A bit tired tonight, so let me be brief. I’m going through Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, book by book, two chapters at a time, and right now I’m up to Chapters Seven and Eight of Cetaganda, so let’s get down to it.
While Ivan is treated in the infirmary, Miles checks out the list of the eight satrap governors. They’re all “relatives” of the Emperor and Empress, including two Degtiars. Each satrap governor holds his office for five years, then either retires or moves to another satrap, to keep any of them from being able to build up a power base. As such, Miles concludes that the Dowager Empress couldn’t have contacted them longer ago than five years, because otherwise she wouldn’t have known who the governors would be. Miles tries to figure out how to winnow down the list, wishing for some helpful and discreet Cetagandan security men to help. He reminds himself that he doesn’t need to solve Ba Lura’s murder, just find the Great Key. After all, it’s in orbit somewhere, on one of the governor’s ships…
Ivan returns, saying that the poison metabolized rapidly, but they did manage to get a sample. Vorreedi has returned, and Ivan had a chat with him about Yenaro. He judges Vorreedi to not be a “booted paranoid”, and urges Miles to come clean to him, or else Ivan will. Miles shares the salient points of his conversation with Rian.
” . . . so it seems to me,” Miles ran down at last, “that the only way we can certainly prove that Barrayar had nothing to do with it is to find which satrap governor has the real Great Key.” He pointed orbit-ward.
Ivan’s eyes were round, his mouth screwed up in an expression of total dismay. “We? We? Miles, we’ve only been here for two and a half days, how did we get put in charge of the Cetagandan Empire? Isn’t this Cetagandan security’s job?”
Miles says they can’t be trusted to try to exonerate the Barrayarans. He says he’s thought of three possible leads back to Lord X–Yenaro, Ba Lura’s murder, and political analysis. Yenaro they can trust ImpSec to work on, but probably not Ba Lura. As for the third, he tells Ivan that the Barrayarans seemed to be deliberately picked to plant the fake Key on, which could mean either a satrap governor close to Barrayaran space, or one on the other end hoping for a Barrayaran war to divert attention from him. Ivan and Miles agree that that means either Rho Ceta (next to Komarr) or Mu Ceta (next to Vervain), or Sigma Ceta or Xi Ceta (which is next to Marilac) at the other end of the Empire–four out of eight. Miles hopes that with all three methods they can eventually narrow it down to just one.
Miles says they should make sure to document all their evidence and conclusions, in case someone else has to follow up on the case, and Ivan says he’s been doing that since the first day. Miles asks if Ivan hinted to Vorreedi that Yenaro had a high-placed backer, and urges him to do so when Ivan says he hadn’t.
“Why don’t you talk to him?”
“I’m . . . not ready. Not yet, not tonight. I’m still assimilating it all. And technically, he is my ImpSec superior here, or would be, if I were on active duty. I’d like to limit my, um . . .”
“Outright lies to him?” Ivan completed sweetly.
Miles grimaced, but did not deny it. “Look, I have an access in this matter that no other ImpSec officer could, due to my social position. I don’t want to see the opportunity wasted. But it also limits me—I can’t get at the routine legwork, the down-and-dirty details I need. I’m too conspicuous. I have to play to my own strengths, and get others to play to my weaknesses.”
Ivan agrees to talk to Vorreedi, then reminds Miles that Lord X might just as easily be following the leads back to him.
The next morning, Vorob’yev tells Miles he has an unusual visitor–not Rian, as Miles originally hopes, but a Security officer, ghem-Colonel Dag Benin. Benin is investigating Ba Lura’s death, and apparently Miles’s activities in the rotunda have brought him to Benin’s attention. Vorob’yev and Vorreedi have decided to let Benin speak to Miles, though the conversation will be monitored.
Ghem-Colonel Benin, waiting for them, rose politely as they entered. He was of no more than middle stature, so probably not over-stocked with haut-genes in his recent ancestry—the haut favored height. He had likely acquired his present post by merit rather than social rank, then, not necessarily a plus from Miles’s point of view. Benin was very trim in the dark red Cetagandan dress uniform that was everyday garb for security staff in the Celestial Garden. He wore, of course, full formal face paint in the Imperial pattern rather than that of his clan, marking his primary allegiance; a white base with intricate black curves and red accents that Miles thought of as the bleeding-zebra look. But by association, it was a pattern that would command instant and profound respect and total, abject cooperation on eight planets. Barrayar, of course, was not one of them.
Benin introduces himself and his purpose. Miles immediately presses him about whether Ba Lura’s death has been ruled a suicide, or if he may have been stunned elsewhere, which they should be able to test for, brought to the rotunda and killed there. Benin says that Ba Lura has been cremated, and wonders about Miles’s interest. Miles says that civil security is in his line of work, exaggerating slightly his modest experience with murder investigations, which piques Benin’s interest. Benin says that somebody would have seen Ba Lura being carried into the rotunda, but Miles asks if the body happened to have been placed in a spot hidden from the cameras, which Benin confirms. Miles points out that this means someone familiar with the security arrangements was involved, and asks Benin if anyone highly placed has been trying to quash his investigation.
Benin asks Miles about his conversation with Rian, and Miles claims that she turned out to be interested in him as a genetic curiosity, before Miles told her that his physical issues were not genetic. Miles turns to the subject to haut-ladies’ bubbles and force-chairs, suggesting that one of those could have been used to bring Ba Lura’s body into the rotunda and conceal it there. Benin tells Miles that half a dozen haut ladies passed through the chamber, none of them having seen Ba Lura, and Miles says that one of them must be lying.
Miles says that the murderer–they both seem to have concluded that it is likely murder, not suicide–must be highly placed, and with an odd sense of humour. He says that it may be someone newly come to the capital, and perhaps someone that Ba Lura was blackmailing. He urges Benin to trace Ba Lura’s movements, which Benin says is in progress. Miles also suggests that the murder was somewhat rushed, and may have made some hasty decisions. He thanks Benin for providing him the opportunity to talk shop. Benin asks Miles if he might be willing to talk under fast-penta, and Miles agrees, with Vorob’yev’s approval (which they both know will not be forthcoming).
As Benin winds the interview down, Miles hopes that he’s managed to point Benin in the direction of the satrap governors. Miles has also concluded that Benin, somewhat low rank for this investigation, may be intended to be expendable, and urges him to get support from as high up as he can.
“You have good reason to suspect you have a little problem somewhere overhead. But you don’t know where yet. If I were you, I’d go straight to the top. Make personal contact with your Emperor. It’s the only way you can be sure you’ve capped the murderer.”
Did Benin turn pale, beneath his face paint? No way to tell. “That high over—Lord Vorkosigan, I can hardly claim casual acquaintance with my celestial master.”
“This isn’t friendship. It’s business, and it’s his business. If you truly mean to be useful to him, it’s time you began. Emperors are only human.” Well, Emperor Gregor was. The Cetagandan emperor was haut-human. Miles hoped that still counted. “Ba Lura must have been more to him than a piece of the furniture—it served him for over fifty years. Make no accusations, merely request that he protect your investigation from being quashed. Strike first, today, before . . . someone . . . begins to fear your competence.” If you’re going to cover your ass, Benin, by God do it right.
“I will . . . consider your advice.”
After Benin takes his leave, Vorob’yev enters, followed by Ivan, and Vorreedi, at last. Vorreedi asks Miles if he would like a tour of local police establishments, and Miles demurs, but says that police work would probably been his next choice after the military. Vorob’yev tells Ivan that he’s received some invitations from several ghem-ladies–Arvin and Benello, from Yenaro’s party, as well as Benello’s married sister. Ivan refuses to share any of them with Miles, though Miles asks him to find out if any of them have ties to the Celestial Garden. Ivan tells Miles he’d be happen with Benin, or one of the satrap governors, and Miles admits he hopes to be able to examine the suspects at an official function as soon as he can.
I’m so glad that all eight of the governors are not serious suspects, because it’s hard enough keeping track of four of them. I think I’m reaching the point where I remember who Lord X actually is, but I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to be sure.
The appearance of Vorreedi, at last, is a bit of an anticlimax. By this point Miles has ceased to think of him as the guy who’s going to solve his problems, though I guess I don’t know if he ever did. Ivan did, I’m sure… I wonder if Ivan ever reaches a point where he implicitly trusts Miles to be able to solve all these problems he encounters. Judging from A Civil Campaign, perhaps not. Miles is, admittedly, a little too eager to get himself in over his head (insert your own height joke here), but he’s also really good at pulling himself out.
Dag Benin is a far more interesting character, still a ghem-lord but more of a rank-and-file officer than we’ve tended to see so far. He’s quick on picking up on Miles’s competence, despite his being, technically, an adversary. Miles’s conversation with him is an interesting exercise in trying to impart information without seeming to, while trying to acquire as much as possible.
Vorob’yev pulls a whole bunch of strings and gets himself, Miles and Mia Maz invitations to an exclusive poetry tribute to the Dowager Empress. Ivan is too busy with, and tired from, his various haut-lady invitations to attend. They are escorted to a grassy dell scattered with box seats overlooking an arrangement of daises and platforms at the bottom; the box seats, Miles discovers as the haut attendees arrive, are intended to accommodate the haut-lady bubbles. Miles asks if the women will speak, and Maz says they’d had their ceremony already; the haut-lords will speak in increasing order of rank, ending with the satrap governors, whose presence is the real reason Miles wanted to attend.
Miles studies the governors as they arrive. Mu Ceta’s aged governor, the late Empress’s half-brother, of the Degtiar constellation, had been appointed to reassure the Vervani, but Miles reminds himself that he had still accepted an illicit copy of the gene banks. Este Rond, from Komarr’s neighbour Rho Ceta, is tall and bullish, and Miles recalls that he’s tireless in his efforts to improve Cetagandan trade, and to improve the status of his junior constellation. Slyke Giaja, half-brother of the Emperor, is governor of Marilac’s neighbour Xi Ceta, arrogant and dangerous, a distinct possibility. Ilsum Kety, from Sigma Ceta, is the youngest (only 45), related in some complex fashion to Slyke Giaja.
The governors are each accompanied by a haut-lady bubble, who Maz explains are the consorts, which really means that they are Star Crèche representatives, sending genetic contracts back to the Celestial Garden and supervising the return of the uterine replicators with the contracted fetuses. Miles realizes that the consorts must have been how the Empress had communicated with the governors, and with some dismay he wonders if they are also suspects, since they do possess their own force bubbles, and one of them could thus have been closely involved with Ba Lura’s murder.
There is a hush as Emperor Fletchir Giaja arrives with his escort, the haut lords all bowing as he makes his way into the dell. Shortly thereafter the poetry recitations commence, which Miles initially finds fascinating, but soon he becomes conscious of the repetition of themes and begins to tune out, though Maz does try to keep him interested with whispered comments.
Miles meditated on the character of Lord X, trying to match it with one of the eight faces ranged before him. The murderer/traitor was something of a tactical genius. He had been presented with an unanticipated opportunity to gain power, had committed rapidly to an all-out effort, evolved a plan, and struck. How fast? The first satrap governor had arrived in person only ten days before Miles and Ivan had, the last only four days before. Yenaro, the embassy’s ImpSec office had finally reported, had put his sculpture together in just two days from designs delivered from an unknown source, working his minions around the clock. Ba Lura could only have been suborned since its mistress’s death, not quite three weeks ago.
Miles decides that this precipitousness of action, for the time-scale of the haut lifespan, smelled of youth rather than age. He wonders if Lord X is chafing at his enforced inactivity, and if he’s kept the Great Key nearby or shipped it home already. Miles finds his mind wandering, and mentally composes a limerick about the Empress and Lord X, and then one about Rian, stifling his impulse to laugh. Finally he snaps to attention as the first of the governors takes the dais. The poems are innocuous enough, though in the most challenging forms, according to Maz, and Miles is almost disappointed that Lord X didn’t weave a smug confession into his. When they are done, the Emperor leaves and the attendees are freed to sample the food.
Miles’s group are allowed into the most exclusive of the gatherings, where the governors themselves are attending, and Maz is avidly taking in as much information as she can. Governor Este Rond, when he enters, is obliged to greet the Barrayarans. Miles notes that Rond’s ghem-general is accompanied by a haut-woman, but on foot, with no force bubble but a reserved and forbidding demeanor. Vorob’yev introduces Miles to Rond, who tries a few veiled verbal sallies at the governor, winning no response. Miles asks Rond to introduce him to Ilsum Kety, which he is all too happy to do; Miles whispers to him that they know about Yenaro, but Rond is politely baffled by the remark.
Miles notices that Kety’s hair is frosted with grey, though he’s thirty years younger than the Emperor, whose hair is still black, and concludes that he’s trying to assume the dignity of age, since older men seemed to have all the power in Cetagandan society. Kety is also accompanied by a ghem-general with a haut-wife, an even more striking one, and Miles is thankful that his experiences with Rian have made him slightly less vulnerable to haut-lady charms. Miles greets the general, Chilian, and his wife, but she pointedly ignores him.
Miles smiled affably at the haut Ilsum Kety. “I understand we have a mutual hobby, governor,” he purred.
“Oh?” said Kety unencouragingly.
“An interest in the Cetagandan Imperial regalia. Such a fascinating set of artifacts, and so evocative of the history and culture of the haut race, don’t you think? And its future.”
Kety stared at him blankly. “I would not regard that as a pastime. Nor a suitable interest for an outlander.”
“It’s a military officer’s duty to know his enemies.”
“I would not know. Those tasks belong to the ghem.”
“Such as your friend Lord Yenaro? A slender reed for you to lean on, governor, I’m afraid you are about to find.”
Kety’s pale brow wrinkled. “Who?”
Miles, frustrated, wishes he could fast-penta everyone in the pavilion. He asks for an introduction to Slyke Giaja, and Kety willingly sends him over with General Chilian. Slyke Giaja is not receptive, but Miles sends Chilian with the message “Yenaro is ours”. Slyke is accompanied by a haut-lady bubble, and Miles recognizes a ghem-lady attendant as the one who’d escorted him from Yenaro’s party. Chilian delivers the message, but Slyke is unwilling to meet with Miles, and the elderly Mu Cetan governor has already left, so Miles is left to his own devices. Mia Maz joins him and says she has been enjoying listening in on the conversations, mostly about the poetry; most opinions seem to agree that the highest-ranked men had the best poems.
Miles asks Maz about the haut-ladies, and she tells him that haut ladies married to ghem-lords, and hence without bubbles, are to be treated as if they are still concealed, and never spoken to directly. Their conversation is interrupted by a ba servant–Rian’s, who had escorted him before–who says his lady needs to meet with him. Miles tells Maz to make his excuses, and that he may be some time, as he follows the ba out of the pavilion.
Now the four main-suspect governors are formally introduced to us. None of them are dead giveaways right off the bat–none of them react to the mention of Yenaro–though the appearance of the ghem-lady from the party is a bit suspicious, isn’t it? What’s she doing with Slyke Giaja? Miles’s realization about the consorts’ possible involvement may sound a bit daunting, but let me reassure you that there is definitely a governor involved, so she hasn’t just given us all the information on the prime suspects for nothing.
I’d been pronouncing Rian as “Ree-ann”, but given that Miles, in his limerick, rhymes it with “scion” and “lion”, apparently it’s pronounced like, well, “Ryan”. It’s fairly rare for an author to give such a direct pronunciation cue, and I wonder if it’s deliberate. Normally, if they’re really all that concerned that you pronounce their names right, they provide a pronunciation key, or a glossary. (I still remember the Robert Jordan signing where he led off with examples of how to say the most mispronounced names from the Wheel of Time series.) I still can’t bring myself to call her “Ryan”, though; generally I believe that pronunciation of unfamiliar names is up to one’s personal taste, but I’ve been known to change my pronunciations from time to time anyway. Normally it doesn’t come up unless you’re talking out loud about the character or reading the book to somebody else, so it’s not a big deal.
Looks like this book is sixteen chapters, so we’re already at the halfway point. I did have the sense that things were moving fairly fast, and these chapters are shorter than in some of the other books I’ve done, so it’s not that surprising. I’d been hoping there was an odd number so I could only do one this week, but no such luck, I guess. Maybe I should have, since it looks like Chapter Eight flows directly into Chapter Nine, but I guess it can’t be helped now. Ethan of Athos has only fifteen, so next book, I guess… Until next week, when I will return.