Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2011

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread; in this installment I finish off Barrayar with what turns out to be a single fairly short epilogue.

I’ve known for a while (ever since I discovered that the last “chapter” in Cordelia’s Honour was actually the author’s Afterword) that there were an odd number of chapters, and since I was generally doing two chapters a week, I’d after have to do three chapters in one week (which I confess I didn’t see myself doing) or one week with only one chapter.  I kept that in reserve, in case there was a week when I was going to be just too swamped or listless to do that second chapter.  But there wasn’t, so here it comes at the end of the book…and, apparently in a week where I’m swamped and/or listless, so that works out okay.

It is still quite short, though, but here it is.

Epilogue

Five years later, in Vorkosigan Surleau, Cordelia is searching frantically for Miles, who has gone missing.  Not finding him inside the house, she heads outside, where Aral says he’s not near the house.  Cordelia says he’s probably with Elena; they could be down at the lake, despite being specifically forbidden to swim without an adult, but Aral says they spent three hours doing that earlier, and surely they’re tired by now.  Cordelia had been waiting for Miles to finally learn to walk, but now he’s hyperactive; Aral thinks it’s five years of pent-up motion.  At least he’s stopped chattering so much, and taking things apart.

Up the hill, Bothari is looking in the stables.  They are trying again to reconcile with Count Piotr, now that Miles is finally walking.

“He was civil, last night at dinner,” said Aral, judiciously hopeful.

I was civil, last night at dinner,” Cordelia shrugged. “He as much as accused me of starving your son into dwarfism. Can I help it if the kid would rather play with his food than eat it? I just don’t know about stepping up the growth hormone, Vaagen’s so uncertain about its effect on bone friability.”

A crooked smile stole over Aral’s face. “I did think the dialogue with the peas marching to surround the bread-roll and demand surrender was rather ingenious. You could almost picture them as little soldiers in Imperial greens.”

Bothari emerges to say that he’s found Elena in the hayloft; Miles isn’t with her, but she says he’s somewhere nearby.  Miles had said something earlier about looking at the animals…  Cordelia was hoping that if Miles showed interest in them, Count Piotr might actually start talking to his grandson.  Count Piotr himself appears then, and offers to show them his new filly.  Cordelia is just accepting, on Miles’s behalf, when she sees Bothari looking past her, and turns to see Miles on the back of Count Piotr’s gigantic imported stallion.  While Miles exults in his newfound height and speed, Bothari dithers over trying to stun the horse, and it runs around the corner of the stable.  The adults follow, and they find Miles on the ground, holding his left arm in pain, while the horse grazes nearby.

“You see, Sergeant?” Miles panted. “I can ride, I can.”

Piotr, on his way toward his horse, paused and looked down.

“I didn’t mean to say you weren’t able,” said the sergeant in a driven tone. “I meant you didn’t have permission.”

“Oh.”

Miles confirms that the arm is broken, again, and Bothari expertly splints it with an inflatable plastic sleeve.  Miles admires the horse, and Count Piotr’s attention is caught when Miles refers to it as “the springiest”.  Miles says he’d like to ride and go fast, and Piotr says he’s not very good at it; Miles instantly asks the Count to teach him.  The Count agrees, if his mother gives permission; Cordelia is torn.

Risk, or security? In the few months since Miles had at last acquired a full range of motion, she’d run on panicked overdrive, trying to save him from physical harm; he’d spent the same time near-frantically trying to escape her supervision. Much more of this struggle, and either she’d be insane, or he would.

If she could not keep him safe, perhaps the next best thing was to teach him competence at living dangerously. He was almost undrownable already. His big grey eyes were radiating a desperate, silent plea at her, Let me, let me, let me . . . with enough transmission energy to burn through steel. I would fight the world for you, but I’m damned if I can figure out how to save you from yourself. Go for it, kid.

She agrees, if Bothari can accompany him.  Miles asks if he can have his own horse, and is eventually negotiated down to a pony, though Piotr says he can have a horse if he earns it.  Miles asks if he can start now, and Piotr admits that they start on a lunge line, where he isn’t even allowed to use his arms…

“Want to lay a side-bet, who’s leading who on that lunge line by the end of the week?” Aral murmured in her ear.

“No contest. I must say, the months Miles spent immobilized in that dreadful spinal brace did teach him how to do charm. The most efficient long-term way to control those about you, and thus exert your will. I’m glad he didn’t decide to perfect whining as a strategy. He’s the most willful little monster I’ve ever encountered, but he makes you not notice.”

“I don’t think the Count has a chance,” Aral agreed.

She smiled at the vision, then glanced at him more seriously. “When my father was home on leave one time from the Betan Astronomical Survey, we made model gliders together. Two things were required to get them to fly. First we had to give them a running start. Then we had to let them go.” She sighed. “Learning just when to let go was the hardest part.”

Comments

Miles’s character comes across pretty clearly in this bit, though I’m not quite sure what its purpose is aside from that, except perhaps to establish the reconciliation with Count Piotr that is evident at the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Maybe just to show Cordelia’s “Finding Nemo” moment where she decides that she doesn’t have to overprotect her son anymore, which is a coda to this story of, as Bujold herself says, motherhood.

Is this the end of Cordelia’s story?  Well, it’s the end of her protagonism, at least.  (Protagony?)  The vast majority of what we see from here on is from Miles’s own point of view, up until Komarr, I suppose, where Bujold decides to experiment with multiple-POV, which we’ve had for every story since except Diplomatic Immunity (which reverts to all-Miles) and “Winterfair Gifts”, which is single-character but not Miles-POV.  Don’t worry, Miles is, in general, more fun that Cordelia, I’ve found, or at least more volatile–his highs are higher, his lows dip lower.


So I’ll take a week off, in which I probably won’t end up preparing myself for the beginning of Young Miles/The Warrior’s Apprentice, because I’m a procrastinator that way.  In those two weeks we’ll move forward about a dozen years in time from this epilogue, so it’ll only seem to pass quickly.  Until then, please keep yourself in the fashion to which you are accustomed.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I summarize and comment on the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in weekly installments of (usually) two chapters, posted on Tuesdays, at least in my time zone–more often in the evenings than in the mornings, admittedly, but technically Tuesday none the less.  This is the penultimate installment of the Barrayar reread, as I cover chapters 19 and 20, winding the plot down from Cordelia’s triumph to a gentle, touching denouement.  There’s even a wedding, for a nice, traditional ending.

But at the start, Cordelia, Drou and Bothari have just escaped from the burning Imperial Residence, with the severed head of soi-disant Emperor Vordarian, former pretender to the throne.

Chapter Nineteen

In Ezar’s cache they find money and fake IDs for Drou, so Cordelia sends Drou out to buy a groundcar.  They will have to pass several checkpoints to leave the capital, but the monorail is worse, and lightflyers likely to be shot down.  Drou buys a fairly cheap car, since Cordelia wants to save money for bribes at the checkpoints.  As they set off, Cordelia can see the black smoke coming from the fire at the Residence.

The first checkpoint is unmanned; the second is harried, and a healthy bribe convinces them to let Drou and her “sick uncle” Bothari pass through.  At the third, they mention the “rumour” of Vordarian’s death and the guard deserts on the spot.  After that, they drive to Vorinnis’s neutral District, and switch to the monorail after the car breaks down.  Once they reach a loyal District, Drou convinces the duty officer at a supply depot near the border to contact Tanery Base, and they send an air shuttle to pick them up.

Once they reach the base, she orders her ImpSec escort to get Vaagen there right away, and they tell her he’s already been summoned.  The security men take their weapons, and Cordelia doesn’t blame them, in their current condition.  Vaagen arrives and examines the replicator, saying nutrient levels are low and waste products high, but still within tolerance.  Aral already set up a lab for Vaagen, just in case, so he has everything he needs to get it back into shape, though he doesn’t know what effect there was on the calcification treatments.  After being relieved of the replicator, Cordelia wants to rest, but she has to tell Aral, first.  She wonders if she’s crippled his credibility among his men.

Koudelka arrives, and he and Drou have a quite non-military reunion.  Kou says that the Vorpatrils are safely bedded down, suffering from exhaustion but little worse.  Drou tells him about Kareen’s fate, and Koudelka says that he’s been ordered to bring them to Aral for the initial debriefing before they talk to anyone else.  He asks about her plastic bag, and the ImpSec men say she wouldn’t let them look at it, and they don’t know if they should let her bring it into the base.  Koudelka takes a peek inside, pales, and says that this is definitely something Aral should see.

“Lieutenant, what should I put on my inventory?” the ImpSec man—whined, Cordelia decided, was what he was doing. “I have to register it, if it’s going in.”

“Let him cover his ass, Kou,” Cordelia sighed.

Kou peeked again, his lips twisting into a very crooked grin. “It’s all right. Put it down as a Winterfair gift for Admiral Vorkosigan. From his wife.”

Drou returns the sword-cane, apologizing for losing the case, and Koudelka immediately makes the connection with the severed head; Cordelia says she’ll go back to Siegling’s and replace the casing.  Koudelka says that Aral is meeting with two Vordarian officers negotating their help with the hostage recovery, but Vordarian’s death will certainly change everything.  Koudelka leads them into a conference chamber.

Cordelia took in the tableau, that paused to look back up at her from around the polished table. Aral was in the center, of course. Illyan and Count Piotr flanked him on either side. Prime Minister Vortala was there, and Kanzian, and some other senior staffers all in formal dress greens. The two double-traitors sat across, with their aides. Clouds of witnesses. She wanted to be alone with Aral, be rid of the whole bloody mob of them. Soon.

Aral’s eyes locked to hers in silent agony. His lips curled in an utterly ironic smile. That was all; and yet her stomach warmed with confidence again, sure of him. No frost. It was going to be all right. They were in step again, and a torrent of words and hard embraces could not have communicated it any better. Embraces would come, though, the grey eyes promised. Her own lips curved up for the first time since—when?

Count Piotr’s hand slapped down hard upon the table. “Good God, woman, where have you been?” he cried furiously.

A morbid lunacy overtook her. She smiled fiercely at him, and held up the bag. “Shopping.”

For a second, the old man nearly believed her; conflicting expressions whiplashed over his face, astonishment, disbelief, then anger as it penetrated he was being mocked.

“Want to see what I bought?” Cordelia continued, still floating. She yanked the bag’s top open, and rolled Vordarian’s head out across the table. Fortunately, it had ceased leaking some hours back. It stopped faceup before him, lips grinning, drying eyes staring.

The reaction is gratifying.  Koudelka lays the sword-stick down next to the head to emphasize its role.  Cordelia says that she paid too much for it, that Kareen is dead.  Aral says that he wishes to be along with his wife.  As Vordarian’s turncoats are leaving, Cordelia tells them she’s tired of their stupid war and they should surrender unconditionally.  Count Piotr says he underestimated her, and she tells him to stay away from her son.  Aral tells Koudelka to take the head away to the morgue until it can be reunited with its body, and that Bothari and Drou should wash, eat and report to him in his quarters.

Alone at least, Cordelia and Aral embrace fiercely, and Cordelia promises never to pull a stunt like that again as long as Aral never makes it necessary again.  He has already heard about Padma Vorpatril, who was the only other survivor of Prince Xav’s descendants.  He says that she’s shocked the Barrayarans, and she says that like Vordarian, they seem to think that Barrayarans have a monopoly on savagery.  Aral asks about the head, and Cordelia says that she wasn’t sure why she was bringing it along, but later realized that it was the only way to convince people that she’d actually done the deed.  She says that Bothari needs help, better than the memory wipe he got from Ezar.  She wonders why he fixates on her, of all people.

Vorkosigan looked very thoughtful. “Bothari . . . does not have a good sense of self. No strong center. When I first met him, at his most ill, his personality was close to separating into multiples. If he were better educated, not so damaged, he would have made an ideal spy, a deep-penetration mole. He’s a chameleon. A mirror. He becomes whatever is required of him. Not a conscious process, I don’t think. Piotr expects a loyal retainer, and Bothari plays the part, deadpan as you please. Vorrutyer wanted a monster, and Bothari became his torturer. And victim. I demanded a good soldier, and he became one for me. You . . .” his voice softened, “you are the only person I know who looks at Bothari and sees a hero. So he becomes one for you. He clings to you because you create him a greater man than he ever dreamed of being.”

Three days later, Aral’s forces retake Vorbarr Sultana, without too great a loss of life, or much resistance except at the Residence and ImpSec headquarters.  The hotel where Elena Bothari and other hostages were being held was liberated without incident, and Aral granted Bothari leave to take her back home.  Evon Vorhalas, who had of course been fighting for Vordarian, was shot by his own men after he refused to consider an offer of amnesty.

One rebel Count declared himself Emperor after hearing of Vordarian’s death, but his own pretendership was brief; in another District, the Count killed himself and an anti-Vor group declared themselves an independent republic.  Aral decided to let the Count’s successor deal with that one himself.

On the fifth day, Gregor was returned to the capital. Vorkosigan and Cordelia together undertook to tell him of the death of Kareen. He cried in bewilderment. When he quieted, he was taken for a ride in a groundcar with a transparent force-screen, reviewing some troops; in fact, the troops were reviewing him, that he might be seen to be alive, finally dispelling Vordarian’s rumors of his death. Cordelia rode with him. His silent shockiness hurt her to the heart, but it was better from her point of view than parading him first and then telling him. If she’d had to endure his repeated queries of when he would see his mother again, all during the ride, she would have broken down herself.

The funeral for Kareen was public, though much less elaborate than it would have been in less chaotic circumstances. Gregor was required to light an offering pyre for the second time in a year. Vorkosigan asked Cordelia to guide Gregor’s hand with the torch. This part of the funeral ceremony seemed almost redundant, after what she’d done to the Residence. Cordelia added a thick lock of her own hair to the pile. Gregor clung close to her.

“Are they going to kill me, too?” he whispered to her. He didn’t sound frightened, just morbidly curious. Father, grandfather, mother, all gone in a year; no wonder he felt targeted, confused though his understanding of death was at his age.

“No,” she said firmly. Her arm tightened around his shoulders. “I won’t let them.” God help her, this baseless assurance actually seemed to console him.

She notices a chance in the Barrayaran nobles’ reaction to her, and she eventually realizes that they are treating her with respect.  It enrages her that a worthy trial like Lady Alys’s childbirth is considered unexceptional, but chopping off a man’s head really made you somebody, and in private she breaks down in Aral’s company.  She asks if he’ll use her newfound “status”, and he says he’ll do whatever it takes to get Gregor to his throne alive and sane.  They are officially granted guardianship of Gregor, and while Prime Minister Vortala emphasizes that this does not Cordelia herself any added power, she is in charge of Gregor’s household and education; she is astonished that Vortala doesn’t realize the power that this does give her.

Comments

So what do they do with the uterine replicator when they’re on the monorail?  Do they keep it wrapped up, a hidden shape probably the size of a small keg, or do they travel with it uncovered, an odd technological device?  The author kinda skims over this bit.  One wonders if Vordarian’s head has started to smell at all–how soon does putrefaction set in?  At the very least it should smell like blood.  I guess they’re traveling through the neutral district at this point, and perhaps people are just trying not to be too curious.

Poor Gregor, he’s got issues, and it takes him a while to work through them–a major plot element in The Vor Game, as I recall.  In later books, though, he seems much the better for any Betan elements that Cordelia managed to sneak into his upbringing.

Aral’s analysis of Bothari is interesting.  (Also: awwww.)  I’ll have to watch, in The Warrior’s Apprentice, to see how Miles’s relationship with him fits into this template.

Chapter Twenty

Aral and Cordelia move into the Imperial Residence, and Drou returns to Gregor’s service.  Kou and Drou plan their wedding for a month after Winterfair.  Alys Vorpatril is distracted from dwelling on Padma’s death and Ivan’s future, and takes Drou under her wing, making her a gift of a holiday cottage and a wedding gown.

Cordelia offered herself as a go-between for the two families. For some reason, Kou and Drou both turned the offer down, hastily, though with profuse thanks. Given the bewildering pitfalls of Barrayaran social custom, Cordelia was just as happy to leave it to the experienced elderly lady the couple did contract.

Aral arranges for the wedding to take place in the Residence, and he is heartened by the different social classes represented in the guest list.  With Alys Vorpatril arranging it, even the most conservative Vor won’t dare to complain, either.  Kou and Drou begin to get overwhelmed by the affair, but the Residence staff are happy to have something interesting to do.

The day and hour came at last. A large circle made of colored groats was laid out on the floor of the Red Room, encompassed by a star with a variable number of points, one for each parent or principal witness to stand at: in this case, four. In Barrayaran custom a couple married themselves, speaking their vows within the circle, requiring neither priest nor magistrate. Practically, a coach, called appropriately enough the Coach, stood outside the circle and read the script for the fainthearted or faint-headed to repeat. This dispensed with the need for higher neural functions such as learning and memory on the part of the stressed couple. Lost motor coordination was supplied by a friend each, who steered them to the circle. It was all very practical, Cordelia decided, as well as splendid.

Drou’s father is surprisingly smaller than Drou herself and her three brothers, all able to be present.  Bothari escorts a visibly nervous Koudelka in, and Lady Alys escorts Drou.  They make their oaths, revealing in the process their despised first names, Clement and Ludmilla, and then Aral breaks the circle of groats to let the new couple out.

At the reception, Cordelia asks Bothari how Elena is doing.  She is crawling, and he hopes that Mistress Hysopi can keep up with her now, but he is happy with the arrangement, so different from his own childhood.  His new meds seem to be doing better for him, too.  He is the first to spot Gregor, having obviously snuck out of bed and creeping toward the buffet.  Cordelia retrieves him before distraught ImpSec staff can.

“How’d he get away?” snarled Illyan to Gregor’s keepers, who stammered out something inaudible about thought he was asleep and never took my eyes off.

“He’s not away,” Cordelia put in tartly. “This is his home. He ought to be at least able to walk about inside, or why do you keep all those bloody useless guards on the walls out there?”

“Droushie, can’t I come to your party?” Gregor asked plaintively, casting around desperately for an authority to outrank Illyan.

Drou looked at Illyan, who looked disapproving. Cordelia broke the deadlock without hesitation. “Yes, you can.”

So, under Cordelia’s supervision, the Emperor danced with the bride, ate three cream cakes, and was carried away to bed satisfied. Fifteen minutes was all he’d wanted, poor kid.

It is the end of winter when Vaagen tells Cordelia that it’s time to take baby Miles out of the replicator.  They all go down to ImpMil the next day, Aral, Cordelia, Count Piotr, and Bothari.  Vaagen’s lab is in a new building, both as part of a promotion and to relieve him of the ghosts attached to the old lab, and there are many observers present.  Vaagen makes a bit of a lecture out of the lead-up, then asks Cordelia and Aral to do the final honours.  Together they open the top of the replicator, and Dr. Ritter, Miles’s new doctor, cuts him out of the placenta.  He cries lustily upon being removed.

The contrast with baby Ivan was overwhelming. Despite the extra weeks of gestation, ten months to Ivan’s nine-and-a-half, Miles was barely half Ivan’s size at birth, and far more wizened and wrinkled. His spine was noticeably deformed, and his legs were drawn up and locked in a tight bend. He was definitely a male heir, though, no question about that. His first cry was thin, weak, nothing at all like Ivan’s angry, hungry bellow. Behind her, she heard Piotr hiss with disappointment.

Dr. Ritter says that the hip sockets are fused as a side effect of the treatments on the skull, and that and the spine will need to be fixed.  One of the other doctors manages to accidentally break one of Miles’s brittle arm bones.  Piotr stamps off, and Aral and Cordelia follow.  Piotr accuses them of having deceived him about the efficacy of the calcium treatments, though Cordelia says she passed on to him all the information that they got.  Piotr says he refuses to be associated with such a “mutant”.

Piotr’s lips curled in a silent snarl. Cheated of a cooperative target, he turned on Aral. “And you, you spineless, skirt-smothered—if your elder brother had lived—” Piotr’s mouth clamped shut abruptly, too late.

Aral’s face drained to a grey hue Cordelia had seen but twice before; both times he’d been a breath and a chance away from committing murder. Piotr had joked about Aral’s famous rages. Only now did Cordelia realize Piotr, though he may have witnessed his son in irritation, had never seen the real thing. Piotr seemed to realize it, too, dimly. His brows lowered; he stared, off-balanced.

Aral’s hands locked to each other, behind his back. Cordelia could see them shake, white-knuckled. His chin lifted, and he spoke in a whisper.

“If my brother had lived, he would have been perfect. You thought so; I thought so; Emperor Yuri thought so, too. So ever after you’ve had to make do with the leftovers from that bloody banquet, the son Mad Yuri’s death squad overlooked. We Vorkosigans, we can make do.” His voice fell still further. “But my firstborn will live. I will not fail him.”

Piotr is taken aback at Aral’s low blow, then his anger then turns to Bothari, and upon Bothari vowing his loyalty to Cordelia, he discharges him into Cordelia’s service and stalks off.  Aral says that Bothari hasn’t really been discharged, but reassigned.  Cordelia decides that he can take up the role of Miles’s bodyguard, which Bothari likes the idea of, since he can see that Miles will have a difficult childhood.  He takes up his post right away, lurking against the wall of the lab.  The doctors hand Miles to his parents at last.

Welcome to Barrayar, son. Here you go: have a world of wealth and poverty, wrenching change and rooted history. Have a birth; have two. Have a name. Miles means “soldier,” but don’t let the power of suggestion overwhelm you. Have a twisted form in a society that loathes and fears the mutations that have been its deepest agony. Have a title, wealth, power, and all the hatred and envy they will draw. Have your body ripped apart and re-arranged. Inherit an array of friends and enemies you never made. Have a grandfather from hell. Endure pain, find joy, and make your own meaning, because the universe certainly isn’t going to supply it. Always be a moving target. Live. Live. Live.

Comments

I welled up so many times reading this chapter, it’s not even funny.  The last paragraph there, Kou and Drou’s wedding, Gregor’s escapade at the reception…  Dammit, Bujold, what’s up with that?  <sniffle>  I guess that the term “moving target” does describe Miles fairly well.

Another bit of plot I always forget is just how Bothari ends up assigned to Miles.  It’s almost a shame that he has spend most of Barrayar working for Count Piotr, who doesn’t seem to particularly appreciate him, and probably just took him on as a favour to his son.  I thought, in fact, that at the end of Shards of Honour Bothari was one of Aral’s guards, but either Ms. Bujold changed her mind and thought it would add some tension to have him one of Piotr’s instead, or she decided that only the Count proper could have armsmen.  She ran the risk there of having it seem a bit contrived having Bothari around with Cordelia, but I guess it worked out okay.

I never could warm to Count Piotr.  In Shards he’s affable enough, but in Barrayar he ends up on the wrong side of his son after the soltoxin incident and never becomes sympathetic again.  It is almost a wonder that he doesn’t cross over to Vordarian’s side, but I’m sure it’s more for personal reasons than ideological ones.


With several hours of TV premieres between this and the next week, I’ll cover just the epilogue next week, and then a week off before heading into The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Or, I suppose, Young Miles, since I use the digital copies to facilitate cutting and pasting.  (Maybe it makes it too easy, since sometimes I seem to go a little overboard…it’s just her lovely prose, I guess.)  Until then…

Read Full Post »

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, into the ninth installment of Barrayar, the second book in the Vorkosigan series chronologically.  This week, chapters Seventeen and Eighteen bring the whole story to a head.  (Heh.)  No, seriously, this totally encompasses the climax of the book–this is the good stuff, right here.

Chapter Seventeen

They take Lady Alys, Bothari carrying her, to a three-storey building in the caravanserai, against Koudelka’s protests; Cordelia quickly determines that this is the brothel from Bothari and Koudelka’s previous adventure, though Koudelka tells Drou that it’s a historic building turned into “a kind of inn”.  Inside, a woman leads them to a room on the top floor, and at Bothari’s insistence, changes the sheets before he lays Alys down there.  Drou stays with Alys while she sleeps, while Koudelka goes to look for food, and Bothari and Cordelia sit at a table in the hall.

Bothari asks if they have prostitutes on Beta Colony, and Cordelia tells him about their Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapists, government-licensed psychotherapists who do teaching as well as sex.  Bothari says that his mother was a whore, which Cordelia had already guessed, but adds that she used to sell him to her customers.  He ran away at age twelve, and ran with the gangs for four years until he was able to lie his way into the military.  Being a bastard on Barrayar is almost as bad as being a mutant, he says; Cordelia says that on Beta they barely even have a term for it.

When Koudelka returns with food and beer, Cordelia says that they have to change their strategy.  She says that they can’t take Lady Vorpatril with them, and they should get her out of the city before they realize that she’s probably not pregnant any more.  Cordelia needs to go because she’s in charge, Drou knows the way in, and Bothari is their muscle.  That leaves Koudelka to take Alys and Ivan out of the city.  Koudelka protests that it feels like he’s retreating, but Cordelia says that Alys and Ivan need his cleverness to get them out of the city.

Bothari goes to look for discarded clothing for Koudelka’s new role while Koudelka takes food in to Alys and Drou.  Koudelka says that he knows why Drou was so worried about being pregnant.  Cordelia says that things are not right between him and Drou yet, and says she wishes she’d been able to straighten things out between herself and Aral before she left.

She meditated a bit. “What have you tried besides ‘I’m sorry’? How about, ‘How do you feel? Are you all right? Can I help? I love you,’ there’s a classic. Words of one syllable. Mostly questions, now I think on it. Shows an interest in starting a conversation, y’know?”

He smiled sadly. “I don’t think she wants to talk to me anymore.”

Cordelia asks what he would have done if they hadn’t been interrupted by the soltoxin grenade attack.  Koudelka says he’d have arranged for a go-between, who arranges things with the parents, and then he’d just have to show up at the wedding.  But he doesn’t think that her parents would have approved of him, crippled as he is.

 “A go-between. Huh.” She stood up.

“Where are you going?” he asked nervously.

“Between,” she said firmly. She marched down the hall to Lady Vorpatril’s door, and stuck her head in.

Drou is in a brown study, and when Cordelia asks, she says that it’s about the man she killed earlier.  She blames herself and her hesitation for Lord Padma’s death, when Bothari didn’t hesitate.  Cordelia asks her if she really wants to be a monster like Bothari (though he’s her monster, she admits).  She says that no military or police force should be made up entirely of psychopathic killers; there should always be someone to question evil orders.  Cordelia tells Drou she’s going to send Koudelka out with the Vorpatrils, since, bewildering as it is to her, Vordarian will still consider the infant Lord Vorpatril a threat.

Cordelia asks Drou if she still loves Koudelka, even though she now knows most of his flaws, though he does have a promising future ahead of him if they get out of this alive.  Drou says that since she lost her virginity to him, she’s bound to him anyway, but Cordelia points that out that after this raid, she’ll be a hero and have men lining up for her hand.  Drou admits she’s afraid Koudelka will hurt her again; Cordelia says that she and Aral hurt each other, that she hurt him badly by going on this mission against his wishes, but avoiding pain is not a good enough reason to choose not to do something.

“I’m not sure I follow that, Milady. But . . . I have a picture, in my head. Of me and Kou, on a beach, all alone. It’s so warm. And when he looks at me, he sees me, really sees me, and loves me. . . .”

Cordelia pursed her lips. “Yeah . . . that’ll do. Come with me.”

She leads Drou to the sofa at the end of the hall, sitting her down with Koudelka at the other end.  She says that she will translate between the two of them, since they speak different languages.

Kou made an embarrassed negative motion over Cordelia’s head.

“That hand signal means, I’d rather blow up the rest of my life than look like a fool for five minutes. Ignore it,” Cordelia said. “Now, let me see. Who begins?”

There was a short silence. “Did I mention I’m also playing the parts of both your parents? I think I shall begin by being Kou’s Ma. Well, son, and have you met any nice girls yet? You’re almost twenty-six, you know. I saw that vid,” she added in her own voice as Kou choked. “I have her style, eh? And her content. And Kou says, Yes, Ma, there’s this gorgeous girl. Young, tall, smart—and Kou’s Ma says, Tee hee! And hires me, your friendly neighborhood go-between. And I go to your father, Drou, and say, there’s this young man. Imperial lieutenant, personal secretary to the Lord Regent, war hero, slated for the inside track at Imperial HQ—and he says, Say no more! We’ll take him. Tee-hee. And—”

Koudelka protests that her parents will have more to say than that, and Cordelia interprets this as referring to his disability.  She tells him that a wise father, when presented with his daughter’s choice of husband, will just go along and say “Yes, dear,” if he knows what’s good for him.  Her brothers may be harder to convince, but since Drou hasn’t complained to them yet, he has a chance.

“I said I was sorry,” said Kou, sounding stung.

Drou stiffened. “Yes. Repeatedly,” she said coldly.

“And there we come to the heart of the matter,” Cordelia said slowly, seriously. “What Kou actually means, Drou, is that he isn’t a bit sorry. The moment was wonderful, you were wonderful, and he wants to do it again. And again and again, with nobody but you, forever, socially approved and uninterrupted. Is that right, Kou?”

Kou looked stunned. “Well—yes!”

Drou blinked. “But . . . that’s what I wanted you to say!”

“It was?” He peered over Cordelia’s head.

Cordelia points out that they still some time before they have to leave, possibly enough to finish working things out, in words of one syllable.

Comments

Holy crow, Cordelia’s “baba” scene there, as I think of it (though admittedly, the term “baba” is never used in this chapter, and possibly not even in the entire book–I guess I think of it from later books, like A Civil Campaign, or is it only Warrior’s Apprentice?) is so awesome I had to restrain myself from quoting the entire thing.  Not very well, as you can see.  Anyway, looking to the future, I’d have to say that Kou and Drou do have a bright one ahead of them, especially considering the kinds of matches their daughters make for themselves down the line.  Practically one from every estate.  But anyway…  Sometimes it seems that every pair of characters needs a Cordelia to sit down between them and clear up all the misunderstandings, secrets and conflicts between them.  Or maybe that’s just the Wheel of Time books, whose characters have finally, as of Book 13 in the series, began to actually talk and tell each other things.

Something that bothered me when I was reading this, though.  Initially Drou was to stay by Lady Alys’s bedside while she slept, so that she wouldn’t be too disoriented at awakening in a strange place.  (Though how well does Alys know Drou, anyway?  As a former bodyguard to Princess Kareen, given to Cordelia…  At least she would be familiar from the rescue, if nothing else, I suppose.)  Lady Alys seems to be still asleep when Cordelia has her conversation with Drou before fetching her to have the baba scene with Kou…so why are they no longer worried about her waking up to find herself alone in a strange place?  Never crosses either of their minds at that point.  I’ll call it an authorial oversight, though one presumes that Cordelia does take her place there immediately after the end of the chapter.

Also, where do Kou and Drou go off to spend their little bit of personal time?  Do they have to rent a room?  I seem to have missed on all my previous reads the little bit that said that the couch where they were talking was at the end of the hallway, not in another room, so I suspect that couch would still be a little public for them…  They must have rooms with real beds for all of them somewhere.  Do they have much money on them, or is Bothari’s credit good?

Chapter Eighteen

Koudelka, Alys and baby Ivan prepare to leave the brothel just before dawn, dressed in sober and inconspicuous clothes.  Koudelka gives Drou his sword-cane, since it looks far too good quality to match their disguise.  Cordelia asks if there’s any risk of being robbed, and Bothari says that Vordarian’s troops have been conscripting a lot of the normal gang members and having them dig bomb shelters, supposedly to protect against Aral.  They part with few words, Koudelka giving Drou one last salute.

Cordelia, Bothari and Drou head for a tall commercial building, then down to its sub-basement.  Drou breaks into a utility tunnel, well-lit and obviously in use, then opens an access hatch.  Cordelia drops into a storm sewer, cold water to her ankles, and Drou and Bothari follow.  From there, they find a smaller, brick-lined tunnel where they have to shuffle hunched over.  Drou begins to tap on the ceiling, and eventually finds a hatch whose catch she triggers with Koudelka’s sword blade.  They emerge into a darkened chamber which Drou says is the old stables, burned down and levelled decades ago; Ezar planted a garden over top, just north of the Residence proper.  Ezar and Negri planned this escape route between them.

Drou finds a cache of boxes left for Ezar, with clothes, weapons and money, some of the clothes apparently meant for Kareen and Gregor.  Drou and Cordelia put on clean dresses and get stunners; Bothari unpacks his black fatigues and gets a stunner, a plasma arc, and a nerve disrupter.  Cordelia also takes the sword-cane, and Gregor’s shoe, out of their satchel.  Drou then leads them into a narrow passage with a ladder going into an even narrower squeeze between two walls.  Cordelia extinguishes her handlight and Drou opens the panel, which leads into the Emperor’s bedchamber.

It is not empty, though; the bed is occupied by Vordarian, with Kareen huddled into one corner of the mattress.  They retreat back down the ladder, where Drou is crying with disappointment in her former mistress.  Cordelia points out that Kareen didn’t have much of an option, or a power base with which to resist, and her posture in the bed seemed to indicate that she wasn’t a willing partner.  The second exit from the tunnel will be more dangerous, and Cordelia considers turning back, but instead gives them the go-ahead.  This time they exit into Ezar’s private office, still unused, its comconsole disconnected.

Cordelia, conscious of the conspicuousness of wearing the cane like a sword, puts it on a tray and carries it like a servant instead as they leave the room.  They pass a soldier who salutes to Bothari, and Cordelia hopes that his suspicions are allayed by the fact that the two women seem to be under guard.  They climb a flight of stairs to the level where the replicator is being stored.  There is a guard outside; as they pass by, Bothari salutes him, which turns into a punch that knocks his head back against the wall and leaves him unconscious.  Bothari takes his place outside and Drou and Cordelia drag the guard into the room.

The replicator sits on a table in the centre of the room.  Cordelia is about to pick it up when she notices something wrong, and double-checks the readouts.  The replicator is empty…  In desperation, Cordelia checks the serial number, and discovers that it’s not the same one Miles was in.  She discovers a pressure sensor on the table underneath the replicator, no doubt linked to some alarm.  Cordelia decides they’ll have to retreat, and hope to catch Vordarian unawares and squeeze Miles’s replicator’s location out of him.

Just then, there is noise outside in the corridor, and stunner fire, and Bothari ducks inside.  Drou and Bothari are willing to die to protect Cordelia, but she doesn’t see the point, and proposes surrender instead.  They give up their weapons as the guards come inside; one of them finds the shoe in Cordelia’s pocket and sets it on the table.  Cordelia hopes that she will get to see Kareen, however briefly, to seal Vordarian’s fate.  The guards keep them there until Vordarian arrives, with Kareen in tow.

Vordarian exults at the success of his trap, though the guards warn him that they didn’t have the chance to herd them in from the perimeter, they’d just appeared out of nowhere.  Vordarian says they just need to fast-penta Drou to find out how.

“What have you done with my son, Vordarian?”

Vordarian said through his teeth, “An outworlder frill will never gain power on Barrayar by scheming to give a mutant the Imperium. That, I guarantee.”

“Is that the official line, now? I don’t want power. I just object to idiots having power over me.”

Behind Vordarian, Kareen’s lips quirked sadly. Yes, listen to me, Kareen!

Kareen tells them that Vordarian is the Emperor now, if he can keep it, and Vordarian says that he has as good a claim than Aral, and that he will “preserve and protect” the true Barrayar.  Cordelia gives Kareen the shoe, which puzzles Vordarian, who is already planning their interrogations.

“Kareen,” said Cordelia softly, “where is my son?”

“The replicator is on a shelf in the oak wardrobe, in the old Emperor’s bedchamber,” Kareen replied steadily, locking her eyes to Cordelia’s. “Where is mine?”

Cordelia’s heart melted in gratitude for her curse, live pain. “Safe and well, when I last saw him, as long as this pretender,” she jerked her head at Vordarian, “doesn’t find out where. Gregor misses you. He sends his love.” Her words might have been spikes, pounded into Kareen’s body.

That got Vordarian’s attention. “Gregor is at the bottom of a lake, killed in the flyer crash with that traitor Negri,” he said roughly. “The most insidious lie is the one you want to hear. Guard yourself, my lady Kareen. I could not save him, but I will avenge him. I promise you that.”

Kareen points out that the shoe hasn’t been immersed; Vordarian reassures her that she can have another son someday, but Kareen grabs a nerve disrupter and fires at Vordarian.  One guard knocks her arm aside, spoiling her shot, and another reflexively shoots her with his own nerve disrupter; Vordarian seizes a disrupter and shoots him.

The room tilted around her. Cordelia’s hand locked around the hilt of the swordstick and triggered its sheath flying into the head of one guard, then brought the blade smartly down across Vordarian’s weapon-wrist. He screamed, and blood and the nerve disruptor flew wide. Droushnakovi was already diving for the first discarded nerve disruptor. Bothari just took his target out with one lethal hand-blow to the neck. Cordelia slammed the door shut against the guards in the corridor, surging forward. A stunner charge buzzed into the walls, then three blue bolts in rapid succession from Droushnakovi took out the last of Vordarian’s men.

“Grab him,” Cordelia yelled to Bothari. Vordarian, shaking, his left hand clamped around his half-severed right wrist, was in poor condition to resist, though he kicked and shouted. His blood ran the color of Kareen’s robe. Bothari locked Vordarian’s head in a firm grip, nerve disruptor pressed to his skull.

They head back out into the corridor, Vordarian’s guards backing off at the sight of their lord held hostage.  At Bothari’s urging, and over Drou’s protests, Cordelia takes the plasma arc and begins setting fire to the hallway behind them, thinking of it as a funeral pyre for Kareen.  They reach the Emperor’s bedchamber and Cordelia sets the corridor burning in the other direction as well.  Inside the chamber, she finds the uterine replicator where Kareen had said it would be, and confirms that this one is occupied.

Vordarian begins to argue for them to release him, pointing out that his guards will stun them all.  If they let him go, he’ll let them live, even Miles.  He said that he never meant for Evon Vorhalas to damage Vorkosigan’s heir, it was only Aral himself that was too dangerous.

“We’d never proved you were behind Evon Vorhalas,” Cordelia said quietly. “Thank you for the information.”

That shut him up, for a moment. His eyes shifted uneasily to the door, soon to burst inward, ignited by the inferno behind it.

“Dead, I’m no use to you as a hostage,” he said, drawing himself up in dignity.

“You’re no use to me at all, Emperor Vidal,” said Cordelia frankly. “There are at least five thousand casualties in this war so far. Now that Kareen is dead, how long will you keep fighting?”

“Forever,” he snarled whitely. “I will avenge her—avenge them all—”

Wrong answer, Cordelia thought, with a curious light-headed sadness. “Bothari.” He was at her side instantly. “Pick up that sword.” He did so. She set the replicator on the floor and laid her hand briefly atop his, wrapped around the hilt. “Bothari, execute this man for me, please.” Her tone sounded weirdly serene in her own ears, as if she’d just asked Bothari to pass the butter. Murder didn’t really require hysterics.

“Yes, Milady,” Bothari intoned, and lifted the blade. His eyes gleamed with joy.

“What?” yelped Vordarian in astonishment. “You’re a Betan! You can’t do—”

The flashing stroke cut off his words, his head, and his life.

Bothari screams and falls to his knees, dropping the sword; Cordelia realizes he must be reliving the suppressed memory of the murder of Admiral Vorrutyer.  Drou says that the door is getting hot, and they have to leave.  Cordelia finds a drawstring plastic bag, which she puts Vordarian’s head into.  She orders Drou to take the replicator (she picks up the swordstick of her own accord), and coaxes Bothari to his feet and down the ladder after Drou.  She pushes Bothari ahead of her into the cellar, where they pause for a rest.

“Is he all right?” Droushnakovi asked nervously, as Bothari sat down with his head between his knees.

“He has a headache,” said Cordelia. “It may take a while to pass off.”

Droushnakovi asked even more diffidently, “Are you all right, Milady?”

Cordelia couldn’t help it; she laughed. She choked down the hysteria as Drou began to look really scared. “No.”

Comments

Once again, Bujold tries to keep from making her villain too incompetent; he had a plan, if someone tried to break in and go after the replicator, for the guards to stay out of their way and shepherd them towards the fake…but just in case, he also had a pressure sensor underneath it.  And yet, it’s only the fact that somebody went looking for the guard that Bothari knocked out that had them detected.

It’s interesting to see the progression of the chaos after Kareen’s attempt on Vordarian’s life.  I left out some of the details, but essentially, there are four guards who come into the room to hold Cordelia, Bothari and Drou captive.  Then Vordarian and Kareen join them.  Kareen takes one guard’s nerve disrupter and tries to shoot Vordarian; that guard knocks her arm out of the way.  The guard commander shoots Kareen, then throws away his weapon; Vordarian takes a third guard’s disrupter and shoots the commander with it.  Vordarian was in his bedclothes, so he didn’t have his own weapon, and Bothari’s were thrown out of the room when they surrendered.  That leaves only one guard with a nerve disrupter (plus Vordarian), which is when our captives move into action.  Neatly done and plotted.

The cover of at least one edition of the book is an extreme closeup of the scene–two hands, one male, one female, on the curved handle of the sword-cane.  Intriguing, if you don’t know what it means; once it does, it’s evocative of the climactic scene of the book, in this chapter.  And it’s intensely satisfying, as Cordelia finds, disquietingly.  So many books, the good guys continue being good and don’t do anything to do the bad guy except give them to the authorities, or let them get taken care of by other evil people.  The distinction between revenge and justice can be hard to determine, sometimes, especially since revenge is more visceral, possibly hardwired in, if the evolutionary psychologists have anything to say about it.  A lot of socialization is occupied in teaching people the concept that “he started it” is not an excuse for doing something back to him, and still it happens, and it’s oh-so-satisfying when it does.  When revenge and justice happen to intersect, it’s too much to resist.


And that’s it for another installment.  Three more chapters to go in Barrayar, with the TV season starting up.  It’s just possible that I may manage two more for next week, and leave my one-chapter week for the week after, when there’s a whole whack of shows I want to watch.  And then a week off in between books before I start on the first real Miles book, The Warrior’s Apprentice.  We’ll see how well I can keep to a two-chapter schedule after that…

Read Full Post »

Previously, on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, we saw Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, wife of Lord Regent Aral Vorkosigan, receive bad news in the form of Captain Vaagen, one of the scientists who was entrusted with the care of the uterine replicator holding her fetus son Miles, while they gave him calcium treatments to try to fix his bones after the damage done by the antidote to the soltoxin Cordelia was exposed to.  Anyway, Vaagen told her that the rebel and self-proclaimed Regent in his own right Vordarian sent men to retrieve the replicator and take it to the Imperial Residence.  What will she do now?

Find out in this installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I promise to have much fewer run-on sentences, though I still try to convey the gist of the action in fewer sentences than the original author…

Chapter Fifteen

Within two minutes of Vorkosigan’s arrival at main portal Security, Captain Vaagen was flat on a float pallet and on his way to the infirmary, with the top trauma doctor on the base being paged for rendezvous. Cordelia reflected bitterly on the nature of chain of command; all truth and reason and urgent need were not enough, apparently, to lend causal power to one outside that chain.

After his treatment, he is pronounced well enough to be questioned further, if briefly, supplying a few more details.  Illyan confirms Vaagen’s information, though he says the agents in the palace thought the device might be a bomb; they don’t know if anyone is working on maintaining it.  Vaagen says the treatments have been interrupted anyway, and there are some details that only Henri knew.  Cordelia says that Betan replicators run on a two-week service cycle.  Vaagen says that nutrients are the bottleneck, and they have about six days before they run out.  Illyan says that the physician in the Residence has been killed, so he wouldn’t be able to service it.  Cordelia is dismayed to realize that Miles might die out of sheer ignorance.

They leave Vaagen’s room, and Aral tells Cordelia that nothing has really changed in their situation.  Cordelia protests that Miles is a prisoner now, no longer hidden, and his life is on a clock.  Aral says he regrets not having sent a raid earlier, ImpMil being easier to break into than the Residence itself.  But he insists that his position is no worse than any of the other men with hostages.  Cordelia says that the position is different, because unlike the other hostages, Miles has only six days left, less the time they spend arguing.  She says she’s never asked him for any special favours, but now she is asking.

Aral says it’s a delicate time, with negotations with the space forces and two of Vordarian’s top commanders; if that works out, then they can rescue all of the prisoners in one raid.  A small raid to recover Miles would likely jeopardize the larger one, whether it succeeded or not.  Cordelia asks for a time estimate, and the best that Aral can offer is ten days.  Cordelia offers to go herself, with two or three men, but Aral violently refuses.  Cordelia asks if he doubts her competency, though she secretly does herself; Aral says that it would drive him crazy, waiting for her return.

“You ask that of me. To wait, unknowing. You ask it every day.”

“You are stronger than I. You are strong beyond reason.”

“Flattering. Not convincing.”

His thought circled hers; she could see it in his knife-keen eyes. “No. No haring off on your own. I forbid it, Cordelia. Flat, absolutely. Put it right out of your mind. I cannot risk you both.”

“You do. In this.”

Cordelia defuses the conversation and leaves without him extracting an oath from her not to go.  Outside, she encounters Count Piotr, who seems less hostile.  She tells Piotr about Vaagen’s arrival, and Piotr laughs at the emptiness of Vordarian threatening Miles, adding that he would be doing House Vorkosigan a service.  Cordelia can’t restrain herself from asking the Count whether he set up Miles’s abduction.

“You dare accuse me—!” His outrage edged into plain rage.

Her rage was shadowing her vision with red. “I know you are an attempted murderer, why not an attempted traitor, too? I can only hope your incompetence holds good.”

His voice was breathy with fury. “Too far!”

“No, old man. Not nearly far enough.”

Piotr tells her that while he would be happy enough to have Vordarian dump out the fetus, he would rather Vordarian not know how worthless his lever is.  He heads off in search of Aral, and Cordelia retreats to her quarters, pacing in agitation.  When Drou asks, she says she doesn’t really believe Piotr is a traitor; she says Aral is right, she can’t risk failure.  Drou quietly reminds Cordelia that she spent three years in security at the Residence, and gets Cordelia’s full attention.  Drou says that, as Kareen’s body servant, she was “the last line of defence”, and knew about five secret escape routes.  Of those, two were known only to her, Negri and Emperor Ezar, and they should be equally usable as secret entrances.

Cordelia found she had to remember to breathe. “Who do you work for, Drou?”

“Captain—” she started to answer, but slowed self-consciously. “Negri. But he’s dead. Commander—Captain Illyan, now, I suppose.”

“Let me rephrase that.” Cordelia opened her eyes at last. “Who did you put your life on the line for?”

“Kareen. And Gregor, of course. They were kind of the same thing.”

“Still are. This mother bets.” She caught Drou’s blue gaze. “And Kareen gave you to me.”

She asks what she could give Drou in return for her assistance, and Drou says she wants to get Kareen out too.  The staff have classified Kareen as “expendable”, but Drou says that she can’t just switch off her loyalty that easily.  Cordelia says that they need someone else, someone who knows the city, and sends for Bothari.  When he arrives, Cordelia sees how much tension is lurking in his body.  He asks her if she’s heard anything about Elena, and Cordelia says that she’s still being kept with other second or third-tier hostages.  He tells her that a man he didn’t know approached him the other day and offered him Elena’s life if he killed Count Piotr.  Bothari thought about it, but didn’t accept because he didn’t think he’d survive to take care of her afterwards.

Cordelia tells Bothari about Miles’s situation, and he says that a lot of the staff talk about Miles as a “non-viable mutant” behind his back.  She asks Bothari who he works for.

“I am oath-sworn Armsman to Count Piotr,” Bothari recited the obvious. He was watching her closely now, a weird smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

“Let me rephrase that. I know the official penalties for an armsman going AWOL are fearsome. But suppose—”

“Milady.” He held up a hand; she paused in mid-breath. “Do you remember, back on the front lawn at Vorkosigan Surleau when we were loading Negri’s body into the lightflyer, when my Lord Regent told me to obey your voice as his own?”

Cordelia’s brows went up. “Yes . . . ?”

“He never countermanded that order.”

“Sergeant,” she breathed at last, “I’d never have guessed you for a barracks-lawyer.”

His smile grew a millimeter tighter. “Your voice is as the voice of the Emperor himself. Technically.”

“Is it, now,” she whispered in delight. Her nails dug into her palms.

They go to the motor pool, Bothari signing out a vehicle, ostensibly for Count Piotr, while Drou and Cordelia hide out of sight.  Their plan is not to head directly for Vorbarr Sultana, but to head into neutral territory first, and then double back.  Bothari gets the vehicle without trouble and parks it so that his passengers can enter without being seen.  Unfortunately, as they are getting in, Koudelka sees them and asks what they’re doing.  Cordelia tries to deflect him with a story of a shopping trip, the security detail having gone ahead, but Koudelka isn’t buying it.  Bothari calls him over to look at something, and then clubs him on the back of his neck; they load his unconscious body into the car and drive off.

Bothari passes through security checkpoints easily, the rear compartment blocked off by a reflective barrier so the passengers can’t be seen, so the guards presume that it’s the Count himself.  They discuss what to do with Koudelka as he regains consciousness; they decide not to ditch him outside, to give them away, and Cordelia decides to risk bringing him along, to try to convince him to help.  Koudelka tries to sway them to return, to keep Vordarian from having another lever against Aral; then he orders Bothari to turn around and drive them back.

A slight pause. “I’m not in the Imperial Service anymore, sir. Retired.”

“Piotr didn’t order this! You’re Count Piotr’s man.”

A longer pause; a lower tone. “No. I am Lady Vorkosigan’s dog.”

“You’re off your meds!”

How such could travel over a purely audio link Cordelia was not sure, but a canine grin hung in the air before them.

“Come on, Kou,” Cordelia coaxed. “Back me. Come for luck. Come for life. Come for the adrenaline rush.”

Droushnakovi leaned over, a sharp smile on her lips, to breathe in Koudelka’s other ear, “Look at it this way, Kou. Who else is ever going to give you a chance at field combat?”

Comments

Excessive quotage, but there is a lot of great dialogue in this chapter, as Cordelia assembles her daring party.  I always forget how Koudelka gets “convinced” to come along.  Interesting how the security system makes a lot of presumptions about, first, the loyalty of Count Piotr, and second, the loyalty of Count Piotr’s armsman.  If Count Piotr had been colluding with Vordarian over the uterine replicator, he at least wouldn’t have had much trouble getting in and out of the compound.  I suppose he’d have needed to contact Vordarian a little more circumspectly, though, given how many spies they have in place.  Anyway, I suppose that the planet does really run on loyalty and oaths, as Cordelia often ponders in near disbelief.

Chapter Sixteen

Koudelka is brought around, almost unwillingly, and by the time they reach the neutral district of Count Vorinnis, he has organized a plan to get them smuggled into Vorbarr Sultana in the back of a produce truck.  When asked, he admits that his father was a grocer, which Cordelia realizes is a sort of secret shame.

Bothari and Koudelka played two recently discharged vets, looking to better their sorry lot, and Cordelia and Drou two countrywomen co-scheming with them. The women were decked in a realistically odd combination of worn mountain dress and upper-class castoffs apparently acquired from some secondhand shop. They managed the right touch of mis-fittedness, of women not wearing originals, by trading garments.

They get out in the city before the market itself, which Koudelka says will have too many soldiers around, as much to steal their own share of the black-market goods as to guard anything.  Cordelia wonders now how Koudelka knows so much about the black market, and if it has anything to do with how his father afforded to get him into the Imperial Military Academy.

Bothari leads the way through the run-down part of town, finding a place marked “Rooms”; the proprietor isn’t eager to open up until he sees there are women in the party.  Koudelka and Drou take first shift with the beds, while Cordelia and Bothari go looking for supplies.  Bothari warns Cordelia not to talk, with her recognizably foreign accent.  He goes to talk to the innkeeper, pretending that they were planning to sell Drou’s virginity to a Vor Lord, but now that’s all screwed up.He says that Koudelka is the brains, but safe to leave with the woman because of his nerve damage, and Cordelia tries to hide her amusement at Bothari’s invention.

Bothari intimates that he’s looking for work to tide them over, and the innkeeper takes the bait.  He says there’s a strange man in a room down the street, who’s only seen buying more food than one man could be eating.  There’ll be reward from Vordarian’s men for “information-leading-to”, he says.  Bothari warns him that if Vordarian loses–and he can smell defeat in the streets–Vorkosigan’s men won’t take kindly to those kind of informers, and the innkeeper says that it’ll be easier for a transient like Bothari to take the risk anyway.  Cordelia whispers to Bothari to try to find out who it is, and Bothari asks for 50% and says wants to get a look at who it is.

When Bothari returns, he says that it’s Lord and Lady Vorpatril hiding out; he didn’t make any contact, though, because he wanted to find out Cordelia’s intentions, if she wanted to risk her mission to help them.  Cordelia asks about the baby, and Bothari says she hasn’t had it yet, even though it’s two weeks overdue.  They decide that the Vorpatrils would be too conspicuous, and if they can discourage the innkeeper, the Vorpatrils might be safe enough until they can get back and tell the others.  Bothari also mentions that he saw on a vid that Vordarian has finally declared himself Emperor.

They are just leaving that evening when the innkeeper sees them and yells at Bothari for making them miss the opportunity.  At Bothari’s coercion, he tells them that someone else has found the fugitives and is picking them up now.  Quickly, Cordelia gets out a stunner and takes out the innkeeper, and the rest get their weapons as well.  They head the few blocks over toward the Vorpatrils’ hideout, finding Security groundcars parked outside.  They hide around the corner, and Bothari sends Drou around to the other side to set up crossfire; Bothari complains about not being able to see what’s going on, and Cordelia says they can pretend to be a couple who just happens to pass, and watching the arrest.

From a shadowed doorway, they can see Padma Vorpatril shoved against one of the cars, battered and grinning with fast-penta.  The still-pregnant Alys Vorpatril is manhandled out of the house as they watch.  The colonel in charge of the guards orders his men back, now that they’ve got what they came for, “the lord and the heir”.  His lieutenant asks how they’re supposed to kill the two of them when the heir isn’t born yet, and urges them to take Alys back to the station; one of the guards urges raping Alys first, which Cordelia realizes arouses Bothari.  The colonel says just to kill them all, at which point Cordelia gives Bothari the same order.  Bothari, Cordelia and Drou between them take out the guards with stunners and nerve disrupters, but not before the lieutenant has killed Padma Vorpatril.  One car begins to drive away, and Koudelka takes it out with a plasma arc.  They grab Alys and drag her away from the scene for several blocks, as they hear sirens behind them.

Suddenly Alys stops short, and Cordelia realizes that she’s in labour; Alys says that her water broke during the fight.  She moves slower and slower between contractions, and finally Bothari goes off and returns to lead them to an abandoned set of rooms off an alleyway.  They consult each other about any knowledge of babies, and eventually Bothari admits that his mother used to do some midwifery.  He asks Cordelia to stay, which Cordelia realizes is intended as a way to keep himself under control.  The labour goes on for a while without progressing much, until Bothari helps push on the baby and his head pops out.

Cordelia caught the head between her hands, and eased the body out with the next contraction. The baby boy coughed twice, sneezed like a kitten in the awed silence, inhaled, grew pinker, and emitted a nerve-shattering wail. Cordelia nearly dropped him.

Bothari swore at the noise. “Give me your swordstick, Kou.”

Lady Vorpatril looked up wildly. “No! Give him back to me, I’ll make him be quiet!”

“Wasn’t what I had in mind,” said Bothari with some dignity. “Though it’s an idea,” he added as the wails went on. He pulled out the plasma arc and heated the sword briefly, on low power. Sterilizing it, Cordelia realized.

Bothari cuts the cord after the placenta comes out, and Cordelia notes how large Ivan is, explaining the difficulty in delivery.

Alys looked at the baby and began crying again, muffled sobs. “Padma said . . . I’d have the best doctors. Padma said . . . there’d be no pain. Padma said he’d stay with me . . . damn you, Padma!” She clutched Padma’s son to her. In an altered tone of mild surprise, she added, “Ow!” Infant mouth had found her breast, and apparently had a grip like a barracuda.

“Good reflexes,” observed Bothari.

Comments

What kind of accent does Cordelia have, anyway?  They always talk about the Barrayarans’ “guttural” accent, which makes me picture something vaguely Germanic, or possibly Russian, so maybe it’s just that she sounds more British or American or something.  Or something different, though there doesn’t seem to be too much drift among “Galactic Standard”, with the exception of Barrayar, which was isolated and still has substantial non-Standard-speaking minorities.  I guess later they describe Miles’s Betan accent as more “flat and nasal”, I think.  For some reason that makes me think of the New York accent, like Joe Pesci or something.

Both Koudelka and Bothari admit to having parents who taught them skills that they’d rather pretend not to have–Koudelka’s father the black-market grocer, and Bothari’s mother, the, um, lady who worked somewhere that resulted in a number of babies being born.  Okay, she was a prostitute, not to put too find a point on it.  (Though admittedly that doesn’t come up in full for a few chapters yet, I think.)  Both of them have managed to rise to work for some of the most powerful men on Barrayar, mostly as a result of their military careers.

It is probably quite lucky that Drou didn’t hear the details of Bothari’s concocted story about selling her virginity.  She still doesn’t like or trust Bothari much, and that would really have set her against him.  One also presumes that Kou and Drou didn’t get up to any hanky-panky when left on their own, with their still-unresolved issues.  I think that those get dealt with pretty soon, though.


And that’s it for another two chapters, as we move toward the climax of the book, and the action begins to ramp up again.  The next two chapters may even do it for the climax; there’s still five more left, and I haven’t yet decided if that will take me two weeks or three.  We’ll see if I can get started earlier than Sunday next week or the week after.  Did I take a week off after the last book?  I think so.  That’ll be nice…

Read Full Post »