Greetings and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread–on time this week, as I’ve generally defined it, at least–for the next, and penultimate, installment of Ethan of Athos. While this novel doesn’t directly involve the Vorkosigan Saga’s main protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, he is indirectly involved through his agent Elli Quinn, so it totally counts, according to me, anyway. This week I cover Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, wherein we discover that last week’s a-little-too-easy climactic confrontation was not the real climax after all, so at least there’s that.
In Quarantine, Rau accompanies his unconscious superior while Ethan is escorted into a meeting with Security personnel, soon joined by Captain Arata. Though Ethan intends to tell the truth, he finds himself omitting Terrence Cee, the death of Okita and the details of the Cetagandan gene pattern that had “contaminated” the ovarian cultures. One of the officers points out that Helda did him a favour in saving Athos from that contamination, and Ethan suddenly realizes that they’re afraid he’ll make a stink, which will damage Kline Station’s reputation for the security of their warehouses. This gives him some leverage, which he begins to make use of. The charges against him are dropped because of his diplomatic status, and he is assured that Helda will be taking early retirement, and that the two Cetagandans are being deported.
They ask him where the other two Cetagandans are, and Ethan is distressed to realize that Setti is still at large. He tells them ask Elli Quinn about what happened to Okita, though she’s probably already headed back to the Dendarii, with Cee in tow. Ethan is free to go, but he asks if he can speak to Millisor before he leaves. Millisor’s examination is just finished, with no sign of any form of the disease that Quinn had imputed to him, which severely annoys the ecotechs; Arata promises to deal with it.
Ethan enters Millisor’s room, Arata in tow, to find the ghem-lord restrained. He asks Millisor if he’s convinced now that Athos never had the shipment from Jackson’s Whole; Millisor says he doubts everything, but it does seem unlikely that it was on Athos. He asks Ethan what he thinks of Terrence Cee, and speculates on whether Cee’s admitted attractiveness was part of his gift. Ethan says he hasn’t discussed Cee with anyone; Millisor says that Cee must still be on Kline Station. Ethan says he doesn’t know where Cee is, or Quinn either, for that matter, and wants nothing more to do with them.
Millisor says he admires Quinn, and wonders what her price would be. Ethan says he doubts any price would be high enough, and explains that she’s obviously in love with her commander. Millisor wonders, if Ethan is not working with Cee, how he feels about having been Cee’s dupe. Ethan says all Cee tried to do was immigrate to Athos, and maybe commemorate his wife in the ovarian cultures. Millisor says it was more than that–the gene-complex was recessive, and had been added to every one of the ovarian cultures, so it would have manifested on Athos two generations later. Ethan is not slow to see the implications, how the obsolescence of the old cultures would eventually lead to the whole population being bred from the ones Cee had modified until the whole planet carried the telepathy gene. Only on Athos, so reliant on the cultures and uterine replicators, could this plan have worked, and it explained where Cee’s money had gone on Jackson’s Whole–into splicing the gene-complex into Athos’s cultures.
Millisor tells Ethan that Cee is charming, but only because of his talent, and that he is dangerous, not human, and a virus that must be wiped out. He asks for Ethan’s help, but Ethan said that Cee didn’t strike him as any worse than Okita, a bored killer, nothing more than a tool for Millisor to use. Ethan reiterates that he doesn’t know where Cee is, except that he’s not going to Athos, and Millisor regrets that with the shipment he lost a useful tool for locating him. Ethan leaves, his parting shot being that Millisor’s pitch might have worked on him if he’d tried it when they first met.
Ethan returns to his original hostel room, which he’d hardly had a chance to use, but which still contained all his personal effects. He thought over his experiences and wondered whether it was day or night, missing Athos. Restless, he went back out, and began checking into other sources for ovarian cultures; he soon concluded that Quinn had probably been right in recommending Beta Colony. He planned out a route that went through Escobar, where he could stop over and check them out for economy’s sake. He is woken from a nap by a call on his comconsole from Terrence Cee.
“Well. I didn’t expect to hear from you again.” Ethan rubbed sleep from his face. “I thought you’d have no further use for the asylum of Athos. You and Quinn both being the practical sort.”
Cee winced, looking distinctly unhappy. “In fact, I’m about to leave,” he said in a dull voice. “I wanted to see you one more time, to—to apologize. Can you meet me in Docking Bay C-8 right away?”
“I suppose,” said Ethan. “Are you off to the Dendarii Mercenaries with Quinn, then?”
“I can’t talk any more now. I’m sorry.” Cee’s image turned to sparkling snow, then emptiness.
Ethan suspects that Quinn was nearby, inhibiting his conversation, and toys with the idea of telling Arata where to find her, but decides that he and Quinn are even and thus quits. Outside the hostel a dark-skinned man approaches him; Ethan decides he’s the wrong race to be a Cetagandan, thus not Setti, but is still standoffish when the man addresses him by name. The man offers a message-capsule to him to give to Millisor; Ethan tells him to give it to Kline Station Security instead, but the man tells him to take it anyway, since who knows what fate has in store? Ethan backs away from him, so the man shrugs and leaves it on a bench instead. Ethan threatens to turn it in to Security, but the man leaves, unconcerned, and Ethan eventually picks it up, promising to hand it off to Arata at his next opportunity.
The docking bay where he’s to meet Cee is around the other side of the station, so Ethan takes a tube-train. The docking bay is quiet; Ethan notes one ship docked there, some kind of fast courier, and wonders at Quinn’s expense account.
Terrence Cee, dressed in his green Stationer coveralls, sat wanly on a packing case, alone in the middle of the bay. He looked up as Ethan stepped out of a ramp corridor. “You came quickly, Dr. Urquhart.”
Ethan glanced at the flex tube. “I figured you were catching a scheduled run of some sort. I didn’t realize you’d be traveling in this much style.”
“I thought perhaps you wouldn’t come at all.”
“Because—why? Because I’d found out the whole truth about that shipment?” Ethan shrugged. “I can’t say I approve of what you tried to do. But given the obvious problems your—your race, I guess—would suffer as a minority anywhere else, I think I can understand why.”
A melancholy smile lit Cee’s face, then was gone. “You do? But of course. You would.” He shook his head. “I should have said, I hoped you would not come.”
Cee gestures to where Quinn is moving forward, prodded by a man dressed in a Kline Station Security outfit. Quinn is minus her jacket, boots, and stunner. Ethan is initially amused that she’s finally been caught by Security, before he notices that the Security man holds a non-regulation nerve disrupter. Then he sees Millisor and Rau coming up behind.
Okay, I guess everything wasn’t evenly wrapped up after all. And apparently Millisor and Rau didn’t have that much trouble getting out of Quarantine after all; I guess it did turn out that they didn’t have Venusian Crotch Rot or whatever, and if Setti had managed to infiltrate Station Security, then he could probably whisk them out. That might explain why we’ve seen so little of Setti, if he’s been busy lying low as an ace in the hole for Millisor.
Did anyone else think that Ethan should possibly be a little more suspicious about Cee’s call? I guess he hasn’t seen as many vid-thrillers as he could have (they must have those, even on Athos–if nothing else, a fair sampling of twentieth-century movies wouldn’t violate their censorship laws to any great degree), or he would have spotted the warning signs–a summons to meet far away (the other side of the station), looking uncomfortable and frequently glancing at someone you can’t see, and not being able to talk for very long. Ethan does rationalize these for different reasons, but I can’t help but think that Miles, or Quinn, would have spotted the difficulty right away. (Like that guy on the mining station in The Warrior’s Apprentice whose messages were made of 100% recycled other messages, without a continuity editor…) Oh, well, Ethan’s relative lack of competency is part of his charm, I suppose. One hopes that Quinn fell for something a little more sophisticated, like Setti in disguise.
Ethan’s conclusion that the dark-skinned man can’t be Cetagandan is suspect on multiple levels. First of all, there’s no particular reason to think that entire planets have to all be homogeneous, racially, unless each one is supposed to have been founded by a homogeneous culture and then maintained strict immigration guidelines. Admittedly, Ethan did read up on Cetaganda earlier, so maybe he’s well-informed here, but then it’s troubling in a different way. Cetagandan ghem-lords are supposed to be genetically superior (though admittedly I’m not sure if Bujold had arrived at that yet when she was writing Ethan of Athos), so if they’re all white…that’s not a good thing for an author to be asserting. I don’t remember a lot of dark-skinned Barrayarans either, perhaps barring that Greek minority (and I’m never sure if “dark-skinned” is supposed to mean “swarthy in a Mediterranean way” or “dark as a pure-blooded Central African”), but sometimes people go out of their way to never mention skin colour, even when it’s unrealistic. If somebody has dark skin, I’m going to notice it, and I’ll use it to describe them (to myself, if nothing else), the same way I would if they had red hair or a big nose, without meaning it to be in any way discriminatory except in the most literal sense of “being able to tell different things apart”, but some people seem to write as if people will stop actually noticing these things except on the most superficial level. It may stop being something used to prejudge people, but I don’t think it will become something nobody even notices.
Ethan and Quinn both end up in front of the nerve disrupter, while Rau holds a stunner on Cee. Quinn whispers to Ethan that they tracked her down through her beeper, and wishes she’d gotten rid of it when she had the chance.
Millisor tells Ethan that he’s glad he could join them, so he can dispose of Ethan and Quinn at the same time, since they know too much. Millisor tells them that he plans to put Quinn and Ethan in a flex-tube, as if they were having an illicit tryst, but Rau will stun them so they will end up vented into space when the next ship arrives. Ethan is mortified at the thought that the Population Council might believe this story of his death, and Quinn is similarly concerned about Admiral Naismith. Cee makes an abortive motion, but Rau holds him at bay; Cee apologizes to Ethan for being forced to lure him to the docking bay.
Quinn confirms Setti’s identity for Ethan, and asks if he thinks he could make it across the docking bay if she jumped him; Ethan regretfully tells her no. He could make it to the flex tube, but that would be pointless since it doesn’t go anywhere except space. Ethan thinks of the message capsule and takes it out, telling Quinn about the odd man who gave it to him. Quinn asks what the man looked like, and then excitedly takes the capsule and enters Millisor’s service number, though she’s not sure about the last few digits. She tosses it to a suspicious Setti, who automatically catches it, then throws herself and Ethan to the floor. The capsule starts showing a holomessage, and Quinn goes limp with disappointment just before she and Ethan are flung across the room when the capsule explodes.
Ethan is nearly deafened, and he thinks blinded as well until emergency lights come back on. He can hear faint sirens and the sound of airseals slamming closed, as air is leaking out of a flex-tube seal and the gravity is a little wobbly. He glances across the bay to see Cee being tackled by Rau and kicked by Millisor; the Cetagandans begin dragging Cee toward their ship. Ethan runs after them, somewhat unsteadily, and manages to get ahead of them stand in front of the flex-tube. Millisor gets out a needler and begins to aim it at Ethan, but Cee breaks free and stands in front of Ethan to shield him. Millisor is about to shoot anyway when he begins to float upward; Quinn is at the gravity controls.
Millisor’s training comes into play rapidly, though, and he twists to counter his spin, aiming his needler back at Ethan and Cee. Quinn throws the cover of the control panel at him, but Ethan can see it’s not going to make it in time. Just before Millisor can fire, though, he is hit by a bright plasma bolt and killed instantly. Rau lunges for the needler, trying to find the new attacker, but misses and ends up tumbling slowly in midair. Cee spots the shooter up on a catwalk, and shouts that Rau is his to kill, launching himself after the remaining Cetagandan. Cee’s impetus pushes Ethan against the wall, where he grabs hold and notices that the air leak seems to be getting stronger.
Quinn turns the gravity back higher; Cee and Rau, grappling, sink back to the floor, while Ethan, realizing how high up on the bulkhead he’s hanging, swiftly climbs down, in case Quinn plans on turning it up any higher. Rau throws Cee aside and lunges for his flex-tube, but is caught by two plasma bolts from up above. As Ethan goes to Cee, two figures, one of them the man who gave Ethan the message capsule, swing down from the girders and converge on Quinn, who does not seem happy to see them, trying to flee up the wall. They yank her back down and subdue her, taking her towards the emergency exit as Stationers begin to emerge to seal the damage. Cee tells Ethan that they’re Bharaputrans from Jackson’s Whole, and says they have to go rescue her. They have to wait at the emergency airlock until the Jacksonians have cycled through, and then equalize the pressure before they can reenter the station. While they wait, Cee tells Ethan how Setti sprung Millisor and Rau, pretending to be escorting them to deportation.
They run through now-deserted corridors, trying to find Quinn and her abductors, and finally manage to follow the sound of her voice to a foyer outside a freight lift-tube.
The man in chocolate-brown silk had Quinn shoved up facing a wall, her arms twisted behind her. Her toes stretched and sought the floor, without success.
“Come on, Commander,” the man in pink was saying, “We haven’t got time for this. Where is it?”
“Wouldn’t dream of keeping you,” she replied in a rather smeary voice, as her face was being squashed sideways into the wall. “Ow! Hadn’t you better run off to your embassy before Security gets here? They’ll be all over the place after that bomb blast.”
Ethan and Cee dash into the room and the man in pink aims his plasma gun at them; Quinn shouts out frantically that they’re all friends. The Bharaputrans are not happy with Quinn, though, for not coming through on her contract. Quinn protests that she’s had to take things more slowly and subtly, not having diplomatic immunity and not wanting to be exiled from the station. They tell her that Baron Bharaputra has given her six months, and now wants his money back. Quinn says she can give it back, but the credit chit is in her jacket…which is back in the docking bay. The Jacksonians debate on whether she’s telling the truth, since the docking bay is swarming with Security by now. Quinn points out that she got paid half in advance, and that she did kill Okita and Setti. They say they have no evidence of Okita’s body, and she killed Setti with their bomb, but when they hear approaching footsteps decide that she can keep her half. As “interest”, though, they dislocate her left elbow, and then disappear down the lift tube.
Quinn is relieved when they’ve gone, since she didn’t want them to share too much of their information with Station Security. She confesses that this was actually her first Intelligence assignment, and she didn’t enjoy it as much as Admiral Naismith told her she would. She and Ethan agree that they both need doctors, Ethan still being somewhat stunned from the explosion, and she advises Cee to flee before Security arrives. Cee, unable to express his gratitude, flees up the lift tube. When Security arrives, they arrest Quinn.
Now that’s a nice fight for you, with explosive decompression, plasma arcs, low-gravity gymnastics, and hidden spy bombs. All they’d need would be a bunch more guns and this would be perfect for the Wachowki Brothers. The only problem, I guess, is that the bad guys all get to have sort of Disney Villain deaths–the Jacksonians kill Millisor and Rau outright, and Setti by proxy, and Okita’s death was admittedly an accident at the time. Of course, Ethan isn’t a killer, Quinn can do it but can’t afford to leave too many bodies lying around, and…I guess I’m not sure about Cee. He didn’t mean to kill the Cetagandan scientist, but he seemed to be willing enough to kill Rau with his bare hands. The Jacksonians were, at least, foreshadowed chapters earlier, though their timing is fortuitous. Had they just arrived, or were they just lying low until they could find Quinn and the Cetagandans?
I can’t quite work out if Millisor should have floating up off the ground just because of the lighter gravity. After all, it’s not like negative gravity was pulling him toward the ceiling, he should have stayed in place unless another force acted on him. There were the air currents from the leak, I suppose, but Millisor was only decreasing in weight, not mass, so it wasn’t like he should waft away in a breeze. I guess that his leg muscles, which had presumably been bracing him in place, might have overcompensated and inadvertently pushed him off or tipped him to one side, but I don’t know if that would have been enough to throw off his aim like that. Or it could have been the arm motion as he was raising his gun, but I don’t know if that would do it either. Someone who was trained enough to hold a bead on someone while spinning through the air should probably have been able to deal with a sudden unexpected gravity decrease, in my opinion. So maybe we can pretend that Rau was caught off guard and bumped into Millisor and disrupted his aim instead. (We really need better antigravity, so we can test these things out in practice without sending people into space or into parabolic arcs.)
A couple of times in the chapter I kept thinking that Cee found something out telepathically. The first was when he identified the Bharaputrans, but then I realized that he’d been on Jackson’s Whole himself and should be able to recognize them. Especially since they all seem to be of the same race. (See last chapter’s comments.) Then he picked out a direction to go when they were chasing after Quinn and her captors, but he admitted to Ethan shortly thereafter that he had no real idea and had just been guessing. So I suppose he hadn’t been dosed with more tyramine anywhere in there.
I guess I don’t have a good handle on whether Cee actually liked using his powers, whether he would have actively sought out tyramine if he thought the Cetagandans were out of the way. His distaste for seeing into the brains of his Cetagandan captors might mean that he didn’t like using his ability in general, but I’m not sure if that was conclusive. He gets so little opportunity on Kline Station, and he only does it the once when he wants to be sure of his allies before putting his trust in them. Does he yearn for a normal life, or does he yearn to stretch his abilities to their fullest?
Whoo, finished two chapters by Tuesday, so that’s good. Only two more and the book’s over, and then I have to decide whether to take a full week off before and/or after doing the novella “Labyrinth”. Right now I’m guessing that since after “Labyrinth” is another novella, “Borders of Infinity”, I’ll do the two of them together as if they were a book (like, say, two-thirds of Borders of Infinity), with a gap before and after, but not between. (I did a break before “The Mountains of Mourning” but not after, apparently, so there’s that.) Then I have to figure out how many segments to do “Labyrinth” in, since it doesn’t have chapter breaks. Guess I’ll do some word counting and see how it breaks up into scenes. Anyway, until next week, when Dr. Ethan Urquhart receives a couple of pleasant surprises…