Welcome back, every so slightly belatedly, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I go through the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga a chapter or two at a time, summarize them, share some of the best quotes, and come up with a few insights to share with you.
On some planet, somewhere in the galaxy, this is probably Tuesday, but on this planet it looks like I just got a day behind due to personal reasons that I’m not really going to go into because this isn’t a personal blog. How will this affect the future of the Reread? More on that below, but for now, here’s the next two chapters of Ethan of Athos, as we see what hijinks Elli Quinn, Terrence Cee, and Dr. Ethan Urquhart get up to when they’re all working together against Ghem-Colonel Millisor.
Ethan shares some of the wine with Terrence, but stops before getting more than a little buzzed. Cee asks if he’s sure that none of the shipment that arrived on Athos could have been part of the original contents, and Ethan confirms that it was nothing more than trash, and there’s no way that Janine’s cultures could have been in there. Cee says he saw the original shipment onto the shuttle on Jackson’s Whole; Quinn says that means the switch must have happened on Kline Station, during the two months they were waiting for Ethan’s ship, and hundreds of ships could have left with the crates in that time. Quinn admits that if she was going to track it down, she’d rather let Millisor do the work and just follow him. She’d also rather just take a genetic sample directly from Terrence. Cee says that eventually Millisor’s team will discover his arrival on Kline Station, so he can’t wait that long. Quinn reminds him that they’ll be wasting time following Teki around.
Cee asks Ethan if they want to recover the shipment, and Ethan says they’ve pretty much written it off as a dead loss. He’d rather buy a new one than recover the old one but attract a Cetagandan attack on their planet, and would almost feel safer if Millisor just recovered it. Cee says that he cannot accept the results of the Cetagandans regain the telepath gene, with the possibility to breed new telepaths without so much inconvenient free will. Quinn points out that Millisor’s mostly interested in keeping the gene out of everyone else’s hands, since the Cetagandans will eventually be able to reconstruct it now that they know it’s possible. She adds that it might be better if, by that time, there were a race of free telepaths available to oppose them.
Cee asks if Admiral Naismith would be any better, and Ethan suddenly realizes that Cee’s questioning indicates that his telepathic abilities have been activated. Quinn suggests just giving the gene to all of the governments, giving Millisor apoplexy and keeping Athos from being singled out, but Cee says he doesn’t want to risk creating that many persecuted slave telepath minorities. Ethan realizes that he’s present at the cusp of a major historical change, and finds the sensation dizzying.
Cee says that he’d rather just kill himself and be done with it, except for his promise to Janine. He tells Quinn that if she can find Janine’s samples for him, he’ll go along with her. Quinn points out that her mission is essentially over, and she could satisfy her commander simply by stunning Cee and taking a tissue sample, just for their information.
“What do you want of me?” Cee demanded. Anger edged his voice. “To trust you?”
Her lips thinned. “You don’t trust anybody. You never had to. Yet you demand that others trust you.”
“Oh,” said Cee, looking suddenly enlightened. “That.”
“You breathe one word of that,” she smiled through clenched teeth, “and I’ll arrange an accident for you like Okita never dreamed of.”
“Your Admiral’s personal secrets are of no interest to me,” said Cee stiffly. “They’re hardly relevant to this situation anyway.”
Cee then turns his attention to Ethan, which involuntarily causes Ethan to immediately think of all the sins and secrets that he’d want to keep hidden, including his physical attraction to Terrence. He wishes he had the chance to really try to sell Cee on the beauty of his world of Athos, to take him sailing on their oceans. Cee comments that he never saw any oceans during his life on Cetaganda, and Ethan realizes how transparent he’s being. Cee asks if Ethan can shelter Janine’s genes as well as Cee himself, and Ethan admits that he doesn’t know he’s even going to save himself yet.
Quinn points out that they haven’t found the ovarian samples yet, and none of the parties involved seem to know where they are. Cee says that anyone who knew what it was would probably covet it, including governments and criminals. Ethan suggests House Bharaputra, but Quinn points out that any Bharaputrans who knew about them were killed by Millisor’s group, or else Quinn would have been tasked with recovering Millisor and the samples rather than just killing the Cetagandans. Ethan suggests some random entrepreneur, but Quinn says that’s all they need, to widen the circle of suspects. She asks Cee if he’s done with his scanning, and Cee says he is, obviously suffering from a major headache. Quinn goes out to gather more information; Ethan gives Cee some painkillers, and they both try to get some sleep.
Quinn returns a while later, waking Ethan and Cee. Nothing new from Millisor and Rau, and no information from attempting to pump the warehouse supervisor. Cee notes the time and says he has to get to work, to maintain his cover identity and continue working toward a ticket off the station. Quinn says she can take care of the ticket, but Cee says she’ll only offer it in the direction she chooses. Cee goes off to get ready, and Quinn asks Ethan if he said anything more. Ethan says they just slept, but he’s been trying to think of a new angle for the shipment, like pursuing where the trash that arrived on Athos might have come from.
They are interrupted by a signal on Quinn’s beeper, on Teki’s emergency code. Quinn calls back and discovers that it’s Teki’s girlfriend Sara. She says that Teki never met her for their date last night, and starts to leave an annoyed message with Quinn, but Quinn, alarmed, says she hasn’t heard from Teki either. She tells Sara that she saw Teki just before his work shift; Sara said she’d been calling around to Teki’s friends, and got Quinn’s number from her father. Quinn becomes very serious and tells Sara to file a missing persons report for Teki, to use Quinn’s name and talk to Captain Arata directly.
Quinn hangs up and says that Millisor has probably decided to pick up Teki for questioning, which would be bad because he doesn’t know about much except for Elli’s involvement, and this will blow her cover. Cee says that Millisor must be getting desperate.
“I meant to push Millisor off-balance.” Quinn bit through a fingernail with an audible snap. “But not that far off. I gave them no reason to take Teki. Or I wouldn’t have, if he’d done what I told him and turned around immediately—I knew better than to involve a non-professional. Why didn’t I listen to myself? Poor Teki won’t know what hit him.”
“You didn’t have any such scruples about involving me,” remarked Ethan, miffed.
“You were involved already. And besides, I didn’t use to baby-sit you when you were a toddler. And besides . . .” she paused, shooting him a look strangely akin to the one Cee had just given him, “you underestimate yourself,” she finished.
Quinn starts to leave the room, then stays behind and paces instead. She wonders why they’ve had him so long; Teki didn’t have a tracer on him, like Ethan did, and his past is well-documented on the station, unlike Ethan’s. Cee points out that they couldn’t find anything out about Ethan, but if they think he’s involved anyway, then they’ll be less likely to give up on Teki. Quinn says they’re likely in Millisor’s room, the one she hasn’t been able to bug, and she tries to puzzle out a way to get into it. She says that Millisor is likely trying to provoke her into acting hastily, and tries to think of what Admiral Naismith would do.
“Never do yourself,” muttered Quinn, “what you can con an expert into doing for you. That’s what he’d say. Tactical judo from the space magician himself.” Her straight back held the dynamism of zen meditation. When she turned her face was radiant with jubilation. “Yes, that’s exactly what he’d do! Sneaky little dwarf, I love you!” She saluted an invisible presence and dove for the comconsole.
Cee and Ethan stand by in puzzlement as Quinn places a call to the Ecobranch Epidemiology Hotline. She reports a potential disease vector for a particularly nasty new strain of “Varusan Crotch-rot”, which she blushingly confesses to have caught from him herself. She gives Millisor’s cover identity and provides her real name before signing off, telling Cee and Ethan that she’s just committed a major crime by her false report. She says that Ecobranch may need some backup against the Cetagandans, so they head off to help.
See, I told you Teki was the Ivan! He’s even been taken hostage to fulfill the “dude in distress” role. Tough luck for him, of course, especially if he’s getting the interrogation that Ethan got, except with less reason… Except being related to that dangerous provocateuse Elli Quinn, that is.
More of Elli’s crush on Admiral Naismith, with one of those “I love you” outbursts that would have been incredibly awkward if Miles had actually been in the room. To be offset by “sneaky little dwarf”, to be sure. Her willingness to implement her plan by not only perjuring herself (sort of) but admitting to sex with a disease-carrier is heroic, to be sure.
I’m going to assume that the secret about Admiral Naismith that Elli is so concerned about Terrence spilling is Naismith’s dual identity as Lord Miles Vorkosigan. I actually wasn’t sure that Elli was in the loop on that one, but I guess she might have figured it out during the trip back to Beta Colony in The Warrior’s Apprentice, if nothing else.
Both Terrence and Elli seem to be convinced that Ethan is totally underestimating his competence here, and I have to admit, I’m not sure why. The list of Ethan’s actual achievements so far amount to keeping his head above water, and that with a lot of help from other people. Maybe he should be getting a medal just for being brave enough to leave his planet when he thought the rest of the galaxy was like Land of the Succubi, but somehow I don’t think Elli, at least, would give him any credit for that one. Sure, he is a skilled doctor, and he shows a certain amount of determination, but I’m sure he’s convinced that he’s the last hope for his planet’s future; does that make him heroic? I’m not sure I buy it.
Ethan, Quinn and Cee go down to the corridor outside Millisor’s room; Cee stays by the lift tubes with one stunner, while Ethan and Quinn position themselves where they can keep a watch on Millisor’s door. Quinn has the other stunner, leaving Ethan armed with nothing more than a medkit. She tells Ethan that Teki will doubtless be needing a fast-penta antagonist as soon as they can get to him.
They duck into a door niche when two Ecobranch personnel and a Security guard come down the hallway with a sealed passenger pallet. Ethan is dismayed to see that one of them is Helda; Quinn encourages him to act inconspicuous, drawing him close to cuddle, which of course makes him intensely uncomfortable, but he tries to play along. Quinn’s beeper goes off, and she checks it to see that it’s Millisor calling, probably having squeezed her number out of Teki to try to pressure her.
Helda buzzes the room and calls “Harman Dal”‘s name, but nobody responds. She points out to the Security guard that it’s definitely occupied, and with company. After the third buzz with no response, she tries an override, but it still doesn’t open, which the Security guard notes happily is a fire-safety violation. Helda, incensed, accesses the fire-control panel and taps in a code which is followed by a muffled roar and cries from within the room. Quinn explains to Ethan that this is the station version of a sprinkler system–a system to pump all the air out of a room. They hear pounding on the door from inside, but Quinn whispers that they can’t open it from the inside because of the pressure differential.
Helda reverses the controls and pumps the air back; the door pops open and Millisor and Rau stumble out. Millisor begins protesting about his diplomatic immunity protecting him against anything short of a major felony, but Helda says that a biocontrol emergency overrides any of the laws that might protect transients. Rau spots Ethan and Quinn, and points them out to Millisor, who subsides.
The Security man spots the Cetagandans’ hostage inside, tied to a chair, and bleeding. Quinn steps forward to offer Ethan’s medical assistance, and they enter the room, followed by Helda. Teki is tied up with wires that have cut into his wrists and ankles, and has a bloody nose and a couple of minor head wounds, but his eyes are bright with fast-penta intoxication. Helda recognizes Teki and begins to berate him, but Teki says muzzily that he’s off-shift and doesn’t have to put up with her. The security guard asks if this was a “private act” or not, and Ethan tells him curtly that he was kidnapped, drugged and tortured as he cuts Teki loose.
Helda, closing in, turned her head at the sound of Ethan’s voice and stared at him. “You’re no doctor,” she gasped. “You’re that moron from Docks and Locks again. My department wants a word with you!”
Teki yelped with laughter, causing Ethan to drop the sterile sponge he’d been applying to his ankle. “Joke’s on you, Helda! He really is a doctor.” He leaned toward Ethan, nearly tipping the chair, and confided conspiratorially, “Don’t let on you’re an Athosian, or she’ll pop an artery. She hates Athos.” He nodded happily, then, exhausted, let his head loll sideways again.
Ethan tells her that he is, indeed, a doctor from Athos, and an Ambassador, on a special mission. Teki warns Ethan not to tell her that, because she’s been irrational about Athos ever since her son snuck off there–at age 32. Helda asks him if he has an antidote for the truth serum, so they can sort this all out down in quarantine. Ethan begins to think about how Helda has near-dictatorial powers down there, and shouts for Quinn, who enters, hearing Millisor and Rau with her stunner.
He tells her that the one thing they hadn’t figured out was where whoever-it-was had gotten the material to replace the ovarian cultures destined for Athos. Very few people would have had access to human, or bovine, ovaries on Kline Station, except maybe someone like Helda who had access to a lot of cadavers, and even they must have run out of time before the shipment was due to leave, hence the frantic cow-part substitutions to try to cover it up. Helda tells him he’s crazy and repeats that they need to get to Quarantine; Ethan asks about the shrink-wrap that they found as well, and Teki chimes in that they use the shrink-wrapper all the time.
Ethan asks Helda why, and she tells him that she wants to cut those “motherless unnatural bastards” off, until her son came home and found a real woman, and gave her some grandchildren that she’d be allowed to visit… The Security man is agog at the prospect of arresting an eco-cop. Millisor is more interested in what she did with the ovarian cultures that had been in the shipment. Helda says she threw them out, and Millisor becomes livid with rage, lunging at her to be felled by two stunner beams. Quinn points out Rau as the escaped fugitive from the other day, and suggests they search the room for contraband military equipment.
The Security man and Helda’s fellow eco-cop insist they all go down to Quarantine, which Rau will find much harder to break out of than mere detention cells, and more Security guards show up to back him up.
“Yes, sir?” said one of the new officers.
“Took you long enough,” said the Security man. “Search that one,” he pointed to Rau, “and then you can help us run ’em all to Quarantine. These three are accused of vectoring communicable disease. That one’s been fingered as the jailbreak from C-9. This one’s accused of theft by that one, who appears to be wearing a Station code-uniform to which he is not entitled, and who also claims that one over there was kidnapped. I’ll have a printout as long as I am tall of charges for the one out cold on the floor when he wakes up. Those three are all gonna need first aid—”
Ethan, reminded, slipped up to Teki and pressed the hypospray of fast-penta antagonist into his arm. He felt almost sorry for the young man as his foolish grin was rapidly replaced by the expression of a man with a terminal hangover. The Security team in the meanwhile were shaking all sorts of glittering mysterious objects out of the unresisting Rau.
“—and the pretty lady in the gray outfit who seems to know so much about everybody else’s business I’m holding as a material witness,” the Security man concluded. “Ah—where is she?”
Final confrontation! The good guys have defeated the bad guys, and the puzzle of the missing ovarian cultures has finally been solves, so we must be close to the end! Or so it seems…but there’s still four chapters left, and surely there can’t be that much denouement left, can there? There must be a few loose plot threads around…like House Bharaputra, or the other Cetagandan guy, Setti. And I’m not convinced that the ovarian cultures are actually lost forever, but I can’t remember if I have grounds for that optimism or not. I know that Ethan doesn’t go home empty-handed… Oh, and Terrence Cee was standing around down by the lift tubes being conveniently absent for this chapter. I guess if Millisor had come out to find him in the hallway, he’d really have been unable to restrain himself, so it’s probably for the best.
Anyway, it’s a great scene, showing that the station authorities are not entirely powerless after all, if you can get them mobilized in the right direction. Only Ecobranch seems to have the authority to go in without warrants, though, whereas Security can’t do much unless they find actual evidence, hence the necessity for Elli’s prevarication. And the reason why making those false claims is a serious crime, of course, because of the monster they unleash. Looks like she skipped out before she could get charged, but good luck to her getting off the station, since she used her real name and everything.
I barely remembered about Helda from before, but the author took care to have her show up several times, so she became a believable antagonist. Her motivations have nothing to do with the whole Cetaganda-Terrence Cee plotline at all, except for the coincidental involvement of Athos and the effect her actions had on the various factions. We don’t really like her, and unlike Ethan I don’t even have that much sympathy for her after we discover the reason she hates Athos. I mean, her son left, and reading between the lines it was probably because nothing he did, and no woman he dated, was ever good enough for her, and he’s been sufficiently traumatized by it to go to a planet that will keep him from ever having to see her again. So in return she tries to wreck the future of an entire planet? I’m not sure she even fully understand the damage she was doing, but on the other hand, she admitted she was willing to keep doing it as long as she had to…to get her son to come back. I can’t even accuse her of having good intentions, and I can’t even believe that she’d forgive her son if he came back, or stop picking on his girlfriends, or be nicer to him. She’s not a borderline psychopath like Millisor (or, you know, Bothari), but…well, maybe she is. She’s definitely lacking in a lot of human empathy, which is probably why she likes being able to lord it over people down in Ecobranch and punish people for whatever minor infractions she could find. With luck she won’t get to do that anymore…
Also with any luck I’ll be back next week for the next two chapters, and I wouldn’t even rule out getting back to my Tuesday schedule, but I’ll have to see. This week was a clear sign that I shouldn’t always do it on the last two days, because things happen, and my life is in a bit of flux right now, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get myself to work too far ahead. If I can’t handle it, I may drop back to one chapter a week for a while. I’ve been trying to emulate Leigh Butler’s tremendous Wheel of Time rereads, and while she’s kept up a fairly good schedule, even she had to take a week off every once in a while, so be prepared for the occasional gap. If I’m planning to skip an entire week, I’ll try to post a note to that effect; otherwise I’ll just try to come out with it a day or two late. I’ll have to play it by ear, but all in all, I’m still enjoying this enough that I’m not likely to just up and quit without a more major personal upheaval than I’ve encountered thus far.
So–hopefully you’ll see two more chapters next week, so we’ll see which, if any, of those loose plot threads, show up to plague our heroes. As always, if you can’t wait that long, you can always read ahead on your own.