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Archive for June, 2014

Wherever you may be, reading this on computer or tablet or smartphone or comconsole vidplate or direct neural link or smartpaper or regular paper, or perhaps projected on a wall or printed on a cake, not to mention all of the places you could be listening to some kind of audio version of it, or perhaps reading it in Braille with your fingertips, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Thank you for spending time here when you could be just reading the book yourself, and I hope that if you are reading it, and you are a previous reader of the works of Ms. Lois McMaster Bujold, I am evincing a pleasant sensation of nostalgia in you as you remember how much you enjoyed reading this book yourself the first time…or, perhaps a pleasant anticipation of reading it again sometime (or even for the first time, but that’s not really my goal here, because there’s spoilers for, like, the entire plot).  This week I have the pleasure of rendering unto you the fourth Chapter of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is, as one might expect, called Chapter Four, or at least what happened in it.

Chapter Four

It’s dark by the time Ivan returns, but he brings ample supplies of food, which interests the women much more than his insistence that they need to talk; they complain that all they had was wine and rat bars, but Ivan says that he didn’t even have wine.  Ivan brought a variety of food because he wasn’t sure if they had special requirements; Rish says her only problem is with meat from animals, but luckily they have lots of vat protein.  Tej is relieved that Ivan’s palate isn’t quite as undeveloped as his shortage of food supplies had hinted.

After they eat, Ivan collapses on the couch and is asleep in seconds.  They debate waking him, but decide that he probably manage to sleep at all tied up in the chair the night before, and besides, one of Rish’s shows is on; she’s become a devotee of Komarran soap operas since their arrival on the planet, since she rarely gets to go out.  Tej looks out at the dome, contemplating their situation, and notes that Ivan has put in several days’ supply, af if he’s expecting them to stay.  She half-heartedly tries to wake him, but to no avail.

After another few minutes, Tish came out to join her, smiling in a pleased way.  “I was right about Hendro Fon,” she informed Tej.  “He was faking the amnesia.  And the DNA sample had been substituted.  Sera Jenna was a real clone!  I’ll bet the trade fleet merge is off now.”

Tej asks Rish what she’s to do now, since she obviously can’t go back to her job; Rish says there’s not much to miss about it, but Tej had been hoping she could stay on for a while and actually get somewhere.  Nanja Brindis was her last fake identity, anyway, and not a very well-fleshed-out one at that, so she’s going to have to obtain another one somehow…which would be easier if they could get off-planet, but it’d be hard to get off-planet without one.  Rish says they could at least move to a different dome, but Tej points out that the others are all smaller, which will make it harder to hide.  They don’t have a lot of cash left, and they can’t risk trying to steal Ivan’s credit chit, though Rish idly suggests that they could sell his IDs; Tej says their funds are short enough that they’d be better off accepting Ivan’s offer of free accommodation for as long as they can.

Rish says she saw a show about the colonization on Sergyar, though she admits they skipped over the worm plague; apparently it’s possible to go to the colony as an indentured worker, but Tej thinks that sounds too much like slavery, and it’d be even harder for Rish to hide.  Rish says that the Vicereine is encouraging offplanet immigration, so she might be able to slip through, but it’d depend on being able to make it to orbit safely.

“There’s Captain Mystery, here.”  Rish nodded to the sleeping figure across from them.  “Captain Vormystery, I suppose he would correct that.”

“Ivan Xav, the one and only.  I think he likes me.”

“Oh, I can smell that.”  Rish smirked.  “He also has a slight breast fetish.”

“Don’t they all.”  Tej sighed.  The corners of her mouth drew up.  “Though not, in his case, for slight breasts.”

Rish says that she’d recommend Tej milk Ivan for all she could get, but his turning up was still a little too strange, and she doesn’t trust him; some random Komarran off the street would be less suspicious.  She says that she’d rather die than be used against the Baron and Baronne; Tej points out, dispiritedly, that there are no Baron and Baronne any more, and has to blink back tears.  Rish says that they need to plan carefully in case the only option is suicide, because they may not have much time to take advantage of the opportunity; painless drugs will be too hard to come by, but they could always try the slit veins in the bathtub.  Tej says that wouldn’t be too nice for Ivan Xav to come home to, but Rish said it wouldn’t be their problem; Tej says she’d almost rather do something more grandiose, like jumping from a tall building.

Rish says that Tej would stand a better chance without her, an old argument, and Tej says that she’s just as loyal to Rish as the other way around, even if it’s less genetically compelled in her case.  They have a good-natured dispute over nature vs. nurture, and Tej says they need a tiebreaker.  Tej points out that killing themselves would be better if they could pin it on the ones who are hunting for them, or even better, the ones who hired them, but consider that unlikely, if they can’t even do it while they’re alive.

They’re just discussing going to bed when the door buzzer sounds; Rish leaps to her feet, and Tej tries to shake Ivan awake, telling him there’s someone at the door, but doesn’t have much luck until Rish rolls him off the couch entirely.  Ivan wakes up disoriented, but eventually figures out that there’s someone at the door; while he goes to answer it, Rish and Tej dart off to hide, though Tej makes sure she can still see the entryway.

Ivan opens the door, and the visitor calls Ivan an idiot and asks what happened to him last night; Ivan grabs him and shoves him against the wall.  He protests and tells Ivan to be careful of the jacket; Ivan interrupts, calling him “Byerly” and an “ImpWeasel”, demanding to ask why Byerly set him up.

“What went wrong? I thought you would bring the woman back here!”

“Not on a first date, you twit!  You always end up at her place, first time.  Or some neutral third location, but only if you’re both insanely hot.”

Ivan relents and lets Byerly down, reluctantly allowing him inside.  Byerly asks Ivan how he ended up tied to a chair–something that is now in the official records, and with Ivan’s name attached–and how he ended up untied.  Ivan responds by telling the women to come out; Tej isn’t sure if they should trust this man, since Ivan doesn’t really seem to, but he already seems know about them.  When Byerly sees Tej, he exclaims with annoyance that she’s here, when he’s been looking for her all this time, but when he sees Rish he falls silent and expressionless, though Tej can see his pupils dilate, and she can smell his surprise, fear, and arousal.

Byerly regains his composure and greets Rish with a bow, asking to be introduced.  Ivan says they’re not actually cousins, as Byerly has been calling him, and formally introduces him as Byerly “By” Vorrutyer, noting he’s not a Lord anything, not being son of the Count.  Tej notes some resemblance between them, not sure whether it’s genetic relation or just general Vor cast genes.  She notes that he doesn’t seem scared of any of them, though he is still acutely conscious of Rish.  Tej greets By, and asks what he is; By suggests they sit down first, which they do.  He asks how the women got there, and Tej said that Ivan invited them, and Ivan adds that he thought it’d be a safe place for them to lie low, which it looks like it was, if By hadn’t turned them up there.

Tej asks again who By really is, and he asks her the same thing; Ivan pipes up with the information he had from Morozov about Rish being Lapis Lazuli and formerly owned by House Cordonah, before it was taken over.  Rish says some unkind things about the ones who had taken over her former House, but Tej forestalls her from saying more by offering a Deal, offering an answer for an answer.  She’s not sure he’ll go for it, since he could just stun them all and have them fast-penta’d, but he agrees.

He starts by asking Tej her real name, but she says that answer is worth her life, and she insists he prove he has an answer of equal value first.  He then sidesteps the questioning by getting Ivan’s story on what happened the night before; Ivan says By owes him big time for him having to “jump tall buildings with a stunner hangover”.  By asks why Ivan called Dome Security, and Ivan said he wanted to be sure the burglars didn’t have a chance to escape, and he was too suspicious of other authorities he could have called.  What he got out of it, though, was a lengthy interrogation with two officers who seriously wanted to pin something on him–though he tells By he managed to keep his name out of it–which his own boss will have a recording of by now.

Tej interrupts to ask By if he was the one who gave Ivan her picture, and how he knew they were going to be attacked.  By says that it was indeed him, and that he knew because he’d hired the goons in the first place.  He was trying to prove his trustworthiness to some people he’s “studying”, so he set up the kidnappers while trying to use Ivan to make sure Tej wasn’t there to be kidnapped–not knowing about Rish, or that they would be going back to her place after all; he didn’t know why they wanted her kidnapped in the first place, though.  She notes that By is obviously an agent of some sort, and asks what kind; he replies that that would be worth her name.

Ivan protests that her enemies know who she is, so why won’t she share it with her friends?  She says that they haven’t proven to be friends, and Ivan says that he has too, though he acknowledges her doubt of Byerly.

Tej rubbed her mouth.  Ivan Xav had a point.  “Is he trustworthy?” she asked him straight out.

“No, he’s a damned weasel.”  Vorpatril hesitated.  “But he won’t betray Barrayar.  if what you are poses no threat to the Imperium, you have nothing to fear from him.  Probably.”

Byerly cast Vorpatril a look of exasperated disbelief.  “Whose side are you on?”

“You’ve been known to make mistakes.  I distinctly recall pulling your, and your Countly cousin’s, feet out of the fire on one of ’em, spectacularly.  But do I get respect?  Do I get gratitude?  Do I get–”

Byerly, hunching, said, “You got another job.”

For some reason, this settled him.  “Huh.”

By accepts her Deal for her name; he tells her that he works for ImpSec, as a “surveillance operative”, normally in the upper-class social milieu, though he’s here following up on some of his upper-class people, criminals and potential traitors, who have moved on to a different venue here on Komarr.  Tej points out that it isn’t Barrayarans who are after her, and By says that his Barrayarans seem to be trying to capture her as part of a deal with those who are after her.  Ivan says that it was a pretty risky plan, and By says that they wouldn’t have been allowed to take Tej and Rish out of the Imperium, and now he suspects the two of them can give him a lot more information on these offworlder contacts.

Tej realizes that now that they know who By really is, he has a good motivation to keep them out of the hands of anyone who he doesn’t want to know his real job, which means this was a good move for them.  Assuming he doesn’t just kill them, but she doesn’t get that scent from him.

Tej swallowed.  “Very well.”  Her throat felt very tight and thick, as if it were closing off in some deathly allergic reaction.  “My full name is Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua.  My parents are–were–Shiv and Udine ghem Estif Arqua.  Baron and Baronne Cordonah.”

Comments

Wait a minute, Tej can smell By’s surprise, fear and arousal?  She notes that Rish can actually detect heart rates, which she herself can’t, but still…is this a haut thing?  Or is Tej perhaps a Wolfsister?  Maybe this explains why she seems so willing to trust Ivan, if she can read so much of his emotional state through smell, or her other senses.  Of course, Rish seems to be able to detect even more, and she’s less willing to trust, so I guess it’s not just that.

By isn’t “Lord” because he’s not the son of the Count…though he is a close relation of the current Count; admittedly, I can’t recall if he’s an actual cousin, or something more removed, but he was at least a friend to Dono.  Have Dono and Olivia produced any heirs yet?  If not, who would be Dono’s heir?  I suppose, after the whole legal issue from A Civil Campaign settled, he can make his heir whoever he wants, but I suppose Byerly wouldn’t be the best choice, and he’d probably be just as happy to avoid it as Ivan, or Mark.

I just did a quick Google of Tejaswini, and I’m convinced that this is not a name that Bujold made up, since the first several pages are dominated by celebrities from India.  I’m never quite sure about names ending in “j”, because I’ve had a lot of exposure to those Eastern European languages (not to mention Esperanto) where “j” is used for the semivowel we would use “y” for…and I know that vowel + “y” usually makes what we call a “long vowel”.  So if “j” was being used that way in “Tej”, it would be pronounced to rhyme with “day”.  But apparently it’s an actual consonant “j”, so it rhymes with “edge” instead.  It’s interesting that her nickname isn’t based on her _first_ name…especially considering she seems to be well into a habit of calling Ivan “Ivan Xav”.  For full symmetry, she should just call him “Xav”, but I guess that might be a little confusing.


 

Another week, another chapter…and likely another chapter next week, too.  Though Chapter Six looks to be the end of the “sampler”, which has a good ending line, so there’s a slightly chance I’ll push through and do two.  Don’t hold your breath, though.  You could pass out and hurt yourself.

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It’s Wednesday night, again, and that must mean we’re back here at the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I get to make another post following the works of Lois McMaster Bujold in the Vorkosigan Saga.  This week I continue on through Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, following fan favourite and occasional idiot Ivan Vorpatril as his romantic life takes a turn for the interesting.  This week I manage to cover Chapter Three, which once again features both of our main characters, Ivan and the mysterious Tej…

Chapter Three

As soon as Ivan leaves, Tej and Rish check out possible escape routes.  There’s only one door, but it opens onto a hallway with two lift tubes and emergency stairs; there’s a balcony, but it’s a bit high without antigravity or rappelling gear.  They can’t find any surveillance gear either.  The lock is quite good, though of course a mere locked door won’t stop everybody.  Rish puts their clothes into Ivan’s compact washing machine, and Tej, finding his bathroom, decides to take a long bath.

The scent of him still lingered in the moist air, strangely pleasant and complex, as if his immune system was calling out to hers: let’s get together and make wonderful new antibodies.

She appreciates the brief sensual moment, before it is lost in the reminder of her precarious situation, in the months since the fall of her House.  On Komarr things had been seeming to calm down, until last night brought it all back.  She wonders again who Ivan Vorpatril is, and why he came into her life.

When she emerges from the bath, Rish is using the comconsole to see if Dome Security has released any information on the night’s intruders; all she’s found is bare statements of fact, no new information.  She notes that nobody’s outbid the arrest order yet, though Tej says that she doesn’t think they do that here; Rish is forced to agree, seeing some of the other crimes reported.  Tej says the bath is free, and Rish is willing to take advantage of it, though she does wonder how Vorpatril can afford such a nice apartment on officer’s pay; Tej says she thinks this is just temporary lodging while he’s here from Barrayar.

Tej wonders if they can look him up on the comconsole; on Jackson’s Whole, that kind of information wouldn’t be available for free, but Tej’s Betan childhood tutors described an open information network on their home planet, which was one of the most advanced, technologically, in the wormhole nexus.  At the very least, they can see what public information there is about him; Rish agrees that she should give it a try.

Tej starts looking for his name, and quickly discovers how many Barrayaran names there are that begin with “Vor”, and even hundreds of Vorpatrils.  She sorts them by significance, which puts Count Falco Vorpatril at the top, but Ivan isn’t his son, so she moves on.  After moving through a few officers, she remembers the middle name “Xav”, from the card he gave her, and that narrows it down to his proper record.  Nothing much on it, though she does note that his birth date and his father’s death date are the same, and wonders what that was like, with a parent he’d never known.

She remembers that he’d send the vase to somebody “Vorkosigan”, and looks up that name too.  That family seems to be much smaller, only about a dozen adult males, but Count Vorkosigan seems to be the second most person in the entire database, and his son Miles, an agemate of Miles, also seems to have an impressively long entry.  She only knows the basic history of the Barrayaran Empire; they hadn’t planned on spending a lot of time here, just passing through the jump stations.  She knows about its Time of Isolation, the Cetangandan invasion, and Barrayar’s counter-invasion of Komarr after the Cetagandans were driven off…and the botched invasion of Escobar after that.

It was still a matter of profound respect and awe, to Jacksonian students of the great Deals of history, how evil Emperor Ezar had managed to hang on the newly discovered planet of Sergyar during the treaty settlements, adding it firmly to his empire before dying and leaving his throne to a five-year-old grandson.

Jackson’s Whole is just as happy to have several systems’ buffer between itself and the Barrayaran Empire, but unfortunately there are also several systems still in the way of Tej and Rish’s escape to Escobar, or Beta Colony.  She returns to Ivan’s record, but can’t find anything there to lead her to believe him more than a dull middle-rank officer…so how had he gotten involved in their problems?  Rish emerges from the bath, they share a wine-and-ration-bar brunch, after which Tej falls asleep on the couch.

Ivan blames his slight lateness on a bubble-car jam; Admiral Desplains notices his somewhat squinty appearance, and is amused but skeptical of Ivan’s assertion that he was kidnapped and tied up by two beautiful women.  Ivan only barely manages to stay awake through the morning’s three-hour meeting, and afterwards grabs a coffee, painkiller and rat-bar lunch before deciding to talk to someone at ImpSec Galactic Affairs.

He’d met Captain Morozov before, after the Mark incident, and trusts him sufficiently to talk to him.  Implying, though not outright stating, that he’s getting information for Desplains, he asks Morozov about a suspected Jacksonian, and gives him a description of Rish.  Morozov immediately brings up a startling image.

The vid showed a group portrait, posed and formal.  Rish, it was clearly Rish, knelt on one knee, second from the left.  She was wearing very little: a gold thong and a winding pattern of gold foil that appeared to be glued on, barely covering other strategic points and twining up to her neck as if to present her face as an exotic blossom.  Surrounding her were four other women and a man.  They had slightly varying heights and builds, but all looked equally lithe and shimmering.  One woman was white and silver, one yellow and metallic gold, one green and gold, one red and garnet, and the man was jet black and silver.  Six faces differently but equally exquisite, smiling faintly, serene.

Morozov says they’re Baronne Cordonah’s living Jewels–Pearl, Ruby, Emerald, Ropaz, Onyx, and Lapis Lazuli (Rish).  They were partly decorative, partly dancers, and what Jacksonians called “jeeveses”–unswervingly loyal servants/slaves, their loyalty ensured either genetically or through conditioning.  Ivan recognizes Cordonah as the name of one of Jackson’s Whole’s jump-point stations, and Morozov says that the masters of House Cordonah were, until recently, Shiv and Udine ghem Estif Arqua.

Ivan immediately asks why “until recently”, and why there’s a Cetagandan ghem name in there, and Morozov offers to tell him the story; Ivan checks the time, but isn’t going to pass up free information from an ImpSec analyst.  General ghem Estif was, as most Barrayarans would know, one of the last generals involved in the Cetagandan occupation of Barrayar; he’d been awarded a haut wife, and they lingered on Komarr after being driven off-planet rather than return home for a fatal apology to the Emperor.  They had a daughter, Udine, who married a Komarran shipping magnate; when the Barrayarans invaded Komarr, Udine and her husband fled offplanet with the aid of Shiv Arqua, a mercenary captain from the Selby Fleet.  Udine soon left her husband and settled on Jackson’s Whole with Arqua, who she helped rise in House Cordonah.  Ivan speculates on what Shiv Arqua’s appeal might be; Morozov shows him a picture of the couple, Udine tall and gorgeous with long haut-woman hair, and Shiv Arqua dark-skinned, stocky and bald.

Morozov says that the Cordonahs had moved into the hostage recovery business, and had a remarkably good track record; they were also willing informants, admittedly for both sides, but with high quality info, and Morozov admits he misses them.  He explains that several months earlier they’d been victims of a hostile takeover by House Prestene, and nothing had been heard of them since, so it’s assumed that they’re both dead.  He asks Ivan where he might have seen this Lapis Lazuli, and Ivan hastily excuses himself, because he’s genuinely running late now.  Morozov says he hopes they can talk again soon, and conveys his best wishes to Ivan’s stepfather; Ivan says that Simon Illyan isn’t his stepfather yet, and belatedly realizes why an ImpSec man might want to get into his good books…

At the end of the day, Ivan is heading out of the office with Admiral Desplains, his mind whirling, trying to figure out where to pick up food for his guests, when a security guard calls out to them to wait.  Apparently two Dome Security people want to interview Ivan; Desplains wonders what trouble Ivan could have gotten into after only four days, and Ivan says that he doesn’t know, not adding that he certainly has his suspicions.  Desplains tells Ivan to go along and talk to them, and he can report in the morning.

Ivan finds the security officers, Fano and Sulmona, in a small and unappealing conference room; Fano, a man, is in plainclothes, Sulmona, a woman, in uniform with stunner and shock-stick.  Fano invites him to sit down, while Ivan tries to remember that counterinterrogation course he took back at the Academy; he agrees to let them record him, as he’s sure they’re being recorded anyway.  As he’s feared, they’re investigating his connection with “Nanja”; she hasn’t been seen since her apartment was broken into, and he was one of the last to have seen her, having been placed at her work before she went home.

Ivan tells the story mostly straight, with a few modifications.  For one thing, he pretends to have met her by chance at the shipping shop, and then met her again by chance on her way home; he insists to the skeptical security people that he wasn’t stalking her, and could take no for an answer, but he thought he’d give her another try.  He also omits mention of Rish, claiming that Nanja shot him with a stunner; Fano asks if he’d been attacking her, and Ivan says, nettled, that if he’d been trying, he’d have succeeded, but she took him by surprise.  He skips to waking up tied up to the chair, and claims that he tried to escape quietly, not knowing whether or not he’d fallen into the hands of anti-Barrayaran terrorists or something; then the men appeared outside the window on the float-pallet.

Fano says that the men initially claimed to have seen Ivan while on their way to return a borrowed float-pallet, and broke in to try to rescue him; Ivan says that they definitely did not know he was there when they cut their way in, and asks if they’d fast-penta’d them to check the story.  Fano says they did, apparently not being important enough to have any implanted allergies or anything, their organization preferring to rely on a cell system so they didn’t know too many of their fellows.  They confirmed that they’d been hired to pick up Nanja and her maidservant and hand them over to another cell; Ivan says he never saw the maidservant, that he’d tried to convince the burglars to release him, but they were stunned by people he couldn’t see, and who were gone by the time he got free, and he had no desire to hang around.

Sulmona then brings up the recording of the anonymous tip that brought them in, and dryly notes that they now have a positive voice-match on it, and a record of his bubble-car rental a few minutes later.  Ivan admits he wanted to bring Security there without getting further involved, before the two goons woke up.  Fano reminds him that he committed crimes both by leaving the scene and placing a fake call; Ivan says he had a major stunner hangover, which may explain why he sounded drunk, and just wanted to get out of there before he was late for work.  When they ask him what important duties he was afraid to miss, he tells them that it’s classified; they ask about a potential fast-penta interrogation, and he refers them to his commanding officer, who would have to refer the request to Guy Allegre himself, which they all know means it’s not likely to happen.

“Yes, but didn’t you even report this incident to your own security, Captain?” asked Fano.

“I reported it in brief to my commanding officer.”  True in a sense, but oh God, wasn’t Desplains ever going to fry him in the morning over that.

He says that he wasn’t on duty when this happened, so he considers it just a misadventure, a bit of a mystery, but that’s ImpSec’s job, and if they want him to know what happened, they’ll tell him.  Sulmona says she doesn’t like not knowing what happened to the woman; Ivan says she probably just went into hiding somewhere else, and Sulmona wonders why she didn’t go to Dome Security instead of running away.  Ivan shrugs and says they should look to where she came from–which, supposedly, was in Olbia Dome.  They thank him for his cooperation, and he escorts them out.

Comments

I’d never really thought to wonder why Barrayar did end up with Sergyar after the abortive Escobar war.  I guess I just assumed that they had actually discovered it before Beta Colony–after all, they had their supply depot in place already when Cordelia and the Betan Survey team were exploring it.  Even if they kept it a secret from everyone.  And that was before the actual Escobar war.  Of course, Sergyar wasn’t mentioned by name very often for several books, and it took a long time–maybe until Mirror Dance, when Aral was being offered the job of Viceroy–before I clued in that it was the planet from Shards of Honour.  Apparently the Jacksonians, at least, were impressed by Ezar hanging on to the planet despite the ignominious defeat.  The Barrayarans can’t have given too much up in the peace treaty, since I don’t recall reading anything about forced disarmament or anything.  Maybe they just had to pay reparations or something…

It’s a little amusing that Ivan’s biographical entry is so small, especially compared to Miles and Aral.  I’m going to assume that Miles’s still doesn’t contain any mention of the Dendarii Mercenaries, since it’s still technically a secret, however certain they are that the Cetagandans know all about it, but I guess between his unfortunate birth and his later career as an Imperial Auditor, he’s had enough to fill a respectable entry.  Ivan’s damsel-in-distress misadventures probably don’t get the same kind of writeup, he’s not married, and he’s spent a lot of time avoiding the limelight, so his own birth is probably the most notable thing in there.  Though, while he isn’t close to inheriting the Vorpatril Countship, he is reasonably close to the Vorkosigan Countship (less so now that Miles has a son, of course–and do Gregor and Laisa have kids yet?), with its concomitant weak claims on the Imperium, so you’d think that would warrant a mention too…  Or maybe there’s just a big long list of “Line of Succession to the Barrayaran Imperium” with his name at #8 on the list or something.

Ivan has now found out some more details about Tej’s probably Jacksonian origin; it seems highly likely at this point that she’s related to House Cordonah in some way, and possibly to the Baron and Baronne themselves.  I’d forgotten about the Cetagandan connection, though I guess Udine herself, born and raised on Komarr, may not have identified as Cetagandan, and was obviously won over to the Jacksonian point of view at some point.

The interrogation scene is almost a bit tedious, since we’re going over the same events again, this time with a cover story, so unless the point is to establish the Komarran Security personnel as characters (which I don’t think we are), it could have been handled with a simple “Ivan told them what happened, leaving out Rish and Byerly’s mission entirely” or something like that.  Oh, well.


 

This is one of the few books where I read a substantial sample before the book came out, in this case the first six chapters, so we’re only halfway there so far.  So far I am not feeling an urge to pick the pace back up, so for now, expect another chapter next week…

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This week again, I had a brief burst of confidence when I thought that perhaps I might be able to do two chapters.  But I didn’t manage to finish Chapter Two on Monday, and by Tuesday night I was sick, so I’m glad I only had four more pages to do tonight.  So once again there is but a single chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance being synopsized and discussed, which luckily is no less than I’d been leading you to expect, so good for me.  CVA is, of course, the latest, publication-wise, though not chronologically, in Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, herein taking a slight detour to focus mostly on Miles Vorkosigan’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril, who could certainly use the time in the spotlight after he’s been damsel-in-distress so many times.  In Chapter One he tried to be more of a knight-in-shining-armor, and got tied up by his own damsel for his pains…

Chapter Two

Ivan is not cheered by his progress so far, tied up in the dark.  He’s used to being successful with women, but mostly because of his tried and true techniques.  First, go where the women are; second, try likely prospects until you get one to smile, and then be humorous until she laughs.  It may take ten tries before he succeeds, which is something he could never convince Miles was worth it.  Those odds hadn’t been in his favour in Nanja’s shop, though, and he’s not sure things have turned out that well.  If they didn’t, it’s By’s fault, not his.

He’s not sure what to make of the overprotective friend Rish.  She’s beautiful, but he’s not attracted to her; she’s stronger than Nanja, more athletic, and probably all-around souped up.  Where are they from?  Rish is doubtless not native to the Barrayaran Empire, and Nanja would have reacted more strongly to the name “Vorkosigan” if she was.  Cetagandans don’t do that kind of work on the human genome, and Ivan is more than happy to rule them out.

He keeps trying to wriggle his feet, trying to loosen and stretch the plastic ropes tying his legs to the chair, and he fancies it might be having some effect.  He supposes he could have tried harder to get away, but they were taking him where he wanted to go anyway, and he did get the chance to talk to Nanja, even if it was strictly more of an interrogation.

Rish’s next most likely point of origin is Jackson’s Whole, which is supported by other circumstantial evidence; Ivan’s not too happy about that either, unfortunately.  Jackson’s Whole is spread among over a hundred Great Houses, and even more minor ones, but things can get dangerous for someone who falls between the cracks, and he can easily envision scenarios which would have put these two women on the run.  Though it’s far from clear why somebody would be chasing them, since Jacksonians wouldn’t normally be that interested in a pricy assassination.

As Ivan squirms in the increasingly uncomfortable chair, he wonders what the relationship between the two women is; Rish doesn’t seem to defer to Nanja that often, for one thing.  When, during the interrogation, he’d had to pee, Nanja had been willing to untie him and let him to go the bathroom by himself, but instead Rish had just held a bottle for him to use, which had been a singular unarousing experience.  Maybe they’re both escaped slaves, seeking asylum in the Barrayaran Empire, or maybe Nanja stole Rish…

He wonders how long it will be until dawn, in the short Komarran night.  ImpSec will know that he was at the shipping store because of his credit chit, and Nanja’s coworker will be able to identify him, so it shouldn’t take long for them to find him.  Then he hears a noise at the window–three stores up, and inside a dome with no wind to blow trees against it.  He hopes that it might be ImpSec, but he’s not optimistic about it.  A plasma beam cuts a hole in the window, and Ivan can see two dark shapes beyond it, probably riding on a float pallet or something.  Almost certainly not ImpSec, and much more likely to be Nanja’s pursuers.

Ivan is pretty sure he couldn’t get free of his chair–maybe he could free his legs, at the expense of his shoes, but he doesn’t think he could do anything very effective in that state.  Instead, he begins talking loudly, telling the startled intruders that the two women left hours ago, encouraging them to turn on the lights and untie him; one of them does turn the lights on, leaving the other somewhat dazzled before he can take off his light-sensitive goggles.  He points a stunner at Ivan and asks who he is, in a Komarran accent.

“A few minutes ago, I’d have said I was a completely innocent bystander, but now I’m starting to think that I might be someone who was mistaken for you,” said Ivan amiably. “I don’t suppose you could untie me?”

They remain suspicious of him, so Ivan spins a story of elaborate torture–psychological, of course, and possibly involving ice cubes–while they argue what to do, deciding to search the place and stun Ivan.  Before they can, though, they are stunned for the side-corridor, and Rish and Nanja emerge.  Ivan tells them he now definitely believe that somebody’s after them; Rish and Nanja inspect the men and say that they’re just local Komarran hires, but it proves that they’ve been tracked down.  Rish proposes killing them, but Ivan, disturbed, says that they’re not likely to know much, and that they’re more likely kidnappers than killers.  He asks to be untied, as a reward, in lieu of a kiss, and Nanja complies, to Rish’s disapproval.

He really shouldn’t push it, but faint heart never one, and all that.  He bent his head and presented his cheek ot her, just to see what would happen.

A hesitation.  A widening of her eyes, which, close up, were a clear sherry colour, lighter than her skin, very striking flamed with her long black lashes.  To his unconcealed delight, she stretched her neck and bestowed a neat peck on his cheekbone.

“See?” he said, in an encouraging tone. “That wasn’t so hard.”  The spot tingled pleasantly.

As Rish searches their bodies, Ivan sticks his head out the window to inspect the float pallet, which proves to contain a large plastic bin, that two stunned women might just have fit into, with some folding; he says this supports the kidnapping theory, unless they were just going to dispose of the bodies.  Despite his encouragement, though, Nanja refuses to share any theories.  Rish says they don’t have any ID or money, though they are wearing cheap gloves.

Rish says it’s time for them to go, and tells Tej (Ivan notes “Nanja”‘s real name, at last) to go pack up.  She says they have an escape route planned over the rooftops; Ivan offers them his own apartment as a temporary safe-house, since nobody will be able to connect it to them, and Tej agrees.  Ivan suggests that he just call the Dome Security and claim to be eyewitness to a break-in.  To himself, he wonders about By’s investigation, what it has to do with this, and whether By’s recruiting Ivan to help is a sign of desperation…or a sign of widespread corruption in the Imperial Service, or even ImpSec itself.

Dammit, the purpose of a briefing was to tell you everything you needed to know to do your job right.  It shouldn’t be a frigging IQ test.  Or worse, word puzzle.  Ivan hissed in growing frustration.  Next time he saw By, he was going to strangle the smarmy Vorrutyer whelp.

The smarmy Vorrutyer whelp who, Ivan had reason to know, did sometimes, if very rarely, report directly to, and receive orders directly from, Emperor Gregor…

The women are ready in record time, with everything packed into three bags, something they must have practiced multiple times.  He decides not to do anything about any fingerprints or skin cells he’s leaving behind, deciding they can be a nice challenge for the Dome Security CSI team.

Tej listens as Ivan, in a convincing drunken drawl, makes his police report via wristcom, about the two men going through the window, and then cuts off after saying he heard a woman scream.  This done, they turn to making their rooftop getaway.  Tej is first, jumping over to the roof of the next building, followed by Rish, who makes it look easy; Ivan is more dubious, but makes it across, with even a little extra momentum that he blames on Komarr’s lower gravity.  They jump to a third building, with a wider alley beyond, but here they go back down to street level and then to a bubble-car stop, Rish making sure to keep her unusual skin hidden.

Ivan punches in his address and their bubble-car sets out, the sun just starting to rise.  Tej has never seen the dome from this vantage before, and she asks Ivan about a newer section; he says it’s replacing an area destroyed in fighting with Barrayar, and adds that any native Komarran would have known that.  They head closer to the dome’s centre, where they debark, Ivan leading them to his building and up to his apartment.  On entering, he spots the time and says he’s running late, so he dashes into the shower, leaving Tej and Rish bemused behind him.

Despite its culinary promise, the refrigerator contained only four bottles of beer, three bottles of wine (one opened) and a half-dozen packets which the undecorative wrappings betrayed as military ration bars.  An open box of something labeled instant groats graced the cupboards in lonely isolation.  She was still reading the instructions on the back when the bedroom door slid open and Vorpatril thumped out again:  fully dressed, moist from his shower, freshly depilated, hair neatly combed.  He paused to hop around and shove his feet into his discarded shoes.

Both she and–hee, I saw that!–Rish blinked.  The forest-green Barrayaran officer’s uniform was quite flattering, wasn’t it?  Somehow, his shoulders seemed broader, his legs longer, his face…harder to read.

“Gotta run, or I’ll be late for work, under pain of sarcasm,” Vorpatril informed her, reaching past her to grab a ration bar and hold the package between his teeth as he finished fastening his tunic.

He gives them some hurried instructions, to help themselves to whatever they can find, promising to bring more when he returns, and not to answer the doors or the comconsole…unless it’s Byerly Vorrutyer, in which case they should tell him to come back later.  He emphasizes that they aren’t prisoners, but he asks them to be there when he comes back.  Then he kisses Tej’s hands and leaves in a rush.

Tej peeks out the window, where they have a good view of the soletta array, and contemplates how her old life seems to be in a shambles despite everything she’s tried; maybe it’s time to start a new one.  She glances over the edge of the balcony to see a green-clad figure emerge from the building below her.

Comments

Tej’s POV is not giving us a lot of information about her backstory, only a few tantalizing hints, so we practically get more from Ivan’s line of reasoning, pointing to them being House-deprived refugees from Jackson’s Whole.  And somebody does indeed try to attack them, as Byerly was afraid of, and luckily Ivan is there to help them out.  Tej and Rish’s precautions were apparently insufficient to ward off an actual midnight invasion, though they were at least organized enough to be able to hightail it out of there at short notice, even with their belongings.

Ivan’s bona fides more-or-less established, they willingly accept his offer of sanctuary, though I’m not convinced of his argument that nobody would able to trace them to him.  After all, wasn’t he just thinking that ImpSec has Tej’s workplace as his last known location?  So somebody looking for Tej might be able to extrapolate the other way too, especially if it’s someone with access to ImpSec information…the earlier hints of corruption in the Imperial Service make that far from implausible.  But it’s probably good enough at short notice, if nobody had any reason to note any odd behaviour or absence on Ivan’s part.

Ivan’s bachelor food and drink supplies are pretty laughable, but all too lifelike.  One presumes he only eats his instant-groat or rat-bar meals for breakfast, dining out (or in the canteen?) for the other meals.  And this is a fairly short-term dwelling, too, so there’s not much incentive to stock it too fully.  Though he doesn’t even have blue cheese dressing to go with the groats…


 

A little bit of excitement in Chapter Two; I haven’t read ahead in Chapter Three, so I don’t know if it’s a bit of a lull, or if things pick up before the end.  I vaguely remember how the original sample chapters that I read online before the book came out ended, but I don’t remember any more how many chapters those were.  The first reread…it’s so exciting!  See you all next week!

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The last post was sent by “past me”, but this post feels like it was actually written in the past.  Like I was sent back in a time machine and had to prepare it with stone knives and bearskins.  Which is to say, rather than having a convenient PDF copy of the book that I put side-by-side on my current ludicrously-wide monitor next to my editing window, I have to settle for a physical, paper copy of the book, a hardcover one, no less, which I have to put to one side and wrench my neck while writing.  Plus I can’t just copy and paste any quotes I do, I have to manually retype them.  So don’t be surprised if there’s more typos in them.  Also, this is the first time I’m rereading this particular book, so it will be a different experience, and with all that, I’m only expecting to be able to handle a chapter a week, at least for now.

What I’m talking about, of course, is the latest book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  As one might surmise from the title, it’s one of the few books in the series which does not focus on Miles Vorkosigan.  Of course, he does share POV in some of the books he does appear in, like Komarr, A Civil Campaign, and Mirror Dance, but in this one, he appears only as a guest star, leaving his cousin, and fan favourite, Captain Ivan Vorpatril, to carry the bulk of it.  So let’s see how he does with his first chapter…

Chapter One

It’s close to midnight on Komarr, but Ivan Vorpatril is still awake, suffering from jump-lag; when his door buzzer sounds, he’s reluctant to answer it, and his reluctance is justified when he finds Byerly Vorrutyer on his doorstep.  Before Ivan can muster the impetus to keep him out, Byerly is inside Ivan’s rented luxury flat in downtown Solstice; he polarizes the windows and pulls the curtains.

Ivan asks Byerly what he’s doing on Komarr, and he says he’s working.  Ivan is one of the few who’s aware that Byerly Vorrutyer is not just a dissolute town clown, but also an informer for ImpSec.  He reluctantly offers his guest something to drink, but By says he just wants some water, and then some sleep.  By asks Ivan what he’s doing on Komarr, and Ivan says he’s here at a conference with his boss, Admiral Desplains, with some fleet inspections thrown in as a bonus, but then he realizes that Byerly must know this already.  Byerly asks if Ivan is still ducking promotion, and Ivan says he’s happy enough to be a Captain.

Ivan only wished it were true.  It seemed barely months ago, though it was over a year, that the latest flare-up of tentsions with Barrayar’s most traditional enemy, the Cetagandan Empire, had pinned Ivan to military headquarters 26.7 hours a Barrayaran day for weeks on end, sweating out all the most horrific possibilities.  Designing death in detail.  War had been averted through nontraditional diplomacy, mostly on the part of Barrayaran emperor Gregor’s weaseliest Imperial Auditor and, to give credit where it was due, his wife.

Ivan contemplates his distant relation Byerly, less brawny than himself (Admiral Desplains is constantly at Ivan to keep up his recruiting-poster physique), though with the startling Vorrutyer eyes.  He asks Byerly what he wants, apart from going to bed (Byerly twits him about where that’s supposed to be an invitation…), and Byerly admits he has a little task for Ivan.  It’s right up his alley, though–he wants Ivan to go pick up a girl, someone that people he’s currently investigating seem to have a certain interest in, and he gives Ivan a picture of her.

The background was too fuzzed to make out, but the picture showed a striking young woman striding down a sidewalk.  Apparent age could be anything between twenty and thirty standard years, though that was no certain clue as to real age.  Tumbling black hair, bright eyes, skin glowing an interesting cinnamon brown against a cream tank top.  Decided nose, determined chin; either the natural face she was born with, or the work of a real artist, because it certainly didn’t bear the stamped-from-the-same-mold blandness of the usual body sculpture, a biological ideal that lost its appeal with repetition.  Long legs in tan trousers that hugged in all the right places.  A nicely full figure.  Nicely full.  If the face was natural, might the other prominent features be, too?  With weakening reluctance, Ivan said, “Who is she?”

Byerly says she’s supposedly a Komarran named Nanja Brindis, just moved to Solstice from another dome, but he suspects that’s just a cover identity, and he’d love for Ivan find out.  He says he doubts she’s a professional, so Ivan might be able to weasel it out of her.  Ivan insists that Byerly give him more information, and Byerly gives in and tells him that he’s looking into a smuggling operation.  Ivan points out that the Komarrans police themselves, and nobody cares what the non-Barrayaran transients do, which only leaves the Imperial Fleet–which is something that Service Security should be all over.  Byerly agrees, saying that he’s more or less scouting the situation out for them, minimizing the chance of influential Vor scions getting accused mistakenly.  Ivan notes that military personnel who get into regular crime then become blackmail targets for more serious offenses, too.

Byerly enjoins Ivan from telling Desplains any of this, unless he should turn up dead sometime in the near future.  Ivan asks about the girl, and Byerly says she’s not with the Barrayarans he’s investigating, she’s not with the offworlders they’re dealing with, but she’s also not a simple Komarran citizen.  Ivan asks if someone’s trying to kill her, which might explain why Byerly, who does possess the vestiges of Vor chivalry deep down inside, wants someone to look after her; Byerly warns Ivan to be careful, for Lady Alys’s sake.

“So where am I to find this so-called girl?”

“I am fairly certain she’s a real girl, Ivan.”

“You think?  With you, one never knows.”  He eyed By dryly, and By had the grace to squirm just a bit, in acknowledgement of his cousin Dono née Donna of lamented memory.

By tells Ivan that she works as a packing clerk at Swift Shipping, and gives him her work address as well as her unlisted home address, though of course using that will likely tip her off.  He asks Ivan to make acquaintance before tomorrow night, without fail.  By bids him farewell and leaves him to study the picture and wonder how many of Byerly’s suspicions are going to be proved out.

At Swift Shipping, Tej notices the tall, good-looking customer as soon as he comes in, only ten minutes before closing.  She’s been hyperalert of most people who come into the shop, and wishes she could have mustered a job which wasn’t so much of a public position, but with her fake references it was all she could come up with.  There have been hints of a promotion to the back room, but it’s been slow in coming.  He browses around until she becomes available, then steps up to her counter.

“Hi, there”–with difficulty, he dragged his gaze from her chest to her face–“Nanja.”

It didn’t take that long to scan her nametag.  Slow reader, are you?  Why, yes, I get a lot of those.  Tej returned the smile with the minimum professional courtesy due a customer who hadn’t, actually, done anything really obnoxious yet.

He hoisted his bag to the counter and withdrew a large, asymmetrical, and astonishing ugly ceramic vase.  She guessed the design was supposed to be abstract, but it was more as if a party of eye-searing polka dots had all got falling-down drunk.

He gives her the address he’d like it shipped to–Vorkosigan House, Vorbarr Sultana–and she realizes he must be a Barrayaran, a group they don’t see much of in this low-rent area of town.  She wonders that he’s willing to pay the exorbitant shipping to send this to another planet, but he decides not to spring for the premium shipping when she assures him it won’t make it any less likely to get broken; she does talk him into the insurance, though.  He insists on staying to watch her wrap it up, though all she needs to do is put it into a machine which packs it in flexifoam.

She read his name from his credit chit, “Ivan Vorpatril”, and realizes he’s one of the Vor.  He says he won’t need a note–it’s intended for Lady Vorkosigan, a gardener who specializes in poisonous plants.  The packaging done, Tej and Dotte close up the shop, Dotte remaining behind to help her usher Ivan out.  Some areas of Solstice are more like space station corridors and some more like city streets; Swift Shipping is on a more streetish area, luckily.

Ivan offers to buy her a drink–then, when she turns that down, he offers dinner, ice cream, a walk in the park, a boat ride on the lake…  Tej pointedly spurns his offers and heads off with Dotte to the bubble-car station, even though her apartment is actually in walking distance.  Ivan persists, offering a puppy, a kitten, or a pony, which amuses Dotte, but not Tej, who tries to ignore him.  Dotte tells Tej she’d have accepted any of those offers readily enough, except maybe the pony, even though Tej is pretty sure she’s married; Tej says too many guys try to pick her up, though Dotte says most of them aren’t that cute, or that tall.

At the station, she takes a random bubble-car for ten minutes, then gets off and takes another car to a stop on the other side of her neighbourhood, in case Ivan is still hanging around the first station.  He isn’t, but when she gets to her apartment building she spots him loitering on the steps outside.  She slows her pace and places a call to Rish on her wristcom, telling her that she’s being followed, and that somehow he seems to have found her address.  Rish tells her to lure him into a foyer in a minute and she’ll take of him there.

He greets “Nanja” when she walks up; when she asks how he found where she lived, he offers to take her out somewhere so they can talk about it.  Waiting to answer until she judges Rish will have made it downstairs, she invites him inside.  In the lift-tube foyer, a shawl-draped female figure sits on the bench; when she pulls out a stunner, Ivan pushes Tej out of the way, which just makes it easier for Rish (for it is she) to take Ivan out.

The stun beam kneecapped him neatly, and he fell, Tej supposed, the way a tree was said to, not that she’d ever witnessed a tree do such a thing.  Most of the trees she’d seen before she’d fetched up on Komarr had lived in tubs, and did not engage in such vigorous behaviour.  In any case, he crashed to the tiles with a vague thrashing of upper branches and a loud plonk as his head hit.  “Owww…” he moaned piteously.

The attack doesn’t seem to have attracted anyone’s attention, but Rish covers Tej while she searches Ivan, not quite unconscious but definitely woozy; he seems muzzily reassured that the attacker is actually Tej’s friend.  She’s alarmed to find the picture of her in his pocket; she asks him if he’s a hired killer, and after some thought he admits he probably is.  Further search turns up nothing more lethal than a stunner, though; they inspect his wallet and find out who he is–Captain Ivan Xav Vorpatril, Barrayaran Imperial Service, and the military identity fits with his stunner and his shoes.

Rish says he looks authentic, but Tej points out that the best cappers would; Ivan recognizes the slang term as Jacksonian, and mumbles that if there’s hired killers after her, that explains a lot.  Tej asks what they should do with him, and Rish says they’ll have to take him upstairs to the apartment.

As they dragged him inside, he remarked to the air, “Hey, made it inside her door on t’ first date?  Are things lookin’ up for Ma Vorpatril’s boy, or what?”

“This is not a date, you idiot,” Tej snapped at him.

To her annoyance, his smile inexplicably broadened.

He says that some people would consider a date, and while he’s not one of them, he can be flexible.  Tej asks if he ever gives up, and he says that he won’t until she laughs–first rule of picking up girls.  He apologizes for making her suspicious of him, and insists he’s not there to attack her.  Rish takes off her outer coverings and Ivan is taken aback at her skin, which is blue with gold veins, like lapis lazuli.  Ivan asks if that was body-mod or genetic engineering, since the former would be fine, but not the latter; Tej is reminded of weird Barrayaran anti-mutant prejudices, and Rish says that she’s happy with it no matter what he may think of it.  Ivan apologizes, pleading surprise, and Tej thinks that a real assassin would surely have known all about Rish.

Tej asks if they have any fast-penta left, but Rish says they used the last of it on Pol Station, and it’s too dangerous for them to try to get more right now.  She suggests torture, and Ivan suggests they ask politely; Tej says that torture would be too noisy.  It occurs to her that Ivan doesn’t seem to be trying to scream for help, and wonders if that makes it more or less likely that he’s on the level; at the very least, he doesn’t seem to be afraid of them.

They tie him up with scarves, which Ivan approves of, as long as they don’t bring out the ice cubes, but he informs them that his disappearance, on Komarr, is likely to cause a certain amount of panic, and bring out the security folk looking for him, which he gathers they might not want.  Rish points out that whoever gave him her picture and address undoubtedly knows where he is; when Tej asks him, he says that one of his friends sent him to look after her, thinking she might be in danger.  Rish points out that they took him out pretty easily, for a protector, and Ivan says he has a thing about hitting girls, except that one time with Delia Koudelka when they were kids…

Rish complains that nothing about him makes sense, even if he’s telling the truth, so they decide to have supper and then figure out what to do with him.

Comments

After A Civil Campaign, one would have high hopes for an Ivan-focused book, and the appearance of Byerly right off the bat can’t help but raise those hopes even higher, since they did play off each other quite well.  The title, of course, as well as early buzz about the book, promised that Ivan would finally find that elusive girlfriend, romantic liaison, possibly even bride.

The second viewpoint in the chapter, then, is the mysterious Tej (a.k.a. Nanja), not a native Komarran, on the run, or at least hiding from somebody.  With her busty good looks (don’t look at me, the author makes her buxomness quite clear several times in the first chapter, and I’m quite certain it’s something Ivan would notice right away), she’s used to being hit on, but Ivan finding her apartment obviously makes her suspicious, so she calls in her backup.

Rish isn’t explained, because this is Tej’s point of view, though we do get a paragraph of description anyway, since even Tej has to admit to herself that Rish’s appearance is unusual and striking.  There is one reference to her being “one of the Baronne’s own Jewels”, and Ivan recognizing Jacksonian slang makes it seem likely that that is their point of origin.  Jackson’s Whole has Barons (though presumably it’s not the only place in the entire universe that does), and probably Baronnes as well, and it’s also known for producing both odd genetic constructs and body modifications, so it does fit.  From our previous experience, we’re primed to think of either House Bharaputra or House Ryoval, but there are other Houses as well, so we’ll just have to wait and see.


 

So far so good, and we’ll see how hard it really is for me to do these chapters, and maybe you’ll get two chapters a week one of these days.  Twenty-five chapters in the book, plus an epilogue, in 422 pages, so less than 20 pages in a chapter…  Well, who knows.  In any event, at least one more chapter of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance next week.

 

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