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.
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.
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.