Typhoons! Earthquakes! Hurricanes! Tornados! Smog! Amid the myriad disasters wracking the modern world, there is one shining bright spot (well, more than one, really, but no fewer than one): the Vorkosigan Saga Reread! Holding back the zombie apocalypse and looming earth-striking asteroids, I post here my synopsis and comments for two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s book Komarr, from her award-winning and just generally awesome Vorkosigan Saga. In Chapters Nine and Ten, Ekaterin Vorsoisson takes a stand, and Miles Vorkosigan takes a chance, which, unfortunately, does not turn out as well as could be hoped…
Ekaterin packs Miles’s possessions up for him, not sure what the odd medical device might be.
Vorkosigan’s war story of his Sergeant Beatrice burned in Ekaterin’s mind, as the marks on her wrists seemed to burn. O fortunate man, that his missed grasp had passed in a fraction of a second. What if he had had years to think about it first? Hours to calculate the masses and forces and the true arc of descent? Would it have been cowardice or courage to let go of a comrade he could not possibly have saved, to save himself at least? He’d had a command, he’d had responsibilities to others, too. How much would it have cost you, Captain Vorkosigan, to have opened your hands and deliberately let go?
She’s sent Nikolai’s to a friend’s for the night, which took longer than she’d planned, and returned the rented grav-bed. She hoped that Miles would take the hint and decamp immediately when he returned. She’s barely had time to start on packing her own things, though. Looking over the remnants of her plants, she decides she’s going to have abandon most of it, just like her marriage. She packs her library, but leaves her furniture, thinking that it’s like rescuing possessions from a fire, except in slow motion. She can’t bear to leave behind her great-aunt’s skellytum plant, though.
As she’s trying to figure out how to transport it, Tien returns, asking about dinner; he says that Miles stayed behind at the office. She tells Tien to sit down, then says she’s leaving him, saying she’s “come to the end of herself”. Tien reacts with astonishment, then accusations of infidelity, which she denies levelly. Tien presses her for a reason, grabbing her, and she finally says she found out about the trade fleet shares. She asks if he got the money from Soudha, and he begins to accuse her of nagging him into getting more money.
As he paced, sputtering, his eye fell on the bright red skellytum, sitting in its basin on the kitchen table. “You don’t love me. You only love yourself. Selfish, Kat! You love your damned potted plants more than you love me. Here, I’ll prove it to you.”
He snatched up the pot and pressed the control for the door to the balcony. It opened a little too slowly for his dramatic timing, but he strode through nonetheless, and whirled to face her. “Which shall it be to go over the railing, Kat? Your precious plant, or me? Choose!”
She neither spoke nor moved. Now he will attempt to terrify me with suicide gestures. This made, what, the fourth time around for that ploy? His trump card, which had always before ended the game in his favor.
She says nothing, and eventually he drops the pot over the edge, and she listens for the crash. She berates him for not checking if there was anybody to be injured by it. Eventually his anger winds down and he asks how he can get through to her; she says she wants her honour back, but he can’t give it to her. He says he did it all for her, and she says that apparently he never managed to find out who she was or what she wanted. He says he can’t afford to confess, and she says all she wants is to not have to lie any more.
He says that custody of Nikki is his, by Barrayaran law, which is a tactic he’s never tried before; he belatedly realizes that Nikki is nowhere around, and says she can’t keep his son away from him. She thinks that he can’t have custody if he’s in prison, but she also wonders whether he’d really challenge her to get Nikki.
Tien then says that he’ll fix everything, that he has a plan, and she should wait until he comes back. She makes no promises, merely resumes her packing, but he dashes off. Then she heads down to see what can be salvaged from the wreck of the skellytum.
A fairly short, but intense chapter, as Ekaterin finally ends it with Tien. Would this all have happened without the events of the other plotline as a catalyst? If Soudha was just siphoning off money from, well, government funding, I guess, and was still paying Tien off… He wouldn’t have had any impetus to fix his behaviour, but it might never have gotten bad enough to cross Ekaterin’s threshold. Though we can hope.
The skellytum–which was the symbol for what, again? Well, if it was their marriage, then Tien just threw it over the ledge, and Ekaterin is going to see if she can salvage anything from its wreckage.
Miles reads through files of Waste Heat plentiful roster of employees, few of which were at the office; he assumes they must be out at the experimental station, which he now wishes he’d started the day’s investigation at. Not that he’s sure he knows what he’d be looking for. He hopes that ImpSec can manage to find Marie Trogir.
He hears footsteps, and looks up to see Tien Vorsoisson, out of breath, and carrying two coats and a visitor’s breath mask. He tells Miles has to show him something that he’s just discovered…out at the Waste Heat station. Tien says he wants to take Miles out there right now, while everyone’s gone. Miles agrees, accepts the breath mask and checks it before putting it and the jacket on. Tien grabs his own breath mask, and takes him down to the garage, where they get in a lightflyer.
Miles asks Tien what’s going on; Tien asks about how he might become an Imperial Witness. Miles, not sure of the procedure, says he thinks it’s usually negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and privately thinks that it happens much more rarely in these days of fast-penta, though he admits that as an Imperial Auditor he can make it happen if he wants to. As they lift off, Miles asks why, and Tien eventually says he’s managed to accumulate evidence of a crime, and finally has enough to come forward. He tells Miles that Soudha is running Waste Heat as an empty shell, with ghost employees and fictitious equipment purchases, and Soudha has “tried” to bribe him to keep quiet. Nobody knows enough to check the science, and Tien suspects they’ve manufactured most of their reports.
Miles asks if Radovas’s death is related, and Tien says he doesn’t think so, since Radovas quit before he did; Miles points out they only have Soudha’s word for that. Soudha could have faked more than his reports; Miles realizes that much of the data he’s siphoned from the Waste Heat computers is likely worthless. But technical staffers like Radovas must have known what was going on, and likely been in on the scam.
“I want you to remember, I found this. I turned them in. Just as soon as I was sure.”
His repeated insistence on that last point hinted broadly to Miles’s ear that his knowledge of this fascinating piece of peculation predated his assurance by a noticeable margin. Had Soudha’s bribe been not just offered, but accepted? Till the bubble burst. Was Miles witnessing an outbreak of patriotic duty on Vorsoisson’s part, or an unseemly rush to get Soudha and Company before they got him?
Belatedly, Miles wonders if going off with Tien like this, with no bodyguard and no notice to Tuomonen, was a smart thing to do. But he suspects that ImpSec presence might put a damper on Tien’s eagerness to spill the beans. Still, he won’t disillusion Tien about his chances for getting off scott free until he has some backup, as soon as he can get a quiet moment to call for some. Tien also asks him to tell Ekaterin what he’s done; Miles reminds him that he still needs to see proof.
They draw near to the experimental station, which seems to be quite well-lit, not darkened as vacant as Tien seems to be expecting. Floodlights are on, and vans are loading. Miles almost asks Tien to land the lightflyer out of sight of the building, but Tien puts it down in the parking lot instead. Tien says that they know him, but Miles should stay out of sight. They get out of the lightflyer, breath masks on, Miles keeping Tien in sight. Miles tells Tien to go into the Engineering building, though he half expects to find out that Tien is completely wrong about what’s going on.
Inside the building, they spot Soudha and Madame Radovas, who also spot them. Miles tries to get out his stunner, but Soudha gets the drop on him and stuns him first, Miles wondering belatedly what it’ll do to his seizure stimulator.
He reawakens with a stunner migraine, bright lights shining on him, but still wearing his breath mask, so he restrains his incipient nausea. His arms are shackled to posts of a railing outside the building. His commlink is still on his wrist, where he can’t reach it to activate it, and it’s designed to be resistant to bumps. He can’t tell if he had a seizure already, or if he’s still due. Tien is chained to the railing to his right, and stil unconscious.
He smiled grimly under his mask. All things considered, he’d rather Vorsoisson were free and able to try for help. Better still, leave Vorsoisson fastened there, free himself to try for help. But twisting his hands in their tight chains merely scraped his wrists raw.
Tien still hasn’t recovered consciousness by the time Miles hears footsteps, which prove to belong to the accountant Lena Foscol, who Miles remembers from the briefing. She greets Miles and takes out a key to their shackles, which she leaves out of reach between Miles and Tien. Obviously they expect someone to come for Miles, and also expect to be gone themselves by that time. She takes out a data disk which she claims contains a complete record of the bribes Tien has taken, and tapes it to the back of Miles’s jacket, saying that’s much better than just mailing it to Tuomonen. Miles begins to ask her questions, but she says she has no plans to stay around and chat with him. Tien begins to wake up, and Foscol lingers just long enough to be sure he isn’t going to be sick, then leaves, admonishing them not to hurt themselves before they get collected. A lift-van leaves shortly after, leaving them in silence. Miles half expects Soudha to have left the reactor to self-destruct, but since Foscol seems to expect the evidence to be retrieved, perhaps not.
Tien has regained full consciousness, and asks Miles what’s going on; Miles says they must have realized their time was up, and decided to run for it. Miles and Tien were chained up to keep them out of the way. Miles asks Tien when he first found out about the embezzlement scheme; Tien says it was just a week ago, though Foscol had claimed more like eight months. Miles isn’t sure she didn’t invent the evidence, but that was a matter for ImpSec, for later. He asks if Tien thanks that’s all that was going on; they must have had weeks of time to plan their retreat, but rather than sneaking out of the Empire with their money, they’re taking off vans full of equipment with them.
Vorsoisson is quiet for a few minute, then tells Miles that his oxygen is almost gone. Miles realizes that Tien hadn’t checked his mask before they left, and Ekaterin’s earlier reminder may have indicated a certain amount of carelessness about it. Miles almost wishes his hand bones were brittle enough for him to break them and pull his wrists out of the restraints, but now they’re hard and plastic. Tien begins to struggle, to wrench out of his shackles, though Miles implores him to save his strength and oxygen in case he still has enough to last until rescue. Miles hopes that the plan wasn’t to kill both of them, though killing an Imperial Auditor is an act of treason just barely short of killing the Emperor himself.
Vorsoisson wriggled his chin and tried to peer down over his nose into the dim recesses of his jacket to see the top of the canister strapped there. “Oh, God. I think it’s reading zero.”
“Those things always have some safety margin. Stay still, man! Try for some self-control!”
Instead Vorsoisson began to struggle ever more frantically. He threw himself forward and backward with all his considerable strength, trying to break the railing. Blood drops flew from the flayed skin of his wrists, and the railing reverberated and bent, but it did not break. He pulled up his knees and then flung himself down through the meter-wide opening between the posts, trying to propel his full body weight against the chains. They held, and then his backward-scrambling legs could not regain the walkway. His boot heels scraped and scrabbled on the wall. His dizzied choking, at the last, led to vomiting inside his breath mask. When it slipped down around his neck in his final paroxysms, it seemed almost a mercy, except for the way it revealed his distorted, purpling features. But the screams and pleas stopped, and then the gasps and gulpings. The kicking legs twitched, and hung limply.
Miles begins shivering in the silence left afterwards, trying to calm himself down to keep from going into a seizure, which would kill him as dead as Tien.
Tien attempts to redeem himself, belatedly, by trying to turn “State’s Evidence” on the Waste Heat embezzlers, glossing over the fact that he’s been taking their bribes happily for months. Miles could have been to the experimental station at least twice already, and maybe if he had it would have turned out better than this, being ambushed and hung out to dry. Or maybe not. In any event, whatever they’re up to out there, they got away, at least for now. And Miles is right, if it was just money, they wouldn’t have had to take so much stuff with them…unless they’d fashioned it into a solid gold lightflyer or something.
Tien died the way he lived–an idiot. Jeopardized by his own carelessness, then dooming himself by panicking at the wrong moment. I think it’s safe to say that he won’t be much lamented, except by those who may have wanted to fast-penta him for more information. Ekaterin may have disconnected herself from him enough to even be able to miss out on the survivor’s guilt. Poor Nikki, I suppose. I don’t think he gets the whole story, at least not yet.
We’re only halfway through the book, and already we seem to have come to sort of climax. So obviously there’s still a lot more to resolve–like what, if anything, does all of this have to do with the soletta disaster that’s our ostensible plot? It always seems to me that it takes a long time to get back to the whole reason the Auditors were sent to Komarr in the first place, but maybe that’s just because events on the planet are happening faster than the slow accumulation of evidence in orbit. But it all ties together, somehow.
Will Miles be rescued in time? What is Ekaterin doing in the meantime–since, by established convention, the next chapter will be hers? Another week will bring those answers, barring unfortunate delay.