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…
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.”
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…
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.
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.