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.
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.
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.
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.
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…