Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 29


“He gunned down at least four of the bastards, as I recall. So let the damned media get their first actual look at what the expression ‘galaxy’s most deadly terrorist’ actually means.

“That’s… probably a good idea on its merits, now that I think about,” said Anton.

As they’d been talking, Jacques’ head had gone back and forth between them. Now he raised his hands.

“You’re making me dizzy. I don’t understand — ” He broke off sharply, his eyes widening. “Oh, dear God in Heaven. That’s… brilliant.

Thandi started whistling tunelessly. “If anybody thinks I can’t turn the Cachat Curl into a general-purpose workout routine, you’d best start thinking again. What the hell are you all talking about?”

Jacques pointed at Victor and Anton, moving his finger between them. “First, we start creating doubles for them at the same time as we’re putting them through the body-transformation and sheathing. Second — oh, somewhere around next week, as soon as everyone’s off to Beowulf, we start feeding little tidbits to the media. But we don’t stretch it out too long, because we want a big splash. A really big splash. Then we dump everything. Give Underwood as much material as he got when he did the Zilwicki exposé — what was it? Two years ago?”

“Three,” replied Anton.

“Hey!” said Berry. “It wasn’t an ‘exposé’. It was pretty positive, actually.”

“Positive, negative — it doesn’t matter,” said Jacques. “It’s just got to be explosive and exciting.” He now looked at Montaigne. “I haven’t seen this footage you’re talking about. Is it…?”

“Explosive and exciting?” She looked as if she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Let’s put it this way. Victor gunned down at least a dozen State Sec goons and Scrags. Jeremy did for the rest. There was one badly wounded survivor. Donald X — no, I guess he’s Donald Ali bin Muhammad now — shot him dead. That’s on the footage too.”

“We can probably cut that part,” said Anton.

“Why?” asked Victor. “Donald won’t care. Who’s going to charge him — or me, or Jeremy — with anything? The people with legal jurisdiction are the authorities on Terra. Given the current situation, they’ve got enough on their plates. I don’t think they’re going to be dredging up the Manpower Incident and sending out extradition notices.”

Anton grunted. “True. Keep going, Jacques.”

By now, Benton-Ramirez y Chou was on his feet along with Ruth, although he wasn’t pacing. “It’s brilliant. The media will go wild. I’m just starting to grasp at all the ramifications. For one thing…”

He looked down at Anton, and then at Cathy. “I know the basic facts about the Manpower Incident. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s fair to say that Victor saved the lives of your children.”

“There’s no doubt about it,” said Anton.

“Yes,” said Berry. “I was there myself, although I didn’t see the actual shooting.”

Jacques nodded. “You’re all probably too close to it to see it for what it’s worth in propaganda terms. Right at the point where the leaders of Manticore and Haven are trying to convince their own populations that it’s time to end the galaxy’s bloodiest and bitterest war — and meeting a lot of resistance — we get a story splashed all over the media — first here in the Star Empire, then in the Republic of Haven — that tells how a young Havenite StateSec agent saved the lives of three Manticoran children — one of whom is now an officer in the fleet and another of whom is the newly-crowned queen of the new star nation of Torch — and began a friendship and later a partnership with the father of those children — who’s himself a well-known figure in the Star Empire — “

Ruth snickered. “Captain Zilwicki, Scourge of the Spaceways.”

“– that led eventually to the uncovering of the evil masterplan of the Mesan Alignment. Who, among their many other crimes, are the ones responsible for instigating the war between Manticore and Haven and keeping it going.”

He started rubbing his hands. “Not to mention that Victor was part of the underground opposition that eventually overthrew the Saint-Just regime. Oh, God, it’s brilliant. The media will slobber over it for weeks. And by the time they finally start tiring of it…”

He lowered his hands and grinned. “The doubles will be ready to go to work. We trot them out from time to time in front of the media — never too close and not too often, just enough — to give the impression that Cachat and Zilwicki are both neck-deep in whatever oh-very-hush-hush scheming is being done by the authorities — the authorities here, you understand, and later on Haven and maybe Beowulf — while they’re actually almost eight hundred light years away… On Mesa, which is the last place anybody would think they’d gone to.”

Thandi rubbed a hand over her face. “Okay, now I get it. What you’re proposing is basically a diversion. A whopping big diversion.” The hand came away. “You’re right. It’s brilliant. But we’ll need a double for me also. I’m too prominent a figure to just vanish. If people see my double engaging in what looks like discussions with my Manticoran counterparts, they won’t think anything of it. That’s exactly what they’d expect to see.”

Anton and Victor looked at each other. “She’s right,” said Victor. Anton nodded.

So did Jacques. “We’ll include you in the mix, then.” He thought for a moment. “Anyone else? This Yana person, perhaps…”

“No,” that came from Victor and Thandi simultaneously.

“Nobody will notice if Yana just disappears,” Thandi elaborated. “We need to give her a body transformation and a genetic sheathe since she was on Mesa with Victor and Anton. But she doesn’t need a double.”

“The same’s true of Steph Turner,” Victor added. “That’s assuming she agrees to come at all.”

Jacques pulled out his com. “Okay. So who makes the call? And who do we start with?”

Victor and Anton exchanged looks again.

“There’s something a little scary about that,” mused Cathy.

“You think?” That came from Berry. But she was smiling when she said it.

“We need to start with President Pritchart,” said Anton. He pointed at Victor. “He’s actually very disciplined, believe it or not. He won’t — can’t — agree to this without the approval of his superiors. And given that they’re bouncing his official status around, there’s no one except Pritchart who could sign off on it. As for who should make the call…”

Victor pulled out his com. “I’ll do it. I’d rather Jacques did, but… a special officer beards his own commander-in-chief.”

“Eloise Pritchart does not have a beard,” said Cathy.

Victor’s gloomy expression was back. “Stick around,” he said, as he keyed in some numbers. “By tomorrow she may have.”

His face got the slightly vacant look of someone who’s talking to someone far away. “This is Special Officer Cachat. Would you please pass on to President Pritchart that I need to speak with her as soon as possible.”

After a moment, he continued: “Yes, I know she’s very busy. This is important.”

Another moment passed. Victor rolled his eyes. “Yes, thank you.” He turned off the com. “Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, ‘first thing we do, we kill all the bureaucrats’?”

Cathy shook her head. “No. It was lawyers.”

“He got it wrong, then.” He put the com away. “I wouldn’t hold out great hopes that I’ll be able to see her anytime soon. The president’s gofer — excuse me, assistant executive director — made it pretty clear that I was a nuisance with delusions of grandeur.”

“Is that so?” Jacques took his com back out. “Let me try, then.” He entered some numbers and within a short time got the same slightly vacant expression.

“This is Jacques Benton-Ramirez y Chou, Third Director at Large of the Planetary Board of Directors of Beowulf. What is your name, please?”

A few seconds passed. “Well then, Assistant Executive Director Hancock. I need to speak to President Pritchart.”

A few seconds passed. “I didn’t say I needed an appointment, Ms. Hancock, I said I needed to speak to President Pritchard. If you require an explanation of the word ‘now’ I can have it provided for you by my cousin. That would be Chyang Benton-Ramirez. He’s the Chairman of Beowulf’s Board of Directors.”

A few seconds passed. “Thank you, Assistant Executive Director Hancock.”

To the people around him he said: “She’s getting her.”

A couple of minutes passed. “Eloise? Jacques here. Something very important has come up. I need to meet with you as soon as possible. I’ll be bringing your Special Officer Cachat with me. Captain Zilwicki as well. And General Palane.”

A few seconds passed. “Splendid. Fifteen thirty it is.”

He put away the com and glanced at his timepiece. “Okay, we’ve got a little over two hours. We’d best get moving.”


After they left, Ruth sat back down at looked at the HD. The talking heads were still at it.

“– unfortunate, I agree, but there it is.” Yael Underwood was saying. “We just don’t know very much about Cachat and what little we do know is half-speculation.”

“Boy, are you in for a wild ride,” said Ruth.