Yuri and Sharon, everything seemed to have a slightly orange cast.

There was a bit of a breeze, too, to make the day still more enjoyable. Despite his grim determination to find wrack and ruin all about, Yuri couldn’t help but feel his spirits picking up.

Sharon, who knew him well, jumped onto the moment with heavy boots.

“Look at all the bright spots,” she said. “First — there’s no doubt about this — the Erewhonese and the Mayans have finally decided they can trust each other.”

“Sure. Gangsters and traitors are natural bosom buddies.”

“Second, it’s just as obvious — they didn’t come right out and say it, of course — that they’re going to be integrating their military forces all the way down the line, not just having Erewhon serve as Maya’s workshop. That has the potential to turn two third-rate powers into one that swings some real weight.”

“Just what the galaxy needs. Another Machiavelli in the game.”

“Stop it, Yuri. You know just as well as I do how important that could wind up being, if the Solarian League collapses — which we both think it will, and not even that far in the future.”

Yuri made a face. He didn’t disagree with anything Sharon was saying. It was just that…

They’d reached the entrance to their apartment building. He gave Sharon a warning look. As long as they’d been moving and talking out in the open, the scrambling equipment they both carried would have made it impossible for anyone to overhear their conversation or even read their lips. And once they entered their apartment, the much more powerful and sophisticated equipment there made it possible for them to speak openly again. The danger was in this transition zone. Someone could have planted surveillance gear in the vicinity which their portable scramblers couldn’t handle, and they were still too far away for the stationary equipment in their apartment to protect them.

Of course, it was a warning that Sharon didn’t need at all, as her answering glare made clear. It was admittedly a little silly for him to caution a former StateSec officer on security issues.

Neither of them said anything further until they’d reached the apartment and the door had closed behind them. Then, after a quick glance at the monitors to make sure the scramblers were operating, Sharon crossed her arms and gave Yuri a level stare.

“Okay, get it out of your system. ‘It was just that….’ What, Yuri?”

He took a deep breath. “Why me? Why do I have to be the one trying to thread the needle between encouraging them — yes, I agree; of course I agree; if they can pull off this alliance we’ll all be in a better position — and not coming right out and committing Haven to anything because I don’t have the goddam authority to do it in the first place.”

She smiled and patted his cheek. “Because you’re so good at it. That’s why Victor made sure you got the assignment.”


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26 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 24

  1. stewart says:

    “waiting for Captain Watanapongse to return with a pot of coffee ”
    My that was a fast promotion — Jiri was a LtCDR at the start of the passage…..

    • Anonymouse says:

      Battlefield promotion.

      Those coffee makers are dangerous.

      Barista is Latin for “skilled and experienced warrior”.

    • Mark L says:

      It could be just a courtesy title. A lieutenant commanding a cutter is called “captain” by all, including the post captain travelling to his ship-of-the-line aboard the cutter — and is expected to follow the orders of the lieutenant (as far as it relates to the operations of the ship) while aboard.

      After all, a Honorverse coffee machine has to be at least as complicated as a sailing-era cutter and Watanapongse seems to be in command of it in this snippet.

  2. Matthew says:

    The root canal reference was jarring, as was the ancient Sumerian.

    For people in the year 4000, things that happened pre space travel would be a specialized discipline that’s not widely known. People could look it up if they wanted to of course but it’s odd.

    Take a root canal, it’s like one of us talking about how churning butter was supposed to be difficult, or making a reference to nasal reconstruction using a paramedian forehead flap. One person in the conversation might know an obscure term from 2000 years ago, but it wouldn’t be an example you’d bring up in a metaphor where your trying to clearly express yourself.

    The whole idea of dental work with a man and tools messing around with your teeth would be like trepanning, or sealing amputated limbs with hot tar is to us.

    • Randomiser says:

      Fair point. OTOH it’s not as if it’s two people at random. If Yuri is an ancient history buff, his ‘good friend with benefits’, Sharon, has doubtless already been exposed to his favorite bits of it.

    • Mike says:

      Yeah, well the authors know that the actual readers of the book live in an era where root canals are still around. They are kind of damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they refer to root canals without dropping any anvils, then they will get complaints that “they obviously don’t still have root canals!” But this was clumsy.

      At least one of these authors is trying to be be way too cute. The references about paintings, “ancient” history, root canals, etc. are more distracting than amusing.

    • nbarclay says:

      Comparing things to having a root canal is embedded deeply enough in the language that it is not difficult to imagine the reference surviving long after root canals are obsolete. Consider the phrase “hoist on his own petard,” for example. In such a scenario, many people would use the words “root canal” without knowing what they mean. (For that matter, I strongly suspect that many people use the words now with only a vague idea of their meaning.) But it’s not difficult to imagine these two characters being curious enough to have found out.

      The reference, juxtaposed to root canals being long obsolete, is a little bit jarring to me too. But it’s not outside the realm of linguistic plausibility.

      • Mike says:

        The thing about root canals is that when you really need one, the root canal itself relieves your pain. The pain is worse before you get the root canal than it is after. So it’s odd that people talk about them like they are evil incarnate.

    • Lyttenstadt says:


      I second that. Also, all “ancient history” fans of the HH series – Honor, her uncle Jaque, Web du Havel, Yuri, even protector Benjamin – don’t know any interesting or anecdotal facts of Earth history past 2000 a.d. Well, we have this info dump abouth the Last War, or about the last time Solar Navy won major engagement. But comparin to numerous references to 19 and 20 centauries events it’s like nonexistant. Why Protector Benjamin knows ancient Eastern legend “…and maybe the horse will learn how to sign”, but don’t mention, say, 2120-s classical Peruan operas? Why du Havel and Jeremy X constatnly mentions anti slavery and anti racist movements in the USA, but not something like Martian Food riots of 23 centaury and Norwegian genocide?

      This little tidbits would show that our heroes are really from the far future, with it’s own rich history. It works way better, than another princess Ruth’s epic fail to understand “ancien” idioms, like “chutzpah”.

  3. DG says:

    Paygrade? Is it just me, or is Yuri a former sector governor and current ambassador to a major ally? Not to mention, well trusted by the leadership of Haven due to his Aprilist background. Of all people, you would his paygrade would be high enough.

    OTOH, self-confidence has never been his strong suit, at least as of Fanatic.

    • John Roth says:

      Yeah, that whole thing about “pay grade” doesn’t really work for me. It doesn’t matter whether the title is Ambassador or something else, as the State Department (or whatever they’re calling it) honcho on the spot, preliminary treaty negotiations are his job. And while Victor may have put in a few good words, he’s working for Haven’s equivalent of the State Department, not Intelligence.

      I suspect they felt they had to jazz it up so they actually had a chapter instead of a couple of paragraphs.

      • Mike says:

        Thinly disguised infodump. Yuri has to worry about his “paygrade” so that he (and the readers) can be told the situation.

  4. Margo says:

    And not that important a Haven sector either – He still seems to be a little unsure of the ramifications of his promotion, and the new galactic shifts. He is still more enamored of being in the background. And for all that the characters are 1922 years PD, the authors are still going to use expressions WE can relate to from our experiences! And David Weber does have a sense of humor.

    • DG says:

      Is there an unimportant sector? The dude wasn’t even just a planetary governor.

      I don’t get how he is working for Cachat, a guy he can have no conceivable communications with, as well as someone who is singularly unqualified to be a diplomat, unlike Yuri.

      People like Yuri. He’s a nifty guy – a people person. That’s why he has his job. Why the heck would he be scared of Cachat? A beating, years ago? They were both StateSec officers – a good beating/interrogation is the SS equivalent of a management off-site. Cachat is a scary guy, but he demonstrably likes Yuri, in spite of his “slackness”.

      Yuri is a pro and has no reason to worry about Cachat – he wouldn’t work for him and its not like Victor is going to put a bullet in his head for missing a trade clause in a draft agreement.

  5. gahrie says:

    Personally I can’t get past the fact that it is written in 21st century English.

    Even if English is still the dominant language, it would have shifted over the thousand of years to a point where we would have trouble understanding it.

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      Ah Gahrie, would you spend $20 for a book that you couldn’t read?

      For that matter, if Flint or Weber created “future phrases” to replace common modern English phrases, they’d have send more time explaining those “future phrases” than they would telling the story.

      As a reader, I dislike gobbly-gook in stories. IE words/phrases that make no sense in context without the writer providing translations.

      It sometimes works if the writer creates one or two words for some concept that modern English doesn’t have or to create a sense of the story being set in another world.

      However, the writer IMO has to make sure that the “alien word/phrase” is explained very soon in the story or the reader will throw the book across the room.

      For example, how those this sentence sound: “The zeeric akride the simortrac”?

      If the book/story was full of sentences like that, would you continue to read it?

      By the way, I just made up words in that sentence so I don’t know what it means either. [Very Big Evil Grin]

      • Mike says:

        In fact, Weber tried something like that in his Safehold series, and it’s miserable to try to figure out who is who because the names are all full of “z”s and “y”s.

        Many authors try that sort of thing, but most of them are not Tolkien and don’t do it especially well.

      • gahrie says:

        My tongue was firmly in my cheek. My comment was a response to some of the earlier comments on the thread.

        By the way, I don’t have a particular problem with the names in the Safehold books, I consider them mini easter eggs and try to figure them out.

  6. balddudesrock says:

    Kwitcherbichen!!! There is a simple solution for those who don’t like the style of writing, or clumsy infodumps: Don’t read it. Find an author that writes in a way you enjoy, or better yet, write your own damn book.

    • Mike says:

      This is wildly hypocritical. You complain about us complaining. So let me turn it around on you: if you don’t like the comments, don’t read them.

    • John Roth says:

      A large part of the tone of the comments is because the actual information density is rather low. I won’t say negligible, but a well crafted paragraph could manage to communicate that Erewhon and the Maya sector are about to merge (or maybe “coordinate) their military forces, probably in response to the revelations elsewhere.

      It’s also not particularly well connected to the rest of the series to date. Not that there isn’t any connection, but so far the entire Maya Sector connection has been a bit of a sideshow. There are things happening, and presumably there will be more connections later.

  7. Margo says:

    I think Yuri was left as System Governor in La Martine; Sector Governors are OFS personnel and may control several planetary systems in a sector, IE Meyers and McIntosh. It was a bit of a backwater, which was one reason for Admiral Chin to be based there (for losing the 1st Battle of Hancock) Yuri was given the position on Victor’s recommendation. Victor was Intelligence head for Erewhon and Torch later and his recommendation was given again, or remembered. Yuri has never forgiven Victor for hurting Sharon, even if he could see the necessity.
    And there are a lot of loose ends between the 3 main threads. It is, after all a big galaxy! And a lot of ways DW can weave them.
    As for language shifts, has anyone tried to read the Canterbury Tales in the original? The authors are writing for us, and using our referents, though Guy Fawkes would have a better idea of a petard!
    I’m still going to buy “Like A Mighty Army” on payday!

  8. balddudesrock says:

    Them what can, do. Them what can’t, teach. Them what can’t do either, become critics.

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