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…
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.
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!