Another Tuesday has come, and mostly gone, and with it has arrived another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. I shall be summing up and pointing out interesting features of another brace of chapters in one of Lois McMaster Bujold’s books about the Vorkosigans and their friends, in this case Chapters Eight and Nine of Ethan of Athos, which sticks mostly to the “friends” angle with the titular character having to deal, somewhat reluctantly, with the aid of Miles “Admiral Naismith” Vorkosigan’s trusted agent Elli Quinn. We rejoin them, or at least Ethan, on Kline Station, where he has just made the acquaintance of the elusive fugitive Terrence Cee…
After a moment’s surprise, Ethan asks Terrence what he wants from Athos. Terrence says he’s a refugee and he wants to claim asylum. Ethan is listed as Athos’s ambassador-at-large, but he admits to Terrence that he’s not really a diplomat, just a doctor. He notices how tired Cee looks, and asks him if he wants protection from Millisor.
“Oh—oh, no. You don’t understand. It’s just me, out here. I don’t have an embassy or anything like that. I mean, real embassies have security guards, soldiers, a whole intelligence corps—”
Cee’s smile twisted. “Does the man who arranged Okita’s last accident really need them?”
While Ethan is stunned speechless, Cee tells him that Millisor has all of Cetaganda’s resources, and sees himself as a “vampire hunter” destroying an abomination, doing the dirty work for the good of all, and to keep his dirty little secrets. Ethan thinks the conversation is getting off track, and asks Cee what he is, but Cee refuses to say more until he’s granted asylum. At Ethan’s hesitation, Cee seems to lose hope, talking bitterly about how everyone seems to see him as a vat-grown monstrosity. He swears vengeance against Captain Rau, in Janine’s name. Ethan points out that he himself was grown in a vat, and doesn’t think any less of Cee for it.
Cee begins to turn away anyway, and Ethan decides to grant him asylum, as long he tells Ethan what happened to the ovarian cultures. Cee is surprised that Athos didn’t receive them, and wonders what Millisor did with them; Ethan tells him about the interrogation, which implies that Millisor doesn’t know where they are either. Cee is bewildered at what would have happened to them, no less than Ethan himself. Ethan suggests to Cee that they pool their resources and find out; he agrees with Cee that he is also Athos’s senior intelligence agent (only agent whatsoever, in fact). Cee tells Ethan that he then needs some of the substance tyramine, which he explains helps power his telepathy. Ethan protests that there’s no such thing as telepathy; Cee says “There is now.”
Ethan is speechless again, until he points out that they should perhaps take their conversation somewhere a little more private. Cee offers his “safe house”, which Ethan soon realizes just means his own rented room. Ethan notes that Cee doesn’t seem to be using his powers right then, and Cee says that he doesn’t want to use them again, but supposes he will have to as the price of his asylum.
“I—I don’t know,” answered Ethan honestly. “But if you truly possess such a talent, it would seem a shame not to use it. I mean, one can see the applications right away.”
“Can’t one, though,” muttered Cee bitterly.
“Look at pediatric medicine—what a diagnostic aid for pre-verbal patients! Babies who can’t answer, Where does it hurt? What does it feel like? Or for stroke victims or those paralyzed in accidents who have lost all ability to communicate, trapped in their bodies. God the Father,” Ethan’s enthusiasm mounted, “you could be an absolute savior!”
Cee is surprised, noting that it’s mostly the espionage possibilities that occurs to people first, but he admits that most of the people who’ve talked to him about it were actually spies. He tells Ethan that he’s an unnatural being, not even human, constructed from a dozen sources, with no mother or father. Ethan points out that he himself comes from sixteen ancestors, if you go back four generations, and the only difference is how Cee’s “ancestors” were selected. The test of humanity is not where you came from, but your free will and what you do with it.
Cee strained forward. “What am I to you, then, if not a monster?”
Ethan scratched his chin reflectively. “We all remain children of the Father, however we may otherwise be orphaned. You are my brother, of course.”
“Of course . . . ?” echoed Cee. His legs and arms drew in, making his body a tight ball. Tears leaked between his squeezed eyelids. He scrubbed his face roughly on his trouser knee, smearing the tears’ reflective sheen across his flushed face. “Damn it,” he whispered, “I’m the ultimate weapon, the super agent. I survived it all. How can you make me weep now?” Suddenly savage, he added, “If I find out you’re lying to me, I swear I will kill you.”
Ethan tells Cee that he must be tired, not to mention disturbed from spending so much time looking into Millisor’s mind, which Cee agrees with. When Ethan asks, Cee tells him he’s nineteen, and Ethan asks for more of Cee’s personal history, as his “immigration officer”.
The Cetagandan scientist Dr. Faz Jahar had stumbled across a mad witch-woman with signs of the talent, and managed to convince a ghem-lord of the potential of the program, so acquired unlimited funding. After many failures, L-X-1O-Terran-C was the first survivor, but his tests proved unpromising, so Jahar’s funding was somewhat reduced, but he persevered. J-9-X-Ceta-G, “Janine”, was the only other survivor, and Terrence’s constant companion/sister/lover. Millisor had odd fantasies about her, and she was never trained as a spy. Once Terrence reached puberty, his abilities manifested and became undeniable, as long as he had a large enough supply of tyramine, and wasn’t too far away or surrounded by too many other minds. Janine and Terrence seemed to have different sensitivities, since often one of them could read a mind clearly while the other had difficulties.
Because Terrence could only access conscious thoughts, he was used more for interrogation than surveillance. He was raised to be a Cetagandan agent, but his perceptions of the thoughts of his keepers, compared with those of the dissidents he was investigating, began to erode his loyalties. Janine and Terrence began to plan their escape. They wanted to destroy the laboratory, but bring four of the newly-made children with them. Dr. Jahar died when he tried to save his notes; the children died when they made too much noise in the escape; Janine was killed by Captain Rau while Terrence was out winning money from spacers at cards to help get them offplanet. Terrence recites this all dispassionately, but by this point he is unconsciously rocking back and forth.
Terrence was unable to get Janine’s body cryogenically frozen in time to save her life, but he froze her body anyway and set himself to making as much money as he could, to get himself and Janine to Jackson’s Whole in hope of a miracle. It turned out even Jacksonians couldn’t bring her back to life, but he was offered a clone, even one force-grown to adulthood. He considered it, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.
After a pause, Ethan asked gently how this connected to the ovarian samples Athos had bought from House Bharaputra. Terrence tells him that he heard about the shipment to Athos and thought it sounded like a remote enough place for him to hide. Janine’s remains were cremated and Terrence started on a roundabout route to take him to Kline Station. When he arrived, five days earlier, he found Millisor had been there for months in his cover identity, and only the distraction caused by Ethan’s interference and Okita’s death had kept them from spotting him.
Ethan asks what Cee had the Jacksonians do to Athos’s order. When Cee denies anything, Ethan says that it took the Bharaputrans much too long to prepare the order, and that Terrence no longer seems to have all the money he said he’d accumulated. He asks if Cee had had them create an ovarian culture from Janine’s remains, rather than having her cloned, and eventually Cee admits it. He says that Janine had loved children, and he wanted to give them to her as a last gift.
Ethan is trying to put the pieces together when the door buzzer goes off. Neither of them is expecting a visitor; Ethan volunteers to open it while Cee covers him.
“Good evening, Ambassador Urquhart.” Elli Quinn, framed in the aperture, beamed at him. “I heard the Athosian Embassy might be in the market for security guards—soldiers—an intelligence corps. Look no further, Quinn is here, all three in one. I’m offering a special discount on daring rescues to any customer who places his order before midnight. It’s five minutes till,” she added after a moment. “You going to invite me in?”
As a technical quibble, tyramine is referred to several times as an “amino acid”. According to Wikipedia, though, it’s not actual an amino acid, being created from the amine acid tyrosine by removing the part of it that makes it an actual acid; as a result, it’s really just an amine. Not that it makes much of a difference to the story, as far as I can tell, I just thought I’d point that out. It’s a nice touch, too, having a catalyst required for the telepathy to work, and also has some interesting plot implications which we’ll see in the next chapter.
It turns out that Cee doesn’t know what happened to the ovarian cultures either. So if Ethan doesn’t, and Cee doesn’t, and Millisor doesn’t, and Quinn doesn’t…well, I’m not convinced that Quinn doesn’t. I don’t remember myself, actually, from my previous rereads, but I’m going to bet here that she knows something about it. After all, what happened to the ovarian cultures? They were swapped and replaced with some vaguely similar materials which, I bet, were approximately, or maybe even exactly, the same mass. Kind of like what Elli did when she wanted to get rid of Okita’s body…with a certain familiarity, almost as if she’d done such things before. She did tell Ethan she didn’t do it, though she admitted he had only her word for that… It’s also possible that something may have gone wrong with the biopolice on Kline Station and she accidentally lost it, I suppose.
Cee’s story definitely mentions only the Cetagandan ghem-lords, not even a hint of haut, so they were still a concept Bujold hadn’t come up with yet, just like Imperial Auditors. Her later explanation is just that the ghem are the ones that everyone sees, the hauts tending to keep to themselves and the higher echelons of Cetagandan society. Still, Ethan should have at least heard about them via his earlier vid lessons, or were they lacking in that bit of information? Retconning can be hard to pull off with overly-vigilant readers, I guess, if you don’t leave yourself enough room to squeeze in your changes…
Ethan’s perspective on the uses of telepathy is, perhaps, inevitable given his profession, but it’s refreshing to see. Maybe it’s just that telepaths are often seen as persecuted minorities, who have to use every scrap of their power to protect themselves, which often amounts to intelligence work on their own behalf, or at least to try to keep the powers that be from crushing them. The more practical potential uses of telepathy are more rarely heard about. Though I do recall Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men doing the occasional bit of psychological treatment of catatonic patients…
Just noticing, with Terrence’s genetic designation ending in “Terran-C”, and Janine’s in “Ceta-G”, does that have something to do with the planetary origin of their genetic components? They are, as Terrence said, mongrels made from a dozen different samples, but the designation must have picked one of them to be dominant, so maybe the majority of Terrence comes from Earth, while Janine’s came from Cetaganda itself. Of course, all of their genetics came from Earth if you go back far enough, but if we concede that the Cetagandans may have gone farther from it than most…in the haut, at least. The basis for the telepathy itself came from a Cetagandan commoner, though, so who knows where it came from originally, and what Dr. Jahar was trying to splice it with…
It’s nice to see that Ethan is so open-minded and unprejudiced about people, regardless of their origins. As long as they’re not women, of course.
Ethan is not happy to see Quinn, but realizes from her words that she must have heard his earlier conversation with Cee. She tells him the bug was in his credit chit, the one thing he never parted with. She says he was a wonderful stalking-goat, and admitted that her earlier insults were mostly designed to shift him out of her room. Ethan perforce lets her in; Cee asks if she’s a friend, and Ethan says “no” as Quinn says “yes”. Cee is visibly affected by Quinn’s appearance, but he manages to control himself. Quinn asks Ethan to introduce her, telling him that he would still have been stuck in quarantine if she hadn’t gotten Teki to spring him. He makes her introduce herself instead.
She gave him a gracious nod and turned to Cee, her studied ease not quite concealing an intent excitement. “My name is Elli Quinn. I hold the rank of Commander in the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet, and the post of a field agent in the Fleet intelligence section. My orders were to observe ghem-Colonel Millisor and his group and discover their mission. Thanks largely to Ambassador Urquhart here, I have finally done so.” Her eyes sparked satisfaction.
Cee’s suspicions return at Elli’s announcement, and he asks who she is working for. She tells him Admiral Naismith, and then Cee asks who he is working for. Quinn admits she doesn’t know, because of the nature of mercenary work. Cee says that her employers could even be the Cetagandans checking up on their own agents. Quinn says that they wouldn’t be happy with her last report–which Ethan knows is a reference to Okita’s death–and she believes that Admiral Naismith would never work for Cetagandans.
“Mercenaries get rich by taking their contracts from the highest bidder,” said Cee. “They don’t care who.”
“Ah—hm. Not precisely. Mercenaries get rich by winning with the least possible loss. To win, it helps if you can command the best possible people. And the very best do care who. True, there are moral zombies and outright psychos in the business—but not on Admiral Naismith’s staff.”
Quinn begins trying to recruit Cee for the Dendarii, offering him a lieutenantship in Fleet Intelligence. She tells him that the Dendarii promote based on merit, not arcane class distinctions. His odd origin will be no barrier, with other vat births, “genetically altered marginal habitat people”, and hermaphrodites already part of the fleet structure. Ethan points out that Cee asked for Athos’s protection, and Quinn says that a mercenary fleet would be better protection still. Cee says that they will no doubt wish to debrief him with truth drugs, and Quinn admits that that is standard procedure.
Cee asks Quinn what she’ll do if he turns her down, and she notes that they’re not off Kline station yet, and she may still be able to help with Millisor, in exchange for at least some tidbit of intelligence about the Cetagandans. Cee asks if his dead body would be good enough, and Quinn says Admiral Naismith wouldn’t like that. Cee wonders how any of them can know what others are really thinking, any more than he can at the moment. Quinn says they have to learn who to trust and put faith in; Cee says he will need to be sure, so they need to get him some tyramine.
Ethan is dismayed at the prospect that Cee will learn how pitiful Athos’s protection really is, but he agrees; Quinn goes through the Dendarii secrets in her head, decides that everything is either obsolete, already known to Millisor, or simply personal, and agrees as well. Cee asks if they have any tyramine on hand, and Quinn says they can just get some from a pharmacy. Cee says that’s not going to work, and Quinn says that makes sense, finally, of why Millisor has been concentrating on infiltrating the civilian computer system. He’ll be monitoring the pharmacies for anyone looking to acquire tyramine, and Rau or Setti will check into any alerts. Quinn thinks she has a way around it, though.
Ethan and Cee sit at the listening post set up in Cee’s hostel room, watching and listening through transmitters in Quinn’s earrings. She is fishing up briefing Teki on his part in the plan, telling him to abort if he receives no signal, by going back in and acting for tryptophan instead. Teki asks if this is to do with the guy he sprang from quarantine, or with the Dendarii. He says that if she’s in love, then Ethan is at least an improvement over “that dwarf”, Admiral Naismith.
“Admiral Naismith,” said Quinn stiffly, “is not a dwarf. He’s nearly five feet tall. And I am not ‘in love’ with him, you low-minded twit; I merely admire his brilliance.” The view jiggled as she bounced on her heels. “Professionally.”
She tells him they’ll have to start soon, or Teki will be late for work; Teki says she has to promise to tell him the whole story later. He also wonders why she keeps having to say “Nothing can go wrong” if this is such an easy job. Quinn parts from Teki, window-shopping while keeping him in earshot, and Teki goes into the pharmacy. Teki places his order, which the pharmacist comments on; when he enters it on the computer, something seems to go wrong, and he grumbles that he’ll have to do it manually. Cee says this is probably part of Millisor’s trap, adding in a delay so his agent can get there. Teki sits down to wait as the pharmacist dusts off a book and heads into the back; Elli browses the pharmacy shelves, careful to keep from seeming too interested in Teki. It doesn’t take long before a new customer enters the pharmacy–Rau. Rau also keeps an eye on Teki, but doesn’t seem to realize that Elli is involved as well.
When Teki’s order is ready, he pays for it and goes to sit outside; Rau follows and sits nearby. Elli continues window-shopping until, in frustration, Teki gets up, trying to leave his package behind, but Rau calls his attention to it. Teki retrieves it, then, unwillingly, returns to the pharmacist.
“Excuse me,” Teki called to the pharmacist. “But is it tyramine or tryptophan that’s the sleep aid?”
“Tryptophan,” said the pharmacist.
“Oh, I’m sorry. It was the tryptophan I wanted.”
There was a slightly murderous silence. Then, “Quite, sir,” said the pharmacist coldly. “Right away.”
Back in the hostel room, Quinn says it wasn’t a total loss; they know Rau is manning Millisor’s listening post, and the Cetagandans will doubtless spend far too much time following Teki around, spreading themselves thinner. Cee is not happy about the failure to get the tyramine, though. Quinn tries to come up with a plan to steal it instead, until Ethan asks Cee if it really needs to be purified. Cee says that’s what they always used, but he doesn’t know. Ethan makes up an extensive list of food and drink that contains tyramine, which he says Millisor couldn’t possibly be monitoring, though some of it is probably a bit exotic for Kline Station. Elli goes out shopping and returns two hours later with two large bags.
“It—seems rather a lot,” remarked Ethan.
“You didn’t say how much,” Quinn pointed out. “But he only has to eat and drink until he switches on.” She lined up claret, burgundy, champagne, sherry, and dark and light beer bulbs in a soldierly row. “Or passes out.” Around the liquids in an artistic fan she placed yellow cheese from Escobar, hard white cheese from Sergyar, two kinds of pickled herring, a dozen chocolate bars, sweet and dill pickles. “Or throws up,” she concluded.
The hot fried chicken liver cubes alone were native produce from the Kline Station culture vats. Ethan thought of Okita and gulped. He picked up a few items and blanched at the price tags.
Elli says that some of it was indeed hard to find except in import shops, and wonders how this is going to look on her expense account. Ethan and Quinn set up the meal, and Cee sits down to eat it, asking if they’re sure this is going to work.
Teki gets yet another role in the plot. I guess he wasn’t actually there for his first role, when they had to deal with Helda instead, but he did help Ethan out of quarantine, and now he gets to be…not quite a stalking-horse, I guess, or was he? He was an innocuous substitute, not really in danger, but designed to test the trap anyway. I’m suddenly reminded of the other cousinly relationship in the series, Miles and Ivan… Guess who gets to be Ivan?
Elli was supposedly listening in on Ethan and Cee’s previous conversation, so she should have known how unwilling Cee would be to work as an Intelligence agent, and yet she had to put forth the offer anyway. From her previous statements, she didn’t know that Terrence Cee was even a person, as opposed to a genetic sample, so she (and Miles) probably didn’t have any information about the telepathy either, but she seems to have adjusted well to the idea. Still, she sees it through her own filter, as an intelligence agent.
Early hints of the Elli/Miles romance, which doesn’t actually come to fruition until…when, sometime between Brothers In Arms and Mirror Dance? I know it’s an established fact by Mirror Dance, but I can’t remember if we see its actual genesis. Guess I’ll have to wait until I get there. Is it the normal Dendarii employers behind this mission, by the way, which is to say, Barrayaran Imperial Security? It does seem like the kind of thing ImpSec would be interested in, based on the conversation Miles overheard between Rian and Millisor in Cetaganda, but Quinn doesn’t know, and Miles never brings up the topic in any of the other books, so we may never know for sure.
Bujold does seem to have gotten her information on foods containing tyramine right; at least, it seems to match up with the Wikipedia article. An amusing solution to their dilemma, if not a very efficient one, given how much food Cee will need to eat to get enough tyramine…
Six more chapters left, three weeks, and I honestly don’t remember exactly how this one works out. I remember the last chapter, but not the climax, so I guess I’ve got that to look forward to. And my guesses (if you can call them that, given that I’ve read the book twice before) registered about Ethan’s samples. Until next week, then…