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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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!