Where will your dreams take you tonight? Will you be bowling on the starship Enterprise? Stuck in a closet with Vanna White? Or perhaps reading the latest installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread? I can’t speak, of course, for what you may find in your dreams, but in reality this week’s installment follows two more chapters in Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Komarr, where Miles Vorkosigan continues investing the odd appearance of an engineer’s body near a disastrous orbital collision, and Ekaterin Vorsoisson continues to lose faith in her husband’s good intentions.
Ekaterin dozes on the couch waiting for the men to return. Considering the bruises on her wrists left by Miles’s grip, she ponders the fact that she was more aware of his odd, stunted body than any other man’s in years, especially since Tien’s accusations of infidelity. But his scars give him the air of a survivor, and she wishes she could get some tips from him on just how to do that.
The men return–Tien and the two Auditors, no Tuomonen, just family and guests. Vorkosigan is telling Tien that he wishes tomorrow’s inspection to come as a surprise to his staff. Ekaterin asks if they found anything, but Vorthys said Madame Radovas doesn’t know why her husband was in space. Tien makes a comment about middle-aged men running off with younger women, and Ekaterin wonders to herself why Tien can’t do that, instead of maintaining fidelity as his sole virtue.
The household goes to bed, and Ekaterin lies awake next to her husband, who she can tell is also not asleep. She thinks about how his brother’s suicide was such a bad example for Tien, whose own attempts had been sadly ineffectual. While she’s trying to sleep, Tien gets up and goes out to the kitchen. She remembers an old family recipe for insomnia, warm milk with brandy and spices, and after a few minutes gets up to make him some. In the kitchen, though, the only light is the comconsole; it puzzles her, since she was brought up never to call anyone this late except in cases of birth or death, and she lurks in the doorway to find out what’s going on.
Tien is talking to Administrator Soudha, asking him about Radovas’s body; Soudha seems to still be fully dressed, and doesn’t seem to be disturbed about Radovas’s fate. Tien tells him about the surprise inspection tomorrow; Ekaterin wonders why he’s going against Vorkosigan’s orders, in the Emperor’s Voice. Tien is worried about what they’ll find, particularly in the Waste Heat experimental station, which apparently consists mostly of fictional employees, and Soudha tells him calmly to keep the Auditors away from it, reminding him that he’s getting an extra salary out of the scam as well. Soudha tells him to make excuses if the Auditor wants to speak to anyone fictional; Lena Foscol’s accounts are meticulous, and nobody will be able to poke any holes in them.
Tien says he’s the one who’s had Imperial Auditors in his house, and it’s making him antsy; he then asks Soudha for another twenty thousand mark advance on his stipend, or else. Soudha isn’t impressed by his attempted threats, since Tien has as much to lose as anyone; he tells Tien not to calm down, and just cooperate with ImpSec so they don’t get suspicious. Tien insists that there’s more like fifty thousand marks a month in imaginary salaries in Soudha’s department, and asks what happens if ImpSec decides to fast-penta their accountant.
Ekaterin, horrified at what Tien has gotten involved in, backs away, missing the end of the exchange; she slips into the bathroom to wait for Tien’s return, shaking and staring at her reflection. When she returns to bed, she claims to be unwell. Trying to keep from believing the worst, she asks Tien if he’s done anything for their galactic trip, but he says he was too busy, even though she knows he already transferred the money out of her account. She offers to take care of the arrangements, but he shuts her down, telling her that can wait until her uncle’s gone home. She’s forced to conclude that Tien’s urgent need for money has nothing to do with his promise to her.
She lies awake for the rest of the night, waiting for the dawn, reduced as it is by the soletta accident. In the morning, she sends Nikki off to school, and Uncle Vorthys leaves for his orbital flight; Vorthys says he’s not sure if he’ll be back, but if the case drags on, his wife might come to join them. She avoids Tien and Miles by escorting Nikki to school, and they’re gone by the time she returns. Then she heads to Tien’s comconsole, wishing, now, that she’d taken Miles up on his offer to show her how he’d done it.
Tien’s financial accounts aren’t locked; there should have been a respectable accumulation there, but it seems to have almost all vanished, with no trace of how. Except for the most recent transfer, her money, which turns out to have been sent to a hidden account. Her attempt to access it requires a palm-print; all their other bank accounts have shared access, in case one or the other becomes disabled, and it’s possible that this falls under the same umbrella.
Maybe ImpSec covert ops doesn’t have all the advantages, she thought grimly, and placed her right hand in the light box. If only you were willing to betray a trust, why, the most amazing range of possible actions opened up to you.
So did the file.
She took a deep breath, and started reading.
Tien seems to have been an aficionado of Komarran trade fleets. Komarr went from charging traders who used its wormholes to starting its own trade fleets. Some trade fleets return with spectacular profits; some don’t return at all, or return as failures. Many of the fleets have publicly traded shares, and buying them is Komarrans’ favourite form of gambling. Tien, focusing on the successes as always, confident in his luck, had borrowed sixty thousand marks, and added forty thousand marks of his own money (or, more likely, money from Soudha’s fake employees, since that represents eight months’ salary) and put it all on one fleet. That fleet had left amid much hype and fanfare, but returned tail between its legs after losing precious cargo and ships in a wormhole mishap. Tien has now lost three-quarters of his money, and still has twenty thousand marks of his debt left to pay off, a situation which is apparently growing desperate. She could almost feel sorry for him, if so much of the original money hadn’t been embezzled.
The scam at the terraforming project is more likely to be Soudha’s than Tien’s; most likely Soudha was just buying Tien off with his own share of the profits. Maybe Tien’s gamble on the fleet had been an attempt to extricate himself from the scam, though privately she doubts he would necessarily have followed through if the windfall had actually come through. Nor would she, before today, have been suspicious if he’s presented her with trade-fleet-won profits on that scale.
A Vor woman’s first loyalty was supposed to be to her husband. Even unto treason, even unto death. The sixth Countess Vorvayne had followed her husband right up to the stocks in which he had been hung to die for his part in the Saltpetre Plot, and sat at his feet in a hunger strike, and died, in fact a day before him, of exposure. Great tragic story, that one—one of the best bloody melodramas from the history of the Time of Isolation. They’d made a holovid of it, though in the vid version the couple had died at the same moment, as if achieving mutual orgasm.
Has a Vor woman no honor of her own, then? Before Tien entered my life, did I not have integrity all the same?
Yes, and I laid it on my marriage oath. Rather like buying all your shares in one fleet.
Not that she would win back her honour by turning in Tien to the authorities. She’s honour-bound to stay with him, no matter how much she reduces herself to do so, since if she’s not a Vor woman, she has nothing left. Could she bring herself to leave? Maybe now, before his crimes come to light, she might be able to manage it, even though it’s still desertion; if she stays, she’s condoning his actions by her silence. She sits silent for a long time, trying to decide what to do.
After last week I was beginning to feel that Komarr must have longer chapters than Memory, or some of the other books in the series. I did a quick word count on the digital copies that I have, and apparently I was partly right. Last week’s Komarr chapters, Five and Six, were over twice as long as the average chapter in either book…but the rest of them weren’t that much longer. This one is fairly short, for instance, though highly important, because now we discover that Tien is, in fact, involved with the shenanigans that are going on. Right now it’s not clear that it has anything to do with the soletta accident, except for the linkage of Radovas and Soudha. Still, that could be a coincidence, couldn’t it?
Ekaterin’s impulse to make the milk-brandy drink for Tien is probably her last charitable feeling toward him. It’d take a lot of work for him to overcome that, were he to become aware of the problem at all, and I doubt it’d work anyway. She is now driven so far away that she is seriously considering cutting her losses and forsaking her marriage oath. I wonder what kind of draconian divorce laws Barrayar has…I can’t recall running across any examples of divorce there, in fact, so it must be pretty unpleasant.
Miles and Tien are met by Tuomonen in Tien’s apartment building, which strikes Miles as meaning that Tuomonen means to act as Miles’s ImpSec guard whether he wants one or not. Miles and Tuomonen get a bubble-car to themselves, Komarran commuters generally wanting to avoid riding with ImpSec officers in uniform; Tuomonen notes that he does sometimes wear civilian clothes, when he wants to catch up on Serifosan gossip. He tells Miles that he sent the library to ImpSec Solstice with one of the guards; it turns out that ImpSec Serifosa has a staff of only four people, not counting the ten guards at the Sub-Consulate. Serifosa tends to be fairly quiet, even during the Revolt, and Tuomonen makes up for his lack of staff by subsidizing a group of salaried local informants, though none of them, sadly, in Terraforming.
Tuomonen does note that Terraforming requires the least background checks of any government department, the presumption being that it’s more important that they love their own planet and want to improve it; sabotaging it won’t do their own people any good. Miles wonders if Radovas was one of the disaffected.
At the Terraforming building, Tien takes them up to his office, and they makes plans for the day’s inspection. Tuomonen says he talked to Andro Farr, and he wants to follow up by talking to some of Marie Trogir’s work-friends. Miles says that he’ll start from the Radovas angle, then, starting by talking to Soudha. Tien takes Miles down to Waste Heat, leaving Tuomonen behind to examine Tien’s comconsole. Soudha isn’t there, but Miles dismisses Tien anyway, examining Soudha’s office, which is fairly sparse, containing nothing conspicuously telling.
Soudha arrives, only mildly surprised to find Miles in his office. Miles tells him about Radovas’s death, watching for his reaction carefully. Soudha guesses a heart attack, before Miles tells him about finding the body in space, and Soudha concludes that it must have something to do with the soletta accident, given Miles’s presence. Soudha asks about Marie Trogir, who Miles tells him hasn’t been found yet. Miles asks for some insight into Radovas’s personality, but Soudha merely says that he was a good worker but kept to himself. Miles asks about Radovas’s hiring, and Soudha said that waste heat is a concern on space stations, so he brought valuable experience to the project. Miles then asks why Radovas would have left; Soudha says he gathered the impetus came from Marie Trogir, about whom he knew even little, since Radovas had hired her and, as her supervisor, did all her evaluations.
Miles asks to examine Radovas’s work area, but Soudha says it’s already been reassigned, though they haven’t hired a replacement yet. Miles asks to speak with some coworkers, and Soudha says that some are on vacation, and others out at the experimental station, but offers him a couple who are present. The first, Arozzi, is a younger man, scrambling to cover Radovas’s work, who didn’t know much about him, but, Miles judged, may have had a crush on Marie Trogir. The other, Cappell, a mathematician, is more experienced and a little cynical, and not close to either Radovas or Trogir.
He’d be glad to show my Lord Auditor a few thousand more pages of his work. No? What was Trogir like? Well-enough looking, he supposed, but rather sly. Look what she’d done to poor Radovas, eh? Did he think Trogir might be dead as well? No, women were like cats, they landed on their feet. No, he’d never actually experimented with testing that old saying on live cats; he didn’t have any pets himself. Nor a wife. No, he didn’t want a kitten, thank you for the offer, my Lord Auditor . . . .
Over lunch with Tuomonen, they wonder if they should get a female interrogator to deal with the more reticent female coworkers. Komarran egalitarianism can be inconvenient for Barrayarans–for one thing, Barrayaran women who go to study on Komarr tend to stay there, which only exacerbates the already pronounced sexual imbalance. Tuomonen himself, of course, just married a Komarran woman, and says that Komarrans tend to be in favour of the Emperor doing the same thing. Even Barrayarans on Komarr seem to be in favour of the upcoming marriage, and those who disapproved of Tuomonen’s choice at the time now credit him with shrewd foresight.
Miles asks if Tuomonen found out much about Radovas; most of them knew little about him, though one women had thought Cappell was the one who was sweet on Trogir. Miles considered this as a possible motive, but surely Andro Farr would have been a better target for a romantic rival. Farr himself is a possible suspect, but so far they’ve found nothing to implicate him. Tuomenen says Farr has so far been his best source of information on Trogir. Miles debates going topside, but decides to stay down here and pursue this end of the story.
Soudha supplied Miles with more human sacrifices in the form of employees called back from the experiment station. They all seemed more interested in their work than in office gossip, but perhaps, Miles reflected, that was an observer-effect. By late afternoon, Miles was reduced to amusing himself wandering around the project offices and terrorizing employees by taking over their comconsoles at random and sampling data, and occasionally emitting ambiguous little “Hm . . .” noises as they watched him in fearful fascination. This lacked even the challenge of dissecting Madame Vorsoisson’s comconsole, since the government-issue machines all opened everything immediately to the overrides in his Auditor’s seal, regardless of their security classification. He mainly learned that terraforming was an enormous project with a centuries-long scientific and bureaucratic history, and that any individual who attempted to sort clues through sheer mass data assimilation had to be frigging insane.
Now, delegating that task, on the other hand . . . Who do I hate enough in ImpSec?
While digging through Venier’s comconsole, Tien asks Miles if he needs him for anything else, or if he can go home. Miles gives him leave to go, promising to go collect his things later that night–or maybe even just send someone for them, to avoid any further confrontation with Ekaterin. Tuomonen comes to check on his progress, and Miles says the best thing he’s found was an encrypted file of Barrayaran jokes, which Tuomonen says his mother-in-law has already sent him.
Miles says they haven’t found anything there, maybe even a suspicious amount of nothing, and he may want to sleep on it overnight. Maybe something will come in from the analysis of Radovas’s library, and in any event he plans to visit the Waste Heat experiment station tomorrow. He’s tempted to call in the troops, do a full audit, fast-penta everyone in sight…but he has no reason. Tuomonen points out that, as an Imperial Auditor, Miles doesn’t need a reason, he can just order it done; Miles remains noncommittal. Tuomonen offers to bring Miles to the ImpSec office, but Miles wants to stay and see if he can figure out what’s bothering him. He does accept Tuomonen’s offer to send someone else by later to pick him up, which fits in with Miles’s plan to send a minion to the Vorsoissons’. Tuomonen leaves Miles considering Venier’s comconsole.
Another short chapter, with a lot of nothing–we know, of course, that Soudha was forewarned, and so if there had been anything incriminating, they may have had time to remove it. Who would have done it, in the middle of the night, though? Would Miles have noticed staff members who were suspiciously tired, or taking stim pills? Maybe Soudha just kept the main office scrupulously clean and unincriminating on principle, or had already started cleaning up when the Auditors first arrived, or when the accident happened…
One thing is for sure, that Waste Heat experiment station (or is it an “experimental” station?) is definitely looming larger and larger. Something is going on out there, according to Soudha and Tien’s late-night conversation, and even Miles is getting suspicious of it. What could be out there? Good thing Miles is going to check it out tomorrow…then we’ll definitely get to the bottom of things.
The next two chapters, in fact, I’m pretty sure things start to come to a head, if I’m remembering them correctly. Though we’re not up to the halfway point in the book yet, so I could be getting ahead of things.
I do try to keep from rereading further ahead than the current week’s chapters (though, with Memory, I often found myself slipping, and I do wonder if it’ll happen again in A Civil Campaign, but so far Komarr doesn’t seem to be tempting me the same way), so I’m mosly going on vague memories of what comes next. Come back next week, and you’ll see if I was right…