Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2014

Hello, future readers!  I am sending you this message from the past–a time capsule of sorts, if you will–because prior commitments, also made in the past, will make it impossible, or at least inconvenient, to publish this manually at my usual time, which is to say “as close to my personal deadline as I can possibly manage”.  Soon enough I will catch up with this future, but right now this “past me” writing this.  So let “past me” welcome you back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in which the writings of Lois McMaster Bujold, and specifically those comprising the saga involving Vorkosigans, are dealt with in a certain amount of detail.  This week I deal with the final chapter and epilogue of Diplomatic Immunity, in which certain people continue to survive, receive recognition for their efforts, and execute an alarming transition in their perceived place in the universe.

Chapter Eighteen

Miles wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar place.  There’s no tubes in his nose, and only vague memories of the desperate flight of his convoy, and the messages they heard about the escalating tensions between the two empires.  Ekaterin is bending over his bed, oddly enough, and with no medical mask or anything.  He sits up on one elbow and sees a room filled with obviously Cetagandan decor, including plants and a seascape out the window–almost certainly a simulated one, because he’s pretty sure he’s still on a spaceship.  Miles remembers the horrifying story they’d heard, of a batch of a thousand empty Star Crèche replicators found near Vorbarr Sultana, and asks urgently if they managed to head off the war yet.

Ekaterin pushes him back down on the bed and assures him that the urgent matters have been taken care of–mostly by her, even though strictly speaking Admiral Vorpatril shouldn’t have listened to her.  She kept insisting that Pel and Benin be given Miles’s messages, and once Benin was on the case matters got cleared up quickly.  Benin discovered that the ba had been quietly smuggling those replicators out a few at a time as part of its backup plan.  The Cetagandans have declared the affair an internal matter, and tensions are easing.  She says that without Pel’s name–and “Vorkosigan”–she probably wouldn’t have gotten through.

Miles says that last thing he remembers was four days out from Quaddiespace, and being very cold; Ekaterin says that the blood filter was barely keeping up with the infection, and his metabolism was losing energy.  In desperation, they put Bel and Miles into cold stasis, which put the parasites into hibernation, so they weren’t forced to resort to actual cryofreeze, to Miles’s relief.  She says they’ve been in orbit around Rho Ceta for about a day; Miles can tell she hasn’t been sleeping well.

Ekaterin says that Pel brought in a woman who seems to have cleared all of the parasites out of his system, and Bel’s; right now they’re on Pel’s own Star Crèche ship.  There was some unpleasantness about the Cetagandans refusal to let Roic, Clogston, or any of the Barrayaran men on board the ship, but they eventually settled for allowing Ekaterin and Nicol on.  Miles asks if Gupta was also cleared of any remnants of parasites–he hadn’t been that keen on getting back into Cetagandan hands, but Miles had convinced him of it–and Ekaterin says he’s been treated as well.  In fact, the Cetagandans are intensely interested in how he survived the bioweapon in the first place, but the Barrayarans still have him in their possession for the nonce.

He hesitated, and cleared his throat. “Um . . . I also seem to remember recording some messages. To my parents. And Mark and Ivan. And to little Aral and Helen. I hope you didn’t . . . you didn’t send them off already, did you?”

“I set them aside.”

“Oh, good. I’m afraid I wasn’t very coherent by then.”

“Perhaps not,” she admitted. “But they were very moving, I thought.”

“I put it off too long, I guess. You can erase them now.”

“Never,” she said, quite firmly.

“But I was babbling.”

“Nevertheless, I’m going to save them.” She stroked his hair, and her smile twisted. “Perhaps they can be recycled someday. After all . . . next time, you might not have time.”

Pel enters with another haut woman, undoubtedly her friend who had cured them of the parasites–no force bubbles, so obviously they consider themselves effectively in the heart of the Star Crèche itself.  She greets him and says she was surprised to meet him again, though it was not unwelcome; she assures him that the fetuses in the replicators have been checked and seem to be in good health.

Ekaterin asks Pel’s physician companion about the possible long-term effects of the infection, and she says she there will be some micro-scarring, which may lead to circulatory problems later in life; Miles wonders how this will interact with his existing seizure disorder.  Bel apparently suffered even more severe damage, and its muscles may be permanently damaged, so she recommends it stay in a low-gravity environment as much as possible, which it turns out won’t be that hard.  Miles vows to himself to get Bel a medical discharge from ImpSec and pension.

The physician leaves, and Pel says that Benin would like to talk to Miles; Miles agrees wholeheartedly, and asks about what happened to the ba.  Pel says that the ba has been returned to the Star Crèche, and they’re grateful for Benin’s assistance in dealing with any of its collaborators; Miles senses she doesn’t want to say much more about the ba, but he’s not ready to drop the subject yet.  He asks about the ba’s kidnapping of the child-ship, and Pel admits that the ba seemed to have been planning this for a long time, and poisoned the rest of the ship’s inhabitants before sending it into the sun–which she at least concedes as a fitting funeral pyre.

Miles asks about the bioweapons the ba was carrying; Pel tells him in no uncertain terms that this is not a suitable topic, but Miles persists, saying that they will need assurances that there will be no further contagions on the Idris or Graf Station, and Pel finally grudgingly admits that the rest of the consort’s “supplies” were destroyed by their keeper before the ba could get its hands on them.  Miles suspects that that “keeper” might have been Pel’s physician’s counterpart on the Rho Cetan ship, and files this information away for later.

Pel also refuses to answer Miles’s questions on the ba’s motives, so he happily supplies her with his own theory–that this ba, a genetic sibling of Emperor Fletchir Giaja, was probably involved in the Dowager Empress’s earlier scheme, and saw this as some sort of continuation of the project.  Pel calls this close enough, and informs them that, the Emperor being pleased with them, they will be given the unprecedented honour of being present at the upcoming ceremony when the child-ship delivers the fetuses to the planet.  Miles says he’d rather just understand what was really going on in the ba’s head.

“Bear with me. I don’t think I’ve quite got it, yet. I suspect the haut—and the ba—are not so post-human yet as to be beyond self-deception, all the more subtle for their subtlety. I saw the ba’s face, when I destroyed that freezer case of genetic samples in front of it. Something shattered. Some last, desperate . . . something.” He had slain men’s bodies, and bore the mark, and knew it. He did not think he’d ever before slain a soul, yet left the body breathing, bereft and accusing. I have to understand this.

Pel was clearly not pleased to go on, but she understood the depth of a debt that could not be paid off with such trivialities as medals and ceremonies. “The ba, it seems,” she said slowly, “desired more than Lisbet’s vision. It planned a new empire—with itself as both emperor and empress. It stole the haut children of Rho Ceta not just as a core population for its planned new society, but as . . . mates. Consorts. Aspiring to even more than Fletchir Giaja’s genetic place, which, while part of the goal of haut, does not imagine itself the whole. Hubris,” she sighed. “Madness.”

“In other words,” breathed Miles, “the ba wanted children. In the only way it could . . . conceive.”

Pel admits that the Dowager Empress made a pet of the ba, treated it almost as a child, perhaps unwisely.  Miles can imagine the ba’s thinking, then, wondering why it doesn’t get everything that its half-sibling the Emperor does, coveting it…  Miles asks about the ba’s name, and Pel says that as punishment for its crime, its name will be forgotten and stricken from records.

The next morning, before local dawn, they are brought down to the surface of Rho Ceta in a lift van, to a grassy amphitheatre on a slope across from the planet’s capital city, filled with mourning-white haut-lady bubbles, and less-visible haut men.  Miles contemplates ghem-General Benin, in the van with them, and thinks that Benin’s recent experiences must have been immeasurably more stressful than Miles’s own, with the child-ship’s inexplicable disppearance, and the tantalizing clues leading to Komarr and Barrayar…  He had gladly answered Benin’s questions, but held firm on refusing to give up Gupta to the Cetagandans, and apparently his current esteem on Rho Ceta is enough to earn that much for him.

Nevertheless, Miles wondered where to drop Guppy when this was all over. Housing him in a Barrayaran jail was a useless expense to the Imperium. Turning him loose back on Jackson’s Whole was an invitation for him to return to his old haunts, and employment—no benefit to the neighbors, and a temptation to Cetagandan vengeance. He could think of one other nicely distant place to deposit a person of such speckled background and erratic talents, but was it fair to do that to Admiral Quinn . . . ? Bel had laughed, evilly, at the suggestion, till it had to stop to breathe.

Miles is helped into a floater, his strength not quite up to standing for very long yet, and he wants to husband it for the ceremony proper; Bel, not in any better shape, is in his own floater, accompanied by Nicol.  Benin leads them all up to meet the current Rho Cetan governor–a Degtiar, not one of the ones Miles had met at the Dowager Empress’s funeral–who greets them with a startlingly deep bow and offer of his household’s service.  After a brief conversation with Benin, the shuttle from the child-ship drops down to the amphitheatre, landing not too far from Miles and the others; the waiting Cetagandan haut quiet in anticipation.

Ekaterin and Roic help Miles out of his floater and he stands on his own for the ceremony.  The shuttle opens to disgorge a translucent, empty haut-bubble, in honour of the murdered Consort, followed by more bubbles, lead by Pel.  She stops in front of Benin and enjoins him to convey the Emperor’s thanks to the outlander guests.  Benin gives a thankfully subdued Bel Thorne a prized honour, Warrant of the Celestial House, and the same to Ekaterin.

“My Lord Vorkosigan,” Benin spoke.

Miles stepped forward a trifle apprehensively.

“My Imperial Master, the Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja, reminds me that true delicacy in the giving of gifts considers the tastes of the recipient. He therefore charges me only to convey to you his personal thanks, in his own Breath and Voice.”

First prize, the Cetagandan Order of Merit, and what an embarrassment that medal had been, a decade ago. Second prize, two Cetagandan Orders of Merit? Evidently not. Miles breathed a sigh of relief, only slightly tinged with regret. “Tell your Imperial Master from me that he is entirely welcome.”

“My Imperial Mistress, the Empress the haut Rian Degtiar, Handmaiden of the Star Crèche, also charged me to convey to you her own thanks, in her own Breath and Voice.”

Miles bowed perceptibly lower. “I am at her service in this.”

Pel moves forward and announces to Miles that the Star Crèche is “calling him up”–requesting a sample to be added to the haut gene-banks.  He’s sure that they probably already have a sample of his material from his previous visit–and his current one–but the formal addition is a great honour.  Pel takes a blood sample with skilled fingers, and ritually adds it to a freezer case.  Miles tells Pel that his talents are probably not genetic, but she shushes him gently.

Next the replicators themselves are offloaded by ghem-women and ba servitors, and haut men come forward to accept their new offspring, which Miles knows may will have been engendered without their participation, or probably even their consent; the Governor himself is among them.  The men take the replicators to their haut-mothers, whose bubbles change from white to any of a riotous assortment of colours.  The children will be delivered to their caretakers, and may never meet their parents again.  Miles wonders about these children’s eventual fates, and wonders if, in the future, one of them will turn into Barrayar’s greatest enemy, and the thought unsettles him.  The ceremony over, Miles says that it’s time to go home.

Comments

And so it proves that the ba’s plot was, in some ways, an offshoot of the plot of Cetaganda, the Dowager Empress’s plan to disperse the haut gene bank, although twisted by a somewhat deranged mind.  The ba was apparently pampered and indulged by the Empress, which they seem to regard as the only excuse for its behaviour, which implies they normally keep a much tighter rein on them.  And yet, they use them as prototypes for the haut genome–what do they expect, as the genetic sibling of someone thought suitable of being the Emperor himself?

Good to see Benin and Pel again; Benin must be in essentially the same position as Simon Illyan was, head of security for the Star Crèche vs. head of ImpSec…  And yet, he seems to get along well with Miles, or at least they understand each other well.  And Pel is certainly one of the more daring of the haut-ladies, and understands Miles well enough to accede to his wishes to fill in the gaps in his understanding of the case.  Even though she doubtless realizes that ImpSec will get their hands on all of this information.  Or maybe not; Rian seemed a little unworldly when she talked to Miles in Cetaganda, but then I suppose Pel is older and wiser.

Miles gets yet another layer of health problems here, because that was totally something he needed.  After all, all he had up to now was all that bone fragility from before he was born, and then the aftereffects of his death and cryorevival, including the seizures.  Oh, and I suppose there were those bleeding stomach ulcers, and his weird fast-penta reaction, but those are hardly worth mentioning.  And now he’s got “micro-scarring” in his muscles and blood vessels.  I can’t remember if that ever comes up as a concern in CryoBurn, but I guess I’ll find out in a few months…

Epilogue

They return to Komarr with Bel and Nicol, where Bel is given its final ImpSec debrief.  Miles comes along to try to make sure the herm doesn’t tire itself out unduly, but ends up being dragged off by Ekaterin when his stamina fails first.  Afterwards, Miles invites them, not for the first time, down to see Vorkosigan House, and experience Ma Kosti’s cooking.  Roic is patrolling in a hyperalert state, and Miles makes a mental note that Roic deserves a vacation when they get home.  Nicol says she’d prefer to go somewhere where she’s not going to need armsmen to protect her from the locals, and Ekaterin points out that they’re tired, homesick, and Bel needs to get home and relax.

Bel tells Miles to stick to less dangerous work from now on, since it doubts he’s going to get a third chance.  Miles says that he’s likely to have lots of tedious work at home to keep him busy, like his last job, coming up with new bio-law for Barrayar.  He asks Bel to keep an eye on Corbeau, and Nicol says that she’d heard from Garnet Five that he’s not doing too bad so far; Bel says that they can come visit Quaddiespace again sometime.  They bid Bel and Nicol farewell, and then are drawn to the Kestrel, to take them home, with birth-clocks ticking madly in their heads.  Gregor has invited them to a reception upon their return, but they’ve also heard that the doctors can’t keep their children in the replicators much longer, so first things first.

Miles gets in some practice with a cane instead of a floater during the trip back from Komarr, and his strength is returning slightly, but he’s still not at full strength when they arrive back at Vorkosigan House; he contemplates getting a sword-cane like Koudelka’s.  They enter to be greeted by Cordelia, Aral and Nikki; Miles is disconcerted to find himself looking up into Nikki’s face.  Cordelia relays messages from Beta Colony–Mark’s, awkward but heartfelt, as well as her mother’s.  Ekaterin’s brother Will Vorvayne is recording everything on video.  Aral congratulates Ekaterin on her diplomatic work, and says they can likely find a job for her if she wants, but she says she’s going to have enough work on her hands soon enough.  They wash up quickly and then head to the nursery.

With the addition of the birth team—an obstetrician, two medtechs, and a bio-mechanic—the small chamber overlooking the back garden was as full as it could hold. It seemed as public a birth as those poor monarchs’ wives in the old histories had ever endured, except that Ekaterin had the advantage of being upright, dressed, and dignified. All of the cheerful excitement, none of the blood or pain or fear. Miles decided that he approved.

Miles asks how they do this, and Cordelia says they can just each lift one latch, like they did with him.  They do so on both replicators, Ekaterin luminous with joy, and the obstetrician goes to work.  He takes Aral Alexander out first, and Miles holds his breath until he hears Aral’s first cry, tearing up; Cordelia has to fight to keep her hands to her sides, and Will Vorvayne jockeys around trying take his videos until his sister firmly tells him to stay back.  Ekaterin takes baby Aral while the obstetrician extracts baby Helen; Miles tries to absorb the existence and reality of this tiny baby, the little person which is now his.  Ekaterin hands the baby to Miles, who decides he should sit down first.  Helen Natalia cries much louder than her brother when she comes out.

With two babies to go around, all the people lined up to hold them would have their chances soon enough, Miles decided, accepting Helen Natalia, still making noise, from her grinning mother. They could wait a few more moments. He stared at the two bundles more than filling his lap in a kind of cosmic amazement.

“We did it,” he muttered to Ekaterin, now perching on the chair arm. “Why didn’t anybody stop us? Why aren’t there more regulations about this sort of thing? What fool in their right mind would put me in charge of a baby? Two babies?”

Her brows drew together in quizzical sympathy. “Don’t feel bad. I’m sitting here thinking that eleven years suddenly seems longer that I realized. I don’t remember anything about babies.”

“I’m sure it’ll all come back to you. Like, um, like flying a lightflyer.”

He had been the end point of human evolution. At this moment he abruptly felt more like a missing link. I thought I knew everything. Surely I knew nothing. How had his own life become such a surprise to him, so utterly rearranged? His brain had whirled with a thousand plans for these tiny lives, visions of the future both hopeful and dire, funny and fearful. For a moment, it seemed to come to a full stop. I have no idea who these two people are going to be.

Comments

Tradition holds that a TV series jumps the shark when they add new babies to the plot.  I’m not convinced that’s always true, though I can see some of the logic behind it.  Still, it’s a logical development in many people’s lives–committed relationship to marriage to parenthood is still a dominant sequence of events in Western culture, even if it’s not nearly as universal as it used to be.  It does often signal a transition in life from adventure, having fun, staying out till all hours, going out to movies whenever you want, and feeling the freedom to take stupid risks, in favour of being responsible.  Or maybe that’s just me.

I certainly empathize with Miles’s realization of his change of viewpoint in the last paragraph that I quoted there.  Sometimes parenthood is also a signal that a character is going to move back into the wings, to let their offspring take center stage.  As far as jumping the shark goes…well, I haven’t liked the last three Vorkosigan books as much as I did the four or five before that, but I don’t think I’d blame the babies for that.  Would it help to revitalize the series if we moved further forward, to let Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia, and their siblings, become main characters?  Maybe there’s too much soft-heartedness there.

So much of Miles’s storyline was driven by the awful things that happened before his birth, and with Bujold’s stated maxim of doing the worst possible thing to her characters, it may be that the only way to make his children interesting characters would be to do awful things to Miles himself, or Ekaterin, or Barrayar.  Would I want to read a book where half of the character we’d met on Barrayar get killed off by Cetagandans, or Jacksonians, or Cavilo?  Probably not.  Or one of the children could get kidnapped, and then they have to find him or her…  I don’t know.  I don’t have a good idea where the series should go next, and maybe there aren’t a lot of good stories left to tell about the Vorkosigans that aren’t either insanely dull or horribly painful.  So I’ll trust the author to keep trying, or not, as she wants, and try to judge each book on its own merits.


And on that note, let’s wrap up Diplomatic Immunity.  Not my favourite, though definitely exciting at points, and tying together all sorts of interesting threads from Cetaganda, “Labyrinth”, Mirror Dance, Falling Free, and most of the books in the series, really.  My usual week off, and then I’ll start on Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the first book in the reread that I’ve only read once, so far.  I think I’m going to take it a chapter at a time, at least to start, for a number of reasons, not least of which being that this is another one I only have a print copy of, so I’ll have to hand-type quotes or something, and hold the book open with one hand or weight down the pages…it just seems like it’ll be more work.  I’ll have to see how that turns out…

Read Full Post »

Time is winding down, and eventually, like now, I’m going to have to give up waiting for inspiration to strike and give you another one of those dull and boring introductions.  So here it is.  Welcome to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Again.  Aren’t you glad you came back?  About now is when I hope that Scott Adams is right and nobody reads introductions, because I just have the same stuff to say over again.  Lois McMaster Bujold wrote a bunch of science fiction books in a sort of series, most of them having to do with a guy named Miles Vorkosigan, and I liked them so much I bought the company I read them over and over and then decided to be sneaky and read them over slowly, synopsizing them on a blog for random people on the Internet to read.  And this is it.  Or it will be soon.  Not in short choppy sentences like these ones, I’ll tell you.  I write a big long run-on sentence, and then I splice it to another one with a semicolon.  Want to see?  Well, as it happens I did a couple more chapters of Diplomatic Immunity, one of those Vorkosigan books I was talking about, and I’m going to paste it in below and you can see for yourself.

Chapter Sixteen

Miles imagines that the quaddies will stall as much as they can on the delivery of a pilot, but with the infection in his bloodstream, time is not on his side.  He calls Ekaterin, who turns out to be in the tactics room with Vorpatril, and so is up to date on current events.  He makes sure that she knows the truth about Bel’s situation, and asks her to use her judgement how much to relay to Nicol; Ekaterin says she thinks that Nicol can handle, and deserves, the whole truth.  He proceeds to let her know about the booby trap which has probably led him to be infected too; in the background he can hear Admiral Vorpatril cursing at the news.

He began again. “I’m . . . I’m sorry that . . . I wanted to give you—this wasn’t what I—I never wanted to bring you grief—”

“Miles. Stop that babbling at once.”

“Oh . . . uh, yes?”

Her voice sharpened. “If you die on me out here, I will not be grieved, I will be pissed. This is all very fine, love, but may I point out that you don’t have time to indulge in angst right now. You’re the man who used to rescue hostages for a living. You are not allowed to not get out of this one. So stop worrying about me and start paying attention to what you are doing. Are you listening to me, Miles Vorkosigan? Don’t you dare die! I won’t have it!”

That seemed definitive. Despite everything, he grinned. “Yes, dear,” he sang back meekly, heartened. This woman’s Vor ancestoresses had defended bastions in war, oh, yes.

He bids her farewell, carefully ignoring the anguish underlying her words, and decides he needs to get on with his hostage rescue.  It occurs to him to wonder whether the ba even knows about his former career as Admiral Naismith, or if it just thinks he’s some kind of diplomat, potentially out of his depth.  It doesn’t know which one of them may have fallen prey to its trap, either.  He wanders the infirmary, trying to determine which of the supplies there might be put to a more interesting usage.

He makes that the Clogston is ready to put Bel into a bod-pod in case of a loss of pressure, and shuts their inner door in case the automatic systems don’t cut in.  Clogston says they almost have a second blood filter ready for him, and Miles noncommittally asks them to let him know when it’s ready, though he doesn’t plan to tie himself down to it just yet.  He tries to determine what areas of the ship the ba can monitor from Nav/Com, and what its blind spots are.  If he takes out too many of its internal monitors, is it likely to panic and ram the station?

Miles realizes then that the ba is not acting very much like a professional agent, which would be destroying evidence and either trying to make it to safe or neutral ground, or just surrendering and waiting to be bailed out by their government–or, in extremis, committing suicide.  While it’s an interesting conclusion, it doesn’t help make the ba’s actions any more predictable.

Roic calls Miles on his wristcom channel; he says he’s switched into a work suit, and took the opportunity to put his own wristcom into his helmet.  He says he’s found some a cutter and some other nice tools, if he can get them to where Miles is; Miles tells him to cut his way through the decks to try to avoid cameras on the airseal doors.  Roic cuts his way through to the middle deck, and, by tapping on his ceiling, manages to find a panel close to Miles.  He cuts a hole through it and passes a small work suit through to Miles, who dons it hurriedly, taping his own wristcom into the helmet and setting the suit temperature as low as he can stand, and then jumps down to join Roic.

They sneak down to Solian’s office, where Miles is sure they can access as many of the monitors as the ba can; he checks them quickly and confirms that the ba couldn’t have seen them enter the office.  Miles considers how best to make a surprise attack on the ba, cutting through half a dozen bulkheads not seeming very feasible.  His vision is beginning to blur, and he’s shivering; Roic says that the admiral told him that he’s got the same thing that Thorne had.  He says he should’ve been the one to run the remote controls, or that Miles should have brought Jankowski instead.

Vorpatril interrupts to tell them, indignantly, that the quaddies seem to have caved and sent over a jump pilot; Miles wonders who they found to volunteer, and suspects that the quaddies have some kind of plan.  Vorpatril says that the quaddies cut him out of the loop, while he and Watts were arguing over whose strike team should get to go in.  One of the airlocks begins to activate, and Miles watches the vid as a naked man with pilot implants comes on board–Dmitri Corbeau.  Over the speakers, the ba forces Corbeau to show the contents of his mouth to its camera, and any other places he might be hiding anything; then it tells him to release the pod to drift away, and gives him instructions to go through the doors it opens for him.

Vorpatril wonders why the hell the quaddies sent Corbeau, and suggests he may be trying to desert; Miles considers it unlikely, but he wonders just who holds Corbeau’s loyalties right now.  Miles just spots three figures–Greenlaw and the other two quaddies on the ship–making their escape through one of the other airlocks while the ba’s attention is thus diverted.  Miles approves, meaning that the ship now contains fewer hostages, civilians, and non-Barrayarans.  They’re running out of time to insert a strike force, which should be done before the ship starts to move.

Miles finally manages to get a view of Nav/Com, but with no sound.  He sees the ba inject Corbeau with a hypospray of something, and wonders if it’s a drug, perhaps one with an antidote, one of his diseases, or an inoculation, or just a bluff; he suspects the latter, but it does seem to reduce the likelihood that Corbeau is colluding with the ba.

Over his wrist com, muffled as from a distance, Miles heard a sudden, startling bellow from Admiral Vorpatril: “What? That’s impossible. Have they gone mad? Not now . . .”

After a few more moments passed without further enlightenment, he murmured, “Um, Ekaterin? Are you still there?”

Her breath drew in. “Yes.”

“What’s going on?”

“Admiral Vorpatril was called away by his communications officer. Some sort of priority message from Sector Five headquarters just arrived. It seems to be something very urgent.”

Corbeau and the ba are going through preflight checks; Corbeau seems to be explaining his every move carefully, partly to defuse the ba’s suspicions, but also perhaps to stall.  Vorpatril returns to tell him that he’s been ordered to bring his ships to a rendezvous near Marilac at maximum speed.  Since one of the lesser-known purposes of the Komarran trade fleet escorts is to provide an innocuous way to keep Barrayaran ships deployed through the wormhole nexus, this makes perfect sense–but only in a dire emergency.

Marilac is, of course, a neighbour of the Cetagandan Empire, and Barrayaran fleets mustering there means that they’re intending to offer a threat to the Cetagandans.  Relations with the Cetagandans must have been dropping quite precipitously…and given Gregor’s earlier comment, it may very well have something to do with the Cetagandan ship Gupta and his friends encountered near Rho Ceta.  Miles’s mind works furiously as he wonders if that ship was actually sent to crash into the sun.  It must have been the annual ship sent out from the capital with the year’s crop of haut babies–and the ba who took those babies must be a renegade, not an agent at all.

“The crime isn’t murder,” Miles whispered, his eyes widening. “The crime is kidnapping.”

The murders had come subsequently, in an increasingly panicked cascade, as the ba, with good reason, attempted to bury its trail. Well, Guppy and his friends had surely been planned to die, as eyewitnesses to the fact that one person had not gone down with the rest on the doomed ship. A ship hijacked, if briefly, before its destruction—all the best hijackings were inside jobs, oh, yes. The Cetagandan government must be going insane over this.

“My lord, are you all right—?”

Ekaterin’s voice, in a fierce whisper: “No, don’t interrupt him. He’s thinking. He just makes those funny leaking noises when he’s thinking.”

As far as the Cetagandans could tell, the ship just disappeared on its way to Rho Ceta, and the only sign of what happened to it is Gupta.  And Gupta, unfortunately, led the trail straight to Komarr, to the Barrayaran Empire.  Miles uses the Emperor’s Voice to countermand the admiral’s orders, to Vorpatril’s relief; then, to his consternation, he orders all the records from the past twenty-four hours, and Gupta’s interrogation if possible, sent, on clear channel, to the Imperial Residence on Barrayar, as well as ImpSec HQ on Barrayar, ImpSec Galactic Affairs on Komarr, and to ghem-General Dag Benin on Eta Ceta (with the personal note “by Rian’s hair this one’s real, Dag”).

Vorpatril protests strongly, noting that Miles must have deduced that they’re on the verge of war with the Cetagandans, and asks Ekaterin if he’s started hallucinated or something; Ekaterin tells him that Miles just needs to “unpack” his reasoning a little more.  Miles explains that the ba is a criminal, who hijacked a ship, robbed it of the year’s crop of haut-babies, and disposed of it, resulting in the death of a planetary consort–and then shipped it out on a ship belonging to the Barrayaran Empress’s family, so the Cetagandans must be convinced of the Barrayaran’s complicity.  Only Gupta’s survival has ruined its plans, though Miles isn’t sure yet what those plans are, what, or who, the ba wanted the fetuses for in the first place.

Sealer Greenlaw’s voice breaks into the communication then, reporting that they’re back on board Graf Station.  She urges him to keep Vorpatril from launching any kind of strike force, since it’s been confirmed that the ba has a deadman switch on board to trigger the biohazard on the station.  She says that Corbeau had worked out a code, where he could communicate simple messages by blinking the Idris‘s running lights, and this was the word they got from him.  They’re searching for the bomb, but she doesn’t have high hopes for finding it when they don’t even know precisely what they’re looking for.  Vorpatril informs her that the Lord Auditor has been infected himself; Greenlaw expresses her sympathy, but Miles says he’s not dead yet, just before opening up his faceplate to vomit on the floor.

As Greenlaw and Vorpatril argue back and forth, Miles inspects Nav/Com, and finds a freezer case which must hold the ba’s samples.  He asks Greenlaw if they can signal back to Corbeau at all; Greenlaw confirms that they can, through a navigation buoy, and Miles asks them to tell him to open all the airseal doors in the central nacelle, and if possible kill the security cameras.  Miles then cuts off his voice feed and talks to Roic directly through helmet contact; he says that Greenlaw will never give approval for a strike force, but he thinks the ba will likely set off the bomb before leaving the system even if they cooperate.

He suggests that the two of them head for Nav/Com, where he will arrange a distraction for the ba while Roic jumps it.  Roic’s suit should hold off any weapon fire for long enough, and he assures Roic that the ba will not target Miles himself.  As long as Roic grabs its hands and keeps it from operate the deadman switch, they should be okay.  He spots the video feeds for the central nacelle going dark, and they prepare to move; he can barely hear, in the comlink, Ekaterin trying to reassure Vorpatril that Miles is trying something, and Clogston breaking in to inform them that Miles’s blood filter is ready.

Roic and Miles jog down the nacelle’s corridor, Miles feeling distinctly ill and wondering if he’s liable to have a seizure anytime soon.  The doors open for them just fine, until they reach the door to Nav/Com itself–which proves to have been cut open, not left unlocked, which Miles finds mildly reassuring.  Miles reassures Roic that he’s glad he didn’t bring Jankowksi, then lunges inside as soon as Roic opens the door for him.  He runs for the freezer case and holds it in front of him; as the ba is turning, in surprise and reaction, Miles finds it’s unlocked, and flips it open.  Sampling needles fly into the air and fall to the deck, many of them shattering; the ba moves towards him, hands extended in disbelief, and Roic grabs its wrists and lifts it up into the air.  Miles calls for Vorpatril to send in reinforcements, in biotainer suits, then he opens his faceplate to vomit again, at length.

It’s over. Can I please die now?

Except that it wasn’t over, not nearly. Greenlaw had played for fifty thousand lives. Now it was Miles’s turn to play for fifty million.

Comments

We finally get some more Ekaterin in this chapter, at least remotely.  She gets to bolster Miles’s sagging spirits, as well as helping interpret for him when his mind is racing past the comprehension of lesser mortals.  What would have happened if Vorpatril had concluded that Miles was delirious?  At what point can you safely stop obeying the orders of the Emperor’s Voice?  I suppose at about the time that people stopped obeying Mad Emperor Yuri, or the king that Jaime Lannister killed.  There might be no good choice, if you thought that an Imperial Auditor had defected to the enemy…

But Miles finally figures out most of what’s going on here, what may have been screamingly obvious to some after finding out about the odd departure trajectory of the Cetagandan ship off Rho Ceta.  The motivations of the ba (mostly referred to as such, no longer as Dubauer that much) are still a little obscure, but perhaps we’ll find out more about that later.

Corbeau’s appearance was kind of an “Oh, yeah!” kind of moment.  As in, here’s a somewhat-neglected character, who happens to be a pilot, so of course, who else could the author send in at that point?  It gives him some character redemption, and makes him less of a pouty lovesick screwup.  Roic gets some good action too, first cutting his way back to Miles, and then actually taking down the ba, or at least holding him at bay.

Chapter Seventeen

Two men from Vorpatril’s strike force carry Miles back to the infirmary, almost falling through the hole Roic had cut in the floor, followed by Roic, carrying the ba’s remote trigger, Corbeau, and the ba, bound to a float pallet.  Clogston declares the entire ship a Class Three Biocontamination Zone, so they don’t need to all crowd into the infirmary.  The ba is moved into the second ward, where it will be interrogated about the location of the bomb on Graf Station; since fast-penta is unlikely to work on it, it will probably require Barrayaran-style interrogation techniques, which the quaddies are unlikely to approve of.

Miles asks how Bel is doing, and Clogston says it seems to be delirious, asking for the Admiral; Miles immediately realizes it means Admiral Naismith, a.k.a. him, and hurries to its side.  Bel doesn’t seem to be in great shape, and keeps mumbling about “balla”.

Miles elbowed to the edge of Bel’s bunk to put himself in Bel’s line of sight, staring down at the herm in wild hope. Bel’s head jerked. The eyelids flickered up; the eyes widened. The blue lips tried to move again. Bel licked them, took a long inhalation, and tried once more. “Adm’ral! Portent. ‘S basti’d hid it in the balla. Tol’ me. Sadist’c basti’d.”

“Still going on about Admiral Vorpatril,” Clogston muttered in dismay.

“Not Admiral Vorpatril. Me,” breathed Miles. Did that witty mind still exist, in the bunker of its brain? Bel’s eyes were open, shifting to try to focus on him, as if Miles’s image wavered and blurred in the herm’s sight.

Bel knew a portent. No. Bel was trying to say something important. Bel wrestled death for the possession of its own mouth to try to get the message out. Balla? Ballistic? Balalaika? No—ballet!

Miles confirms that Bel is trying to say that the bomb is in the Minchenko Auditorium, probably hidden in the lights, and Bel adds that the device is likely homemade, so they should check for what Dubauer may have purchased on the station.  Miles relays this information to Sealer Greenlaw, though he notes that the ba could have been planting false information, but this gives her and Venn something to look for.  Miles calms Bel down with reassurances about Nicol and the vid cube of their potential children, and wonders if he’ll look that bad in a few hours.

He finally allows himself to be put on a hospital bed, though he demands a secured comconsole, and to keep his comlink.  He’s hooked up to the blood filter, though he finds the sensation of cold blood re-entering his body intensely unpleasant.  He tells Roic to give the trigger device to the bomb disposal tech when he arrives, then to supervise the ba’s interrogation.  He also tells Roic to make sure some qualified medical personnel go to check on the replicators and see that they’re kept alive and well, which he emphasizes is extremely important.  He wonders if they’ve been given the same infection as he and Bel, but he suspects that that wasn’t quite part of the ba’s instincts.

Roic returns in a few minutes to report that the ba seems to be mostly raving incoherently, and its physical condition is deteriorating as well; Miles says that it must be kept alive, as proof for the Cetagandans, and also asks if he can get any confirmation on the device’s placement in Minchenko Auditorium.  Roic says he’ll also tell the physicians about Miles’s seizures, since Miles hasn’t gotten around to that yet.

Miles’s comconsole arrives and he makes contact with Admiral Vorpatril; he tells the admiral to prepare a fast ship to carry him, Thorne, the ba, Gupta if possible, the thousand replicators, and guards and medical staff.  Ekaterin insists on coming along too, but Miles says she should follow in _Kestrel_ so as to stay out of medical quarantine.  He tells the admiral to start negotiating their passage right away, to Rho Ceta.

Vorpatril’s head jerked back in startlement. “If the orders I received from Sector Five HQ mean what we think, you’ll hardly get passage there. Reception by plasma fire and fusion shells the moment you pop out of the wormhole, would be what I’d expect.”

Unpack, Miles,” Ekaterin’s voice drifted in.

He grinned briefly at the familiar exasperation in her voice. “By the time we arrive there, I will have arranged our clearances with the Cetagandan Empire.” I hope. Or else they were all going to be in more trouble than Miles ever wanted to imagine. “Barrayar is bringing their kidnapped haut babies back to them. On the end of a long stick. I get to be the stick.”

He instructs Vorpatril to begin loading the cargo right away, and they will depart as soon as everybody is aboard.  Ekaterin says she’ll send over his seizure stimulator as soon as she’s back on the Kestrel, and they bid farewell through their holographic images.  Miles tries to fight off unpleasant images of his impending deliquescence and war between two empires, trying to cheer himself up with images of the medtechs trying to deal with a thousand squalling haut infants.

He is woken up from nightmares by a call from Sealer Greenlaw, who tells him, in vast relief, that they found the device in the auditorium.  He would have only had material for the one, based on his purchases, but it was a simple balloon filled with the contaminants, painted to camouflage it, with the remote trigger and another one set to be triggered by high-decibel sound.  Miles says it must have been set up after Gupta’s attack, when it realized that Cetagandans were likely on its trail, though its motivation is unclear–perhaps merely petty revenge.

Miles says they will need to leave soon, and mentions the orders from home, and the tensions with Cetaganda, and his plan to defuse it by bringing the evidence to them.  He notes that the ba, and Gupta, both committed crimes in Barrayaran and Cetagandan space before reaching quaddiespace, so submits that they have prior claim, not to mention that their very presence might be hazardous.  Greenlaw asks about their fines.

“Let . . . on my authority, I am willing to transfer of ownership of the _Idris_ to Graf Station, in lieu of all fines and expenses.” He added prudently, “As is.”

Her eyes sprang wide. She said indignantly, “The ship’s contaminated.”

“Yes. So we can’t take it anywhere anyway. Cleaning it up could be a nice little training exercise for your biocontrol people.” He decided not to mention the holes. “Even with that expense, you’ll come out ahead. I’m afraid the passengers’ insurance will have to eat the value of any of their cargo that can’t be cleared. But I’m really hopeful that most of it will not need to be quarantined. And you can let the rest of the fleet go.”

“And your men in our detention cells?”

“You let one of them out. Are you sorry? Can you not allow Lieutenant Corbeau’s courage to redeem his comrades? That has to be one of the bravest acts I’ve ever witnessed, him walking naked and knowing into horror to save Graf Station.”

Greenlaw points out that Miles himself went after the ba, and Miles admits he’s got a bit of a gift for timing.  He also asks to bring Bel Thorne with him, who he feels responsible for, as part of his “work gang”, in the hopes that the haut women will be able to save him when they get to Cetagandan space.  Greenlaw accedes to his requests, though she reserves the right to levy further charges after they’ve assessed the _Idris_, which the Barrayarans can send someone else to work out.

Miles asks Clogston about Corbeau, and learns that the hypospray was a bluff after all.  Miles asks to see him, and Clogston concedes that Miles and Bel don’t seem to be directly contagious, except possibly through exchange of bodily fluids; Miles tries to shrug off visions of a future where he’s never fully cured, and never able to safely touch his wife again.  Corbeau comes in, and Miles thanks him for his heroic gesture; Corbeau says he did it for Garnet Five and the quaddies, but Miles says that he’ll doubtless get medals from other people if they want to.

Corbeau asks what Miles wants of him, and Miles says that since he’s forced to leave quaddiespace before completing his diplomatic goals, he’d like to leave someone behind as a full Barrayaran consul.  Someone who seems to like quaddies, and is willing to spend a couple of years away from home–someone like Corbeau himself; Miles doesn’t think that Vorpatril would object to having Corbeau taking off his hands.  Corbeau protests that he doesn’t have any training or experience for it, and Miles says that he has managed to make it through pilot training, which shows a certain amount of dedication, and he’ll be able to hire staff to assist him.  After two years, of course, he can muster out and stay in Quaddiespace if he desires.  Corbeau agrees to think about it, at least, and Miles dismisses him, willing to settle for that.

Miles immediately calls Ekaterin, who is about to leave the Prince Xav, and says they’re almost ready to leave Quaddiespace.  He asks her to give Garnet Five a call and pitch the consul idea to her, so that hopefully she can convince Corbeau to accept.  Thinking of Bel, he asks her to ask Nicol if she’d like to come along, perhaps on the Kestrel; the trip is unlikely to be fun for either him or Bel, and even if the haut can cure the infection, there will likely be a long convalescence.

Miles drowses for a while, reluctant to give way fully to sleep in case he never emerges.  First Bel, then himself, are evacuated from the Idris; on his way out, one of the officers confirms that they found Solian’s remains in a supposedly-empty bod-pod, which Miles tells him to bring along as further evidence.

Comments

Here begins the denouement, though things were knotted tightly enough that even this stage of it is still fairly tense.  The problem of the ba’s bio-bomb is settled, starting with Bel’s barely-coherent intelligence and relayed to Greenlaw and the capable quaddies.  We also have to tie up the problems we’re given at the outset, the detained Barrayarans and the diplomatic kerfuffle with the quaddies; I think Greenlaw gives in and accepts Miles’s offer at least partly because she’s tired of arguing with Miles, who has a lot of appealing logic on his side.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a stickler for counting diplomatic coup when there’s a war at stake, and possible involuntary involvement in it.  The literally tainted offer of the Idris is somewhat amusing, but I’m presuming that its original value is more than adequate for the fines that the Brrayarans have run up, however much Greenlaw hedges her bets about it.

Setting up Corbeau as a Barrayaran consul is a little more questionable, given Corbeau’s near-total lack of qualifications for it, whatever Miles says; I guess “likes quaddies”, as well as being a hero, will have to do for now.  At least he’s probably a step up from a part-time worker who handles paperwork for Cetagandans as well as Barrayarans (and she’ll probably still be on call).  One wonders if the position does continue after Corbeau’s mustering-out…

I can’t help but think that Miles having a seizure would be far from a good idea with the parasites in his bloodstream, both of them stressing out his system.  At least the parasites are supposed to stay clear of the brain, but still, it might have some kind of unsalutary effect on his body temperature, if nothing else.  The necessity for keeping track of the seizures must have been a bit of a pain for the author once it was introduced, because it has to come up every once in a while.  One wonders if the Cetagandans could have cured the disorder, but I suppose that even offering it would be considered a bit too much of a temptation for an Imperial Auditor, since it’d be viewed as a bribe, and it may even have been one.  For now he’s just got to live with it.

I’m always a little taken aback when a mention is made of the holographic display of a comconsole.  At some point everyone was certain that holographic displays were going to be the way of the future, but somehow they haven’t managed to manifest yet, except through special effects trickery, and it’s beginning to seem like they’re not going to.  Of course, ten years ago everyone said that picture phones were just never going pan out, too, and now people Skype all the time, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about.  In any case, I keep forgetting whether comconsoles are supposed to display holograms or use screens, or both, or either, depending on the model, and in general I just picture screens unless actually informed otherwise…


Only two chapters left–well, one and an epilogue–which is more denouement than I was guessing at last week.  I have a concert to go to next Wednesday, so with any luck I’ll get it done ahead of time and schedule it to go out a little early, and without luck I’ll finish it up on Thursday or something.  After that will be the usual week off, and then I guess it’ll be time for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which will be interesting, as a book I’ve only read once…

Read Full Post »

Diplomatic Immunity…is what you get when you are inoculated by being injected with a small quantity of diplomacy, so that you can develop a resistance to it.  Or is that an allergy?  Welcome…to Night Vale the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I cover the works of Lois McMaster Bujold as they pertain to the life and career of Miles Vorkosigan (and friends and family).  This week we continue into the afore-alluded-to Diplomatic Immunity, as Miles fights for the life of his friend Bel Thorne…and a growing number of others, in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.

Chapter Fourteen

The first step in dealing with biocontamination, Miles knows, is to seal the area.  Miles contacts Venn.

“We’ve found Portmaster Thorne. Trapped in a bod pod in the engineering section. The herm appears dazed and very ill. I believe we have an urgent biocontamination emergency here, at least Class Three and possibly as bad as Class Five.” The most extreme level, biowarfare plague.

Miles ascertains from Venn that they haven’t left the ship, and nobody has been through the airlock; Venn agrees that he doesn’t want to risk any plagues getting back onto his station.  Next, Miles knows, is to contact medical authorities, as Venn is also going to do, but first he advises Venn that at the first opportunity he plans to undock the ship and make sure there’s vacuum between it and the station.  He also urges them to seal themselves off from the rest of the ship as much as possible.

Miles contemplates the bod-pod, which he decides is probably a half-decent seal, and wonders if Solian’s body was hidden in one too.  If so, then that means that a carrier of this disease in a bod-pod probably isn’t too contagious.  Bel’s case seems to coming along more quickly than Gupta and his shipmates, six hours rather than six days; Miles wonders if there’s anything he can do to stop it.

He contacts Admiral Vorpatril, who reports that the medtechs that he’s sent to examine Miles’s prisoner should have arrived by now.  Miles updates Vorpatril on the situation aboard the Idris; Vorpatril offers to send a ship to pick him up, but Miles refuses to risk spreading the contamination.  Vorpatril insists on sending the medtechs, at least, and Miles agrees to a few of them, but volunteers only, equipped to be as bio-impervious as possible, and warns that nobody will be able to leave the ship until this is all settled.

Trying to figure out what he can do to help Bel, Miles tries to think about Gupta and why he might have survived.  He recalls Gupta saying his body temperature was lower, especially immersed in water, and wonders if cooling Bel off might have a salutary effect; in particular, he recalls Ivan throwing him into an ice-bath once upon a time…  He tells Roic to go and get ice from the galley, and bring it to the infirmary.  Miles heads to the infirmary himself, where he confirms they have a treatment tub, and two biotainer suits, both too big for him and too small for Roic.

Roic returns to report an ample supply of ice, to find Miles already putting on one of the suits.  He tells Roic they’re going to bring Bel up here, and put him in an ice bath, and sends Roic off to find himself a pressure suit.  Roic does so, while Miles begins filling the tub with ice; he reports in a little while later to note that they’ll have to communicate over public, rather than secured, channels while he’s in it.  Miles seals up his suit, stunner outside but wristcom inside, and hauls a float pallet down to where Bel’s bodpod is, meeting Roic there.

Miles’s plan is to deflate Bel’s pod slightly, so they can flop it onto the pallet; of course they can’t vent it into the general atmosphere, so they rig up a plastic tube and tape it between Bel’s pod and one of the others.  The transfer of air proceeds smoothly, and Miles separates the pods again, wishing for a large quantity of disinfectant to clean up.  They get Bel onto the pallet and up to the infirmary, where Miles orders Roic to wait outside, overriding his protests; he turns on the molecular biocontainment barriers and then extricates Bel’s scorching hot body from the pod.  He manages to awkward slide the herm into the ice water, trying to keep Bel’s head out of it; Bel responds by trying to curl up its limbs, but Miles keeps them under the ice water, which starts noticeably melting.

It had been some years since Miles had last glimpsed Bel nude, in a field shower or donning or divesting space armor in a mercenary warship locker room. Fifty-something wasn’t old, for a Betan, but still, gravity was clearly gaining on Bel. On all of us. In their Dendarii days Bel had taken out its unrequited lust for Miles in a series of half-joking passes, half-regretfully declined. Miles repented his younger sexual reticence altogether, now. Profoundly. We should have taken our chances back then, when we were young and beautiful and didn’t even know it. And Bel had been beautiful, in its own ironic way, living and moving at ease in a body athletic, healthy, and trim.

Bel’s skin was blotched, mottled red and pale; the herm’s flesh, sliding and turning in the ice bath under Miles’s anxious hands, had an odd texture, by turns swollen tight or bruised like crushed fruit. Miles called Bel’s name, tried his best old Admiral Naismith Commands You voice, told a bad joke, all without penetrating the herm’s glazed stupor. It was a bad idea to cry in a biotainer suit, almost as bad as throwing up in a pressure suit. You couldn’t blot your eyes, or wipe your snot.

He is extremely startled to feel a hand on his shoulder, which proves to be Captain Clogston from the Prince Xav.  Miles briefs the surgeon, particularly on the Cetagandan weapon and Gupta’s survival, and his theory that low temperatures were what saved him.  Miles tries to impress on him–without blowing Bel’s cover–how important it is to save the herm’s life, and surgeon agrees that he and his squad will try, but asks Miles to leave and get decontaminated.  Miles agrees, and leaves as they start taking samples from the herm.

Miles leaves the infirmary and lets Roic decontaminate him very thoroughly, wishing he hadn’t promised to call Nicol; he decides that can wait until he has more infirmation from the doctor.  They switch from shouting through helmets to a public ship channel, then head for Nav/Com to detach from the station.  Roic says he’s never piloted a ship before, and Miles assures him airily that it’s not that hard, though even he is secretly daunted by the Idris‘s complicated controls.  After some careful searching, he finds the appropriate controls, notifies the quaddies, and manages to detach, move a short distance away from the station, and stop.  After he’s done he realizes that re-docking again will probably be a lot harder, but decides that by that time it’ll be safe to bring a real pilot on board.

The quaddies arrive in Nav/Com in their own biotainer suits–brought over by a drone pod, apparently.  Miles tries to consider what to do next; Roic points out that they still don’t know how the ba got off the ship, but all the hatches should have video automatically recording any time one of the airlocks opens.  Miles finds the engineer’s station, and he and Roic determine how to bring up the videos there.  They search back in time, finding the quaddies’ pod arrival, then the Barrayaran medical staff…and then, before that, an EVA suit leaving from one of the Necklin drive nacelles.  The last before that is Miles and the others arriving on the ship; the ba must have still been on board when they arrived.

Venn asks Miles about the range of those suits, and Miles says that they might be the equivalent of a personnel pod if fully supplied.  Venn says that the ba can’t possibly have gotten back aboard Graf Station, and Greenlaw says the station is in full quarantine, but if there’s a chance it’s gotten away from the station, they’ll have to extend it to all of Quaddiespace.  Miles tries to figure out what the ba’s next move is; looking at the image of the pressure suit gives him an idea.  He asks Roic if there’s a control station for the suits, and Roic leads him down to one near where he found his own suit.

At the control station, Miles turns on the helmet camera displays.  There are six suits, five of them seeming to be still in their lockers, and other somewhere against a curving wall, apparently unmoving.  The suit is powered up, and doesn’t seem very far away, given the lack of time lag.

The powered suit had to have an exterior control override somewhere; it was a common safety feature on these civilian models, in case its occupant should suddenly become injured, ill, or incapacitated . . . ah. There.

“What are you doing, m’lord?” asked Roic uneasily.

“I believe I can take control of the suit via the emergency overrides, and bring it back aboard.”

“Wit’ t’ ba inside? Is that a good idea?”

“We’ll know in a moment.”

He gripped the joysticks, slippery under his gloves, gained control of the suit’s jets, and tried a gentle puff. The suit slowly began to move, scraping along the wall and then turning away. The puzzling view resolved itself—he was looking at the outside of the Idris itself. The suit had been hidden, tucked in the angle between two nacelles. No one inside the suit fought back at this hijacking. A new and extremely disturbing thought crept up on Miles.

He beings the suit around to the nearest airlock and brings it inside.  Venn and Roic propose to go with their stunners and take care of whoever’s inside; Miles points out that if it was inhabited, they’d have been able to override his commands, and suggests that it might just contain Solian’s body.  Miles, Roic and Venn go to investigate the suit, and drag it inside the airlock, but when they take a look inside the faceplate, the suit proves to be empty.

Comments

A nice little touch is when Miles is signing off from talking to Venn, he almost says “Naismith out” before correcting himself.  I guess he’s not used to being in this kind of situation as Lord Auditor Vorkosigan yet.  Or maybe it’s the presence of Bel Thorne.  Would there be major consequences if he slipped up and it became generally known that he was Admiral Naismith?  The Cetagandans know, unofficially, at least, about it; would they be forced to take official notice of it at any point, and ask for a formal apology about the whole Marilac debacle, or would they just let it slide?  Would it boost Miles’s street cred, and make it seem less like nepotism that he gets to be an Imperial Auditor?  There’s still the whole Komarr wormhole secret for him to keep, at least.

The word “biocontamination”, or a form of it, is used six times in the chapter.  While normally I’m not fond of the English habit of just clipping off the first syllable or two of a word as an abbreviation (which usually discards the root and leaves the prefixes), that word is a little unwieldy…and yet it’s hard to think of a shorter replacement for it.  “Biocon”?  No, that’s a convention for biologists.  Or maybe biographers, or just living things.  (See what I mean about discarding the root?)

The whole remote suit-piloting thing reminds me of the battle in The Warrior’s Apprentice, when Miles comes up with the plan to override the enemy’s battle suits.  Somehow that memory never comes up for him, but then I guess maybe it wasn’t a significant event in his life or anything.  Or maybe it’s just dissimilar enough, or he’s just too busy thinking of other things to flash back to happier times.  I guess the author can’t always follow all the chains of reminiscence, especially by this point in the series.  So I suppose it’s up to me.

Chapter Fifteen

Venn warns Miles, needlessly, not to open the suit, then orders Security to search any ships that may have moved in the last three hours.  Miles tries to figure out how the ba may have made its escape, maybe with a personnel pod, but the quaddies have been watching the Idris, and probably would have noticed it.

Miles, palms itching, asks Roic if the suit had anything in its hand when it left the airlock; Roic said it had nothing.  Miles figured that the ba had come back on board to deal with its cargo–killing all the fetuses by poisoning their nutrients wouldn’t take that long, but collecting samples would…and if it had taken the time for that, it wouldn’t have left the samples behind on the ship.  That leaves his growing conviction that the ba is still on board…  He considers doing a check of pressure suits and airlock cameras, but he doesn’t have enough minions to do that quickly.  Instead, he suggests that they go back to Nav/Com, shut down the ship in sections, and do an armed search.

“M’lord,” said Roic in an uncharacteristically sharp voice, “what t’matter with your gloves?”

Miles stared down, turning up his hands. His breath congealed in his chest. The thin, tough fabric of his biotainer gloves was shredding away, hanging loose in strings; beneath the lattice, his palms showed red. Their itching seemed to redouble. His breath let loose again in a snarl of “Shit!

He tells Venn to take the quaddies to Nav and Com and secure themselves and the infirmary, and runs off to the infirmary, Roic in front of him to open doors.  He realizes that the contamination must have been on the remote control joysticks, which must have been coated with something, left as a trap for anyone who tried to bring the pressure suit back on–which convinces him even more that the ba never left the ship.

Miles rushes into the infirmary and begins to ask to wash his hands, but wonders if they’d be able to dispose of it safely.  He tells Captain Clogston about the trap on the joysticks, and asks him to send a tech to collect a sample.  Clogston uses a sonic scrubber to clean Miles’s hands, sucking up the debris with a vacuum, but the skin already seems to have been broken.  Clogston gets rid of his shredded gloves and replaces them, with some kind of ointment underneath, which at least stops Miles’s hands feeling worse.

Clogston says they’ve figured out what Bel’s suffering from–bioengineered parasites implanted in his body, to spread in their dormant phase, and then start releasing chemicals to burst the cell membranes open as the body heats up.  The ice bath has thankfully slowed down the process in Thorne, short of criticality, but they don’t have any ideas for treatment short of actually filtering and cooling all of it blood, and even that won’t deal with the ones that aren’t in the blood any more.  The silver lining is that the parasites don’t spread easily outside their host, so it’s not very transmissible.  Miles tells them that the Cetagandan is, unfortunately, likely still on board and armed with an unknown variety of bioweapons.

Captain Clogston cursed. “Hear that, boys?” he called to his techs over his suit com.

“Oh, great,” came a disgusted reply. “Just what we need right now.”

“Hey, at least it’s something we can shoot,” another voice remarked wistfully.

Ah, Barrayarans. Miles’s heart warmed. “On sight,” he confirmed. These were military medicos; they all bore sidearms, bless them.

Miles considers the defensiveness of the infirmary; Roic is guarding the entry point to the main ward, but Miles isn’t sure that’s enough.  It’s got its own air and power supply, and Clogston and his techs are in advanced suits that are functionally pressure suits, though Miles’s just filters external air.  He considers just ditching the rest of his suit, but he’s not sure if he’s been exposed yet, or if his gloves were only hit with a corrosive.  He sends Roic to fetch him the smallest pressure suit he can find, fumbling out his own stunner to take over the guard post.

There’s something he can’t figure out yet, and he hopes for a lull between crises to puzzle at it.  Why did the ba abandon the replicators filled with haut fetuses?  And why take samples, when it could get the original DNA from the Star Crèche files?  His anxiety over the parasites potentially breeding in his body makes it hard to concentrate, and leads him to wonder if he has the same thing as Bel, or something different, and how many different weapons the ba has in all.

Am I going to live long enough to say good-bye to Ekaterin? A good-bye kiss was right out, unless they pressed their lips to opposite sides of some really thick window of glass. He had so much to say to her; it seemed impossible to find where to start. Even more impossible by voice alone, over an open, unsecured public com link. Take care of the kids. Kiss them for me every night at bedtime, and tell them I loved them even if I never saw them. You won’t be alone—my parents will help you. Tell my parents . . . tell them . . . 

Was this damned thing starting up already, or were the hot panic and choking tears in his throat entirely self-induced? An enemy that attacked you from the inside out—you could try to turn yourself inside out to fight it, but you wouldn’t succeed—filthy weapon! Open channel or not, I’m calling her now. . . . 

Instead, Venn passes on a message from Admiral Vorpatril, who is annoyed at Miles not answering his wristcom; Miles sketches an explanation, though emphasizes that they’re on an open channel, and asks him to talk to Clogston instead, as long as he doesn’t distract the surgeon too much for his very important work.

Miles begins to hear the sound of seals activating, separating the ship into airtight sections, but Venn notifies him, a second later, that it’s not their doing–they’d doubled back to pick up their equipment.  Roic confirms that it’s not him either; Greenlaw castigates them all, and herself, for not thinking to lock Nav/Com behind them when they left.  Miles says the public channels he and Roic have been using will be accessible from there, and shortly thereafter they’re shut off entirely.  Miles activates the manual overrides for the infirmary’s environment, so the ba won’t be able to affect it,

Miles heads back into the ward to ask Clogston, through suit helmets, if he’s making progress.  Clogston says he’s working on a blood filter, but isn’t done quite yet.  One of the techs shows them the analysis of the stuff that ate Miles’s gloves, and sure enough, there are microencapsulated parasites in it.  Miles strips off a glove and lets them take a blood sample, which swiftly confirms that he is definitely infested too.

Since there’s no point in trying to keep from getting infected any more, he removes helmet his helmet and calls Vorpatril on his wristcom.  He summarizes the situation for the admiral, who says that the ba is definitely in Nav/Com, presenting its demands to Boss Watts on the station.  He patches it in for Miles, who hears the ba demand a jump pilot and free passage out of the system, or else it’ll blow up the ship or ram the station.  Greenlaw says that they can’t risk letting a plague-carrier like the ba out of the system, and the ba says it’s left a “small gift” on the station to ensure their cooperation.

Vorpatril cut in privately on the wrist com, in an unnecessarily lowered, tense tone, overriding the exchange between the ba and Watts. “Do you think the bastard’s bluffing, m’lord?”

“Doesn’t matter if it’s bluffing or not. I want it alive. Oh, God do I ever want it alive. Take that as a top priority and an order in the Emperor’s Voice, Admiral.”

After a small and, Miles hoped, thoughtful pause, Vorpatril returned, “Understood, my Lord Auditor.”

Vorpatril’s best strike team is still in detention on the station, but hopefully his second best will do.  He tells Vorpatril to keep it ready but wait for his order.  The ba’s final instruction is that the jump pilot be shipped out alone, in a personnel pod, and naked, for obvious reasons, and then it cuts the com.

Comments

I know by this point that Miles gets contaminated at some point, though I suppose I didn’t know that first time through, but so far I always forget exactly how it happens.  Even this time I missed the slippery control joysticks, and even the itchy palms, until Miles’s gloves began to disintegrate…  Sneaky, sneaky author.  Sort of like the way she hid Miles’s bleeding ulcer for so many chapters in The Warrior’s Apprentice, although not for nearly as long.  (See?  Reminiscences on demand.  Though I guess I’m not quite motivated enough to provide backlinks to old posts or anything…)

A lot of these chapters is concerned with little details of technology and setting–finding radio channels, environmental controls in the infirmary, pressure and biocontainment suits–and sometimes it diffuses the tension a bit.  Trying to remember who’s in what kind of suit, and having to waste conversation clarifying the radio channels…it takes me out of the story somewhat.  Miles is still several steps behind the ba, and while he may be catching up a little bit, he’s still in the reactive role.

Now the jeopardy is personal, but…now, it seems, to survive he’ll have to get into the ice bath and sit having his blood filtered by medical equipment, his freedom to actually act strongly curtailed.  So if he _does_ keep active, then it’ll affect his odds of survival.  Not that I seriously thought that he was going to die, but given what she’s done to him in the past, Bujold had a lot of leeway for reducing his quality of life from here on out.

Why is Miles so intent on bringing in the ba alive?  Just to get answers to all his nagging questions about its behaviour?  Not well expressed, alas, but at least he makes it clear to Vorpatril.  Not that I remember the ultimate fate of the ba at this point.

Two chapters without even a whisper of Ekaterin’s voice, and Miles is prevented from calling her at the last.  Does he get to talk to her at all before the denouement?  Guess this is why she doesn’t get viewpoint chapters, because the action is taking place nowhere near her.  Unless Bujold had wanted the contagion to be spreading all over the Prince Xav too, I suppose.  (That is where she is, right, or is she still on the Kestrel?  I’ve lost track.)  Still, this is definitely turning into Worst Honeymoon Ever.


Four chapters left, is it?  Well, it does seem like things are coming to a head, stakes continuing to rise and all that, so the next two, or possibly three, chapters should see things mostly wrapped up.  And then, my goodness, it’ll be time for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which should be interesting, as we get into the books I’ve only read once…

Read Full Post »