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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.