The last day of April is winding its way to a close–Walpurgisnacht, the Canadian tax deadline (in years not affected by the Heartbleed bug, at least)–with the First of May, May Day, so close we can taste it. On some planets, like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar, they don’t seem to celebrate either much–in fact, I’m not sure what the heck kind of calendar they have on Barrayar. Anyway, it’s time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, covering another couple of chapters from one of Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, in this case Diplomatic Immunity, which includes a few Barrayarans but is mostly set on Graf Station in quaddiespace, populated by a four-armed (and zero-legged) free-fall-bred subrace. This week I’ll cover Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, wherein, the mysterious fugitive Firka having been apprehended, we find out a lot of more about what’s really going on…
Firka’s captors tell Miles that they caught him in a freight bay, after he tried to bribe one of them to take him out to another dock to catch a jumpship; Miles wonders briefly if Solian may have managed to disappear that way as well. They strung him along and then captured him and brought him in. When Nicol asks, they admit they didn’t see any sign of Bel–known to them all as a well-liked supervisor–though they did ask their prisoner before taping his mouth closed; they offer to put their ingenuity to work making him more eager to talk, which Venn politely declines, at least for now. The patrollers take possession of Firka and his duffel bag, electing to keep him on the pole for now.
Sealer Greenlaw and an Adjudicator she introduces as Leutwyn have arrived by this point. Miles clarifies their assumption that Firka came in with the Barrayarans, telling him he joined the ships after they docked, and accuses him of planting Solian’s blood, as well as the hot riveter assault and the attack on Bel and Garnet Five. Miles asks the Adjudicator if all that, plus Bel’s unknown location, isn’t sufficient justification for a fast-penta interrogation.
“Here as well,” the adjudicator admitted. “But a fast-penta examination is a delicate undertaking. I’ve found, in the half dozen I’ve monitored, that it’s not nearly the magic wand most people think it is.”
Miles cleared his throat in fake diffidence. “I am tolerably familiar with the techniques, Adjudicator. I’ve conducted or sat in on over a hundred penta-assisted interrogations. And I’ve had it given to me twice.” No need to go into his idiosyncratic drug reaction that had made those two events such dizzyingly surreal and notably uninformative occasions.
“Oh,” said the quaddie adjudicator, sounding impressed despite himself, possibly especially with that last detail.
Miles says he’s fairly certain he has an ample supply of leading questions for the witness. Venn points out that they need to process Firka first, and he wants to see what’s in his duffel bag. They take Firka and his bag into a back room, take hand- and foot-prints (both do indeed prove to be webbed), and restrain him properly before untaping him from the pole. The duffel contains clothes, weapons and tools, the receipt for the hot riveter, a blonde wig, and a dozen sets of identification.
They scan the IDs and find that half of them claim Jacksonian citizenship, and the rest claim citizenship to one of the Hegen Hub’s neighbours. Three of the IDs bear the name Firka, but only one of them bears any resemblance to their captive, whose picture also graces the identification for Russo Gupta, and a jumpship engineer’s license from Jackson’s Whole that Miles says is almost certainly forged, to the quaddies’ shock. The other IDs seem to be for other people, Grace and Hewlet, and other pseudonyms. They remove the tape from the prisoner’s mouth, Miles suggesting the “pull-it-off-quick” method.
Chief Venn begins the interrogation, asking his real name, and he grudgingly admits to being Russo “Guppy” Gupta, and the other IDs belonging to dead friends. Gupta insists that he doesn’t know Bel Thorne, and didn’t assault him or Garnet Five; Venn has Garnet Five herself brought in, to positively identify him. Gupta admits, then, that he doesn’t know where the herm is, that he left it in the bin next to hers. Venn asks Gupta if he’s willing to swear to that under fast-penta; Gupta claims to be allergic, but Miles produces allergy test patches and demonstrates that Gupta has even less of an allergy than Miles’s own mild case.
Venn tells Gupta it’s time to stop lying now, whether voluntarily or through fast-penta, and asks Leutwyn to confirm that they have cause for an “involuntary chemically assisted interrogation”, which he does. Leutwyn does insist that they desist from treating their captive with unnecessary discomfort; when asked, Gupta admits he would like to spray his gills. The quaddies test the solution he proposes to use, which proves to be little more than water and glycerin; Gupta agrees to behave and they remove his restraints, and he turns out to be thoroughly comfortable in free fall. Gupta exposes his chest and expands his rubs, revealing gill slashes between them; he sprays them and seems to acquire some relief thereby.
Miles asks where he’s from, speculating on Jackson’s Whole, but unsure what House would have been responsible. Gupta, impressed by Miles’s knowledge of the place, says he was made by House Dyan, part of an underwater ballet troupe, or at least their crew. The late Baron Ryoval staged a takeover of House Dyan, and, perhaps fortunately, cut Gupta loose, to do odd jobs (and not necessarily legal ones, Miles suspects) for five or ten years. Miles gets Gupta to clarify that he wasn’t shooting at Miles or Bel the other day; Gupta asks who Miles is, and Miles introduces himself, though devoid of honorifics, and just says he was sent by the Barrayarans.
What the devil was keeping that fast-penta? Miles softened his voice. “So what happened to your friends, Guppy?”
That fetched the amphibian’s attention again. “Double-crossed. Subjected, injected, infected . . . rejected. We were all taken in. Damned Cetagandan bastard. That wasn’t the Deal.”
Something inside Miles went on overdrive. Here’s the connection, finally. His smile grew charming, sympathetic, and his voice softened further. “Tell me about the Cetagandan bastard, Guppy.”
Gupta asks despairingly what the use is; Miles tells him that, as a Barrayaran, he has inherited a long-standing grudge against the Cetagandans who tried to take over his planet, and that certainly gets Gupta’s attention. He tells Miles how the Cetagandan hired them, and their ship–Gras-Grace, the brains, Hewlet, the pilot, Firka, for books and documents, and Guppy himself for the tech, a bunch of misfit ex-Jacksonians. Miles asks about the cargo, but all Gupta knew was that it was “gengineered mammals”, and part of the Deal was to not ask any more questions; Miles declines to fill him in further. The pay was good, though.
All they were supposed to do was take the cargo from Vervain through the Hegen Hub, Pol and Komarr to Rho Ceta. They took an unscheduled side trip to an uninhabited system before Komarr, to rendezvous with another ship, something Cetagandan and official-looking. The Cetagandan moved all of his own cargo off of it, and then the ship went off on an odd trajectory, deeper into the gravity well. The Cetagandan himself was travelling alone, and barely talked to anyone except Firka, who was fixing up the cargo manifest to give it a more innocuous origin; Miles asks about the Ker Dubauer name, and Gupta says he didn’t take on that identity until later, probably on Komarr. Miles wonders how impSec is going to react, knowing that a Cetagandan operative like “Dubauer” passed right through Komarr without them noticing.
The Cetagandan, not yet Dubauer, parted from Gupta and his crew at Komarr–Gupta tracked him after that by the size and weight of his cargo–giving them cordial farewell handshakes. Gras-Grace advised them not to linger in the Barrayaran empire, not even to spend their new wealth. They were out past Pol before they started to get sick, fever and swollen pink welts from the points where the Cetagandan had last touched them. Gupta retreated to the water-tank in his cabin, which he’d done up nicely, and floated there for hours, wracked with pain, before eventually he was forced to leave or begin fouling his water. He was still feeling horrible when he got out, and threw up on the floor, but he could still walk; the ship was still running, but quiet. He found the others, in various states of deliquescence, even their bones dissolving, steaming and stinking.
The ship was no good to him now, without a pilot, but he took everything that belonged to the others, including Firka’s cache of credit chits and doctored IDs, into a thoroughly decontaminated escape pod, and abandoned ship. Three days later he was picked up by a passing ship, claimed his ship had fallen apart, and kept quiet about the biohazard. He made it to Komarr, tracked Dubauer outward by his cargo, and headed for Graf Station to cut him off.
Miles asks about Solian; Gupta says he’d wanted to deal with Dubauer the first time he left the Idris, but he never did leave the ship. To get on board, he had to take a cabin on the Rudra; he thought that if he couldn’t kill Dubauer himself, he could turn him over to the Barrayarans. He made contact with Solian off the ship, and he supposes that Solian followed up on his tip and fell afoul of Dubauer, which probably got him melted like his shipmates.
Miles surmises that Solian had a nosebleed there, so Gupta was able to get a sample; Gupta says he’d spilled the blood because he didn’t want everyone to keep thinking Solian had deserted, and because he was afraid Dubauer would sneak off the Idris in mid-space again. He didn’t know that the Barrayarans would end up attacking the station, though.
“Er . . . did you have any questions, Chief Venn?”
Venn was giving him a most peculiar stare. He shook his head, slowly, from side to side.
“Uh . . .” A young quaddie patroller Miles had barely noticed enter during Guppy’s urgent soliloquy held out a small, glittering object to his chief. “I have the fast-penta dose you ordered, sir . . . ?”
Venn took it and gazed over at Adjudicator Leutwyn.
Leutwyn cleared his throat. “Remarkable. I do believe, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, that is the first time I’ve ever seen a fast-penta interrogation conducted without the fast-penta.”
Miles glanced at Guppy, curled around himself in air, shivering a little. Smears of water still glistened at the corners of his eyes. “He . . . really wanted to tell somebody his story. He’s been dying to for weeks. There was just no one in the entire Nexus he could trust.”
Now everything is explained, more or less. We know what happened to Solian, and why his blood ended up on the floor. We know who the rogue riveter was, and who he was shooting at, and why. That, and the Corbeau incident, pretty much led to the mess everyone was in. We still don’t know precisely what the ba’s cargo is, or where it came from, but it seems pretty clear to me that the ship they rendezvoused with didn’t have a lot of people left alive when the ba sent it spiraling into the sun. What happened on that ship? I’m going to assume that the ba had some plan worked out with whoever was on that ship to get those fetuses, because why else would they have been meeting up with Guppy’s ship in a random uninhabited system, and then presumably double-crossed them and killed everybody, with more of that virus, or maybe something more airborne.
“Gras-Grace” is a weird name. Maybe no worse than Guppy, but at least that makes a certain sense–Gupta + aquatic = Guppy. Her ID card read Grace Nevatta…so where did the “Gras” come from? The picture on there is described as “stout” and “pleasantly ugly”, so I guess it may be just from the French for “fat”, but Guppy never really explains it.
I always forget about House Dyan when I’m running through Jacksonian Houses in my head, but then I guess Fell, Bharaputra and Ryoval get the lion’s share of the attention, and Dyan got absorbed by Ryoval anyway. I can’t remember the Houses that get mentioned in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, though, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for it there.
Chief Venn asks Miles if he’s sure that the Cetagandan that Gupta is talking about is Dubauer; Miles says the blood sample he got confirms that Dubauer is a Cetagandan ba, and he explains to them what precisely that means, and wonders to himself what this ba is doing outside the Celestial Garden on Eta Ceta. He tells them about the ba’s cargo, and nixes Venn’s suggestion to put out an APB on Dubauer; he warns them that if it knows they’re onto it, rattled as it doubtless is by now, mere civilians wouldn’t stand a chance against it.
“And your people brought this creature here, onto my station?”
“Believe me, if any of my people had known what the ba was before this, it would never have made it past Komarr. The trade fleet are dupes, innocent carriers, I’m sure.” Well, he wasn’t that sure—checking that airy assertion was going to be a high-priority problem for counterintelligence, back home.
Greenlaw asks if Gupta is likely to be contagious; Miles says he probably isn’t–at the very least, it seemed to be communicated by the ba’s touch, and if it comes from the Star Crèche the haut ladies would doubtless have made it self-limiting. Gupta points out that he recovered from it, and Miles wonders why he did; he asks Gupta if he can have the Prince Xav‘s surgeon look at him and try to figure out why, but Gupta is too scared they’ll try to dissect him.
Greenlaw asks Miles about the Cetagandans, and why he’s so confident about this haut virus; Miles tries to explain the Cetagandan system to them, the ongoing haut genetic experiment which they slowly disseminate to the ghem. Venn asks how the haut–who sounds like dissolute, idle aristocratic parasites to him–manage to keep the ghem in line, and Miles says that it’s rumoured the haut have an arsenal of biological weapons. Greenlaw asks why they weren’t used on Barrayar then, and Miles admits they don’t really know the answer, but it’s suspected that it would have been considered too alarming to other nearby planets, and also that the war was mostly a ghem affair, the haut not being sufficiently concerned to contribute. Most of the time they’ve heard of anything that might have been one of these bioweapons, it seems to have been an internal Cetagandan affair only, and they were all carefully contained.
Venn asks what they do with Gupta, then; Greenlaw says they should take him to the University clinic, where their best infectious disease experts can look at him. Miles suggests that it would be safest if Dubauer doesn’t know that they have Gupta; since his capture has probably spread by word of mouth, he proposes they put it about that Gupta’s escaped, and put out the APB on him instead. They keep his real location secret, and get some trained guards to watch over him, with experience with biohazards. Greenlaw says they’ll have to get those in from Union Station Militia; Miles offers them Barrayaran medical corpsmen, which Greenlaw is dubious about, but she eventually agrees to take four volunteers.
Miles recommends that they stun Dubauer on sight, rather than risk contact; Adjudicator Leutwyn protests that that’s against regulations, but acquiesces, due to the threat of bioweapons. Miles considers where they might be able to set up an ambush–one would be where it thinks they’ve taken Guppy, if they want to set up a fake holding area instead of pretending he escaped. Another would be the Idris, where they could nail it the next time it asks to go on board; Gupta said that had been his plan.
Greenlaw says she’d like to take a look at the ba’s cargo, to see if she judges it a hazard to quaddiespace and meriting impoundment; Leutwyn points out that legally one is not normally allowed to do that with cargos not offloaded from their ships, unless they are a manifest danger where they are. Miles thinks that impounding the cargo might be dangerous for quaddiespace, because it might make them a Cetagandan target. Venn says he’d also like to come to the Idris to help set up the ambush; Miles insists on coming along, and Greenlaw eventually acquiesces.
Gupta is packed off by bio-protected quaddies, Nicol and Garnet Five head off to Nicol’s apartment to wait for news, and Miles contacts Admiral Vorpatril to arrange for the medical personnel to be sent over, and give him the disturbing news. Then Miles and Roic head over to the _Idris_ with Venn, Greenlaw, Leutwyn, and two quaddie patrollers. The two quaddie guards at the airlock, one of them playing jacks as they approach, report no unauthorized entrants. Venn stays behind to start organizing the ambush, and the others enter the ship.
They go to look at the replicators in the cargo hold, which look to Miles much as yesterday, until he starts to notice some of them have amber indicators rather than green. When he takes a closer look at the contents, he finds that one of the fetuses is clearly bleeding from some kind of wound in the back, which shouldn’t have happened inside a sealed replicator… Venn receives a call from one of the guards from the previous shift, and relays the disturbing news that Bel Thorne brought Dubauer aboard at 0200 the night before, and he didn’t think anything of it until seeing the bulletin about Thorne’s disappearance that morning. They don’t know yet when they left, and Venn heads off to check into it.
Miles is surprised; this would be only about an hour after Gupta left Bel in the recycling bin, and wonders how Bel was even conscious when Garnet Five didn’t wake up until hours later.
Roic, eyes narrowing, asked, “Could your herm friend have gone renegade, m’lord? Or been bribed?”
Adjudicator Leutwyn looked to Greenlaw, who looked sick with uncertainty.
“I would sooner doubt . . . myself,” said Miles. And that was slandering Bel. “Although the portmaster might have been bribed with a nerve disruptor muzzle pressed to its spine, or something equivalent.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to even try to imagine the ba’s bioweapon equivalent. “Bel would play for time.”
Miles surmises that Dubauer was looking for Gupta, and stumbled across Bel and Garnet Five after they were already unconscious. The ba might have decided that grabbing Thorne and getting access to the Idris was a better plan than hunting down Gupta. The ba had spoken of having to destroy its cargo, and taking samples before doing so; that may be what it’s been doing, and these fetuses may have some version of the bone-dissolving disease in them right now.
The Cetagandan wasn’t stupid. Its smuggling scheme might have gone according to plan, but for the slipup with Gupta. Who had followed the ba here, and drawn in Solian—whose disappearance had led to the muddle with Corbeau and Garnet Five, which had led to the bungled raid on the quaddie security post, which had resulted in the impoundment of the fleet, including the ba’s precious cargo. Miles knew exactly how it felt to watch a carefully planned mission slide down the toilet in a flush of random mischance. How would the ba respond to that sick, heart-pounding desperation? Miles had almost no sense of the person, despite meeting it twice. The ba was smooth and slick and self-controlled. It could kill with a touch, smiling.
But if the ba was paring down its payload to a minimum mass, it certainly wouldn’t saddle its escape with a prisoner.
Miles, afraid for Bel’s life, suggests that the herm may be aboard the Idris somewhere. He suggests they search for it, though they need only look in places that Bel or Dubauer would have had access to. He asks Greenlaw to keep anyone who hasn’t already been exposed from entering the Idris, and she agrees. They go through the unsecured areas, finding nothing in unlocked cabins, kitchen or recreation areas, infirmary, nav/com and the rest of the cargo holds being sealed.
In the Small Repairs department Miles finds some of the Idris‘s bod pods, deflated…and one of them fully inflated. Miles peers inside and sees a naked and clearly feverish Bel Thorne.
The lecture on the haut is pretty much a distillation of what Miles learned during the course of Cetaganda, though I don’t recall much detail about potential bioweapons in that book. The theories about why the bioweapons weren’t used on Barrayar sound plausible, though some of it may be just that Bujold hadn’t fully come up with the haut in her head until after the Cetagandan invasion was established, and then had to come up with a reason herself. Obviously the ghem weren’t afraid of using nuclear weapons, of course.
One wonders why Dubauer didn’t just take samples of the fetuses right at the outset. The ba might very well have wanted the actual fetuses–I don’t recall what its motivations are right at the moment–but the samples must be an acceptable fallback. It would have had more leisure time to secure these samples earlier in its trip, though, whether after infecting Guppy and his shipmates or on the Cetagandan ship or even on the docks at Komarr. I guess it must have hoped the situation didn’t degenerate that far. It’s amusing to consider its careful plan collapsing around it because of Gupta and Solian.
The news that the ba and the herm had already come on board the Idris, received only after they are already on board, was a nice twist. Especially when Bel is still on there…and so, as Miles will probably soon realize, the ba probably is too… And with unknown biohazards floating around, the whole ship may have just turned into a deathtrap.
So…immunity. Get it? Guppy has some weird kind of immunity! And Miles is a diplomat, of sorts! And “diplomatic immunity” is a phrase which exists! …Yeah, that’s all I got about that title. It’s not my favourite by any means, about on par with The Warrior’s Apprentice. Miles Vorkosigan and the Rogue Riveter? Miles Vorkosigan and the Four-Armed Freaks? Miles Vorkosigan in Quaddiespace? Yeah, well. Anyway. Six more chapters left, three more weeks, with any luck. So until the next one, I remain…that guy who does the Vorkosigan Saga Reread blog.