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Archive for July, 2014

Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…  Or would you rather I said something more like “The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!”  Or I could try one of those horrible paraphases, like “Is this a keyboard I see before me, its keys toward my fingers?”  Yeah.  Well.  Anyway, it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which of course leads naturally to the assumption that this post is going to concern itself with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga (hence the name), and in particular (as it says up there in the title) Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  This week I managed to process two whole chapters, mostly because I skipped last week, and I didn’t die or anything.  So this week we will cover Chapters Eight and Nine, which means that it’ll become even harder to figure out the chapters from the “Part” number in the header.  Oh, well.  Onward!

Chapter Eight

Ivan takes Tej and Rish to guest quarters on the military compound, which is kind of like a shabby hotel, and doesn’t seem that secure except perhaps compared to anything else they’d experienced recently.  Ivan and Tej are too exhausted to consider consummating their marriage just yet, so they sleep in separate rooms and fall asleep almost instantly.  When Tej and Rish wake the next morning Ivan is already at work, having left a brief note, but Morozov takes them to brunch in the ImpSec building, with more shrewd questions but still not prying.

That afternoon, their assorted belongings from the apartment are brought to them; Tej does some reading up on Barrayaran history while Rish does some dance exercises.  Finally Ivan shows up and tells them that their shuttle awaits; he’s had a long day at work, with Service Security scrambling to cover their lapse in missing what was happening on the Kanzian.

Tej finds the trip up to orbit liberating, not planning to miss the neither-planet-nor-space-station domes of Komarr.  A short trip through the military space station brings them to Admiral Desplains’s jump-pinnace; Ivan introduces them to the admiral himself, who welcomes them to his ship, the JP-9.  The Admiral thanks Tej and Rish for providing the information they needed to trap the smugglers on the Kanzian, as Ivan had led him to believe, and, apparently, Morozov had substantiated.  Tej is disquieted to learn that Morozov is an interrogator of such skill that he teaches classes in it.

Desplains lets Ivan show them around, and has his batman take their luggage; the admiral promises to try to make up for having kept Ivan and his new wife apart since their wedding.  Ivan gives them the tour, which doesn’t amount to much, since it’s not much bigger than a fast courier, but at least they won’t be getting lost; he also gives them safety information.  Rish asks if they do this often, and Ivan says they regularly carry supercargo, often the admiral’s family, though not on this trip; he tells them that he’s worked with the admiral for three years, since before he was promoted to Chief of Operations.

The batman escorts them to their quarters–Desplains’s own, which the admiral is letting them use on this trip, with his compliments.  Ivan mutters that he must be forgiven, and cautiously tells the women to have their pick of the bedrooms–one with a double bed and one with four bunks.  Rish pulls Tej into the room with the bunks and they discuss what Tej should do.

“All right, I can see how it might be a good deal if he pair-bonds to you.  Maybe not so good if you pair-bond to him.  Don’t lose your head, sweetling.”

Tej tossed her curls.  “It’s only a practice marriage.  So I ought to get in some practice, don’t you think?”

Rish reminds her that there isn’t a squad of bodyguards to rescue her, like with a Jacksonian “allowed suitor”, just Rish herself, and there’s no place to retreat to on this ship.  Tej says there’s no one left but her in charge right now, so she has to take the risk.  She’d rather set up a “basic biological reward-loop” to help guarantee Ivan’s behaviour, and she promises that’s all it will be to her.  Ivan’s been presented to her all but gift-wrapped, so she might as well take advantage of it; Rish wishes her luck.

Tej emerges and informs Ivan that she will be sharing the double bed with him, and he reiterates that she doesn’t have to, but if she does, that’s just fine with him.  He also notes that they’re back on Barrayaran time, with its 26.7-hour day, and hence a much more leisurely evening than Komarr.  He swings her down onto the sofa and says he’s pleased to meet her; she challenges him to say her full name, and he impresses her by reeling it off correctly.

He hesitates and asks her what her real age is, and she says she’s 25, to his relief, though he insists he wouldn’t have minded if she were older; he deflects her questions about whether he’s been with any older women.  He notes that she’s likely had a sheltered life, as daughter of a baron, and asks her if she’s still a virgin; she assures him she is, and with a contraceptive implant, and again he’s relieved, saying that it would be hypocritical of him to insist otherwise with the marriage as ad-hoc as it is.

After a kiss and gentle fondle, she asks him about that first experience; he tells her about an older (by a whole four years) woman, a groom at his cousin’s country estate.  In return she tells him about the sexuality therapists from the Orb on Beta Colony her father had hired for two years for her and her siblings, as well as the Jewels–one of each of the three sexes.  Ivan admits he’s never made it to the Orb, though it seems like most people he knows have; Tej says she enjoyed sex, being similar to dance, all about being in your body, in the moment.

She mentions a couple of allowed suitors as well, and explains the Jacksonian custom, like trying out your prospective spouse before an arranged marriage.  One of them was more interested in House politics than her, and the other one she just didn’t like; her mother said that it may have been a biological reaction, their immune systems being too similar and thus making them smell unappealing to each other.  She undoes his shirt and runs her fingers through his chest hair, just as Rish calls out that she’s done in the shower, so they separate to take care of cleanliness before rendezvousing back at the bed.  Ivan seems oddly restrained, and he explains that it feels different, the prospect of making love to his own wife, however temporary.

“I always kept it light, y’know?” he gasped.

“I can do light,” she said, leaning in.  “My name means light.”

He leaned to meet her.  “So…so illuminate me,” he breathed, and then there was much less talking.

The admiral’s batman brings them breakfast on a trolley–more to get Ivan out of bed, he surmises, than to encourage indolence, and also to report back on who exactly slept where last night.  Ivan feels “chipper”, he decides, and enjoys kissing his wife goodbye, especially since she doesn’t seem to be chatty in the morning; he heads down the hall a few steps to Desplains’s office.  Desplains is already there, since he tends to work longer hours without his family on board, and Ivan considers it part of his duty to keep him from going overboard.  Ivan gets to work triaging the messages that come in over tightbeam, which has increased because of the Kanzian incident, and the news hasn’t even reached Sergyar yet.  Desplains only has to chide him once about his unconscious cheerful whistling.

Before their first jump, Ivan checks on Tej and Rish, providing jump-sickness medication for both of them when they prove susceptible; Rish is pleasantly surprised at how effective it is, since she normally suffers from auditory hallucinations.  At the end of the day Desplains invites Ivan and his female companions to dinner, with fresh food picked up on Komarr and wine from Barrayar.  Tej holds her own quite well, Ivan notes, and supposes that this kind of social situation is probably not that much different from what one might deal with in a Great House environment.  The dinners are repeated on subsequent nights, with other crewmembers brought in to join them from time to time, though the admiral is always careful to leave Ivan and his wife some time in the evening to themselves.

While Ivan is at work, Tej occupies herself reading and watching vids, or playing games with Rish; Rish gets out of the cabin from time to time to work our in the exercise room, where the crewmembers keep any misgivings to themselves and seem to be fairly impressed with her capabilities.  She also finds more fans of Komarran soap operas and gets together with them for any new episodes they manage to download.  At the admiral’s suggestion, Tej spends some time learning about the various other Barrayaran dialects, which, to Ivan’s surprise, she considers more fun than actual work; she does pick them up scarily fast, probably due to her haut genetics.

As they get closer to Barrayar, Ivan notices some “Eyes Only” messages coming in from Guy Allegre, which Desplains tells him seem to be forwarded requests from Ivan’s mother about what’s going on, and then later some from Lady Alys herself.  Desplains says he doesn’t want to get involved in Ivan’s personal affairs, but his mother shouldn’t have to ask him what’s going on with her own son.  He reminds Ivan that Lady Alys works closely with General Allegre with respect to Gregor’s security, not to mention dating a certain former head of ImpSec, so he can conclude she’s fairly well-connected to ImpSec information.  Ivan promises to send her a reassuring note–a note, not a video, which should be easier to keep concise.  He starts by setting the message header to “medium security”, not enough to seem like an emergency.

Dear Mother.

He sat a moment, while lights blinked at him.

I don’t know what ImpSec’s been telling you, but actually, everything’s all right.  I seem to have accidentally got married, but it’s only temporary.  Don’t change the headings on your cards.  I will explain it all to you when we get there.

Love, Ivan.

Then he decides that, if he’s going to tell her everything when they get there, he doesn’t need to tell her anything right now, so he deletes the two sentences in the middle, and then adds a postscript advising her to talk to Byerly Vorrutyer if she wants more information.  He doesn’t expect By to beat them back home, so it seems safe enough to throw him to the wolves.  Satisfied, he sends the message out.

Comments

Tej seems fairly coldblooded about the whole “trying to win Ivan over using sex” thing.  As a Jacksonian, she must certainly have been brought with a pragmatic streak a mile wide, though she’s still no match for Rish in that area, and the Betan influence of her teachers have stripped away any remaining romantic notions she had about it.  While Ivan may be a modern Barrayaran male, he’s still a Barrayaran male, and not as blasé about it as he might pretend, so he’s a bit of an easy mark.  But, still, Tej is going to find herself more ensnared than she expects…

So apparently innate linguistic talent is one of those things added to the haut genome, that can be passed on to their descendants; Ivan also makes an allusion to René Vorbretten’s perfect pitch as another possible haut inheritance.  I always wonder, with abilities like that which seem to be advantageous, but not possessed by anyone, what the downside is.  It’s possible that it’s just not a survival trait–the ability to learn your parent’s language as a child is a necessity, but being able to learn language all through life is a nice-to-have, but you’ll still survive to breed without it.  Same thing with perfect pitch.  If there are genetic downsides, like, say, perfect pitch also leading to sensitive hearing and a quicker chance of going deaf, or something strange, then I guess it’s up to the haut to try to weed out the problematic expressions of the gene while keeping the desirable ones.  Because genetics is hard.

Chapter Nine

Tej is almost surprised to find Vorbarr Sultana looking like a modern city, instead of the bombed-out ruin the history had made her envision for the frequently war-torn city.  It does have awful traffic, though; their auto-cab creeps through it past what Ivan assures them is very famous scenery.  They eventually reach a tall apartment building somewhat reminiscent of the one where Ivan had been staying in Solstice, though with a human security officer in the lobby; Ivan has Tej and Rish registered as official residents.  The apartment itself is also similar to the one from Solstice, roomier but more cluttered with stuff, seeming more lived-in despite a slightly musty smell of disuse; when Rish asks about a bed, Ivan tells her she can sleep on the folding couch.

Ivan has a few days of leave now, and Admiral Desplains had encouraged him to use it to organize his affairs, whatever that meant.  Ivan says he’s anxious to avoid a few people–his mother, his cousin Miles, and Gregor, not to mention Count Falco Vorpatril–but that aside, he asks them what they want to do.  Tej points out that they hardly have any clothes except Komarran ones, which might stand out a little; Rish pointedly reminds him that she will stick out anyway.  Ivan says his mother gets her stuff custom, but he’s sure he can find them someplace, though Komarran fashions are in style now, what with the Empress being Komarran herself.

The door chimes, to Ivan’s startlement, since nobody should even know he’s back yet; Tej tells herself that it can’t be her pursuers yet, either.  It turns out to be Christos, who works for Ivan’s mother, as all but an armsman; he tells Ivan that he knows they’re in there, and tells him at least to check his wristcom messages.  Ivan opens the door to let him in, a big, grey-haired man who, after spotting Tej and Rish, delivers a formal greeting.

“Good afternoon, Lady Vorpatril, Mademoiselle Lapis Lazuli.  I’m Christos, Dowager Lady Vorpatril’s driver.  M’lady has charged me to convey you to a private dinner at her flat.  And also to convey her earnest invitation for said dinner, should it unaccountably”–he cast a knife-flick of a glance at Ivan Xav–“have become lost somewhere on Lord Ivan’s wristcom.”

Ivan protests that they’ve only just gotten off the shuttle; Christos said he brought a book, so he can wait while they get ready, lest they unaccoutably decide to go out without him instead.  Tej asks what they should do, and Ivan admits that they’re trapped, but at least the food will be good; Rish points out that they’ll have to meet her eventually, so they might as well get it out of the way.  Tej is beginning to suspect that Lady Alys is a horrible harridan, so maybe she’ll be cheered up by the news that they are planning to divorce; hopefully she won’t just up and shoot Tej, or poison her, or worse, sell them out to the Prestenes.

They hurriedly clean up, the women dress in the best Komarran outfits they can scrounge, and Ivan in a fresh uniform, and Christos herds them to his groundcar.  Ivan asks if Simon will be there, and Christos confirms he will; after a few minutes Ivan says he’ll have to explain Simon: former head of Imperial Security, until he had a sort of stroke a few years ago and had a medical discharge, after which he took up with Ivan’s mother.  Tej is surprised to hear Ivan talking this way about the same man Morozov had considered “legendary”; Ivan says he hasn’t gotten used to it yet.  Tej says that on Jackson’s Whole it was said he had a cybernetic brain; Ivan explains about the memory chip, and how it broke down, forcing him to readjust, and so his memory isn’t always as good as it should be.  He encourages them to make allowances for it, and Tej realizes with puzzlement that he does seem to have some concern for Simon on his own behalf, not just as his mother’s lover.

They arrive at another tall building, which Ivan says isn’t where he grew up; she only moved into the penthouse suite here fairly recently.  He notes that she owns the whole building…and the old one…and the one where he’s currently living, too; Tej wonders if Alys Vorpatril is some kind of House Minor of her own.  Christos leads them to the lift tube, and then out into an exquisitely decorated room where a man and a woman are sitting; Christos announces them and removes himself discreetly.  Tej studies these two imposing figures–Lady Alys not looking old at all, despite streaks of grey in her hair, and Simon Illyan looking more vaguely affable than the intense figure she remembers from the pictures she’d seen.

Lady Alys cast a look at her son that seemed to say, I’ll deal with you later, and turned to take the startled Tej’s hands in cool, slim fingers.

“Lady Tej,” she said, looking her guest in the eye as if…searching?  “Welcome to my home.  Congratulations on your marriage.  And, I am so very sorry for your late losses.”

The last words floored Tej.  No one had offered her condolences for the slaughter of her family, not one person in all the long months of their erratic flight from the Whole to here.  Granted, the only people who had known who she was were the ones trying to add her to the tally.  But still, but still, but still.  She gulped, breathless and trembling.  Managed a constricted, “Thank you,” blinking back the blur in her eyes.  Ivan Xav looked at her in concern.

Lady Alys greets Rish, ascertaining that she prefers to called that rather than “Lapis Lazuli”, then introduces them both to her “long-time friend” Simon Illyan.  They sit down, Ivan keeping Tej by his side, and are served drinks.  Lady Alys says she has seen some vids of the Jewels’ performances, and asks Rish if she plans to return to her art; Rish says that wouldn’t mesh well with their current need for obscurity.  Illyan asks if she’d consider changing her appearance, and Rish said she’d hate to do it, and her dancing would be just as distinctive anyway.

Tej decides the time is right, and tells Lady Alys that she and Ivan are planning on divorcing soon–as soon as they can talk to Count Falco, adds Ivan.  Lady Alys asks if Ivan is such an awful husband, then, and Tej hurriedly says that he’s perfectly fine and would make a wonderful husband; Lady Alys says that somehow it’s never happened.

Tej said sturdily, “He has so very many good qualities.  He’s brave, he’s kind, he’s smart, he has excellent manners, and he thinks quickly in emergencies.”  When pressed hard enough, anyway.  “Very good-looking, too, of course.”  She probably ought not to add good in bed here; Barrayarans seemed to have funny notions about sex, which she didn’t quite understand yet.  “And, um…”  What was that unusual word Desplains had used?  “Chivalrous, too, which is why he rescued us and brought us here, but really, he owes me nothing.”

Lady Alys says that the marriage oaths state otherwise.  Ivan says he didn’t think she was so eager to become Dowager Lady Vorpatril, and she says she’s been waiting for ten years; if it makes her feel too old, she has Simon to help her with that.  Lady Alys says that if this is a marriage of convenience, they should consider that it should, at least, last long enough for Tej and Rish’s personal situation to be resolved in such a way that they’ll be just as safe as they are now under his protection.  She asks Tej what she wants, and Tej realizes that she had entirely the wrong opinion about Lady Alys Vorpatril.

Tej said they did have a rendezvous they were supposed to go to, not in the Barrayaran Imperium at all, but they were only to go there once they were absolutely certain they’d shaken any pursuit off their trail; rather than lead their pursuers there, they’d rather have died themselves.  Illyan says that they must have been trying to protect someone they thought more important than themselves, and surmises that that would be Tej’s missing brother; at their surprise, Illyan said he’d just read Morozov’s report, so it was all fresh in his mind.  He further postulates that this hiding place was Escobar, or somewhere nearby–Beta Colony, Kibou-daini, or Tau Ceti.

He offers the suggestion that the ladies be sent discreetly to Escobar, on a fast courier, as unlisted supercargo, the way they would insert ImpSec agents on-planet.  Tej, excited, asks if they could really do it; Illyan says that Ivan would have to call in some favours, but it could be done.  Ivan asks if that’s what she really wants; Tej asks Lady Alys what they would owe her for this, and Lady Alys says she’ll think of something.  Ivan asks Illyan for his help, but Illyan says that he’s confident Ivan can pull it off on his own.  Ivan asks if she really wants to leave Barrayar forever, so soon, and Tej admits she’s not sure herself; Lady Alys prudently suggests they have dinner and think it over.

The dinner is quite good, and Rish, far from having to scan for possibly poisons, is able to enjoy an unaccustomed aesthetic experience.  Tej asks how long Illyan’s lived there, and he clarifies that he still maintains his separate residence, though he does spent a lot of time here.  He also notes that ImpSec still checks his mail for bombs, as a courtesy, since he has no shortage of enemies who might want to take a little belated revenge; he encourages them to help him maintain the fiction that he’s more addled than he actually is.

After supper, Lady Alys gives them a tour of the top floor–the lower floor given over to the servants–and then takes them to the rooftop garden, designed, she says, by Lady Ekaterin Vorkosigan.  Tej thanks Lady Alys for making them feel welcome on Barrayar, which certainly wasn’t anywhere she’d ever intended to visit.

Lady Alys smiled into the dark.  “I considered leaving the time and place of your presentation up to Ivan, as a sort of test.  Then I considered all the many ways that scenario could go so wrong, and changed my mind.”

“Hey!” said Ivan Xav, but not very loudly.

“There were two principal possibilities on the table.” Lady Alys turned to face Tej.  Laying out her cards at last?  “First, was that you were an adventuress who had somehow succeeded in entrapping Ivan, and he should be rescued from you as expeditiously as possible.  Maybe.  After I’d found out how you did it, for future reference.  Or possibly he should be allowed to extricate himself from the consequences of his own folly, for a life lesson.  I was having trouble deciding which–”

Another inarticulate noise of protest from her son.

But, she assured Tej, Illyan and Morozov’s assessments made it seem more likely that she was the genuine article, and the marriage just the product of one of Ivan’s haphazard inspirations; still, ImpSec never gives anything a 100% probability, so she wanted to see for herself.  Ivan says, annoyed, that he’s perfectly capable of rescuing people himself.  As they take their leave, Lady Alys tells Tej that Ivan’s birthday is coming up, and they have a little ceremony every year to commemorate it; Ivan, bemused, assures her that he will invite his wife along.

In the car, Tej tells Ivan that his mother was not nearly as bad as he’d been leading her to believe; she’d been perfectly nice, no histrionics at all.  Rish says that Lady Alys reminds her of the Baronne, a little, though not quite as focused; Ivan says that Simon has mellowed her a fair bit.  He’s reminded of how his mother’s condolences had seemed to tear a small hole in Tej’s normal cheerful facade, and asks her if she was close to her mother.  Tej says they didn’t always get along; she admired the Baronne very much, but she’d never felt that Tej was living up to her potential, like her sisters.  Ivan says that reminded him of how he was always unfavourably compared to Miles, and Gregor.

Rish asks if Miles was like a brother to him, and Ivan tries to explain Miles; how the childhood injury made him focus so hard on becoming smart, and turned him into an overachiever.  Tej says that reminds her of her mother, too, who always wanted to make Tej more like her so she could understand her better.  Rish asks when they can meet this Miles; Ivan says he’s an Imperial Auditor, not always around, and his house is full of babies right now, since they just had twins.  Ivan is not that keen on babies, and Tej said she never had much to do with them either; Rish points out that she was the baby-sitter.

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This chapter is definite proof that while Simon Illyan’s memory may not be that good, his mind is sharp enough with the information it has.  Which makes sense–it wasn’t the reasoning centers of his brain that were damaged, except perhaps as a side effect of the chip’s demise or it’s removal, so if he has some data to access, he can draw conclusions based on it just fine.  And obviously he’s still got his other types of memory–procedural, and whatever you call it when you recall information about something rather than exact events.  As in, he might not remember reading a report about Jackson’s Whole, but he surely remembers general information about it, just maybe a bit more vague and nonspecific.

The chapter’s almost all Tej, with just a little Ivan at the end, which makes a sort of sense since it’s mostly about Tej meeting Ivan’s mother, and that scene plays better from her POV.  Also, we get to see Ivan’s unconscious indications that he’s not as bad a person as he sometimes tries to make out.  He says that he’s upset that his mother’s dating, and Simon Illyan of all people, but he shows unmistakable concern for Simon’s welfare.  He’s also not filled with unalloyed happiness at the prospect of Tej leaving for Escobar, presumably to rendezvous with the remains of her family and work on picking up the pieces of her former life.  He’s kind of like…Matrim Cauthon, I guess, from the Wheel of Time–tries to make himself out to be all hard-nosed and pragmatic, and underneath is a softer touch than any of them.

Obviously this Escobar plan doesn’t take Tej out of Ivan’s life just yet, because that wouldn’t be much of a story, would it?


Don’t get your hopes up about two chapters next week–the next two weekends will be quite busy, and I do feel like I’m winding down.  I’m not as gung ho as I was three years ago when I worked on my posts while on vacation, just to keep from having any interruptions.  One chapter should still be within my capabilities, though.

 

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The past couple of days have been busy and effortful, so I find myself with insufficient energy to produce a VSR post this week.  I promise to return next week, and I’ll try very hard to produce two entire chapters, so you’ll have something to look forward to.  Until then–forward momentum!

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When the weather outside is frightfully hot, muffy, and smoky, and the basement is beginning to lose the coolness that has made it a haven so far this summer, it’s nice to turn to a world of fiction, especially one where people don’t seem to be hot all the time or anything.  And so, the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as I attempt to lose myself in the works of Lois McMaster Bujold.  This week, in Chapter Seven of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the title character (cousin of the series’s main protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan) doesn’t get much time, yet, to deal with the results of his desperate marriage to fugitive Tej Arqua…but I’m sure it’s coming soon.

Chapter Seven

Tej is having trouble adjusting to the sudden influx of hope in her life, weightless and afloat and now attached to Ivan Xav Vorpatril, who she now realizes must be insane.  His insanity seems to be contagious, though, and the dome cops and the Immigration officers both seem to be legitimately stymied by this marriage ploy; the dome cops are now unable to cast Ivan Xav as a murderer or kidnapper, with the missing woman now married to him.  They retreat from the doorway, leaving only the building manager insisting that someone pay for the repairs; Ivan says that the mess isn’t his fault, but allows the costs to charged to his rental account anyway.  Then Ivan and By hurry the two women out of the apartment.

Outside, Ivan backs By up against a wall for swift conversation in low voices, little of which she hears except for Ivan insisting that By owes him for some past event, and eventually sending him off in another direction as they head for the bubble-car platform.  On the way there, Ivan pulls them into a doorway to conceal them from a Station Security squad that’s just come out of the station, and says he’s not sure if they’re there to rescue him or arrest him.

They make it into a bubble-car without further incident, and only then does Ivan call Admiral Desplains, thankfully being able to leave a message, where he insists that the Komarrans are no longer out to arrest him, and that he’ll meet them at the dock as soon as he takes care of one thing at ImpSec Galactic Affairs; he ends by asking them not to leave without him.  Then he calls and arranges for Captain Morozov to meet them at the lobby; Tej and Rish recognize the name as the Jackson’s Whole specialist Ivan had mentioned earlier.  Ivan describes him as a “top boffin” and says he hopes to leave the women with him there for the day; if nothing else, ImpSec HQ should be pretty resistant to any more hired goons.  Tej isn’t sure what she should tell Morozov, and Ivan says she can tell him whatever she wants, he’s cleared for it.

Tej pleads the call of nature and drags Rish into a bathroom–no other exits, but there are several noisy children there to cover a quiet conversation.  They try to decide if this marriage thing is really legitimate, though everyone does seem to be acting as if it is.  They also discuss how much they can tell this Morozov; Tej would be happy to sic Barrayar on House Prestene, if she didn’t think it just as likely they’d end up allies.  Even Jacksonians are wary of Barrayar, especially after the way House Ryoval was allegedly taken down by a single ImpSec agent.  Tej suggests they tell Morozov everything, in hopes of providing so many details he’s not sure what’s important, not to mention making him unlikely to resort to fast-penta.

“Our story will be that the syndicate is after you as a flashy prize, and me as a baby enemy they want to strangle in the cradle.”  Yes that, had seemed to work for the Byerly person.  And besides, it was true.  “Hold back only anything about where Amiri is.  Anything about Amiri, come to think.  And don’t volunteer anything about Star or Pidge.  Or Grandmama.”

Rish nodded understanding.

They emerge from the bathroom to rejoin an impatient Ivan.  To his relief, Morozov is there to greet them at ImpSec HQ, declaring his honour at meeting Lapis Lazuli, and one of the Arquas; Ivan corrects him, introducing Tej as Lady Vorpatril, as of an hour ago, an official officer’s dependent, and Rish in his hire as a personal assistant.  He adds the possibility that people will be trying to kill them, and asks Morozov to look after them for the day, as long as there’s no fast-penta.

Morozov asks Ivan if his mother knows about the marriage, and Ivan says nobody knows about it yet.  He excuses himself, being overdue to meet with Desplains, who promises to feed them and leads them away to his office.

Ivan pushed through the doors and ran.  He made sure to make it that special bland run that said, I’m late and in a hurry, and not the wild bolt that said, This building I am fleeing is about to explode, because he didn’t want to spread panic.  He had enough panic tamped into his head right now to blow up a battalion.

He does find Desplain and the four Horsemen waiting in the Admiral’s shuttle on the dock, and dashes in, the shuttle starting to move as soon as he’s inside.  He tells the Admiral that instead of inspecting the New Athens they should head for the Kanzian, forestalling the Admiral’s incipient rant; he explains that there’ll be a bunch of stolen equipment aboard it, which they’ll still be frantically trying to hide before their scheduled inspection tomorrow.  He says that he got this information from an ImpSec agent, implying strongly this is what he’s been up to the last few nights, but stresses that they can’t publicize that because there are still agents at risk.  The Admiral and his Horsemen work up a plan before they dock at the orbital station next to the Kanzian.

Tej is disappointed to find Captain Morozov not at all scary, especially when he provides them with food.  They tell him the story of their escape from Jackson’s Whole, the months of sneaking from station to station in the Hegen Hub, and further months of living in Pol, beginning to relax, before their pursuers catch up again and send them fleeing to Komarr with the last of their resources.  Morozov is unexpectedly understanding, and he tells them how he spent some time on Jackson’s Whole as a junior agent, with some amusing anecdotes and some undoubtedly less-amusing gaps; ImpSec requires all of its analysts to get field experience, mostly to allow them to get into the head of those who provide them with their reports.

They finish with the tale of the impromptu wedding, and Morozov is shocked to hear about Ivan’s tossing his wristcom into the fridge.  He explains that Ivan’s boss, Admiral Desplains, is Chief of Operations for the entire Imperial Service, and this makes Ivan a little bit more than the “military clerk” that Tej had pictured him as.  Upon discovering how little Tej knows about Ivan and his cousin Miles–probably due to her having looked him up in a Komarran database–Morozov sets out to enlighten her.

He explains how Ivan’s paternal grandmother was daughter of Prince Xav Vorbarra, son of Emperor Dorca Vorbarra, and how this puts Ivan fairly high up on the list of potential heirs to the Imperial throne…though further down now that Emperor Gregor is married and has sons.  A little higher up is Ivan’s cousin Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan, a notable figure in Vorbarr Sultana these days, but he was stunted at birth, so Ivan would almost certainly have been able to marshal more support–willingly or not–if Gregor had died without an heir.  As a result, Ivan has been trying very hard to steer clear of potential entanglements for most of his life, with the pressure having eased off only relatively recently; Ivan’s mother, protective of her only child, has also been trying to keep him safe rather than see him advanced into a riskier position.  Her position, Morozov explains, is the Emperor’s Social Secretary, which makes her one of the most powerful women on Barrayar.
As Morozov changes the subject to the Jewels and the Cordonahs, Tej wonders if she’s going to meet Ivan’s mother, before or after the divorce…

Admiral Desplains is admirably distracted by the evidence they find on the Kanzian, and, with the aid of the ship’s embarrassed captain, they spend several hours rooting out the perps; the Admiral is acclaimed with near-supernatural powers for having found them, and he basks in it for a while, while Ivan stays in the background and takes scrupulous notes.  On the shuttle back, Desplains is exceedingly happy with Ivan for the day, and expresses his gratitude, which is good, because Ivan needs to take advantage of it.  He asks for a favour–permission to get married, and two passes to Barrayar for dependents…with the marriage backdated to yesterday.  This makes Desplains a little suspicious, and he asks for the full story, which Ivan is willing to provide, though he slants it to blame By (in the guise of the unnamed ImpSec deep cover agent) for it as much as possible.

It’s Komarran midnight when Ivan makes it back to ImpSec HQ, where he finds Morozov, Tej and Rish playing a game; Morozov is just losing.

“What’s the game?”

Great House,” said Tej.  “It’s an old Jacksonian children’s game.  I used to play it when I was a girl, with my sibs and the Jewels, but they always beat the pants off me, unless I cheated.  Though you’re allowed to cheat.”

“Each player starts with a small stake,” Morozov explained, “and the object is to deal with and against each other, till the winner ends up owning the virtual world.  It can be played with only two people, barely, but it’s far more interesting with three or more.  It’s not often that I get a chance to play it with actual Jacksonians.”  He added after a moment, “I’ve lost five rounds straight.  I suspect collusion.”

Ivan thanks him for staying so late, and Morozov says it was an enjoyable day, a nice break from routine.  The two women turn their attention to fighting for first place, and Ivan and Morozov head out to the corridor to talk quietly.  He denies there was any sort of “interrogation”, just friendly conversation and exciting stories; Ivan admits he hasn’t had much of a chance to talk with his new wife yet.  They were fairly mum about the actual Arqua family members, but Morozov says he was able to draw out more information than they realized while they were playing Great House.  He’s come to the conclusion that House Prestene, afraid of a countercoup, are going to keep coming until they can get their hands on as many Arquas as they can, and tells Ivan to be prepared.

“For what, exactly?”

“Small-scale kidnapping teams, mostly likely.  Deploying all sorts of tactics, including deception.  Import teams have greater logistical challenges, but are known quantities to their handlers.  Local hirelings blend better, and know the ground.  Any successful abduction must fall into two halves: seizing the victims–which actually may be the easier part–and their removal beyond the Imperium’s boundaries.”

Somebody kidnaps my wife, and they’ll find the Imperium’s boundaries can stretch a hell of a long way, Ivan found himself thinking with unexpected fierceness.  Wait, no.  This thing with Tej was only a temporary ploy, not a real marriage.  Well, no, it was a real marriage, that is, a legal marriage, that was the whole reason why it had worked. But not permanent.  Nothing to be alarmed about there.

Anyway, it was surely allowable to shoot kidnappers regardless of who they were trying to carry off, right?

Ivan says that they should be safe here at HQ until they ship out, which will be on Admiral Desplain’s jump-pinnace, which should be very safe.  Morozov says that Ivan’s ploy here will have thrown off their pursuers, so it’ll take them a little while to regroup, and in the meantime, Ivan should be able to get more information from his wife.  Ivan is more dubious.

Puzzles.  I hate puzzles.  Ivan liked flowcharts–nice and clear, and you could always tell just where you were and what you should do next, everything laid out neatly.  No ambiguities.  No traps.  Why couldn’t life be more like flowcharts?

Comments

The last comment is the main difference between Ivan and Miles, right there.  Ivan thrives with well-defined tasks, like the sorting of his boss’s email, and even in more chaotic situations where at least the goal is clear and means to achieve that goal is clear.  If people are attacking you, you defend yourself; no problem.  Ivan always resisted Miles’s efforts to complicate matters, not wanting to be drawn into things like the puzzle of the mysterious wand in Cetaganda.  But he did well at the methodical task of searching the ImpSec evidence rooms in Memory.

Ivan’s cavalierly agreeing to pay for the damages to the apartment shows that he doesn’t worry that much about money.  I guess that he and his mother must be fairly well off, not that being High Vor is any guarantee of that.  The narrowing of his family tree probably means inheritance doesn’t have to get shared very far, and though they probably lost some of it, they must have some substantial resources.  A Captain’s wages must be pretty decent, too, I suppose…but I think it’s just not something he’s ever had to worry about, any more than Miles had.  (Except for enough to outfit his mercenary fleet, of course.)

While they lowered the boom on the Kanzian, I didn’t see any mention of the actual Vormerciers, so one imagines they’re still at large, and probably quite annoyed right now.  Not sure who their target would be–if they didn’t blow Byerly’s cover, which I’m not sure about, then it could be Admiral Desplains himself…but it won’t be long before they hear about Ivan’s new offworlder bride, which might make them a wee bit suspicious.  That, and the Prestenes still out there, mean there’s lots of lingering threats for the rest of the book.  Not that that’s what I remember about the plot, of course.  Maybe they’ll end up just there for a little extra spice in the climax, like the Cetagandans in Brothers In Arms.  Guess I’ll have to wait to find out…again.


 

Another week, another chapter, and likely another chapter next week too.  By the way, I see a certain amount of new visitors coming from bar.baen.com, so I presume somebody must have posted something there (not me, I don’t think); welcome!  Hope you enjoy the reread as much as I enjoy doing it–or even more than that…

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Forsooth, and hearken unto me!  Let it be known that this day, or mayhap truly this night, shall be brought forth upon the face of the Internet a posting in that ongoing chronicle known to all and sundry as the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  The wondrous author known as Lois McMaster Bujold has spun a dazzling tale of the saga of the Vorkosigans, and, oft, their fellows as well.  The tome to which I am currently dedicating my efforts is known by the name of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, and indeed concerns itself with the mighty adventures of the fearles Captain Ivan Vorpatril, cousin of famed hero Miles Vorkosigan, and this night we reach, at last, the sixth chapter of this stirring tale, wherein the alliance of the title is brought to a swift an unexpected start…

Chapter Six

Tej leans over the edge of the balcony watching for Ivan Xav’s return; several initially-promising green-uniformed prospects have failed to pan out.  Rish says she’s making her nervous, and Tej says Ivan should be bringing dinner; Rish says that her parents should, apparently, have told her suitors to bring food rather than House connections.  Tej said she was never particularly interested in business alliances, and the discussions they brought which tended to dominate family meals; she recalls her sister Mercedes Sofia Esperanza Juana Paloma but called “Pidge” after the translation of “Paloma”, and wonders if she got out okay.  She knows Erik, her oldest brother, didn’t get out, but her middle brother Amiri is likely still safe, having already gotten out.

She finally spots Ivan Xav, heavily-laden, who comes up in a few minutes with bags of groceries as well as take-out food from a Barrayaran Greekie restaurant nearby.  He explains to them about the assorted colonists from pre-Isolation Barrayar, the smallest group of which was the Greejs; they’ve interbred quite well, but some of them keep stubbornly to their languages.  He also got more instant groats, and when Tej asks about them he demonstrates mixing them with boiling water; Tej isn’t that impressed with them, but assumes they’re some sort of comfort food.  Ivan explains that they generally have things added to them, and adds that they’re sometimes dyed different colours and used for weddings.

Ivan seems more relaxed this evening, for some reason, ruefully lamenting how the shortness of the Komarr night makes it hard to sample much of the nightlife and still have time to recover for the next day.  He tells them that his cousin Miles–his only cousin on his father’s side, though he has a few more distant ones on his mother’s–had told him about something that they might be interested in, and he brings up a video of a performance of the Minchenko Ballet Company from Quaddiespace.  Rish recalls seeing Baron Fell’s quaddie musician once, but she didn’t know about their dancing…Rish and Tej watch the performance in fascination; Tej sits next to Ivan, who puts his arm around her, and she snuggles up to him, remembering watching shows with her father.

After the show ends, Rish asks how much longer Ivan will be on Komarr; Ivan says he’s been there for about seven days, and normally these trips are about ten days…  He’s pretty sure that By’s business will be done sooner, though, since things seemed to be moving on that end.  Rish says that they only have a few more days in his safe house, then, and Ivan admits it; he offers to perhaps book it another week for them, or see if By comes up with another arrangement.  He also suggests that they make a deal with ImpSec, to share information with them in exchange for help.  Tej is not eager, saying she knows that dealing with somebody more powerful generally ends up in getting screwed, and ImpSec has no reason to treat them well; they might decide to trade them to House Cordonah’s new owners, for instance.  Ivan protests that ImpSec tends to be pretty honourable, but Rish says their first job is to protest their own Empire’s interests, and Ivan can’t gainsay it.

Tej puts Ivan off with a promise to think about it; after he leaves the room, Rish asks if she’s really considering it or just wants to put him off guard until they can run, and Tej says she doesn’t know if they have another way out.  They could always rob his wallet and head for another dome, one with an offplanet shuttleport, but she’s not eager for another furtive escape; Rish says they’re out of good choices, now they just have to pick the least bad one.  She chides Tej for snuggling with Ivan, and Tej retorts that Rish seems a little too interested in Byerly.

The sun is not quite up, and Ivan is almost dressed for work, when the apartment buzzer sounds, and keeps sounding, as if someone were leaning on it.  Ivan checks the security vid and it’s an unusually edgy-looking Byerly, despite the oddly late/early hour; he lets By in, who immediately tells him that they have a problem as he heads down the hallway to wake up Rish and Tej.  The women rouse quickly, and Ivan finds Tej delightfully rumpled despite her cheerlessness.

By tells them that Theo Vormercier hit upon the clever idea of reporting Tej and Rish to Komarran Immigration as illegal aliens, hoping to get the authorities to find them so he can take care of them once they’re in custody.  Ivan’s name is already linked to them courtesy of Dome Security, with whom Immigration shares a database.  Ivan says he’ll just be at work, so they can talk to him there, but By says that these people have the authority to issue warrants, so it won’t stop them from searching his apartment while he’s gone, and there’s nowhere for the women to hide.  Tej says they’ll have to get away immediately, and By starts to tell them he has a plan, to Ivan’s relief; he doesn’t want to lose touch with Tej just yet.

Just then, the door buzzer goes off again; Ivan checks the vid, and this time it turns out to be the dome cops Fano and Sulmona.  By says they can’t be associated with Immigration, so they must have some other reason to be there; Ivan asks, and Fano says they have a warrant for his arrest for kidnapping.  They’d found vids of him escorting “Nanja” into a bubble car after she disappeared from her apartment, and she hasn’t been seen since; Fano, personally, suspects the charge is actually murder.  Ivan is flabbergasted, and they retreat to the living room for a short conference.

Ivan says that he should be able to clear this matter up simply by letting them in, showing them Tej, and convincing them that she’s there of her own free will.  By says they won’t believe she’s not under coercion unless they take her away from him; Tej says that House Prestene’s people will be able to get her, and their only way out is “the balcony”.  Just then, Ivan’s wristcom sounds, with Admiral Desplains’s ringtone; when Ivan perforce answers is, Desplains bellows at him, furious that Ivan tried to hide the ImpSec report until he found out about the felony charge against him.  Ivan says that he can explain, but he can’t talk right now, as the cops have started pounding on the door, so, against his better judgement, he signs off on the Admiral and refuses to answer it when the tone sounds again.

Ivan suggests they block the door, to buy time, so they drag the furniture into the front hallway; the dome cops seem to have been joined by another group, probably the Immigration people, which seems to have delayed them slightly while they figure out whose jurisdiction takes precedence.  The building manager is also there with a key; By uses his stunner to short out the lock before he can open it, and Ivan protests that now they’re trapped inside.

Tej swung around, stared deeply into Ivan’s eyes, gasped, “I’m so sorry it has to end this way, Ivan Xav.  I know you tried,” and flung her arms around him.  Ivan found himself holding what would, under other circumstances, be an absolutely delightful bundle of warm, soft woman.  He opened her mouth to her frantic kiss nonetheless, and his arms wrapped her in turn, snugly and securely.  He wasn’t sure what was happening here, but O god don’t let it stop…

Tej pulls away and tells Rish it’s time; they head for the balcony, though By moves to block them, stunner at the ready.  Ivan asks what they’re doing, and Rish says they’re going over the edge, and Ivan soon realizes that they’re planning to kill themselves; he protests that the dome cops will think that he pushed them over, but Rish asks if he has a better plan.  Ivan tosses his buzzing wristcom into the fridge as the forces outside begin pounding on the apartment door in earnest and Rish and By point their stunners at each other, and spots something on the kitchen counter that gives him an idea.  He grabs the economy-size box of instant groats and heads back to the living room.

“This’ll do the job!”

“You’re going to throw cereal at them?” asked Rish, perplexed.

“Or shall we all sit down and have a hearty Barrayaran breakfast together while the police break in?” asked By, in an all-too-similar tone.  But both stunners drooped.

Shrugging off the sarcasms, and dear God hadn’t he had enough practice at that in his life, Ivan drew a long breath.  “Tej.  Will you marry me?”

“What?” she said.  It wasn’t a thrilled sort of what? either, that ought to greet such a proposal, more of a have-you-lost-your-mind? what.

Ivan insists that, in Barrayaran law, his wife would instantly be a Barrayaran subject, which would keep Immigration from having any grounds to take her, and should help settle the dome cops too.  He begins making a circle of groats as Tej protests that surely they’ll need to leave the apartment to register it first, and Ivan says that Barrayaran couples marry themselves, and it takes effect as soon as they say their oaths; most people elaborate it a bit, but that’s what the ceremony boils down to, and it’s still binding.  By admits that Ivan’s telling the truth; Ivan says he can get them back to Barrayar with his military allowance, and once they’re there she’ll be free to divorce him any time she wants, once she had a better course of action.  They’ll need a Count’s permission to do it, but Count Falco Vorpatril is an old friend of his mother’s, so it shouldn’t be any trouble.  Tej says she doesn’t know the oaths, but Ivan says he’s been to enough High Vor weddings to have them memorized by now.

Tej glanced toward the balcony.  Toward him.  Toward the balcony.  Toward him.  Why is this a hard choice?

“You can’t tell me you’d rather jump off a twenty-story building and smash in your skull than marry me,” Ivan went on desperately.  “I am not a fate worse than death, dammit!  Or at least not worse than that death, good God!”

Tej asks what about Rish, since he obviously can’t marry both of them; Ivan glances to By for help, but Rish says no before he can even ask the question.  Ivan says he’ll hire her as a lady’s maid or something, so she’ll be properly employed, and they should be able to make that work with Immigration too.  Rish asks who’ll protect them from ImpSec, and Ivan promises that he can take care of that; he can call in some favours, or find people who can, like perhaps his mother’s “gentleman friend”…though maybe only as a last resort.  By says that he doesn’t want to be anywhere nearby when Ivan tells his mother about this…but he agrees that it should work, at least in the short term, though the long term terrifies him.

“And after what you just did,” Ivan went on to Tej, disregarding By’s last comment, “you can’t convince me that you’d rather kiss the pavement than kiss me.”  My mouth is still tingling.  “Not that you’ll have to kiss me, if you don’t want to.  Totally up to you, what happens after, I hope that goes without saying.”

Rish tells Tej they’re out of time for the other options, they might as well try it, and she accepts, if dubiously; she steps into the circle of groats with Ivan, with By and Rish as witnesses (By says he won’t be able to look away).  Ivan then starts his oath, fumbling a little bit at the beginning, and having to ask for Tej’s name again, but he gets it right without even fumbling over the “ghem” part, and then coaches Tej through her own oaths.

“And that’s it!” said Ivan.  “We now pronounce each other spouse and spouse, before these witnesses, and I get to kiss you.  Again.  For the first time.  Because before, you kissed me, right?”  He locked himself to her lips, rolling his eyes as By stepped forward and swept a break through the groat barrier with his shoe.  They swung out of the circle together, Byerly stretched his neck and pecked her on the cheek in passing, and six irate, swearing Komarrans stumbled over each other out of Ivan’s hallway and advanced upon them, stunners at the ready.

Ivan drew a wad of cash from his wallet, thrust it into the startled Rish’s hand, and added, “You’re hired.  Officially.”

And, as a uniformed woman reached out to seize Tej, who shrank away, Ivan continued in a forceful bellow modeled directly on Count Falco: “Unhand Lady Vorpatril!”

Comments

I’m informed by those who should know that the marriage of convenience is an old standby of romance literature, particularly of the historical variety, with two near-strangers bound together by law and having to come to terms with each other…and eventually falling in love, of course.  Not sure how plausible it is, but not being a strong believer in the “everyone has only one Soulmate somewhere in the world with whom they can fall in True Love” theory, I’m willing to buy that it may happen from time to time.  Even on first hearing the title I was pretty sure that this book would include Ivan falling in love and/or getting married, and by this point I was pretty sure it would be with Tej.  I can’t recall if I was expecting the rushed affair from this chapter, but I suspect I wasn’t too surprised.

I was half expecting a By/Rish wedding too, but I guess neither of them was quite ready for that, and the “employment” scam will probably work well enough.  Rish isn’t as big a target as Tej anyway, so not at as much risk, perhaps.  They do seem to have a certain attraction, but both being more reserved (well, reserving his inner self, at least, in By’s case) were less likely to want to leap into something like that.

It’s true that Ivan does have a few favours he can call in by this point if he needs to get ImpSec off his (and Tej and Rish’s back).  Maybe he’s reluctant to call on Simon Illyan himself–retired, but not without a fair bit of clout in ImpSec quarters still–but Miles definitely owes him a thing or two, he’s on Gregor’s shortlist, he certainly earned a favour from Count Dono Vorrutyer, and even Countess Vorkosigan would be a potential ally (if, perhaps, far afield on Sergyar).  And his mother, too, I suppose, though that’s doubtless also someone he’s reluctant to call on.  She, of course, is going to be somewhat taken aback by his sudden marriage, to an offworlder (a part-Cetagandan Jacksonian, no less!), and quite frankly I can’t even recall how she does react.  I guess we’ll find out.

Ivan also provides Tej with the guarantee that he won’t be forcing her to accede to his “matrimonial rights”.  I’m still not clear how unbalanced your standard Barrayaran marriage is, or was, with regards to the rights of a wife.  Things like custody rights seemed to have archaic, man-centered rules–witness the custody issues with Nikki Vorsoisson–but it didn’t seem like a husband had a legal right to sex from his wife whether she was willing or not.  I’m reminded of the Count who with the dozens of daughters from A Civil Campaign, whose wife certainly wasn’t shy about forbidding him the bedroom.  Anyway, it’s good of Ivan to think of that right away, and make it clear right off the bat.  Admittedly, he’s said before that he’s confident enough in his abilities that he makes it a point never to force himself on an unwilling woman, so it may not be enlightenment as much as just self-confidence.  But I don’t recall him ever getting angry for being spurned or anything, so I guess he’s just a nice guy that way.


 

So that was fun, wasn’t it?  And after that…what happens next?  Is Ivan in trouble with his boss?  Are the Vormerciers and Prestenes still lurking out there?  Will Ivan really be able to keep ImpSec off their backs?  And is the rest of Tej’s family quite as dead and gone as she thinks?  I can’t promise we’ll find that all out in the next chapter, but hopefully some of it, at least…  Next week, same Vor-time, same Vor-channel!

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Inspiration has fled again, so welcome to the vanilla opening to the weekly post in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  I need to mention that this is a reread blog covering Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and also note that the saga gets its name from the fact that the books are mostly about one Miles Vorkosigan, as well as his friends and family.  I also have to tell you that the current book is Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which mostly concerns itself with Miles’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril, the captain of the title, and Tej the slightly-less-mysterious-after-the-end-of-the-last-chapter as his co-narrator.  I also need to mention that I’m covering just one chapter, the fifth one, this week.  Next week can be covered by the stuff at the end, and now I can head into the actual reready stuff itself.

Chapter Five

Ivan is flabbergasted at Tej’s entire name, and she explains that her father had gotten hold of a book of Old Earth names, and he’d had trouble making up his mind; she has an older sister named Stella Antonio Dolce Ginevra Lucia, who they call Star.  By asks if that means she’s not the heiress of her house, and Tej wonders if she is, by now; Ivan mentions that he’s an only child, and Tej says she knows, explaining how she’d researched him, and asks By what she’d have found if she’d looked him up.  By says he’s just a minor scion of a minor branch, disinherited of nothing much; Ivan adds that he has a younger sister on the South Continent.

Ivan, not too keen on the Jacksonian Deal, points out that there’s no point in them keeping back anything that Morozov could tell them, that would be public knowledge; he wishes now he’d let Morozov tell him more, if he’d been able to pull it off without Morozov wondering why he was so interested.  Tej says that she’s the second youngest, but her oldest brother is likely dead now, and her other brother “got out a long time ago”.

By asked how she escaped, and she explains how her family had long had a system, and did regular drills; when they heard certain code words, they just went and didn’t look back.  Once before they’d made it as far as Fell Station before they received the all-clear and turned back; Rish told her that they’d done it once before then, too, that trip they went on when Tej was only six.  When it was the real thing, Tej and Rish and some of the others got out long before there was anything for them to witness; Star made it out just as the station was being boarded.  Tej says she’d had a real bodyguard, too, but he died as they were escaping from Fell Station, leaving her with just Rish.  Ivan asks Rish if she’s a jeeves, but she refuses to answer without a trade.

Ivan then turns to By, demanding an explanation for his end of things, including names, saying that they can’t call him an idiot if they don’t give him any information.  By reluctantly tells him about Theo Vormercier, who Ivan knows only vaguely; Theo’s expectations were greatly reduced when his uncle the Count remarried and began having children, with the help of the uterine replicator.  (By asks if Ivan’s mother and Simon Illyan have considered using that technology to give Ivan a little half-brother, and Ivan cuts him off and redirects him back to Vormercier.)  Theo, having been living off his expectations, was not happy with this turn of events, and turned to his brother, Roger, a quartermaster in an orbital station over Sergyar.

Together, Roger and Theo began pilfering little things from the stores, first things that were due to be destroyed, and then more and more., as they made contact with offworlder buyers.  When Ivan asks, By says he found this out with the help of alcohol, patience, and a strong stomach.  Roger does the actual stealing, and Theo handles the money, which is filtered inconspicuously onto Komarr and thoroughly laundered before it makes its way back to the Vormerciers and their accomplices.

They’ve been getting into some trouble recently, though, because Theo has apparently been stealing more than his share, and then ran into problems when one of his outgoing shipments got held up.  Ivan surmises that this was from the Kanzian, a ship from Sergyar which was the victim of one of Desplain’s surprise inspections.  Theo’s offworld buyers were unwilling to advance him money against a shipment they never received, but they offered him another way to earn the money instead, by taking care of Tej and Rish.

By has managed to pick up the identity of Theo’s contact on Komarr, but he would love to be able to use the Tej connection to get more information on those further out, in hopes of being able to tighten the net on those in between.  He asks Tej if she thinks it would be House Prestene after them; Tej said it could be anyone after the bounty, which is probably more intended for Rish, because displaying one of the Jewels would be a coup for Prestene, and Tej herself is more of a loose end.  She says she’s not that interested in revenge, and doesn’t want to be Baronne, she just wants to get her family back, as much of them as are still alive.  By asks Rish if she is a jeeves, and Rish finally says that the Jewels’ conditioning was curtailed when the Baronne decided she didn’t want them to suffer if she should die.

“So what kept you from running off?” asked By.

She raised her chin and looked down her nose at him, a neat trick given that she was shorter.  “Didn’t you claim you were disinherited?  What keeps you from betraying your Imperium?”

By opened his hands as if to surrender the point.

Rish says that the Jewels also served as living sculptures, standing in various poses for minutes as a time, until the guests almost ceased to notice them; they had good hearing and memories, and competed for the best tidbits of information at the end of the evening.  Ivan changes the subject to ask about Tej’s name, and what it means–noting that his name is just a form of “John”, and he doesn’t know what that means.

Tej got a strange look on her face, but answered–was the deal still on?–“Akuti, princess, Tejaswini, radiant–or maybe intelligent, I’m not sure which–Jyoti, flame.  or light.”

“Princess Radiant Flame,” Ivan tested this on his tongue.  He’d attempt the other pronunciation later.  Or Princess Bright Light, whichever.  Princess, in either case.  “Sounds like your da thought the world of you, huh?”

Tej swallowed and looked away, as if the far end of the room had suddenly grown riveting.  She answered in a would-be-pedantic quaver, “The geographical origin was supposed to be South Asian.  Star’s was South European, or South American, or south something, anyway.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  We never spent much time on Old Earth history.”

Rish asks about Vorrutyer, and By says that nobody’s quite sure what Vor means, but “Rutyer” is likely a corruption of the Germanic “Rutger”.  When Tej asks, Ivan says that Vorpatril is also unclear–could be English, Greek, or French.  A lot of Barrayaran names are corruptions of their original versions–Serg instead of Sergei, Xav instead of Xavier, etc.  Tej says it makes sense that they mutated over time, and then is surprised at the Barrayarans’ reaction; Ivan says that on Barrayar it’s a deadly insult to imply that someone’s a mutant, or even their name.

By checks his watch and declares he has to be somewhere; he says that Rish and Tej are probably as safe at Ivan’s apartment as anywhere.  Ivan asks how long they’ll have to stay and By says that it’ll probably be a few days before they’re ready to close the net on Theo and his accomplices, at which point Byerly Vorrutyer will need to disappear for a little while for the sake of his cover, and his life.  He adds, to Ivan alone, that if things go wrong, he should take the girls to Morozov.  Ivan doesn’t they’ll be too keen on dealing with ImpSec, but By points out that they can probably get a good deal in exchange for their information.

After By leaves, Rish asks Ivan if he knows he By got into that line of work.  Ivan tells them about the Vorrutyer clan and their reputation for being either antisocial or “vivid”.  He’d turned up in Vorbarr Sultana when he was about twenty, hanging around the fringes of the social scene; Ivan only found out he was ImpSec a little while ago.

Ivan asks about Rish “babysitting” Tej, and Tej said she followed the Jewels around a lot as a kid, and even got them to try to teach her to dance; they had an eclectic dance style formed by combining styles from all over.  She’d wanted to be a real dancer, but when her body developed during puberty, she ended up too top-heavy, not willowy like the best dancers, and by age fifteen she’d given up.  Ivan refrains from commenting on how generous puberty was to her; instead he says that he doesn’t see why she had to stop just because she wasn’t a natural genius, and Tej says that Star had always said she just wanted to be the center of attention.

She’d forgotten to demand a trade.  Watching her vanish into the shadows of the next room, all Ivan could think was:  Actually, y’know…I expect you wanted to dance because you wanted to dance.

Tej dreams that she’s running through space station corridors, trying to catch up with the Jewels, who scatter before her.  Captain Vorpatril beckons her from a side door; he’s in a military uniform/bear suit.  They kiss, very pleasantly, and Tej reminds herself to remember this when she wakes up.  She expresses admiration for his skin, and he peels off his outfit to show her, but the skin pulls away too, revealing his muscles and veins; then his chest burns from a plasma arc, and he turns into Seppe, their courier who died on Fell Station.

She wakes up, in bed next to Rish, glad to be awake, though she does recall the kiss, which, even as a dream, seems to have awakened a certain unaccustomed sensuality in her.  She heard the shower running, which proves to be Ivan getting ready for an early departure for work; he says he’ll try not to be too late, but he can’t promise for sure.  As he’s leaving, she urges him to be careful.

Ivan arrives at work half an hour before his boss is due, right on time; he makes the coffee and settles down to triage Admiral Desplain’s messages.

Ivan had developed a personal metaphor for this first task (after the coffee) of the day.  It was like opening one’s door to find that an overnight delivery service had left a large pile of boxes on one’s porch, all marked “miscellaneous”.  In reality, they were all marked “Urgent!”, but if everything was urgent, in Ivan’s view they might as well all be labeled miscellaneous.

Each box contained one of the following: live, venomous, agitated snakes on the verge of escape; quiescent venomous snakes; nonvenomous garden snakes; dead snakes; or things that looked like snakes but weren’t, such as large, sluggish worms.  It was Ivan’s morning duty to open each box, identify the species, vigor, mood, and fang-count of the writhing things inside, and sort them by genuine urgency.

The venomous, agitated snakes went straight to Desplains.  The garden snakes were arranged in an orderly manner for his later attention.  The dead snakes and the sluggish worms were returned to their senders with a variety of canned notes attached, with the heading From The Office of Admiral Desplains, ranging from patiently explanatory to brief and bitter, depending on how long it seemed to be taking the sender in question to learn to deal with his own damned wildlife.  Ivan had a menu of Displains’s notes, and it was his responsibility–and occasionally pleasures, because every job should have a few perks–to match the note to the recipient.

This morning, of course, contains an “urgent” note from ImpSec Komarr about Ivan’s police interview, and, unfortunately, too few venomous snakes to effectively camouflage it.  After some consideration, Ivan puts the ImpSec note in with the garden snakes, at the bottom of the list; he hopes to maintain his generally calm relationship with his boss as long as possible, and to that end he sneaks in a few trivial, amusing notes to try to keep him in a good mood.

Desplains arrives and asks after the “ophidian census”; Ivan declares them all garden-variety and, when the Admiral asks, mentions that the police interview is one of them.  As he sends the messages on to the Admiral, he reflects that he never wants to be one who has to deal with a box of hissing, poisonous snakes every morning, and considers methods to deal with the threat of such an eventuality.  Assuming that relatives bearing gift pythons don’t end up getting him court-martialed first.

Comments

The ophidian census is definitely the highlight of the chapter as far as interesting description goes.  Most of the first part of the chapter isn’t very quoteworthy.  Characters are exchanging information, information which they legitimately don’t know, and on only the second read I don’t remember most of it either, and it’s necessary, but somehow it’s all “telling not showing”, so it lacks a little bit of interest.  My vague memory of the plot of the book leads me to think that the Vormerciers aren’t relevant for that long–maybe for the next few chapters?–but maybe I’m misremembering incorrectly.

Byerly does have a dangerous job.  He has to perpetually keep suspicions lulled, so that nobody suspects his motives for hanging around them and gathering information, and then keep it from seeming like it’s his fault that anything bad happens, so that he can pull the same trick multiple times.  In A Civil Campaign, for instance, he had to pretend to be working with both sides, and got dragged in by Gregor himself; you’d almost expect that to be a bit too conspicuous, but he’s still working….  As long as his luck holds, at least.  And I can’t remember if that runs out in this book, or in the next chapter.

Tej is also in this chapter, of course.  We find out a little more about her backstory, though mostly filling in gaps, the major revelations having come in the previous chapter.  It may be a little gauche to point out, but it’s possible, after a few minor allusions in the text, that the author may be trying to imply that Tej has large breasts.  Well, I admit, it is something a man will notice, so I suppose it should be pointed out, if it’s necessary for the character.  And obviously it is, since it shaped her adolescence, and seems to affect her interactions with a lot of people.  At least the cover artist doesn’t do anything too crass with it.


 

Next week, one more chapter.  Reaching the end of the six-chapter sample, something’s going to happen, I remember how it ends, but I still don’t quite remember how we get there.  So, next week, then.

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