Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2011

Please find yourself reading this, the sixth part of the reread of the saga of Vorkosigan, by Lois McMaster Bujold.  The coverage of this installment will comprise the eleventh and twelfth chapter of the novel entitled Shards of Honour, the which is the first part of the novel omnibus whose title is Cordelia’s Honour.

And that’s what you get when I try to come up with an interesting introduction.  At least I didn’t use the phrase “weekend of lengthiness”.  And you should see the travesty that resulted when I tried to do an introduction in the form of an old-style text adventure game.  I deleted it, but I may try it again, so be warned.  Okay, so I may not be Leigh Butler, but I can still summarize chapters and then babble about them, so here goes.

Chapter Eleven

After weeks of routine life in the prison camp, Aral comes to talk to Cordelia; she immediately goes to meet him, despite the suspicions of her fellow prisoners.  He asks if he can speak with her, and she steers him off for a walk away from prying eyes and ears, except for Illyan, who still follows Aral.  She notes that he’s been promoted again, and he says he’s mostly just cleaning up the mess.  He apologizes for drugging her, and she says there is literally nothing to forgive.

Aral asks Illyan for privacy to discuss a personal matter; when Illyan is reluctant, he swears on his honour that it’s to do with his marriage proposal.  Illyan agrees to give them time alone.  They walk to the promontory overlooking the crater, where they’d spied on the cache so long ago, and Cordelia comments that it’s not like him to forswear his word, or to lie to her.  Cordelia asks him about the assassination plot, and he doesn’t deny it, merely states that the idea came from Negri and the Emperor, he merely carried it out.

His fingers pulled gently on the grass stems, breaking them off delicately one by one. “He didn’t come out with it directly. First he asked me to take command of the Escobar invasion. He started with a bribe—the viceroyalty of this planet, in fact, when it’s colonized. I turned him down. Then he tried a threat, said he’d throw me to Grishnov, let him have me up for treason, and no Imperial pardon. I told him to go to hell, not in so many words. That was a bad moment, between us. Then he apologized. Called me Lord Vorkosigan. He called me Captain when he wished to be offensive. Then he called in Captain Negri, with a file that didn’t even have a name, and the playacting stopped.

“Reason. Logic. Argument. Evidence. We sat in that green silk room in the Imperial Residence at Vorbarr Sultana one whole mortal week, the Emperor and Negri and I, going over it, while Illyan kicked his heels in the hall, studying the Emperor’s art collection. You are correct in your deduction about Illyan, by the way. He knows nothing about the real purpose of the invasion.

“You saw the Prince, briefly. I may add that you saw him at his best. Vorrutyer may have been his teacher once, but the Prince surpassed him some time ago. But if only he had had some saving notion of political service, I think his father would have forgiven him even his vilest personal vices.

The Prince had already attempted to assassinate his father twice, and the Emperor wanted him taken care of secretly but quickly, because his own life couldn’t be prolonged for much longer.  The Prince’s heir was only four years old, and so the Emperor needed to not only get rid of the Prince, but ensure that Grishnov and his party were out of the picture for the Regency period to follow, as well.  Aral was on the scene to ensure that everybody followed the script, including goading the Prince into being present at the end.  Cordelia surmised that the other agent was the chief surgeon, which Aral confirms.  Vorrutyer hadn’t been intended to die, just to be the scapegoat, and apologize fatally to the Emperor afterwards, but his death did mean that he didn’t get a chance to go down fighting.

Cordelia is sickened that even she and her convoy were part of the Emperor’s plan.  Aral reassures her that the Prince was really that bad, and this way was still better than a civil war.  But the Emperor didn’t want his son to die in shame, and this way he got to have a glorious death in battle.  Aral asks Cordelia if he did the right thing, but she refuses to judge him.  Cordelia discovers that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to the way he does to her.  He asks her again to marry him.

She sighed, and laid her head upon her knees, twisting a grass stem around her fingers. “I love you. You know that, I hope. But I can’t take Barrayar. Barrayar eats its children.”

After the war, Cordelia says that there will be no chance for a Barrayaran to get to Beta Colony for some years, and the “Butcher of Komarr” reputation will weigh against Aral particularly.  Cordelia says she wants to go home and see her family, and try to work out a solution to the problem, but she promises to write him, at least.  Aral says that after the cleanup he plans to go home and get drunk–the Emperor has “used him up” and can’t possibly ask anything more of him.

As they head back down the path, Aral asks if there’s anything else he can do for her, or the camp.  All Cordelia can think of is a marker for Reg Rosemont’s grave, which Aral promises to arrange.

“Wait.” He paused, and she held out a hand to him. His thick fingers engulfed her tapering ones; his skin was warm and dry, and scorched her. “Before we go pick up poor Lieutenant Illyan again . . .”

He took her in his arms, and they kissed, for the first time, for a long time.

“Oh,” she muttered after. “Perhaps that was a mistake. It hurts so much when you stop.”

“Well, let me . . .” His hand stroked her hair gently, then desperately wrapped itself in a shimmering coil; they kissed again.

At this point they are interrupted by Illyan, who reminds Aral of an upcoming meeting.  He asks if he may congratulate Aral on his engagement, and is baffled when Aral says he may not.

The next day, as the prisoners are starting to be shuttled up to the ship to take them home, Aral summons Cordelia again to confirm the details of the grave marker.  Alfredi is even more suspicious of him this time–she doesn’t buy that it took Aral and Cordelia two hours to arrange the grave marker, which had been Cordelia’s story.  Aral is busy in a conference with Illyan and two other officers when she arrives, and indicates the grave marker for her to inspect.  It is a steel slab, solid and built to last, and the information on it is correct.

Just then an Escobaran medtech comes in, despite the protests of the guard outside, demanding that Aral sign a receipt for a delivery.  The medical personnel on the ship have extracted the fetuses from any pregnant female prisoners, and are returning them to the Barrayarans, each in its own uterine replicator, each clearly labelled with the father’s DNA.  Aral is baffled, dumbfounded, and then appalled, asking what he’s supposed to do with them.  The medtech unsympathetic, asks if they thought they were going to leave that decision to the mothers.

He looks to Cordelia for help; she assures him that they’re all in working order, pointing out their green lights.  He orders the chief surgeon to attend him, and signs for them, and the data disc of maintenance instructions.  The fetuses range in age from seven weeks to four months.  Cordelia asks what they normally do with soldier’s by-blows, and Aral says that they are usually aborted.  She points out that, but for Bothari, one of those babies might have been hers and Bothari’s, or Vorrutyer’s.  Aral begs her for advice, and Cordelia says that he should take care of them–he signed for them, after all.  He considers this, and decides that he has thus pledged his word as Vorkosigan, and this sets him back on an even keel.

The surgeon arrives and is struck with cupidity at the sight of the replicators, but Aral and Cordelia are adamant that he can’t just flush the fetuses out, and that Aral has sworn that they will be protected.  The surgeon says that he doesn’t have full facilities to deal with them–that would take the resources of ImpMil, the military facilities on Barrayar.  He examines the complex instructions on the data disc, and says that there’s no way all that could be done in time, and that Aral will have to “eat his word” this time.

Vorkosigan grinned, wolfishly and without humor. “Do you recall what happened to the last man who called me on my word?”

The surgeon’s smile faded into uncertainty.

“These are your orders, then,” Vorkosigan went on, clipped. “In thirty minutes you, personally, will lift off with these—things, for the fast courier. And it will arrive in Vorbarr Sultana in less than a week. You will go to the Imperial Military Hospital and requisition, by whatever means necessary, the men and equipment needed to—complete the project. Get an Imperial order if you have to. Directly, not through channels. I’m sure our friend Negri will put you in touch. See them set up, serviced, and report back to me.”

“We can’t possibly make it in under a week! Not even in the courier!”

“You’ll make it in five days, boosting six points past emergency max the whole way. If the engineer’s been doing his job, the engines won’t blow until you hit eight. Quite safe.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Couer, scramble the courier crew, please. And get their captain on the line, I want to give him his orders personally.”

The surgeon wonders if Cordelia is to blame for this, with her “Betan sentimentality”, and Aral warns him against “Betan insubordination”.  The surgeon says he understands if Aral wants to impress his girlfriend, but he needs to think ahead.  Aral begins to visibly lose his temper, and the surgeon subsides.  Aral says that he will worry about what happens to them after they’re born.  After the surgeon leaves, Cordelia wonders if the replicators will be safe in his custody, but Aral reassures her that he’ll end up taking possession of the whole project.  Just then, Cordelia is informed that the last shuttle is ready to lift, at the same time that an urgent call comes for Aral, so they have to part abruptly and wordlessly.

Comments

Why doesn’t this surgeon ever get a name, when so many other more minor characters did?  Also, why was it so obvious to Cordelia that he was the other agent?  Don’t feel like going back to try to puzzle it out–you check it for me and let me know.

The uterine replicator delivery of the bastard fetuses is fiendishly ingenious.  Do they have a lot of rapes on Escobar, or Beta Colony, one wonders?  I suppose this isn’t necessarily a Star Trek-style future where all the bad things people do have been weeded out (except as necessary for the plot of this week’s episode), but one does get the impression that Beta, with its freewheeling sexuality, sees less rape than, say, the modern-day U.S.  I guess I don’t know as much about Escobar, since we don’t spend a lot of time there.  The fact that they were able to do same-day delivery (haw!) on the replicators means that they were ready for/expecting something like this.  They may have even requested the pregnant prisoners to go up on the first shuttle or something, to give them time for the ultra-quick extractions.  I don’t recall at this point whether most replicator fetuses are supposed to be started in vitro or in vivo (except on Athos, where of course they’re 100% vitro), but I suppose if Escobarans still have sex, and they still sometimes get pregnant that way, it should be a common enough procedure for medtechs to be practiced in it.  I think that on previous read-throughs I had missed the quick turnaround on the fetuses, though I suppose it was necessary if Cordelia was to be there to witness the delivery, unless of course there had been two separate shipments of prisoners…but why wouldn’t Cordelia, the hero of Escobar, be on the first shuttle, then?  So, skilled, fast and prepared medtechs.  Maybe they’ve dealt with Barrayarans or other uncivilized races before and were expecting this sort of thing.

Maybe it’s just that it’s the fourth or fifth time through the book for me, but Aral’s revelations about the Emperor’s plan are almost anticlimactic by this point.  It’s probably just that I’m on the lookout for all the clues now, as befits an intrepid rereader and synopsizer.  At least for the stuff I remember from earlier reads.  Maybe one day there’ll be some kind of temporary topical memory suppressant we’ll be able to use so that we can forget having read a book before and reread it for the first time again.  I’m sure somebody on Jackson’s Whole has invented it, or is working on it.

Chapter Twelve

The prisoners are sent home on a converted passenger liner, staffed with a fair number of psych officers.  Cordelia’s reluctance to talk about her experiences is soon noticed, as she avoids the “spontaneous” group therapy sessions.  A woman named Irene, obviously a covert psych officer, keeps trying to involve her in conversation, which Cordelia manages to divert, but after a week of that Cordelia finds herself with a new roommate, Joan Sprague.  Cordelia correctly deduces that Dr. Sprague is Irene’s boss, and makes it clear that she prefers to keep the “therapy” straightforward and out in the open.

Sprague asks Cordelia to try to remember what happened to her on the Barrayaran ship.  Cordelia informs her that she can remember it all too well, and would rather like to stop thinking about it.  She tells Sprague about what happened on the ship, but omitting Aral’s intervention, claiming she merely hid out on the ship until put into the brig.

“So. You don’t remember being tortured or raped by Admiral Vorrutyer, and you don’t remember killing him.”

“I wasn’t. And I didn’t. I thought I made that clear.”

The doctor shook her head sorrowfully. “It’s reported you were taken away from camp twice by the Barrayarans. Do you remember what happened during those times?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Can you describe it?”

She balked. “No.”

She doesn’t want to reveal anything that Aral told her, or that she concluded, about the plot to kill Prince Serg, because if it got back to Barrayar it could destabilize the whole government.  Instead she brings out the story about Rosemont’s grave marker again.  Sprague says her case is like that of another woman, raped by Vorrutyer and covered up by the Barrayarans; Cordelia knows the woman, the dark-haired Escobaran she met before, but says their cases are different.

Sprague brings up the physical evidence of torture–her broken arm, cracked ribs, bruises, and evidence of extreme stress.  Cordelia mentions the gravity failure, but Sprague says that all of the damage didn’t occur at the same time, so that can’t account for it all.  Sprague brings up the possibility of drug therapy to help with her memories, but it would require her voluntary cooperation, which Cordelia is thankful for, since it means she can still refuse.  She can’t get rid of Sprague as her roommate, and she soon begins to suffer from sleep deprivation because she is afraid she’ll say something in her sleep.

She ended the trip far more frayed than she had begun it, floating on the edge of real breakdown, plagued by pounding headaches, insomnia, a mysterious left-hand tremula, and the beginnings of a stutter.

After Escobar, she is conveyed to Beta Colony in a fast courier sent especially for her.  Curious, she checks out some of the Betan news coverage on the trip, and is horrified to find out that Aral is being blamed for the prisoner abuses, his “Butcher of Komarr” reputation weighing against him again.

When she arrives, she waits for a shuttle, delayed by a storm on the planet, and then finds out that she is its sole passenger when it does arrive.  They have bought her a new Expeditionary Force uniform, and they ask her to put hers on; she is amused by the shiny jackboots, which she needs the stewardess to help her into.  She sees a crowd at the shuttleport as they near, and the stewardess says that the President, “Steady Freddy”, is going to make a speech.  Cordelia looks forward to sneaking out unnoticed through the crowd.

As they arrive on the ground, Cordelia worries that there’s going to be some sort of reception for her, which she’s not sure she’s up to handling.   She is greeted by the President’s cabinet Press Secretary, Philip Gould.

She was tumbling fast. “You’re not p-planning some kind of, of d-dog and pony show out there, are you? I r-really just want to go home.”

“Well, the President is planning a speech. And he has a little something for you,” he said soothingly. “In fact, he was hoping he might make several speeches with you, but we can discuss that later. Now, we hardly expect the Heroine of Escobar to suffer from stage fright, but we have prepared some remarks for you. I’ll be with you all the time, and help you with the cues, and the press.” He passed her a hand viewer. “Do try and look surprised, when you first step out of the shuttle.”

“I am surprised.” She scanned the script rapidly. “Th-this is a p-pack of lies!”

He looked worried. “Have you always had that little speech impediment?” he asked cautiously.

“N-no, it’s my souvenir from the Escobaran psych service, and the l-late war. Who came up with this g-garbage, anyway?” The line that particularly caught her eye referred to “the cowardly Admiral Vorkosigan and his pack of ruffians.” “Vorkosigan’s the bravest man I ever met.”

Gould guides her out of the shuttle.  Cordelia says she just wants to see her mother, but Gould says she’s with the President already.  Gould leads her through masses of people and reporters until she sees her mother, collapsing into her arms with relief, though her mother doesn’t seem to understand her stress.  Her brother is also there, and her crew, also in the new uniforms.  She stands on the podium next to Steady Freddy as he makes his speech, segueing into her award.  She asks Gould if this is for the plasma mirror delivery, and Gould tells her that her crew already has that one; this is for her alone, for her killing Admiral Vorrutyer.

When it is her turn, Cordelia starts reading her speech, stammering constantly, but soon departs from the script, declaring that she’s not sure she would have deserved a medal for killing Vorrutyer even if she had done it.  She rips off the medal, telling them that one of Vorrutyer’s own men killed him, and that Aral Vorkosigan wasn’t to blame for the abuse of the prisoners.  Just then they cut off the sound pickup; she throws the medal at Steady Freddy, her arms are grabbed from behind, and when she lashes out with her new jackboots, she accidentally kicks Freddy in the crotch.  She is quickly hustled off the stage, asking please not to be sedated, as the President’s media event collapses around him.

Eventually, in private with her mother and the President’s physician, Cordelia is able to calm down, and apologize for her reaction.  The physician apologizes in return, saying that they hadn’t realized the shape she was in.  They let her go home with her mother, the crowd more subdued on the way out.  There are also crowds at her mother’s building, and outside her apartment, but finally they find themselves in solitude.

Cordelia’s mother tells her how they found about what happened to her, and Cordelia says it was just a rumour started by the Barrayarans themselves.

“What did they do to you?”

“They kept following me around, pestering me with these offers of therapy—they thought the Barrayarans had been messing with my memory. . . . Oh, I see. You mean, what did the Barrayarans do to me. Nothing much. V-vorrutyer might have liked to, but he met with his accident before he’d got half started.” She decided not to disturb her mother with the details.”Something important did happen, though.” She hesitated. “I ran into Aral Vorkosigan again.”

“That horrible man? I wondered, when I heard the name in the news, if it was the same fellow who killed your Lieutenant Rosemont last year.”

“No. Yes. I mean, he didn’t kill Rosemont, one of his people did. But he’s the same one.”

She tells her mother that Aral hid her in his cabin after Vorrutyer’s death; her mother asks if he “did anything” to her, and takes her silence as confirmation.  Cordelia tries to reassure her mother that Aral’s reputation is all wrong, but ends up volunteering the wrong sort of information and doesn’t do her cause much good.  She says that people either “worship him or hate his guts”.

“Well, I don’t hate him. Can’t say as I worship him, either.” She paused a long time, and looked up to meet her mother’s eyes squarely. “But when he’s cut, I bleed.”

A few days later, Cordelia’s commander, Commodore Tailor, visits her with a woman from the Expeditionary Force Medical Service, Dr. Mehta.  Apparently Dr. Sprague’s reports have finally caught up with her; if they had arrived earlier, they might not have subjected her to the media event.  Tailor tells her that the President is still interested in her case, and hopes to recruit her as a spokesman for the government, which Cordelia makes clear she has zero interest in.

Tailor says he wants to get her fit for work again; Cordelia says she just wants her month of leave before she returns to Survey, but Tailor says that she needs to be “medically cleared” first.  Cordelia says that Sprague got off on the wrong track, but she wants to be clear, that if she doesn’t satisfy Dr. Mehta then her Survey career is basically over.  Tailor says that’s a little harsh, but essentially correct, and Cordelia agrees to talk to her.

Comments

I couldn’t quote as much dialogue as I wanted here–I’m not sure what is appropriate or allowed, but I’m pretty sure whole pages is over the line.  Read (or reread) the book yourself–it’s classic stuff.  Cordelia’s a bit off-kilter here, and nobody seems to be actually listening to her much anyway, so there’s a lot of misunderstanding.  Between the things that Cordelia can’t tell them, and the mistaken assumptions that they’re starting from in the first place, she can’t communicate with any of the Escobarans or Betans.  Even her mother has trouble crossing the line.  And so Cordelia’s estrangement from her own people begins.

This chapter is interesting, too, because in some books the plot would be over by now.  Cordelia would go home and resume her life, mourning her missed opportunity for love, perhaps.  Or she’d never go home, turning around and deciding to stay with Aral after all.  Or maybe we’d find out that there was some sort of sinister plot back on Beta Colony.  Instead–there’s just the impossibility of understanding.  Beta Colony, with its obsessive concern for mental health and well-being, as the Betans define it (and Escobar, ditto), prove to be just as oppressive, in some circumstances, as the worst Political Officers on Barrayar.  I suppose it’s not actually considered improper to have secrets, but in Cordelia’s situation, having just returned from suspect Barrayaran contamination, it’s not allowed, probably due to the adversarial relationship between the planets.  It’s saddening.

I was trying to remember if we ever did see the man that Cordelia mentioned back in Chapter Three, the former lover who persuaded her to stand down from her promotion.  For a while I was thinking that maybe it was Rosemont, after her mother referred to her as “your Reg Rosemont”, but it doesn’t add up, if Rosemont was only a Lieutenant.  We don’t see any other Betan captains, do we?  I could have sworn we saw the guy somewhere.  I must just be misremembering.  Unless…it’s not Tailor, is it?  No, there would be more awkwardness in that case.


And that’s it for another week.  Only three more chapters, plus the short story “Aftermaths”, and then we’ll be done Shards of Honour and ready for Barrayar.  I can hardly wait.  Except, of course, I don’t get to “wait”, I have to do all the hard work.  And to think I just started to do this as a sneaky way to reread the Vorkosigan series again…

Read Full Post »

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  If you don’t know what’s going on here, then go and click on that “About” link or something.  It’s not that hard to figure out, but if you haven’t read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honour, or Cordelia’s Honour, which it’s the first half of, then maybe you should go and do that first.  I’ll wait.

Today’s installment covers Chapters Nine and Ten of Shards of Honour, in which a plan comes together, some people die and some other people go back to a planet.

Chapter Nine

Cordelia wakes up to Illyan saying that Vorhalas and the Prince are coming.  Aral and Illyan quickly stuff Bothari into the shower, and tell Cordelia to give him another dose of the sedative early in case he starts to wake up and make noise.  They shut Cordelia into the room with Bothari, but leave the door partway open, with Illyan leaning against the frame, as a psychological barrier.  Cordelia doses Bothari, then sits on the toilet, where she can see just a sliver of the room reflected in the mirror.

Vorhalas and Prince Serg arrive.  Vorhalas has the latest updates on the battle on data discs, and he says the Escobarans are on the run.  Aral says that they shouldn’t both leave the ship, that the Prince needs to stay behind to take Vorrutyer’s place.  Serg insists that he will lead his troops on the planet, and nobody will be able to say he’s not a soldier.

“You will,” said Vorkosigan wearily, “sit in that fortified palace that half the engineers are going to be tied up constructing, and party in it, and let your men do your dying for you, until you’ve bought your ground by the sheer weight of the corpses piled on it, because that’s the kind of soldiering your mentor has taught you. And then send bulletins home about your great victory. Maybe you can have the casualty lists declared top secret.”

“Aral, careful,” warned Vorhalas, shocked.

“You go too far,” the Prince snarled. “Especially for a man who will get no closer to the fighting than clinging to the wormhole exit for home. If you want to talk of—undue caution.” His tone clearly made the phrase a euphemism for an uglier term.

Aral tells him that he can hardly be confined to quarters and still accused of cowardice for not being part of the fight.  The Prince tells Aral that there’s no chance that he’ll grab any of the glory for himself.  Aral makes a formal protest, and the Prince says that after his victory Aral and the progressives will be “up against the wall”.  Just then, Bothari starts to snore, which Illyan covers with a coughing fit and a quick duck into the bathroom, where he helps Cordelia roll Bothari onto his side.

When Illyan emerges, the Prince has left, but Vorhalas is still talking to Aral.  Aral urges them to take separate ships, but Vorhalas refuses.  As he’s leaving, he asks Aral if he thinks the Escobarans will counterattack.  Aral says of course they will, and at the worst possible time, just when the Barrayarans are in the middle of debarking their troops.  Vorhalas leaves, not optimistic about the chances that the Prince will listen to reason.

Aral and Illyan are moving Bothari out of the bathroom when Aral notices that he’s not breathing.  He and Cordelia apply CPR while Illyan dashes out for an antidote to the sedative.  After Illyan returns, they manage to get him breathing again.  Aral then goes to enter his protest, which he says will be no good unless it’s filed before Vorhalas leaves.  Illyan asks if they should move the two fugitives elsewhere, but Aral reminds him that it’s quite safe, since Illyan himself removed all the bugs, and it’s got armed guards outside the cabin.  He says he only needs 26 more hours, and Illyan concludes that Aral has something planned.

Aral contacts Commander Venne in the Tactics Room and asks for regular updates to be piped up once the Prince and Vorhalas leave.  He says it’ll be twelve hours until they get to orbit and start landing, and it’ll be a one-hour communication lag each way by then.  Illyan goes to fetch some food.  Aral and Cordelia chat for a while.

“If the Emperor disliked Vorrutyer so, why did he put him in charge?”

“Because he was Grishnov’s man, and widely famous as such, and the Prince’s favorite. Putting all the bad eggs in one basket, so to speak.” He cut himself off with a fist-closing gesture.

“He made me feel like I’d met the ultimate in evil. I don’t think anything will really scare me, after him.”

“Ges Vorrutyer? He was just a little villain. An old-fashioned craftsman, making crimes one-off. The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, or anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in that future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present—they are real.” His voice fell, as he spoke, so that by the end he was almost whispering.

Cordelia observes how keyed up Aral is, and he says it’s just the waiting, and admires how calm she is.  Illyan returns with the food, and Aral sleeps fitfully, checking the tactical situation every hour or so.  Bothari returns to semi-consciousness, and they are afraid to sedate him more.  Illyan leaves to sleep in his own cabin, and Cordelia takes a nap herself; by the time Illyan returns with more food, they are about to receive the first reports from the landing troops.  As they do, Commander Venne contacts them and says they’re getting odd reports, and offers to pipe them directly to him.  Aral agrees, and they begin to hear increasingly harrowing reports of the Escobarans returning their plasma fire, despite their tiny shuttles.  They hear Gottyan’s voice, in charge of his own ship, as he prepares to drop his shields for a shot at maximum power.  Aral wonders out loud how long it will take them to figure it out, as Gottyan’s transmission abruptly cuts out.

Venne asks him to come down to the Tactics Room; when Aral says he’d been specifically confined to quarters, Venne tells Aral that he’s the ranking officer on board now, and the Prince is dead, and Admiral Vorhalas with him.  When Aral hears that, he commands that they immediately adopt his contingency plan for full retreat.  He tells Venne that the Escobarans have “plasma mirror shields”, which they got from the Betans, that reflect plasma bursts back on the attacker, which render the Barrayaran ship’s weapons useless.

Cordelia asks him how he knew about the mirror shields, and Aral tells her that he drugged her while she was asleep and she told him everything.

Comments

Aral doesn’t seem to be acting at all suspicious in this chapter, does he?  “Prince Serg, you can’t leave the ship!”  “Shut up, I’ll leave if I want to!”  Just like Cersei trying to get Robert Baratheon into the tourney by forbidding him to go.  Reverse psychology, that’s what it’s called.  Not that Serg seems to need it, he’s off in his own little world where nothing could possibly go wrong.  Also, Aral’s little speech about the “calm men in beautiful green silk rooms” can be read two ways.  It can refer to the men who planned the war…or it can refer to the men who planned on it going wrong.  But that’s next chapter.

Not sure what the point is for Bothari’s cardiac arrest episode.  It doesn’t really impact the plot, so I guess it must be a character thing–that no matter what Bothari is or what he’s done, Aral and Cordelia are still willing to give him mouth-to-mouth rather than have him die.  “The parody of a kiss was horrible, but to shrink from it beneath contempt.”  So I guess it’s really no hard feelings for the abortive rape, then.  Cordelia knows that Bothari was as much a victim as she was.  That’s Cordelia–she can’t help but see other people’s viewpoints.  I expect that if she spent enough time with Vorrutyer or Serg she would have understood and pitied them.  Until they killed her.  (Or maybe not, considering what happens to Vordarian in the next book…)

Chapter Ten

Illyan comes back to move Bothari somewhere else (presumably he’s no longer at risk now that Aral is in full charge), leaving Cordelia alone for twelve hours.  She puzzles at the question of what Aral used to drug her, and then begins to suspect that he didn’t drug her at all, which meant that he knew about the plasma mirrors all along.  And didn’t tell anyone else.  The invasion was, she realizes, intended to fail, to kill Prince Serg, Ges Vorrutyer, and the rest of the “bad eggs”, hiding the deaths among the rest of the casualties.  And if Aral didn’t get the information from her, it must have been through the Emperor himself, which meant he was plotting to kill his own son.  The enormity of the plan staggers her, and she almost hopes that she’s wrong, that Aral just drugged her after all.

Finally Illyan returns to escort her to the brig.  She is placed in a cell with a beautiful, dark-haired Escobaran woman who seems to be almost catatonic, until the Barrayarans come to take the woman away, drugging her when she struggles.  After they bind up Cordelia’s cracked ribs, she is left alone.  After a period of time measured only in ration pack deliveries, the lights begin to flicker. Cordelia floats upwards as the artificial gravity cuts out, then smashes back down when it returns extra strength.  She realizes the ship must be under attack, with the shields drawing energy from other systems.  Then the lights and gravity go out entirely, and she is flung into the darkened cell to float in midair.  Finally she manages to reach a corner, and braces herself in it, until finally the power comes back on, and she finds herself on the ceiling; she crashes to the floor and breaks her left arm.

For three hours she tries to attract anyone’s attention, but nobody comes for her until after they make it through a wormhole jump.  The lieutenant in charge of brig brings a medical corpsman around, who puts her arm in a cast.  Things return to normal, and after a while they go through another wormhole jump.

Illyan finally comes to fetch her, and she asks if Aral was all right after the attack; Illyan assures her he’s fine.  He tells her she’s going to be shuttled to a POW camp onplanet, to be held there until exchanged home.  The war is over; the Barrayarans have retreated, but they blocked the wormhole behind them.

“How the devil do you block a wormhole?”

“In a way, it’s a very old idea. Fireships.”

“Huh?”

“Send a ship in, set up a major matter-antimatter explosion at a midpoint between nodes. It sets up a resonance—nothing else can get through for weeks, until it dies down.”

Cordelia whistled. “Clever—why didn’t we think of that? How do you get the pilot out?”

“Maybe that’s why you didn’t think of it. We don’t.”

“God—what a death.” Her vision of it was clear and instant.

“They were volunteers.”

Illyan says they have about a thousand prisoners, compared to over ten thousand Barrayarans left behind on Escobar, so she should be pretty valuable.

In the shuttle, she is accompanied by one of the techs from her own ship, and the dark-haired Escobaran woman.  The tech has been in a cell the whole time and doesn’t know much about what’s going on, and the woman, who was captured two months ago, can’t remember much of what happened on the ship; Cordelia surmises she may have been another of Vorrutyer’s victims.

When the shuttle arrives, Cordelia is pleasantly surprised to find that they are once again on the nameless planet, right next to the underground depot.  They are processed in, and Cordelia and the Escobaran sent to the women’s quarters, which are only sparsely occupied.  The ranking officer, Lieutenant Marsha Alfredi, is relieved to find that Cordelia is higher rank and can take over.  Alfredi says that the guards have been “pigs”, until the previous day, when the worst of the guards were suddenly relieved, and the camp commandant taken out and shot.  Cordelia fills them in on the Barrayarans’ retreat, and the prisoners are surprised but jubilant.  She tells them there’s a new commander, hence the changes, but when she mentions Vorkosigan’s name, the “Butcher of Komarr”‘s reputation has them all worried again.

The other prisoners come over to hear if the rumous of peace are true, and Parnell jumps up on a bunk and says that he heard from a Barrayaran guard that the invasion failed because Cordelia assassinated Vorrutyer.  Cordelia protests that that’s not what happened, but the prisoners are too busy cheering her and carrying her on their shoulders to be interested in details and denials.

The truth was too complicated and ambiguous to appeal to them, and she herself, suppressing everything in it that had to do with Vorkosigan, was unable to make it sound convincing. Her duty seemed drained of meaning, dull and discolored. She longed for home, and her sensible mother and brother, and quiet, and one thought that would connect to another without making a chain of secret horror.

Comments

(Chain of Secret Horror would be a great name for a metal band.  Just sayin’.)

So, Cordelia figures out what’s really going on.  I’m not sure whether the whole plot was planned out in full before Aral was brought into it or not; I seem to recall that he became involved after the failed assassination attempt on him, but now I can’t recall for sure where that’s stated.  Now Cordelia’s presented with what I might call “Rorschach’s Choice”.  Basically, when a lot of people die, and you discover that they have been sacrificed against their will for what might nevertheless end up being a net gain, for instance when they, or a similar number of other people, would have died anyway–do you tell people about it, however heinous the loss of life might have been, and thus nullify the thing that might have been gained by their deaths?

Other random, non-plot-related events–Cordelia’s arm getting broken in the artificial gravity glitch.  Unless it affects the plot in the next couple of chapters.  Maybe people start saying, “Oh, that Butcher of Komarr, he even broke her arm, poor thing.”  Seriously, one gets a little tired of the Butcher of Komarr thing.  He’s gotten rid of the abusive guards and shot their commander…but oh, he’s going to be worse, because he’s the Butcher of Komarr!  He could give all of the captives’ children puppies and cotton candy, and everyone would suspect him of secret, hidden cruelty, because he’s the Butcher of Komarr!  Of course, sometimes evil, heartless, and/or amoral characters do thing which have good effects merely to satisfy their whims, or because they despise inefficiency (they’re Lawful Evil rather than Chaotic, you see), but we know Aral’s not like that…  I hope he spent those extra character points he got from his Reputation (12-, Bad) wisely.

Also, we will see the beautiful amnesiac dark-haired Escobaran woman again.  In fact, she was mentioned earlier–as the “other female prisoner” from a few weeks earlier who fell into Vorrutyer’s clutches.  I’m pretty sure it’s the same one, anyway, and Cordelia may even have figured it out.


So we’re now two-thirds of the way through the book, if I recall correctly.  We’re practically into the denouement, except that there’s one more plot twist before the end…well, not a plot twist, per se, but more consequences of the events of the book before we can start to settle down.  Until next week, then…

Read Full Post »

The Vorkosigan Saga Reread returns again today to go through another couple of chapters from Lois McMaster Bujold’s amazing…Vorkosigan Saga. This week we cover two more chapters of Shards of Honour, in which a lot of things happen–one person gets killed, one person goes catatonic, and one person has an eidetic memory.

Chapter Seven

Cordelia–now a Captain in the Betan Expeditionary Force–commands a slow bulk freighter, which is preparing for a wormhole jump. The ship normally goes from Beta Colony to Escobar, but the Barrayaras have been blockading the wormhole for over sixty days. Last she heard, the Escobarans and Barrayarans space fleets were still manoeuvering. She hands the ship over to the pilot, who takes them through the wormhole, in what seems like only a few seconds for her but hours for him.

On the other side of the wormhole they find six Barrayaran ships, two of which are already moving, despite the fact that nothing’s been through the wormhole for a month. The Barrayarans begin to fire plasma; while the Betans’ shields absorb it, they ready the projection device in engineering. The projector creates a sensor image of a dreadnought as if it just came through the wormhole, drawing the Barrayarans’ attention. The projector drains energy from Cordelia’s ship, but the projected dreadnought draws the Barrayarans away from the wormhole. The engineer says they have enough power to keep it up for ten minutes, and Cordelia says they have orders to slag it when they’re done.

Three real Betan freighters, stripped down for cargo and speed, pop through the wormhole and evade the off-station Barrayarans, heading for Escobar, and the fake dreadnought explodes. Cordelia’s ship is now drained, and they drift, their artificial gravity failing. They board a lifeboat, disguised to look like a rock, and leave the ship. Cordelia destroys the projector remotely, and they gradually accelerate away. A warning light comes on, and Cordelia kills the thrust and internal power and adds a little artful tumble. Nonetheless, they are taken in tow by the Barrayarans. They open communications, and Cordelia identifies them as an unarmed lifeboat. The pilot, Parnell, says that he and the others are willing to blow up the shuttle rather than be captured, but Cordelia says that they were handpicked for their ignorance of any real information, and the Barrayarans aren’t all bad.

The Barrayarans pick them up in a fast courier and take them to the flagship, where the Betans are stripped and given shapeless orange pajamas; Cordelia is separated from her men, and brought to Vice-Admiral Vorrutyer, who instantly sparks fear and instant dislike in her. He orders her to identify herself and she complies; he orders the soldiers to strip her, and pronounces her “A little old, but she’ll do.” She dresses again, as slowly as possible, to vex her captors, and is led to a cell, where she is left for about an hour before she summoned before Vorrutyer again.

Vorrutyer’s quarters are large, three cabins’ merged together, and decorated sumptuously. Vorrutyer orders her guards to strap her to the bed and leave her.

She tried to string herself along; maybe he’s only a rapist. It might be possible to handle a simple rapist. Such direct, childlike souls, hardly offensive at all. Even vileness has a relative range. . . .

“I don’t know any military secrets worth a thing,” she fenced. “This isn’t really worth your time.”

“I didn’t think you did,” he replied easily. “Although you will undoubtedly insist on telling me everything you know over the next few weeks. Quite tedious, I’m not in the least interested. If I want your information, my medical staff can have it out of you in a trice.” He sipped his wine. “Although it’s curious you should bring up the subject—perhaps I will send you to sickbay, later today.”

Her stomach knotted. Fool, she shrieked silently at herself, did you just blow a chance of ducking interrogation? But no, it had to be standard operating procedure—he’s just working you over. Subtle. Calm . . .

He drank again. “Do you know, I think I shall enjoy having an older woman for a change. The young ones may look pretty, but they’re too easy. No sport. I can tell already, you’re going to be great sport. A very great fall requires a very great height, to fall from, not so?”

She sighed, and gazed up at the ceiling. “Well, I’m sure it will be educational.” She tried to remember how she’d occupied her mind during sex with her old lover, in the bad times before she’d finally shed him. This might well be no worse. . . .

Vorrutyer gets out a small knife and slices her pajamas away. He deliberately makes a small cut in her thigh, but since it’s in the spot where her nerves were deadened by the nerve disruptor, she doesn’t feel it. Vorrutyer tells her he’s not going to rape her, but he got an idea from an eighteenth-century book about having her raped by a diseased servant. In this case, only mentally diseased, a paranoid schizophrenic who hears voices, one he’s used before. There’s a knock on the door, and Vorrutyer lets in Sergant Bothari.

Her boiling imagination lurched to his body. His body—it was all wrong, somehow, hunched in his black uniform, not like the straight figure she had last seen demanding pride of place from Vorkosigan. Wrong, wrong, terribly wrong. A head taller than Vorrutyer, yet he seemed almost to creep before his master. His spine was coiled with tension as he glowered down at his—torturer? What, she wondered, might a mind molester like Vorrutyer do with the material presented by Bothari? God, Vorrutyer, do you imagine, in your amoral flashy freakiness, in your monstrous vanity, that you control this elemental? And you dare play games with that sullen madness in his eyes? Her thoughts kept time with her racing pulse. There are two victims in this room. There are two victims in this room. There are two . . .

Vorrutyer orders him to rape Cordelia; Cordelia is filled with fear and pity, and tells him, “I believe that the tormented are very close to God. I’m sorry, Sergeant.” Bothari, recognizing her, refuses to carry out the order, calling her “Vorkosigan’s prisoner”. Vorrutyer is surprised, but then recognizes her as “Vorkosigan’s Betan”. This fills him with glee, as he realizes he has a weapon to use on Aral, almost as good as the time he told him about his wife.

“Do you know, you have quite overwhelmed me. The possibilities you present—eighteen years were not too long to wait for so ideal a revenge. A woman soldier. Ha! He probably thought you the ideal solution to our mutual—difficulty. My perfect warrior, my dear hypocrite, Aral. You have much to learn of him, I wager. But do you know, I somehow feel quite certain he hasn’t mentioned me to you.”

“Not by name,” she agreed. “Possibly by category.”

“And what category was that?”

“I believe the term he used was ‘scum of the service.’ “

Vorrutyer tells her that her “puritan lover” Aral was quite a “merry widower”, and counted Vorrutyer himself among his lovers. He reflects out loud on the probable reaction if he were to take a lock of Cordelia’s hair and bring it out casually in front of Aral at some staff meeting. He cuts off a thick strand of her hair, and outlines more plans for torturing Aral with her. After that, he decides he’ll rape her after all.

Bothari has been muttering to himself and pacing around the room, but when Vorrutyer climbs on top of her, Bothari grabs the knife from where Vorrutyer has set it down and cuts Vorrutyer’s throat. Cordelia asks Bothari as politely as she can to unstrap her, and he undoes one buckle, allowing her to free herself from the rest. She searches through Vorrutyer’s cabinets, finding a number of unspeakable torture devices, and eventually finds some black fatigues to put on. Bothari is nearly catatonic, sitting curled up on the floor.

As she considers how to get him out of the cabin and where to hide him, the door opens and there stands Aral, plasma arc in hand.

Comments

Wow, a lot happens in this chapter. For one thing, we get to see this “projector” thing that was mentioned in passing in the last chapter. I’m not sure why it was on the Rene Magritte, if they were an exploration ship…or did they know more about the Barrayaran presence on the unnamed planet than Cordelia revealed to us? If not, why would they have it on their ship on a routine mission? Can’t remember if this is resolved later or not.

The transition is quite fast, though, from the ship to the lifeboat to capture to attempted rape. I would never have believed, if you’d asked me two weeks ago, that this was all in one chapter. Perhaps it would have worked better to stretch the timeline out, but maybe Bujold had to cut out something in her final draft so her book wouldn’t be too long for the publisher, and she decided to speed up this bit. The result is, too, that Vorrutyer gets less than a whole chapter onscreen before he gets killed. Which we’re all grateful for, I’m sure. It was enough to make me forgive Bothari for Dubauer and any other earlier crimes. It instantly adds layers to his character, anyway. This chapter plants the seeds for the odd rapport between Cordelia and Bothari.

Also, if people like Vorrutyer can be in high positions in the Barrayaran military, then maybe people are right to believe a lot of bad things about them. There is a partial explanation for that in the next chapter, and the sense that somebody (Aral, at least, in this case) is trying to do something about the problem. And it certainly never seems quite as bad in later books as it does right now, so there must been a major cleanup in there somewhere. A fair bit of venality, and the odd bit of corruption here and there, but not a Vice-Admiral raping prisoners, not even bothering to hide it from his crew.

I left out a lot of the repartee between Vorrutyer and Cordelia, as, for the most part, it consisted of her trying to put on a brave face despite her helplessness, and him trying to scare her even more. It is important from a character point of view, to show that he’s not just a physical sadist, but a little of it carries the flavour, I think.

Chapter Eight

Cordelia tells Aral to come in and close the door; seeing another officer behind him, she merely says that there’s been an accident. Aral tells the officer, a Lieutenant Illyan, to “witness this with the greatest attention”. The two of them go around the room, inspecting the situation.

“Been reading the Marquis again, have you?” he addressed the corpse with a sigh. He turned it over with the toe of his boot, and a little more blood ran out of the meaty slice in its neck. “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” He glanced up at Cordelia. “Which of you should I congratulate?”

She moistened her lips. “I’m not sure. How annoyed is everyone going to be about this?”

Aral tells her the Emperor will be delighted, but privately, and Cordelia tells him that Bothari did the honours, since she was tied up. Aral says he’s reminded of the scene in the engine room on the General Vorkraft–a day late, and a dollar short. Cordelia says that in fact, he came just in time, and Aral says that at least he can rescue his ship from her, if that wasn’t the rescue he was planning.

Examining Bothari, he says that Vorrutyer has almost ruined him again, after Aral had managed to almost make him well. He tries to get Bothari to move, then thinks better of it and asks Cordelia to try instead.

She got down into the line of his sight. “Bothari. Bothari, look at me. You’ve got to get up, and walk a little way.” She took his blood-coated hand, and tried to think of a line of reason, or more likely unreason, that might reach him. She tried a smile. “Look. See? You’re washed in blood. Blood washes away sin, right? You’re going to be all right now. Uh, the bad man is gone, and in a little while the bad voices will go away too. So you come along with me, and I’ll take you where you can rest.”

During this speech he gradually focused on her, and at the end he nodded, and stood. Still holding his hand, she followed Vorkosigan out, Illyan bringing up the rear. She hoped her psychological band-aid would hold; an alarm of any sort might touch him off like a bomb.

Aral’s quarters are just across the corridor, thankfully but surprisingly, and Cordelia asks if he’d been there the whole time. Aral (who is now a Commodore) says that he just got back in a fast courier and had been in conference with Admiral Vorhalas and Prince Serg. A guard told him about Vorrutyer’s newest prisoner, but he didn’t imagine that it would be Cordelia. They enter Aral’s quarters and lock the door. Cordelia expresses surprise that Aral would serve a man like Vorrutyer, and he protests that he serves the Emperor.

Cordelia worries that Aral will ask her about the freighters, but instead he introduces her to Simon Illyan, his “spy”–placed to keep an eye on him for the Emperor by Captain Negri, head of Imperial Security, as part of a compromise with the Ministry of Political Education. Illyan has an eidetic memory biochip.

Aral tries to think about how to present the murder scene. He wants to keep Bothari out of it, since the Prince won’t care that he’s insane. Instead, Cordelia will have to have killed Vorrutyer herself before escaping. He’ll get some sedatives and hide Bothari and Cordelia in his cabin. He and Illyan leave to go officially find the murder scene, leaving Cordelia to stay and keep an eye on Bothari.

She tries to sit Bothari down in a chair, but he soon gets up and paces, muttering to invisible companions. Illyan arrives with some sedatives; Bothari says “Servants of the beast are the beast’s hands. He feeds them on the wife’s blood. Bad servants.” Illyan gives the ampules to Cordelia and slips back out.

She set the bulk of the ampules aside, and approached him with a sunny smile. Its effect was diminished by her eyes, large with fear. Bothari’s eyes were flickering slits. “Commodore Vorkosigan wants you to rest now. He sent some medicine to help you.”

He backed warily before her, and she stopped, cautious of forcing him into a corner. “It’s just a sedative, see?”

“The beast’s drugs made the demons drunk. They sang and shouted. Bad medicine.”

“No, no. This is good medicine. It will make the demons go to sleep,” she promised. This was walking a tightrope in the dark. She tried another tack.

“Come to attention, soldier,” she said sharply. “Inspection.”

Bothari reacts badly to this, grabbing her arm and trying to knock the ampule out of her hand, but Cordelia manages to inject him just before he flings her across the room. She fetches up against the door, and goes limp when Bothari lunges after her, but that doesn’t stop him. He puts a knee to her ribs and his hands around her neck, but soon the sedatives take effect and he collapses, rolling off of her. She tries to lift him onto the bed, then gives up and shoves a pillow under his head.

Finally Aral and Illyan return.

“Well?” said Cordelia. “How did it go?”

“With machine-like precision, like a wormhole jump to hell,” Vorkosigan replied. He turned his hand palm upward in a familiar gesture that caught her heart like a hook.

He clarifies that he’s under arrest for suspicion of conspiracy, and confined to quarters, since the Prince suspects he and Bothari were working together. Cordelia asks for clarification, since this doesn’t sound “just fine” to her, but Illyan reminds Aral that he’s not supposed to incriminate himself. Aral says that he’s done everything the Emperor has asked him to, sacrificed everything, but he will be granted this. Illyan explains that a similar situation with a female prisoner occurred a few weeks earlier, and he persuaded Aral not to intervene, on the condition that he wouldn’t interfere the next time. Aral reassures Illyan that if their two guests are not found, then the Emperor can edit the reports as he wishes, and if they are found, that’ll be the least of their problems. Illyan points out that it won’t take them long to search Aral’s quarters, and Aral urges Illyan to redirect the search elsewhere, perhaps onto ships that may have departed the flagship in the interim, using all of his Imperial influence that he can muster, to give him 48 hours at least.

After Illyan departs, Cordelia apologizes for complicating matters, and Aral says that in fact she has simplified them enormously.

“East is west, up is down, and being falsely arrested for getting your C.O.’s throat cut is a simplification. I must be on Barrayar. I don’t suppose you’d care to explain what’s going on around here?”

“No. But at last I understand why there have been so many madmen in Barrayaran history. They are not its cause, they are its effect.” He sighed, and spoke so low it was almost a whisper. “Oh, Cordelia. You have no idea how much I need one sane clean person near me. You are water in the desert.”

He asks if Cordelia is tired, and she says she’d rather have a shower. Aral notices her leg wound, but Cordelia says she has no nerves there. She asks about a change of clothes, and Aral surprises her by pulling her old Betan Survey fatigues out of a drawer. Cordelia is surprised that he saved her clothes, and Aral says it was all she left except for the shuttle. Cordelia then admits she still has the Barrayaran fatigues she was wearing at home, too.

After her shower, she finds Aral working on his computer. It’s his job to work out contingency plans for a retreat from Escobar, as his punishment for doubting the invasion’s chance of success in the first place. Cordelia asks if he was ever charged with treason, and Aral says that the charges are in abeyance, with everyone being more interested in the invasion. Minister Grishnov, head of Political Security, and Prince Serg expect their power to outweigh the Emperor’s after they conquer Escobar. They even promoted Aral, but put him under Vorrutyer’s command.

Cordelia asks how long he’s known Vorrutyer, and Aral says since school, when he was just a voyeur, but he’s gotten worse since then, with Prince Serg’s influence. She tells him how Bothari fought the sedatives, and Aral says that Vorrutyer liked to drug his captives, and probably Bothari as well. He tells her about Captain Negri, head of Imperial Security, uninterested in a higher rank and utterly loyal to the Emperor.

Cordelia mentions her sore ribs from Bothari’s assault earlier, and Aral examines it, declaring two ribs to be cracked. While he tapes them up, Cordelia asks if he’s ever considered just leaving Barrayar behind and going someplace inconsequential, like Earth. He says he’d thought of looking her up on Beta Colony, but he doesn’t think he has many skills marketable on Beta.

“The only employment I can think of would be as a teacher of martial arts, for sport. Would you marry a judo instructor, dear Captain? But no,” he sighed. “Barrayar is bred in my bones. I cannot shake it, no matter how far I travel. This struggle, God knows, has no honor in it. But exile, for no other motive than ease—that would be to give up all hope of honor. The last defeat, with no seed of future victory in it.”

She thought of the deadly cargo she had convoyed, now safe on Escobar. Compared to all the lives that hung on it, her own and Vorkosigan’s weighed less than a feather. He misread the grief in her face, she thought, for fear.

“It isn’t exactly like waking from the nightmare, to see your face.” He touched it gently, fingertips on the curve of her jaw, thumb laid a moment across her lips, lighter than a kiss. “More like, knowing, while dreaming still, that beyond the dream there is a waking world. I mean to join you in that waking world, someday. You’ll see. You’ll see.” He squeezed her hand and smiled reassuringly.

Bothari stirs, and Aral sends Cordelia to go sleep while he looks after Bothari.

Comments

This is another talky chapter, mostly, except when Bothari is conscious. I was tempted to quote much more than I did. So, Simon Illyan’s first appearance, yay! And, I believe the first time Prince Serg is given a name…and a bit of personality, as another scumbag. How bad must he be, to have corrupted Vorrutyer into what he was?

Also interesting to think of the secrets between the two of them, since they are still enemy combatants, sort of–Cordelia and the cargo she helped sneak through to Barrayar, and…well, Aral’s secret plan as well, which we’ll find out more about later. For now, let’s just leave it that he is sacrificing his honour for a higher purpose.

Cordelia seems to be holding up quite well after being nearly raped, twice.  Part of that may just be that her situation is desperate enough that she can’t afford to fall apart, and she’s disciplined enough to hold herself together.  Perhaps she breaks down a bit later.  Still, it’s not like she and Aral jump into bed together or anything.  Of course, Bothari is there, albeit unconscious, and who knows what he’d do if woke up to find them having sex…  It’d probably trigger something nasty, in his present state.  Also, while Vorrutyer’s cabin is likely soundproofed (unless he doesn’t care who hears–he certainly doesn’t seem to care who knows what’s going on), Vorkosigan’s might not be, and so that’d be a bit of a giveaway.


I think that this is about halfway through the book. Looks like it has fifteen chapters, plus the little short story “Aftermaths” that Bujold decided to include with “Shards” for some reason. So…another month or so, and I’ll be done this one and onto Barrayar.

Read Full Post »

Feast your eyes on this attractive new model of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread! Yup, it’s a Volume 3, chapters 5 and 6… How does it handle? Well, it may throw you a few curves you don’t see coming, unless you’ve been down the road before…

Wow, that’s pretty lame. Perhaps I should stop trying to emulate Leigh Butler quite so obviously.

Chapter Five

The next morning, Cordelia finds a guard outside her quarters, and immediately recognized him as the man who shot Dubauer back on the planet, Sergeant Bothari. She asks to go to sickbay, and he merely says, “Yes, ma’am,” and marches off, with her following behind. She wonders whether he was posted guard to keep her inside or to keep others out.

Dubauer is dressed in black fatigues, like she is, and seems to have been treated well, but still isn’t very responsive. She then visits Aral, who is in bed but working busily on a computer interface, in company with a man he introduces as his Second Officer, Lt. Commander Vorkalloner. She and Vorkalloner exchange awkward conversation, until Cordelia asks why they were so anxious to capture all the Betans. Vorkalloner just says “Orders”, and wonders if they were sent here as some sort of punishment. Aral says that nobody was supposed to be hurt, and if it hadn’t been for the mutiny, it would likely have been quite bloodless.

Cordelia counters that she’s not sorry to have messed up their invasion plans, which catches Vorkalloner by surprise. Aral is unsurprised that she figure it out after seeing the cache, though it’s still under debate.

“What invasion?” probed Vorkalloner hopefully.

With luck, none,” answered Vorkosigan, allowing himself to be persuaded to partial frankness. “One of those was enough for a lifetime.” He seemed to look inward on private, unpleasant memories.

Vorkalloner plainly found this a baffling attitude from the Hero of Komarr. “It was a great victory, sir. With very little loss of life.”

“On our side.” Vorkosigan finished typing his report and signed it off, then entered a request for another form and began fencing at it with the light pen.

“That’s the idea, isn’t it?”

“It depends on whether you mean to stay or are just passing through. A very messy political legacy was left at Komarr. Not the sort of thing I care to leave in trust for the next generation. How did we get onto this subject?” He finished the last form.

Cordelia asks who they are planning to invade, and Vorkalloner asks why he hasn’t heard about it. Aral says that the details are classified, and since his demotion even he doesn’t have clearance for them any more; he only confirmed that Cordelia had guessed herself, and he himself was only asked for his opinion, which they didn’t like anyway. Cordelia surmises that that’s why they were sent here for guard duty; Aral obliquely confirms that it was the Emperor himself who asked for his opinion in the first place.

Aral says that the surgeon will be releasing him in the afternoon if he behaves, and asks to speak with her in her quarters to clarify some matters. The surgeon comes in and sends Cordelia and Vorkalloner out. She spends the rest of the morning wandering around the ship, discovering which areas she’s allowed to go into and which ones Bothari will keep her out of with a simple, “No, ma’am.” The limit of what she manages to elicit from Bothari is that he doesn’t like Vorkosigan, or any Vors, and that Cordelia herself is “like a Vor”.

In ther afternoon, she looks at innocuous library vids about Barrayar, and is struck at how hospitable the world is compared to Beta Colony–real oceans, no rebreathers or heat shields required outside, and immensely varied climate and terrain. Aral knocks on her door and enters, in dress uniform for some reason; he leaves Bothari outside, and makes a point of propping the door open a crack to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

She asks him about Barrayar, and he describes summers in the resort town of Bonsanklar, with the high point being the Emperor’s Birthday celebration at Midsummer; he says he’d like to take her there sometime. He tells her that they’re not likely to return to Barrayar that soon, but they won’t keep her prisoner there, and she’ll be free to return home if she wishes.

“If I wish!” She laughed a little, uncertainly, and sat back against her hard pillow. He was watching her face intently. His posture was a fair simulation of a man at his ease, but one boot was tapping unconsciously. His eye fell on it, he frowned, and it stopped. “Why shouldn’t I wish?”

“I thought, perhaps, when we arrive on Barrayar, and you are free, you might consider staying.”

“To visit—where you said, Bonsanklar, and so on? I don’t know how much leave I’ll have, but—sure, I like to see new places. I’d like to see your planet.”

“Not a visit. Permanently. As—as Lady Vorkosigan.” His face brightened with a wry smile. “I’m making a hash of this. I promise, I’ll never think of Betans as cowards again. I swear your customs take more bravery than the most suicidal of our boys’ contests of skill.”

She let her breath trickle out through pursed lips. “You don’t—deal in small change, do you?” She wondered where the phrase about hearts leaping up came from. It felt far more like the bottom dropping out of her stomach. Her consciousness of her own body shot up with a lurch; she was already overwhelmingly conscious of his.

He asks if he’s too sudden; he’s been waiting for days, even since seeing her in the ravine. Cordelia says she’s more confused than offended, which seems to relieve him. He says that he’s thinking that he’s thinking of leaving the military and perhaps seeking a career in politics, to stop the problems at the souce rather than just cleaning up their results. She asks how one starts a political career on Barrayar; he says one can either rise through the ranks–not much of an option for him, since his career is blighted–join the Council of Counts, which he will anyway once his father dies, or Imperial appointment, which is risky if the Emperor falls out with him, or dies.

“My one advantage with him is that he enjoys plain speaking. I don’t know how he acquired the taste for it, because he doesn’t get much of it. Do you know, I think you’d like politics, at least on Barrayar. Maybe because it’s so similar to what we call war, elsewhere.”

There is still the problem of the escape of Cordelia’s ship, which is exactly the problem that Aral’s mission was designed to prevent. The fact that Aral was out of commission at the time might mitigate matters slightly, or the problem might be exacerbated by Aral’s predictions of failure at the outset, resulting in a charge of treason.

Cordelia asks what makes this invasion so different from Komarr, and Aral says that Komarr was vulnerable in an almost textbook fashion–population concentrated in domed cities in a hostile environment, and high-handed behaviour by the rulers, imposing tariffs which made them widely disliked and soft from living off other’s earnings. This invasion, he says, is of Escobar–a major planetary hub, “old, rich, and temperate”, and a neighbour of Beta Colony. Cordelia realizes that if there is a jump from this system to Escobar, that explains why the Barrayarans have tried to keep it secret. All of Escobar’s allies–Beta Colony, Tau Ceti V, and Jackson’s Whole among them–will be drawn in, unless the Barrayarans can conquer it swiftly enough to make it a fait accompli.

Cordelia tells Aral that Beta Colony will be aiding Escobar, with supplies if not more directly, and he says that he would be trying to blockade them. She realizes that her decision will not be easy, and she lies there thinking for a long time after Aral leaves.

Comments

I was never sure why Aral suddenly up and proposed right here. Cordelia’s analysis of the matter in Barrayar makes it a little clearer, but right now it seems, to me, a little sudden and out of the blue. If I hadn’t read this book the first time with the foreknowledge that Aral and Cordelia were destined to get together, I imagine I would have been scratching my head. I mean, what would make this guy, with his blighted career and dark past, suddenly fling himself at a woman who is a) his prisoner and b) from a completely culture? Is he just thinking that at least he wouldn’t be screwing up some nice Barrayaran woman? Is this his token symbol of rebellion against Barrayaran culture? Or is he just feeling something that Cordelia isn’t? I’ve been fairly careful to highlight all of the bits where Cordelia seems attracted to him (except maybe the one in this scene where she drools politely over him in his dress uniform), and to me they still don’t add up to much. What little attraction and sympathy she does feel seems more like Stockholm Syndrome than love. At least she doesn’t immediately say “Yes!” and leap into his arms, more like she puts up an “It’s complicated” on Facebook. I’m sure the beauty (in her eyes) of the planet of Barrayar itself is a factor, though.

I’m also not sure why he tells her about Escobar. Sure, she figured out that there was going to be an invasion, but she didn’t have a clue where, without knowing about the Escobar wormhole, so why did he give it away? Of course, he’s not in favour of the invasion, but is he willing enough to risk his career to blurt out secrets to someone from another nation, if not quite an enemy combatant? Maybe he thinks he’s going to be up for treason anyway, so he might as well go whole hog. Except that he doesn’t know that Cordelia’s going to be rescued…or does he? Is that all part of his plan too? No, while he does seem to be planning things in layers later in the book, I didn’t get the sense he was doing so at this point, or that he would be able to predict the actions of Betans that accurately.

Chapter Six

Cordelia spends the next morning reading in her cabin, trying to assimilate her conversation with Aral. She goes through some Barrayaran histories, including one of Emperor Dorca Vorbarra, great-grandfather of Aral and ruler at the end of the Time of Isolation. Someone knocks on her door and she absentmindedly summons them in. She looks up to see two men dressed in Barrayaran fatigues, and only slowly recognizes them as two of her Betan crewmembers, just as an alarm klaxon starts up. Lieutenant Stuben has sacrificed his hair to a buzzcut, and Lieutenant Lai has rolled up sleeves and pantlegs on a too-large uniform.

Cordelia berates them for having disobeyed her orders to flee, and Stuben says that they voted to come back for her, once they found out that it was “The Butcher of Komarr” who had captured her. Cordelia informs them about the Escobar invasion plan, and how they would have ruined the Barrayarans’ chance of surprise if they’d gotten away and reported the planet’s existence; now they’ve jeopardized that. Stuben is astonished that she’s found all that out. She asks where the ship (the Rene Magritte) is now, and how they got in; Stuben says they have no time, but Cordelia insists on hearing the details before she leves her cabin.

Stuben says that the Barrayarans pursued them for two days, the Betans staying just out of range, not even on full power, hoping to circle back. Then the Barrayarans cut off the pursuit and turned around; the Betans followed soon after. They used full thrust this time, then cut everything and sailed past silently. “The projector worked just fine as a muffler,” Stuben adds; Cordelia emphasizes her concern about “the projector” falling into Barrayaran hands. They left the Rene Magritte itself slingshotting around the sun, ready to come back and pick them up. Then they found two Barrayarans–Radnov and Darobey–on the planet while they were looking for Cordelia and Dubauer, and have made common cause with them. Together they hijacked a patrol that was looking for Radnov, stunning all of them except for one who got hit with a nerve disruptor, stole the uniforms and their shuttle, and snuck back onto the General Vorkraft. There, Radnov and Darobey let their co-conspirators out, and have gone to take over the engine room. The deal is that they will disable weapons while the Betans escape in the shuttle.

Cordelia is dismayed at this turn of events, to say the least, and tries to think of some way to salvage matters. She tells Stuben and Lai that Dubauer is in sickbay, and orders them to stay put and learn the ship’s layout while she goes to “check something”. She heads to the bridge, to find Aral, his officers and Bothari listening to Radnov making demands from the engine room. Radnov is demanding the Aral, Gottyan and Vorkalloner give themselves up, or they’ll start letting out the air, and then begins blaring a shipwide message exhorting the Barrayaran soldiers to turn their captain over. After Bothari blasts the speaker to shut the noise down, Aral asks for volunteers to assault the engine room; himself and Bothari, but he rejects Gottyan and Vorkalloner, insisting they need to stay behind to clean up matters. Vorkalloner points out that they’ll be using nerve disruptors, and Bothari insists that he should go first by right, which Aral agrees with.

Cordelia shook her head helplessly, the glimmer of a terrifying idea beginning in the back of her brain. “I—I—I have to withdraw my parole now.”

Vorkosigan looked puzzled, then waved it aside for a more immediate concern. “If I should chance to end up like your Ensign Dubauer—remember my preferences. If you can bring yourself to it, I would like it to be by your hand. I’ll tell Vorkalloner. Can I have your word?”

“Yes.”

“You’d better stay in your cabin until this is over.”

He reached out to her shoulder, to touch one curl of red hair resting there, then turned away. Cordelia fled down the corridor, Radnov’s propaganda droning senselessly in her ears. Her plan blossomed furiously in her mind. Her reason yammered protest, like a rider on a runaway horse; you have no duty to these Barrayarans, your duty is to Beta Colony, to Stuben, to the Rene Magritte—your duty is to escape, and warn . . .

Cordelia leaves the bridge, returning to her quarters, cooking up a desperate plan. She tells Lai and Stuben to pick up Dubauer and return to the shuttle, and leave without her if she’s not back by a certain time. She takes Stuben’s stunner and heads off to engineering. A large group of men is assembling for the assault, while Yeoman Nilesa and another man are guarding the entry port. She tells Nilesa that Aral sent her for some last-minute negotiation, as a neutral party, to stall for time. Nilesa opens a hatch to a tube that goes to the next level down and calls down to one of Radnov’s guards that she’s coming down. Nilesa tells them she’s unarmed, even as she prepares both of her stunners. Nilesa tells her that there’ll be two or three guards down there, and she’ll drop down into a niche in the storeroom, walls on three sides.

Cordelia climbs down, and Nilesa closes the hatch. The guard below her tells her to drop, and when she balks, pretending fear, says he’ll catch her. She drops, catching him off-guard for a second, and gets him with her stunner before he can bring his nerve disruptor to bear. She uses his limp body as a shield against the other two guards, taking one out before he can shoot, though the other one gets off a shot that mostly hits the first guard, though she catches the edge of it in her left thigh. She fells him as well, and then leaps up to hide among the conduits near the ceiling. Outside, the other soldiers debate throwing in a grenade before deciding to send Tafas in to check things out.

Tafas advances cautiously, until he looks up and Cordelia catches his eye. She silently mouths at him to close the door, and after a minute he invents a story about a gas leak and closes it. She offers him a chance to get out of this mess, and get forgiveness from Aral, pledging his word. He asks how she can make promises for him and she says she may soon be Lady Vorkosigan. He agrees, and she drops down and gives him the other stunner. Tafas lures a couple of men in to help with the bodies, and he and Cordelia stun them too.

They cross into the engineering bay and around a corner to where the rest of the conspirators are listening to Aral’s preparations for storming the engine room. They are preparing to blow out the air when Cordelia and Tafas hit them with their stunners. She then asks Tafas how she can cut out long-range weapons for at least an hour and a half; she admits this isn’t at Aral’s orders, but then none of it was in the first place. He indicates a panel, and she borrows his plasma arc and disables it. She asks for a couple of minutes’ head start, and advises him to contact them before opening the hatch, since Bothari is in the front. After contemplating leaving some kind of message for Aral, she gives it up and heads back to her entry hatch, getting Nilesa to open it up and telling him she has new terms. She glances down the corridor to where can see Aral’s team trying to break through the bulkheads, and heads off to the shuttle.

Once she arrives, they depart quickly. Stuben is outraged at the Barrayarans for Dubauer’s treatment, and, he imagines, Cordelia’s. Cordelia asks about the Barrayaran hit by disruptor fire on the planet; one of the Betans is wearing his uniform, and they puzzle out the name “Koudelka” from the pocket.

“What were you doing all that time aboard the General?” asked Stuben.

“Paying off a debt. Of honor.”

“All right, be like that. I’ll get the story later.” He was silent, then added with a short nod, “I hope you got the bastard good, whoever he was.”

“Look, Stu—I appreciate all you’ve done. But I’ve really got to be alone for a few minutes.”

“Sure, Captain.” He gave her a look of concern, and moved off muttering, “Damned monsters,” under his breath.

Cordelia leaned her forehead against the cold window, and wept silently for her enemies.

Comments

And now we get to see Cordelia Naismith, action hero. Not that she uses anything more powerful than a stunner, but it turns out to be enough. The fact that she’s a woman gives her an advantage against the Barrayarans, and the appearance of Tafas, who we knew from earlier was not quite as firmly on Radnov’s side, was also a stroke of luck. I don’t know if we ever find out what happens to him; if not, we can always pretend that he did get forgiven and rewarded for his efforts. Though, given Aral’s own luck, I’m not convinced. Yeoman Nilesa might have a better chance of getting credit for his actions.

I may have to take back what I said about Betans having an easier time understanding Barrayarans than the other way around. Maybe it’s just Cordelia, because Stuben doesn’t seem to be able to get past his mental stereotype of Barrayarans, and he’s not even the worst of them, as we see later. Maybe it is a certain amount of Stockholm Syndrome, too, but to some extent Stockholm Syndrome has always struck me as a form of “getting to know the enemy as people”. It always drove me nuts, the conclusions they leapt to about “The Butcher of Komarr”. And yet they don’t feel as much sympathy for Koudelka as they do for Dubauer. Admittedly Koudelka’s damage is not as severe as Dubauer’s (as we find out later), or least not as crippling, but they consider it justice for a Barrayaran to shoot another one with a nerve disruptor, but not forone of them to shoot a Betan…


And that brings us to the end of another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. If you liked it, tell your friends and tip your server. Next time, we move into “Part Two” of the book–not labelled as such by the author, but there’s a bit of a time jump, and possibly a hyperspace jump as well. Don’t forget, next Tuesday, same Vor-time, same Vor-blog!

Read Full Post »