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…
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.
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.
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.
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.