TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 02:


It was Barregos’ turn to lean back, and he clasped his hands in front of his chest, leaning his chin on his thumbs while he tapped the tip of his nose gently with both index fingers. It was one of his favorite thinking poses, and Rozsak waited patiently while the governor considered what he’d just said.

“The thing that occurs to me,” Barregos said at length, eyes narrowing slightly as they refocused on Rozsak, “is that I don’t think Elizabeth would’ve let Ruth Winston stay on as Torch’s assistant chief of intelligence if she wasn’t thinking in terms of establishing a sort of backdoor link to Haven. It’s obvious she didn’t exactly pick High Ridge as her prime minister, after all. I’m not foolish enough to think she’s feeling particularly fond of the Republic of Haven — especially since that business at Yeltsin’s Star — but she’s smart, Luiz. Very smart. And she knows Saint-Just is dead, probably along with just about everyone else involved in that whole op. I don’t say I think knowing that’s suddenly made her fond of Havenites in general, but I do think that, deep inside, she’d really like to see Pritchart and Theisman succeed in restoring the Old Republic.”

“That’s my read, too,” Rozsak agreed. “However much she may hate ‘Peeps,’ she’s enough of a student of history to know the Republic wasn’t always the biggest, hungriest hog in the neighborhood. And however little some parts of her personality might like admitting it, I think she recognizes that seeing the Old Republic come back would be a lot less strenuous — and dangerous — than going back to hog-killing time. Not that I’m prepared to even guesstimate how likely she thinks it is that they will succeed.”

“I imagine we’re both rather more optimistic in that respect than she is.” Barregos’ smile was wintry. “Probably has something to do with our not having been at war with the People’s Republic of Haven for the last fifteen or twenty T-years.”

“That’s true enough, but I’m also inclined to think there’s some genuine principle involved here — in Torch’s case, I mean — too,” Rozsak said. “The one thing Haven and Manticore have always agreed on is how much they both hate the genetic slave trade and Manpower, Incorporated. That’s the only reason Cachat was able to put together his . . . energetic solution to the ‘Verdant Vista Problem’ in the first place. I think both Elizabeth and Pritchart have a genuine sense of having created something brand new in galactic history when they played midwife, whether they wanted to or not, to the liberation of Torch. And my impression from speaking to Prince Michael and Kevin Usher at the coronation is that both Elizabeth and Pritchart believe that even if relations break down completely again between the Republic and the Star Kingdom, Torch could provide a very useful conduit. Sometimes even people shooting at each other have to talk to each other, you know.”

“Oh, yes, indeed I do.” Barregos’ smile turned tart, and he shook his head. “But getting back to Ingemar. You think his arrangement with Stein is going to stand up now that he’s gone?”

“I think it’s as likely now as I ever thought it was,” Rozsak replied a bit obliquely, and Barregos snorted.

Luiz Rozsak had never had the liveliest faith in the reliability — or utility — of anyone in the Renaissance Association even before the assassination of Hieronymus Stein, its founder. And his faith in the integrity of Hieronymus’ successors was, if anything, even less lively. A point upon which, to be honest, Barregos couldn’t disagree with him.

There was no question in the governor’s mind that Hieronymus had been considerably more idealistic than his daughter, Jessica, yet there’d been even less question, in Oravil Barregos opinion, that his last name should have been “Quixote” instead of Stein. All the same, as the founder and visible figurehead of the Renaissance Association, he’d enjoyed a unique degree of status, both in and out of the Solarian League, which could not be denied. It might have been the sort of status which was accorded to a lunatic who genuinely believed idealism could triumph over a thousand odd years of bureaucratic corruption, but it had been genuine.

He’d also been the next best thing to completely ineffectual, which was one reason the bureaucrats who truly ran the Solarian League hadn’t had him killed decades before. He’d fretted, he’d fumed, he’d been highly visible and an insufferable gadfly, but he’d also been a convenient focus for discontent within the League precisely because he’d been so devoted to the concept of “process” and gradual reform. The bureaucracy had recognized that he was effectively harmless and actually useful because of the way he allowed that discontent to vent itself without ever accomplishing a thing.

Jessica, on the other hand, represented a distinct break with her father’s philosophy. She’d allied herself with the Association’s hard-liners — the ones who wanted fast, hard action on ‘The Six Pillars” of its fundamental principles for reform. Who were so frustrated and angry that they were no longer especially interested in restricting themselves to the legal processes which had failed them for so long. Some of them were ideologues, pure and simple. Some were passionate reformers, who’d been disappointed just a few too many times. And some were players, people who saw the Renaissance Association’s status as the most prominent reform-oriented movement in the Solarian League as a potential crowbar, a way those who weren’t part of the bureaucracy might just be able to hammer, chisel, and pry their way into a power base of their own.

Just as Barregos had never doubted Hieronymus’ idealism was genuine, he’d never doubted Jessica’s was little more than skin deep. She’d grown up in the shadows of her father’s reputation, and she’d spent her entire life watching him accomplish absolutely nothing in the way of real and lasting change while his politics simultaneously excluded her from any possibility of joining the existing power structure. His prominence, the way the reformist dilettantes and a certain strain of newsies — what was still called “the chattering class” — fawned on him, kept her so close to the entrenched structure which ran the League that she could literally taste it, yet she would never be able to join it. After all, she was the daughter and heir of the senior lunatic and anarchist-in-chief, wasn’t she? No one would be crazy enough to invite her into even the outermost reaches of the Solarian League’s real ruling circle!

Which was why she’d been so receptive to Ingemar Cassetti’s offer to have her father assassinated.

Barregos rather regretted the necessity of Hieronymus’ death, but it was a mild regret. In fact, what bothered him most about it was that it didn’t bother him any more than it did. That it was never going to cost him a single night’s sleep. It shouldn’t be that way, but Oravil Barregos had realized years ago that getting to where he wanted to be was going to cost some slivers of his soul along the way. He didn’t like it, but it was a price he was willing to pay, although not, perhaps, solely for the reasons most of his opponents might have believed.

But with Hieronymus gone, Cassetti — who, Barregos had concluded after mature consideration, had been the most loathsome single individual he’d ever personally met, however useful he might have proved upon occasion — had engineered a direct understanding and alliance between himself, as Barregos’ envoy, and Jessica Stein. Of course, Cassetti hadn’t been aware that Barregos was aware of his plans to quietly assassinate his own superior. Nor, for that matter, had Cassetti bothered to inform Barregos in the first place that Hieronymus’ death was going to be part of the bargaining process with Jessica. Then again, there’d been several things he’d somehow forgotten to mention to his superior about those negotiations. Like the fact that while the alliance the lieutenant governor had concluded with her might have been in Oravil Barregos’ name, he’d intended from the beginning to be the one sitting in the sector governor’s chair when Jessica’s debt was called in. It was evident from what Rozsak had reported from Torch that Cassetti hadn’t even guessed Barregos had seen it coming from the outset and made his own plans accordingly.

Ingemar always was more cunning than smart, Barregos reflected grimly. And he never did seem to realize other people might be just as capable as he was. For that matter, he was nowhere near as good a judge of people as he thought he was, or he would never have approached Luiz, of all people, about planting his dagger in my back!

“I know you’ve never had much faith in the Association’s efficacy,” the governor said aloud. “For that matter, I don’t have a lot of faith in its ability to actually accomplish anything. But that’s not really the reason we want its backing, now is it?”

“No,” Rozsak agreed. “On the other hand, I don’t think Jessica Stein is an honest politician.”

“You mean you don’t think she’ll stay bought?”

“I mean the woman’s a political whore,” Rozsak said bluntly. “She’ll stay bought, sort of, but she doesn’t see any reason not to sell herself to as many buyers as possible, Oravil. I just don’t think there’s any way for us to even guess at this point how many masters she’s actually going to have when the time comes for us to . . . call in our marker, let’s say.”

“Ah, but that’s when all that evidence Ingemar was so careful to preserve comes in,” Barregos said with a thin smile. “Having her on chip planning her own father’s murder gives us a pretty good stick to go with our carrot. And, when you come down to it, we really don’t need that much out of her. Just the Association’s blessing for our PR campaign when events out here ‘force our hand.'”

“All I’ve got to say on that head is that it’s a good thing we don’t need anything more out of her,” Rozsak said tartly.

“I don’t disagree, but the truth is, Luiz,” Barregos smiled at the rear admiral again, this time with atypical warmth, “that no matter how well you play the black ops game, at heart, you don’t really like it.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Rozsak’s offended look was almost perfect, Barregos noted, and he chuckled.

“I said you play it well, Luiz. In fact, I think you play it better than almost anyone else I’ve ever seen. But you and I both know the real reason you do. And” — the governor met Rozsak’s eyes levelly, and his own were suddenly much less opaque than usual — “the reason you were so willing to sign on in the first place.”