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Archive for August, 2011

Welcome back to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I summarize and comment on various works of Lois McMaster Bujold in her saga of the Vorkosigans.  This week, I take you through two more chapters of Barrayar, by some reckonings the second book in the series.  This isn’t exactly the “Good Parts” Version, since quite frankly they’re almost all good parts, or at least they are when you can read Ms. Bujold’s own prose as opposed to my own hamhanded synopses, where I often sacrifice well-crafted prose for whatever I can toss off quickly.

Now let’s get on with it!  I mean it!  (Anybody want a peanut?)

Chapter Thirteen

Hours later, they meet up with Kly and his horse, who says that he narrowly avoided getting taken at a house he was delivering mail to.  Apparently Vordarian’s men are using fast-penta to interrogate everyone they can find in the hills.  He’d sent his niece’s husband to try to fetch them, but found Vordarian’s men already at his house.  He was encouraged, though, when they continued searching.  He offers to put Gregor on his horse, but Bothari says Cordelia needs the rest more, and she discovers that he’s right.  Bothari brings Kly up to date, and Kly particularly appreciates getting the soldiers lost in the cave; Bothari tells him that it was Cordelia’s idea, and Cordelia says she was just trying to use up some of Vordarian’s finite resources.

Kly takes them to his niece Sonia’s house, which he says has already been searched; Vordarian’s men aren’t done enough to recheck yet, and they’re still searching the lake as well.  Bothari’s feet are in awful shape under his boots, and Cordelia and Gregor’s shoes are mostly destroyed.  Exhausted, Cordelia lets herself be fed and put to bed.

The next morning, a ten-year-old boy appears leading Kly’s other horse; Kly says that the boy only knows that the mailman needs his remount, and Cordelia is horrified that they would have used fast-penta on him.  Kly says that they’re desperate to find Gregor, that Vordarian’s whole coup can collapse if he doesn’t.  Kly says he has to keep to his schedule, so that Count Piotr can contact him, and he warns them to stay inside and out of sight.

They spend four days with Sonia and her husband, doing very little.  Cordelia has one bath, and regrets it because the couple, somewhat elderly themselves, have to haul and heat the wood themselves.  The couple are laconic, so conversation amounts to little.  Sonia brings in trickles of outside news, that Hassadar is mostly closed but a few manage to escape, that the lake search has been nearly abandoned, that most of Piotr’s armsmen’s hostages have escaped, and that for some reason Karla Hysopi was taken as well.

Cordelia froze. “Did they take the baby, too?”

“Baby? Donnia didn’t say about a baby. Grandchild, was it?”

Bothari was sitting by the window sharpening his knife on Sonia’s kitchen whetstone. His hand paused in mid-stroke. He looked up to meet Cordelia’s alarmed eyes. Beyond a tightening of his jaw his face did not change expression, yet the sudden increase of tension in his body made Cordelia’s stomach knot. He looked back down at what he was doing, and took a longer, firmer stroke that hissed along the whetstone like water on coals.

“Maybe . . . Kly will know something more, when he comes back,” Cordelia quavered.

“Belike,” said Sonia doubtfully.

When Kly does return, he brings Armsman Esterhazy with him, in hillman disguise.  He tells them that Aral and Piotr want to keep Gregor in the mountains, since Vordarian is apparently beginning to think that Gregor isn’t there at all.  They’ve also given up on finding Cordelia in the caves, and as soon as they finish finding all the lost soldiers, they’ll pull out.  Kly tells Gregor that he’s going to pretend that Esterhazy is his father, and that he has a new name.  Gregor is doubtful when he hears that Cordelia isn’t coming with him, but Kly tells him that there are goats, and he doesn’t complain further.  Esterhazy and Gregor set out the next morning.

Cordelia said anxiously, “Take care of him, Armsman.”

Esterhazy gave her a driven look. “He’s my Emperor, Milady. He holds my oath.”

“He’s also a little boy, Armsman. Emperor is . . . a delusion you all have in your heads. Take care of the Emperor for Piotr, yes, but you take care of Gregor for me, eh?”

Esterhazy met her eyes. His voice softened. “My little boy is four, Milady.”

He did understand, then. Cordelia swallowed relief and grief.

Cordelia asks Kly, while Bothari is out of earshot, about Karla Hysopi.  Kly tells her that they were looking for the baby, and took Mrs. Hysopi when she protested.  He says that Esterhazy told Bothari the night before.

Three more days pass while Kly’s nephew leads Cordelia and Bothari through the mountains, until they reach a man with a rickety lightflyer loaded with maple syrup.  He flies them to a market town, where he barters his syrup for supplies, and then trades Cordelia and Bothari to a groundtruck loaded with cabbages.  Hours later the truck drops them off near a kilometer marker.  Finally, in the night, a lightflyer comes down to pick them up, which proves to contain Kou and Drou.  As they take off, Cordelia notices an escort of military flyers shadowing them.

Cordelia is happy to see them, though she quickly discerns that they have not yet resolved their personal issues.  They tell her that the guard corporal was interrogated with fast-penta and confessed to sabotaging the comconsole, as well as passing information to Vordarian that made the sonic grenade attack possible, though he knew nothing about the soltoxin.  Illyan hasn’t managed to get out the capital yet; Cordelia starts to tell them about Gregor, but Koudelka stops her and says that she’s not supposed to tell anyone except Aral and Piotr about him.  She asks about the baby, and Drou says that they’ve heard nothing one way or the other; he hasn’t been listed on Vordarian’s lists of hostages.

According to Koudelka, the overall situation is that Vordarian has five Counts who are staunch supporters, and about thirty more who may be nothing more than his captives; most of the rest have reaffirmed their allegiance to the Regent.  The space forces, who receive half their supplies from Vordarian’s shuttleports, have refused to commit one way or the other.  He says that Aral’s opinion is that Vordarian lost the moment he let Gregor get away, but he still holds Princess Kareen.

They land at a military base, and are escorted to an underground bunker which makes Cordelia homesick for Beta Colony’s better-decorated tunnels.  She is brought to Aral, and they embrace fiercely.  He tells her to go to sickbay as soon as she can; Bothari wants to report in to the Count, but Aral says the Count is on a diplomatic mission and Bothari should report to him instead.

“Bothari was amazing,” Cordelia confided to Aral. “No—that’s unjust. Bothari was Bothari, and I shouldn’t have been amazed at all. We wouldn’t have made it without him.”

Aral nodded, smiling a little. “I thought he would do for you.”

“He did indeed.”

Aral asks if Cordelia has heard the situation, and she asks for more details.  Aral says that the Vorpatrils have not yet been captured, but haven’t escaped either, so are probably also still hiding out in the capital.  He says that they can get a lot of data from Vordarian’s side, but wonders if their own side is as porous, since everyone seems to have friends and family on the other side.

A man comes looking for Aral, bringing him a Colonel Gerould to report in.  Aral sends Cordelia off with Drou to get whatever she needs.  As she is leaving, she hears Aral berating the Colonel for tying a ribbon to his arm, to help distinguish their man from Vordarian’s; Aral says that Vordarian is the traitor and should be the one to use a different uniform.

At the infirmary, Cordelia has some difficulty making the doctor understand her situation, since they have no access to her medical records.  She tries to explain the placental transfer operation, then gives up.

“I gave birth by surgical section. It did not go well.”

“I see. Five weeks post-partum.” He made a note. “And what is your present complaint?”

I don’t like Barrayar, I want to go home, my father-in-law wants to murder my baby, half my friends are running for their lives, and I can’t get ten minutes alone with my husband, whom you people are consuming before my eyes, my feet hurt, my head hurts, my soul hurts . . . it was all too complicated. The poor man just wanted something to put in his blank, not an essay. “Fatigue,” Cordelia managed at last.

“Ah.” He brightened, and entered this factoid on his report panel. “Post-partum fatigue. This is normal.” He looked up and regarded her earnestly. “Have you considered starting an exercise program, Lady Vorkosigan?”

Comments

So if “fast-penta” is a verb, what is its past tense?  “fast-pentaed”?  “fast-penta’d”?  “fast-penta’ed”?  Yeah, I don’t know either, so I tried to arrange my sentences not to include it.  Doesn’t English have any other verbs ending in “a”, whose past tense is commonly use in writing?  The only ones I could think of offhand were Spanish imports like “rhumba” and “samba”.

Anyway, Cordelia finally manages to return to civilization and familiar characters, and more importantly, find out more about what’s going on, so there’s that.  Bujold went to enough effort that I am convinced that they legitimately managed to escape from Vordarian’s searchers without having to suspend my disbelief too far, I do admit.  Though now I’m wondering about how well Esterhazy and Gregor’s masquerade is going to work if they do get…uh, if someone fast-pentas them.  I guess they can hide somewhere they’ve already searched, but still…

Also, Vordarian did turn out to be behind at least the sonic grenade attack, if not necessarily the soltoxin.  Was he just trying to frame the Cetagandans, or was this deliberate misinformation planted by a suborned ImpSec man?  Or something in between, like laziness and a readiness to believe them the source of all sinister plots?

Apparently, in the last installment, I misidentified the cabin that they were staying at at the end there as Klyeuvi’s niece’s, which in fact it was Klyeuvi’s own shack.  I apologize for the confusion, but at least nobody pointed it out.  I’m going to leave it up for now, though, like my earlier goof about the identity of the guy who shot whatshisname with the nerve disrupter in the first chapters of Shards of Honour.

Another doctor without a name, but since his only role here is to be clueless comic relief, I guess that’s all right.  (In the next chapter it turns out that one of Aral’s major motivations for sending Cordelia to the doctor was to get her cleared for sex.  Heh.)

Chapter Fourteen

Over a rare dinner alone with her husband, Cordelia asks who exactly Vordarian’s troops are.  Aral explains that most of them are soldiers whose commanding officers chose Vordarian’s side, who haven’t mustered the courage to desert their units, which their training makes them unlikely to do in any case.  He says that it’s only treason if they lose anyway, and as long as he and Gregor remain alive, Vordarian cannot win.  Cordelia asks why he doesn’t just bring Gregor out now, and Aral says he wants to woo more of Vordarian’s troops away from him first.  Vordarian doesn’t seem to be making much progress, going for strategic military points rather than trying to win over the minds of the people.  Aral wishes that he could have Kanzian, an experienced space commander who is still unaccounted for.  He says he’s considered moving his base into space, one reason he wanted to hold the shuttleport, but he feels it could be interpreted as a retreat.

Cordelia asks about hostages, thinking about baby Miles; Aral says that Vorbarr Sultana itself is a type of hostage, since Vordarian could threaten to destroy it.  They have discussed the possibility of rescue raids, but the time is not ripe, so they’d rather sacrifice them instead.

“Even Kareen?” All the hostages? Even the tiniest?

“Even Kareen. She is Vor. She understands.”

“The surest proof I am not Vor,” said Cordelia glumly. “I don’t understand any of this . . . stylized madness. I think you should all be in therapy, every last one of you.”

He smiled slightly. “Do you think Beta Colony could be persuaded to send us a battalion of psychiatrists as humanitarian aid? The one you had that last argument with, perhaps?”

Cordelia snorted. Well, Barrayaran history did have a sort of weird dramatic beauty, in the abstract, at a distance. A passion play. It was close-up that the stupidity of it all became more palpable, dissolving like a mosaic into meaningless squares.

Cordelia asks if they are taking hostages themselves, and Aral says they’re not; they need the moral high ground.  Vordarian is neglecting the “plebes” in favour of the upper class, which is the wrong side, numerically.  Both sides have sufficient raw power, but Aral has right and legitimacy on his side, which Vordarian is trying to undermine with rumours that Aral has disposed of Gregor to seek the throne himself.  He admits that Vordarian could still win, if he gets his hands on Aral and Gregor, but it would likely lead to a long era of instability as people try to seize the throne and take petty revenges.

The next few days, Cordelia explores her new surroundings with Drou.  Bothari spends much of his time exercising, having nothing to do until the Count returns, and having trouble sleeping as well.  She tries to keep up with the news reports on the war, but finds them too depressing.

After three days, Illyan arrives with Kanzian.  Cordelia goes to see the debriefing; Illyan has been hiding out in the capital much as Cordelia did in the mountains.  Kanzian seems to be confident that he can talk around some of the space commanders, like Admiral Knollys, who’s been avoiding communications with Aral, once he points out how little chance Vordarian has.

Cordelia asks Illyan if he’s had any news of her baby, but he hasn’t.  Illyan asks in turn about Negri’s death, which Aral confirms; he does say that Gregor is fine, but doesn’t tell Illyan where.  Aral tells Illyan that after sickbay his job is to start taking apart ImpSec and putting it back together, as its new head.  Captain Illyan is daunted by his new duties, but cannot refuse.

After that, the new arrivals at Tanery Base increase in pace, including Prime Minister Vortala, who escaped from Vordarian’s house arrest.  One day Aral summons her to watch a vid that Vordarian has just broadcast, with Kanzian, Vortala, and other staffers present.  It cuts between Vordarian and Princess Kareen, in the Imperial Residence, and the Council of Counts.  The Lord Guardian is reading an obviously prepared statement, though subtly distancing himself from it, denouncing Aral for Gregor’s murder and appointing Vordarian as Regent and Prime Minister, though Vortala spots that he doesn’t have a quorum of the Counts.

Aral wants Cordelia to pay attention to Kareen, though, as Vordarian announces his engagement to the Princess; she remains calm and serene even when displaying the ring.  Aral asks Cordelia if she can tell him anything about Kareen’s state of mind.  Cordelia watches it again and says that she doesn’t look drugged or coerced; likely she is just trying to make the best of her situation.

Cordelia went on, “Vordarian’s been controlling her access to information, surely. She may even be convinced he’s winning. She’s a survivor; she’s survived Serg and Ezar, so far. Maybe she means to survive you and Vordarian both. Maybe the only revenge she thinks she’ll ever get is to live long enough to spit on all your graves.”

One of the staff officers muttered, “But she’s Vor. She should have defied him.”

Cordelia favored him with a glittery grin. “Oh, but you never know what any Barrayaran woman thinks by what she says in front of Barrayaran men. Honesty is not exactly rewarded, you know.”

The staffer gave her an unsettled look. Drou smiled sourly. Vorkosigan blew out his breath. Koudelka blinked.

Cordelia continues to wonder about Kareen later, pondering their similarities, as she turns Gregor’s shoe over in her hands.  She is interrupted by a call from Major Sircoj, a duty officer at the entrance, who says a man who has a conditioned sensitivity to fast-penta, so they can’t interrogate him without killing him, has arrived asking to see her.  Cordelia asks if he’s carrying a large metal object, but Sircoj says he has nothing except his clothes, and says his name is Vaagen.  Cordelia says she will see him, though Sircoj protests that it’s not safe.  She and Drou run down to the portal security, collecting herself before asking to see Major Sircoj.  After some negotiation, Sircoj allows her to talk to Vaagen over the vid.

Cordelia is appalled at Vaagen’s condition, and demands that he get medical treatment; Sircoj says he must be cleared first.  Cordelia sends Drou for Aral and gets Sircoj to put her through.  Eventually someone brings Vaagen to a comconsole.  Vaagen says that he and Henri were trying to keep the replicator safe, hiding out in ImpMil, and for a while nobody seemed to know they were there.  The day before, though, Vordarian’s men came for the replicator, beating Henri to death when he tried to deny them.

“Then they ripped into the lab. Everything, all the treatment records. All Henri’s work on burns, gone. They didn’t have to do that. All gone for nothing!” His voice cracked, hoarse with fury.

“Did they . . . find the replicator? Dump it out?” She could see it; she had seen it over and over, spilling. . . .

“They found it, finally. But then they took it. And then let me go.” He shook his head from side to side.

“Took it,” she repeated stupidly. Why? What sense, to take the technology and not the techs? “And let you go. To run to us, I suppose. To give us the word.”

“You have it, Milady.”

“Where, do you suppose? Where did they take it?”

Vorkosigan’s voice spoke beside her. “The Imperial Residence, most likely. All the best hostages are being kept there. I’ll put Intelligence right on it.” He stood, feet planted, grey-faced. “It seems we’re not the only side turning up the pressure.”

Comments

Now the personal stakes for Cordelia are certainly up another notch.  She’s been living in uncertainty, wondering whether or not Miles was safe, and now it’s been confirmed to her that he’s not.  Up goes the tension again, after a chapter mostly spent defusing it (or diffusing it) by showing Aral’s side going up.  I may have skipped over several references in the text to Aral warning that Vordarian will get more desperate as he begins to realize that he’s losing, so it’s not like this wasn’t foreshadowed.  It certainly falls into Bujold’s normal do-the-worst-thing-you-can-to-your-characters methodology.  And, also, her determination to keep her villains from being stupid.

I can’t decide if Bothari is still supposed to be without his meds at this point.  Can he get more from the base pharmacy, or not?  If they don’t have access to Cordelia’s medical records, I suppose they also don’t have Bothari’s, so maybe they can’t take his word for what his prescription is.  Given his ambivalence towards the meds in the first place, I suppose he might not even have brought them up.  So I suspect he’s off his meds and perhaps becoming less stable as a result.  Not that, with Bothari, that’s necessarily a bad thing, if you know how to point him in the right direction when he loses it.


Down to the wire for another installment, but you get two chapters again, lucky you.  Well, good night, see you next week, I’ll probably kill you in the morning.

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Welcome back for another installment of the adventures of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Barrayar’s only Betan Countess!  This week…Cordelia stumbles on into the wilderness around Vorkosigan Surleau as things get real.

Chapter Eleven

As ImpSec medics try fruitlessly to resuscitate Negri, Koudelka tells Aral that the comconsole was sabotaged, like somebody had just smashed it up.  The guard who had been outside the room, now in custody, tries to finger Drou as the culprit; impatiently Aral orders them both arrested.

Aral orders them to begin evacuating, and warn the people in the nearby village.  Count Piotr asks his son, mildly, if he’s going to Hassadar; Aral says it will be his first gift to Vordarian.  He tells Piotr to take Gregor somewhere, and contact him later to arrange a rendezvous; he doesn’t want to know where they are.  He also asks Piotr to take Cordelia, and Bothari to guard her.  Piotr sends off his Armsman Esterhazy, and another man off to create a false trail with his groundcar.  Aral and Piotr decide to arrange something with Negri’s body and the lightflyer.  As they do, Cordelia asks if anyone but her was surprised.  Aral tells her that they had found out about Vordarian’s conspiracy, but they had still been gathering evidence.  Negri had just called him to get an Imperial warrant to arrest Vordarian, and Vordarian apparently found out about it and moved first, a month earlier than he had been planning.

Cordelia bids a quick but heartfelt farewell to Aral, and gets into the lightflyer with Piotr, Gregor and Bothari.  Bothari flies the ailing vehicle at a low altitude, at Piotr’s direction, over a ridge and along a creek, until Piotr tells him to land.  The Count then tells them all to get rid of any powered items, including weapons, which show up well on scans; Bothari keeps his steel knife.  Esterhazy arrives then with four horses, as Piotr and Aral strap Negri into the lightflyer’s pilot seat and program it to crash into the deepest part of the lake.  Piotr then orders them to mount up.  Bothari gets on his horse easily enough and Piotr sends him off as point-man.

Supposedly-creaky Piotr swung up into his saddle in one fluid motion; Esterhazy handed Gregor up to him, and Piotr held the boy in front of him. Gregor had actually seemed to cheer up at the sight of the horses, Cordelia could not imagine why. Piotr appeared to do nothing at all, but his horse arranged itself neatly ready to start up the trail—telepathy, Cordelia decided wildly. They’ve mutated into telepaths here and never told me . . . or maybe it was the horse that was telepathic.

Cordelia fails on her first attempt to mount, and Esterhazy hurries over to help her, and she admits to never having ridden before, to Count Piotr’s audible disdain for the “useless Betan frill”.  She manages to get aboard, and clings for dear life as they canter off, Piotr taking her horse’s reins.

They ride to a vantage point overlooking the lake, where Bothari is waiting; he helps Cordelia dismount, and she gasps for breath.  Flyers are beginning to arrive at the house they left behind, and as soldiers disembark, Cordelia wonders how they’ll tell the good guys from the bad guys, when they wear the same uniform.  Esterhazy says that he let all the horses loose to try to muddy their trail, though Piotr says half of them will still just hang around waiting to be fed.  More soldiers head into the village, where Esterhazy says they’ll be looking for hostages from the armsmen’s families.  Piotr says they need to get under cover before the air search.  He heads off into the brush as Bothari and Esterhazy help Cordelia back onto her horse.  They walk more slowly, for the horses’ sake.

They rode among trees and scrub, along a ravine, over a ridge, the horses’ hooves scraping over stone. Her ears strained for the whine of flyers overhead. When one came, Bothari led her on a wild and head-spinning slide down into a ravine, where they dismounted and cowered under a rock ledge for minutes, until the whine faded. Getting back out of the ravine was even more difficult. They had to lead the horses up, Bothari practically seeming to hoist his along the precarious scrubby slope.

They ride into the night, until close to midnight, when they reach a clearing.  Cordelia sits exhausted with Gregor on her lap; Bothari splits a ration-bar, their only food, between them, and Gregor goes to sleep.  Cordelia wonders where Aral is, and asks Piotr if he’d be in Hassadar.  Piotr says he’d have gone there, but only to disperse his garrison, trying to throw them off Gregor’s trail.  With luck, Vordarian will try to hold Hassadar, which has little strategic value, but will drain off his troops.  Also, by holding Count Vorkosigan’s seat, Vordarian may give some of the other Counts reason to worry about him.  Aral will be heading for Tanery Base Shuttleport to try to make contact with the spacebound troops.

Piotr says that Vordarian has been moving quickly; when he was up at Vorbarr Sultana that morning, he didn’t see any signs of trouble.  The capital itself won’t be that great of an advantage to Vordarian, because the real battle is to win over the people.  Even though he holds ImpMil, many people will have fled their posts, and a lot of those that remain will be secretly working to sabotage one side or the other.  Cordelia asks about the Vorpatrils, and Piotr tells her that Padma and the unborn child are in definite danger, as other descendants of Prince Xav.

Cordelia worries that their own heat, and that of the horses, will show up once they start scanning the hills, but Piotr says that there are plenty of other people living in these hills, even if Cordelia hasn’t seen them.  Still, he has a few ideas, and they’ll probably split up soon to confuse things even more.

They start moving again before dawn, heading up a long slope.  They stop in a hollow with a stream, where Piotr and Esterhazy go to try to find help.  Gregor tries to feed some of the native Barrayaran plants to the horses, but they won’t eat them, and Cordelia warns him not to try himself.  Esterhazy returns and takes them over a pass to where Piotr waits with another man wearing a Postal Service uniform.  He gives them some rations, and Piotr tells Bothari to go with “The Major” and take Cordelia and Gregor with him.  Piotr takes some gum-leaf, a mild stimulant, and heads off with Esterhazy back down the trail.

Comments

Another traveling chapter, like some of those near the beginning of Shards of Honour.  A little more urgency, at least at the beginning, but it’s hard to maintain that tension when you’re moving through the wilderness at low speed, without the enemy visibly in hot pursuit on your trail.  So this is where the action flags slightly.  Cordelia’s humorous (and undoubtedly quite realistic) trepidation and lack of skill with the horses also breaks the tension a bit.

It’s nice to see Aral and his father, at each other’s throats, exchanging barbed words and disowning each other not too long ago, putting all that aside and working together when it’s the Emperor’s life at stake.  They know when higher duty takes over.

Chapter Twelve

The Major, who introduces himself as Amor Klyeuvi, or “Kly”, tells Cordelia that he’s the Imperial Mail for the area.  He’s done it for eighteen years, and has two more, if he doesn’t get phased out by lightflyers, before he can retire with 60 years Imperial service, as a “triple-twenty-years man”; he spent forty years in the Imperial Rangers, starting during the Cetagandan War.  He tells Cordelia and Bothari that they’ll stick out, Bothari in his livery, and Cordelia in Aral’s fatigue shirt, but he’ll see what he can do.  Cordelia asks to try some of his gum-leaf, once she convinces him that she’s “not a real lady”.

Kly regarded her with bemusement. “So what are you, off-worlder not-a-lady?”

“I was an astrocartographer. Then a Survey captain. Then a soldier, then a POW, then a refugee. And then I was a wife, and then I was a mother. I don’t know what I’m going to be next,” she answered honestly, around the gum-leaf. Pray not widow.

Kly is puzzled about “mother”, and she tells him that her baby was born prematurely and is at ImpMil hospital; Kly assures her that the hospital should be safe.  They ride up the road, Kly making periodic side trips to deliver mail.  He returns from one with some replacement clothes, which they put on, hiding the revealing ones; Gregor, they remove his mismatched shoe and cover him with a men’s shirt.  They continue over the pass; some of Kly’s message recipients come to meet them, and some messages Kly delivers orally.  Kly promises to take them to his sister’s place, where they can sleep, but Bothari’s horse goes lame and he has to walk, and it takes hours longer before they cross another ridge into a concealed vale and into a tiny shack.  Cordelia curls up with Gregor under a blanket and is asleep in minutes.

Cordelia wakes up to find Gregor awake as well.  The shack has only one room, with a kettle over the embers of a wood fire.  Footsteps outside prove to be Bothari’s, and he tells them there is breakfast.  Cordelia takes Gregor to the outhouse, then back to the shack for tea and groats, and then Cordelia tells Bothari to get some sleep.  She also asks if Kly had any plans in case they had to hide before he got back, and Bothari mentions a nearby cave network whose entrance Kly had shown him, which they used to use when fighting the Cetagandans.  Cordelia sits and listens in case she hears any vehicles coming closer; they can see the lake far below them, and aren’t really that far away.  After checking on the horses, Cordelia asks Gregor what happened back in the capital.

“The soldiers came. The colonel told Mama and me to come with him. One of our liveried men came in. The colonel shot him.”

“Stunner, or nerve disruptor?”

“Nerve disruptor. Blue fire. He fell down. They took us to the Marble Courtyard. They had aircars. Then Captain Negri ran in, with some men. A soldier grabbed me, and Mama grabbed me back, and that’s what happened to my shoe. It came off in her hand. I should have . . . fastened it tighter, in the morning. Then Captain Negri shot the soldier who was carrying me, and some soldiers shot Captain Negri—”

“Plasma arc? Is that when he got that horrible burn?” Cordelia asked. She tried to keep her tone very calm.

Gregor nodded mutely. “Some soldiers took Mama, those other ones, not Negri’s ones. Captain Negri picked me up and ran. We went through the tunnels, under the Residence, and came out in a garage. We went in the lightflyer. They shot at us. Captain Negri kept telling me to shut up, to be quiet. We flew and flew, and he kept yelling at me to be quiet, but I was. And then we landed by the lake.” Gregor was trembling again.

Cordelia reassures Gregor that his mother will be okay, while her mind flashes on a vision of soldiers finding the uterine replicator and dashing little Miles on the floor.

When Kly hasn’t returned by suppertime, Cordelia asks Bothari to show her the cave.  He gets a chemical cold-light and takes them to the opening, which is quite wide, as is the entrance cavern, which shows clear signs of previous occupancy, and has several exits leading out.  Cordelia wonders if they should try to hide in the cave network, but decides it’s too risky.  However, she decides they should stay there overnight, and leave signs to make any pursuers who find the cave think that they have gone into the caves.  Bothari brings up their horses and tethers them outside.  Cordelia leaves the fatigue shirt in a niche, and drops a cold-light deeper into the caves, then sends Bothari to find a real bolt-hole to hide in.  After Bothari returns, they sleep.

When Cordelia awakens, Bothari says that he’s finding it hard to sleep without his medication, which helps suppress his dreams.  After a cold breakfast, Cordelia is resting when Bothari says it’s time to move.  As they leave the cave, Cordelia sees a lightflyer landing outside Kly’s sister’s shack, and soldiers emerging to kick the door open.  Her horse tries to follow her and she shoos it back.  Bothari leads them up to his hidey-hole, a narrow horizontal crack almost impossible to see into, where they watch the cave entrance through simple unpowered binoculars.  They take turns watching as the cave entrance is discovered, and by nightfall dozens of men have disappeared into it.

They slip out and head back down the slope.  Bothari stops at one point near a vent, where they can hear voices.

“Goddammit, I know we went left back at that third turn.”

“That wasn’t the third turn, that was the fourth.”

“We re-crossed the stream.”

“It wasn’t the same friggin’ stream, sabaki!”

“Merde. Perdu!”

“Lieutenant, you’re an idiot!”

“Corporal, you’re out of line!”

“This cold light’s not going to last the hour. See, it’s fading.”

“Well, don’t shake it up, you moron, when it glows brighter it goes faster.”

“Give me that—!”

Bothari salutes Cordelia and later wishes that they’d had a grenade to drop down there, which would have had them shooting each other for days.

Comments

That cave sequence is priceless.  I’m glad Cordelia didn’t decide to go into the caves, first because she correctly surmises that it’s too dangerous, and second because extended cave sequences can get tedious, like extended mountain-climbing sequences.  But luring the enemy into it, that’s awesome.  Still, the book still feels like it’s close to dissipating the tension from Chapter Ten.  Maybe that’s just because it’s a reread and I know what’s going to happen, and I’m looking forward to stuff that’s still several chapters ahead.

Gregor doesn’t get up to much, apart from telling Cordelia his story.  I guess growing up as he did, he’s probably used to being quiet and staying out of the way and doing what he’s told, and his recent experiences have probably left him a little shell-shocked, but he’s very obedient and very quiet.  Convenient for the characters, and the author, but is it realistic?  Not sure.


And that’s it for this week; still managed to do two chapters, so far so good.  It’ll probably be the first few weeks of fall TV season when I’ll start to fall behind, as I try to keep up with all the interesting-sounding shows until I decide to give up on them, or the networks do.  (No space opera on TV these days, but I guess we’ll make do.)

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Getting down to the wire, but after spending most of last week in British Columbia and last weekend in Calgary, I luckily have this week off to staycate.  Or at least hang around the house without having to go to work, if “staycating” implies too much local tourism.

This week I cover chapters Nine and Ten of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar, the second book, chronologically, in her Vorkosigan series.  This is where the book really begins to pick up, but more on that afterward.

Chapter Nine

Cordelia awakens around midday the next day to find Count Piotr sitting by her bedside.  He gives her some water and gives Cordelia his condolences.  Cordelia says there is still hope, though Piotr doesn’t think much of Vaagen, and he worries that the placental transfer is too risky a procedure, compared to an abortion.  He says the damage is likely to be too severe for Vaagen to be able to fix, and because this is a future Count Vorkosigan, it’s inconceivable that it should be deformed.  Cordelia points out at Counts Vorkosigan have met a number of horrible fates over the centuries, and at the moment the House consists of only Piotr and Aral.  Piotr says that they’ve never been mutants, and though Cordelia points out that the damage is not genetic, he says that he doesn’t want anyone to think it’s a mutant.  Cordelia doesn’t understand why they should worry what ignorant proles–or ignorant Vors–think.  Piotr protests that with this new process the baby’ll be a lab rat, and Cordelia says that he can serve his planet already.  She admits that the transfer may fail, which seems to relieve Count Piotr somewhat, and then Aral interrupts them; Cordelia wonders how much he overheard.

After his father leaves, Cordelia asks Aral about the investigation, and he tells her that there is an officer missing from the armory where Evon Vorhalas got the soltoxin, which opens the question of other conspirators.  He tells Cordelia that he should be the one to deal with his father, and he’ll support her decision.  He tells her that his fertility has probably been severely damaged by the soltoxin, so this may be their only chance.  Cordelia says that they can clone offspring galore from the tiniest of cell fragments, even if they’re both dead, but Aral says it would have to be offworld, or on a greatly changed Barrayar.

Cordelia goes in for the operation with Captain Vaagen, Dr. Henri, and the surgeon, Dr. Ritter.  She soon pegs him as an old friend of Vaagen’s, a little nervous, especially after a number of more experienced men had turned down the job.  Vaagen had explained that Vor lords are notoriously unforgiving of medical mistakes.  They apply a medical stun to her lower body, and Ritter hesitates to start until Vaagen reminds him that bone deterioration is already under way.  Ritter gathers himself and makes the first incision.

A placental transfer was vastly more demanding than a straightforward cesarian section. The fragile placenta must be chemically and hormonally persuaded to release from the blood-vessel-enriched uterus, without damaging too many of its multitude of tiny villi, then floated free from the uterine wall in a running bath of highly oxygenated nutrient solution. The replicator sponge then had to be slipped into place between the placenta and the uterine wall, and the placenta’s villi at least partially induced to re-interdigitate on its new matrix, before the whole mess could be lifted from the living body of the mother and placed in the replicator. The more advanced the pregnancy, the more difficult the transfer.

The umbilical cord between placenta and infant was monitored, and extra oxygen injected by hypospray as needed. On Beta Colony, a nifty little device would do this; here, an anxious tech hovered.

The nutrient bath is running, and the replicator is being moved into place, when Cordelia begins to feel cold, and the nutrient fluid begins to flow red, and Ritter demands that something be clamped.  Cordelia catches a glimpse of the fetus inside the placenta, and Ritter tells Vaagen to take it now if he wants it; then she passes out, the last thing she hears being Ritter swearing.
She floats in delirium, only knowing that she can’t breathe properly, clawing at her throat until they tie down her hands.  Eventually she wakes to find Aral over her.

“Sh. You’ve been very, very sick. You had a violent hemorrhage during the placental transfer. Your heart stopped twice.” He moistened his lips and went on. “The trauma, on top of the poisoning, flared into soltoxin pneumonia. You had a very bad day yesterday, but you’re over the worst, off the respirator.”

He says she’s been out for three days.  Cordelia asks about the baby, and Aral says that the transfer went more or less successful, with only minor placental damage, and the calcium treatments are beginning.

Cordelia continues her recovery over the next few days, as is Aral, but he is kept busy, setting up a makeshift office in his hospital room, with Koudelka working there as well.  Dr. Henri takes her over to the laboratory in a float chair to examine the replicator, and assure her that most signs are encouraging, though there is concern about the baby’s hearing because of the small ear bones.  Still, Cordelia is reassured that her child is in trained hands.

The next day, Vaagen comes to see her, saying that Count Piotr had been to visit his new grandson.  Initially seeming to just show interest in the process, he later turned to attempting to bribe and threaten Dr. Henri into destroying “the mutation”.  Cordelia goes to fetch Aral, who hears Vaagen’s story as well, and promises to deal with it.  Aral contacts the security chief at the hospital and Simon Illyan, and revokes his father’s security access to Vaagen’s building; it requires an Imperial order to countermand Count Piotr’s prior security, which Aral gives in his capacity as Regent.  He authorizes them to use any force up to stunner fire to keep him out.

Aral says he can see both sides of the issue, his father’s and Cordelia’s, but he says that his father is the past, and Cordelia is the future.  Cordelia suggests that they try to speed their recovery by heading out to Vorkosigan Surleau, where there will be fewer interruptions, and Aral says they should take Count Piotr with them, to get him further away from the hospital.

Comments

The operation is one of the most science-fictional things to happen in the book, a futuristic technical procedure described in fair detail.  I’m not sure if current medical technology is up to this level yet, or if this is just an extrapolation on somebody’s part, but it seemed plausible to me.  What I liked best about it is the reference to “medical stun”, though.  It’s ingenious–if you have a weapon that will instantly paralyze someone, knock them unconscious, etc., without lasting damage, then it’s a perfect anesthetic as well.  It might require a more delicate touch, of course–for instance, in this particular operation, would the stun be too dangerous for a developing fetus?  Would they need to aim it precisely to keep from affecting it, while still keeping her from feeling the incision?  Or maybe it just suffices to hit the spinal cord and block out the nerve signals at that point.  Anyway, pretty cool.

It’s interesting how Bujold cuts down their options, too.  Aral’s infertility because of the soltoxin damage, and Barrayar’s resistance to the use of cloning technologies which are probably routine in the rest of the galaxy (at least, we do see them on other planets in later books), mean that they can’t have other children; this is their only chance.  I do wonder if Count Piotr, convinced of Aral’s infertility, would consider cloning to be the lesser evil.  So their only choice is to hang all of their hopes on the baby (still destined to be named Piotr Miles, at this point) having its bone development restored enough to be functional by Vaagen’s experimental method.  Thus, their son is destined to have to fight against Barrayaran prejudices and his own physical limitations in his future life.  Just like she planned it…

Count Piotr’s behaviour is somewhat reprehensible, by our viewpoint, but let’s take a moment to think about this.  Your average Barrayaran Vor is quite conservative and right-wing, with your average Betan as left-wing and liberal.  And yet there’s that little twist where infanticide is part of the Barrayaran way of life, because of the history of mutation in their past, so your average Barrayaran isn’t exactly “pro-life”.  Is the mutation rate just because of their wars with the Cetagandans after the Time of Isolation, and the radiation left behind from that?  Can’t remember right now.  I thought it would go farther back than that, but I do have some trouble figuring out sometimes how long various stages of Barrayaran history lasted.  How long was the Time of Isolation?  How long ago did it end?  I’m sure the answers are in the books, and the Vorkosigan Companion, if I could just remember them.  So let me check the Companion, since it’s conveniently available on my computer…  It says that the Time of Isolation lasted for “several hundred years”, and the custom of infanticide took root back then.  The planet was rediscovered “more than a hundred years” ago–is that compared to Miles’s life, or Cordelia’s–and the Cetagandan invasions are recent enough for Count Piotr to have fought in them.  So I guess that it’s just natural mutation that the mothers of Barrayar was guarding against, though the Cetagandan nuclear weapons can’t have helped.

Chapter Ten

Three weeks after the soltoxin attack, Cordelia awakens in Vorkosigan Surleau, finally feeling fully rested, no longer having to wear oxygen tubes; Aral seems to be already up.  Drou checks and, finding Cordelia awake, comes in with a tray of food.  Cordelia finds herself truly hungry for the first time since the attack.  She notices that Drou seems to be trying to conceal some kind of guilty feeling.  Cordelia tells Drou that Vaagen has reported some possible progress on little Piotr Miles’s recalcification.
Drou asks Cordelia how she knew she was pregnant.  Cordelia tells her that she first had her contraceptive implant removed, when she and Aral decided to try to start their family.

“Made me feel very wicked; at home I couldn’t have had it taken out without buying a license.”

“Really?” Drou listened with openmouthed fascination.

“Yes, it’s a Betan legal requirement. You have to qualify for a parent’s license first. I’ve had my implant since I was fourteen. I had a menstrual period once then, I remember. We turn them off till they’re needed. I got my implant, and my hymen cut, and my ears pierced, and had my coming-out party. . . .”

Drou hopes that she didn’t start having sex right away, and Cordelia says she didn’t, remembering how awkward she was, and still is.  She and Aral began trying right away, and they conceived even before she could menstruate again.  Drou asks a few more questions, and Cordelia asks if there’s some personal interest.  She draws Drou out, and Drou describes how, the night of the soltoxin attack, she was up late and found Koudelka in the library.  He kissed her, and they “screwed”, as Cordelia phrases it.  Drou seems surprised at Cordelia’s approval.  Afterwards, she saw a movement in the back garden, and heard the grenade; she feels guilty for having allowed the attack to get through, though Cordelia tells her that she was off-duty at the time anyway.  She offers Drou one of her remaining pregnancy tests, and Drou goes to try it, returning with the news that she isn’t pregnant after all.

“I can’t tell if you’re glad or sorry. Believe me, if you want to have a baby, you’d do much better to wait a couple years till they get a bit more medical technology on-line around here.” Though the organic method had been fascinating, for a time. . . .

“I don’t want . . . I want . . . I don’t know . . . Kou’s hardly spoken to me since that night. I didn’t want to be pregnant, it would destroy me, and yet I thought maybe he would, would . . . be as excited and happy about it as he was about the sex, maybe. Maybe he’d come back and—oh, things were going so well, and now they’re so spoiled!” Her hands were clenched, face white, teeth gritted.

Cry, so I can breathe, girl. But Droushnakovi regained her self-control. “I’m sorry, Milady. I didn’t mean to spill all this stupidity on you.”

Now, Drou says, Koudelka hides when he sees her coming.  Cordelia gets dressed, wearing her old survey trousers on a whim; they’re a little loose on her, even.

Aral comes in, pleased to find Cordelia and Drou both there; he has an odd light in his eyes.  Koudelka follows him, and Aral says that Koudelka seems to want to make a confession.

“Drou—Miss Droushnakovi—I came to turn myself in. And to apologize. No, that sounds trivial, and believe me, I don’t think it trivial. You deserve more than apology, I owe you expiation. Whatever you want. But I’m sorry, so sorry I raped you.”

Droushnakovi’s mouth fell open for a full three seconds, then shut so hard Cordelia could hear her teeth snap. “What?!”

Koudelka flinched, but never looked up. “Sorry . . . sorry,” he mumbled.

“You. Think. You. What?!” gasped Droushnakovi, horrified and outraged. “You think you could—oh!” She stood rigid now, hands clenched, breathing fast. “Kou, you oaf! You idiot! You moron! You-you-you—” Her words sputtered off. Her whole body was shaking. Cordelia watched in utter fascination. Aral rubbed his lips thoughtfully.

Drou then kicks Koudelka sword-stick out from under him, slams him into the wall, and asks him how he thought he could lay a hand on her without her permission.  Aral admonishes her mildly to be gentle with his secretary, and Drou stalks out.  Cordelia asks if this is still about the night of the soltoxin attack, and Koudelka describes it from his point of view; upon finding himself aroused, he couldn’t hold himself back.  Cordelia says she was acting odd around him because she was afraid of being pregnant, not afraid of him.  Aral and Koudelka are still puzzled, and Cordelia explains that Drou is angry not just because Koudelka insulted her fighting prowess, but because he revealed that he hasn’t even been paying attention to Drou herself, who was giving him what she perceived as a great gift.

Koudelka’s head swiveled toward the door. “Are you saying I should run after her?”

“Crawl, actually, if I were you,” recommended Aral. “Crawl fast. Slither under her door, go belly-up, let her stomp on you till she gets it out of her system. Then apologize some more. You may yet save the situation.” Aral’s eyes were openly alight with amusement now.

“What do you call that? Total surrender?” said Kou indignantly.

“No. I’d call it winning.” His voice grew a shade cooler. “I’ve seen the war between men and women descend to scorched-earth heroics. Pyres of pride. You don’t want to go down that road. I guarantee it.”

Koudelka, well and truly rebuked, still turns the other way when he leaves the room.

At lunch, Cordelia notices the Count’s absence.  Aral thinks he is in the stables, but the housekeeper says that he went off in the groundcar earlier.  Aral goes and checks, and returns to say that his father has, in fact, been to ImpMil, was denied access to the baby, and left.

The Count returns a few hours later, and accuses Aral of having set a trap to humiliate him in public.  Aral said that he wouldn’t have found the trap if he hadn’t chosen that path.  Count Piotr then accuses Cordelia of shirking her duty to guard the genome, but Aral says that infanticide is no longer the only answer.  The Count accuses Aral of inability to control his wife, and being more loyal to her than to his father and liege-lord.

“Yes, the present setup is a little peculiar. As a count’s heir, my hands are between yours, but as your Regent, your hands are between mine. Oath-stalemate. In the old days we could have broken the deadlock with a nice little war.” He grinned back, or at least bared his teeth. Cordelia’s mind gyrated, One day only: The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object. Tickets, five marks.

Koudelka interjects to inform them that the comconsole is down again; Aral tells him to get a guard to help him look at it, and call for a tech if need be.  Koudelka flees the tense room.

Count Piotr threatens to disinherit his grandson; Aral says that he can only disinherit Aral himself, which would require an Imperial order…which he is inclined to grant.  The Count enjoins him to think of the example they’re setting, how it could lead to a society burdened by millions of dysfunctionals; Aral says his reasoning is specious.  Finally the Count says that he can’t persuade them to stop, but he can keep them from naming it after him.  Cordelia and Aral readily agree to name the baby “Miles Naismith Vorkosigan” instead.  As a last effort, Count Piotr orders them out of his house–both houses, Vorkosigan Surleau and Vorkosigan House–and to return his “rents and revenues”.  Aral says that Illyan had been trying to persuade him to move into the Imperial Residence anyway, and now he has a good reason, plus it will be more affordable on his reduced income.

Cordelia sees a lightflyer in the sky, which is flying oddly, and proves to be trailing smoke.  It is coming at the house, and she wonders if it’s filled with bombs; Aral notes that it has ImpSec markings.  It lands shakily on the front lawn, and is so damaged that Cordelia wonders that it’s flyable at all.  Piotr sees that the pilot is Negri, and they rush outside.  The guards open the canopy and find Negri badly wounded and burned; in the passenger seat is Emperor Gregor, in play-clothes with one shoe, weeping in terror.  Koudelka and Drou appear, and Gregor runs to Drou for help.

Aral asks Negri what happened.

Negri reached up and grabbed his jacket with his working right hand. “He’s trying for a coup—in the capital. His troops took ImpSec, took the comm center—why didn’t you respond? HQ surrounded, infiltrated—bad fighting now at the Imperial Residence. We were on to him—about to arrest—he panicked. Struck too soon. I think he has Kareen—”

Piotr demanded, “Who has, Negri, who?”

“Vordarian.”

Aral nodded grimly. “Yes . . .”

“You—take the boy,” gasped Negri. “He’s almost on top of us . . .” His shivers oscillated into convulsions, his eyes rolling back whitely. His breath stuttered in resonant chokes. His brown eyes refocused in sudden intensity. “Tell Ezar—” The convulsions took him again, racking his thick body. Then they stopped. All stop. He was no longer breathing.

Comments

I’d say this was the best chapter in the book, if I wasn’t pretty sure there was more to come.  First, a turning point in the Kou & Drou plotline, or at least the revelation of the turning point that happened two chapters ago but was only hinted at.  Then, the confrontation with Count Piotr over the baby, which I could barely do justice to, as Aral deflects all of his father’s arguments.  And then, just as they are reaching the point of no return, the book’s biggest plot finally bursts out of the sky, with the dying Negri bringing Gregor and news of Vordarian’s coup and imminent pursuit.  Can Aral and his father work together for the Empire?  Can they save the child Emperor?  The malfunctioning comconsole now looks sinister–do they have spies in their own house?

One could say, I suppose, that up to this point the book was a bit dull.  A bit of intrigue, a bit of culture clash, a minor-character romance.  The assassination attempt, and the soltoxin grenade, do ratchet up the tension somewhat, but the first is attributed to a somewhat nebulous enemy, and the second seems to have a straightforward explanation and tie itself off.  The damage to the baby…well, that’s just a baby.  Babies may make good drama, but still not much for action.  Then boom, we have a coup attempt, and a possible civil war.  Now we’re gonna get to the action!  Note that I’m not saying that I had this thought myself on first read, but on summing up, it’s been mostly buildup until now.  Now the wave has crested and things are kicked up to the next level.  Awesome!


Next week…well, the tension may stay high, but the action does recede a little bit.  And I promise that I will try to get it out on time.

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I said that I wasn’t sure if I’d post on Tuesday or Thursday, so here I am posting on Wednesday instead (at least in some time zones).  I was actually almost ready to post yesterday, thanks to my wife’s netbook, but I was on vacation with my family, and we spent far too much of the day tramping around Stanley Park, and I was bushed, so I only managed to finish the Chapter Eight summary.  Here comes the rest of it right now.

Chapter Seven

One morning, Aral asks a serving man, one of his father’s, to fetch Koudelka.  The man tells him that Koudelka is in the hospital, according to Illyan’s guard commander, having gotten beaten up the night before, and they’re waiting for a full report from Illyan.  Aral angrily summons the guard commander and asks to be informed in the future if any of his staff are injured; the guard commander replies that they found out about it quite late at night, and by the time they had, Koudelka and Bothari, who was also involved, were already at the hospital and out of danger, so they decided to let Aral sleep.

Aral asks for more details of the incident.  The guard commander says that Koudelka and Bothari went out for some “entertainment” at a rundown part of the capital called the caravanserai, a place where Bothari regularly goes when he has the chance.

Cordelia asks for a description, and is appalled to learn that these people have no electricity, and are thus deprived of comconsoles, which is unheard of on Beta Colony, as is poverty, for the most part.  She is also upset to learn how cheap life is there, and argues with Count Piotr over how many potential geniuses they’re missing out on, an argument which Cordelia abandons after inadvertently implying that Vor ancestry contained a number of bastards (which seems obvious to her, and she can’t figure out how it offends everyone).

The guard commander returns to his story, and says that the two men were set upon by a gang of toughs, who beat them up, though four of them were killed.  He is less sure of the precise injuries, but it sounds like Bothari had a broken arm, a concussion, and other injuries, while Koudelka had both legs broken and a number of shock burns; the assailants apparently discovered that Koudelka’s artificial nerves reacted oddly to the application of a shock stick.

Illyan’s report later adds more details.  Koudelka “wanted to get laid”, and enlisted Bothari to help him.  They went to Bothari’s favourite place, but Koudelka was apparently unable to perform, and Bothari waited longer and got drunker than usual; after an argument over cost, they left.  Illyan says that his men had used fast-penta to interrogate everyone at the brothel, and found nothing suspicious.  Bothari took a wrong turn and got them lost, and they were stalked by about a dozen men, who managed to get Bothari’s stunner away before he’d taken out more than three of them.  Koudelka had only his sword-stick, and once he revealed the blade they took him for a Vor, and things got ugly; they broke his legs and started on the shock-stick.

Illyan notes that his own agent was late to catch up to them, because Koudelka had tickets for a musical performance and apparently changed his mind at the last minute.  The agent eventually tracked them down to the caravanserai, but disappeared.  It took hours for anyone to realize that Koudelka was missing, but when they did they immediately sent out patrols, and found the gang members before they got too far with Koudelka.  Illyan also notes that while Koudelka and Bothari accounted for three of the deaths, a fourth was an allergic reaction to fast-penta, which is sometimes natural but also often implanted in secret agents to keep them from being interrogated.

Illyan says that he doesn’t know why Koudelka had the idea in the first place, and it makes him suspicious; Cordelia offers to clear his mind, off the record.  She says he’s in love with somebody, and obviously wanted to see if he could still perform sexually before he went any further.

Bothari returns to Vorkosigan House after a few days, still in a cast and quite taciturn about the night’s events, and Drou is obviously worried about Koudelka’s continued absence; Cordelia wonders what garbled version of the story she has heard.  It’s a month before Koudelka is back, and he deflects queries about what happened as well.

Aral seems to be busy a lot of the time, and quite worried about something, and Cordelia starts to worry for his safety again.  She wonders if she’d be able to cope with Barrayar without him, and begins to miss the dry climate of Beta Colony as the weather turns rainy.

One wet afternoon she is reading quietly in the library when Koudelka comes in.  Not noticing her, he picks up his swordstick, exposes the blade, and then puts it to his neck.  Then he notices her there and he pulls the blade away, embarrassed.  They commiserate, Koudelka about the scorn and pity that seems to be all he has to look forward to, and Cordelia about the danger that Aral is in, and the impending childbirth.

Cordelia went still, suddenly face-to-face with her tightly suppressed fears. “I don’t trust your doctors,” she admitted shakily.

He smiled in deep irony. “I can’t blame you.”

A laugh puffed from her, and she hugged him back, around the chest, and raised her hand to wipe away the tiny drops of blood from the side of his neck. “When you love someone, it’s like your skin covers theirs. Every hurt is doubled. And I do love you so, Kou. I wish you’d let me help you.”

“Therapy, Cordelia?” Vorkosigan’s voice was cold, and cut like a stinging spray of rattling hail. She looked up, surprised, to see him standing before them, his face frozen as his voice. “I realize you have a great deal of Betan . . . expertise, in such matters, but I beg you will leave the project to someone else.”

Aral glares at Koudelka and leaves; Cordelia says that he didn’t mean it, and Koudelka says that he sure isn’t a threat to anyone’s marriage in his condition, and says he has work to do, leaving Cordelia infuriated at Barrayaran men.  Drou appears, and Cordelia lashes out at her for not being able to manage her own love life.  She then goes in search of her husband.

When she finds him, she takes him to task for his remark; Aral asks how he was supposed to react, finding her “cuddling” with Koudelka, and tells her to think about what anyone else would have thought, what stories might have gotten out to give ammunition to his political enemies.

“How the devil did we get onto your damned politics? I’m talking about a friend. I doubt you could have come up with a more wounding remark if you’d funded a study project. That was foul, Aral! What’s the matter with you, anyway?”

Aral admits that the job is getting to him, but Cordelia warns him that Koudelka’s on the verge of suicide.  Despite what happened with his wife, he needs to trust Cordelia not to be like her.

Cordelia asks if he can talk about his work problems.  Aral says that they might be on the verge of another war; Cetaganda had been hoping to take advantage of a period of chaos after Ezar’s death, but Aral didn’t oblige, so they seem to have been trying to take him out.  Either way, they will probably be probing in force at several disputed warp points.

Worse than that, though, Count Vorhalas approached him in private.  One of his sons, Lord Carl, got into a drunken fight, which unfortunately involved two decorative swords and kitchen knives, and ended up with his opponent stabbed in the abdomen and bleeding to death.  This legally makes it a murder committed as part of a duel, which is still a capital crime.  Vorhalas asked for leniency, but Aral is afraid to take that step even for a friend, even when he should have been executed for dueling himself decades ago, because it will become a slippery slope away from the justice-for-everyone that Emperor Ezar had been so committed to.  Cordelia urges him to do what he thinks right, though she is dismayed that that points him toward executing Carl Vorhalas.

Comments

The Koudelka and Bothari story is almost funny in places, but also sad and horrific, so maybe I’m just twisted.  Koudelka’s torment is brutal to see, but hopefully he’ll be able to get past it soon.  (If only I knew what was going to happen next!  Oh, wait, I do.)  The Carl Vorhalas story seems like the flipside of it, somehow–the man who wants to die and the man who’s going to die because of an awful mistake.  And I do see Aral’s point about having to uphold the laws as they’re written, without personal exemptions for friends and their families, but don’t they have lawyers on Barrayar?  Couldn’t someone make some kind of defense that it’s not really a duel, just to draw things out, or to at least push for a reform of the law?  Does Barrayar really have that poor of a legal system?  I guess that we don’t see any sign of lawyers in “The Mountains of Mourning”, but I don’t recall seeing many others in the series, not even in Komarr, apart from the Imperial Auditors.  I’ll have to pay attention.

What did happen to Illyan’s missing man, anyway?  I don’t remember if that becomes an important plot point later, or the guy who died from fast-penta.  I also don’t remember if the Cetagandans were really to blame for the attack, but maybe they do get involved somehow in later events, even though I don’t recall it that way.

Chapter Eight

Three weeks later, Aral attends Carl Vorhalas’s public execution; Cordelia asks him if he has to go, and he says it’s not strictly mandatory, but he still has to go.  He notes that he still thinks that it’s more civilized than Betan therapy for criminals, destroying you a little at a time instead of all at once.  He says it’s to be beheading, which is supposed to be painless, though when Cordelia presses, he admits that they really don’t know.

After he returns from the execution, he sits in silence for a long time, before telling Cordelia how Carl had tried to be brave, but his mother broke him down, and the executioner did a bad job of it, requiring three cuts.

“It lacked nothing for perfect hideousness. His mother cursed me, too. Until Evon and Count Vorhalas took her away.” The dead-expressioned voice escaped him then. “Oh, Cordelia! It can’t have been the right decision! And yet . . . and yet . . . no other one was possible. Was it?”

He came to her then, and held her in silence. He seemed very close to weeping, and it almost frightened her more that he did not.

After that he regains his self-possession and goes on about his work, but he lies awake that night, and Cordelia couldn’t think of the words to comfort him.  He speaks once, to wonder why this death, more than the others he holds himself responsible for, affects him like this, arresting his momentum when he needs to keep going forward.

Later that night Cordelia is awakened to a breaking of glass, and inhales an acrid gas.  Aral awakens then and recognizes the gas as soltoxin, telling Cordelia not to breathe.  He puts a pillow over her face and drags her out of the room just as she begins to vomit.  He begins barking orders to men nearby, telling them to get Illyan, and get the antidote from the Imperial Residence, which will be closer than ImpMil.

Soon Aral and Cordelia are showering in cool water, Aral urging her to keep washing, including her mouth if possible.  He recognized the odour of soltoxin, a poison gas, strictly controlled by the military; Cordelia says the nausea seems to be passing, but Aral says that it works slowly, eating away at soft tissues like the lungs if they don’t get the antidote.  Cordelia asks if it will affect the baby, and Aral admits he doesn’t know.

One of the guards reports that they’ve contacted the Imperial Residence.  Cordelia asks after Drou, and is told that she and Koudelka, who were together at the time, went after the assailant, even though Drou was supposed to check on Cordelia first.  They seem to have caught somebody, though.

They emerge when the doctor from the Residence arrives to set up the antidote.  He stops when he sees that Cordelia is pregnant, but Aral tells him to give her the antidote.  Cordelia breathes in the gas, which she finds almost as nauseating as the soltoxin, until the doctor says she’s had enough, before Aral takes his own dose.

Cordelia asks what the soltoxin will do to the baby, and the doctor says that nobody knows what happens without the antidote.  Cordelia notices the doctor’s look of pity and Aral’s pain and anger, and asks what the treatment does.  The doctor is reluctant to say, but Aral forces him, so he tells Cordelia that the antidote destroys bone development; it won’t affect her much, but it will the fetus.

She opened her eyes to Vorkosigan, and they stared at each other.

“The look on your face . . .” he whispered. “It’s not . . . Weep. Rage! Do something!” His voice rose to hoarseness. “Hate me at least!”

“I can’t,” she whispered back, “feel anything yet. Tomorrow, maybe.” Every breath was fire.

Aral gets dressed and says that at least he can see what it was that Kou and Drou had caught.  He tells Cordelia to stay behind but she refuses, and says that he won’t murder anyone in front of her; Aral isn’t so sure.

The entry hall is crowded with guards and medics; one of the guards lies on the floor with blood by his head, a medic attending him.  Illyan is just arriving, and says he’s thankful that Aral is all right; Aral just growls.  The prisoner is surrounded by guards; Drou stands nearby in a nightgown, holding a crossbow, obviously used to launch the soltoxin grenade, and Koudelka is in a uniform and bedroom slippers.  Koudelka is saying that he’d have had the man if Drou hadn’t interfered, but Drou says that it seemed that Koudelka was flat on the ground, before they are shushed at Aral’s approach.

The prisoner is in black military fatigues, which surprises Aral; Illyan cautions him uneasily that they need him alive to interrogate.  When they see his face, though, it turns out to be Evon Vorhalas, who lashes out at Aral for having his brother “cold-bloodedly” killed.

There was a long silence, then Vorkosigan leaned close to him, one arm extended past his head for support against the wall. He whispered hoarsely, “You missed me, Evon.”

Vorhalas spat in his face, spittle bloody from his injured mouth. Vorkosigan made no move to wipe it away. “You missed my wife,” he went on in a slow soft cadence. “But you got my son. Did you dream of sweet revenge? You have it. Look at her eyes, Evon. A man could drown in those sea-grey eyes. I’ll be looking at them every day for the rest of my life. So eat vengeance, Evon. Drink it. Fondle it. Wrap it round you in the night watch. It’s all yours. I will it all to you. For myself, I’ve gorged it to the gagging point, and have lost my stomach for it.”

Cordelia finds that she can’t hate Evon Vorhalas, since she can see exactly what brought him to his current state.  She tells Evon that Aral didn’t enjoy it, and wondered what he expected; Evon said that he expected a little human mercy.  Just before Aral and Cordelia leave for ImpMil, and Evon is taken away by Illyan’s men, Cordelia asks if Evon intended that particular effect when he used soltoxin.  Evon said he just grabbed something that was available, and, he thought, obscure enough that they wouldn’t find the antidote in time.  Aral says that he remembered the smell instantly, from the Karian mutiny, back when he was no older than Evon, and luckily the antidote was at the Imperial Residence instead of ImpMil.

Evon admits he hadn’t intended to catch her, didn’t even know that she would be in danger.  He certainly didn’t intend harm to the baby, he says, breaking down and weeping.  Aral is moved, but tells Illyan to send him a full report and takes Cordelia to the hospital.

At ImpMil they are separated, but soon given rooms across the hall from each other in the V.I.P. wing.  Cordelia can still feel the baby moving inside her.  Aral comes to visit, and they talk briefly, the doctors having warned them that their vocal cords are still in danger until the last of the soltoxin is cleared out.  After they do, she is left alone with an uneaten breakfast until a group of doctors enter her room–her own physician, the one from the Resident who had administered the antidote, and a Captain Vaagen who is introduced as an expert in military poisons.

They tell Cordelia that they should schedule the abortion promptly, since it’s already almost too late for it.  Cordelia asks if there is any hope, and two of them say that there is none, but Captain Vaagen brings up a calcium experiment that he read about; the other two try to shush him, asking him not to give her false hope.

Her world turned right-side-up again in a second, as she looked at the face of the man with ideas. She knew the type; half-right, half-cocked, half-successful, flitting from one monomania to another like a bee pollinating flowers, gathering little fruit but leaving seeds behind. She was nothing to him, personally, but the raw material for a monograph. The risks she took did not appall his imagination, she was not a person but a disease state. She smiled upon him, slowly, wildly, knowing him then for her ally in the enemy camp.

“How do you do, Dr. Vaagen? How would you like to write the paper of a lifetime?”

The other two doctors try to dissuade her, saying that the results have been grotesque, and even Vaagen admits the results are far from guaranteed, and may result in a “jellyfish”.  He also says that the mothers may suffer from the treatment, and Cordelia asks if it can be done in vitro instead, using the uterine replicators; Vaagen says it has possibilities, and he is acquainted with Dr. Henri.  Her doctor protests that Vaagen is only a biochemist, not a doctor, and Cordelia says that he can help Vaagen do the transfer to the replicator.

Her doctor refuses, saying that they can try again in a few months, assuming that there is no testicular scarring on Aral’s part; Cordelia says that she’s not even sure Aral will be alive in a few months.  Her doctor still refuses to do the operation, so she fires him and puts Vaagen in charge of the case.  Cordelia’s former doctor warns him that there is still the Regent himself to deal with.

 “You shall have an institute, if you can bring this off. You tell him,” she jerked her head in the direction of the hall, toward Aral’s room, “I said so.”

Comments

Yet more nameless doctors!  What does Bujold have against naming doctors?  Or is it just obstructive ones who don’t look at their patients as people that she has issues with?  Still.

This chapter’s events are among the most crucial in the entire series, because they determine a major part of the life of Miles Vorkosigan, the bone disorder that plagues him his whole life.  Of course, if Aral and Cordelia had never met, or hadn’t survived to marry, then that would have also been significant, but given that, this is probably the next most important factor.  Ms. Bujold has been quoted as saying that given the nature of Barrayar, the crippling of Aral’s son is about the worst thing that could happen to him, and so, as an author, she was obligated to do it.  Well, not obligated, but it seemed a logical step.  Didn’t Cordelia say at the end of Shards of Honour that great challenges were a great gift?  So.

And yet they don’t really follow logically from the earlier plot.  Evon Vorhalas admits that his choice of weapon was mostly by chance, and the “duel” that led to his brother Carl’s death was the worst sort of bad luck, too.  At no point does it seem like an outlandish coincidence, but it’s not tied to the rest of the plot, Vordarian or the Cetagandans or anything else that may be bubbling under the surface.  It’s just random chance, an act of God, bad luck.  And yet, somehow, Cordelia would probably admit that just living on Barrayar, with one of the most powerful men on the planet, the chances of something of the sort happening, if not this exact thing, are far too high to be neglected, so it still feels inevitable.


This coming weekend will also be busy, so it is once again possible that I’ll be a little late, or just do one chapter, or something, but I will try to at least keep to Wednesday next week, if not Tuesday, and hopefully by the week after that I can be back on track, as my schedule settles down.  Stranger things have happened.

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Did you know that this is the third installment of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Barrayar, in my reread of the entire Vorkosigan series? Weren’t you expecting that? Don’t I post an installment of this every Tuesday? Couldn’t you just go on and read for yourself as I summarize and comment on Chapters Five and Six of Barrayar? Why don’t you read along in your own copy, too?

Chapter Five

The Emperor’s Birthday is celebrated in Vorbarr Sultana with partying, parades, and fireworks. Because of Ezar’s death, this will actually be the second Emperor’s Birthday celebration that year. Cordelia and Aral go to the social event of the year, the birthday dinner at the Imperial Residence. Lady Vorpatril has taken Cordelia under her wing and set her up with the most proper and stylish maternity wear for the event.

As they muster for the event, including Aral, Koudelka, Drou, and Count Piotr, Cordelia realizes that she and Aral are going in separate cars, because of the risk of attack. She and Drou end up going with Count Piotr. She notices that the Count has an embroidered silk bag, which he tells her is full of gold coins, as a present for the Emperor. She’s a little doubtful that Gregor will think much of that as a present, so Piotr explains that this is really an elaborate ritual whereby the Counts (a term which, on Barrayar, is actually descended from the term “accountant”) pretend to give their annual taxes to the Emperor as a gift. The gold is symbolic, most of the money transfer happening electronically. With the new Birthday, they are, of course, getting taxed a second time.

Cordelia rejoins Aral once they arrive at the palace, and he leads her into a daunting crowd of Vor nobility.

They circulated, exchanging greetings, making courtesies. Why can’t these people wear nametags? Cordelia thought hopelessly. As usual, everyone but her seemed to know everyone else. She pictured herself opening a conversation, Hey you, Vor-guy—. She clutched Aral more firmly, and tried to look mysterious and exotic rather than tongue-tied and mislaid.

They find Gregor, up past his bedtime, and the ceremony with the gold coins; Vidal Vordarian is presenting his coins, and takes a moment to chat familiarly with Princess Kareen. When Gregor sees Drou with them, he says something to his mother, and soon Drou is persuaded to attend the Emperor, replaced with another unobstrusive guard.

Shortly thereafter, they run across the Vorpatrils, and Cordelia stays with them after Aral is called off for some urgent duties. Padma Vorpatril is somewhat drunk, and wanders off in search of more while Alys Vorpatril plans Cordelia’s Winterfair outfit. After a visit to the lavatory, Alys meets up with another friend, and Cordelia drifts away, observing the social dance. She thinks to herself that on Beta Colony this whole event would be being recorded on cameras for live broadcast.

Her reverie is interrupted by Commander Count Vordarian. He asks after the child, which Cordelia tells him will be a boy. Vordarian says that he’d have thought they’d try for a girl first, to try to cement Aral’s power by marrying their daughter to Gregor. Vordarian doesn’t seem convinced that Aral hadn’t thought of the Regency back when the child was conceived, or that he might not have wanted that much power in the first place. He asks about the attack the other day, and Cordelia says they still don’t know who did it.

He paused, watching Aral, watching her watch Aral. One corner of his mouth crooked up, then the quirk vanished in a thoughtful pursing of his lips. “He’s bisexual, you know.” He took a delicate sip of his wine.

“Was bisexual,” she corrected absently, looking fondly across the room. “Now he’s monogamous.”

Vordarian choked, sputtering. Cordelia watched him with concern, wondering if she ought to pat him on the back or something, but he regained his breath and balance. “He told you that?” he wheezed in astonishment.

Cordelia says that it was actually Vorrutyer who told her, and talks about how Vorrutyer was almost a tragic figure, still obsessed with Aral after all those years, but maybe Aral could have saved him if they’d stayed together. Vordarian says that their relationship was a “great secret scandal” at the time, which strikes Cordelia as an oxymoron. Suddenly she realizes that Vordarian had been expecting his revelation about Aral’s sexuality to be more of a surprise, and a blow, to Cordelia and her marriage, and it was meant as an attack. Their conversation turns more edged, Vordarian warning her about how Aral’s first wife died, some say because of her adulteries.

All pretense of cordiality had evaporated from their exchange. Cordelia had a bad sense of all control escaping with it. She leaned forward, and lowered her voice. “Do you know why Vorrutyer died?”

He couldn’t help it; he tilted toward her, drawn in. “No . . .”

“He tried to hurt Aral through me. I found that . . . annoying. I wish you would cease trying to annoy me, Count Vordarian, I’m afraid you might succeed.” Her voice fell further, almost to a whisper. “You should fear it, too.”

His initial patronizing tone had certainly given way to wariness. He made a smooth, openhanded gesture that seemed to symbolize a bow of farewell, and backed away. “Milady.” The glance over his shoulder as he moved off was thoroughly spooked.

She wonders what he had been trying to accomplish, whether a Barrayaran wife would have had a different response–not Alys or Kareen, she thinks. His near-miss makes her think of the other near-miss, with the sonic grenade. Aral appears to lead her in for dinner, where they sit with Gregor, Kareen, Piotr, Vortala, the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle and his wife, Koudelka, and, by Gregor’s insistence, Drou. Gregor seems to miss Drou, and negotiates for her to come to the palace once a week for “judo lessons”. Cordelia sits between Vortala and the Speaker, trying to conceal her reaction to the fact that their food is actual meat from animals–in this case an actual cow brought in whole–not grown in vats like on Beta Colony.

After dessert and a few formal toasts, Gregor goes off to bed, and Kareen invites Cordelia and Drou along. Drou helps Gregor get ready for bed, and Cordelia and Kareen relax in another room. Kareen says that the party will go on until dawn, though all but the most serious drinkers are likely to retire earlier. Cordelia wonders why they don’t import a less lethal drug than alcohol, then asks if Vordarian is one of the drinkers. Kareen says not; Cordelia wondered if that would have explained his earlier behaviour. She asks Kareen about Vordarian.

Kareen said judiciously, “He’s rich . . . proud . . . He was loyal to Ezar during Serg’s late machinations against his father. Loyal to the Imperium, to the Vor class. There are four major manufacturing cities in Vordarian’s District, plus military bases, supply depots, the biggest military shuttleport. . . . Vidal’s is certainly the most economically important area on Barrayar today. The war barely touched the Vordarians’ District; it’s one of the few the Cetagandans pulled out of by treaty. We sited our first space bases there because we took over facilities the Cetagandans had built and abandoned, and a good deal of economic development followed from that.”

“That’s . . . interesting,” said Cordelia, “but I was wondering about the man personally. His, ah, likes and dislikes, for example. Do you like him?”

“At one time,” said Kareen slowly, “I wondered if Vidal might be powerful enough to protect me from Serg. After Ezar died. As Ezar grew more ill, I was thinking, I had better look to my own defense. Nothing appeared to be happening, and no one told me anything.”

“If Serg had become emperor, how could a mere count have protected you?” asked Cordelia.

“He would have had to become . . . more. Vidal had ambition, if it were properly encouraged—and patriotism, God knows if Serg had lived he might have destroyed Barrayar—Vidal might have saved us all. But Ezar promised I’d have nothing to fear, and Ezar delivered. Serg died before Ezar and . . . and I have been trying to let things cool, with Vidal, since.”

Kareen says that she couldn’t consider marrying Vordarian now, since that would give him too much power for someone who would be at odds with the Regent. She says that she can’t disentangle herself from the Imperium now, certainly not to live a normal life. At least, she says, Negri didn’t find any evidence that Vordarian had any sexual perversions.

Drou returns from putting Gregor to bed, and shortly thereafter a messenger comes to summon Kareen to officially open the dancing with Aral. Cordelia watches them doing a dance that involves mirroring the others’ actions, and after that dance Aral offers to teach her if they can find a private place. As they are looking for one, Aral suddenly shushes her, and Cordelia realizes that Drou is trying to teach the dance to Koudelka, mostly ending up with his arms around her. Drou encourages him to keep trying, and Aral and Cordelia move to leave them their privacy, which unfortunately is punctured by a drunken Vor who comes to vomit off their balcony. They leave the party shortly thereafter, Koudelka complaining privately to Cordelia that he wishes women came with instruction manuals.

The next day, Cordelia asks Illyan if Vordarian is on his short list or his long list; she urges Illyan to move him to the short list.

Comments

The whole “asking if they’ve found out who it was yet” does seem like a criminal kind of thing to do, doesn’t it? Oh, it could just be simple curiosity, but under the circumstances I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find out that it was Vordarian behind that attack. The whole misfired marriage-sabotage is kind of an amusing scene, and I do like Cordelia’s little threat at the end. Though of course she doesn’t have any intention of following through on it, particularly. Why doesn’t she even consider mentioning it to Aral, though? Just doesn’t want to worry him? She tells Illyan soon enough. Plus the whole thing with Princess Kareen seems like another red flag coming up. Maybe it’s just hindsight in action. The implication of possible collaboration with, or at least appeasement of, the Cetagandans (about which we don’t know much by this point in the series, by the way) is also interesting. And the main military spaceport is in his territory? Better and better.

A little more Kou-and-Drou progress (he’s actually referred to as “Kou” once or twice, though I’ll continue to use Koudelka, since it’s easier to type than Droushnakovi). The “bag of gold” is another nice bit of worldbuilding detail, too, though I’m not sure I buy the whole “accountant” -> “Count” thing, it seems a little too cute to me.

Chapter Six

Cordelia flies down to Vorkosigan Surleau for a day in the country, accompanied by Dr. Henri, who thanks Cordelia for the invitation. He is intimidated by the prospect of meeting Count Piotr, though, but Cordelia encourages him to turn the subject to horses, or the wars he’d fought in (against the Cetagandans, and to help bring Ezar Vorbarra to power) and he’ll do fine. Drou is also along, and Bothari is piloting; he takes the lightflyer to a village near the lake for their first stop.

Bothari takes them to Mistress Hysopi’s house, where she is looking after his infant daughter Elena. Dr. Henri goes to examine Elena, and he discusses her with Mistress Hysopi, while Bothari stalks carefully around the room and Cordelia watches attentively, thinking that she will have a baby of her own soon. Dr. Henri seems to be amazed at how normal Elena is, despite her having come out of a uterine replicator. Cordelia points out that she came out of a replicator herself, and assures Dr. Henri that she’s certified free of genetic defects.

Dr. Henri says that they need this technology; when the replicators had first arrived, he hadn’t know what to do with them, but now he’s a convert and even looking into spinoff technologies. He goes on about them at great length, encouraged when Cordelia tells him that her mother works in the medical equipment field back on Beta Colony. Going back through the village, Cordelia introduces Dr. Henri to two of the women, wives of Count Piotr’s armsmen. Some of them live in the village and some in the capital, depending on taste; one armsman actually has a wife in each place.

Drou takes Cordelia aside and asks how Bothari came to have a baby.

“I’ll tell you the truth.” Just not all of it. “Little Elena is the daughter of Bothari and a young Escobaran officer named Elena Visconti. Bothari . . . loved her . . . very much. But after the war, she would not return with him to Barrayar. The child was conceived, er . . . Barrayaran-style, then transferred to the replicator when they parted. There were some similar cases. The replicators were all sent to Imp Mil, which was interested in learning more about the technology. Bothari was in . . . medical therapy, for quite a long time, after the war. But when he got out, and she got out, he took custody of her.”

“Did the others take their babies, too?”

“Most of the other fathers were dead by then. The children went to the Imperial Service orphanage.” There. The official version, all right and tight.

Cordelia asks Drou is Bothari bothers her. Drou says that he is ugly, and she’s not sure he should be trusted with a child, though Cordelia assures her that she and Aral are keeping an eye on him, and so far he’s doing well. Drou says that Bothari takes a lot of sick days, where he doesn’t even leave his room, and his commander thinks he’s malingering. Cordelia promises to have a word with the commander, and asks Drou not to ask him about the Escobar war, since it’s a painful topic for him.

They arrive at Vorkosigan Surleau for the luncheon, where Cordelia thanks Count Piotr for his hospitality. The Count says that the house is really more Cordelia’s than it is his, and he almost worries that she hasn’t tried to redecorate Vorkosigan House or anything, as if she’s afraid to commit herself to Barrayar. Cordelia says diffidently that she would like to have a lift tube, to make getting around the house easier, and Count Piotr swallows his exceptions and tells her to go ahead and do it. Henri takes Cordelia’s advice and engages the Count in conversation about horses, particularly the new foal, which came from a frozen embryo they’d imported from Earth.

When the Count takes Henri off to the stables, Bothari asks Cordelia if she has time for a private conversation. Cordelia leaves Drou behind and takes a walk with him until they sit down in the family graveyard. Bothari says that the problem is Escobar, and the therapy he received about it. They gave him drugs to suppress the memories, but they’re still there; he just gets headaches when he tries to remember it. If he was a hero at Escobar, then why won’t they let him remember, and if not, why did they make him a Count’s armsman at all?

He says there are four pictures he remembers.

“One—the least-bad one—it was an argument. Prince Serg was there, and Admiral Vorrutyer, Lord Vorkosigan, and Admiral Rulf Vorhalas. And I was there. Except I didn’t have any clothes on.”

“Are you sure this isn’t a dream?”

“No. I’m not sure. Admiral Vorrutyer said . . . something very insulting, to Lord Vorkosigan. He had Lord Vorkosigan backed up against the wall. Prince Serg laughed. Then Vorrutyer kissed him, full on the mouth, and Vorhalas tried to knock Vorrutyer’s head off, but Lord Vorkosigan wouldn’t let him. And I don’t remember after that.”

He remembers two about the Escobaran woman Elena–one where she was his wife, except as he says it he realizes that she wasn’t really his wife. Cordelia tells her that part of Vorrutyer and Serg’s torture was forcing Bothari to rape her and get her pregnant. The final image is of Cordelia, naked, on Vorrutyer’s bed…he asks if he raped her, and Cordelia swiftly assures him that he didn’t, wondering if the blood pressure building up to give him his headaches is likely to give him a stroke. Bothari says he’s wanted to ask her about this ever since she arrived on Barrayar, and Cordelia says he shouldn’t have waited so long.

Bothari goes off to vomit in the bushes, and returns, looking only a little better. He says that he’s still a rapist, even if he didn’t rape Cordelia, and he says that killing is even better than sex that way. He wonders that Cordelia isn’t afraid of him that way, and asks her for a bargain.

“You tell me . . . when it’s all right. To kill. And then I’ll know.”

“I can’t—look, suppose I’m not there? When that sort of thing lands on you, there’s not usually time to stop and analyze. You have to be allowed self-defense, but you also have to be able to discern when you’re really being attacked.” She sat up, eyes widening in sudden insight. “That’s why your uniform is so important to you, isn’t it? It tells you when it’s all right. When you can’t tell yourself. All those rigid routines you keep to, they’re to tell you you’re all right, on track.”

“Yes. I’m sworn to the defense of House Vorkosigan, now. So that’s all right.” He nodded, apparently reassured. By what, for God’s sake?

“You’re asking me to be your conscience. Make your judgments for you. But you are a whole man. I’ve seen you make right choices, under the most absolute stress.”

Bothari says that he can’t remember them, and she says that she and Aral can, and they both owe him for it.

Comments

This chapter starts off so innocuously, but gets very intense towards the end. I’m not sure if this is meant to be consistent with Bothari’s statement near the end of Shards of Honour about how he tries to keep some of his memories from Escobar, if Bujold is just clarifying or if she’s retconning a little bit to change things around. After all, Bothari did tell her something about it then. The added detail is good, though, and having Bothari agonize over his nature and what he might have done in his past, trying to outsource his conscience to Cordelia because he doesn’t trust his own, adds a lot of depth to the character.

Cordelia’s sanitized story for Drou shows how she’s trying to cover up Bothari’s past, to keep it from staining his future, but it does have nasty repercussions in the next book. And hey, this doctor gets an actual name!

The bit with the Count and his imported embryo is also interesting, with the implications for the new technology making its way into Barrayaran society. They’re still a little unsure about using it for humans, but using it for horses is sort of starting them down the slope… The repercussions of the uterine replicator and other biotechnology are still being felt in A Civil Campaign, which is one reason why the Vorkosigan series doesn’t fit comfortable into space opera or military SF. Generally, those two subgenres don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the implications of the new technology that the author may introduce, except maybe in the narrowest “arms race” kind of sense.


I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be able to post the next installment on Tuesday or not; it might get pushed back to Thursday.  In any case, the next two chapters are very significant ones for the course of, oh, let’s say the entire series, so I’ll try to get them to you on a timely basis.  Can you wait until then?

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