Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 39 

“Any comment, Charlene?”

Soulliere sniffed. “One has to wonder if there is anyone in that crowd whose first recourse when faced with a problem isn’t to resort to violence — and the most brutal sort of violence at that. Do I need to remind the panel that the father of this fourteen-year-old homicidal maniac is the man who littered the grounds of the Tor estate with corpses not all that long ago?”

Cathy almost sprang out of her seat with excitement. “Yes! Go for it, Mack! Gut the fucking asshole!”

Cathy proceeded to issue several more sentences which, though grammatically impeccable, transgressed the bounds of propriety. Pretty much the way piranhas transgress the bounds of dining etiquette.

The “Mack” in question was Macauley Sinclair, the panelist sitting just to the left of the moderator. He was a short fellow with a round, cheery face, who represented the Liberal Party on the panel in the same informal way that Soulliere spoke for the Progressives.

He’d taken the place of Florence Hu on the panel. Cathy had pulled a lot of strings to make sure of that. For this show, she wanted a Liberal voice that didn’t quaver and whine. There was a reason politicians and (especially) their staffs called Sinclair “Mack the Knife” in private.

Yael Underwood, being an expert at the business, immediately saw to it that Sinclair got the floor.

“Homicidal maniac, is it?” he jeered. Then, he broke the normal rules of Talking Headship and looked directly at the viewing audience. “For reasons that are understandable, Lars Zilwicki didn’t go into the details of the incident. I happen to know them, however — as should Ms. Sanctimonious over here, if she’d done her homework.”

He gave her a skeptical glance. “At least, one has to hope that Soulliere’s comment was the product of ignorance.”

She tried to angrily interrupt but Sinclair drove right over her. Looking back at the viewing audience he continued.

“Here are the details — the very grim details. The three men in question — rightly called ‘thugs’ by Lars Zilwicki — had kidnapped the boy and his sister Berry and were holding them captive in Chicago‘s infamous underground warrens. Lars was eleven years old at the time; Berry, thirteen. Both of them were badly beaten, especially the girl — who was also repeatedly gang-raped. These were the three unfortunate gentlemen whom the small fourteen-year-old girl that –“

He had a truly magnificent sneer. “– Sanctimonious Soulliere calls a ‘homicidal maniac’ killed in self-defense when they tried to visit the same atrocities upon her.”

The whole panel erupted. But Mack the Knife’s voice rose above the babble — largely because he kept speaking directly at the viewers.

“– no mistake what this is really all about. The same Progressives who proved themselves completely incapable of leading a war against the Republic of Haven when such a war was needed, are now trying to sabotage a peace treaty with the Republic when that is needed and finally available. And they’re doing so for no better reason — assuming there’s any coherent thought at all involved — than political maneuvering.”

A subscriber to Theory #3, clearly, although he was leaving the door open for Theory #2. In line with Cathy’s own position, in other words.

That was hardly surprising, since he more-or-less worked for her. Informally, true, and without remuneration. But there was a reason that Sinclair’s other nickname was Montaigne’s Mugger.

Anton brought his attention back to the talk show. Sinclair was still going strong. For all that he was barely over five feet tall and was wearing a very expensive suit, it wasn’t hard at all to imagine him wielding a claymore like his ancestors had.

Whack. “– ignore what she says. The real reason for Soulliere’s hostility to Cachat is purely because the man is walking, breathing, living, tried and tested proof — tried and tested three times over — that there is no better ally for us in a fight than the same Havenites we’ve been fighting for what sometimes seems like a lifetime. I ask you –“

Babble, babble, babble. Soulliere was trying desperately to make herself heard, but the panel was now clearly swinging in Sinclair’s direction. Who was back to looking straight at the audience.

“– really simple question, as simple as it gets. You’re attacked by thugs in a dark alley. Who do you want coming to your defense?”

A truly magnificent sneer.

Whack. “Soulliere and her back room cronies? Or Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki? Or — better yet, because we’re talking a war here, folks, one that’s going to make our fight with Haven look like a playground spat — would you prefer a bunch of young homicidal maniacs in uniform? Such as –“

He turned to Underwood. Something indefinable in the talk show host’s posture made Anton realize that he and Sinclair had set this up in advance.

“I believe you have some relevant footage, Yael, am I correct?”

“Well… yes. As it happens, we do.”

The back screen lit up with an image of Anton’s daughter Helen. She was wearing her dress uniform and posed somewhat formally with four other young naval officers. Anton recognized all but one of them. They were friends of Helen’s as well as comrades; people she’d gone through the naval academy with at Saganami Island.

She looked…

Good. Really good. She would never be a beauty, but — thank God — she took after her mother more than her father in that department. And while she might be a tad on the stocky, well-muscled side, she stood with the obvious grace of more than ten years training in Neue-Stil Handgemenge, one of the most lethal martial arts in galactic history. But what she looked like most of all was a young woman proud of her uniform, committed to her star nation, confident in herself, and prepared to spit in the entire galaxy’s eye if that was what duty and that uniform demanded of her.

Sinclair spoke again. “That’s the young woman Soulliere called a ‘homicidal maniac.’ Not just the girl who escaped her Manpower kidnapers on Old Earth when she was only fourteen T-years old, but also the young woman who served as Sir Aivars Terekov’s assistant tactical officer throughout the Battle of Monica. And never mind that when the wolves come baying at our door again, Soulliere and her Progressive pack of curs will be the first ones screaming for exactly this young homicidal maniac — and her friends — to come to their rescue.


Soulliere went ballistic at that point. Anton thought that “pack of curs” was probably over the top for what was, after all, an evening talk show program.

Not that he gave a damn. He started softly singing a tune.

“Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear

And he shows ’em, pearly white…”

He was pretty sure the same lyrics were being sung by people all over the Star Empire, at that moment. It was a very old song, after all.

“This is going splendidly!” Cathy exclaimed. She took Anton’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

I am so getting laid tonight.

He managed to keep a solemn face, though.