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Archive for August, 2013

Good evening, genties and ladlemen.  I know you’ve been on eleventerhooks waiting for the next installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, but wait no longer, for here it is, following hereunder!  Thrill to the exposition of the events of the next two chapters, Chapter Three and Chapter Four, of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Komarr, as Miles Vorkosigan joins the investigation of a disaster above the titular planet, and meets a fascinating, and married, woman named Ekaterin Vorsoisson!  Here it is!

Chapter Three

Ekaterin and her uncle’s visit to Nikolai’s school is brief, since the Auditor’s presence flusters the staff, so she takes him on a tour of the prettiest spots and best lookouts in Serifosa Dome.  Only later does it occur to her that she should have looked for something more engineering-oriented, but by then it’s lunchtime.  She asks her uncle for reassurance that they won’t abandon the soletta entirely.  Vorthys says that he hopes not, it was a great achievement of the Komarrans, and any sabotage of it would be sheer vandalism.  Ekaterin recalls Komarrans telling her about the psychological blow caused by Admiral Vorkosigan’s forces took over the soletta early in the invasion of Komarr.  There’d been talk of reopening the soletta to tourism again, but luckily it hadn’t happened yet; Vorthys says he thinks it would be a good idea.

They discuss some of the wild creatures that have been brought to the domes–rats and roaches, but also gerbils and hamsters, and even wild cockatoos.  Ekaterin takes advantage of the arrival to lunch to change the subject to Miles, asking if he was really in ImpSec.  Vorthys can’t give her full details on Miles’s classified career, but he does confirm that Miles spent a decade in ImpSec, and tells her about the Dagoola rescue, since it’s foolish to consider if classified when the Marilacans are making movies about it.  She asks why he quit, and her uncle tells her about the cryo-revival and that it occasioned a medical discharge, but doesn’t share most of the details.

He tells her the Emperor found Imperial Auditor to be a good use for Miles’s skills, and admits that he’s been glad to send someone younger and more vigorous to do the more physical tasks, like long pressure-suit excursions.  He denies that Miles is his assistant though, insisting that they’re equals, working together mostly to learn each other’s methods.

“Our Imperial charge doesn’t come with a manual, you see. It was once proposed the Auditors create one for themselves, but they—wisely, I think—concluded it would do more harm than good. Instead, we just have our archives of Imperial reports; precedents, without rules. Lately, several of us more recent appointees have been trying to read a few old reports each week, and then meet for dinner to discuss the cases and analyze how they were handled. Fascinating. And delicious. Vorkosigan has the most extraordinary cook.”

“But this is his first assignment, isn’t it? And . . . he was designated just like that, on the Emperor’s whim.”

“He had a temporary appointment as a Ninth Auditor first. A very difficult assignment, inside ImpSec itself. Not my kind of thing at all.”

She was not totally oblivious to the news. “Oh, dear. Did he have anything to do with why ImpSec changed chiefs twice last winter?”

She tries to decide why Vorkosigan disturbs her so much–in the Time of Isolation, he would have doubtless been killed as a mutant, though Nikki would have escaped detection, but she doesn’t think anti-mutant prejudice is the reason.  Her uncle says that he and his wife both like Miles, that he’s quiet at first but can get quite witty once he gets going.  He reminds her of finding a gifted, or even genius, among his students, which was a genuine privilege.  Ekaterin is surprised to hear him consider Miles a genius; Vorthys insists he is, though, at least part of the time–and nobody is ever a genius all the time, but all it takes is once, at the right time.

Her uncle isn’t telling her anything about Miles that she really wants to know, so she asks outright if he’s married, and is mildly surprised to find that he isn’t, wondering to herself what’s wrong with him, and if he’s a danger to Nikki.  She wishes Vorthys’s wife was there, who would have been more forthcoming.  Vorthys does say he’s been out of the Empire a lot.  Ekaterin asks about siblings, and Vorthys says he doesn’t have any, except for his clone-brother, though they don’t look alike, which confuses her.  Vorthys then asks if they’re planning any siblings for Nikki, which puts her back on the defensive.  She’s gotten a contraceptive implant, and she can’t get a straight answer from Tien about how they might be able to have more children, since his sperm will still carry the mutation even if it’s fixed in him.  She claims to be waiting for Tien’s career to settle down, and Vorthys points out that it seems to be taking a while.

“I . . . won’t pretend that hasn’t been difficult.” That was true enough. Thirteen different jobs in a decade. Was this normal for a rising bureaucrat? Tien said it was a necessity, no bosses ever promoted from within or raised a former subordinate above them; you had to go around to move up. “We’ve moved eight times. I’ve abandoned six gardens, so far. The last two relocations, I just didn’t plant anything except in pots. And then I had to leave most of the pots, when we came here.”

She admits to herself that his first few postings were mediocre, but now she’s beginning to wonder how he’s ever going to expect promotion if he never stays long enough to gain much useful experience.  Each new job, Tien starts with a burst of enthusiasm and long hours, before the charm wears off and he begins to complain of overwork and bad coworkers, which Ekaterin has learned means they’ll be moving soon.  This posting has been going well for surprisingly long, almost a year, and maybe this will finally be it, if they stick it out long enough.  With Tien’s hidden Vorzohn’s Dystrophy clock ticking down, she supposes that he has some grounds for impatience.

Vorthys says his wife has been wondering if they’re happy on Komarr.  Ekaterin says she’s a little homesick, but insists she likes it fine.  Her aunt was surprised that she didn’t put Nikki into a Komarran school, but Vorthys says the Barrayaran school he’s in is just fine.  Ekaterin says Tien wanted to give Nikki the chance to make social connections with other Vor children in the sector.  Ekaterin is silent, since she didn’t agree with Tien’s choice in the first place.

As they finish up their desserts, a Komarran man comes over to their table, greeting her by name and introducing himself as Andro Farr, from the Winterfair reception at Tien’s workplace.  He was there with Marie Trogir, who worked at Waste Heat Management, and wonders if Ekaterin knows her.  Ekaterin says she doesn’t, really, and Farr slumps in disappointment.  He says he’s talked to all of Marie’s friends that he can find, but none of them know where she is.  Six weeks ago, she was going out of town on work, but she should have been back a week ago.  He’d talked to Administrator Soudha, her department head, and eventually, when he pinned Soudha down in person, he was told that she and her boss, Radovas, had run off together six weeks ago, and hadn’t been seen since.

Ekaterin can think of reasons why either one of them may have wanted to leave their current relationship, but keeps them to herself.  She asks if he’s talked to Radovas’s wife, and he says she refused to talk with him.  Vorthys asks if he’s filed a Missing Persons report, and Farr says he hasn’t, but maybe he will.  He mentions that she left her clothes and her cats, which doesn’t make any sense.

After Farr leaves, Ekaterin asks if she should bring lunch for Miles as well, and Vorthys says it may be a good idea, since Miles doesn’t always seem to notice when he misses meals, when he’s wrapped up in a problem.  She hopes that she’ll be able to find out something about how Miles Vorkosigan seems to cope so well with his mutations, and get some tips that might be helpful for Nikolai some day.

Comments

Not the most stirring chapter, being fairly talky.  Most of what it reveals about Miles, long-time readers like us will, of course, already know, but it’s interesting to see what impressions Ekaterin gets from the revelations.  She’s still labouring under the misapprehension that he’s a mutant, though of course from a Barrayaran social standpoint, it makes little difference if you are as long as you look like one.  What we get from Ekaterin’s thoughts is mostly a reinforcement of how unhappy she is in her life with Tien, though she’s still trying to stay loyal to him, and hopes that it will get better someday.  She hasn’t–quite–given up on him yet.

Andro Farr’s appearance, and the mysterious disappearance of Marie Trogir and Radovas, is the only thing in the chapter of much relevance to the main plot, though of course right now it mostly seems just a little odd, and probably quite unrelated to the soletta disaster.  But this is a mystery plot again, mostly, so it is, at least, a clue.

Chapter Four

Etienne Vorsoisson’s group occupies two floors in an ordinary office building, near the edge of the dome and not entirely contained within it.  Miles is a little uncomfortable with the glass windows being all that separates them from the planet’s atmosphere, but Vorthys points out that the pressure differential is not that high, not like a space station.  Air inside the domes is made from air outside, by concentrating the sparse oxygen and filtering out a few unpleasant substances like carbon dioxide.  They do have emergency breath masks, but Miles doesn’t think they’ve been checked recently, and almost calls an emergency inspection right then, but decides to restrain himself.

Vorsoisson escorts them into a conference room where he introduces the Auditors to the department heads of the Serifosa Dome branch of the terraforming project.  They’re all Komarrans, saving only Vorsoisson himself; Tien’s assistant Venier is to give them a general presentation followed by Q&A.  The presentation starts with a historical overview of Komarran colonization; Miles notes that these days a marginal world like Komarr would be less likely to be actually colonized, despite its rich wormhole nexus.  They had begun by bombarding the planet with comets for their ice, before the icecaps were found to contain all the water necessary; after that they concentrated on the mirrors to increase solar radiation, leading to the current seven-mirror soletta.  This allowed liquid water and plant life at the equator, to begin converting the CO2 in the atmosphere, and extra greenhouse gases were added to help trap more heat.  And then, of course, the soletta accident.

“There was mention of a cooling projection? With figures?” Vorthys prodded gently.

“Yes, my Lord Auditor.” Venier slid a disk across the polished surface toward the Professor. “Administrator Vorsoisson said you were an engineer, so I left in all the calculations.”

The Waste Heat Management fellow, Soudha, also an engineer, winced and bit his thumb at this innocent ignorance of Vorthys’s stature in his field. Vorthys merely said, “Thank you. I appreciate that.”

So where’s my copy? Miles did not ask aloud.

He asks for the layman’s summary, and Venier says that it’ll only take a season for effects to be felt at the most extreme latitudes, and by five years it’ll be difficult to recover the lost ground.  Soudha says they’re hoping for other sources of heat to help with the shortfall; they’ve been trying to use waste heat from the domes to help with the planetary warming, but it’s only a drop in the bucket, just good to keep the domes’ immediate area warm enough for some of the plant life to survive in their immediate vicinity.  Vorthys muses on the strangeness of wanting to produce more waste heat, rather than less; he asks about devoting fusion reactors to nothing but producing heat.  Soudha says it’s possible, but not economical, certainly more expensive than repairing the orbital mirrors, and using reactors to power domes produces the same amount of heat in the end.

Next up is the head of “Microbial Reclassification”, who discusses the bacterial life which is thriving on the planet, but adapting so furiously as to be hard to keep track of, and not adding anything much to drawing carbon out of the atmosphere.  “Carbon Draw-Down” is having some success with higher forms of plant life, particularly peat bogs, though they require water and heat, and ideally they’ll end up buried under lakes for long term carbon sequestration.  All the departments have the same needs, for funding, as well as a restoration, or even expansion, of heat and light; few of them bothered to bring copies of their reports for Miles, though he’s not sure how much of them he wanted to read in the first place.  He is stiff and sore by the time the meeting ends.

Vorthys buttonholes Soudha and asks about Marie Trogir; Soudha claims not to know anything more, mostly finding it annoying that she left without notice, leaving a gap in his staff.  Vorthys comments on the oddity of her leaving her cats behind, but Soudha know nothing more.  As they continue on the tour, Miles asks Vorthys what that was about, and Tien tells them about the scandal of Marie Trogir and Radovas running off together.  Vorthys explains how they ran into Andro Farr in the restaurant.  Miles thinks that running off like that doesn’t sound very Komarran, more like a Barrayaran backcountry elopement.

They reach the garage, where their promised vehicle is missing; Vorsoisson and Vorthys go to see about it, and Miles decides to take the opportunity to take Venier’s measure.  Venier asks if he’s ever visited the Massacre Shrine in Solstice, a pointed reference to the Solstice Massacre, supposedly engineered by Miles’s father, earning him the name “The Butcher of Komarr”.  Miles comments that he went there with a relative of a Martyr, which surprises Venier.

Venier’s brows tweaked up. “Well . . . there is a theory that the massacre was ordered by Emperor Ezar without the knowledge of Admiral Vorkosigan. Ezar was certainly ruthless enough.”

“Ruthless enough, yes. Stupid enough, never. It was the Barrayaran expedition’s chief Political Officer’s own bright idea, for which my father made him pay with his life, not that that did much good for anyone after the fact. Leaving aside every moral consideration, the massacre was a supremely stupid act. My father has been accused of many things, but stupidity has never, I believe, been one of them.” His voice was growing dangerously clipped.

“We’ll never know the whole truth, I suppose,” said Venier.

Was that supposed to be a concession? “You can be told the whole truth all day long, but if you won’t believe it, then no, I don’t suppose you ever will know it.”

Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Ekaterin and Nikki, who are apparently going to join them on the excursion, which should be educational.  She brought jackets for them, in case they venture out on foot.  The aircar arrives then, and they discuss who will sit where; Nikki wants to sit with his father and Uncle Vorthys, and Ekaterin suggests diffidently that Venier fly, but Tien nixes this, insisting he’s utterly capable.  Miles wonders whether a Komarran with strong opinions is any safer a driver than somebody potentially coming down with Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.

Vorsoisson distributes breath masks, and Ekaterin checks hers and Nikki’s carefully, despite her husband’s insistence that it’s unnecessary.  Miles ends up sitting in the back of the aircar with Venier and Ekaterin; he wishes he could chat with either of them without the other present, but no luck.  Venier reverts to lecture mode, and Ekaterin provides enough intelligent questions to cover Miles’s tiredness.  Miles asks why she hasn’t tried to use her interest in botany by working for her husband’s department, and Ekaterin seems to find the idea new and unsettling.  She says it smacks of nepotism, but Miles points out that the Vor system runs on nepotism, as long as people do their jobs well.  She could start off as an assistant, and take courses to bring her up to a more interesting position.  Unless, he thinks to himself, she’s the one with Vorzohn’s, which might explain her lack of ambition.  He wishes he knew which of them it was, but admonishes himself to not abuse his Auditor’s powers to find out.  Venier speaks up unexpectedly to support Miles’s suggestion; Ekaterin says she’ll have to see if Tien plans to stay at this job, first.

Vorsoisson’s voice, over the intercom from the front compartment, interrupted to point out the upcoming peat bog, lining a long narrow valley below. It was a more impressive sight than Miles had expected. For one thing, it was a true and bright Earth-green; for another, it ran on for kilometers.

“This strain produces six times the oxygen of its Earth ancestor,” Venier noted with pride.

“So . . . if you were trapped outside without a breath mask, could you crawl around in it and survive till you were rescued?” Miles asked practically.

“Mm . . . if you could hold your breath for about a hundred more years.”

Tien brings the aircar down to a landing on blessedly solid rock, avoiding the frozen bog that Miles was afraid of, based on past experience.

The canopy rose to admit a blast of chill unbreatheable outside air, and they exited for a clamber over the rocks and down to personally examine the squishy green plants. They were squishy green plants, all right. There were lots of them. Stretching to the horizon. Lots. Squishy. Green. With an effort, Miles stopped his back-brain from composing a lengthy Report to the Emperor in this style, and tried instead to appreciate Venier’s highly technical disquisition on potential deep-freeze damage to the something-chemical cycle.

They don’t spend long there before heading back into the air, to fly over a couple more valleys, then turn back towards Serifosa.  Miles spots an installation with a fusion reactor, surrounded by greenery, and asks about it; Venier says it’s Waste Heat’s experimental station.  Miles asks Tien if they could stop there, and Tien says he’d rather not it, since he wants to be back before dark.  Miles considers insisting on it, since he always enjoys surprise inspections, and Venier thinks it might be interesting, but Tien suggests another day instead.  Miles reminds himself that they’re looking into the soletta affair, not inspecting random facilities.  They return to the dome, sparkling in the fading light, and back to the office garage.

Venier went off with the aircar, and Vorsoisson collected the spare breath masks. Madame Vorsoisson’s face was bright and glowing, exhilarated by her field trip. “Don’t forget to put your mask back on the recharger,” she chirped to her husband as she handed him hers.

Vorsoisson’s face darkened. “Don’t. Nag. Me,” he breathed through set teeth.

She recoiled slightly, her expression closing as abruptly as a shutter. Miles stared off through the pillars, politely pretending not to have heard or noticed this interplay. He was hardly an expert on marital miscommunication, but even he could see how that one had gone awry. Her perhaps unfortunately-chosen expression of love and interest had been received by the obviously tense and tired Vorsoisson as a slur on his competence. Madame Vorsoisson deserved a better hearing, but Miles had no advice to offer. He had never even come near to capturing a wife to miscommunicate with. Not for lack of trying . . . .

Vorthys diverts the conversation to discussion of a supper destination, and Miles promises himself that this will be the last dinner he spends with the Vorsoisson family.  He drinks a little more than he planned, but before going to bed, he checks his neurotransmitter levels, and judges them not yet ready to be discharged by induced seizure.  A few days more and they will be, though; he’ll have to enlist himself a spotter, since he left his Armsman behind.  He doesn’t have a wife to spot for him yet either; perhaps the Professor?  He goes to bed and hopes not to dream of frozen corpses.

Comments

Wasn’t there something in the last chapter of The Warrior’s Apprentice, in the training exercise, where the supposed safety equipment had empty oxygen reservoirs?  And then there’s those uninspected breath masks, with the thought that they might be in poor condition brought up not only by Miles’s brain, but also by Ekaterin.  It seems that Tien might have a history of being careless about checking them, you know.  But he’s oversensitive about anything that might cast him in a poor light with…well, with anyone else, really, so he lashes out when Ekaterin makes a harmless reminder.

All the talk of carbon sequestration and the like seems very timely these days, with so many people concerned about greenhouse gases.  Though Komarr really has the opposite problem–they need to take the CO2 out of the air (or the carbon out of the CO2) to free up breathable oxygen, not to cut down on planetary heat retention; they actually need more greenhouse gases to help with that.  It makes me think of all the time I spent playing SimEarth, where I kept draining out too much CO2 and triggering an ice age.  So heating up the planet and “carbon draw-down” are goals at odds with each other.

Venier is practically the first Komarran we see for any length of time (apart from Andro Farr, I suppose), and I suppose it’s not that unlikely that he should happen to be one of those who’s sensitive about the Solstice Massacre, and how the name of Vorkosigan is associated with it.  One wonders whether sending Miles to Komarr is also a bit of calculation on Gregor’s part, though I guess I’m not sure what it would accomplish.  One wouldn’t think he’d want to do anything too provocative with his wedding to Laisa coming up.  But I also can’t think that the ramifications wouldn’t occur to him at all…


And that’s it for another week; the plot hasn’t yet thickened much , but perhaps the characters have.  (Can characters thicken?  Well, Tien and Vorthys both seem thick, if in different ways.)  Who knows how much deeper we’ll get into the thick of things in the next two chapters?  You will, if you come back next week, that’s who.

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Ever wonder what makes the world go around?  Love?  Money?  Or maybe, just possibly, the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  Because here it is again, after a week off, and, just between you and me, didn’t the rotations seem to go by a little more slowly?  Well, fret not, because we’re starting a new book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga–Komarr, omnibized as the first part of Miles In Love, because Miles Vorkosigan’s lack of love life, which he was beginning to worry about in Memory, is beginning to turn around at last.  Though, of course, this is Miles–nothing about it is going to be easy for him.  Because, after all, his author is accustomed to come up with the worst curves for life to throw at him: in this case, getting hung up on a married woman, the narrator he shares POV with in this book, a woman named Ekaterin Vorsoisson…

Chapter One

Ekaterin Vorsoisson looks up at the sky from the balcony of her apartment in Serifosa Dome on Komarr.  The soletta array of mirrors in orbit around the planet, designed to help terraform the planet by increasing the incoming solar radiation, has been damaged, half of its mirrors out of commission.  An ore freighter had collided with it two weeks earlier.  Inside the domes, it’s mostly a matter of putting up extra lights, but outside the domes, it could be fatal to the fragile plantations that are also part of the terraforming effort.  She’s put up extra lights herself for the garden of Barrayaran plants on her balcony.

Briefly, she considered moving her old bonsai’d skellytum indoors, to provide it with more controlled conditions, but it was all indoors here on Komarr, really. She hadn’t felt wind in her hair for nearly a year. She felt an odd twinge of identification with the transplanted ecology outside, slowly starving for light and heat, suffocating in a toxic atmosphere . . . Stupid. Stop it. We’re lucky to be here.

Her husband, Etienne (or “Tien”), calls her inside, and when she comes, he tells her that her uncle has called to say he’s arrived at the shuttleport.  Her uncle, Auditor Vorthys, also said that he brought another Auditor with him, annoying Tien at being expected to feed another Auditor at short notice.  He speculates about what favours Vorthys must have called in to get the position; Ekaterin says that surely Imperial Auditors don’t get their jobs that way, and Tien just calls her naive.  He points out that Vorthys’s guest, Auditor Vorkosigan, presumably got his position just for being alive, being incredibly young for the job.

Ekaterin notices Tien’s hand shaking, but he insists that he’s just tired and tense.  Ekaterin says he’s older than his brother had been when it started, but Tien reminds her that it could start at any time.  He promises they’ll go offplanet to get it treated soon; Ekaterin asks why they can’t do it on Komarr, and Tien says he has no desire to be branded a mutant at this point in his career.  He forbids her to tell her uncle about it; she asks him to promise not to kill himself like his brother did.  Tien says they’ll go on their galactic “vacation” with their son Nikolai after his current appointment is done.  After he leaves, Ekaterin thinks to herself that he’s the one who keeps putting off the treatments.

She modifies her meal plans for the extra guest, mostly be bringing out two more bottles of wine, hoping to get their guest so drunk he won’t notice the food.  She wishes she’d hired a servitor, but they’re expensive, and the press are speculating enough about the soletta accident that she didn’t want to add to the Auditors’ social pressure.  She’d lived with the Vorthyses after her mother’s death, while she went to Imperial University, before she married Etienne.  Long before they found out about the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.

Nikolai, nine years old, comes out and she gets him a glass of juice; she asks if he remembers his uncle, and he remembers a visit to his lab.  She asks to check the size of his hands–almost as large as hers–but is really checking for tremula.  Vorzohn’s Dystrophy could start as early as puberty, but so far Nikolai’s shown no symptoms.

Etienne returns with the guests, and Nikki runs to greet them, swept up into a hug by Uncle Vorthys, who then gives his niece a hug as well.  Only then does she notice Auditor Vorkosigan, and is struck by his size and odd shape, as well as the expensive custom fit of his clothes.  She greets him courteously, realizing she doesn’t know his name, and he introduces himself as Miles Vorkosigan.  As Nikki and Tien take Vorthys off to the guest room, Ekaterin swiftly revises her plans to put Miles in Nikki’s bed, because it might seem too much of a comment on his size.  Instead she takes him to her office/planting room, where she promises they’ll put in a grav-bed for him.

“It’s fine,” he assured her. He stepped to the window and stared out over the domed park. The lights in the encircling buildings gleaming warmly in the luminous twilight of the half-eclipsed mirror.

“I know it’s not what you’re used to.”

One corner of his mouth twitched up. “I once slept for six weeks on bare dirt. With ten thousand extremely grubby Marilacans, many of whom snored. I assure you, it’s just fine.”

She smiled in return, not at all certain what to make of this joke, if it was a joke.

Miles foils her plans to get him drunk by asking for only half a glass of wine, saying he’s tired from spending hours in a pressure suit, and it’d put him right to sleep.  Once the food is served, she begins asking her uncle about their plans.  He says they’re mostly onplanet now because they’re waiting for the rest of the pieces in space to be collected, in particular anything from the control systems, which hopefully shouldn’t take more than three days.  Tien asks if it was sabotage, and Vorthys says they’ll have trouble proving it, with the pilot dead.  It hit the mirror edge-on, which was the worst angle for the collision; Miles says that it was so perfect, it makes it seem more like an accident, because of how difficult it would have been to actually calculate it that way.  Ekaterin watches Tien, wondering what he thinks of Lord Vorkosigan, an obvious mutant who’s obviously so successful.

Tien says that Vorthys’s specialty in failure analysis is well-known, and asks what Miles’s role in the investigation is.  Miles says he does have some experience with space stations, but he’s mostly there to observe Vorthys’s investigation, and because of the sensitivity of relations with Komarr with the Imperial wedding coming up.  He asks about the local terraforming project, where Tien works, and Tien promises to take them on a tour the next day.

Tien asks how long before the mirror is likely to be repaired; Miles says that it will depend on how much money Barrayar is willing to spend, with terraforming on Barrayar still ongoing as well as active colonization of Sergyar.  Ekaterin protests that they can’t stop the project now, three hundred years in.  Miles continues, saying that some military elements think that it might be preferable to keep Komarrans in domes, to keep the conquered people safely restricted, though he wonders if they think that Komarrans will still be “conquered people” three centuries later when the terraforming is supposed to be complete.  Gregor’s policy is assimilation-oriented, which means that potential suspects could be isolationist Barrayarans or Komarran extremists, but even the average Komarran may question the short-term costs of terraforming.

Miles asks Tien what he thinks of Komarr; Tien says it’s fine except for the Komarrans, who he tends to find either greedy or surly, liking nothing better than cheating Barrayarans.  Miles asks Ekaterin, who considers her answer carefully, already wondering if Miles is really there as the political side of the investigation.  She admits she hasn’t made many Barrayaran friends, Nikki going to a Barrayaran school, and she has no work outside the home.  Tien points out that she hardly needs to work.

“That depends on your ability to choose the right parents,” said Tien, a touch sourly. He glanced across at Vorkosigan. “Relieve my curiosity. Are you related to the former Lord Regent?”

“My father,” Vorkosigan replied, with quelling brevity. He did not smile.

“Then you are the Lord Vorkosigan, the Count’s heir.”

“That follows, yes.”

Ekaterin tries to keep the conversation from getting too awkward, but Tien asks if his father was disappointed in his lack of military career.  Miles says briefly that it was more his grandfather who wanted it.  Tien then points out that not every Vor need be a soldier, indicating Vorthys as an example; Vorthys then mentions that Miles spend thirteen years working for ImpSec, which Miles adds were far from dull.  Ekaterin fleeds to serve the dessert, and returns to find that Nikki has lightened the conversation with talk of his favourite game; the grav-bed arrives, and the menfolk head off to set it up.

Tien returns once Miles is settled, and Ekaterin points out that Miles, an apparent mutant Vor lord, seems to be living a normal enough life; Tien says that it’s all because of his family connections.  Ekaterin wonders if Miles is really sent to judge the whole Komarran terraforming project on behalf of the Emperor, but Tien dismisses him as a “high Vor twit”.  He accuses her of arguing with him, insulting his intelligence in front of her uncle; while she nervously protests, he reminds her that having an exalted relative doesn’t make her anybody of note, and then stalks out.  She almost follows, to try to smooth things over, but can’t muster the energy for the attempt.

She heads out onto the balcony again with a glass of wine, watching the soletta set.  She is startled to see Miles in the kitchen; she offers to get him a glass of wine, but he gets it for himself and comes out to join her.  She says the western view is the best thing about their apartment, but mirror-set isn’t as pretty as it used to be.  Miles drinks deeply of his wine, and she wonders if he’s actively seeking sleep out now.  He asks where she’s from, and she says she’s from the Southern Continent.

“So you grew up around terraforming.”

“The Komarrans would say, that wasn’t terraforming, that was just soil conditioning.” He chuckled along with her, at her deadpan rendition of Komarran techno-snobbery.

She says she misses the open horizons, though she enjoyed Vorbarr Sultana with its intellectual horizons.  Miles asks if she studied botany, but she says it’s just a hobby.  He says it looks like more of a passion.  He examines the plants on the balcony, then asks what the bonsai’d plant is.  She says it’s a skellytum, and he’s amazed, since they’re normally five meters tall.  She says she inherited from a great-aunt on her father’s side; it’s over seventy years old, and it’s the only plant she brought with her from Barrayar.

He had a presence which, by ignoring his elusive physical peculiarities himself, defied the observer to dare comment. But the little lord had had all his life to adjust to his condition. Not like the hideous surprise Tien had found among his late brother’s papers, and subsequently confirmed for himself and Nikolai through carefully secret testing. You can get tested anonymously, she had argued. But I can’t get treated anonymously, he had countered.

Since coming to Komarr, she’d been so close to defying custom, law, and her lord-and-husband’s orders, and unilaterally taking his son and heir for treatment. Would the Komarran doctors know a Vor mother was not her son’s legal guardian? Maybe she could pretend the genetic defect had come from her, not from Tien? But the geneticists, if they were any good, would surely figure out the truth.

After a while, she said elliptically, “A Vor man’s first loyalty is supposed to be to his Emperor, but a Vor woman’s first loyalty is supposed to be to her husband.”

Miles says that this could be a good deal for the wife, since she would be protected from her husband’s crimes; in addition, loyalty was clearer, because sometimes there were multiple Emperors to choose from, but only one husband per woman.  He alludes to his grandfather’s choice to abandon Mad Emperor Yuri.  She asks if his passion is politics, or history; he says it used to be the military, but isn’t any more.  He muses that people are loyal to their Counts, their Counts are loyal to the Emperor, and the Emperor is loyal to the Imperium, which is made up of the people…but he still hasn’t figure out how the Emperor can be loyal to everybody at once.  Then he says he’s getting a little drunk, so he bids her good night.

Comments

The first chapter starts with Ekaterin, establishing her situation–living on Komarr in what certainly looks like an unhappy marriage.  Tien certainly has a few problems–his hidden medical ones, the looming Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, but he’s also just not that nice a guy.  He belittles his wife, he doesn’t seem to believe that person can get ahead on merit without personal connections, and he doesn’t seem to like Komarrans.  I’m sure more will come up later.

The skellytum seems like another rich image.  Does it represent Miles, a fully functional organism in a small package?  Does it represent Ekaterin herself, starved of nourishment so that it can be handled easily, shrunken from its normal daunting size to be kept as a conversation piece?  A little piece of Barrayar brought to a foreign place, careful to keep within its limited bounds?

I was noticing that Ekaterin and Etienne are both ‘E’ names, which tend to be a no-no for writers.  Bujold gets out of this one mostly by referring to Etienne by his nickname, Tien…which changes his name from French to something more Chinese-looking.  “Soisson” certainly looks French, too.  I don’t think we find out Ekaterin’s maiden name this book, though it does come up later.  You could be excused for thinking it was “Vorthys”, but apparently not.

Chapter Two

Miles awakens from an embarrassingly sensual dream of running his hands through Ekaterin’s hair.  She seems, unfortunately perhaps, to be of a type that appeals to him: “long cool brunettes with expressions of quiet reserve and warm alto voices”.  At least part of his babble on the balcony the night before had been sexual panic, which he hoped she hadn’t recognized as such.  He wishes he hadn’t let Vorthys talk him into coming along, since Miles’s presence at this family affair doesn’t seem to be an improvement.  He envies Vorsoisson his seemingly successful family, having apparently snatched his wife before the sex-selected shortage of Vor women reached its full depth, leaving Miles and so many others with nobody to choose from.

He admonishes himself to keep himself under control, and not shame the office of Imperial Auditor, though he admits that, unlike him, most Auditors are long past the age of getting involved in sex scandals.  Maybe Ekaterin has a sister…
He gets up, has a cold shower, dresses in a nice grey suit, and heads out to breakfast.  Tien is ready to head out for work, Nikolai is breakfasting, and Vorthys is sorting through newly-arrived data.  A comlink has arrived for Miles–Vorthys asks why he didn’t get one, and Miles says that his father is more notorious on Komarr.  ImpSec on Komarr had wanted to surround him with a constant escort, and he’d gotten them to back off using his Auditorial powers, so the comlink to impSec, with built-in tracking device, represents a compromise.  The new data is mostly newly-discovered pieces of debris, but there is a preliminary autopsy of the pilot, based on pieces they’ve recoved, for Miles, who’d volunteered to look at the medical end of things.

Ekaterin arrives to overhear their discussion of the body, and seems mildly disturbed by it; Nikki is fascinated, but Vorthys discourages him from asking for more information.  Ekaterin is dressed modestly, her hair still done up, to Miles’s relief.  The pilot was the last missing body, so Miles is relieved that they found it at last.  Tien says that his department will do a presentation for Vorthys in the afternoon, and in the morning Vorthys can visit Nikki’s school.  Miles says he’ll stay behind and go over data, receiving Ekaterin’s permission to use her comconsole in the workroom.

After breakfast, Miles takes the data discs to the workroom and loads them into the comconsole.  He checks over the new pieces of wreckage, thinking that in theory they would be able to track every piece back to its origin and determine the forces that caused it, but in practice it never worked out that neatly.  ImpSec has been looking for anyone who might have happened to be recording that area of space, but he suspects that if anyone had, they’d have already come forward.  Vorthys has begun to think that the ore freighter had already begun to break up before it hit the mirror, though they’re not sure if that explains all of the distortions in the pieces they’ve found.

The ore freighter had been on a routine run in from the asteroid belt, coasting between acceleration and deceleration, running early and a little off course, but within normal parameters and, actually, farther from the soletta than normal.  It had, however, crossed the three-space location of one of Komarr’s unused jump points, one that led to nowhere of any use.  A popular theory with the media, unsupported by any evidence, had a ship popping out of its hideout and destroying the freighter before disappearing again.  No trace of an actual attack on the ore freighter has been found, or any of the residues such a ship would have left.  The jump point itself shouldn’t have affected any ship without Necklin rods and jump capability, but it was nonetheless there, so they can’t discount it completely.

Miles turns to the autopsy of the Komarran pilot, a woman in her mid-fifties, which Miles finds less pleasant than a male corpse.  The accident’s results are grisly, but there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual based on the information they have on the collision; no signs of drugs or alcohol, either.  Also included are the final reports on the soletta crew, and a note asking if the bodies can be released to their families; Miles authorized it, surprised and a little annoyed that it hasn’t already been done.  The final reports don’t include much new or surprising information either.

Needing a break from the grisly data, he begins idly browsing through the data files on Ekaterin’s computer.  Interested by the title Virtual Gardens, which proves to contain files from a landscape design program, he begins looking through them.  The most active is one called Barrayaran Garden, which he decides to check out in holographic view.

It was not a garden of pretty Earth-plants set on some suitably famous site on Barrayar; it was a garden made up entirely and exclusively of native species, something he would not have guessed possible, let alone lovely. He’d always considered their uniform red-brown hues and stubby forms boring at best. The only Barrayaran vegetation he could identify and name offhand was that to which he was violently allergic. But Madame Vorsoisson had somehow used shape and texture to create a sepia-toned serenity. Rocks and running water framed the various plants—there was a low carmine mass of love-lies-itching, forming a border for a billowing blond stand of razor-grass, which, he had once been assured, botanically was not a grass. Nobody argued about the razor part, he’d noticed. Judging from the common names, the lost Barrayaran colonists had not loved their new xenobotany: damnweed, henbloat, goatbane . . . It’s beautiful. How did she make it beautiful? He’d never seen anything like it. Maybe that kind of artist’s eye was something you just had to be born with, like perfect pitch, which he also lacked.

In the Imperial capital of Vorbarr Sultana, there was a small and dull green park at the end of the block beside Vorkosigan House, on a site where another old mansion had been torn down. The little park had been leveled with more of an eye to security concerns for the neighboring Lord Regent than any aesthetic plan. Would it not be splendid, to replace it with a larger version of this glorious subtlety, and give the city-dwellers a taste of their own planetary heritage? Even if it would—he checked—take fifteen years to grow to this mature climax . . . .

The virtual garden program is intended to allow gardeners to check out their ideas before committing to them, but Miles supposes that if Ekaterin can’t have the actual gardens, this might be a substitute.  Though not, he suspects, a sufficient one.  Then, out of habit, he begins checking out her financial records.  She seems more economical than Tien’s salary would account for, not even spending much on gardening supplies, or any other vices that he could find.  He does discover a private account called “Nikolai’s Medical” which she’s funneling money into, as much as she can spare, apparently.  This puzzles Miles, since their family medical expenses should be covered by the Imperium because of Tien’s position.

Puzzled, he finds a nameless, encrypted file, which he manages to crack into in a few minutes, which turns out to be on the subject of Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.  The disease arose during the Time of Isolation, but wasn’t even labelled a genetic mutation until afterwards.  When it does start having effects, they can be nasty, but it’s treatable by modern medicine…though expensively, because of its rarity.  If Ekaterin or Tien has it, though, it should have been picked up when Nikolai was put into the uterine replicator…unless they’d gone through a body-birth for some benighted reason.  He suddenly realizes the abnormality of the Vorsoisson family–no other children, which means that they must have found out after his birth.  He begins to wish he hadn’t begun snooping into their family affairs, an ImpSec habit highly inappropriate for an Imperial Auditor.

He’d chafed for years under military regulations, till he’d come to a job with no written regs at all. His sense of having died and gone to heaven had lasted about five minutes. An Imperial Auditor was the Emperor’s Voice, his eyes and ears and sometimes hands, a lovely job description till you stopped to wonder just what the hell that poetic metaphor was supposed to mean.

So was it a useful test to ask himself, Can I imagine Gregor doing this or that thing? Gregor’s apparent Imperial sternness hid an almost painful personal shyness. The mind boggled. All right, should the question instead be, Could I imagine Gregor in his office as Emperor doing this? Just what acts, wrong for a private individual, were yet lawful for an Imperial Auditor carrying out his duties? Lots, according to the precedents he’d been reading. So was the real rule, “Ad lib till you make a mistake, and then we’ll destroy you”? Miles wasn’t sure he liked that one at all.

Embarrassed by his actions, he removes all traces and goes back to the autopsy reports, turning up the heat slightly against the perceived chill of death.

Comments

So why does Miles begin snooping on Ekaterin’s computer?  Bored of the autopsies, tired of looking at death, I suppose that it’s understandable he might want to look at garden files.  And I suppose that once or twice I may have gone wandering in odd folders on strange computers, just to see what’s there (usually not much), including once raising a few flags by trying to access restricted folders on the college VAX mainframe…  But, as Miles belatedly realizes, he does go too far looking into finances, and decrypting files to learn family secrets.  I guess I’m just not buying why he did it in the first place, or why, at least, the qualms didn’t start a little sooner.

The beginnings of his attraction to Ekaterin begin right away, too.  At least that he realizes is wrong right away, but I suppose he can’t blame his subconscious.  Although I thought he was more subconsciously attracted to redheads–or did the aftermath of the Dagoola escape quash that one?  Was Rowan Durona a “long cool brunette with an expression of quiet reserve and a warm alto voice”?  Or Elli Quinn?  Elena Bothari?  Well, I guess a person can have more than one turn-on…  Maybe this is why he was snooping on her computer, to find out more about her?  Or at least why his inhibitions didn’t surface sooner…

I was surprised to read here that jump points don’t normally interact with normal matter.  No ships wandering accidentally into a wormhole, apparently, in Bujold’s universe.  It makes me wonder how they discovered them in the first place; they must have discovered enough “five-space” physics to deduce their existence, and find something that would detect them, and then invent Necklin rods, or their predecessors, to take advantage of them.  I kind of like the idea of pirates setting up hidden bases in abandoned wormholes, though perhaps it’s not really Bujold’s kind of thing.  As the plot goes on, it seems to get further away from the actual soletta-array accident, and this may be our first clue about what’s really going on, although it doesn’t have anything to attach to yet…

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Komarr is in many ways the beginning of a new phase of Miles’s life–not only the Imperial Auditor phase, but the Ekaterin phase.  Even if that takes a book or two to come to fruition…depending on whether you’re reading the omnibus or not, perhaps.  Certainly it’s not going to happen by next week, but come back anyway…

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Diane, it’s 9:00 PM, and I’m holding in my hand a small package of chocolate bunnies.  Also, it is now time, once again, for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as we draw to a close our examination of the novel Memory, with Miles Vorkosigan completing his transition from his former career into his new one, and tying off some personal loose ends.  Have a slice of pie, by all means, while you consider these last two chapters…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Miles prepares carefully for his visit to Gregor to return the Auditor’s paraphenalia, putting on his house uniform and medals again, because he’s planning to ask Gregor for a favour when he does.  He’s not quite certain about his asking, since it seems such a little thing, but it matters to him, at least.  Martin takes him to the Residence, with less damage to the gate this time; Miles finds Gregor also dressed up, probably for some later ceremony.

He and Gregor greet each other cordially, and then he gives Gregor the data card with his report on it as well as the chain.  Before Miles can make his request, Gregor is sitting down at his comconsole; he makes a copy of the report, then gives the data card to his majordomo to take to the next room.  Miles waits, perforce, while Gregor reads the report, making a few mild exclamations, then goes back over selected portions of it.

Gregor picks up the chains, saying thoughtfully that this was one of his better snap decisions.  Miles says that it was just luck that he could do some good; Gregor points out how few people would have been suited for the job, knowing ImpSec well without being part of it.  Miles decides just to thank him.  Gregor says he’s thinking about an appropriate reward for a job well done, which is, traditionally, another job.  He offers Miles the post of Chief of ImpSec, even if he’s not technically in the military anymore.  Miles refuses, saying it’s too much of a tedious desk job, in between periods of complete insanity, and would tie him down too much to Barrayar and Vorbarr Sultana.  He acknowledges that he could do it, but he asks if Gregor is ordering him to take the job; Gregor said he was genuinely curious.  Miles says that Guy Allegre will do a better job, is the right age, has more of the appropriate experience, and is familiar to the Komarrans.  Gregor says he thought Miles would say that, but wanted to give him first refusal.

He asks Miles if he wants anything to eat ot drink, but Miles says that with his surgery scheduled for that afternoon, he’s been told to keep an empty stomach.  Gregor says he must be happy to have the chance to do his own driving now, though Miles admits Martin had grown on him a little.  Miles is just gathering his courage to ask for his favour when the room door slides open and the majordomo returns, then ushers four men into the room–Imperial Auditors all.  Miles reflexively begins wondering what he’s done to warrant their attention, then calms down and greets them politely as they take their seats.

The four Auditors are Lord Vorhovis, back from Komarr, a mere sexagenarian, a former ambassador and Minister of Finance; Dr. Vorthys, an academic appointee of Gregor’s, specializing in engineering failure analysis; Lord Vorgustafson, a retired industrialist so rich as to be virtually unbribable; and Admiral Vorkalloner, a retired officer with no strong political ties.  Vorkalloner greets Miles as “Aral Vorkosigan’s boy” and says that now he knows why he hasn’t seen Miles much in the last ten years.  Miles is struck again by the oddness of the Auditors, taken as a group–all accomplished and/or wealthy, and all more or less eccentric.

Gregor asks them what they thought of Miles’s report.  Vorhovis says it was extraordinary, and Vorthys praises it for being “concise, coherent, and complete”.  Miles tells how Illyan used to send back his reports for correction until he learned how to do it right the first time.

Vorkalloner smiled. “Old Vorsmythe,” he noted, “used to turn in handwritten plastic flimsys. Never more than two pages. He insisted anything important could always be said in two pages.”

“Illegibly handwritten,” muttered Gregor.

“We used to have to go and squeeze the footnotes out of him in person. It became somewhat irritating,” added Vorkalloner.

Vorhovis says he hasn’t left much for the prosecutor to do; Gregor says that Haroche is officially going to plead guilty anyway, which is good, considering how he confessed to the Emperor and all.  Vorhovis says he doubts he would have been able to unravel the case, particularly since Dr. Weddell’s expertise proved critical, and he had never heard of the man.  Vorhovis says the Auditors rarely work together, but they do consult with each other and share resources.  There are really only five effective Auditors at the moment, General Vorparadijs and Admiral Valentine being sort of Emeriti, and General Vorsmythe’s position hadn’t yet been filled since his death two years earlier; the other active Auditor, Vorlaisner, was tied up on the South Continent, but the four of them constitute a quorum.

“That being so, my lords,” said Gregor, “how do you advise Us?”

Vorhovis glanced around at his colleagues, who gave him nods, and pursed his lips judiciously. “He’ll do, Gregor.”

“Thank you.” Gregor turned to Miles. “We were discussing job openings, a bit ago. It happens I also have a place this week for the position of eighth Auditor. Do you want it?”

Miles, shocked, asks if Gregor realizes what he’s saying, offering Miles an appointment for life, and at his age.  Vorhovis agrees that Miles will be the youngest Auditor since the Time of Isolation.  Miles says that Vorparadijs will doubtless disapprove of him based on his youth and physical appearance; Vorhovis says Vorparadijs thought he was too young too, at fifty-eight.  He says that Miles’s galactic experience and unique ImpSec training makes him a valuable resource in his own right.  Miles asks if they’ve read his personnel files, and then reiterates the near-fatal accident and falsified report that led to the end of his ImpSec career.

Vorhovis says that the four of them had discussed it with Gregor and Illyan the day before.  He asks how, in light of Miles’s earlier actions, he was able to refuse Haroche’s bribe of the Dendarii, which would almost certainly never have been recognized as such.

“Haroche would have known. Galeni would have known. And I would have known. Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead. Not three.”

“You would certainly have outlived Captain Galeni, and you might have outlived Haroche. What then?”

Miles blew out his breath, and answered slowly. “Someone might have survived, with my name, in my body. It wouldn’t have been me, anymore. It would have been a man I didn’t much . . . like.”

Gregor points out that, as the junior Auditor, he’ll get the worst jobs, the jobs will probably be totally unrelated to each other, and he’ll be left to succeed or fail on his own; Vorthys says he will get some help now and then.

Miles says this wasn’t the reward he’d been planning to ask for; he’s been hankering after a retroactive promotion to Captain.  He doesn’t need the extra pay grade or anything, just the title; he’d wanted it freely given, but he’ll take it as he gets it.  He doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life as a Lieutenant.  It occurs to him that Gregor and the Auditors have put a lot of effort into considering him for this position–it’s more than just a courtesy to offer it to him, this time.  So he may have a little bit of bargaining power this time.  He mentions that most of the other Auditors are retired senior officers; Gregor points out that he’s the former Admiral Naismith, but Miles says that hardly counts.  For the dignity of the office, he should be at least a captain.

“Persistent,” murmured Vorhovis, “isn’t he?”

“Relentlessly,” Gregor agreed. “Just as advertised. Very well, Miles. Allow me to cure you of this distraction.”

His magic Imperial finger — index, not middle, thank you Gregor — flipped down to point at Miles. “Congratulations. You’re a captain. My secretary will see that your records are updated. Does that satisfy you?”

“Entirely, Sire.” Miles suppressed a grin. So, it was a touch anticlimactic, compared to the thousand ways he’d dreamed this promotion over the years. He was not moved to complain.

Gregor and the Auditors emphasize that the Auditors are never assigned routine tasks–they’re only sent in when other means have failed.  They get complex, disturbing, and occasionally bizarre cases–and often, extremely important ones, like tracking down the traitor at the heart of ImpSec.  Gregor offers Miles the position again, and Miles says yes.

When Miles goes for his surgery that afternoon, he’s allowed to stay under local anesthesia and watch it on a monitor, and go home the next day.  Two days later, he goes in so they can do the first test.  Miles agrees to do it himself, since he may need to do so in the future; Dr. Chenko cautions him that he should usually do it with someone to spot for him.  Miles puts in a mouth-guard and presses the activator; the seizure duly comes, and after Miles regains consciousness they keep him there to do some tests.  Miles asks for reassurances that no other signal is likely to activate his implant, and that it’s not going to get switched permanently by any head trauma; Chenko says that the signal is encoded, and any trauma that could affect the implant will have damaged enough of his brain to give him bigger worries.

Chenko tells him that the seizure was shorter and less intense than his uncontrolled ones, and the hangover effects should also be reduced.  He encourages Miles to check his neurotransmitter levels once a day, so he can schedule his seizures before the levels get too high.  Miles asks if he can fly yet, and Chenko says they’ll do some more tests tomorrow and then let him know.

Gregor has managed to convince Lady Alys to schedule the betrothal ceremony for the beginning of the Winterfair season.  The day before the ceremony, an enormous blizzard hits Vorbarr Sultana and the surrounding Districts, closing the shuttleports and stranding Viceroy Aral Vorkosigan in orbit.  He decides to stay in orbit and come directly to the Imperial Residence the next day.  Miles decides not to fly, but to accompany the Countess in her groundcar.  Their departure is delayed by Zap the Cat having kittens on his House uniform, forcing Miles to painfully extricate them and have them hastily cleaned before they can leave.

The Countess, delighted as ever to find her biological empire increasing, came in thoughtfully bearing a cat-gourmet tray prepared by Ma Kosti that Miles would have had no hesitation in eating for his own breakfast. In the general chaos of the morning, however, he had to go down to the kitchen and scrounge his meal. The Countess sat on the floor and cooed into his closet for a good half-hour, and not only escaped laceration, but managed to pick up, sex, and name the whole batch of little squirming furballs before tearing herself away to hurry and dress.

They eventually manage to leave and make their way through and around the snowdrifts to the Residence, where they are far from the last arrivals, though the snow and wind do seem to be letting up somewhat.  Luckily, most of the Komarran guests have already been staying in the Residence guest quarters.  Lady Alys seems calm, but may be merely in a stage beyond panic, though she is visibly relieved when Miles and Cordelia arrive, and even more so when Aral finally shows up.  Aral opines that Gregor’s weatherman is probably due for a posting on Kyril Island; Miles points out that he may have been pressured to produce an optimistic forecast.  Aral tells Miles that they should have a talk soon, but Lady Alys has first claim on him.

A mere hour late, the ceremony starts, with Aral and Cordelia standing as Gregor’s foster parents, and Miles as Gregor’s Second.  His role mostly consists of conveying ceremonial gifts between the two sides–these days, hardly anyone expects the Second to marry the bride if the groom dies untimely.  Some of the gifts, like a bridle without a horse, a somewhat baffling, but at least they’ve left out the blunted scalpel which was supposed to represent the bride’s genetic cleanliness.  Then he gives the Admonishments to the Bride (there are no Admishments to the Groom, he notes), also somewhat modified to exclude such things as obligation to produce heirs in one’s own womb as opposed to a uterine replicator.  Laisa still isn’t quite sure about all of them, but Cordelia signals her silently to not take them too seriously, while Miles pictures Elli Quinn’s highly unprintable reaction to the Admonishments.

After the ceremony is over, the snowed-in crew settle in to celebrate.  Aral goes off with Gregor, and Miles spots Ivan.  Ivan says people have been asking him about Miles’s Auditorial appointment, and Miles tells them to talk to Vorkalloner or Vorhovis.  He asks about Ivan’s date, and Ivan says he asked Delia Koudelka to marry him.  Miles begins heartily (and fakely) congratulating him, and Ivan says she turned him down for Duv Galeni.  Miles says he’d already figured that much out; he suggests Ivan tries Martya, but Martya has already turned him down, in favour of nearly anyone else.  Miles congratulates Ivan on the carefree bachelor life he can doubtless look forward to, and offers him a kitten to liven up his digs; Ivan tells him to get stuffed.

Miles wanders off and finds the Koudelkas, where Duv Galeni is talking seriously with Commodore Koudelka.  Galeni has elected not to resign from ImpSec, and according to Gregor is being seriously considered for head of Komarran Affairs.  Miles thinks that with three other sisters to marry off, Galeni has good odds of gaining some influential in-laws; Miles wonders if Galeni knows yet that his clone-brother Mark stands a good chance of becoming one of them.

Aral finally returns and congratulates Miles on his promotion–Captain as well as Auditor, though he thinks that the former was a little bit roundabout.  He’s glad that Miles has finally managed to “grow into himself”.  Miles points out that not only was Imperial Auditor not a post that Aral himself ever had, but no Vorkosigan ever has, making him entirely unprecedented.

The Count smiled. “This is not news, Miles.”

Comments

This chapter could almost stand to be the last, wrapping up almost everything, but there is still one more loose thread for the next chapter.  Though that one could almost have been an epilogue…  The betrothal is accomplished, Miles’s parents are both there with him, Miles has his seizure control device, and Miles has a new job.  The only thing he really needs now is a love life, or maybe a wife and children…

I don’t recall if I was surprised the first time I read this to find Miles offered an actual Auditorship, but I suspect I was.  But it is a great conclusion to the book, even if one points out that Imperial Auditor was practically invented for this book, and it may have been as much to give Miles a future career as it was to give him the leverage to run an investigation inside ImpSec.  From an authorial perspective, it gives tremendous leeway for future plots, though admittedly not (always) off-planet ones.  Diplomatic Immunity and Cryoburn notwithstanding.

Miles was thinking earlier that personal probity seemed to be an absolute requirement to be an Imperial Auditor, which is one reason they tend to be older men, whose personality has already been amply demonstrated over the course of decades.  It makes me think that it was Miles’s resistance to Haroche’s proffered bribe that was the final selling point for them, showing them, at least, that his willpower was up to the challenge.  Not sure whether his perceived probity is quite as stellar, but I guess he’ll get ample chance to demonstrate it.

Poor Ivan, though, striking out with both Delia and Martya.  It’s almost like neither of them thought he was serious about them as much as he was panicked and desperate.  Well, of course, Delia was already spoken for, but as I recall it takes a couple more books for Martya to find someone to interest her…though not a Vor, as I recall.  Or even a Barrayaran.  Kareen is, of course, already somewhat interested in Lord Mark, and Olivia…has she even been named yet?  Well, I guess not every sister gets to have her own plot…

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Miles waits outside Customs on a space station orbiting Komarr, contemplating how this interstellar transport hub is also part of the Barrayaran Empire, and wonders if Elli Quinn could be happy here.  It does have domed cities, almost like the space stations she grew up on , though his own life would likely keep him close to Vorbarr Sultana most of the time.

He’d hitched a ride out to Komarr with his parents, on their own way back to Sergyar, and finally felt like he had time enough to really talk to them.  He’d managd to secure Armsman Pym’s services for himself, without even having to trade her for Ma Kosti, and they promised to send him a couple more, those who have been least happy on Sergyar.

Miles has to wait for most of the crowd of arrivals to get through Customs before he spots Elli, and soon enough she spots him, too.  They embrace forcefully and she kisses him thoroughly.  Then she asks why he sent for all of his possessions–currently tied up in Customs, what with all the weapons among them.  Miles sends Pym to straighten things out and have them sent back to Vorkosigan House.  Then Miles takes Elli back to the suite he’d booked for them at the hostel.

Miles says he’d wanted to talk to her, in private, before she met with Allegre and the new ImpSec Galactic Affairs head.  Elli says she’s not sure what’s up with him–the first message, he looked like a zombie, then went incommunicado entirely before finally sending back a more cheerful message, and now an order to report to Komarr to meet with ImpSec, right away.  She asks if he’s back with ImpSec, and he says he’s not, but he’s there to help her transition to her new bosses.  He hadn’t wanted to say too much on his messages, knowing that ImpSec censors will be looking at them.

“But this time, it was frigging incomprehensible. What is going on with you?” Her voice was edged with the same suppressed fear Miles was feeling, Am I losing you? No, not fear. Knowledge.

“I tried to compose a message a couple of times, but it was . . . too complicated, and all the most important parts were things I didn’t want to send tight-beam. The edited version came out sounding like gibberish. I had to see you face-to-face anyway, for, for a lot of reasons. It’s a long story, and most of it is classified, a fact that I am going to completely ignore. I can, you know. Do you want to go down to the restaurant to eat, or order room service?”

Miles,” she said in exasperation. “Room service. And explanations.”

After they order their room-service meals, Miles explains about Illyan’s breakdown, Laisa and Galeni, the investigation which led him to Haroche, his seizure treatment, and his new job.  Elli doesn’t seem to quite understand all that he’s been through, and doesn’t respond much until after their food has arrived.  She says that “Auditor” sounds like an accountant, not like a job he’d enjoy; he tries to explain the actual job, but isn’t sure he can get it across.  She said he’d never mentioned it as one he was interested in; he says he didn’t consider it possible, as well as noting that ambition for the job is not a recommendation to get it.  Elli asks if that means he’s never coming back to the Dendarii, if she’s ever going to see him again.

“That’s . . . one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you tonight, personally, before tomorrow’s business overwhelms everything else.” Now it was his turn to pause for courage, to keep his voice in an even register. “You see, if you were . . . if you stayed here . . . if you were Lady Vorkosigan, you could be with me all the time.”

“No . . .” Her soup would have cooled, forgotten, if not for the stay-warm circuit in the bottom of die bowl. “I’d be with Lord Vorkosigan all the time. Not with you, Miles, not with Admiral Naismith.”

“Admiral Naismith was something I made up, Elli,” he said gently. “He was my own invention. I’m an egotistical enough artist, I suppose, I’m glad you liked my creation. I made him up out of me, after all. But not all of me.”

She says he’s asked her to be Lady Vorkosigan three times already, and each time claimed it was the last.  He says this time it really is the last; if she doesn’t accept the job of Lady Vorkosigan, he has another job offer for her–Admiral of the Dendarii, working for General Allegre.  Quinn says that she’s not ready for the job; Miles says she’s more than ready, and she’s been doing it already.  He says that it’s one or the other, and she has to choose.  She says she can’t bear to stuck on one planet, or even three, for the rest of her life, though Miles points out that there’s more to planets than she thinks.

She makes a counteroffer–he leaves Barrayar behind, comes back to the Dendarii with her, and while they may have to give up their lucrative ImpSec contracts, they’ll be free, and she’d happily marry Admiral Naismith.  Miles says he tried, but it’s just not him.  He’s not a mercenary at heart–not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course–he’s Miles Vorkosigan, not Miles Naismith.  Elli laments the part of him that she could never touch; he says he tried for years, but he can’t snuff Lord Vorkosigan out completely, and she has to accept him as he is, all of him.  He offers her one last time, to be “desperately unhappy” on Barrayar with him.  She says she couldn’t bear it, it would be sacrificing everything she is to be reborn as Lady Vorkosigan, and she’s not as good at resurrection as he is.

Elli wrestles with the decision, but when challenged, she admits that she wants to be Admiral Quinn.  She asks why he forced her to make this painful decision now, and he says he has to be able to move on, one way or the other, with her or without her.

They made love one last time, for old times’ sake, for good-bye, and, Miles realized halfway through, each in a desperate last-ditch effort to please and pleasure the other so much, they would change their mind. We’d have to change more than our minds. We’d have to change our whole selves.

With a sigh, he sat up in the suite’s vast bed, disentangling their limbs. “This isn’t working, Elli.”

“‘L make it work,” she mumbled. He captured her hand, and kissed the inside of her wrist. She took a deep breath, and sat up beside him. They were both silent for a long time.

Quinn says he should be a soldier, not a bureaucrat; Miles says that to be a great soldier, he needs a great war, and there’s a shortage of them around these days. Cetaganda is quiescent, Jackson’s Whole is too disorganized, and the Barrayarans themselves are mostly busy with the colonization of Sergyar.  Though if Barrayar does need him to be a soldier, they can always ask.  They embrace, and he feels the tension leaving them, the melancholy resignation that this is over.

He warns her that, as Admiral, she should stay safely in the command chair, not risk her neck on rescue missions; she calls him a hypocrite.  He then asks her for a favour, regarding Taura–he could see that she was starting to show signs of age, and it might not be long from there until her time finally runs out.  He asks her to send for him in time for him to be there at her side, at the end, as he promised himself years ago.

She settled back. “All right,” she said seriously. After a moment she added, “So . . . did you sleep with her?”

“Um . . .” He swallowed. “She was before your time, Elli.” After another minute he was compelled to add, “And after, from time to time. Very rarely.”

“Hah. I thought so.”

He asks if there was anyone else for her, and she points out that she, at least, was faithful.  He tells her that she’s free to pursue other attachments now, and she says she can free herself, thank you very much.  She wishes him luck finding his Lady Vorkosigan, whoever she is.  She kisses him, and asks if they can have flings, perhaps, from time to time, if their paths happen to cross, and Miles says they might.  Their lovemaking arises more naturally after that, and goes much better.

Afterwards, Elli asks him more about his new job, if he’s going to like it, if there’s much opportunity to advance…  Miles says that he’ll probably outlive most of the current crop, but that’s about it; they seem to be “post-ambitious”, not interested in jockeying for advantage, and he’s looking forward to getting to know them better.  He shares a few choice stories about them, and Elli admits that he just might fit in after all.

Miles returns quietly to Barrayar, spending his first evening back home eating in the kitchen with Pym, Ma Kosti, and her son the Corporal, who shares news of Martin from basic training.  Afterwards he goes to the wine cellar to get a bottle of his grandfather’s oldest wine; when it proves to have gone more than a little off, he pours it out and gets some from a newer, proven batch.  He sits with his wineglass and contemplates his reflection, and Admiral Naismith’s three deaths–once on Jackson’s Whole, once in Illyan’s office, and once at the hands of Haroche.  He prepares to wallow in self-pity.

Instead, he found himself leaning back in the warm chair, laughing softly. He swallowed the laugh, wondering if he’d lost his grip at last.

Just the opposite.

Haroche was no miracle-worker. He wasn’t even a stage magician. He’d had no power then or ever to give or withhold Naismith, though Miles felt a cryonic chill, thinking how close he’d come to delivering himself into Haroche’s hands.

No wonder he was laughing. He wasn’t mourning a death. He was celebrating an escape.

“I’m not dead. I’m here.” He touched his scarred chest in wonder.

Harra Csurik had been almost right. It wasn’t your life again you found, going on. It was your life anew. And it wasn’t at all what he’d been expecting. His slow smile deepened. He was beginning to be very curious about his future.

Comments

The last chapter is more of an epilogue, or a coda…tying off one last loose plot thread–Elli Quinn.  I agree that it would have been a mistake for Elli to come to Barrayar, or even, really, to Komarr; Elena might have been willing to settle for it, had things been different, but Elli is not even necessarily ready to settle down yet.  Plus she has those irrational anti-planet prejudices.  I don’t know that I remember her complaining that much when she was on Earth, but then I guess nobody was proposing that she stay there forever…

I think I may have spotted a symbolism thing, with the wine there…  When Miles finds the wine from his grandfather’s time not to his taste, he briefly considers drinking it anyway, but then decides to get rid of it and take something more modern instead, which he knows is better.  Though…what is that really about?  That he doesn’t have to stick to old Barrayaran ways of thinking just because they’re traditional, but he can indulge in more modern thinking instead?  Though it’s not like he’s drinking some weird offplanet liquor either, right?  It seems clear enough, but I’m not sure it’s entirely apposite for the ending of the book.  After all, Miles has never particularly been one to attach to old Barrayaran ways of thinking, exemplified by people like Count Piotr, Vordarian, Count Vorhalas, General Metzov, so why is it important for him to be able to reject it so easily now?  Okay, maybe I’m just reading too much into this.  Maybe I really don’t get symbolism after all, and maybe, sometimes, a wine bottle is just a wine bottle.


I have reached the end of Memory, and I’m a little sad, because it is perhaps my favourite Vorkosigan book, though Civil Campaign gives it a run for its money.  Next up we get Komarr, which is a little less cheerful and fun, but it does introduce the very important character of Ekaterin Vorsoisson, so there’s that.  My customary week off in between, of course.  So, until then, don’t take any unmapped wormhole jumps…

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