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.
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.
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.
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.
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…