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Archive for July, 2011

Welcome back to The Further Adventures of Nick Vordanger, Barrayar’s only detective.  This week: Nick Danger stumbles endlessly on through…Chapters Three and Four of Barrayar.  Wherein I seem to be having as much trouble typing “Barrayar” as I ever did with “Droushnakovi”.  And it’s not actually endless, even though the book is still increasing the tension somewhat slowly; compared to Shards of Honour, the pace is noticeably slower.  (Or is it?  At this point in Shards, weren’t they still tramping around in alien wilderness?)  However, there is unarmed combat, assassination attempts, prejudice, and voting.

But let’s just get on with it, you say?  On with it I shall get.

Chapter Three

The next day Captain Lord Padma Vorpatril escorts Cordelia to the Joint Council session.  Padma is Aral’s cousin, on his mother’s side, one of Aral’s few living relatives besides Count Piotr, and used to serve under Aral.  Cordelia, Padma and Drou sit in the gallery overlooking the Council chamber, surrounded by a ring of empty seats; Gregor and Kareen are present as well, and Emperor Ezar watches over comlink, in his military uniform with his life-support concealed.  Cordelia asks Padma about Aral’s past; Padma says that Aral used to be as conservative as his father, but started to “go strange” by the time he reached Captain.  Padma wasn’t surprised that he accepted the Regency, that he was never fooled by Aral’s avowed attention to retire.

The Count and Ministers vote almost unanimously to accept Aral as Regent, even Vordarian voting yes, with only five dissenters.  When Cordelia comments on it, Padma said that the Emperor had let it be known that he wanted unanimity.  Those who voted no are the open opposition, which he says aren’t the ones to worry about; the ones who voted yes unwillingly are the more dangerous ones.

Two men arrive late, brothers, one a commander and the other a well-dressed civilian, and perforce sit in front of Cordelia.  After locating their father, they begin gossiping about Aral, the inheritance tax measure he’s pushing through, his “Betan frill”, and what exactly happened with Vorrutyer, which amuses Cordelia, until they start in on Koudelka and talk about how he should have just killed himself rather than end up a cripple, which Padma is oblivious to, but makes Drou uncomfortable as well.  Cordelia leans forward, apologizing for eavesdropping, but berates them for their insensitive comments about Koudelka.  The brothers are put off by her comments, and Cordelia stops Padma from letting them know exactly who she is.  The Commander apologizes for his comments, assuming that Koudelka is a relative, though Cordelia denies it.  Cordelia warns him not to let such talk reach Aral’s ears, since it would pain him greatly.

As the session breaks for lunch, Padma takes Cordelia and Drou to meet with Aral, who is in company with his father and a man who is introduced as Count Vorhalas, brother of the Admiral Vorhalas who died with Prince Serg.  Aral says they are shortly due at a lunch with Kareen and Gregor, but Vorhalas wanted to introduce his sons.  The sons soon arrive, and turn out to be the brothers from the gallery, Commander Evon and his brother Lord Carl Vorhalas.

“But you’ve met,” said Vorkosigan. “I saw you talking in the gallery. What did you find to discuss so animatedly, Cordelia?”

“Oh . . . geology. Zoology. Courtesy. Much on courtesy. We had quite a wide-ranging discussion. We each of us taught the other something, I think.” She smiled, and did not flick an eyelid.

Commander Evon Vorhalas, looking rather ill, said, “Yes. I’ve . . . had a lesson I’ll never forget, Milady.”

Aral proceeds to introduce Koudelka as well.

Koudelka, loaded with plastic flimsys, disks, the baton of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces that had just been presented to Vorkosigan as Regent-elect, and his own stick, and uncertain whether to shake hands or salute, managed to drop them all and do neither. There was a general scramble to retrieve the load, and Koudelka went red, bending awkwardly after it. Droushnakovi and he put a hand on his stick at the same time.

“I don’t need your help, miss,” Koudelka snarled at her in a low voice, and she recoiled to go stand rigidly behind Cordelia.

Commander Vorhalas’s aid is accepted more graciously, and he admits to Koudelka that nerve disruptors scare the hell out of him, and says Koudelka is an example to them all.  Cordelia tells Commander Evon that he’s likely to go far in his career.

Two weeks later, Emperor Ezar breathes his last, having spent the last week of his life in a coma.  Cordelia and Aral are present, as well as a number of others, including Kareen and Gregor.  After Ezar’s death, those present swear fealty to Gregor as the new Emperor of Barrayar.

Cordelia too was guided by Vorkosigan to kneel before the boy. The prince—Emperor—had his mother’s hair, but hazel eyes like Ezar and Serg, and Cordelia found herself wondering how much of his father, or his grandfather, was latent in him, its expression waiting on the power that would come with age. Do you bear curses in your chromosomes, child? she wondered as her hands were placed between his. Cursed or blessed, regardless, she gave him her oath. The words seemed to cut her last tie to Beta Colony; it parted with a ping! audible only to her.

I am a Barrayaran now. It had been a long strange journey, that began with a view of a pair of boots in the mud, and ended in these clean child’s hands. Do you know I helped kill your father, boy? Will you ever know? Pray not. She wondered if it was delicacy or oversight, that she had never been required to give oath to Ezar Vorbarra.

There follows five days of funeral ceremonies, though apparently Prince Serg’s had run for two whole weeks.  Now that Ezar is dead, only four people living know the truth about Serg’s death; the official position is that he died a war hero.  Gregor has no coronation as such, but he and Aral receive personal oaths from a number of important personages, and Cordelia begins to see how the Barrayaran government works, “pretended” into existence.

Aral begins to work long hours, which Cordelia tells herself will begin to get shorter as he gets the hang of his new job.  Cordelia herself is mostly busy with the important task of “gestating”.  It begins to sink in on her that, unlike Beta with its population control and strict reproductive licensing, she can have as large a family as she wants, now, though she considers whether or not to use the uterine replicator technology.  There’s plenty of territory to expand into–terraforming a second continent, and the prospect of colonizing the recently discovered planet Sergyar.

She meets Padma’s wife, Lady Alys Vorpatril, also pregnant, and they compare notes; Cordelia concludes that she’s getting off easy in comparison.  Still, she feels a vague unease about giving birth on Barrayar, and briefly considers going home to Beta for the birth, but considering she’s still probably a wanted criminal there, it doesn’t seem that likely.

Comments

I was trying to figure out who the people were who knew the secret of Prince Serg.  Cordelia and Aral, certainly.  Definitely Negri.  Ezar’s dead, so he’s specifically excluded.  Vortala didn’t know, and neither did Illyan.  Bothari?  Kareen?  The nameless surgeon on Aral’s ship?  Doesn’t seem right, but nobody else is coming to mind.

This chapter contains the first mention of Sergyar, and it seems obvious given the earler mentions that it’s probably named after Prince Serg.  And yet it’s never commented on.  It was also several books, as I recall, before I realized that Sergyar is the then-unnamed planet in Shards of Honour, where Aral and Cordelia first met, where the supply cache for the Escobar invasion was located, etc.  Shouldn’t one or the other of them be thinking of the cosmic irony, which they can never tell anyone else, about the planet being named for the man whose death it was a part of?  It bothers me a little bit.  I don’t think we’ve had an actual scene set on Sergyar since Shards, though it is mentioned from time to time.

I keep forgetting exactly how the Vorhalases are introduced, though as soon as they are, I remember, more or less, the role they play in the book’s plot.

One term that Bujold keeps using throughout the series, which I never really got used to, was “plastic flimsy”.  In context, it seems like, well, a sheet of paper, except made of plastic.  Why would it be made of plastic, though?  Barrayar is, as Cordelia keeps noticing, a planet where wood is common enough to be used for the walls of entire rooms.  For a Betan, that’s a lot, so maybe in absolute terms it’s not, but still, Barrayarans shouldn’t feel a need to replace simple and easy-to-produce paper with plastic, should they?  It can’t be for greater durability, either, because they’re still called “flimsies”.  So unless they’re “smart paper” or something similar, I admit to being a bit baffled.  I guess I’ll have to watch for further mentions to see if this is clarified.

Chapter Four

With the Count in residence at Vorkosigan House for a while, they soon start up weekly unarmed combat competitions between the Count’s men and Illyan’s security men, with Koudelka as referee and Cordelia, Count Piotr, Drou, and occasionally Aral as spectators.

One afternoon, Cordelia asks Drou why she doesn’t participate as well, since ostensibly the competition is to keep everyone in fighting trim.  Drou says that she wasn’t invited, though she patently wants to participate; Cordelia tells Drou that she can be Cordelia’s team, and if anyone doesn’t like it, they can take it up with Aral, who she soon persuades to support her.

He climbed back to his feet, and went to enter Droushnakovi on Koudelka’s list for the lists. Cordelia could not hear what they said to each other, across the garden, but supplied her own dialogue from gesture and expression, murmuring, “Aral: Cordelia wants Drou to play. Kou: Aw! Who wants gurls? Aral: Tough. Kou: They mess everything up, and besides, they cry a lot. Sergeant Bothari will squash her—hm, I do hope that’s what that gesture means, otherwise you’re getting obscene, Kou—wipe that smirk off your face, Vorkosigan—Aral: The little woman insists. You know how henpecked I am. Kou: Oh, all right. Phooey. Transaction complete: the rest is up to you, Drou.”

The Count joins them, and complains about Cordelia’s “Betan innovations”.

“You’ll be wanting women in the Service, next,” complained Piotr. “Where will it end? That’s what I’d like to know.”

“What’s wrong with women in the Service?” Cordelia asked, baiting him a little.

“It’s unmilitary,” snapped the old man.

” ‘Military’ is whatever wins the war, I should think.” She smiled blandly. A small friendly warning pinch from Vorkosigan restrained her from rubbing in the point any harder.

In her first match, Drou wins the first point mostly through surprise, and then loses the second.  After a longer contest, she puts her opponent in a choke hold, where he seems more willing to go unconscious than admit defeat.  After, Cordelia and Aral advise her not to restrain her killer instincts.  In her next combat, her opponent takes his first point after goosing her.  Cordelia is outraged, and Aral admits that it’s not forbidden, but…  He calls Drou over, and advises her to deal with this insult to her, and her lady, by not leaving her opponent conscious.  She proceeds to take out her opponent in the second round with three swift blows.

In the semifinal round, though, Drou comes up against Bothari, who has been winning his matches handily and efficiently.  Cordelia worries if this is a good idea, given Bothari’s history, but Aral thinks that the training ring will constrain him sufficiently.  In their first match, Koudelka accidentally sets off his sword-stick, and Drou takes advantage of it to take Bothari down, but Koudelka won’t give her the point because of the distraction.  Cordelia complains to Aral, who thinks that Koudelka might be a little bit jealous of Drou’s progress.  Bothari proceeds to take the next two points from Drou, and then defeat the other finalist.

Soon after, Koudelka comes over to ask Aral if he wants to do a demonstration bout with Bothari, for those men who haven’t seen the two of them fight.  Aral lets himself be convinced, despite protesting that he’s out of shape.

The two men faced off in the arena and bowed formally. Koudelka backed hastily out of the way. The raucous good humor died away among the watchers, as the icy cold and concentrated stillness of the two players drew all eyes. They began to circle, lightly, then met in a blur. Cordelia did not quite see what happened, but when they parted Vorkosigan was spitting blood from a lacerated mouth, and Bothari was hunched over his belly.

In the next contact Bothari landed a kick to Vorkosigan’s back that echoed off the garden walls and propelled him completely out of the arena, to land rolling and running back in spite of disrupted breathing. The men in whose protection the Regent’s life was supposed to lie began to look worriedly at one another. At the next grappling Vorkosigan underwent a vicious fall, with Bothari landing atop him instantly for a follow-up choke. Cordelia thought she could see his ribs bend from the knees on his chest. A couple of the guards started forward, but Koudelka waved them back, and Vorkosigan, face dark and suffused, tapped out.

Aral agrees to go on, and this time he manages to throw Bothari and put him in an armlock, and Bothari is the one to tap out.  The third pass results in Aral in the armlock, and when he tries to escape, Bothari dislocates his elbow.  Aral taps out again, and at his request, Bothari puts the joint back in place.

Afterwards, while rubbing Aral down, she brings up the Koudelka/Drou problem.  She says that Drou is unfailingly courteous, and almost certainly in love with him, and Koudelka treats her shabbily.  Aral points out that Koudelka’s injuries may have affected his sexual performance, and he might be scared to try it.  Aral says that Koudelka doesn’t seem to dislike her, but he envies her.

She tries to puzzle out how Barrayar’s double standard of sexual behaviour works.  As a Betan, she’d thought the thing a logical impossibility, but now she realizes that the problem is that information on the subject is not freely disseminated.  She tries writing out the list of rules she’s deduced, which amuses Aral, and they spend some time breaking the rules with each other.

One autumn evening, she is watching the sunset from the roof of Vorkosigan House, musing on the imminence of “snow”, and the interesting things one can do with above-ground architecture.  She is disturbed by a distant sound, like a sonic grenade, and the guards on the roof are soon urging her inside, though she refuses to go until Drou comes to drag her in.  Soon she discovers that someone has taken a shot at Aral’s car, and he’s being brought to the house.  Cordelia takes comfort in the fact that the car is still drivable, at least.

When the car arrives, security guards swarm around it; Aral and Koudelka emerge, the latter with a bloodied face, and both of them mostly deaf.  The sonic grenade had hit the street in front of them, leaving a large crater, but the driver had managed to swerve around it.  Illyan arrives with a doctor and takes them inside.  Koudelka wonders how they’d known their route, which they vary daily; Illyan wonders if it was inside information, and Aral says he was probably just watching one of their likely routes.  Illyan said it was likely an lone man, with old, faulty ordnance, which Cordelia does not find reassuring.

“He only needed one shot. If he’d managed a direct hit on that sealed car, Aral’d have been emulsified. Your forensic team would be trying right now to sort out which molecules were his and which were Kou’s.”

Droushnakovi turned faintly green; Vorkosigan’s saturnine look was now firmly back in place.

“You want me to give you a precise resonance reflection amplitude calculation for that sealed passenger cabin, Simon?” Cordelia went on hotly. “Whoever chose that weapon was a competent military tech—if, fortunately, a poorish shot.” She bit back further words, recognizing, even if no one else did, the suppressed hysteria driving the speed of her speech.

Later that evening Cordelia asks Illyan who would want to kill Aral.

He ticked them off on his fingers. “The Cetagandans, always. They had counted on political chaos here, following Ezar’s death. They’re not above prodding it along. An assassination is cheap interference, compared to an invasion fleet. The Komarrans, for old revenge or new revolt. Some there still call the Admiral the Butcher of Komarr—”

Cordelia, knowing the whole story behind that loathed sobriquet, winced.

“The anti-Vor, because my lord Regent is too conservative for their tastes. The military right, who fear he is too progressive for theirs. Leftover members of Prince Serg and Vorrutyer’s old war party. Former operatives of the now-suppressed Ministry of Political Education, though I doubt one of them would have missed. Negri’s department used to train them. Some disgruntled Vor who thinks he came out short in the recent power-shift. Any lunatic with access to weapons and a desire for instant fame as a big-game hunter—shall I go on?”

Cordelia tries to keep her fear under control, understanding now why Barrayarans are so paranoid, and wonders when the next attempt will be.

Comments

The overall plot of the book, of course, deals with Cordelia and Aral, but Kou and Drou now definitely have their own subplot.  My wife informs me that the secondary-character romance is a staple of romantic fiction, though I’m sure it turns up in other places as well.  After all, the Cordelia-Aral romance is pretty much resolved.  Their plot for this book is still building, and I can pinpoint the exact moment when it goes up to the next level…and that is not yet.  The sonic grenade is only the opening salvo, so to speak, and I can’t quite remember at this point how it ties into the overall plot.

The rest of the chapter mostly focuses on Cordelia learning more about Barrayaran culture, and contrasting it with Betan.  Sometimes I think that Barrayaran culture is more comprehensible to us than Betan, but perhaps we’re really more in the middle.  Or perhaps the “liberals” are more Betan and the “conservatives” are more Barrayaran, so it depends on your part of the political spectrum.  What does it say, then, that the Barrayarans are the most central to the series?  I guess they do spend a lot of time on other planets, but almost all of my favourite scenes in the series are set on Barrayar.  I suppose one of the main axes of progress in the series is the liberalization of Barrayar, whereas the conservatization of Beta Colony wouldn’t be as fun to read about, were it to happen.  So that makes Bujold a somewhat left-wing writer, but one with a certain amount of sympathy and understanding for the right as well.  Kind of like Aaron Sorkin on “The West Wing”, who did like to, every once in a while, throw in a perfectly intelligent and articulate person who just happened to be a Republican.  (And who still felt like a token.)


And that’s it for another week.  Once again I whipped this up on Sunday and Monday (and a bit of Tuesday); I need to stop doing that, or I’ll keep putting it off to Sunday every week, and one week I won’t be able to pull it together in time.  We’ll see how that works out for me.  Just took a brief look forward, and it looks like Chapter Ten is the signpost I’m looking for, where the tension really ramps up, though there’s plenty to happen in between.  Until next time…

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Greetings and felicitations, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Today we start on the second book chronologically (if far from the first published) in the series, Barrayar.  Lois McMaster Bujold had a bit of a habit of naming books for planets, or at least political units (Cetaganda and Komarr), but she didn’t go overboard with it, at least.  This book was one of her award-winners, too, Hugo and Locus Awards as Wikipedia tells me, and it definitely deserved it, because it’s a great book.  But don’t just take my word for it–reread it with me!

Chapter One

It is the day after Aral accepted the Regency.  Cordelia, looking out a window in Vorkosigan House, sees a groundcar pull up and Simon Illyan get out.  Sergeant Bothari comes into the room and tells her that it’s time to go, and she follows him out of the room.

She must learn her way around this great pile of a residence as soon as possible. Embarrassing, to be lost in one’s own home, and have to ask some passing guard or servant to de-tangle one. In the middle of the night, wearing only a towel. I used to be a jumpship navigator. Really. If she could handle five dimensions upside, surely she ought to be able to manage a mere three downside.

On the ground floor they find Koudelka waiting.  Cordelia asks after Aral and is told that he is in the library with Illyan, checking on the location for the new secured comconsole.  They emerge shortly thereafter, and Cordelia, Aral, Koudelka and Illyan head out to the groundcar.  The day’s plan is for an audience with Prince Gregor and his mother, Princess Kareen, as well as meeting with Captain Negri.  After that, says Aral, they start setting up the Regency; he’s not sure what old protocol they’ll drag out for the first one in 120 years.

As the armored groundcar pulls away, Cordelia asks about her own duties.  Aral tells her that it’s mostly ceremonies and public-relations work; at Cordelia’s appalled reaction, he says that she can do as much or as little of that as she wishes, particularly now that she’s pregnant.  He says that he would particularly like her to be a liaison with Gregor and Kareen, to help ensure that Gregor doesn’t end up turning out like his father, the late Prince Serg.  He also says that, as a foreigner and a war hero, Cordelia can help unite both the pro-galactic and pro-military factions.  Aral says that he doesn’t want to just gut the opposition parties, either.

“What I want . . . what I want is to find some way of pulling the best men, from every class and language group and party, into the Emperor’s service. The Vor have simply too small a pool of talent. Make the government more like the military at its best, with ability promoted regardless of background. Emperor Ezar tried to do something like that, by strengthening the Ministries at the expense of the Counts, but it swung too far. The Counts are eviscerated and the Ministries are corrupt. There must be some way to strike a balance.”

Cordelia notes the gesture of trust the Emperor placed in Aral by appointing him Regent, but Aral brings her attention to the fact that Captain Negri is still attached to the Princess’s household.  Negri still reports to Aral, but if Aral decides to go for the throne himself, Negri doubtless has orders to dispose of him.  Cordelia assures him that she doesn’t want to be Empress.

As they enter the palace grounds, Illyan says he wishes Aral would reconsider living at Vorkosigan House and move into the Imperial Residence instead, which would make security much easier.  Aral says he prefers Vorkosigan House, especially now that his father the Count spends most of him time at the country estate, Vorkosigan Surleau.  Illyan lists off the security drawbacks of Vorkosigan House, and says that it’ll take at least six full-time patrols to cover them.  Aral asks if he has the men, and Illyan admits he does.  Aral says he will stay at Vorkosigan House, which will serve the purpose of making it seem less likely he’ll pull a palace coup.

And here they were at the very palace in question. As an architectural pile, the Imperial Residence made Vorkosigan House look small. Sprawling wings rose two to four stories high, accented with sporadic towers. Additions of different ages crisscrossed each other to create both vast and intimate courts, some justly proportioned, some rather accidental-looking. The east façade was of the most uniform style, heavy with stone carving. The north side was more cut-up, interlocking with elaborate formal gardens. The west was the oldest, the south the newest construction.

They climb a set of stairs, Koudelka painfully aware that he’s slowing the rest of them down with his awkward pace.  Cordelia wonders why they don’t even have a lift tube.  They meet with Captain Negri, who is with a blonde woman in civilian dress that he introduces merely as “Miss Droushnakovi”.  When Cordelia asks her for more details, Droushnakovi says that she’s a “Servant of the Inner Chamber”, but really a “Bodyguard, Class One” assigned to the Princess.

In the next room they are introduced to the Princess, and to Prince Gregor (who has a talking robotic stegosaurus toy).  Aral formally kneels in front of Gregor and introduces himself, trying to explain what he will be doing as Regent.

“That means I will do your grandfather’s job until you are old enough to do it yourself, when you turn twenty. The next sixteen years. I will look after you and your mother in your grandfather’s place, and see that you get the education and training to do a good job, like your grandfather did. Good government.”

Did the kid even know yet what a government was? Vorkosigan had been careful not to say, in your father’s place, Cordelia noted dryly. Careful not to mention Crown Prince Serg at all. Serg was well on his way to being disappeared from Barrayaran history, it seemed, as thoroughly as he had been vaporized in orbital battle.

Cordelia is impressed by the parental potential that Aral shows with the young heir.  Once Aral is done, Negri asks if he can come down to Ops, and begins to list several issues that need his attention.  Kareen invites Cordelia to stay and visit, and the men go off with Negri; Kareen said that she had hoped to be alone with Cordelia, as Gregor returns to his play.
Droushnakovi asks about Koudelka, and Cordelia explains about the nerve damage and the inadequate repairs done on Barrayar.  Droushnakovi asks if it was in the Escobar war, and Cordelia admits that it was sort of at the beginning of the war.  Kareen asks “Drou” to take Gregor to lunch, and once they are alone, Kareen kisses Cordelia’s hand.

“I swore,” said Kareen thickly, “that I would kiss the hand that slew Ges Vorrutyer. Thank you. Thank you.” Her voice was breathy, earnest, tear-caught, grateful emotion naked in her face. She sat up, her face growing reserved again, and nodded. “Thank you. Bless you.”

“Uh . . .” Cordelia rubbed at the kissed spot. “Um . . . I . . . this honor belongs to another, Milady. I was present, when Admiral Vorrutyer’s throat was cut, but it was not by my hand.”

Kareen thinks at first that it was Aral, but Cordelia says that it was Bothari, which surprises Kareen.  She had thought that Bothari was Vorrutyer’s creature, but Cordelia tells her how he chose to be otherwise.  She takes a chance and mentions Prince Serg, asking if Vorrutyer was responsible for corrupting him; Kareen says that they were like-minded, maybe from the start.  She said that Emperor Ezar protected her from her husband after she became pregnant, and Cordelia hopes that Aral will do as well.

Kareen then orders them tea, and Drou and Gregor return.  Kareen asks her what she thinks of her new home.

Cordelia thought it over. “The country place, south at Vorkosigan Surleau, is just beautiful. That wonderful lake—it’s bigger than any open body of water on the whole of Beta Colony, yet Aral just takes it for granted. Your planet is beautiful beyond measure.” Your planet. Not my planet? In a free-association test, “home” still triggered “Beta Colony” in Cordelia’s mind. Yet she could have rested in Vorkosigan’s arms by the lake forever.

She says that Vorkosigan House is a bit of an all-male barracks when the Count is in residence, not like the mixed barracks on Beta.  Drou likes the sound of men and women both getting to serve in the military, and Cordelia agrees, missing the sister officers that she was used to “back home” on Beta.

That night, after they return home, Illyan brings Droushnakovi to Vorkosigan House, telling Cordelia she’s been assigned to her personal security.

Later, Droushnakovi handed Cordelia a sealed note, on thick cream paper. Brows rising, Cordelia broke it open. The handwriting was small and neat, the signature legible and without flourishes.

With my compliments, it read. She will suit you well. Kareen.

Comments

From now on I will try to refer to her exclusively as “Drou”, as the author does increasingly from now on, as I recall.  Mostly for the sake of my fingers, which don’t seem to be able to produce “Droushnakovi” correctly on the first try.  (Not that I’m afraid of longish, foreignish names in general.  Djugashvili.  Ramachandran.  Brahmaputra.  Targaryen.  Rustaveli.  But some of them are just harder to type than others.)

Our first sight of the princess (not mentioned in Shards, I don’t think), and the young heir.  I elided most of the recap of the plot of the previous book, since I know you already know what happened there.  And boy, I think that talking robot stegosaurus would be a hot seller.  Like a dinosaur Furby…except better, one hopes, since I was never that impressed with Furby.

And also, the first time when Drou meets Koudelka, even if they don’t actually manage to talk to each other yet or anything.  There does seem to be a certain amount of interest, at least on Drou’s side.

Chapter Two

Aral is gone when Cordelia wakes up the next day, so she decides to go shopping, with Drou’s help, for something that had occurred to her watching Koudelka the day before.  Drou is waiting right outside her room, and Cordelia thinks that Drou needs a uniform or livery, since her dress doesn’t flatter her that much.  She asks Drou how she got into her line of work, and Drou said that her father and three brothers were in the military, and her brothers used to sneak her into their classes.  She was all-Barrayar women’s judo champion twice, and after that Negri approached her about a job, since Princess Kareen had been asking for female guards, and there she got some weapon training as well.

Cordelia asks Drou to accompany her on a shopping trip, and Drou struggles to hide her disappointment, until Cordelia says she’s looking for a sword-stick for Koudelka.  Drou says she knows just the place, where the Vors buy weapons for their liveried men–non-Vors are not allowed to own their own weapons.

One of Aral’s guards drives them to the shop, Drou watching the crowds alertly.  They arrive at a place called simply “Siegling’s” on a quiet street, and go inside; Cordelia notices the wood paneling in the store, which is common on Barrayar but would cost a fortune on Beta.  The clerk approaches them somewhat condescendingly, and the first sword-stick he brings out is elaborately carved and flashy.  Drou isn’t sure about the quality of the blade, though, and when Cordelia tries it out, stabbing it into the wall, she is easily able to snap it.

“Madam,” said the clerk stiffly, “I must insist the damaged merchandise be paid for.”

Cordelia, thoroughly irritated, said, “Very well. Send the bill to my husband. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, Vorkosigan House. While you’re about it you can explain why you tried to pass off sleaze on his wife—Yeoman.” This last was a guess, based on his age and walk, but she could tell from his eyes she’d struck home.

He goes into the back to fetch them another, much heavier; the spring that releases the cane does so with some force, making it almost a weapon in its own right.  She stabs it into the wall again, but the clerk assures her she won’t be able to break it.  Sure enough, it resists her attempts, and Drou calls it “worthy”; they buy it.  The women browse the other weapons briefly, but Cordelia decides she doesn’t really want a weapon, and Drou admits that Sieglings’ are pretty, but Negri’s are better.

Aral and Koudelka return for dinner that night, having spent the day trying to convince various Counts to approve Aral for the Regency.  Cordelia unwraps the swordstick and presents it to Koudelka; he is initially a little annoyed to be given a walking stick, but once he takes it he senses there’s more to it.  He launches the cane accidentally at the window, luckily not breaking it, and is pleased by the blade.  However, he returns it, crestfallen, informing her that he can’t own weapons, not being Vor.

Vorkosigan raised an eyebrow. “May I see that, Cordelia?” He looked it over, unsheathing it more cautiously. “Hm. Am I right in guessing I paid for this?”

“Well, you will, I suppose, when the bill arrives. Although I don’t think you should pay for the one I broke. I might as well take it back, though.”

“I see.” He smiled a little. “Lieutenant Koudelka, as your commanding officer and a vassal secundus to Ezar Vorbarra, I am officially issuing you this weapon of mine, to carry in the service of the Emperor, long may he rule.” The unavoidable irony of the formal phrase tightened his mouth, but he shook off the blackness, and handed the stick back to Koudelka, who bloomed again.

“Thank you, sir!”

Cordelia just shook her head. “I don’t believe I’ll ever understand this place.”

After supper Cordelia and Aral go to read, Aral on reports from Negri and Cordelia on child-care books.  They are occasionally interrupted by loud thwacks from the library, where Koudelka is ostensibly putting the day’s notes in order.  Cordelia worries that her gift has distracted him, but Aral assures her that he’ll settle down soon enough.  Barrayar is hard on those who can’t keep up, and Aral tells her that the deformed and crippled often don’t survive long; Ensign Dubauer would have been euthanized.  Koudelka will have a difficult path ahead of him.

“What about problems like Bothari’s?”

“It depends. He was a usable madman. For the unusable . . .” he trailed off, staring at his boots.

Cordelia felt cold. “I keep thinking I’m beginning to adjust to this place. Then I go around another corner and run headlong into something like that.”

“It’s only been eighty years since Barrayar made contact with the wider galactic civilization again. It wasn’t just technology we lost, in the Time of Isolation. That we put back on again quickly, like a borrowed coat. But underneath it . . . we’re still pretty damned naked in places. In forty-four years, I’ve only begun to see how naked.”

Vortala had a couple more voters to convince, and that evening he brings them over; they disappear into the library with Aral.  Aral’s father, Count Piotr, shows up shortly thereafter, since he’ll be casting his own vote the next day as well.  Cordelia comments that at least Aral’s assured of one vote, but Piotr says that his son is getting too “radical”, and he’s lucky to get his father’s vote.  Soon the Count turns the topic to the baby, since he’s passionately interested in the continuation of his family line.

Cordelia remembers the day she’d confirmed the pregnancy and told Aral it would be a boy, out at Vorkosigan Surleau.  Aral said that the Count would be ecstatic, since he’d almost given up on Aral ever having any children, and he wouldn’t even care if their mother is a Betan.  Cordelia asked about names, and Aral said that, by tradition, the firstborn son is named after his grandfathers, so he will be Piotr Miles.  After a brief tickling match, Cordelia waved to Negri’s watchers, wondering if she should invite them to lunch, and Aral told her that they wouldn’t be allowed.

After the Count has supper, they are walking through the foyer when they hear raised voices in the library, and soon a man stalks out.  He greets the Count, and the Count greets him as “Vordarian”.

Vordarian’s lips were tight, his hands clenching in unconscious rhythm with his jaw. “Mark my words,” he ground out, “you, and I, and every other man of worth on Barrayar will live to regret tomorrow.”

Piotr pursed his lips, wariness in the crow’s-feet corners of his eyes. “My son will not betray his class, Vordarian.”

“You blind yourself.”

Aral and Vortala emerge after Vordarian leaves, Vortala saying that they can live without Vordarian’s vote.  Aral explains that Commodore Count Vidal Vordarian is of a very conservative stripe, unable to imagine any change as an improvement, and Vortala adds that he was a potential candidate for the Regency, having spent some time cultivating Princess Kareen.

Comments

The flashback scene in this chapter doesn’t quite fit, somehow.  It reads like an outtake from the previous book, in some ways, and perhaps it was, for all I know.  Except for the complete lack of mention anywhere at the end of Shards of Honour that Cordelia was pregnant, which makes me think that it was really a retcon, backfilling Cordelia’s pregnancy so that it will be on the right schedule for the events of this book.  I can’t quite convince myself that she knew, for instance, that Cordelia was pregnant in the last chapter of Shards, because in the whole discussion of whether Aral should accept the Regency, Cordelia never brings it up or even thinks about it.  The closest they come is Aral mentioning that he now has a future and something to lose.  Oh, well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.  I’ve started to become more sensitized, as I reread certain series over and over, to things that are first mentioned in later books, and wondering if the author had them in mind all the time or just thought of them as he or she was writing this one.

Apart from that, the Siegling’s scene is great, and the sword-stick in general.  Vordarian (who was mentioned, at least, in Shards, as a potential Regent) also appears, with a little bit of mustache-twirling…I can’t help but picture Lucius Malfoy telling Harry Potter he might come to “the same sticky end” as his parents.  (Dun dun dun!)  At the moment he and his political views are a bit of a caricature.  I suppose you could say that Cordelia has a bit of a pro-liberal bias, especially compared to the rest of Barrayar, though I suppose on Beta Colony she might be considered a moderate, so our perception of him might be a bit skewed–I tend to notice that liberals and conservatives can’t really see each other a lot of the time except as caricatures and straw men.


I almost took a week off before starting Barrayar, mostly because I was falling behind, but luckily I managed to pull this together in the last couple of days.  Summer heat and mosquitos seems to be wreaking havoc with my sleep schedule, which combined with “work stuff” seems to be depriving me of energy to work on much in the evenings.  I anticipated this would be a challenge, though, and I’m curious to see how much I can push myself before I start to slack off.

Until next week, then, with any luck…

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein we conclude the first novel, Shards of Honour.  You might say, “Already?  George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan would be just getting started by now!  We might not even have met all the major characters in the first book!”  Do recall that this book was published back in 1986, when science fiction books over 200 pages were still something they were trying out to see if they were financially viable.  Not to mention that it was a first novel by a virtual unknown.  Not that I’m saying her later books are necessarily sprawling epics, either, but some of them are maybe slightly longer…

Anyway, on to the final chapters of the novel.  Well, actually, one more chapter, and then, oddly enough, a short story.

Chapter Fifteen

Cordelia and Aral are finally preparing for a vacation at Bonsanklar when Prime Minister Vortala arrives.  They come downstairs to find Vortala talking with Aral’s father, and he congratulates them on their wedding.  Vortala says he is bearing a message from the Emperor, and when Aral begins to leave, Vortala says the message is for Aral, not the Count, that he is “requested and required” to attend on the Emperor, and Cordelia as well.  He says the Emperor is dying.

Vorkosigan blew out his breath. “He’s been dying for the last eleven months. Can’t he die a little longer?”

Vortala chuckled. “Five months,” he corrected absently, then frowned speculation at Vorkosigan. “Hm. Well, it has been very convenient for him. He’s flushed more rats out of the wainscotting in the last five months than the past twenty years. You could practically mark the shakedowns in the Ministries by his medical bulletins. One week: condition very grave. Next week: another deputy minister caught out on charges of peculation, or whatever.” He became serious again. “But it’s the real thing, this time. You must see him today. Tomorrow could be too late. Two weeks from now will definitely be too late.”

Vortala says that he plans to offer Aral a position in the upcoming Regency government; Aral can’t think of any that would tempt him, and Vortala says he’ll have to refuse in person.  Cordelia admits to being curious to meet the Emperor, and Aral acquiesces.  As they are changing clothes for the audience, though, Aral says that he’s never come out ahead on any dealings with Emperor Ezar.

At the Imperial Palace they are ushered into Ezar’s chambers, “half hospital, half antique display”, where the paper-white old man is hooked up to machines that keep him alive.  The Emperor greets Aral, and is refreshed by his honesty at telling him how awful he looks.  He tells Cordelia that he’s seen all her Betan records, and Mehta’s bizarre theories, which almost made Captain Negri hire her to generate ideas.

The Emperor talks to Aral about how long Aral has served him, which they date back to the day Aral’s mother was killed.  He asks Aral what he said to Emperor Yuri when they executed him–Aral was given the first cut, but in the end he almost cut Yuri’s throat right away and spared him the suffering that was to come.

“I think he knew by my face I was funking out. He leered at me. ‘Strike, little boy. If you dare while you wear my uniform. My uniform on a child.’ That was all he said. I said, ‘You killed all the children in that room,’ which was fatuous, but it was the best I could come up with at the time, then took my cut out of his stomach. I often wished I’d said—said something else, later. But mostly I wished I’d had the guts to follow my first impulse.”

Ezar turns to the main purpose of the visit.  He asks who should be Regent; Aral immediately offers Vortala, but the Emperor dismisses him as too old.  Princess Kareen, the Emperor says could never deal with the General Staff.  He ridicules Aral’s suggestion of Vordarian, having far too many shortcomings despite his military background.  Aral suggests Quintillan, Minister of the Interior, but Vortala points out that the Council of Counts won’t support anyone who isn’t a Vor.  Aral suggests making him a Vor, which horrifies Vortala and amuses Ezar.

“You can quit wriggling, Aral. You shall not wriggle out of this.

“Allow me to put it in a capsule. What the Regency requires is a man of impeccable rank, no more than middle-aged, with a strong military background. He should be popular with his officers and men, well-known to the public, and above all respected by the General Staff. Ruthless enough to hold near-absolute power in this madhouse for sixteen years, and honest enough to hand over that power at the end of those sixteen years to a boy who will no doubt be an idiot—I was, at that age, and as I recall, so were you—and, oh yes, happily married. Reduces the temptation of becoming bedroom Emperor via the Princess. In short, yourself.”

Aral is horrified at the prospect of stepping into the shoes of Prince Gregor’s father, which puzzles Vortala, not in the know.  Aral says that all of the other candidates that he suggested are better suited than himself.  Ezar reminds him that Aral has a better right to the throne than he does, though Aral protests that’s through his mother, and hence Salic descent.  Ezar says that anyone who claims the right to the throne would have to get rid of Aral anyway, which he knows is harder than it looks; furthermore, he knows for certain that Aral doesn’t want to be Emperor himself.  The best way for him to do that is to keep Gregor alive.

Count Vortala turned to Cordelia. “Lady Vorkosigan. Won’t you lend us your vote? You seem to have come to know him very well. Tell him he’s the man for the job.”

“When we came up here,” said Cordelia slowly, “with this vague talk of a post, I thought I might urge him to take it up. He needs work. He’s made for it. I confess I wasn’t anticipating that offer.” She stared at the Emperor’s embroidered bedspread, caught by its intricate patterns and colors. “But I’ve always thought—tests are a gift. And great tests are a great gift. To fail the test is a misfortune. But to refuse the test is to refuse the gift, and something worse, more irrevocable, than misfortune. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“No,” said Vortala.

“Yes,” said Vorkosigan.

Aral takes Cordelia aside and tells her that Regency would mean they’d be targets, and require constant guarding.  He says that he was more fearless before, when he had no future and nothing to lose.  Cordelia asks if he wants the position, and Aral says he does, but he doesn’t trust himself not to be corrupted.  Finally, Aral acquiesces, and Ezar tells him that he should start assembling his staff right away, starting with Illyan.  Aral suddenly has a great idea of who should be his personal secretary, and Ezar dismisses them, saying that Vortala will handle the details.

After a conference with Vortala, Negri and Illyan, they leave the Imperial Residence with new guards.  Cordelia notes that Aral seems more energized and focused than she’s seen him in a long while.  First, they head to Vorkosigan House, the local residence, where Aral goes up to his often-vacant room.  Cordelia finds a stack of pen-and-ink drawings from when Aral was much younger, including some of his first wife, and of a younger Ges Vorrutyer.  His medals and ribbons are oddly disarranged, with the earlier ones carefully preserved, and the later, more prestigious ones more haphazard.  Finally Aral finds some of his old Lieutenant rank tabs.

Next they go to ImpMil hospital, where they are soon talking to Koudelka’s doctor.  Aral tells the doctor that Koudelka’s being reassigned, to a desk job, and discharged.  They go to see Koudelka himself, and find him preparing for bed.  Aral asks him his plans, and Koudelka admits he’s not sure what he’ll do with himself after the discharge.  Aral gives him his new orders, and his promotion, and Koudelka is surprised and delighted, more so when he realizes that the “Regent-elect” he’ll be working for is Aral.

Cordelia asks to put Koudelka’s collar tabs on, and then Aral says Koudelka can stay at Vorkosigan House that night so they can get an early start in the morning.

Later, lying warm in the darkness in Vorkosigan’s room in the Count’s town house, Cordelia remembered a curiosity. “What did you say to the Emperor, about me?”

He stirred beside her, and pulled the sheet tenderly up over her bare shoulder, tenting them together. “Hm? Oh, that.” He hesitated. “Ezar had been questioning me about you, in our argument about Escobar. Implied that you had affected my nerve, for the worse. I didn’t know then if I’d ever see you again. He wanted to know what I saw in you. I told him . . .” he paused again, and then continued almost shyly, “that you poured out honor like a fountain, all around you.”

“That’s weird. I don’t feel full of honor, or anything else, except maybe confusion.”

“Naturally not. Fountains keep nothing for themselves.”

Comments

Pretty nice ending–the “fountain of honour” thing is a great metaphor, and would have almost made a great title, except “Shards of Honour” is still better.  Maybe David Weber can use it sometime.  Of course, there were a number of places where the book could have ended, but this does well enough, I suppose.  When I consider that Barrayar didn’t come out for five years after that, with four Miles Vorkosigan books in between (counting Borders of Infinity), plus Falling Free and Ethan of Athos…  It avoids the usual prequel difficulties quite handily, trust me.  But that’s for next time.

Short Story: “Aftermaths”

Pilot Officer Falco Ferrell looks from his ship at a broken ship in front of him, destroyed in the Barrayaran invasion of Escobar, which they call the “120 Day War”.  He is a new officer, with less than a year of service, and is accompanied on the ship by Medtech Boni, who is in her mid-forties.  Ferrell himself graduated three days too late to actually participate in the war.

Ferrell tells Boni that he is going to start his sweep, scanning for bodies floating in space.  He asks if she wants to stand by, but Boni says the area has been picked over fairly thoroughly.  He asks what minimum mass they should scan for–he suggests 40 kilograms, but she says one kilogram should suffice, for a body part big enough to identify, without being small enough to generate a lot of false positives.  She retires to her cabin to nap.  Their ship is a former courier, refurbished, also too late for the war, and Ferrell is not looking forward to his “garbage” duty.  He nonetheless enjoys piloting, and sets a spiraling search course.

Hours later, Ferrell pages Boni to tell her he’s found something.  She soon arrives on the bridge and activates the tractor beam.  Ferrell comments on the low setting she is using, and Boni says that she likes a delicate touch to keep from damaging the bodies, since they are frozen and very brittle.  She slows down the body’s spin, commenting that spinning too fast can’t be very restful.

His attention was pulled from the thing in the screen, and he stared at her. “They’re dead, lady!”

She smiled slowly as the corpse, bloated from decompression, limbs twisted as though frozen in a strobe-flash of convulsion, was drawn gently toward the cargo bay. “Well, that’s not their fault, is it?—one of our fellows, I see by the uniform.”

“Bleh!” he repeated himself, then gave vent to an embarrassed laugh. “You act like you enjoy it.”

Boni says that she’s been working in Personnel Retrieval and Identification for nine years, and finds it unobjectionable.  She says vacuum work is better than planetary–there is decompression damage, but no decay.  Ferrell asks Boni if they call them “corpse-sicles”; Boni says that some do, but she doesn’t–she just calls them “people”.  She maneuvers the body into the cargo bay and sets the temperature for a slow thaw.

On his next break he pays a visit to the mortuary; Boni is there, but the body is not yet.  They share their first names–Boni’s is “Tersa”, which Ferrell comments is quite common.  She brings the dead man into the mortuary on a float pallet, and slides the body onto the table.  Ferrell tells himself he should leave, but he lingers.  She scans the body’s retinas and then its fingerprints, and identifies the man as Lieutenant Marco Deleo.

Ferrell is unnerved to hear Boni talking to the body, which Boni says she considers a “courtesy”; he says that it’s obscene, recovering these hunks of frozen meat rather than just leaving them in space.  Boni goes through Deleo’s uniform pockets, which she likes, saying that it reminds her of going through a friend’s house.  She notes that Deleo’s pockets contain only one non-regulation item, a vid disc from home.  She packages them up and begins to wash the corpse, which Ferrell doesn’t stay for.

They don’t find another body for a full day; this time it’s a Barrayaran, and Ferrell suggests they throw him back, but Boni says they have an agreement with the Barrayarans.  Boni spends extra effort trying to smooth his contorted facial muscles.  In his pocket is a locket containing a clear liquid, which Boni says is probably a good luck charm, which many Barrayarans carry.  She identifies it as “mother’s tears”, and notes it was given to the man as an ensign.  He also has a pendant with a lock of hair, which Boni says is the mother’s “death lock”, so she is already dead.  She says the oddest charm she found was a tiny skeleton of a fetus.  She puts the Barrayaran back in his uniform, since they seem to like them so much, and identifies him as Commander Aristede Vorkalloner.

After three more days, they are reaching the end of their search pattern, but Boni asks Ferrell to go a little farther out; most of the bodies wouldn’t have gotten this far, but there might be some that had a little extra momentum.  Ferrell doesn’t really want to look for more bodies, but he does want to spend more time piloting, so he accedes.  They do find another body a few hours later, a female officer this time.  Ferrell doesn’t really want to join her for this one, but Boni asks for his company, so he comes along.

After Boni prepares the body, she kisses it, which repulses Ferrell, who calls her a “lesbian necrophiliac”.  Boni then proceeds to dress the body in a wedding dress, which she had brought with her, and decides to put her next to the Barrayaran, since Lieutenant Deleo was married.  Ferrell is beginning to think that Boni has gone crazy.  Suddenly he realizes that Boni hasn’t IDed the woman.  He checks the ID and discovers that the woman is Ensign Sylva Boni, age twenty, the same age as Ferrell himself.  Boni confirms that it’s her daughter, and that she’d asked for this sector on purpose.  Ferrell apologies for his earlier remarks.

They run one more sweep and find another body, this one more grisly than the others.  This time, Ferrell shyly offers to help with the cleaning.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “The dead cannot hurt you. They give you no pain, except that of seeing your own death in their faces. And one can face that, I find.”

Yes, he thought, the good face pain. But the great—they embrace it.

Comments

I often forget about this story tacked onto the end of Shards of Honour.  It’s connected to it a little tenuously–by the battle, by the body of Aral Vorkosigan’s second officer, Vorkalloner, and thematically, by its references to motherhood.  It’s self-contained, and as far as I can tell it was actually published three months before Shards itself, which of course is easily close enough for her to have written it afterwards.  Apart from that, it doesn’t feel like there’s much to it.


So next week, definitely starting on Barrayar.  I was initially deceived into thinking that it had an even number of chapters (22), but I forgot about the Author’s Afterword, so there’s actually only 21.  Still more than Shards, though, but by 1991 people had gotten used to bigger books.  I’ll probably try to squeeze another chapter in there…or perhaps I’ll slack off and do a one-week chapter.  Maybe for the week when I’d otherwise be on vacation, for instance.  But that’s not for a little while yet.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reread of Shards of Honour, and I also hope that you were reading along.  Of course, I was only doing two chapters a week, so if you wanted, you might have been managed to read the entire Vorkosigan Saga by this time.

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Hey there hi there ho there!  It’s time to read more of the adventures of Cap’n Cordelia and her intrepid Barrayaran cohort, Adm’l Aral!  This week we cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of Shards of Honour, which may, conceivably, bring us close to the end of that book.  Remember when all books were that short?  Well, maybe urban fantasy books are these days, but that’s about it…

Chapter Thirteen

The next day, Dr. Mehta starts her first session with Cordelia.  She sets up a box which she says will let her monitor Cordelia just enough to let her know when she thinks a subject is important.  She takes a pill, ostensibly for her allergies, then asks if she may smoke.  Cordelia assents, and Dr. Mehta lights an aromatic cigarette and sets it in an ashtray, though she makes no move to smoke it right away.  She then goes through a series of words, some of which occasion odd responses from Cordelia (like “Seventeen”, which makes her think of the uterine replicators) before she homes in with “Admiral Vorrutyer” and “Admiral Vorkosigan”.

She then begins to talk to Cordelia about Vorkosigan.  She asks Cordelia is he is in Intelligence, and Cordelia says he is not; she mentions “Butcher of Komarr” and Cordelia hotly denies it, though when Dr. Mehra asks why, she admits she has no evidence beyond what Aral told her, but it seemed consistent with his character.  Dr. Mehta asks if Aral never lied to her, and Cordelia admits he did, since she was an enemy officer, but she tries to explain the “word as bond” concept to the doctor.

“So this word of honor business—you believe he never breaks it?”

“Well . . .”

“He does, then.”

“I have seen him do so. But the cost was huge.”

“He breaks it for a price, then.”

“Not for a price. At a cost.”

“I fail to see the distinction.”

“A price is something you get. A cost is something you lose. He lost—much, at Escobar.”

Cordelia sleepily thinks that she should try to change the subject, but Dr. Mehta pursues the Escobar tack.  Cordelia begins to ramble about Aral and his attraction for her as a lady soldier, his patriotism and devotion to his soldiers, the Emperor, Bothari…  Dr. Mehta asks about Prince Serg, and Cordelia suddenly realizes that the “cigarette” smoke is some kind of drug.

Cordelia swept the recorder from the table and fell upon it as it smashed to the floor, beating on it with her good hand, her right hand. “Never talk! No more death! You can’t make me! Blew it—you can’t get away with it, I’m sorry, watchdog, remembers every word, I’m sorry, shot him, please, talk to me, please, let me out, please let me out pleaseletmeout . . .”

Dr. Mehta is intrigued by Cordelia’s idiosyncratic reaction to the drug; she gets out an ampule, but Cordelia kicks it out of her hand and Mehta backs off, clearing away the smoke.  Cordelia says that the smoke was a dirty trick, and Mehta agreed, but it made for a productive session.  She picks up the pieces of her recorder, assuring Cordelia that the recording of the session is undamaged.  She says that there is no longer any doubt that the Barrayarans have done something to Cordelia’s mind.  Cordelia says that she has an aversion to being drugged against her will, and Mehta says that it’s a legitimate method, as long as permission is acquired post facto.

Cordelia says that she no longer wants Dr. Mehta on her case, which Mehta diagnoses as an implanted aversion defense.  She tells Cordelia that, as a military officer, she has no choice about who treats her, and says they’ll meet again tomorrow.

The next day, Cordelia wanders the city and doesn’t return until late at night.  She tries to write a letter to Aral, throwing out her first attempt as too personal and settling on a more neutrally-worded second try.  She writes it on paper and kisses it before sealing it.

The day after that, Mehta calls to cancel their session, but Cordelia thinks this might be a ruse and leaves the apartment anyway.  This time, she is followed by two men, whom she is unable to shake off.  The next afternoon, she stays in the apartment, wondering how she’ll handle Mehta this time.  Mehta arrives on time with Commodore Tailor and a burly medtech.

Tailor says they’ll have to ask her to agree to hospitalization and further treatment, because they think that the Barrayarans have tried to make her an agent.  They’ve examined her letter to Aral, but couldn’t find a hidden message in it, though the letter was destroyed in the process, and thought they should let her try to explain it herself.  Cordelia protests the seizure of the letter, but Tailor says that it falls under “emergency security” even though the war is over.

Cordelia asks what happens if she refuses to commit herself, and Tailor says he’ll have to order her.  She inadvertently mentions Captain Negri, which makes them more suspicious; Mehta says that they think that if she was under Negri’s control, she’d never know it, and that obviously Vorkosigan is her control; Cordelia protests, but is unable to sway them.  She says she can resign, but Mehta says that even as a civilian, they can get permission from her next of kin.  Cordelia realizes her mother has taken a long time preparing the tea, and has probably already given them permission, out of worry.

Tailor says that if they’re wrong, the best way to prove it is to cooperate, but Cordelia thinks again of the lives sacrificed to kill Prince Serg.  Mehta thinks it’s odd for them to conceal the espionage under cover of a love affair, since Cordelia and Aral are such an unlikely romantic pair.  She pretends to accede, hoping for an opportunity, and asks to go shower and pack.  Mehta follows her, hoping they can talk.

“You know you remind me a bit of the late Admiral Vorrutyer. You both want to take me apart, see what makes me tick. Vorrutyer was more like a little kid, though. Had no intention of picking up his mess afterwards.

“You, on the other hand, will take me apart and not even get a giggle out of it. Of course, you fully intend to put the pieces back together afterwards, but from my point of view that scarcely makes any difference. Aral was right about people in green silk rooms. . . .”

Mehta looked puzzled. “You’ve stopped stuttering,” she noted.

“Yes . . .” Cordelia paused before her aquarium, considering it curiously. “So I have. How strange.” Stone smashes scissors. . . .

She wraps a belt around Mehta’s neck, binding her hands with the other one.  She tells Mehta it’s time for some real Barrayaran interrogation techniques.  She asks how many guards there are outside the apartment.  Mehta says none, and Cordelia dunks her face in the aquarium.  After three or four tries, Mehta breaks and tells her there are four, and where they are.  Cordelia then binds and gags her, gets her money and ID cards, and starts the shower for camouflage.

She sneaks out, hoping Tailor and the medtech are occupied in the kitchen.  Tailor is standing in the doorway, drinking coffee; he spots her sneaking past, and after a moment salutes her quietly.  Cordelia returns the salute and slips out.

In the hallway is a journalist and his cameraman; Cordelia spins a tale of government conspiracy, and asks for help in sneaking past the agents.  She takes the camera and the cameraman’s hat and jacket, and walks past with the journalist.  They go to the shuttleport, where she ditches the reporter at the bar and heads off to find a ship leaving.  She collars a port employee and adroitly convinces her that she needs to find a ship leaving for Escobar, strictly hush-hush.  The employee sets her up with a ship, and Cordelia warns her about a couple of journalists, Mehta and Tailor, who may pretend to be government agents and try to find her.

At the ship, Cordelia pretends to have a secret mission to contact the Emperor of Barrayar with an ultimatum, and tells the pilot, Mayhew, that he was selected personally by the president as a man of discretion.

He took her aboard the freighter shuttle, and made her a seat among the last-minute cargo. “You know all the big names in Survey, don’t you, ma’am? Lightner, Parnell . . . Do you suppose you could ever introduce me?”

“I don’t know. But—you will get to meet a lot of the big names from the Expeditionary Force, and Security, when you get back from Escobar. I promise.” Will you ever . . .

“May I ask you a personal question, ma’am?”

“Why not? Everyone else does.”

“Why are you wearing slippers?”

She stared down at her feet. “I’m—sorry, Pilot Officer Mayhew. That’s classified.”

Comments

During the second scene with Mehta, and Cordelia’s escape, Bujold does a nice job of repeating the phrases “Scissors cut paper”, “Paper wraps stone”, and “Stone smashes scissors” at appropriate points in Cordelia’s internal monologue.  No way I could have conveyed that without quoting much more than I should, so take my word for it, it’s pretty cool.  Cordelia’s internal free association during the first Mehta scene is pretty good, too.

At least Tailor seemed to be an unwilling participant, letting her sneak past at the end; Mehta was the real slimebucket, unable to conceive that her pet theory might be wrong, and she probably would have refused to be convinced otherwise even if Cordelia told her the whole truth, because it was practically unfalsifiable.  How can you prove that you weren’t actually brainwashed to the point that you don’t remember it in the first place?  In fact, Cordelia’s very escape probably just made her belief stronger.  Cordelia really burned her bridges there, not without some personal cost, and quite frankly I don’t recall ever hearing of her returning to Beta Colony after that.

I don’t know if there’s any confirmation that the pilot Mayhew at the end is the same pilot named Mayhew who turns up in later books, but there’s no reason not to assume that.  Considering how his career is a wee bit blighted the next time we see him…

Chapter Fourteen

Cordelia flies her lightflyer, rented in Vorbarr Sultana, over a lake, and down onto the driveway of the Vorkosigan country estate.  Bothari comes around a corner on his patrol, and Cordelia asks if Aral is in.  Bothari salutes her and says he is.  Cordelia says that he looks better than he did at Escobar, but Bothari says he doesn’t remember much of Escobar, and has since been discharged, now being employed by Aral himself in his personal guard.

She makes her way around the back of house, where Bothari has told her Aral would be, dressed in an unaccustomed dress to blend in on Barrayar.  She comes upon a graveyard, where an older man is planting flowers, evidently Aral’s father the Count.  She introduces herself, and asks where Aral is.  He says that Aral has told him a little about her, and he’s pleasantly surprised to see her there.  He says Aral spends most of his time in a pavilion overlooking the lake.  Cordelia asks delicately if he’s likely to be sober, and the Count admits probably not, since his drinking hours have been creeping up earlier and earlier.

“He has taken this Escobar failure unnecessarily personally, I think. His resignation was not in the least called for.”

She deduced the old Count was not in the Emperor’s confidence on this matter, and thought, it wasn’t its failure that slew his spirit, sir; it was its success. Aloud, she said, “Loyalty to your Emperor was a very great point of honor for him, I know.” Almost its last bastion, and your Emperor chose to flatten it to its foundations in the service of his great need. . . .

She finds Aral in the pavilion, sitting in a chair with his eyes closed, with a gaudy shirt and bare feet.  She watches him sit up and take a drink before speaking.  Once he realizes she isn’t a hallucination, he seems embarrassed to be seen in his current condition.  He explains that he can achieve unconsciousness by lunch if he starts on the brandy after breakfast.  She comments on the shirt, and he explains it was a joke gift from some of his officers, most of whom are now dead.

Cordelia asks about Bothari, and Aral tells her that he got off on the Vorrutyer charge and got an honourable medical discharge.  Aral got his father to hire Bothari, and the uniform and duties give him a certain stability.  Serving under Vorrutyer, he’d been on the verge of schizophrenia.

He asks Cordelia if she can stay, and Cordelia says that she can, that she found when she went home that it had changed, or she had.  She alludes to her trouble, saying that she mailed in her resignation from Escobar.  He is quite pleased that she plans to stay, and promises to give up his suicide by alcohol, and they snuggle in the chair.

A few weeks after their marriage they head to ImpMil Hospital in Vorbarr Sultana, with Bothari as driver and bodyguard.  Bothari asks Aral if she knows, and Cordelia says that she does–they are going to pick up Bothari’s baby girl from one of the uterine replicators.  Cordelia asks Bothari what he’s going to tell her about her mother, and he says he’ll say that they were married, and she died; he doesn’t want her to be known as a bastard.  He has hired a village woman to look after her.  He’s going to name her Elena, after her mother.

Cordelia was surprised into an unguarded remark. “I thought you couldn’t remember Escobar!”

A little time went by, and he said, “You can beat the memory drugs, some, if you know how.”

Vorkosigan raised his eyebrows. Evidently this was new to him, too. “How do you do that, Sergeant?” he asked, carefully neutral.

“Someone I knew once told me . . . You write down what you want to remember, and think about it. Then hide it—the way we used to hide your secret files from Radnov, sir—they never figured it out either. Then first thing when you get back, before your stomach even settles, take it out and look at it. If you can remember one thing on the list, you can usually get the rest, before they come back again. Then do the same thing again. And again. It helps if you have an, an object, too.”

“Did you have, ah, an object?” asked Vorkosigan, clearly fascinated.

“Piece of hair.” He fell silent again for a long time, then volunteered, “She had long black hair. It smelled nice.”

Cordelia notices a flyer that keeps on their tail, and Aral tells her it’s Imperial Security; not everyone is convinced he’s serious about retiring.  He says for a while he liked to flush them out, like flying drunk in the canyons south of the estate.  He admits that he did have one wreck, and Bothari surprised him by saying that there was a second one, which he doesn’t remember, and left him unconscious for a whole day.

Vorkosigan looked startled. “Are you pulling my leg, Sergeant?”

“No, sir. You can go look at the pieces of the flyer. They’re scattered for a kilometer and a half down Dendarii Gorge.”

Vorkosigan cleared his throat, and shrunk down in his seat. “I see.” He was quiet, then added,

“How—unpleasant, to have a blank like that in one’s memory.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed Bothari blandly.

Aral tells Cordelia she’s likely been watched too, with his profile after Escobar.  He’s been made out as some sort of hero, for saving so much in the retreat, though he obviously dwells on those he couldn’t save as well.  They reach Vorbarr Sultana and Cordelia spots a block of burnt-out buildings, which Aral identifies as the former Ministry of Political Education, destroyed in riots.  He says they were actually carefully orchestrated, just enough to decimate the Ministry before the guards swept in and dispersed the rioters.

At ImpMil, they first visit Koudelka, who is slowly receiving prosthetic nerve implants to repair the disrupter damage.  He is happy to see Cordelia, and congratulates the Vorkosigans on their marriage.  His arm is moving repetitively, which the doctors are trying to figure out; he says the worst part is not the pain, but the odd synaesthetic sensations.  A doctor comes in and deactivates the nerves in his arm until they can fix the short.  Aral comments that it’s taking a while, but he’s seeing consistent improvement; Koudelka laments that he’s going to be discharged after all, even after all this trouble.  After a moment, he admits that it’s probably for the best, since he wouldn’t be much good in hand-to-hand combat.  He asks after Ensign Dubauer, and Cordelia tells him that he’s about the same, and his mother looks after him now.

Their next stop is in the research wing.  Aral introduces his wife to the doctor in charge, and Cordelia is firm about accompanying them.

“Good morning, sir,” [the technician] said cheerfully. “Going to watch us hatch this chick today?”

“I wish you’d find some other term for it,” said the doctor.

“Yes, but you can’t call it being born,” he pointed out reasonably. “Technically, they’ve all been born once already. You tell me what it is, then.”

“They call it cracking the bottle at home,” suggested Cordelia helpfully, watching the preparations with interest.

The doctor and technician work on the uterine replicator.  The doctor asks if they have any funding to try to reproduce the machine, but Aral says that once the children are all born, he won’t be involved anymore; he suggests the doctor try to think of a military application.  As they open it up, the doctor expresses his admiration for the surgeons who extracted the placentas in the first place.  He cuts it open and pulls little Elena out, and she begins crying lustily, which disturbs Aral and Bothari, but Cordelia assures them it’s quite normal.  They finish examining the baby and hand her to Cordelia, who demonstrates how to hold her properly and calms her down.  As Aral is invited to examine the replicator, Cordelia gives the baby to Bothari, who isn’t sure the baby looks anything like him; he is cheered by the prospect that she might look like her mother instead.  Aral holds her briefly as well before giving her back to the doctor.

The doctor makes sure of the plan–to release the baby into Aral’s custody instead of the Imperial Orphanage.  They leave Bothari behind to watch over the baby, at his own request, and head out for lunch.  Cordelia says the doctor seemed to have concluded that the baby was hers or Aral’s, or both, which bothers Aral but amuses Cordelia.

“Just wondering what happened to her mother. I’m certain I met her. Long black hair, named Elena, on the flagship—there could only have been one. Incredibly beautiful. I can see how she caught Vorrutyer’s eye. But so young, to deal with that sort of horror . . .”

“Women shouldn’t be in combat,” said Vorkosigan, grimly glum.

“Neither should men, in my opinion. “

Her memories were removed as well, and Cordelia asks why.  Aral tells her that after Vorrutyer finished with her, she was catatonic.  Bothari asked permission to take her into his quarters, which Vorrutyer granted; instead of torturing her further, though, Bothari started living an odd sort of fantasy life with Elena, pretending she was his wife and nursing her back to health.  These were the memories that Bothari would have tried to preserve, he thought.

Comments

The whole Bothari situation is a little squicky, isn’t it?  He’s certainly not a particularly sympathetic character, though he does have his moments nonetheless.  Over the next couple of books we’ll see more, not to mention little Elena.  And, what the heck, Koudelka, too.  Not Dubauer, though.

This could almost be another ending, but there’s a little bit more to come as well, in the last chapter.  I seem to recall Bujold having said that she had trouble figuring out where to end the book, but eventually she took off the last few chapters, which ended up as the first few chapters of Barrayar instead.

Notice that we also have more medical personnel with no names.  Again, what’s up with that?  My wife thought that one of the ones in this chapter would be the surgeon from before, who was tasked with bringing the replicators back to Barrayar, but I see no evidence of that.  After all, we have “the doctor” and “the technician”, rather than “the surgeon”, and neither of them seemed to have met Cordelia before.


So, yes, one more chapter, plus the odd little short story “Aftermaths”, and then we can move on to Barrayar.

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