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.
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.
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.
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.
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…