If this were the last night of world, what would you be doing? Probably spending time with your loved ones, or perhaps looting. Certainly not reading the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. So, with any luck, there will be a tomorrow, and you can go ahead and read the next installment guilt-free. This week we cover two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Komarr, in which Ekaterin rescues Miles Vorkosigan from his shackles, and deals with her husband’s death.
Ekaterin is just making one last check of the apartment before leaving for good, when the comconsole chimes. She almost doesn’t answer, but she considers that it might be Tuomonen or somebody looking for Miles, or her uncle; on the other hand, it could be Tien. She decides to answer, though vowing to hang up immediately if it is Tien.
It turns out to be Lena Foscol, from Tien’s department; Ekaterin immediately recalls her name coming up in the overheard call from the night before, as a “meticulous thief”, so she must be involved in the whole embezzlement plot. Foscol is wearing a parka, as if she just came in from outside. She tells Ekaterin to come pick up her husband at the Waste Heat station, and where she can find him. Ekaterin asks if he can’t get a ride with anyone else, but Foscol, smiling, says everyone else has left, and cuts off.
This will be a major hassle for her; she’ll have to rent a flyer from out of her meagre funds, and she was already wondering if she wanted to pay for lodgings that night or not. Foscol hadn’t mentioned Miles, and if he’s not there, then Tien would insist on piloting on the return trip, and he might try to kill himself again, and take her with him… Only the thought of Nikki, and the fact that she and Tien will still have to have some sort of working relationship for taking care of him, keeps her from deciding to just leave Tien out there.
The bubble-car trip to the rental place is delayed half an hour, and the flyer she rents isn’t in the best condition, but she feels better when she’s actually flying through the solitude of the Komarran night. She briefly entertains a fantasy of just flying off somewhere, but she has obligations–for one, she’ll have to earn herself some money just to pay her and Nikki’s passage home to Barrayar, or else resort to borrowing money from her family. She sternly admonishes herself to do whatever is necessary to accomplish what she needs to.
As she approaches the Waste Heat station, she sees lights on and plenty of vehicles in the light, and is annoyed that Foscol evidently lied to her. On the bright side, maybe she won’t have to ride back with Tien after all. After she lands, she goes inside to try to arrange another ride, but finds the station deserted, and in disarray, with vacant rooms, and a slagged comconsole. She isn’t quite sure where to find Tien, from Foscol’s directions, so she heads back outside to circle the building.
Halfway around, she spots two odd figures up against the railing, and hurries over to find Miles and Tien; it’s immediately obvious that Tien is dead. Miles, on the other hand, is still alive, to her relief, though both are still shackled to the railing. She’s very glad that Nikki isn’t with her, and she wonders how she’ll break the news to him. She tells Miles she’s going to get some cutters, but he tells her there’s supposed to be a key on the walkway. She finds it and fumblingly unlocks Miles, though she has to unstick the cuffs from his bloody flesh, and grab him to keep him from pitching forward once he’s fully free. His legs feel cold and stiff, and she rubs them to try to get the warmth back into them.
Miles tells her to leave Tien’s body for Tuomonen, as well as the packet of information on his back. He apologizes for having been unable to do anything; Ekaterin tells him they need to get inside to the warmth, and she helps him to the building entrance. Once inside, he asks her to hit the button on his wristcom, his fingers too numb to do much yet, and she removes their breath masks. Miles tells Tuomonen to come out to the Waste Heat station, with forensics and a medical team; Tuomonen is furious that Miles went out there without checking with him, especially after learning that Tien is dead, but promises to get there as soon as possible.
Miles apologizes again for being unable to save Tien, then suddenly remembers the power plant. He tells Ekaterin they might have sabotaged it to blow up, and she helps him to go check it out. He examines all the readouts, and says it doesn’t look like it’s set for self-destruct, but he’s not sure why not. He tells her how he and Tien came out, and asks what she’s doing there; she tells him about Lena Foscol’s call, which she almost didn’t answer. Miles assures her that Foscol would certainly have called someone else if Ekaterin hadn’t been there; he asks about the time of the call, then tells her fiercely that Tien was already dead by the time Foscol had called, so she couldn’t have saved him. He tells her how Soudha had stunned them, and it was Tien’s own bad breath-mask habits that had killed him. Ekaterin says that it wouldn’t have occurred to Komarrans that anybody might go out without a fully charged breath mask. He tells her that he doesn’t think it was intentional murder, at least.
“Death from stupidity,” she said bitterly. “Consistent to the end.”
He glanced up at her, his eyes not so much startled as aware, and questioning. “Ah?”
“Lord Auditor Vorkosigan.” She swallowed; her throat was so tight it felt like a muscle spasm. The silence in the building, and outside, was eerie in its emptiness. She and Vorkosigan might as well have been the only two people left alive on the planet. “You should know, when I said Foscol called as I was leaving . . . I was leaving. Leaving Tien. I’d told him so, when he came home from the department tonight, and just before he went back, I suppose, to get you. What did he do?”
He took this in without much response at first, as if thinking it over. “All right,” he echoed himself softly at last. He glanced across at her. “Basically, he came in babbling about some embezzlement scheme which had been going on in Waste Heat Management, apparently for quite some time. He sounded me out about declaring him an Imperial Witness, which he seemed to think would save him from prosecution. It’s not quite that simple. I didn’t commit myself.”
“Tien would hear what he wanted to hear,” she said softly.
She tells him about Tien’s pathological fear that someone might find out about his Vorzohn’s; he’d only found out himself after his brother had killed himself over it. Nikki, who was a baby then, had been a body-birth–which had seemed romantic and heroic at the time–so he’d never gotten gene-scanned either. He’d planned to get it treated offplanet, which added to the cost, and they’d never managed to save up enough for it. For the past few months, he’d seemed more confident about it, because of this embezzlement scheme of Soudha’s, which he was taking a cut of. She said she found the bribes in his financial records, and apologizes to Miles for being so angry at him for looking at hers. She tells him about the money he’d gotten which he had then mostly blown on trade fleet shares.
“Well, no, not quite all. About three-quarters of it.” At his astonished look, she added, “Tien’s luck has always been like that.”
“I always used to say you made your own luck. Though I’ve been forced to eat those words often enough, I don’t say it so much anymore.”
“Well . . . I think it must be true, or how else could his luck have been so consistently bad? The only common factor in all the chaos was Tien.” She leaned her head back wearily. “Though I suppose it might have been me, somehow.” Tien often said it was me.
Miles asks if she loved her husband, and Ekaterin, forced to honesty, said she must have, once, but for a long time it’s been reduced to cleaning up after him, until she stopped caring at all. She felt like he’d fall down without her, and it turned out she was right. She thinks to herself that Tien’s death won’t have simplified her life at all–instead of divorcing him, she has to clean up his bankrupt estate. But at least she won’t have to deal with Tien while doing it. She asks if Tien will be charged, and Miles says that only rarely, in Barrayaran law, are charges pressed against the dead, but she’ll probably have to testify.
Miles says they probably took his stunner, searches his pockets, then looks alarmed and says they’ve taken his Auditor’s Seal. While it will give them access to a lot of government computers, though, it is also traceable by ImpSec. He calls Tuomonen back and informs him of this circumstance. Somewhat recovered, he insists on searching the building, with only occasional assistance from Ekaterin; by the time they reach the lobby, Tuomonen and his men have arrived.
“My lord!” said Tuomonen, pulling down his breath mask. His tone of voice sounded familiarly maternal to Ekaterin’s ear, halfway between Thank God you’re safe and I’m going to strangle you with my bare hands.
“Good evening, Captain,” said Vorkosigan genially. “So glad to see you.”
“You didn’t notify me!”
“Yes, it was entirely my mistake, and I’ll be certain to note your exoneration in my report,” Vorkosigan said soothingly.
He assures Tuomonen that most of his injuries are self-inflicted. He tell Tuomonen to come with him to the back of the building, where they should record everything they find, and retrieve Tien’s body; Ekaterin gives them the key to the restraints, and Miles tells her to wait there. When they return, Miles finally submits to having his wounded wrists treated, though he’s more concerned about an incipient seizure, and insists he needs to get back to Serifosa. Miles asks Ekaterin if Tien had ever mentioned anything going on with the scam apart from the money, but she had never heard anything to that effect. Tuomonen tells Miles that, even if they didn’t know about Miles’s seizures and Tien’s breath mask, he wants to call it attempted murder for the purposes of issuing a security alert.
Miles says that there’s still something funny about this. Even Komarran patriots, who might not balk at robbing Barrayarans blind, should stop short of robbing their own terraforming project. If they weren’t just trying to get rich, what were they spending the money on? They took two vans of equipment but left their personal effects behind; they didn’t split up to make it easier to escape, but left in a group. They were working on something out here, and Miles hopes that the techs can find out what it was. He wishes they had Marie Trogir, or that he’d fast-penta’d Madame Radovas. He insists again that he has to go back to Serifosa; Tuomonen insists on a guard, and Ekaterin, feeling foolish, says she has to return the rented flyer. Then she recalls that she can go back to her own apartment now after all.
The presence of Miles and the guard causes some odd looks at the rental office, but their bubble-car trip is private and undelayed. When they reach her apartment, though, they find the lock broken and the door ajar. The guard goes inside, stunner out, and emerges a few minutes later to confirm that someone was in there, but they’re gone now. Her and Miles’s respective suitcases had been broken open and searched, and a few drawers searched, but little else seems to have been done. Miles takes a brief look and reports that his data-case had been taken, and he calls Tuomonen to report the situation.
He does find his odd device in its gel-pack case, and asks Ekaterin for her help. He explains that the device is used to trigger seizures in a controlled situation to keep them from happening at inconvenient times. With all his recent stress, he suspects he’s overdue, and wants to get it over with. He says he prefers to have a spotter to make sure nothing goes wrong while he’s under. They head for the living room, where she encourages him to lie on the floor so he won’t be able to fall. He inserts a plastic mouthguard and is about to trigger the device when Ekaterin asks if it could have been sabotaged. Miles swears to himself, and says all he was thinking was that he should stop putting off his seizure.
Then his eyes roll up and he falls over in a seizure. Ekaterin puts his mouthguard back in, watching his body twitch and shudder, his face oddly free of his personality. It seems like a long time, but it’s only three minutes before the seizure is over, and another minute after that before he awakens again. He apologizes, and promises to get out of her way soon; she asks him to keep the guard there, at least, until her lock is repaired. In fact, she enlists the guard to put him to bed, since he doesn’t seem as unaffected by the aftermath of the seizure as he’d led her to believe. They put him in Nikki’s room, which lacks a comconsole and so gives Miles a greater chance of uninterrupted sleep. The guard takes up station in the living room, and Ekaterin takes some painkillers and lies down fully dressed on her own bed, where, despite everything, she manages to drift off to sleep.
When I stopped after the last chapter, I was trying to remember what Ekaterin was doing while Miles was being rescued from the Waste Heat station. Apparently I had completely forgotten that she was the one who was sent to pick him up. A good call on the part of the author–and justified plotwise too, since they took the opportunity to toss the apartment while she was out–for dealing with the potential difficulty of having strictly alternating POV chapters and then having to find something for one character to do when something exciting is happening to the other character.
I remember, in the earlier books, that I always wanted to avoid trying to use the past tense of “fast-penta”, since I wasn’t sure how it might be spelled, and I don’t recall if the author ever used it herself. It looks like by this point, at least, she had settled on “fast-penta’d”, which I guess is okay. I’ve long been under the impression that this is a reasonably legitimate use of the apostrophe, for adding a suffix to a word in an unorthodox way, even for plurals, as in “60’s” or “straight A’s”, so I guess it’ll work in this case. People will often use something in spoken language that can’t be written without breaking any number of rules, in any case, and brave writers will then try to write it down anyway.
It’s a little bit funny for Miles to have a spontaneous seizure when he was about to use his seizure stimulator anyway. I almost picture the first draft having him using the stimulator as intended, and then an early reader pointing out that they should check to see if it had been sabotaged first…so she came up with a revised version of the scene. Miles is definitely lucky not to have had his seizure while shackled up like that, at least, but it was a good point of tension.
Also amused to note that this time Ekaterin has no compunctions about putting Miles in Nikki’s bed, whereas before she balked because the congruence of sizes seemed too insulting. Good to know she’s gotten past that.
Miles awakens with a horrible combination of post-seizure and stun hangover, to find himself in Nikki’s room; Ekaterin is waking him up to tell him of Tuomonen’s arrival.
“Ah,” said Miles thickly. He struggled upright. Madame Vorsoisson was holding out a tray with a large mug of black coffee and a bottle of painkiller tablets. Two tablets had already been extracted from the bottle, and lay ready for ingestion beside the cup. Only in his imagination did a heavenly choir supply background music. “Oh. My.”
Miles has only been asleep for about four hours, but, considering what might have been going on in those hours, he refuses to go back to bed. Ekaterin tells him that Tuomonen found his seal, so he decides against having a shower before talking to him. He does a few stretches to work out stiffness, trying to figure out what to say to Ekaterin; he settles on asking if she’s all right, and wishing he could fix it somehow.
He goes out to the living room, where Tuomonen is waiting, and deliberately does not stop Ekaterin from joining them. Tuomonen gives Miles his seal, which seems freshly washed, and Miles guesses, correctly, that it was found in a sewer pipe; Tuomonen says they luckily acquired technical help in retrieving it, rather than just blasting the pipe open with plasma arcs. Miles surmises that they’d deliberately lured Ekaterin out of the apartment before breaking in and opening up his data case, and then disposing of it down the toilet. The data case mostly contained classified reports about the soletta accident.
Tuomonen says they plan to head over the Terraforming offices, fast-penta everyone there, and try to figure out who’s missing because they’ve fled and who are just fictional. Miles says they probably won’t find out anything new, but they might as well try. Tuomonen tells Ekaterin that because of her husband’s suspicious death, she’ll need to be fast-penta’d as well. Miles protests that there wasn’t anything suspicious about Tien’s death, since he was right there, but Tuomonen points out that she can be cleared as a suspect. Ekaterin merely asks Tuomonen when he wants to do it, and he says it won’t be until afternoon, and asks her to stay put until then. She says she will need to pick up Nikki sometime, but on the whole prefers it to be after her interrogation, once Tuomonen assures her that he won’t be hearing about his father’s death from anyone else first. He also tells her, at Miles’s urging, that ImpSec will be monitoring her comconsoles for any calls, in case anyone tries to contact Tien, not realizing he’s dead.
Miles asks for a secure vid-link so he can make some calls himself, in particular to Vorthys, and also asks Tuomonen to check his medical equipment for tampering. He asks about the data-packet left with Tien–not elaborating on its contents in Ekaterin’s presence–and Tuomonen says it’s been turned over to an ImpSec analyst; ImpSec HQ has sent him reinforcements. He says that the data could be quite helpful in untangling the embezzlement scheme, which is puzzling, of course, since it will incriminate the Komarrans conspirators as much as Tien. An ImpSec tech leaves, having copied all the comconsole data, and Miles asks for someone to repair her broken door-lock as well, and leave a guard on duty until then.
Tuomonen leaves, and Miles finally bathes and dresses, beginning to feel human; he goes to the kitchen for breakfast and coaxes Ekaterin, who hasn’t eaten yet either, into having breakfast as well. She makes them some groats; while they eat, she asks about fast-penta. He tells her about his own idiosyncratic, manic reaction; he said that the degree of ugliness that comes out in the interrogation with most people generally depends on whether you fight the effects or not, and if you cooperate then you mostly just say what you would have said anyway. He tells her he’s noticed that she tends to underreact, and she says it came of growing up with three older brothers, the youngest of whom would tease her mercilessly. He was witty enough to get away with it, and her mother mostly told her to just not react.
Miles bit his knuckles, hard. Right. So at the dawn of puberty, she’d learned no one would defend her, she could not defend herself, and the only way to survive was to pretend to be dead. Great. And if there were a more fatally wrong move some awkward fellow could possibly make at this moment than to take her in his arms and try to comfort her, it escaped his wildest imaginings. If she needed to be stone right now because it was the only way she knew how to survive, let her be marble, let her be granite. Whatever you need, you take it, Milady Ekaterin; whatever you want, you’ve got it.
Miles tells her about his own loutish relative, cousin Ivan, though he had Sergeant Bothari to keep things from going too far. She asks where the Sergeant is now, and Miles says he’d dead, partly because of Miles’s actions, but he taught Miles how to keep going, which he silently hopes Ekaterin will find encouraging. He adds that she is, at the very least, level-headed in an emergency, which seems to please her, enough that Miles wonders how starved for praise she’s become.
Miles would like the conversation to continue, but breakfast is over, and then the ImpSec tech arrives with the secure comconsole. Ekaterin turns to cleaning as the tech sets up the station in Tien’s office. Miles prepares to face a several-second time-lagged conversation with Vorthys. He starts out with a bald announcement of the facts, then waits for Vorthys’s responses to the news. He goes on to give details about the previous day’s events; by the end, Vorthys is appalled, and promises to come back down planetside. He had been thinking of asking Miles to come up to look at some odd, and distorted, pieces of equipment, in case he’d seen anything like it before; some of it has serial numbers on it, too, which Miles asks him to send to Colonel Gibbs at ImpSec, who’s tracing purchases made by the Terraforming Project.
Miles tells Vorthys about the impending fast-penta interrogation of Ekaterin; Vorthys says he wouldn’t want to be there himself, as a conflict of interest, and asks Miles to sit in on it instead to keep the interrogators in line. Miles suggests that Vorthys send for his wife to come join Ekaterin, which Vorthys finds an excellent idea. Miles says it’s almost time to bring in Ekaterin to talk to him herself, but before he does, he wants to ask what Vorthys’s impression of the Vorsoissons’ marriage is, so he can try to keep the interrogator from getting into bad territory.
Vorthys doesn’t want to speak ill of the dead, but tries to give a summary of the facts. Ekaterin’s father had known Tien’s, and Tien had just left the military for the civil service, and seemed to have a bright future ahead of him, though he hadn’t risen too far in the military… Ekaterin’s father was a widower looking to remarry, and felt that he should get Ekaterin “settled”, i.e. married, before he did. Tien sent a Baba to arrange the marriage, and Ekaterin seemed flattered, so they went ahead with it. Her father, low Vor but still a Vor snob for all of that, hadn’t wanted her to settle for some non-Vor type. Things seemed to start out well, and Nikki arrived, but Tien changed jobs frequently, and never did seem to settle down, and Ekaterin seemed to draw in on herself over time. Miles says that Ekaterin may be able to explain more of it herself, and goes to fetch her.
Ekaterin. He tasted the syllables of her name in his mind. It had been so easy, speaking with her uncle, to slip into the familiar form. But she had not yet invited him to use her first name. Her late husband had called her Kat. A pet name. A little name. As if he hadn’t had time to pronounce the whole thing, or wished to be bothered. It was true her full array, Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson, made an impractical mouthful. But Ekaterin was light on the teeth and the tip of the tongue, yet elegant and dignified and entirely worth an extra second of, of anyone’s time.
The door repair tech and another guard arrive, and Miles enjoins them both to stay and guard Ekaterin until he returns, and do any other repairs she may need; then he heads off to the Terraforming offices. It’s quite well-guarded now, with ImpSec everywhere, though a little too late to do any good now. Colonel Gibbs is in the office with Venier, who Miles is somewhat gratified not to have been one of those who fled. Gibbs tells Miles he’s figured out most of the fictitious employees, and Lena Foscol’s report seems clear. Miles warns him to be careful of any data she’s touched, and Gibbs says he’s acquired the utmost respect for her, and looks forward to dealing with her.
Miles tells Gibbs to try to track down equipment purchases; Gibbs says he’s found some dummy companies they would have used for them, and he hopes to have all the missing money accounted for soon. Miles says he’s more interested in the actual equipment, in particular anything which was bought but not found at the Waste Heat station or anywhere else, though sifting it out may be a tedious job. Gibbs says it sounds like a job for enlisted men. In particular, Miles says, he wants to know about anything odd, or anything that might match equipment found in the soletta accident; Gibbs is enlightened about why the Imperial Auditors are involved in this embezzlement scam.
Miles goes to check in with Tuomonen, who is organizing the fast-penta interrogations, which he says will take several days to get through; he says they haven’t tracked down Soudha and his friends yet. Miles passes on overseeing any of the employee interrogations, and says he’ll see Tuomonen for Ekaterin’s questioning, after he’s had some rest.
Is this where we first begin to see Miles falling for Ekaterin? He was attracted to her from the beginning, it seemed, but was trying to keep such thoughts firmly in rein, what with her being married and all. Now he’s allowing himself to think the thoughts, but, of course, being recently widowed (even if she was planning to leave him anyway), and involved in his investigation, she’s still off-limits. He’s still trying to make discreet offers of help, but they are also opening up to each other.
Ekaterin seems fairly equable about the fast-penta interrogation, though perhaps she’s just underreacting again. She does ask Miles for some reassurances, which of course he tries to give her. I presume we’ll see that scene in the next chapter or two. Is it from her point of view, or Miles’s? I can’t recall, but I suspect that it will be from hers.
As for the actual investigation, nothing much new. We’re not even two-thirds of the way through the book, so there’s room for a few more plot twists, but I can’t recall when they find out what’s really going on. Why these Komarrans were stealing money from their own terraforming project, what the equipment was that they carted off with them, and what this all has to do with the soletta accident… All open questions, still.
I recall a couple more scenes that should be coming up soon, but I don’t quite recall how we transition to the climax that I recall. I guess we’ll just keep going and eventually it will become clear. Still another nine chapters, probably five more weeks; I’m almost impatient to get on to the post-Komarr reward which is A Civil Campaign, but it will come in due time. Until next week, then…