Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2012

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…

Chapter Eight

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.

Cee nodded.

“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?”

Comments

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.

Chapter Nine

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.

Comments

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…

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Good evening, or morning, or midday, or twilight, or whatever day-segment designation it may be when you read this, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  What is the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, you say?  Or do you just click on the “About” link in the right column?  If that’s not your thing, then let’s just say that it’s a “reread” wherein I “reread” the various “books” in the “Vorkosigan” “Saga” by Lois “McMaster” Bujold and then “summarize” and “comment” on “them”.

After the single-chapter installment last week, I’m now going to cover chapters Six and Seven of Ethan of Athos, which does not actually feature any Vorkosigans directly, but some of the characters know of them, so that’ll have to do.

Chapter Six

After returning the float pallet, Quinn brings Ethan by a roundabout route back to the Transients’ Lounge, to a different hostel.  Quinn relaxes once they’re in their room, and offers him some beer, spiced with vitamins.  Ethan worries about what people will think of them sharing the room, but he risks the bathroom to shave, not wanting to seem to be pretending to be a parent.  He cleans up himself and his clothes and emerges looking and feeling less scruffy.  Quinn is relaxing in a float chair, leaving the bed to Ethan.

She asks him about the biological shipment to Athos, but Ethan insists that she share her information as well.  She tells him that Bharaputra Laboratories spent a lot of time on the shipment, under strict security, before shipping it off in nine freezer containers to Kline Station.  Millisor and his compatriots arrived on Jackson’s Whole about the time the shipment was leaving for Athos and raided the Bharaputra laboratory, vaporizing it behind them, and then killing the wife of one of the geneticists and burning down his house.  They then disappeared until turning up on Kline Station three weeks too late.

Quinn herself then arrived on Jackson’s Whole, asking about Athos, and eventually managed to persuade the Bharaputrans she wasn’t in league with Millisor.  They even ended up hiring her to kill Millisor, which she accepted to keep from having to outrace another assassin.  She asks Ethan about the containers, and he explains about the ovarian cultures.  Quinn says someone obviously intercepted the shipment at some point and replaced it with garbage.  Ethan tells her that Millisor suspects Terrence Cee of being responsible, and Quinn says that whoever it was, they had plenty of opportunity, and the shipment could be almost anywhere by now.

Ethan used the pause to ask, “What is a wife?”

She choked on her beer. For all that she waved it about, Ethan noticed that its level was dropping very slowly. “I keep forgetting about you. . . . Ah, wife. A marriage partner—a man’s female mate. The male partner is called a husband. Marriage takes many forms, but is most commonly a legal, economic, and genetic alliance to produce and raise children. Do you copy?”

“I think so,” he said slowly. “It sounds a little like a designated alternate parent.” He tasted the words. “Husband. On Athos, to husband is a verb meaning to conserve resources. Like stewardship.” Did this imply the male maintained the female during gestation? So, this supposedly organic method had hidden costs that might make a real Rep Center seem cheap, Ethan thought with satisfaction.

Ethan asks if the wife who was killed had any children, and Quinn says she was pregnant, but the geneticist’s other child was left alone.  Quinn turns the conversation to the question of why Athos, and what makes the planet special.  Ethan says all they have is “nothing”, and Quinn wonders if the planet’s isolation is its allure.  Ethan explains to her about the Reproduction Centres and Quinn wonders if there’s some kind of “cuckoo’s egg” scheme, trying to seed some kind of genetic experiments onto the planet.  But they can’t figure out why the Jacksonians would do it, or why the Cetagandans are so interested if it’s not their shipment originally.  Quinn tells him that the Jacksonians will do whatever they’re paid for, so if someone had paid them to slip something into the shipment to Athos, they’d have done it cheerfully.

Quinn admits to Ethan that she’s gotten more involved than she was supposed to, in rescuing him and killing Okita when her orders to merely to observe.

“Will he, ah, be annoyed with you?” Ethan inquired nervously, with a skewed paranoid flash of her admiral sternly ordering her to restore the original balance by sending him to join Okita.

“Naw. He has unprofessional moments himself. Terribly impractical, it’s going to kill him one of these days. Though so far he seems able to make things come out all right by sheer force of will.”

She says she should go back to watching Millisor, and tells him to stay out of sight in the room.  Ethan protests that he needs to be about his mission, and needs his supplies from his original room.  Quinn tells him it’s not safe, and promises to help him with his mission once hers is done.

“Always assuming,” said Ethan, chapped, “that ghem-Colonel Millisor doesn’t outbid House Bharaputra or Admiral Naismith for your services.”

She shrugged on her jacket, a lumpy thing with lots of pockets that seemed to have a deal more swing than accounted for by the weight of the fabric. “You can get one thing straight right now, Athosian. There are some things money can’t buy.”

“What, mercenary?”

She paused at the door, her lips curving up despite her sparking eyes. “Unprofessional moments.”

Ethan spends most of the next day sleeping; on the second day he experiments with leaving the room but doesn’t get further than the hallway, deciding he could use Quinn’s protection for a little longer.  By the next day he’s bored enough to experiment with the comconsole library.

By the end of the next day he was becoming painfully aware of the inadequacy of a cultural education that consisted of two very general galactic histories, a history of Cetaganda, and a fiction holovid titled “Love’s Savage Star” that he had stumbled onto and been too stunned to switch off. Life with women did not just induce strange behavior, it appeared; it induced very strange behavior. How long before the emanations or whatever it was from Commander Quinn would make him start acting like that? Would ripping open her jacket to expose her mammary hypertrophy really cause her to fixate upon him like a newly hatched chick on its mother hen? Or would she carve him to ribbons with her vibra-knife before the hormones or whatever they were cut in?

By the sixth day his patience is running out, and he quizzes Quinn on what Millisor is doing.  Quinn says he’s not doing much–he hasn’t contacted the authorities, and he seems to be settling in to his cover identity.  She’s not sure what he’s waiting for.  The Cetagandans do keep coming back to one corridor near where they disposed of Okita’s remains, as if he had some sort of inorganic tracer.  Millisor is still eating meat, though, unlike Quinn and Ethan, so he probably hasn’t figure out Okita’s fate yet.

Ethan begins to lose his temper, questioning Quinn’s assertion that the station authorities won’t help him.  He suggests just telling Millisor that the shipment he’s chasing didn’t arrive on Athos.  He asks when she’ll let him go, and she tells him he’s free to go at any point; he’s skeptical, because of all she’s told him.  She reminds him that their biggest crime on Kline Station wasn’t killing Okita, but secretly disposing of his body, which he’s as guilty of as she is.  He tells her that the worst they can do is deport him, which would almost qualify as a reward at this point.  She tells him not to come crying back to him for help, and Ethan grabs his few meagre possessions and storms out.

He decides to try to find Millisor and settle things.  He can’t find anyone of that name registered in the Transients’ Lounge, or Rau, or Setti, and realizes that they’re probably using false identities.  He considers buying a ticket off the station, perhaps to Beta Colony, and hoping that the spies will take care of each other in his absence.  Or he could go back to his original room, but Millisor might not give him the chance to talk before killing him.

Wandering in the mall, he spots a couple of men with colourfully-painted faces, deep in conversation.  He’s nearly upon them he recognizes them, and remembers reading about the ghem-lords’ face paint.  Rau recognizes him then, and fires a nerve disruptor bolt at Ethan as he runs away.  He glances back to see that Millisor spoiled the shot, and the two Cetagandans are now arguing.  Ethan heads down a lift tube and tries hard to lose his pursuers.  He succeeds, in an equipment closet back on the stationer side, and soon realizes he is now horribly lost himself.

Comments

The death of the geneticist’s pregnant wife is not a random accident, as you might suspect by this point.  Whatever the Cetagandans are afraid of/worried about, it probably has something to do with those ovaries, and casts the shadow of a fetus…if fetuses cast shadows, that is.  Doesn’t make it any less heinous, but they can justify it to themselves, at least, as a way to keep the horrific genetic monsters from escaping out into the world…

Not sure if Elli actually tried to goad Ethan into goint out as a stalking horse or not.  Could be that she was just actually tired of him and had convinced herself he wasn’t her responsibility any more.  I guess later chapters will probably tell us.

I guess that Ethan had noticed Elli’s “mammary hypertrophy”, or at least realized in theory that it probably existed.  Maybe he was just expecting hers to be like that in “Love’s Savage Star”, which I’m sure would have been a real experience for sheltered Dr. Ethan.  From which he draws most of the wrong conclusions, according to the indoctrination of his Athosian religion or whatever it is.  (I’d also like to say here that “Mammary Hypertrophy” would be a great name for a band.)

Chapter Seven

Ethan huddles in the closet until he’s calmed down, and already regrets walking out on Quinn, ruefully reflecting on his earlier convictions that led him to leave the safety of her hostel room.  But he knows he can’t go crawling back to her, so he has to go to the Kline Station authorities.  Suddenly wondering if Quinn had planted another bug in his clothes, he strips them off and puts on a set of red coveralls and slightly-large boots from the closet.  He promises he’ll return them as soon as he’s cleared everything up with Station Security.

He passes two women in blue coveralls pushing a loaded pallet, afraid to blow his cover by asking them for directions.  Up ahead, two pallets crashes at a cross-corridor, and some birds have escaped from one of the crates.  A woman he recognizes as Helda yells at him to do something with the gravity, before she gives up, runs over to him, and turns a dial behind a wall panel.  The gravity increases as she does so, pulling the birds down to the deck, as well as Ethan, Helda, and the others.  Helda tells Ethan to help her collect the birds before they spread their disease all over the station, and he obliges; only then does she turn the gravity back down and show any concern for the others.

One man, identified by Helda as Teki, has a superficial head wound, bleeding just enough to scare the two teenagers on the other pallet.  Ethan tells the boy to put pressure on the wound and stop the bleeding, since his own hands are contaminated and he shouldn’t do it himself.  Helda calls for decontamination, Station Security, and a medic in that order, and Ethan is relieved that he won’t have to try to find Security for himself.  The decon team arrives, and Helda pulls Ethan off to go through quarantine, though he’s assured that he’ll just need a thorough scrub down and a shot; she takes him away on one of the pallets, with a sealed clear plastic canopy.

“Don’t touch your face,” Helda reminded him absently, glancing back for one last look at the disaster scene. It seemed to be under control now, the decon team having taken charge of her float pallet of birds and reopened the airseal doors.

Ethan displayed his closed fists in token of his understanding.

“You do seem to have grasped sterile technique,” Helda admitted grudgingly, settling back and glowering at him. “For a while there I thought Docks and Locks was now hiring the mentally handicapped.”

Ethan asks what was happening (in monosyllables), and Helda tells him the teenagers were likely joyriding on the pallet, and she’ll have a stern word with their parents.  The birds are impounded cargo from a freighter, but better than cows; she tells the story of a shipment of cattle that all had to be cut up and disposed.  Sometimes they try to sue the station, she says, but they lose.
She becomes suspicious at Ethan’s taciturnity, wondering if he’s sick, but he claims to just have strained his voice.  She then turns the conversation to discussing the disgusting obesity (barely perceptible to Ethan) of some passing stationers, and Ethan is relieved when they finally reach quarantine.

Ethan’s coveralls are taken away, with his ID and credit chit, but returned to him, eventually, after his decontamination shower, with instructions to report to Records on his way out.  He eventually finds it, at the same time as a now-bandaged Teki; Helda and another man are inside.  Helda reprimands Teki for his delay on the phone; Teki protests that he was talking to a relative about a business matter.  The man at the console asks Ethan for his ID card, and Ethan claims he left it at home, in his duty coveralls.  Helda is having none of it, but Teki, grateful for his help with the birds, tells him to just go get it and come back, and spirits him out the door.  He leaves Ethan in another corridor, disappearing back inside before Ethan can ask him for help.

Two hours later he’s still wandering through the stationer areas, wondering why there are so few Security stations to be found on that side as opposed to the Transients’ Lounge.  Finally he manages to find a public area with actual maps and signs, and locates himself, not too far away from his own hostel room or Quinn’s.  Watching cautiously for Cetagandans or Dendarii, he soon finds a security booth with a stationer woman inside.  He asks if she’s on duty, and if she knows about the nerve disrupter attack earlier, but she seems to misinterpret his questions as flirting, though she does tell him they are looking for more witnesses to the shooting.

“It’s the charge. Of course the fellow claims he fired by accident, showing off the weapon to his friend. But the tipster who called in the incident claimed he shot at a man, who ran away. Well, the tipster vanished, and the rest of the so-called witnesses were the usual lot—full of contagious drama, but when you pin ’em down they always turn out to have been facing the other way or zipping their boot or something at the actual moment the disruptor went off.” She sighed. “Now, if it’s proved the fellow with the disruptor was firing at someone, he gets deported, but if it was an accident all we can do is confiscate the illegal weapon, fine him, and let him go. Which we’ll have to do in another twelve hours if this intent-to-harm business can’t be substantiated.”

While Ethan is cheered by the thought of Rau in jail, that would still leave Millisor and Setti on the loose, so he doesn’t feel much safer.

Ethan took a breath. “My name is Urquhart.”

“Mine’s Lara,” said the Security woman.

“That’s nice,” said Ethan automatically. “But—”

“It was my grandmother’s name,” the Security woman confided. “I think family names give such a nice sense of continuity, don’t you? Unless you happen to get stuck with something like Sterilla, which happened to an unfortunate friend of mine. She shortens it to Illa.”

“Uh—that wasn’t exactly what I meant.”

Before he can untangle the thread of conversation, an older woman comes in and tells Lara to stop socializing on duty, they have a call.  Ethan overhears that Rau has escaped–or, rather, “vanished”–from detention.  Lara tells Ethan to look her up when she’s off duty, and the older woman shoos him out of the office so they can lock it up.

Ethan tries then to return to Quinn’s room, but finds it vacant except for a cleaning robot, which says the previous occupant left no forwarding address.  Back to the security booth, which is still locked; he sits down to wait, resolving to turn himself in as soon as possible.  He jumps when a hand falls on his shoulder, belonging to a young blond man, not one of the Cetagandans; the man addresses him by name and says he’s very interested in Athos, introducing himself as Terrence Cee.

Comments

I had to read over the pallet crash scene a few times before I was sure that the two women with the pallet were not involved in the collision ahead of him.  First of all, of course, Ethan passed them, which implied they were going the other way, whereas the collision happened ahead of him.  Not sure why they had to have a pallet too, because that just made their presence confusing.  But then, apparently, I’m easily confused by such things–like when I thought that Aral shot Cordelia back in the first chapter of Shards of Honour

I kept expecting Ethan to clue in about Teki, mentioned by Elli twice back in Chapter Five, where she tells Helda that she’s Teki’s cousin.  So Ethan misses the reference to Teki’s business phone call with family.  Was there anything about Ethan in that call?  Was Elli trying to get Teki to keep track of him, for instance?  After all, Ethan had ditched his clothes, so if she had placed another tracker in them, she’d have lost his trail…  Of course, Ethan was dressed as a stationer, so Teki might not have thought to look for him, but then again, if he and Elli knew where he’d changed his clothes, they might have been able to figure out what he was wearing.  Another thing to see if it comes up later in the book.

Ethan is so hapless most of the time that it’s almost a shock when he’s in a situation where he gets a chance to demonstrate that he’s an actual trained doctor.  So I guess he’s got one skill, at least…

The scene with Lara is hilarious, as Ethan’s attempts to confess or turn himself in or even get some help are derailed by her chatty flirtations and blithe cluelessness.  He does at least get information on what happened with Rau, but it’s not particularly cheering.  Poor guy.

But hey, at the end at least we get to meet the mysterious Terrence Cee!  For some reason I had him in my mind as a tall black guy.  And I’m pretty sure I know why–for reasons that may become clear later I’m mixing him up in my head with the rogue telepath from a first-season Babylon 5 episode (Jason Ironheart in “Mind War”).  I probably just missed the “blond” description last time through, and so my mind had to find some other way to picture him…


So Elli’s explained her side of what happened, and hopefully we’ll get some more information from Terrence Cee in the next chapter, unless the Cetagandans start chasing them again or something…  Not quite halfway through the book, and I don’t remember yet how everything turns out, but the plot has definitely thickened.

Read Full Post »

It’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, a loving, thoughtful look back at the works of Lois McMaster Bujold in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week I continue in the slightly extraneous novel Ethan of Athos, which, it turns out, has an odd number of chapters.  This means that at some point I have to do a weekly post with only one chapter instead of two (since the odds of my doing three chapters in a week is apparently quite low), and, apparently that week is this week.  So kick back and let’s take a look at Chapter Five of Ethan of Athos, wherein Dr. Ethan Urquhart and Elli Quinn try to dispose of a dead body on a space station.

Chapter Five

Ethan wakes up when Quinn throws a set of Stationer clothes on top of him.  She says she has an idea to get rid of the body, but she wants to catch the right people on shift, so they have to hurry.  She helps him dress and they leave their refuge with float-pallet and crate in tow.  Ethan is feeling a little bit better, but queasy and far from rested.  Ethan is nervous about being noticed, but Quinn says that in his red coveralls they’ll think he’s a porter in charge of the crate.

They pass through a hydroponic garden full of carrots, which makes Ethan even more nauseous; Quinn picks him a carrot to try to help settle his stomach, but he decides to stick it in a pocket for later.  She takes them through a door marked NO ADMITTANCE (on both sides), and stops in front of another door marked ATMOSPHERE CONTROL.  She tells Ethan to keep his mouth shut or his accent will give the game away.

The room on the other side of the door is surrounded by glass walls with water on the other side, filled with plants and newts.  Quinn tells Ethan that the plants are to convert CO2 to oxygen, and the newts are to keep the plants in check, but then they have to keep the newts in check.  Quinn greets a nearby technician, Dale, and tells him that the Dendarii have never experienced the joys of newt-oriented cuisine.

The tech’s eyes glinted with a humor baffling to Ethan. “What! Can there be a soul in the universe so deprived? No cream of newt soup, either, I suppose?”

“No newt creole,” confided Commander Quinn with mock horror. “No newts ‘n chips.”

“No newt provençal?” chorused the tech. “No newt stew? No newt mousse in aspic? No slither goulash, no newt chowder?”

“Bucket ‘o newts is unknown to them,” confirmed Quinn. “Newt caviar is a delicacy unheard of.”

She asks for some of their excess to take back; he offers three hundred kilos, but she says she can only afford to ship a hundred.  She does offer to dispose of the rest for him, though, or take them down to the Transients’ Lounge if they need them.  They go up to where Drew stuns a batch of newts in the tank, brings them up in a big newt trap, and packs 100 kg of them into three big cartons.  He offers to help them pack their crate, but Quinn says she wants to do it by hand, to pick only the best, and Drew goes back down.

Quinn and Ethan wrestle Okita’s body out of the crate and weigh it, then swap it with an equivalent weight of newts from one of the cartons.  Quinn explains that this will leave them in the end with only a crate full of stunned newts to dispose of, which is less fraught than a dead body.  Ethan asks if they’re going to dump the body back in with the plants, but Quinn says that he’ll see.

On their way out, Quinn tells Drew that she brought the wrong size shipping canister, but she’ll take the newts down to Disposal anyway.  After they leave, a relieved Quinn explains to Ethan that they could have just left the cartons there, but she was afraid that Drew might get an order from the Transients’ Lounge after all and open up the wrong carton…  They sell the newts up there as “frog legs” at a premium price, she adds.  The stationers are sick of the newts, but Biocontrol thinks they work just fine and refuses to diversify them.

Ethan and Quinn begin speculating about what this genetics project Millisor is so worried about might be.  Quinn suggests that maybe the Cetagandans were looking to raise super-soldiers.  Ethan is skeptical, pointing out that even super-soldiers need to be raised from babies, and the costs of child-rearing are quite an economic commitment, which couldn’t possibly be spent on something as non-productive as an army.

Elli Quinn quirked an eyebrow. “How odd. On other worlds, people seem to come in floods, and they’re not necessarily impoverished, either.”

Ethan, diverted, said, “Really? I don’t see how that can be. Why, the labor costs alone of bringing a child to maturity are astronomical. There must be something wrong with your accounting.”

Her eyes screwed up in an expression of sudden ironic insight. “Ah, but on other worlds the labor costs aren’t added in. They’re counted as free.”

Ethan stared. “What an absurd bit of double thinking! Athosians would never sit still for such a hidden labor tax! Don’t the primary nurturers even get social duty credits?”

“I believe,” her voice was edged with a peculiar dryness, “they call it women’s work. And the supply usually exceeds the demand—non-union scabs, as it were, undercutting the market.”

Ethan was increasingly puzzled. “Are not most women combat soldiers, then, like you? Are there men Dendarii?”

She hooted, then lowered her voice as a passer-by stared. “Four-fifths of the Dendarii are men. And of the women, three out of four are techs, not troops. Most military services are skewed that way, except for ones like Barrayar that have no women at all.”

“Oh,” said Ethan. After a disappointed pause he added, “You are an atypical sample, then.” So much for his nascent Rules of Female Behavior. . . .

“Atypical.” She was still a moment, then snorted. “Yeah, that’s me all over.”

Ethan eats his carrot as they enter the ECOBRANCH: RECYCLING area, and arrive at Assimilation Station B.  Inside there is a lab table with what looks like sampling equipment, as well as lot of monitors and a large machine hooked up to pipes.  A technician is doing something between a pair of conduits, and swearing vigorously.  She stands up (nametag reading “Helda”), and Quinn is obviously not pleased to see her there.  Helda is not impressed with Quinn’s excuse of doing an errand for Dale Zeeman, or her claim to be a former stationer herself, cousin of Teki (who she’d obviously hoped to actually be on shift), and rails about ignorant downsiders putting all sorts of trash into the recycling tubes (like her current example, an oxygen cylinder, freshly wrested from the pipes).

Quinn asks if they can get the cartons recycled, but Helda says it’s the wrong time for it, there’s an interment about to start.  Before she can dismiss them, though, the funeral party arrives, and Ethan and Quinn hurriedly sit down on their pallet.  The mourners say a few words, but refuse Helda’s offer to stay for the actual interment.  Once they’re gone, Helda gets down to business, undressing the corpse of an elderly man and extracting all the inorganic replacements parts.  She then puts the body into the large machine which begins to whir.  Quinn explains to Ethan that the body is being broken down to its constituents and returned to the ecosystem.  For bodies, it’s generally set to fertilize the hydroponics, rather than being sent to the protein vats, like the newts would be.  Ethan points out that Okita is going to go in with the newts, and Quinn suggests they turn vegetarian for a month.

Helda turns to find Ethan and Quinn still there, and Quinn explains that she needs to return the float pallet.  With poor grace, Helda reprograms the machine and begins to dump the cartons into it.  The third carton makes an alarming thump, and Helda is about to open the seals and check on it when Ethan, panicked, claims (in as good a stationer accent as he can manage) to have seen a cockroach.  Helda is distracted enough to go examine it, but doesn’t see anything, and Ethan says it was just a flicker in the corner of his eye.  She grumbles about idiots seeing things, but says they should call Infestation Control anyway, idly running the recycling machine one more time.

Quinn congratulates Ethan on his quick thinking, since roaches can be a real problem on space stations, liking to eat the insulation off of wiring.  She checks the time and says they need to get the float pallet and crate back to the cargo hold soon.  She stops and rents a vacuum storage locker for the remaining crate of newts, and she and Ethan lay the newts out in a storage container before sending them off to what Quinn says is storage on the outside of the station.  She says she really will have to send them back to Admiral Naismith when all this is over.  Ethan tells her that they need to have a good talk about what is really going on, and she agrees.

Comments

I’m not 100% convinced about Ethan’s “accent”…mostly because we never hear him comment on the accent of any of the stationers.  Maybe he got used to it on the ship or something, but Elli’s the one who actually raises the issue of accents.  Maybe it’s just that Elli herself talks in flawless Galactic Standard but can switch back to sounds like the born and bred stationer she is, but I never get a sense that she’s switched from one to the other.  It makes perfect sense for Athosians to have an accent, as isolated as they have been, but if so it’s barely noticeable in his word choice, and Bujold doesn’t indicate any differences in pronunciation at any point.  Compare this to the contrast between Barrayarans’ “guttural” vs. Betans’ “flat” vowels, mentioned in The Warrior’s Apprentice, at least, and probably Shards of Honour as well.  A missed opportunity to add a little more flavour, I guess.

This is the chapter that I remember most from my previous reread of the book, and I’m almost surprised in retrospect to find that it’s actually only a chapter, because in memory it seems much larger.  They seemed to take forever wandering around the bowels of the station trying to dispose of the body.  Elli does have a plan, of course, which is admittedly a little fragile because Helda being there instead of Teki almost knocks it off the rails.  Does that mean that Teki wouldn’t have noticed the thump, or would have just let Elli dump them in?  Didn’t Elli consider that the body might not slide out as easily as the newts?  I guess not.

One place (of many) where Bujold does come down on the side of plausibility is on the whole cloning issue.  Both here and elsewhere she acknowledges the reality that clones can’t just be grown to adulthood in vats, but have to be raised from infancy, and that just possibly this might be a teensy bit of work.  Quinn’s comment that “woman’s work” is generally not included in the accounting certainly rings true for today’s society, but is it still so widespread in Galactic society this far in the future?  I can see it on Barrayar, of course, as benighted and backward as it is, but on Kline Station?  Beta Colony?  Maybe I’m just overoptimistic, but it seems that at least some societies may have made some progress in equality, and that perhaps Quinn might have had some experience or at least knowledge of such societies.  Maybe she (or Bujold) just wanted to make a point, I guess…


I’m sure next week I will be back up to speed with a full two chapters, have no fear on that account, so just sit tight until then and try to think of something to do with the sudden bonus of time I’ve bestowed to you with my reduced-size, economy-version Reread Post.  Until then, I remain….

Read Full Post »

Fasten your seat belts, set your phasers on stun, and lock up your hermaphrodites, because it’s time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I revisit various books from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, a couple of chapters at a time.  This week we continue through the novel Ethan of Athos, slightly off the main line of the series, lacking the main character, but still related enough for me to include.

Chapter Three

Kline Station is in a system with a dark star and no planets, but half a dozen jump routes are available, so the station accreted over three hundred years.  It was also the point from where Athos’s Founding Fathers had launched their “noble experiment”.  It is currently politically independent, though it has changed hands several times over the years, and has about 100,000 inhabitants.
The crew of the ship that brought Ethan there from Athos had been all male, mostly because it’s a four-month round trip and women aren’t allowed shore leave there.  Ethan was mostly left to himself to acclimate to galactic culture gradually.  He started by reading all of the _Betan Journal_ entries written by women, not wanting to risk the unapproved-by-censors contents of the ship’s library, but even then he could rarely tell the difference from the male authors, or even the occasional hermaphrodite.  He can’t figure out exactly how it is the women, as “uterine replicators with legs”, are supposed to cause sin among men.

Once at Kline Station, he spends a long time in Customs, mostly being checked for microbes, before being admitted into the station proper.  It is unprepossessing at first, a dingy cargo bay with a dozen exits.  The ship’s crew and the custom’s inspectors have vanished, but there is one person in a gray-and-white uniform whom Ethan approaches for help.

“Pardon me, sir,” Ethan began, and halted uncertainly. Hips too wide for the wiry figure, eyes too large and far apart above a small chiseled nose, jaw thin-boned and small, beardless skin fine as an infant’s—it might have been a particularly elegant boy, but . . .

Her laughter pealed like a bell, entirely too loud for the reddening Ethan. “You must be the Athosian,” she chuckled.

Ethan asks for directions, and the woman expresses surprise that nobody’s given him a map, an absolute necessity for a visitor to Kline Station.  She hails a crewman who has appeared from the courier ship as “Dom”, and he comes over, not recognizing her but eager to make her acquaintance.  She (re)introduces herself as Elli Quinn, an old classmate, and explains how she had a facial regeneration done on Beta Colony, purchased for her by Admiral Naismith after she got hit in the head with a plasma beam.  She tells Dom how the Oserans were absorbed by the Dendarii, but says she’s on home leave now.

She adds that he’s let his passenger loose without a map, a remark which makes Dom suspicious of double-entendre, since apparently doing the Athos run makes one the butt of many jokes.  Elli says that explains his neglect, and she offers to take Ethan in hand herself.  Dom leaves, and Ethan almost calls him back, rather than be left alone with a woman.  Elli is amused at his obvious trepidation, saying she’s not going to bite, but Ethan still refuses her offer.  She hands him a holovid project with a map on it, showing him where the Transients’ Lounge is, and wishes him luck.

He does find the Transients’ Lounge with only a few wrong turns.  He tries to ignore the women he sees all around, even the one with a baby.  He stifles his impulse to rescue it from her, and later realizes it may very well have been a female baby anyway.  At the Lounge, it takes half a dozen people and the station computer to figure out an exchange rate for his Athosian pounds to the more readily acceptable Betan dollars, at what seems like an exorbitant rate, so he chooses the cheapest room available, the tiny Economy Cabin.

His instructions from the Population Council had been to give up on trying to recoup the Jackson’s Whole shipment, but instead to look for another supplier, starting from Kline Station, and trying to keep it under budget, while recruiting more colonists, if possible, and not getting into too much trouble.  Later the Chairman had clarified–his mission was to get the cultures and get back, period.  He heads out for a walk, taking a bubble car to the high-end passenger dock and begins walking back to get a look at the brighter side of the station.

Within the soaring transparent walls of Transients’ Lounge rioted a green fecundity of vines, trees in tubs, air ferns, orchids, muted tinkling chimes, bizarre fountains running backward, upside down, spiraling around the dizzy catwalks, lively intricate trickery with the artificial gravity. Ethan paused to stare in fascination for fifteen minutes at one fountain, sheeting water suspended in air, running endlessly in the form of a moebius strip. A breath away, across the transparent barrier, a cold that could turn all to stone in an instant lurked in deathly silence. The artistic contrast was overwhelming, and Ethan was not the only downsider transient who stood transfixed in open wonder.

Ethan also passes theatres, expensive restaurants and hostels, feelie booths, religious arcades (though Athos’s is not represented), and a wedding and a funeral.  Finally he reaches an area consulates and embassies, as well as shipping agents; he quails at the female representative at the Betan embassy, and resolves to avoid Jackson’s Whole’s entirely.  He continues past the cheap rooms and crosses into the stationers’ section.

The smells coming from a cafeteria reminds him that he’s hungry, but once again he can’t face the many women inside, so he keeps walking until he finds a doorway smelling of frying grease and alcohol, and a room inhabited entirely by off-duty male workers.  Remembering his instructions to recruit, he suppresses his shyness and walks up to some of the workers.

“How do you do,” Ethan began politely. “I represent the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization of the Planet Athos. If I may, I’d like to tell you about the pioneering opportunities for settlement still available there—”

The sudden dead silence of his audience was interrupted by a large worker in green coveralls. “Athos? The Planet of the Fags? You on the level?”

Ethan insists that he is, that he’s a doctor looking for reproductive help; this amuses the workers, who make several helpful off-colour suggestions, including going to Beta Colony for a sex-change.  Ethan tells them that not all Athosians are homosexual, that many choose chastity instead, which doesn’t impress them any.  After more coarse comments, Ethan loses him temper and punches one especially crude man, and things turn ugly.  The workers begin beating him up, until a sardonic voice announces the reappearance of Elli Quinn commenting snidely on the six-to-one odds.  Some of the workers get uneasy, noticing Quinn’s uniform, but the crude one goes after her anyway, until she casually zaps him with her stunner.  The workers let Ethan go, and Elli helps him to his feet, telling him she’ll take him back where he belongs.

As Elli leads Ethan away, he keeps thinking of better ways he could have handled the situation, before being distracted by a pair of men in blue-and-green uniforms.  Elli reassures him that they aren’t constables, just Biocontrol, entrusted with the necessary powers to preserve the ecosystem of the station.  She tells him that a station is in a delicate balance, and stations are serious about their safety drills; for instance, frost on a window anywhere outside of a cargo hold should be reported at once.

They return to the Transients’ Lounge, and Ethan notes that Elli seems to be edgier than her conversation indicates.  She offers to take him to supper, but, nervous, he pleads indigestion and flees for a lift tube.  After checking that she hasn’t followed, he recovers on a bench for a few minutes before heading back to his room.

On the promenade, he is approached by a man in a nondescript grey outfit, who addresses him by name before accosting him with a hypospray to the arm.  It takes effect before Ethan can even protest, and he is swiftly bundled away into a bubble car.

Comments

Another Naismith reference, and, of course, the appearance of Elli Quinn to tie things back to the Vorkosigan world.  Elli was a minor character in The Warrior’s Apprentice, though she did gradually acquire more importance in that book, first with her plasma scarring, which necessitated her coming back to Beta Colony, and then her help against the stalking creditor.  Whether Bujold intended her to become a more major character from her introduction, or if it was just chance, it didn’t take long for her to decide, because this is her third book, published right after The Warrior’s Apprentice.  (She doesn’t appear in The Vor Game that I recall, for some reason…)  Her conversation with Dom gives just enough backstory to be relevant for now, without being too infodumpy.

Maybe it’s just the era this was written in, but the homophobia shown by the stationer workers is almost a little extreme.  Not every planet is Beta Colony, I realize, but I wouldn’t have thought that Kline Station would be as backward as, say, Barrayar.  One would think that stationers, conscious of their fragile ecosystem as Elli claims, would be respectful of those who didn’t want to upset the population balance…  But that’s probably just the liberal in me talking, with little or no comprehension of the visceral disgust and hatred that seems to overtake some people with the prospect of homosexuality in others.  Maybe the workers there just felt that live-and-let-live was good enough, but to have some “faggot” intrude on their off-hours and try to recruit them was crossing the line.  I guess I just feel that we have “progressed” socially in the last century or two into a culture of more tolerance and less violence, and that if we’re far enough in the future that a space station orbiting another sun has been around for three hundred years, things should have progressed further.  But I suppose nothing is linear, is it?  Anyway, the forces of fairness would also likely point out that a woman crashing a similar bar on Athos wouldn’t get a much better reception…

Elli’s warning about frost on the windows is almost a little too specific–is that foreshadowing?  I guess we’ll have to wait and see…  I guess I’m not sure off the top of my head why the ecosystem is so important–plants are necessary to keep oxygen cycling going, I guess, and they are in a barren system without a lot of external resources to draw on, but as a major transfer point, one would think that they could get enough supplies through eventually.  But I guess they’re independent right now, and they don’t want to give, say, Jackson’s Whole a hold on them by needing some resource that the Jacksonians could supply.  We do see a lot more of this throughout the book, so I’ll give her a chance to convince me.

Also, to be a little indelicate, let me just mention that, for Ethan to have any chance of mistaking Elli Quinn for a man or boy, I’d have to hazard that either she is not that well-endowed or her uniform is particularly loose in that respect.  Yes, I know, breast size is one of those things that can be hard to describe, at least without making your character sound like a sex maniac for even noticing it in the first place (unless it’s the woman’s most salient feature), and Ethan assuredly doesn’t even know what to look for, but I think he’d notice such a “physical deformity”, at least from some angles, and he’d try to come up with other explanations for it before arriving at the truth.  Since I don’t recall any other descriptions from Miles’s point of view, I’m going to stick with this theory until disproven…if it matters to anyone except me, that is.

Chapter Four

Ethan awakens in a luxurious hotel room, mind moving slowly and euphorically; he notes absently that he’s tied to a chair.  The man who kidnapped him is sitting nearby, and another man emerges from the bathroom, drying his face with a towel.  The man on the chair (Captain Rau) assures the other, Colonel Millisor, that Ethan has been given a full dose.  Ethan sees his clothes and possessions on the bed and realizes that he’s naked.  Rau tells Millisor that Ethan’s map module had a tiny tracer on it, which destroyed itself as soon as he scanned it.  They weren’t able to follow the signal, though, and they think it’s possible he is involved with Terrence Cee.

The leader, the one Ethan’s kidnapper had named Colonel Millisor, grunted again, and approached Ethan to stare into his eyes. “What’s your name?”

“Ethan,” said Ethan sunnily. “What’s yours?”

Millisor ignored this open invitation to sociability. “Your full name. And your rank.”

This struck an old chord, and Ethan barked smartly, “Master Sergeant Ethan CJB-8 Urquhart, Blue Regiment Medical Corps, U-221-767, sir!” He blinked at his interrogator, who had drawn back in startlement. “Retired,” he added after a moment.

Millisor mutters about hating fast-penta.  He asks about Terrence Cee, but Ethan only knows one Terrence, a tech at the Reproduction Centre on Athos, and proceeds to tell his captors about him before they realize it’s a different man and cut him off.  They ask about the cultures from Bharaputra, and Ethan fills them in on the garbage that was in the crate; this confuses them, and they wonder if he’s resisting the fast-penta.  Millisor suggests increasing the dose, in case he’s resisting.  If the samples they’re looking for are on Athos, he says, they will have to try to destroy them before they can be brought to gestation, or else they’ll have to sterilize the entire planet.  They do give him more fast-penta, and he babbles furiously under the interrogation until he becomes ill and passes out.

When he regains consciousness, they try another drug that brings terror instead of euphoria, and continue questioning him about Terrence Cee and the samples.  After that, they move on to pain, and Ethan wishes he knew what they wanted to hear so he could tell them; they desist when he starts to convulse.  Millisor concludes that Cee managed to switch the samples somehow before being sent to Athos, but Rau insists that the clues still point to Athos.

“It may still be Athos. A plan within a plan—within a plan. . . .” Millisor rubbed his neck wearily, looking suddenly much older than Ethan’s first estimate. “The late Dr. Jahar did too good a job. Terrence Cee is everything Jahar promised—except loyal. . . . Well, we’ll get no more out of this one. You sure that wasn’t just a speck of dirt in that circuit board?”

Rau says he’s sure, but admits that Ethan probably isn’t a real agent.  They debate using him as a stalking-horse, but decide he’s useless.  It’s been seven hours, so Millisor says to get Okita to dispose of him.

Okita takes Ethan to a docking bay and up on a catwalk.  He forces Ethan to drink a bulb full of alcohol, not the first such, and says that Ethan may even survive the fall, especially in Kline Station’s light gravity, so he’ll have to break his neck first.  Ethan tries to cling to the mesh floor of the catwalk.  His belongings were all returned to him, even his Betan credit chit, but he doesn’t think bribery will work, or seduction.  He hopes that he’ll survive, to help stave off the horrible fate these men seem to have planned for Athos.

Okita decides that Ethan’s biochemistry is mixed up enough now to hide the traces of the other drugs, so he lifts Ethan up to the railing, placing his neck over it for the break.  The catwalk shakes as a figure (Quinn, of course) appears and shoots Okita with a stunner; Okita falls forward over the railing, to her dismay.  She drops her stunner and tries to grab Okita before he falls, but to no avail.  Ethan asks if he should try to help, but Elli said Okita is definitely dead, and if it’s any consolation, he killed a dozen people on Jackson’s Whole five months earlier as part of a coverup.

She tells Ethan that she’s interested in him because Millisor is interested in him, though she’s not sure why.  She admits that she’s not home on leave, but on assignment from the Dendarii.  Ethan says they thought he was a spy, and Elli apologizes, but reminds him that she did save his life just now, at least until Millisor finds out he’s still alive.  Ethan suggests going to the authorities, but Quinn says they won’t be sufficient protection, and Elli doesn’t want to reveal herself just yet.  Ethan accuses her of trying to use him as a stalking-goat too.

She helps him down to the floor of the bay, where she checks over Okita’s body.  She decides that they need to dispose of Okita’s body, which she tells Ethan is not an easy task on a space station.  The airlocks are all monitored, and anything out in space would be perfectly preserved if it were found later.  Trying to put such a large amount of “protein” down the disposal in pieces would register too much of a blip, plus it’s been tried before.  The ecology police check over the whole station too often for it to be easily hidden anywhere unless they kept moving it.

“I think I have a better idea. Yes. Why not? As long as I’m going to commit a crime, let it be a perfect one. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, as Admiral Naismith would say . . .”

She starts picking up bits of equipment around the bay, while Ethan lies on the floor feeling sorry for himself, a full day on the station, beaten up, interrogated, tortured, and implicated in a murder, without even having had a meal yet.  Elli reassures him that she is, at least, making some progress in her investigation at last, and tells him he just needs a good meal and a week in the hospital; she can, at least get him to a place to rest.  She stuffs Okita’s body into a shipping canister, cleans up the area with a sonic scrubber, gathers up the pieces of her stunner, and puts the canister onto a float pallet.  They will need to get the canister and pallet back to the docking area within eight hours, when the next ship docks there, or they’ll be missed.

Ethan asks her who these men are, anyway, and tells her of their plans for bombing Athos, which is news to Quinn.  She says she hasn’t been able to bug Millisor’s quarters, and asks Ethan about the interrogation.  He tells her consisted of a lot of him screaming, and she apologizes, having thought they’d stick to fast-penta.  She tells Ethan that Millisor works for Cetagandan counter-intelligence, and Rau, Okita, and his other goon, Setti, are his team.

“Cetagandan! Isn’t that planet pretty far from here to be interested in, um,” he glanced at the Stationer woman, “us? This nexus, I mean.”

“Not far enough, evidently.”

“But why, in God the Father’s name, should they want to destroy Athos? Is Cetaganda—controlled by women or something?”

A laugh escaped her. “Hardly. I’d call it a typical male-dominated totalitarian state, only slightly mitigated by their rather artistic cultural peculiarities. No. Millisor is not, per se, interested in either Athos or the Kline Station nexus. He’s chasing—something else. The big secret. The one I was hired to find out.”

She says Millisor was the security chief for a long-range genetic experiment, which was kept secret for twenty-five years.  Dr. Faz Jahar was the scientist in charge, until the lab exploded, killing him, and Millisor and his men had been chasing something around the galaxy for three years, leaving a trail of bodies behind them.

Elli takes them through a door marked “RENOVATION” and into a large chamber full of pillars, which she says is a half-finished reproduction of some Earth monument called “the Elhamburger or something”.  The man who started it currently has his assets tied up in litigation, so the construction is in limbo.  She tells Ethan he can stay with the canister until she gets back.  There are no blankets, but plenty of cushions, which she piles up into a nest for him.  She gives Ethan a candy bar to eat, and tells him to use the canister if he needs a bathroom, since they can’t risk using the plumbing.  She tells him she’ll back in somewhere between one and four hours.

“And now,” she rubbed her hands together briskly, “phase two of the search for the L-X-1O Terran-C.”

“The what?”

“That was the code name of Millisor’s research project. Terran-C for short. Maybe some part of whatever they were working on originated on Earth.”

“But Terrence Cee is a man,” said Ethan. “They kept asking me if I was here to meet him.”

She was utterly still for a moment. “Oh . . . ? How strange. How very strange. I never knew that.” Her eyes were bright as mirrors. Then she was gone.

Comments

Interesting…in the code name there, it’s listed in the book as “L-X-1O” where that’s one-O, not ten.  I always read that as ten.  I suppose it doesn’t make any difference, but now I wonder if that’s canonical, or just a mistake in the ebook conversion…

I’m presuming that it’s the “Alhambra”, not the “Elhamburger”.  It’s a weird thing to turn up on a space station, but I guess if you’re rich, you can waste as much space as you want.  And if this guy turns out to lose his money, then I’m sure they’ll reclaim the space fast enough.  Wonder why Bujold thought to put it in?  Had she just been on vacation in Spain?

I can’t decide if I should be referring to Elli Quinn as “Elli” or “Quinn”; I seem to be doing both, which I hope isn’t too confusing.  I’ve heard several times that authors should try to avoid having characters whose names begin with the same later, which of course “Ethan” and “Elli” do, which may explain why she is usually called “Commander Quinn” in this chapter.  (Was Ethan so attached to his name that she couldn’t change it?  Obviously she couldn’t change Elli’s, but Ethan, as a new character, should have had more freedom…  According to my wife, though, characters get attached to their names and resist having them changed.)

At least we know a little more about the samples that caused Ethan to leave Athos in the first place–they were supposed to contain something mysterious from Terrence Cee, but he must have switched them out to leave a false trail.  Except that the Cetagandans still think that Athos is important to Cee’s plan.

In a little bit of inconsistency, “Cetaganda” is definitely talked about as “a planet” rather than a group of planets united in a common empire.  Maybe that’s just Ethan’s ignorance about the galaxy, but it’s not like Quinn corrects him, so I’m going to guess that Bujold’s vision of Cetaganda wasn’t settled yet.  I don’t know if the description of Cetaganda consisting of multiple planets appeared (in publication) before The Vor Game.  Elli’s description of it being a “male-dominated totalitarian state” doesn’t sound quite accurate either, but I suppose it may look that way from a distance, with a male emperor and the usual outer face of the ghem-lords; Ethan would probably be less reassured if he knew about the haut ladies.

Ethan seems to have overcome his reservations about partnering up with a woman, but admittedly, he’s in trouble, and she seems to be the only one interested in, or capable of, helping him.  Assuming she’s being completely honest with him, and I suspect she’s still holding a few things back, but we, at least, have confidence that she’s on the side of the angels, even if Ethan doesn’t have that much trust yet.  But Millisor and the Cetagandans definitely seem the greater of two evils right now, I’d expect.


So, yay, we have left Athos, met a character we knew from before, acquired some villains and a plot, had some action scenes…  Definitely picked up a lot in this installment.  I don’t know if I can promise non-stop action from here on, but at least we have a team now, and Elli makes a good foil for Ethan, or perhaps vice versa.  Ethan is still more acted upon than acting, but perhaps he’ll become more than a dude-in-distress as the book progresses…  So tune in next week for the next couple of chapters, where we might, conceivably, find out.

Read Full Post »