Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 13

“He’s pretty tight with the Royals, too, since that business with Princess Ruth, although he’s been a lot more focused on Torch and the Congo System since Berry got crowned Queen. And he and” — the hesitation was so slight that only someone who knew her as well as Gervais did would have realized she’d changed what she’d been about to say — “the Torches have certainly been looking for every way they could possibly hurt Mesa. Hell, Torch has declared war on them! And let’s not forget what those bastards tried to do to the entire planet five months ago.

“So, on the surface, there’s a certain plausibility to Mesa’s claims. He hates Manpower’s guts; they’ve tried more than once to kill him — or me, or Berry, or Cathy; and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d managed to turn up at least some evidence Manpower was about to use those StateSec stumblebums to hit Torch. Trust me, if he’d seen that coming, he would’ve done anything he could to prevent it. But he wouldn’t have tried this way. If nothing else, he’d’ve known it wouldn’t work, and he’s spent enough time with Cathy to know exactly how disastrous something like this could be politically — not just for Torch, but for the abolitionist movement in general.”

“Not even if he thought the attack on Torch was going to work?” Helga asked quietly, and Helen looked at her. “I mean, if he found out about the attack and didn’t know Admiral Rozsak would be able to stop it? If he figured your sister and all his friends on Torch were going to be killed?”

“No way.” Helen shook her head firmly. “Daddy doesn’t think that way. Oh, I’m not saying he wouldn’t have made Mesa and Manpower pay big-time if they’d managed to pull something like that off, but he wouldn’t have done it before he knew they’d pulled it off. And he wouldn’t have gone about this way it even if they’d managed to turn Torch into a cue ball. It’s not the way he thinks, not the sort of thing he’d involve himself with.”

“Grief and hatred can make someone do terrible things,” Gervais pointed out gently, and Helen surprised him with a snort of laughter.

“You don’t have to tell me that. Remember what happened to me on Old Terra? Or what happened to my Mom? Or the way I met Berry and Lars, for that matter? But Daddy is a very…guided weapon, Gwen. He’s got really good target discrimination, and he’s just as good at holding down the collateral damage. Besides, nuking a park? A park full of kids?” She shook her head. “He’d die first. Or, for that matter, kill anybody else who thought that would be a good idea! I’m not saying my Daddy’s a saint, because he’s not. I love him, but nobody who knows him would ever claim he’s an angel. Or, if he is, he’s one of those avenging angels with a really sooty halo, anyway. And I could see him not worrying a whole lot about the tender sensibilities of a bunch of slave-trading Mesans. I could even see him using a nuke against some kind of hard target, the kind that wouldn’t kill a stack of civilians when it disappeared in a mushroom cloud. But not this. Never a park.”

“You’re sure?”

“Gwen, I’m damned sure Daddy didn’t plan and carry out this strike. I don’t know where he is, and I don’t know why he hasn’t spoken up yet. And, yeah, I’ll admit that scares the shit out of me. He’s got to know how Mesa’s using Green Pines as a club to beat both the Star Empire and the Ballroom, and he’d never let them go on doing it if he could do anything — like surfacing to refute their version — to stop it. But it’s not his style. Oh, yeah, if they’d actually managed to genocide Torch, then he might’ve gone after them on Mesa. He wouldn’t have done it until he knew they’d gotten through to Torch, though, and he wouldn’t have done it this way even then. He’d’ve been looking for another target, and when he was done, there wouldn’t be any question about who’d been responsible for it.”

“Why not?” Helga asked, her tone one of fascination despite the topic of the conversation, and Helen gave another, harsher snort of laughter.

“Because if my Daddy had gone after a target on Mesa, he wouldn’t have wasted his time on Green Pines. If he was in city-killing mode, he’d’ve gone after Mendel and their entire system government, not some lousy bedroom community. And, trust me, the hole would’ve been a hell of a lot deeper!”