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.
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?
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…