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Archive for April, 2014

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…

Chapter Twelve

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.”

Comments

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.

Chapter Thirteen

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.

Comments

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 ApprenticeMiles 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.

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Spring is springing, the grass is probably going to rise any day now, and maybe next month we’ll even get some leaves on the trees…  In the meantime, I lurk down in the basement (as I do in spring and summer too, I do confess) churning out another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread for you, distilling–or is that diluting?–the works of Lois McMaster Bujold into a more readibly assimilable form.  So let’s keep going through Diplomatic Immunity, as Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan hopes for a break in the investigation of the disappearance of Lieutenant Solian on Graf Station…

Chapter Ten

Miles and Bel make arrangements for a message capsule containing Dubauer’s blood sample to be sent to the Prince Xav without being shot down by quaddie patrol ships, and it manages to reach the Barrayaran ship without incident.  After that’s accomplished, he actually takes time for a quick meal of military rations, still watching video records of the Idris‘s airlocks.  Dubauer had never left the ship until evicted with the rest, but Lieutenant Solian had left five times–the last one while he was off-shift.  Miles examines the last video record of him closely, but doesn’t spot evidence of a nosebleed; Solian looks intent on something, but they’re not sure what.  He’s not recorded on having left again, but his body was not found on the Idris.

Miles wonders where Solian went for forty minutes; Bel said he never crossed through customs, unless he was carried through rolled up in a carpet, and they’d have spotted that too.  He could have gone to any of the other Barrayaran ships, or any of six loading bays, but Brun has already said that Solian didn’t enter any of the other ships either.  Bel admits the loading bays aren’t closely monitored, and often used for games or exercise; Miles wonders if Solian talked to someone else from one of the ships.

After their meal, Bel escorts Miles to where the Komarran ships’ crews are being housed.  After fending off their initial clamouring to be released, Miles gathers the ships’ four medtechs.  He asks about their procedures, and how easy it would be to gain access to the infirmary; all of them state that while they’re in space the infirmary is left accessible all the time, in case of emergency, though some drugs are kept locked up.  In dock, they mostly rely on ship’s security to regulate who comes on board the ship, and two of the medtechs secure it entirely when they’re not there.

He asks about their blood synthesis equipment–they all have some–and the Idris medtech says that he’d certainly have noticed if several liters of blood had been synthesized, from the depleted stores.  Miles explains about how the blood that was found, that matched Solian’s, had been synthesized, and says they’ll have to check their supplies.  The tech from the Rudra recalls an odd-looking passenger who’d asked her about the blood synthesizer.

Miles smiled carefully. “Tell me more about your funny passenger.”

“He’d just signed on to the Rudra here at Graf Station. He said he was worried, if he had any accidents en route, because he couldn’t take standard blood substitutes on account of being so heavily gengineered. Which he was. I mean, I believed him about the blood compatibility problems. That’s why we carry the synthesizers, after all. He had the longest fingers—with webs. He told me he was an amphibian, which I didn’t quite believe, till he showed me his gill slits. His ribs opened out in the most astonishing fashion. He said he has to keep spraying his gills with moisturizer, when he travels, because the air on ships and stations is too dry for him.” She stopped, and swallowed.

Miles, excited but trying to hide it, asks when this was, and is told that it was two days before they were evacuated from the ships, and hence three days after Solian’s disappearance.  She says his name was Firka, and she would definitely recognize him if she saw him; when Miles asks, she says she’d be willing, if not eager, to testify under fast-penta.  Miles and Bel negotiate for the release of the medtechs as expert witnesses, and head over to the Rudra to inspect their synthesizer.  They do indeed find its stores down by four liters, and there’s still some residue that wasn’t cleaned up properly, which Miles eagerly takes a sample of for Prince Xav‘s surgeon.

Miles sends Roic to check the Rudra‘s records of Firka, and Bel off with the medtechs to crosscheck the other ships, while he returns to the Kestrel to send his new sample off to Prince Xav.  He checks on Firka’s current location–he’s staying at one of the hostels provided for the passengers, but has apparently gone out for the evening; Miles asks to be notified when he returns.  He then calls to check on Dubauer, who has also gone out, alone, which Miles finds odd for someone who was so adamant about getting an escort back from the Idris; Miles asks to be notified when it returns, too.

He scans through more vids from the Idris, not spotting anyone who seems to match Firka’s description.  Bel and Roic return, Bel saying that they didn’t find anything on the other ships’ synthesizers, and he’d sent the medtechs back.  Miles muses that now they have to wait–for the analysis of the blood samples, and for the return of Firka and Dubauer.  Bel says it sounds like a good time to sleep, and heads off to his and Nicol’s apartment.  Miles lies down for a nap, not wanting to update Venn until the blood tests are back.  Smolyani has disengaged the Kestrel from the airlock, for safety from the riveter, still at large; Graf Station is not a particularly hard place to hide, apparently.  Though Dubauer as a ba, with Star Crèche cargo, is a much more likely assassination target than the Betan Ker Dubauer; Miles hopes to be able to fast-penta Firka soon, though Dubauer is likely to be immune.

Roic awakens Miles when the surgeon calls him, after a four-hour nap that Miles deems sufficient; Roic has apparently not gone to sleep, and says he has something interesting from the Rudra‘s vids to show Miles.  Miles talks to the surgeon–a Captain Clogston–first; Clogston says the blood from the handkerchief is definitely Cetagandan haut, with some oddnesses that Miles identifies as ba.  Miles tells him to store that sample to send back to ImpSec for storage; the Cetagandans will doubtless be unhappy that a ba genetic sample has escaped, though admittedly it’s almost a century old by this point.  Clogston confirms that the other sample was definitely Solian’s synthesized blood, even the same batch.

After dismissing the surgeon’s call, Miles asks Roic what he found.  Roic found Firka on the Rudra‘s vids, having boarded the ship originally after the first delay for repairs.  He’d stayed in the cabin on the ship, but two of the times he’d left the ship exactly matched up with Solian’s, including Solian’s final forty-minute sojourn.  Roic finds an image of Firka to show him.

The man was tall, with pale unhealthy-looking skin and dark hair shaved close to his skull in a patchy, unflattering fuzz, like lichen on a boulder. Big nose, small ears, a lugubrious expression on his rubbery face—he looked strung out, actually, eyes dark and ringed. Long, skinny arms and legs; a loose tunic or poncho concealed the details of his big upper torso. His hands and feet were especially distinctive, and Miles zoomed in for close-ups. One hand was half-concealed in a cloth glove with the fingertips cut out, which hid the webs from a casual glance, but the other was ungloved and half-raised, and the webs showed distinctly, a dark rose color between the over-long fingers. The feet were concealed in soft boots or buskins, tied at the ankles, but they too were about double the length of a normal foot, though no wider. Could the fellow spread his webbed toes, when in the water, as he spread his webbed fingers, to make a broad flipper?

He recalled Ekaterin’s description of the passenger who had accosted her and Bel on their outing, that first day—he had the longest, narrowest hands and feet. Bel should get a look at this shortly. Miles let the vid run. The fellow had a somewhat shambling gait when he walked, lifting and setting down those almost clownish feet.

Roic says his documentation claims he’s from Aslund, though he’d arrived on a ship from Tau Ceti.  Aslund isn’t exactly a water-world, though, so Miles makes a note to double-check his origin with ImpSec.  Firka had apparently first tried to get a berth on Idris, and settled for Rudra because Idris was full.  Miles tries to determine why Firka might have generated a batch of Solian’s blood like that.  If he’d killed Solian, and used the blood to cover it up, it was a waste of effort, since nobody had come close to solving Solian’s murder/disappearance yet.  Had he been trying to frame someone else?

To cover up a desertion? Might Firka and Solian be collaborating on Solian’s defection? Or . . . when might a desertion not be a desertion? When it was an ImpSec covert ops scam, that’s when. Except that Solian was Service Security, not ImpSec: a guard, not a spy or trained agent. Still . . . a sufficiently bright, loyal, highly motivated, and ambitious officer, finding himself in some complex imbroglio, might not wait for orders from on high to pursue a fast-moving long shot. As Miles had reason to know.

Of course, taking risky chances like that could get such an officer killed. As Miles also had reason to know.

If it hadn’t been for the incident with Corbeau, what would have come of the blood dumping?  It would certainly have reawakened interest in Solian’s disappearance, and delayed the fleet’s departure, much as the Corbeau incident had.  Miles considers briefly whether Garnet Five might not have engineered that incident somehow…

Roic says there’s no clear footage of Firka taking containers of blood off the ship, but he did take various boxes back and forth, so he could have smuggled it out.  Miles double-checks with the hostels, and neither Firka or Dubauer have returned.  Miles calls the security office, and speaks to Teris Three, night-shift supervisor, Chief Venn having also gone to snatch some sleep.  Miles asks for them to detain Firka, for the purposes of fast-penta interrogation, as a material witness.  Teris Three says that they can’t do that without a formal charge, and an adjudicator to authorize the fast-penta.  Miles offers a charge of littering, and illegal disposal of organic matter, which Teris Three agrees is a misdemeanor, at least.  She says they’re undermanned, but she’ll put out a bulletin for him; Miles promises to send her pictures of him.

Miles and Roic inspect Firka’s image, and speculate that his toes might be prehensile enough for him to operate floater controls almost like a quaddie; emptying jugs of blood would be easier than toting a body, too.  If that were so, the initial identification of the riveter as a quaddie is suspect.  He fiddles with Firka’s image, tacking on a blond wig, and tries to decide if it’s a close enough match.

He calls up Bel to try to get a second opinion, and gets a sleepy Nicol.  When Miles asks to talk to Bel, though, Nicol says that he never came home…despite having left six hours earlier.

Comments

Some progress here, finally, as the source of the Solian blood is found, and a possible culprit found.  Firka–as he’s calling himself at this point–appears, and looks to be not only the one who planted the blood, but also the mad riveter.  What’s unknown, as yet, is his connection to Solian and/or Dubauer, both of whom were on the Idris.  And Ekaterin had probably met him already, in that earlier scene that we only got to hear about second-hand.

And now Bel gets to be the damsel in distress, disappearing mysteriously despite a security escort (a story to be told in the next chapter).  All the pieces are still not there, but once we get “Firka”‘s story all will fall into place…

It’s almost not worth mentioning at this point how the medtechs don’t get names.  Though the surgeon on Prince Xav does, at this point.  I suppose not everyone needs to be dealt with as an individual, but sometimes we learn their names anyway.  Well, I suppose Bujold isn’t Robert Jordan, you don’t need to learn everybody’s name.

Chapter Eleven

Miles and Roic arrive at Graf Station Security Post One, in the zero-gee zone, a little after Nicol; the quaddies become noticeably warier at the arrival of the downsiders, but Chief Venn arrives eventually and ushers them inside.  Bel apparently dismissed its quaddie guard at a bubble-car stop near its home, and hasn’t been seen since; Venn says he’s sure there’s a simple explanation.  He offers Miles another liaison officer, and Miles says he’d rather have Bel Thorne, and calls it careless of them to have lost another downsider; he points out that Bel is another possible target of the rogue riveter.  Teris Three says that they have traced the riveter machine, purchased from a supply store near the free fall docks and carried out, but the clerk can’t remember for sure who bought it.

Teris Three also brings up Miles’s request to detain Firka, and Miles explains about tracking down the source of the synthesized blood, and describes Firka’s unusual appearance.  Venn authorizes Teris Three to disseminate Firka’s description–and, at Nicol’s insistence, adds a request to look out for Bel Thorne.  Miles adds a request to take Dubauer into custody–“protective” custory, at least–because of its suspicious current absence, and also its presence at the rivet-gun attack; Venn acquiesces to that as well.  Teris Three leaves, going off shift, and Venn offers to send Nicol home as well, but she says she’d prefer to stay and wait for news, and Miles declares his intention to stay with her.  Venn shifts them out of his office into a private waiting room.

Miles wonders to himself whether Bel had any other ImpSec cases that might relate to his disappearance, but can’t ask Nicol about it since she doesn’t seem to be in the know about Bel’s second job.  Nicol and Roic make small talk while Miles tries to decide what to do next; he’d hoped to have Firka and Dubauer in hand to fast-penta this morning, but they all seem to have disappeared.

Teris Three comes to fetch Miles back to talk to Venn, who is just imploring Sealer Greenlaw to come deal with Miles; Teris Three says that Bel dismissed it escort at the Joint, a main hub in the station, because it had bumped into Garnet Five and went to talk to her.  Venn intimates that perhaps Bel might have been having an affair with her, and Miles refrains from commenting apart from suggesting they call her.  Venn obliges, but gets a recording; Miles suggests they send a trooper to check on her.

Miles returns to update Nicol, who can suggest several innocent reasons Garnet Five might have wanted to talk to Bel, such as trying to get some information about or affecting Corbeau, or just wanting someone to discuss her currently-unpopular paramour with.  Miles points out that wouldn’t account for Bel’s continued absence, and wishes heartily that he had more information.  He decides it’s late enough to call Ekaterin, who claims to have been already awake, updating her on Bel’s disappearance.  She seeks assurance that he’s keeping protection, and Miles offers to send her home on ahead of him, which she refuses to commit to.

Miles is just considering heading out to wander the station in hope of finding something helpful when Garnet Five arrives, demanding to talk to Lord Vorkosigan.  She finds their room and greets Nicol with a hug; she says Bel was gone when she came to, and Miles urges her to tell the story a little more coherently.  Garnet Five says she’d bumped into Bel and asked him about Corbeau, so they went to get some peppermint tea.  Bel became distracted when it saw a quaddie that it suspected of fencing stolen cargo talking to an odd-looking downsider.

“Tall, lanky fellow with webbed hands and long feet, and a big barrel chest? Looks sort of like his mother might have married the Frog Prince, but the kiss didn’t quite work out?” Miles asked.

Garnet Five stared. “Why, yes. Well, I’m not sure about the chest—he was wearing this loose, flippy cape-thing. How did you know?”

“This is about the third time he’s turned up in this case. You might say he’s riveted my attention. But go on, then what?”

Bel sat with its back to them and had Garnet Five report on them; the quaddie spotted Bel and left, and Bel insisted on following Firka when he left too.  Garnet Five stayed with it; Firka doubled back onto the grav side of the station, and then apparently lay in wait for them, spraying some chemical in their faces that knocked them out.  When she woke up, Bel was gone, and she was left inside a recycle bin; she extricated herself, located a patroller, and came straight to the station, so Miles estimates she was out for at least six hours.  He recommends she get a blood sample taken right away in case there’s still traces of the drug in her system, which she agrees to.

When Miles had assured himself that Garnet Five had been taken into competent medical hands, and plenty of them, he turned back to Teris Three.

“It isn’t just my airy theories any more,” he told her. “You have a valid assault charge on this Firka fellow. Can’t you step up the search?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered grimly. “This one’s going out on all the com channels, now. He attacked a quaddie. And he released toxic volatiles into the public air.”

Miles makes a nuisance of himself until Chief Venn agrees to send him, with an escort, back to the scene of Firka’s attack, where there are already CSI quaddies at work, scanning for fingerprints and gathering samples.  Enjoined from poking around while they’re gathering evidence, Miles wanders around, looking for clues or hidden messages or something.  The CSI techs note a suspicious deficiency of evidence, as if it’s already been swept once; Miles manages to convince the patroller to scan the corridor that Bel and Garnet Five came down, checking for more evidence, or unlocked doors, but they don’t find anything too interesting.  Miles tries to picture what Firka would have done with Bel’s unconscious form, which would have to taken out through one of the never-quite-deserted adjoining corridors.

Attracted by the smell of nearby baking, Miles decides it’s a good time for breakfast, so they head into a café.  Miles is enjoying their fresh fruit when the holovid in the corner pipes up with a safety bulletin, complete with pictures of Firka and Bel; the server tells them that it’s been running every fifteen minutes, and summarizes the bits that Miles didn’t catch.  Miles wonders if this will drive Firka to panic, or to turn himself in…  He tries to remind himself of his real mission, to free the fleet, but right now he’s more worried about finding Bel, and he can’t figure out how to parlay this series of events to his advantage.

They return to the security post, with not much news for Nicol, though he’s unable to reassure her about what Firka have wanted Bel for.  They are interrupted by new arrivals.

A pair of husky male quaddies in the orange work shirts and shorts of Docks and Locks managed the two ends of a three-meter length of pipe. Firka occupied the middle.

The unhappy downsider’s wrists and ankles were lashed to the pipe with swathes of electrical tape, bending him in a U, with another rectangle of tape plastered across his mouth, muffling his moans. His eyes were wide, and rolled in panic. Three more quaddies in orange, panting and rumpled, one with a red bruise starting around his eye, bobbed along beside as outriders.

The work crew took aim and floated with their squirming burden through free fall to fetch up with a thump at the reception desk. A quartet of uniformed security quaddies appeared from another portal to gather and stare at this unwilling prize; the desk sergeant hit his intercom, and lowered his voice to speak into it in a rapid undertone.

The spokes-quaddie for the posse bustled forward, a smile of grim satisfaction on his bruised face. “We caught him for you.”

Comments

Lots of investigating in this chapter, and evidence gathered, but not the kind that is immediately obvious–fibers, skin cells, dust samples, whatever.  Understandably frustrating for Miles, and not all that exciting for the reader either, perhaps.  But the assault on Bel and Garnet Five does at last motivate the quaddies to look for Firka, and successfully, as it turns out.  Which is to say, good for them–traditionally these kinds of civilians aren’t too useful in these situations, but looks like this time they managed to pull it off.

I also sympathize with Miles feeling like he’s losing track of his initial goal, because his investigation seems to be leading him in odd directions.  On one level, to free the fleet he needs to bail out the captive Barrayarans, but to convince Admiral Vorpatril to leave he also needs to find Solian, or at least find out what happened to him.  Stumbling on the ba Dubauer wasn’t really related directly to Solian, it was more something that happened because of the lockdown of the ships, but you bet your ass that Dubauer was related to Solian’s disappearance, even if Miles hasn’t found the connection yet.

Like I said, it reminds me of Cetaganda, where Miles was there to investigate the soletta destruction, and ended up drawn into mysterious goings-on in the terraforming department, which led right back to the soletta accident, by way of the Komarran conspirators and their need to finance their scheme.  Stumbling on that was really just luck on Miles’s part, but on Graf Station there are comparatively fewer things going on, so it’s less remarkable that the oddities he finds there are directly connected to his case.  Though I don’t recall right now exactly how, or if, this helps get his ships out of dock…

It’s amusing how they take Firka more seriously now.  After all, they can get him now for contaminating the public air.  Well, Graf Station is like Kline Station–they take their closed system very seriously.


At some point recently, while in bed, I’d come up with some amusing alternate titles for Vorkosigan books, in the form of Miles Vorkosigan and the… or Cordelia Naismith and the…  And she told me to write them down, and I said I’d remember, and…well, they’re gone.  I’ll try to remember some of them and share them next time.  Or feel free to put some in the comments (he said hopefully).

As for Diplomatic Immunity, we’re going to be getting a lot more backstory in the next chapter or two, and find out more about “Firka” and Dubauer and what’s really going on.  So that’ll be fun.  Until next week, then…if I’m not busy with a last-minute push on my taxes.

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Greetings, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the Internet’s favourite reread of the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, as far as I know.  This week I will continue through Diplomatic Immunity, as Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan is called upon to defuse a situation in Quaddiespace, on his honeymoon no less, and finds more than he bargained for.  This week I cover chapters Eight and Nine, wherein the plot does, in fact, definitely begin to thicken, after the unexpected sniper attack that ended our previous chapter…

Chapter Eight

Miles said in a muffled voice, “Bel, will you please get off my head?”

There was a brief pause. Then Bel rolled away and, cautiously, sat up, head hunched into collar. “Sorry,” said Bel gruffly. “Thought for a moment there I was about to lose you. Again.”

Miles examines the floor, covered with gouges; he reaches for a small brass object rolling by, but it’s too hot to touch.  Dubauer has a trickle of blood coming from its face, but seems otherwise unhurt; Miles lends it his handkerchief to staunch the wound.  Miles tries to decide if it’s flattering to have someone trying to kill him, if it means that he’s on the right track.

One of the hostel staff comes over to check on them, and tells them that whoever was firing dropped their weapon over the edge of the balcony when they fled.  Miles and Bel go to examine it, and identify it as an automated hot riveter, obviously much hacked to weaponize it.  It can’t have had much accuracy, but Miles reflects that if a burst of rivets had hit his head, cryo-revival would have been pointless, leaving Ekaterin widowed on her honeymoon…  Seized with fear for his wife, he immediately pages Roic and tells him to guard Ekaterin; he considers ordering them off the station, but decides that Kestrel wouldn’t be safe enough if someone is hunting Vorkosigans.  He gives Roic a brief summary of what happened, but tells the armsman to stay with Ekaterin, since quaddie security is beginning to arrive.

Miles apologizes to Dubauer, saying it can be dangerous to be too close to him.  Dubauer says they must have saved its life, and says it didn’t see anything.  Miles asks for his handkerchief back–Ekaterin made it herself–and Dubauer offers to have it cleaned and returned, but Miles says that his batman can do that, and plucks it out of the herm’s hand.

A quaddie patrolwoman asks them what happened, and Bel gives her a detailed account of the events.  Nobody else proves to have anything more than minor wounds, to Miles’s relief.  The patrolwoman asks for gender and species of the attacker, and nobody is quite sure, though a couple of witnesses aver that it was a quaddie in a float chair.  Miles quietly asks Bel about the riveter; Bel says it wouldn’t raise eyebrows, carrying it around the station, and says it’s locally manufactured.  Miles says they’ll need to ask Venn to find out about its origins, and who bought it.  Miles feels himself on adrenaline high, and also secretly pleased at the prospect of a murderous quaddie to knock Greenlaw off her high horse…if she wasn’t behind the attempt in the first place.

Venn himself arrives with the medics, and asks Miles if he was hit; Miles emphasizes Bel’s role in saving him, and the herm is rapidly acclaimed as a hero.  A patroller returns to tell Venn that they lost the attacker, and there is a lack of consensus among witnesses about its description.  Bel admits it was reminded of a downsider it had seen recently, but that can’t be it; Miles doesn’t have much of a distinctive image either, and wishes one of these people had happened to be filming at the time, but none were.

Dubauer, refusing medical attention, asks to return to its room; Bel apologizes and says it will arrange the visit to the Idris as soon as possible.  The media is beginning to arrive, and Sealer Greenlaw; Miles gives them the same story he had Venn, including Bel’s heroics.

Greenlaw said stiffly, “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, may I convey my profound personal apologies for this untoward incident. I assure you, all of the Union’s resources will be turned to tracking down what I am certain must be an unbalanced individual and danger to us all.”

Danger to us all indeed. “I don’t know what’s going on, here,” said Miles. He let his voice sharpen. “And clearly, neither do you. This is no diplomatic chess game any more. Someone seems to be trying to start a damned war in here. They nearly succeeded.”

Miles theorizes that the attacker’s motive might have been revenge, for someone wounded in the Barrayaran attack, though Greenlaw asserts that none of the wounded had died.  He receives a call from Admiral Vorpatril, asking about the attack, and telling Miles he has the fleet on full alert.  Miles orders him to stand down, and to do nothing without explicit orders; he explains to Greenlaw that, since he’s the Emperor’s Voice, an attack on him is tantamount to an attack on the Emperor himself, hence his allusion to starting a war.

“So on Barrayar, what kind of justice you receive depends on who you are? Interesting. I do not regret to inform you, Lord Vorkosigan, that on Graf Station you will be treated like any other victim—no better, no worse. Oddly enough, this is no loss for you.”

“How salutary for me,” said Miles dryly. “And while you’re proving how unimpressed you are with my Imperial authority, a dangerous killer remains at large. What will it be to lovely, egalitarian Graf Station if he goes for a less personal method of disposing of me next time, such as a large bomb? Trust me—even on Barrayar, we all die the same. Shall we continue this discussion in private?”

Ekaterin arrives then, with Roic, Nicol and Garnet Five, and hugs Miles fiercely in front of the vid cameras, Nicole doing the same with Bel.  Roic tells him that he got the access codes to the _Idris_, but the quaddies wouldn’t let him board; Miles says that that problem may have been solved for them.  Greenlaw ushers them into a meeting room; Ekaterin remarks on Miles’s improved mood, what with someone having shot at him, and Miles admits that he was an adrenaline junkie, but he figured out years ago that he had to kick the habit.

Greenlaw begins by apologizing, and Miles seizes control to say that if this was not just random violence–which Greenlaw denies–then it must be connected to the Solian affair.  Which, he says, has been artificially hampered by a lack of communication between the two sides.  He trusts the quaddies to look for his assailant, and he in turn will do all that is possible to find Solian, hoping that the two will meet in the middle.

She blinked, seeming a little surprised by this turn of discourse. “Possibly . . .”

“Good. Then I want complete and unimpeded access for me, my assistant Armsman Roic, and anyone else I may designate to any and all areas and records pertinent to this search. Starting with the Idris, and starting immediately!”

“We cannot give downsiders license to roam at will over Station secure areas that—”

“Madam Sealer. You are here to promote and protect Union interests, as I am to promote and protect Barrayaran interests. But if there is anything at all about this mess that’s good for either Quaddiespace or the Imperium, it’s not apparent to me! Is it to you?”

Greenlaw turns to Bel then, thanking it for its courage and quick thinking, which Bel modestly downplays.  Ekaterin thanks it as well, and Nicol; Miles agrees, and asks if the herm may keep him company for the remainder of his visit.  Greenlaw and Bel assent, and Greenlaw then allows Miles access to secured areas, under Bel’s supervision.  Miles tries to appear dubious, not wanting to impose on Bel’s time; Bel says it is willing, provided it is paid overtime and freed of regular duties for the interim, and Miles mentally notes that this will put the herm on triple time…

Miles says he wants to start with the Idris, and asks Ekaterin to return to the Prince Xav for her own safety, to which she agrees.  He asks for a Barrayaran personnel shuttle to be allowed to take her out, but Greenlaw refuses, since that’s how Barrayarans invaded the station the last time.  She offers a pod and quaddie pilot, and Miles expresses a similar distrust of unknown quaddies given the recent attack.  Bel breaks the impasse by offering to choose the pilot himself, and Miles contacts Admiral Vorpatril to let him know; the admiral is clearly aware that this is a sign the situation is getting more serious, and asks to be updated at Miles’s earliest convenience.

As they are leaving, Miles considers trajectories from the railing, and wonders if Bel might have been the target; he asks Bel if it has been involved in any indiscreet romantic liaisons.  Dubauer was also there, of course, but Miles can’t think of how the herm might have been able to anger any quaddie quite that much.

Comments

Nobody is able to agree on anything about the attacker except for a couple that say it was probably a quaddie in a float chair.  I’m not sure why Miles seizes on this fact so quickly, except for the fact that he can use it as leverage against Sealer Greenlaw…but even then, he wouldn’t have to believe it himself, which he seems to.  Bel discounts one suspicion about the attacker’s identity because that person was a downsider…rather than try to reconsider whether or not the attacker was a quaddie.  I don’t know, this time through, that seems to bother me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m pretty damn sure that it wasn’t no quaddie.

It’s also a little convenient that Miles ends up with Dubauer’s blood on his handkerchief.  The herm puts up a bit of a fuss about it, but stops short of outright struggle, so I suppose it doesn’t want to show too much reluctance in leaving a blood sample in Miles’s hands.  Maybe it’s just another one of those things that only sticks out on a reread.

Chapter Nine

Bel’s designated quaddie pilot arrives to take Ekaterin away; Miles reminds her to check in with him via wristcom.  Bel calls Dubauer down to the lobby to accompany them to the Idris; they take a shortcut to the loading bay, and Bel gets them past the guards and onto the ship.

The Idris, like its sister ship the Rudra, was of a utilitarian design that dispensed with elegance. It was essentially a bundle of seven huge parallel cylinders: the central-most devoted to personnel, four of the outer six given to freight. The other two nacelles, opposite each other in the outer ring, housed the ship’s Necklin rods that generated the field to fold it through jump points. Normal-space engines behind, mass shield generators in front. The ship rotated around its central axis to bring each outer cylinder to alignment with the stationside freight lock for automated loading or unloading of containers, or hand loading of more delicate goods. The design was not without added safety value, for in the event of a pressurization loss in one or more cylinders, any of the others could serve as a refuge while repairs were made or evacuation effected.

They pass through a freight nacelle, and then into the personnel area.  Roic indicates the way to Solian’s office, while Bel escorts Dubauer to the outer freight section that holds its animals.  Roic admits them to the office, tiny and barely enough for some cabinets and a comconsole; Miles checks out the latter while Roic starts on the cabinets.  There are no personal touches in the office, but then Brun’s investigators already looked through it after Solian’s initial disappearance.  Miles examines Solian’s logs, but finds nothing suspicious in there, nothing that indicates he might have thought someone was trying to kill him.  There are video records of anyone passing through airlocks, but it’ll take time to go through ten days of them, and it will also take a while to look for any records that Solian (if he’d actually deserted) might have deleted.  Miles makes copies, and they move on to Solian’s personal cabin, which proves to be similarly uninformative, nothing personal left except for Solian’s custom pressure suit.  They head back to look over the airlock vid records.

Bel returns after a while, though it says that Dubauer is still busily servicing the replicators, of which there are close to a thousand.  Miles wonders at the extravagance, noting that animals are more often shipped as frozen embryos, like his grandfather did with horses, not developing fetuses; he supposes that this way travel time can also be gestation time.  They check on his cargo–boarded at Komarr, bound for Xerxes, next stop after Graf Station, booked weeks before the fleet departed, but no info on ultimate source before Komarr or destination after Xerxes.  Miles asks Bel if something is bothering him; Bel says there’s something odd about Dubauer, but it can’t say exactly what, and Miles makes a note to check on Dubauer’s coming and goings.

Bel, watching him, remarked, “Greenlaw was secretly impressed with you, by the way.”

“Oh, yeah? She’s certainly managed to keep it a secret from me.”

Bel’s grin sparked. “She told me you appeared very task oriented. That’s a compliment, in Quaddiespace. I didn’t explain to her that you considered getting shot at to be a normal part of your daily routine.”

Miles protests that he’s trying to be more rear-echelon, and getting too old for the front lines, plus he’s about to become a father, and measuring himself against his own father has him a bit daunted.  Dubauer returns, done with its tasks, and asks for an escort back to the hostel, for which purpose Bel is willing to grant one of the quaddie guards.  Dubauer also tells them that if they’re stuck at the station much longer it’ll have to start destroying fetuses grown too large for their containers.  While it does have insurance to cover the financial loss, it would also like to gather tissue samples from the animals to recoup their “proprietary bioengineering”, and facilities to recycle them.  It asks for permission to stay aboard Idris for that purpose, which Bel isn’t sure about.  Miles suggests alternative, like hiring a faster ship, but Dubauer wonders who would pay for such a thing.

When Bel returns from escorting Dubauer out, Miles says he wants to look at the herm’s cargo.  Bel says it can’t help there, since each passenger’s rented cargo space is private to themselves, and even Graf Station hasn’t gotten access to them yet.  Miles says that he’s an Imperial Auditor, the ship is Barrayaran-registered, and owned by the Empress’s family, so he has a perfect right to go wherever he wants; Roic gets Solian’s security overrides and they head off to the freight nacelle.

The racks of replicators are impressive and densely packed.  Miles looks over them, confirming Bel’s estimate of a thousand, and wonders that they’re no larger than regular human uterine replicators.  He doesn’t find any maker’s marks or serial numbers; he brings up the monitor screen on one of them, and is shocked to see a familiar screaming-bird pattern.  When Bel asks him what the problem is, Miles tells him that this is the sign of the Cetagandan Star Crèche, and explains how high up that is, about the haut-ladies and their efforts to perfect their genomes.  Miles checks more closely on the monitor, and confirms that the fetus inside is all too human; they check throughout the room, and every replicator they look at proves to be occupied with a human fetus.

Roic, puzzled, asks what a Betan herm is doing with all this Cetagandan stuff; Miles asks Bel if it really thinks that Dubauer is Betan, and Bel admits it never really came up, but insists that there’s something off.  Miles says that Dubauer has no facial down, like a real herm would, and speculates that Dubauer is not actually a double-sexed Betan hermaphrodite, but a sexless Cetagandan ba; a sample of the haut-ladies’ work, probably closely related, genetically, to Emperor Fletchir Giaja, which may explain why Miles thought it looked familiar.

Miles wonders what this Cetagandan ba would be doing here, with all these Cetagandan fetuses, traveling covertly, and on a Barrayaran ship, no less.  He wonders if the Star Crèche is up to something peculiar, and why Dubauer would be so willing to terminate all the fetuses rather than ask for help.  Bel suggests that perhaps Dubauer is just using this to try to convince the Barrayarans to work harder to get the ships free, but Miles doesn’t buy it.

He tells Bel to lock Idris back down completely, not letting anyone else on board, because he actually thinks it’s time to check with his superiors before proceeding; he recalls with disquiet Gregor’s mention of unrest around Rho Ceta, and can’t help but think it’s related.  Bel protests that it’s going to look funny, after all the work they’ve done to get Dubauer access to the ship; it asks if it should report Dubauer as a possible danger, and suggests that the ba may have, after all, been the target of the rogue riveter.  Miles says that Bel knows about the danger, so technically Graf Station knows; Bel finds this unconvincing, but accedes to Miles’s request to keep this to itself for a little while.

“I want the secured comconsole in the Kestrel. We’ll seal this hold and continue later. Wait. I want to have a look at Dubauer’s cabin, first.”

“Miles, have you ever heard of the concept of a search warrant?”

“Dear Bel, how fussy you have grown in your old age. This is a Barrayaran ship, and I am Gregor’s Voice. I don’t ask for search warrants, I issue them.”

Dubauer’s cabin proves just as unenlightening as Solian’s; Miles makes a mental note to have it, and the cargo hold, searched more forensically, though he’s not sure the Barrayarans are qualified for the task, and he doesn’t want to trust the quaddies with it.  He asks Bel if the Cetagandans have any agents, and Bel says they’d likely be on Union Station; neither Barrayar nor Cetaganda have a full-time consul, just a quaddie lawyer who keeps documents for both of them, and several other polities as well.  Bel calls Venn for an update on the search for the rogue riveter, but there doesn’t seem to have been any progress.

They leave the Idris and head for the Kestrel, arriving without incident.  Miles asks how difficult it would be to get permission from Greenlaw to fast-penta Dubauer; Bel said they’d need to be able to convince a quaddie judge it was necessary, which he doesn’t find likely.  Miles suggests just ambushing Dubauer on the Idris, but Bel thinks it’d be too risky, especially if Dubauer is innocent.

“Dubauer’s not innocent. At the very least, it’s lied about its cargo.”

“Not necessarily. Its manifest just reads, Mammals, genetically altered, assorted. You can’t say they aren’t mammals.”

“Transporting minors for immoral purposes, then. Slave trading. Hell, I’ll think of something.”

Closeted with his secure comconsole, he composes himself, considering how long it’ll be likely to take before his message reaches its destination; they can’t go faster than lightspeed between jump gates, and at the jump gates they are relayed periodically, at the major jump points, by special message ships, or any passing ship on the minor routes.  It’ll take several days, at least, to get a message to Barrayar from here.  He composes it anyway, sending it to Gregor, Guy Allegre, and the ImpSec head on Komarr; he gives details on what he’s found, including a full description of Dubauer and its cargo, and asks for more information on the Cetagandan situation around Rho Ceta.

After he finishes sending it, Ekaterin pages him on the wristcom; on finding that he’s actually at the comconsole, she transfers her call to that so they can see each other.  She asks if he’s eaten yet; of course he hasn’t, and she reminds him to do so before heading out again.  She asks if he turned up anything interesting, and he gives her full details of what he found on the Idris; she’s impressed, saying all she has to share is gossip.  Apparently Solian had once had to duck off a meeting with nosebleed, and she wondered if it was a chronic thing, which would make it easier for someone to get a sample of his blood to duplicate.

Ekaterin says she finds the whole centralized haut breeding thing to be odd, with the necessity for constantly shipping embryos out of the Star Crèche; Miles explains that it’s all coordinated, the haut consorts bringing the embryos out once a year, and Ekaterin wonders who Dubauer is taking those replicators to, and if it will have people to care for them all.  Miles suddenly remembers the handkerchief in his pocket with Dubauer’s blood sample on it, and says he needs to talk to Prince Xav‘s surgeon right away.

Comments

I looked up “Idris” and “Rudra” right now, because I vaguely thought that they were both Hindu deities or something.  Turns out I was half right–Rudra was a Hindu deity, a storm god of some sort, but Idris was a prophet mentioned in the Koran.  I think I was thinking of Indra, rather than Idris, who is another Hindu deity.  Barrayaran warships tend to be named to honour military and political figures (and possibly both)–Prince Serg, Prince Xav, General Vorkraft…  Though the fast courier was Kestrel, of course.  I guess I hadn’t gotten a real impression that Komarr was dominantly Muslim or Hindu, but I guess those cultural groups may have been represented.  Soudha was the only one from Komarr that really struck me as either; Tuomonen was Finnish, and the others seemed fairly scattered ethnically.  But then, few of the planets are that culturally monolithic.  Lairouba sounded somewhat Arabic, Marilac vaguely French, Escobar vaguely Spanish, but Barrayar was canonically Greek/Russian/French/English.  The Jacksonian House Bharaputra, of course, is very Indian-sounding, but not Fell or Ryoval, particularly.  So there’s been some mixing, as one would expect.

Does Miles not have his Auditor’s Seal with him?  Roic has override codes that they use to get into Solian’s office, and onto his computer, and into Dubauer’s cargo bay, but that’s the kind of thing he used the Auditor’s Seal for in the past.  Did he just not take it on his honeymoon?  How unforesightful, if so; but even then, ImpSec could surely have brought it along on the Kestrel.  I don’t recall Miles even thinking of using his…though he does mention it, but only in the context as something he’ll eat if his investigation doesn’t meet up with the quaddies’.  So…would it not do him any good on a Komarran cargo ship?  His statement to Bel that he has the right to issue search warrants would contradict that.  Maybe using Solian’s access codes is just more convenient somehow?  It is for Roic, at least, I suppose.

So yes, now, finally, the real plot has started.  Because, though the ends haven’t quite met up yet, if you were to follow the threads from Solian and the rogue riveter (sorry, I just love that phrase), they would meet at Dubauer in the middle.  (And I can never help but notice that “Dubauer” does have “ba” in the middle, too.)  This plot is hearkening back to that of Cetaganda, of course, with the Star Crèche, the ba, and all that, lest you think that it was going to be based on Falling Free somehow.  (Or The Vor Game–Dubauer is really Cavilo!)


Close to the halfway point, now.  Dubauer’s already been revealed, but I suppose there’s still the rogue riveter, and finding out the rest of what’s really going on, and then trying to solve the problem, and all that.  Five more weeks, with luck, and more short, snappy chapters.

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A minute passed.  After a minute, another minute passed.  In fact, before you know it, a week had passed, and a minute later, there was a new Vorkosigan Reread post!  It’ll only take a minute, or a few minutes, to read, as I examine, in minute detail, the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week, I spent a few minutes digging into Chapters Six and Seven of Diplomatic Immunity, wherein quaddies dance and drum, and blood turns out to be not what it seems.

Chapter Six

Bel meets them at the Kestrel‘s hatch, dressed in a bright orange and dark blue outfit, based on what seems to be a common quaddie style.  It takes them to a restaurant, on the grav side but dedicated to the use of all three dimensions by the use of tables on top of pillars.  Roic even has a seat above theirs, so he can watch the whole room.  Nicol is waiting for them, and soon gets into easy conversation with Ekaterin.  Dinner conversation in general flows easily, though they steer clear of old war stories.

In a private moment, Nicol congratulates “Admiral Naismith” on his good fortune, and Miles accepts it on Lord Vorkosigan’s behalf.  She says she’s happy to stay at home from now on, but she’s worried about whether Bel will be staying with her, given that it hasn’t yet applied for citizenship.  Miles keeps mum about Bel’s private quandary about divided loyalties.

“I do note, Bel could have found a portmaster’s berth in quite a few places. It traveled a very long way to get one here, instead.”

Nicol’s smile softened. “That’s so.” She added, “Do you know, when Bel arrived at Graf Station, it still had that Betan dollar I’d paid you on Jackson’s Whole tucked in its wallet?”

Miles managed to stop the logical query, Are you sure it was the same one? on his lips before it fell out of his mouth leaving room for his downsider foot. One Betan dollar looked like any other. If Bel had claimed it for the same one, when making Nicol’s reacquaintance, who was Miles to suggest otherwise? Not that much of a spoilsport, for damn sure.

After dinner they take a bubble-car through to the zero-gee side to the Madame Minchenko Memorial Auditorium, where Nicol parts with them to ready for her performance.  The entrance to the auditorium is a regular-sized doorway, not yet crowded because of their early arrival, so Miles is surprised to find out just how large the space on the other side is.  It’s an enormous sphere, with most of one end transparent; the box seats on the surface of the sphere are arranged in hexagons, like honeycomb.

They are ushered to their assigned hex, where Garnet Five is already waiting for them, dressed elegantly except for the inflatable cast on a lower arm; Bel introduces them.  Miles thanks her for getting her admittance to the show, and apologizes right off for the behaviour of his fellow Barrayarans.  Garnet turns the discussion to the fate of Dmitri–Ensign Corbeau–and Miles mentions his several options, stressing the possibility of desertion charges if he persists in requesting asylum.  Garnet points out that his request could very well be accepted, and Miles says that even so, that would effectively result in permanent exile from his homeworld.  If he’s more cautious, he could serve out his time in the military and return to Quaddiespace a free man later.

Garnet stubbornly insists that they want to spend the rest of their lives together; Miles wants to ask how sure they are, though he’s reminded of how quickly he fell for Ekaterin, after all, but he’s not quite sure what kind of attraction is at work between Garnet and Corbeau.  Ekaterin asks about children, and Garnet says that it can all be handled via replicator, and they could decide on quaddie or legged offspring just as they could decide on the sex of the babies; quaddie-downsider relationships are far from unknown, apparently.  At Garnet’s prodding, Bel shows them a holocube of various potential offspring that he and Nicol could have, legged and quaddie, as well as both sexes and herm.  Bel says that they’d want to have a quaddie girl first, assuming of course that he gets around to his citizenship application.

The auditorium has filled up during their conversation, including a few downsiders (some of whom, stranded in midair, have to be towed to their seats by the ushers), but no other Barrayarans visible, and the show is now about to start.

Lights flared, an exuberant fountain of red and orange and gold, and from all sides, the performers flowed in. Thundered in. Quaddie males, athletic and vastly enthusiastic, in skin-fitting ship knits made splendid with glitter. Drumming.

I wasn’t expecting hand drums. Other free fall performances Miles had seen, whether dance or gymnastic, had been eerily silent except for the music and sound effects. Quaddies made their own noise, and still had hands left to play hands-across; the drummers met in the middle, clasped, gripped, exchanged momentum, turned, and doubled back in a shifting pattern. Two dozen men in free fall took up perfect station in the center of the spherical auditorium, their motion so controlled as to permit no sideways drift as the energy of their spins and duckings, twistings and turnings, flowed through their bodies one to another and on around again. The air pulsed with the rhythm of their drumming: drums of all sizes, round, oblong, two-headed; not only played by each holder, but some batted back and forth among them in an eye-and-ear-stunning cross between music and juggling, never missing a beat or a blow. The lights danced. Reflections spattered on the walls, picking out flashes from the boxes of upraised hands, arms, bright cloth, jewelry, entranced faces.

They are shortly joined by a dozen quaddie females with castanets, who add their own notes to the music.  Miles mentally compares the performance to that of a Barrayaran marching band, demonstrating skill and excellence for its own sake.  The piece goes on for twenty minutes before coming to an end in a burst of noise, the two groups leaving again to thunderous applause.  They are replaced by the orchestra, all with acoustic instruments, Ekaterin notes, Nicol with her harp and dulcimer.  The orchestral suite includes a solo dulcimer section for her, and Miles takes note of Bel’s entranced expression, though he’s doubtless heard her play many times.

After the orchestra comes the ballet piece, which Garnet Five tells them comes from a longer work, The Crossing, an epic which tells the story of their travel to Quaddiespace.  This piece is the love duet between Leo Graf and Silver, her usual part, and she hopes that her understudy doesn’t screw it up.  Leo is played by a male quaddie with fake legs, and dances clumsily enough that Miles feels a bit uncomfortable, until Bel assures him that Leo is supposed to “dance like an engineer”; Silver seems to dance well enough to Miles’s eyes, though Garnet is more critical.  Miles realizes that this love story, part of quaddie culture from its beginning, explains why romances with downsiders are so accepted in their society.

During intermission, they discuss quaddie names; Garnet Five explains that quaddies often just have single names, but the more popular ones are distinguished by numbers.  Bel says that Leo Ninety-Nine is the highest number he’s seen, and Garnet says there are eight of her name altogether; Bel says gallantly that she will surely inspire more.

The second half of the show was as impressive as the first. During one of the musical interludes, Nicol had an exquisite harp part. There were two more large group dances, one abstract and mathematical, the other narrative, apparently based on a tragic pressurization disaster of a prior generation. The finale put everyone out in the middle, for a last vigorous, dizzying whirl, with drummers, castanet players, and orchestra combining in musical support that could only be described as massive.

Miles is almost surprised that four hours have passed by the time they leave the auditorium.  They bid farewell to Garnet Five and Bel and Nicol accompany them back to the Kestrel via bubble car.  Miles reflects on how well the quaddie dance shows them to be far from handicapped by their physical differences.  This reminds him to check his brain chemicals before he goes to bed, to see if any seizures are looming.

Comments

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, goes a variously-attributed quote (which, according to http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/11/08/writing-about-music/, goes back to Martin Mull, best known to me as Colonel Mustard in the “Clue” movie), but I think that Bujold does a decent job of writing about dance in this chapter.  It probably helps if you’ve seen a vigorous dance routine that you can liken it to, but the transient nature of dance, that it can only be experienced in the moment, means that I’m willing to cut a lot of slack to an author in trying to describe it.  Giving a general impression, all that most people will retain after the experience, is good enough for me.  Somewhere out there is probably a video of Jeanne Robinson doing her impression of zero-gravity dancing, but you’ll have to find that link yourself.

The meeting and discussion with Garnet Five is the main plot significance in the chapter, brief as it is.  I’m more sympathetic with Miles, in his doubt that Corbeau and Garnet Five’s love is truly strong enough to conquer all.  I guess it’s not like they’re teenagers, but Corbeau sounds a bit young and sheltered for his age.

Chapter Seven

Miles is awakened–in what proves to be early morning, rather than the middle of the night–by Roic, notifying him of a call from Admiral Vorpatril.  Miles throws on his gray jacket and goes to take the admiral’s call; Vorpatril says that his surgeon has just confirmed that Solian’s blood sample was manufactured, and asks Miles how he knew.  He wonders if this makes it more likely that Solian was a deserter, and Miles points out that it doesn’t conclusively prove Solian still alive; Roic brings Miles a cup of coffee, as Vorpatril asks if they should share this information with Chief Venn.  Miles hesitates, but he says the next task is to find the precise piece of equipment that manufactured the fake blood in the first place, and, unfortunately, the quaddie police are better equipped to do that.  Vorpatril protests, but Miles points out that he has no authority on Graf Station except what Greenlaw and Venn allow him.  Miles will have to talk to them, especially now that they know whatever happened with the blood was planned in advance.

Miles grumbles about why nobody picked this up the first time through; Roic asks if it’s a rhetorical question.  He says that what people look for will depend on how often they have to deal with crimes.  Hassadar, which is close to Graf Station’s population, averaged one or two a month, so they had no full-time homicide or forensics people, and for really complicated cases they had to call in people from Vorbarr Sultana, where murders are closer to one a day.  So Chief Venn’s forensics expert is probably just a doctor who they call in once in a while, so it’s no surprise they’d be short of ImpSec standards.

Miles wishes he knew more about Solian, but he can’t find friends or enemies, or any evidence he’d ever been to Quaddiespace before.  He might have gotten to know someone on the Idris, but after ten days he might well have found trouble on the station as well.

He calls Chief Venn, who answers floating in zero-gee, sideways to Miles, and rudely doesn’t align his orientation.  When asked, Chief Venn admits that their last murder was seven years ago, and then three years before that; both murders were committed by downsider transients, and confirmed by fast-penta.  He doesn’t take kindly to Miles’s suggestion that his staff might be less than skilled in murder investigations, until Miles tells him about the manufactured blood.  Miles requests Venn get his staff to find out where the blood was synthesized, and if possible by whom, and Venn agrees, obviously thrown off by this new information.

Venn tells him that Sealer Greenlaw wanted to speak to him, and transfers him to her.  She tells Miles that she’s scheduled him to speak to the stranded passengers from the Komarran fleet that morning; Miles is a little nettled at her making the appointment without running it by him first, but he’s also eager to see a nice batch of potential suspects.

He split the difference between irritation and eagerness by remarking blandly, “Nice of you to let me know. Just what is it that you imagine I will be able to tell them?”

“That, I must leave to you. These people came in with you Barrayarans; they are your responsibility.”

“Madam, if that were so, they would all be on their way already. There can be no responsibility without power. It is the Union authorities who have placed them under this house arrest, and therefore the Union authorities who must free them.”

“When you finish settling the fines, costs, and charges your people have incurred here, we will be only too happy to do so.”

He passes on to her the news about Solian’s blood sample, and she says it looks more like desertion than murder.  Miles challenges her to find a living Solian, then, and she says that Quaddiespace is not totalitarian, privacy and freedom of movement being guaranteed.  Miles says that he still thinks Solian is dead, and if so it’s his responsibility and duty to find justice for him.  He signs off hoping he’s ruined her morning, at least.

He asks Roic if he’s ever done a murder investigation, and Roic says he has done a number of investigations, but not strictly murders.  He charges Roic with tracking Solian’s movements as closely as he can, finding any gaps in time, and finding out anything he can about Solian from the crew of the Idris.  Roic protests that Miles will still need security, and Miles says that he will be with Captain Thorne, at least, which doesn’t completely mollify his armsman.  Miles then heads back to his cabin to get dressed, passing Ekaterin on the way.  He asks if she wants to join him in talking to the passengers.

“A Countess is by law and tradition something of an assistant Count. An Auditor’s wife, however, is not an assistant Auditor,” she said in a firm tone, reminiscent to Miles’s ear of her aunt—Professora Vorthys was herself an Auditor’s spouse of some experience. “Nicol and Garnet Five made arrangements to take me out this morning and show me quaddie horticulture. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stick to my original plan.”

Miles apologizes for this unplanned diversion on their honeymoon, and Ekaterin assures him she’s having a good time, but then she doesn’t have to deal with the difficult people.  She allows that maybe they can have lunch together so he can vent, but only if he also manages to eat at the same time.  He reflects that everyone in Quaddiespace is likely quite lucky that Ekaterin is along to keep him on an even keel.

The crews from the Komarran ships have been kept under house arrest on the station; the passengers were just forced to leave the ships, and are being put up in luxurious hostels, allowed to roam the station, even to leave if they want…but not with their cargoes.  The lobby of the hostel where Miles is to speak to them has a large open space, circled by a second-floor balcony, with a staircase down to the conference level.  Bel guides Miles from there to a meeting room with about eighty galactics.

Galactic traders with a keenly honed sense of the value of their time, and no Barrayaran cultural inhibitions about Imperial Auditors, they unleashed several days of accumulated frustrations upon Miles the moment he stepped to the front and turned to face them. Fourteen languages were handled by nineteen different brands of auto-translators, several of which, Miles decided, must have been purchased at close-out prices from makers going deservedly belly-up. Not that his answers to their barrage of questions were any special tax on the translators—what seemed ninety percent of them came up either, “I don’t know yet,” or “Ask Sealer Greenlaw.” The fourth iteration of this latter litany was finally met with a heartrending wail, in chorus, from the back of the room of, “But Greenlaw said to ask you!”, except for the translation device that came up a beat later with, “Lawn rule sea-hunter inquiring altitude unit!”

Bel points out to Miles the ones who’d tried to bribe him to leave, and then he asks anyone who’d met Lieutenant Solian to stay and talk to him.  One man–or herm–stays to talk to Bel about his cargo.  Miles guesses it to be close to a century in age, for a Betan, with elegant features that remind Miles of something he can’t quite recall.  The herm, who introduces itself as Ker Dubauer, says it is transporting several hundred replicators full of engineered animal fetuses, whose next service is due.  It asks to be allowed to service the replicators, and adds that they will be reaching term soon, and if he doesn’t reach his destination by then, they’ll likely need to be destroyed.  When Miles asks, Dubauer says the animals are mostly sheep and goats, with a few specialties.

Bel leaves to go pass the request to Boss Watts; Miles asks Dubauer, who still seems naggingly familiar, if they’ve ever met, but Dubauer says they have not.  Miles asks him about Solian, but Dubauer says he’d only seen him at a distance, never talked to him; Miles decides not to bother telling him about the fake blood.  Several other passengers have by now lined up with tales of Solian to tell, but none of them prove to be particularly useful; Miles wishes for some fast-penta to use, but the only people the quaddies would let him use it on–the Barrayaran crew–are far from likely suspects.

Miles is effectively done by the time Bel returns to say that it can escort Dubauer aboard the Idris to service his cargo.  Miles is running a little late for lunch, but with luck he might be able to catch up with Ekaterin anyway.  They climb up the stairs to the lobby, and he and Bel, both automatically scanning for any threats.  Thus, they both spot a figure on the balcony lifting an oblong box up to the railing.

Miles had a flashing impression of dark eyes in a milky face beneath a mop of brass-blond curls, staring down intently at him. He and Bel, on either side of Dubauer, reached spontaneously and together for the startled Betan’s arms and flung themselves forward. Bright bursts from the box chattered with a loud, echoing, tapping noise. Blood spattered from Dubauer’s cheek as the herm was yanked along; something like a swarm of angry bees seemed to pass directly over Miles’s head. Then they were, all three, sliding on their stomachs to cover behind the wide marble drums holding the flowers. The bees seemed to follow them; pellets of safety glass exploded in all directions, and chips of marble fountained in a wide spray. A vast vibrato filled the room, shook the air, the thunderous thrumming noise sliced with screams and cries.

Miles, trying to raise his head for a quick glance, was crushed down again by Bel diving over the intervening Betan and landing on him in a smothering clutch. He could only hear the aftermath: more yells, the sudden cessation of the hammering, a heavy clunk. A woman’s voice sobbed and hiccoughed in the startling silence, then was choked down to a spasmodic gulping. His hand jerked at a soft, cool kiss, but it was only a few last shredded leaves and flower petals sifting gently down out of the air to settle all around them.

Comments

I thought that, in Komarr, Miles had learned his lesson about not fast-pentaing everybody in sight.  There, he admits to himself that if he’d gotten out the fast-penta for everyone in the terraforming station, and the Waste Heat Experiment Station, the case would have been closed much sooner.  (And Tien would still be alive, and maybe Ekaterin would have still been married to him…or not, I suppose, because his bribe-taking would have been exposed with all the rest.)  And now he balks at interrogating all of the crew on the Barrayaran ships, just because they’re not high on his suspect list?  I suppose that such a high-handed move would win him few friends among his own military, and while the significant penalties for mistreatment of an Imperial Auditor would probably discourage any outright mutiny, I’m sure it would set off a lot of recalcitrance and foot-dragging whenever he actually asked them for help.  But still…

Dubauer, Dubauer…oh, I remember, he was the guy from Shards of Honour whose brain Bothari fried with the nerve disrupter, that Cordelia and Aral had to shepherd across the Sergyaran landscape.  Since the name turns out to be a pseudonym, one is almost tempted to conjecture that it’s somehow related, but I doubt that “Dubauer” had any way of expecting that Miles Vorkosigan would end up on Graf Station because of its actions.  So it’s just a coincidence…though one with a little clue hidden in the letters, no doubt inadvertently.

Roic’s contribution, in pointing out how inexperienced the quaddies would be with murder investigations, was an interesting one.  Venn was a little smug, perhaps, in pointing out that the two murders that Graf Station had seen in ten years both involved downsiders.  What is Bujold trying to say about quaddie society?  That it’s more peaceful than human?  That legs make you more violent and murderous, or lack of privacy and restricted movement?  Or is it just that Graf Station is too “small-town” and homey?  I remain a little skeptical that this is anything more than a statistical blip.  After all, we just got to see, in the book’s first real action scene (that isn’t hearsay from someone else), that there is violence on Graf Station.  Even if it also seems to involve offworlders…


More short, snappy chapters, that’s what I like.   Plus we’re getting into the real plot for sure, now.  I also note that, since there are nineteen chapters in the book overall, we’re over a third of the way through.  So it’s about time for things to start happening…  Next week, doubtless, even more things will happen!  So, until then…

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This here’s the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, see?  There’s this dame, see, Lois McMaster Bujold?  And she wrote a bunch of books about this guy named Miles Vorkosigan, short guy, but with big parents, see?  So now he’s a big-shot Imperial Auditor and investigating in quaddiespace, see?  So that’s this book, Diplomatic Immunity, and a coupla chapters are comin’ down right now.

Chapter Four

Bel Thorne boards the Kestrel after a short conversation with Boss Watts, which it tells Miles was Watts attempting to send a bodyguard along onto the dangerous Barrayaran ship; Thorne told him that Miles was a diplomat, not a soldier (any more, at least).  Miles tells Smolyani to head over to dock on the other side of Graf Station, and asks him to do it as slowly as possible; Smolyani is scandalized, fast couriers having a reputation to uphold, but Miles says he needs time to talk to Thorne.

He asks Roic and Ekaterin for privacy to talk to Bel in the wardroom, even though they’ll have to stay in their cramped cabins.  There are many angles to be considered, not least of which is the fact that the last time he saw Bel was when he was firing it from the Dendarii Mercenaries for the Jackson’s Whole clone rescue debacle, which makes him wonder if he can really trust it any more.

He led Bel the few steps to the tiny chamber that doubled as the Kestrel‘s wardroom, dining room, and briefing room, shut both its doors, and activated the security cone. A faint hum from the projector on the ceiling and a shimmer in the air surrounding the wardroom’s circular dining/vid conference table assured him it was working. He turned to find Bel watching him, head a little to one side, eyes quizzical, lips quirked. He hesitated a moment. Then, simultaneously, they both burst into laughter. They fell on each other in a hug; Bel pounded him on the back, saying in a tight voice, “Damn, damn, damn, you sawed-off little half-breed maniac . . .”

Bel tells Miles he looks healthy, well-fed, much better than the “skull on a stick” he was after cryo-revival.  Miles asks Bel how it ended up at Graf Station.  Bel says that after twenty-five years with the Oseran/Dendarii Mercenaries, it was a little adrift after being cut loose, but it was probably good to be knocked out of its rut.  It didn’t fit in at home on Beta Colony, so it ended up back working as a spacer, sometimes at ImpSec’s behest, and then eventually ended up in Quaddiespace.

Miles notes that he doesn’t work for ImpSec anymore–it’s almost the other way around; Bel’s a little surprised that “Imperial Auditor” isn’t part of some scam Miles is working on, and is amused at Miles’s “funny accent”, though he tries to explain that it’s his real voice.  Thorne said that the Auditor “Emperor’s Voice” thing sounded weird, and a little gruesome, but whoever gave Miles a job like that must be crazy.  It asks Miles for an explanation, and Miles briefly explains how his seizures lost him his covert ops job, but the Emperor gave him an honest one; though most people call it nepotism, he’s confident he’ll eventually prove them wrong.  Bel feels guilty over apparently having killed Admiral Naismith after all, but Miles assures Bel that he played a big role in that himself.

Bel confirms that it is, in fact, ImpSec’s local agent; Miles had tried hard to keep Bel on ImpSec’s payroll as an informer, to help them feel better about having the herm cut loose and wandering.  He notes that Portmaster is a great job for a spy, and Bel says it got the placement on its own, but ImpSec was pleased enough at it.

“The quaddies like me, too. It seems I’m good at handling all sorts of upset downsiders, without losing my equilibrium. I don’t explain to them that after years of trailing around after you, my definition of an emergency is seriously divergent from theirs.”

Bel says that they really haven’t seen any sign of Lieutenant Solian, and they have been trying.  It’s not impressed with Vorpatril–Miles confirms the distant relationship with Ivan–who still doesn’t believe them.  Thorne tells Miles that the crew and passengers from the Komarran ships have been removed from the ships and are being housed on the station; a lot of the passengers have tried to bribe it to let them take their cargo off the ships and transfer it to some other vessel.  It hasn’t obliged any of them yet, but it thinks that Miles might be interested in knowing about the most desperate ones; the quaddies don’t have any grounds for interrogating any of them, yet…

Bel mentions Ensign Corbeau, who he met before the whole unpleasantness; Miles is highly interested in why he’d be requesting political asylum, and if there’s any connection to Solian.  Bel says that Corbeau just got let loose onto the station like all the rest of the sexually-deprived Barrayaran crew (commenting snidely on the stupidity of sexually-segregated crew in the first place), and went to see the Minchenko Ballet.  It clarifies for Miles that this dance troupe has a long tradition, and is far from “exotic dancing” in the usual sense.  Corbeau ended up falling for a dancer named Garnet Five, who seems to like him too.

Bel was involved in this because of its cohabitation with Nicol, the dulcimer player they rescued from Fell Station so many years ago, who plays for the ballet orchestra.  Bel notes that Nicol certainly remembers “Admiral Naismith” quite well, but vouches for her discretion; however, she is a friend of Garnet Five’s, who is quite upset about what’s going to happen to her boyfriend.  After the rude thugs who were sent to fetch Corbeau from her quarters, she doesn’t trust Barrayaran mercy; Bel had promised Nicol to put in a word for them, and Miles promises to listen, but doesn’t know what else he can do about it yet.

Bel notes that Miles seems to be a big wheel now, and must have a lot of influence with ImpSec and other Barrayarans.  It is enjoying life on Graf Station and hoping to settle there permanently, becoming a citizen…and not wanting to swear a citizenship oath while still secretly working for Barrayar.  It asks Miles to fire it from ImpSec to keep from having to work with divided loyalties.

He blew out his breath. But you’re so valuable to us here! “I . . . don’t know.”

“Don’t know if you have the power? Or don’t know if you want to use it?”

Miles temporized, “This power business has proved a lot stranger than I anticipated. You’d think more power would bring one more freedom, but I’ve found it’s brought me less. Every word that comes out of my mouth has this weight that it never had before, when I was babbling Mad Miles, hustler of the Dendarii. I never had to watch my mass like this. It’s . . . damned uncomfortable, sometimes.”

“I’d have thought you’d love it.”

“I’d have thought that too.”

Roic notifies him that they’ve arrived back at the dock; Miles tells Bel that it should officially meet Ekaterin, at least, before they go back out.  He tells Bel that she and Roic both have full clearance, and he will need to tell them about Bel, so they can trust him.  Bel is a little reluctant to be revealed to more people as an ImpSec agent, but Miles says that he’s already told Ekaterin all about it; in fact, they’d sent Bel a wedding invitation, but it never showed up.  Bel says that it was in the middle of an ImpSec assignment, where it couldn’t just pick up and leave in the middle of it, but it wished him well.  Miles sighed that Elli didn’t show up either, though Taura did, as did Mayhew and the Bothari-Jeseks.  Bel notes that somebody must have worked out Baz Jesek’s old legal difficulties with Barrayar, with the implication that Somebody could do that for it, too…

Miles finally agrees not to mention Bel’s current affiliations, and introduces it to Roic and Ekaterin as a former associate, currently working for the quaddies but still reliable.  Ekaterin greets it warmly, and Miles warns them that, because Bel knew him under another name, they are claiming to have just met, though already becoming friends because of Bel’s talent for charming downsiders.

They leave the ship into the loading bay where Solian’s blood was found, to be greeted by two quaddie Security men, in float chairs because this area is supplied with gravity.  Miles notes the float chairs’ resemblance to flying washtubs, or perhaps Baba Yaga’s flying mortar.  Bel shows them the airlock that was opened, and where the bloodstain was, assuring them that it had seen it itself, a large pool leading into a smear next to the airlock.  Bel shows Miles around the area, and Ekaterin looks around too, clearly reminded of a certain docking bay at Komarr’s jump point station…

They check on where Solian might have been killed, discussing spatter marks and the like.  Miles convinces one of the quaddie guards to lend them a floater, and they try it out, taking turns trying to carry Bel Thorne, playing the part of Lieutenant Solian’s dead body, to the airlock.  Miles doesn’t do well, trying to handle the controls awkwardly while keeping the body from slipping, nor does Ekaterin, and Roic does even worse, being more cramped, despite his extra strength; the quaddie they convince to try manages it handily, but not happily.  Bel tells them that floaters are generally considered public property, though some have their own customized models, and easily available for anyone to borrow.

Miles notes the possibility that some small personal craft could have picked up Solian’s body from the airlock and taken it almost anywhere; Bel estimates that it could have been up to thirty minutes after the lock cycled before the area outside it was too crowded with investigators, so it was possible for a single person to have dumped it and then gone to get their ship to pick it up.  Miles asks Bel for a list of “everything that went out a lock” in that time.  He’s still not certain why whoever it was would have gone to such trouble to get rid of the body but leave the blood…  He decides it’s time to go talk to the Barrayaran detainees instead.

Comments

Once again wondering how much of “Winterfair Gifts” was written by this point–Miles mentions Taura being taken under Alys Vorpatril’s wing, and recalls to himself the extreme stress Ekaterin was under the night before the wedding, but no thoughts about Taura (or Roic) saving Ekaterin’s life or sanity, or their wedding.  So perhaps the author didn’t have that settled in her mind yet.  On the other hand, I can’t remember if anyone in “Winterfair Gifts” mentioned Bel Thorne’s absence to Roic–Elli Quinn’s certainly, but not Bel’s.

The usual pronoun fun with Bel.  It’s hard to write–I still wonder if I absentmindedly left a “him” stuck in there somewhere–and some of the “it” uses must be confusing to read.  In the text, I think the author uses “Bel” a lot more often than one would necessarily use a name, probably for a similar reason.  At least it’s a short name.

Chapter Five

Bel and one of the quaddies escort Miles, Ekaterin and Roic to Graf Station Security Post Three, on the border between zero-gee and full-gee sections of the station; a construction team is working on repairs at the entrance.  Sealer Greenlaw and Chief Venn are waiting for them, and Venn makes sure that Miles is informed of all the repairs necessitated by the Barrayaran assault; Miles acknowledges them, and counters with a discussion of the missing Solian, which stops Venn’s recitation.

Ekaterin tells Miles she’s not that eager to sit in on the interviews with him, if he doesn’t need her to, and says she doubts she’ll be bored waiting; she says she’d hoped for a look around the station.  Miles is torn, not sure whether he’d want Roic with him or with her; Ekaterin says she needs a guide more than a bodyguard on the station anyway, and Bel offers to escort her.  Miles realizes that Bel is really more experienced than Roic, and knows the station better, so he agrees, saying he’ll call when he’s done.

“Maybe you can go shopping.” He waved them off, smiling. “Just don’t haul home any severed heads.” He glanced up to find Venn and Greenlaw both staring at him in some dismay. “Ah—family joke,” he explained weakly. The dismay did not abate.

Venn apologizes for the crowding of the Barrayaran prisoners, three in a cell meant for two; Miles forbears to mention that they sleep more crowded than that on their ship.  Miles starts talking to Brun’s squad commander, who, daunted by Miles’s rank, takes refuge in military jargon, but his story basically matches the quaddie version of events; he talks to a few other men, and their stories agree as well.  Miles tells Greenlaw that she shouldn’t be holding these men prisoner; they were given legal orders, however misguided, and they would have been arrested for not carrying them out, so it’s not fair to arrest them for obeying them; Greenlaw is unconvinced.  Miles notes that the station would be better off if the Barrayarans took the detainees with them when they left, and privately wishes he could leave Brun behind while taking his men.

The two men who’d been sent to retrieve Corbeau are scrupulously honest, but with every word they show themselves deplorably full of Barrayaran anti-mutant prejudice.  Still, they had been convinced, at the time, that Solian had been murdered by a quaddie.  Next, Miles asks if he can talk to Corbeau; Venn says Corbeau was moved to a cell by himself, because of threats by his comrades.

Miles’s first glimpse of Corbeau reveals pilot’s implants, which of course makes him even more valuable to the Service, a black eye, and some faded scars which mark him as a survivor of the Sergyaran worm plague.  Venn introduces Miles as the Imperial Auditor to Corbeau’s alarm, but he stands up and bows respectfully, puzzled when he notices Miles’s height; Venn adds that Miles won’t be allowed to remove Corbeau from their custody just yet, between pending charges and his request for asylum.

Miles tries to put Corbeau at his ease, asking about his upbringing on Sergyar, and confirming that he is the son of of the Viceroy.  He asks Corbeau about Solian; Corbeau tells Miles that he didn’t know him well, but he doesn’t think much of Brun’s suggestion that he deserted, and Miles confirms that they are both aware of Brun’s anti-Komarran prejudices.  Then he turns to asking about why Corbeau hadn’t responded to his recall order; Corbeau says he’d left his wristcom in another room and slept through the beep.

“Did they identify themselves properly, and relay your orders clearly?”

Corbeau paused, his glance at Miles sharpening. “I admit, my lord,” he said slowly, “Sergeant Touchev announcing, ‘All right, mutie-lover, this show’s over,’ did not exactly convey ‘Admiral Vorpatril has ordered all Barrayaran personnel back to their ships’ to my mind. Not right away, anyway. I’d just woken up, you see.”

Corbeau says they didn’t identify themselves, though they were in uniform, but it wasn’t unknown for fleet security members to pick fights on their own time.  Garnet Five tried to defend him, and Corbeau didn’t lose his temper and fight back until after they dumped her out of her float chair.  Miles tries to reassure him, saying that he’s not technically AWOL while he’s under arrest, and as a jump pilot he’d be a loss to the service, so he might still have an opportunity to make things right.

Corbeau says that he doesn’t want to go back to the service.  He’s seen too much of the pervasive prejudices shared by most of his comrades, and he can’t stand it any more.  Miles reminds himself how young Corbeau is, just twenty-three, and how difficult he’d find it to wait; he does point out that while it can be unpleasant for progressive-minded men in the military, without them things won’t ever change.

Corbeau insists that he wants to stay on Graf Station, with Garnet Five, and Miles wonders how much data he’s basing that decision on–in a relationship that’s only weeks old, and not yet starting to miss the open spaces of planetside life.  He tells Corbeau that if he doesn’t withdraw his request for asylum, and the quaddies reject it, then that might make it desertion, though he does say that since this altercation couldn’t possibly be considered a battle, it wouldn’t be the capital charge of “desertion in the heat”.  Still, court martial would be a bad idea; Miles determines that Corbeau wasn’t drunk either, which would have made a time-honoured excuse.  Corbeau still insists that he wants to stay, and Miles says he’ll only have until Solian’s mystery is solved to make his mind one way or the other.

Miles leaves the detention area, telling Venn again that he wants Solian found, and arranges to rendezvous with Ekaterin back at the Kestrel.  She tells him that Bel did a splendid job showing her around, even down into the free-fall section to see traces of the original jumpship, which has been made into a museum.  She even bought a souvenir copy of the jumpship for Nikki’s collection–a little large for their cramped quarters, but Miles assures her that Smolyani will find room for it.

Miles asks about her conversation with Bel, and she says it was mostly about Miles, of course; she’d told Bel the non-classified version of how they met on Komarr, though she’s noticed it sounds a little odd with all those pieces missing.  Bel had also told her about how they first met when it was working for the Oserans–Miles shooting Bel with a stunner, in particular.  She shows him a new outfit, a blue-gray jumpsuit that buttoned at the ankles, fashionable and demure in free-fall.

He asks if they’d encountered any unpleasantness, and Ekaterin tells him about one odd fellow who accosted them, a passenger from the Rudra wanting to find out how soon they were going to be allowed back aboard.  The man seemed a little odd, with a barrel chest and long, narrow hands and feet, perhaps modified genetically or surgically somehow.  Bel assured him that nobody had been let back aboard yet, and quaddies were not pilfering from their cargoes; it told him to talk to Sealer Greenlaw to make an appointment with the Lord Auditor if he wanted more information.

Miles says he should go talk to Greenlaw, but Ekaterin firmly tells him that he needs to take a break.  Bel and Nicol are taking them out for supper, and after that they will be attending the ballet.  Miles isn’t sure how wise it is to be squandering time like that, but Ekaterin assures him that it’ll win him points with the quaddies; Garnet Five managed to get them tickets, and will be attending with them, and Nicol will be performing with the orchestra.  Garnet Five is, apparently, locally famous, and being assaulted by the Barrayarans was a major news story; being seen hobnobbing with her at the ballet will do a lot to smooth things over.  Miles suspects she’ll want to talk about Corbeau’s situation, and hopes he doesn’t end up offending her by being unable to deliver what she wants.  Ekaterin says she’ll be wearing her new outfit, and insists that Miles wear his house uniform, so they can honour the performers by dressing up for them; Mile, trusting her observations of the local culture, acquiesces.

Comments

I’m not sure what the current population of Sergyar is, but I imagine it’s much lower than both Komarr and Barrayar right now, so I suppose it’s not surprising that you don’t see that many of them.  It’s a fairly young colony, so it won’t have much of a cultural identity distinct from Barrayar right now (I imagine it doesn’t see many Komarran colonists, but I suppose I could be wrong); the worm-plague thing provides a nice visual clue, though I can’t help but wonder why Miles hadn’t already read Corbeau’s file before the interview.  The timing must have been wrong, I guess, and it might have seemed a little peripheral to the main issue, though in some ways he was central to the incident which caused the Barrayarans to be detained in the first place.  He also, apparently, makes Miles feel old, since he draws all sorts of conclusions about Corbeau’s behaviour based on his youth…which I can’t really disagree with, for the most part.

When I first read the book, I think I was half expecting Ekaterin to get her own viewpoint chapters, but I guess it didn’t work out that way.  While it might have been nice to see the scene she reports here to Miles through her own eyes–meeting Guppy for the first time, our next lead into the actual main plot–I guess the rest of the book didn’t really justify it, so we just get to stick with Miles’s head, with Ekaterin a little sidelined, as I recall, when the action picks up.  I guess she got two books in there, so she shouldn’t get greedy.


Next chapter doubtless they will be at the ballet…writing about dance is like, I don’t know, singing about architecture?  Well, in any case, that’s for next week, so until then…

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