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Archive for September, 2014

Another week.  Another post.  Another chapter.  The Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Books by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  One chapter.  Jewels dancing in the park.  Me, getting to the point, now.

Chapter Seventeen

When Ivan wakes up in the morning, he’s still wondering what’s going on between Simon Illyan and Shiv Arqua–whether one of them is trying to set the other one up for something.  Both of them doubtless figure that they’ll be able to outsmart the other, and Ivan is worried that Illyan may be the one ending up outsmarted.

At work, he receives a call from Captain Raudsepp at ImpSec, who informs him that they’d picked up some freelance bounty hunters on Komarr, whose goal had apparently been to kidnap Tej and Rish and deliver them to the Hegen Hub; they’d been about to board a ship for Vorbarr Sultana.  This does not reassure Ivan one bit, and Raudsepp wonders how many more of these bounty hunters there are likely to be, and if they’ll present a storage problem in the long term.  Ivan thinks that Miles would know how to deal with them, but he’s not sure that’s a good idea in the first place; out loud, he says that they’ll probably keep showing up as long as there’s a bounty.

Raudsepp asks if he knows when his in-laws are planning to leave; Ivan says their emergency visas last for thirteen days, but he’s not sure if they’ll be able to get an extension.  Raudsepp asks him to find out if they have other plans, because he’ll be happy enough to get them off-planet; Ivan points out that he is married to one of them, but Raudsepp doesn’t seem to think he’s serious about that, even though Ivan realizes he is.  Ivan wonders if Raudsepp has been briefed by or about Byerly yet, and wonders how much longer By’s vaunted cover is going to last; he tells Raudsepp to talk to Illyan about the Cordonahs, but Raudsepp seems of two minds about whether to rely on Illyan any more.

Tej and Rish arrive at their family’s makeshift home-base to find By just leaving with Jet; Tej herself is drafted as a driver by her mother, and Rish is snagged by Star.  Tej grabs some coffee with Amiri and asks what By and Jet are up to; Amiri says that one of them is always being detailed to hang around with By as a decoy.  He asks how they ended up with By, and Tej finds it difficult to explain.  Amiri says he’ll be happy to get back to Escobar, where’d he’d been ready to start on his postdoc, hoping to be shut of House Cordonah; he’s not eager to become the substitute heir, noting that Star and Pidge would be much better at it.  Tej says that neither of them is likely to give way to the other, though.

Amiri says that none of the younger Cordonahs had been told about the cache until after they arrived on the planet, which at least explained why they’d all had to come all the way to Barrayar.  Amiri is apparently intended to help dealing with any biologicals they find in the cache, and fence them out through the Duronas; he wonders if Lily Durona was in on the plan too.  Tej tells him about the cache being under the ImpSec building, and Amiri says that their father seems to have a plan for it.  He begs her to help this plan, or else his life is going to be ruined; Tej promises to try, reluctantly, wondering when someone’s going to worry about her life.  She’d been willing to jump off a balcony to preserve Amiri’s life, something that Ivan, at least, doesn’t seem to expect from her…

Ivan wakes the next morning to find Tej already up and about; she’d been evasive about what exactly she was doing, besides driving family members around Vorbarr Sultana.  He notices her having a conversation with a fellow in Barrayaran Russian, when he’d barely been able to notice he had an accent.

“I haven’t got all the District dialect variations sorted out yet, though.  Sixty-time-four plus South Continent.  I have to pick up more local geography.”

“Do you expect to?  Sort them all out?”

She shrugged.  “If I’m here long enough, they’ll sort themselves.”

“Tej…”  He wanted to follow up that ambiguous-sounding if I’m here long enough, but stuck to his first thought.  “How many languages do you speak?”

“I dunno.”  Her nose wrinkled.  “Since I came here–nine?”

She points out that good translator earbuds can handle hundreds, so this is really just a fun hobby for her.

Rish comes in to ask if she’s got the van and the speakers, and Tej says she does, and they get ready to go.  The Jewels are apparently going to do some dance practice in a park that Simon found for them, and Tej is handling the music.  Ivan, disturbed, calls his mother to find out more about this park, and she tells him that Simon had apparently suggested the park across the street from ImpSec, which wasn’t heavily used except by employees with Season Affective Disorder.  She doesn’t tell him anything more about what that might be going on with Simon and Shiv, exclaiming instead over Moira and Udine and how well-travelled they are; Ivan suggests she get Simon to take her travelling one of these days, but she’s a little dubious about him taking such a long trip.

Ivan is able to find a parking spot within reasonable walking distance of ImpSec, due to the proximity of Winterfair.

The security headquarters had an imposing façade, utterly windowless, with the wide stairs leading up to the front doors deliberately designed to be higher than most people could comfortably step.  The great bronze doors were, as far as Ivan knew, rarely opened–everyone with business here went around to the human-scale entrances on the sides or the back.  The stone face of the building was severely plain, except for a stylized bas-relief frieze of pained-looking creatures that Miles had once dubbed pressed gargoyles with entirely circled the edifice.

At the time of the reign of Mad Yuri, the gargoyles had possessed some political/artistic/propagandistic metaphorical meaning, which had once been explained to Ivan, but that he had promptly forgotten.  Ivan thought the poor things just looked constipated.  The people of Vorbarr Sultana, over time, had named them all, and endowed them with various personalities; there were running jokes about the conversations they had up there, frozen in their frieze, and some of them regularly appeared as editorial cartoon characters.  And in a short-lived children’s animated show, Ivan dimly remembered from his youth.

The building is surrounded by a wall with spikes on it, and two gates through it, and also protected by much more modern defenses.  The park across the street is bare of anything that might prevent concealment to an attacker, and so is fairly sunny.  Tej and several of her siblings and half-siblings are there, Tej trying to set up the sound system under Star’s direction, and Jet putting coloured pom-pom sticks into the ground at carefully determined spots.  Simon Illyan sits on a bench watching them, with an ImpSec major talking to him.  The music starts up and Jewels begin dancing, Jet doing a particularly impressive series of flips from one corner of the park to the other.

The major greets Ivan and asks him if he knows what’s going on; Ivan explains that the dance troupe has been separated and cooped up on spaceship for too long, and are celebrating their reunion.  Illyan notes that he never had time for dance, before his retirement, but Lady Alys has taken him out to performances several times since.  The major, deciding that if Illyan’s there it must be all right, leaves them to it; Illyan notes that that’s the fifth man to come out so far, in increasing order of rank.  Illyan remarks on the irony that the office for such a supposedly all-seeing organization doesn’t have any actual windows; Ivan supposes that they were considered a point of vulnerability.

Ivan asks how long before someone comes out with a high enough rank to actually ask Illyan what’s going on; Illyan says that most of those just happen to be out of the office today.  Ivan asks what’s going on, but Illyan just tells him to pay attention.  Ivan plucks up one of the pom-pom sticks to look at, and can’t figure out what to make of it before Star takes it away from him and puts it back; he’s pretty sure its colours have changed, though.  The dancers start up again, mostly a different routine, although Jet does a set of flips again.  Ivan wonders why one of the others doesn’t take a turn, and notes that Jet is the heaviest of them.  A third piece, accompanied by bells, a different range of pitches than the previous music, and Jet doing flips again, thumping the ground; Ivan suddenly realizes that they’re doing some sort of sonic mapping, and Illyan compliments him on his perspicacity.  He tells Ivan he’s wasted in Ops, but Ivan says he likes his job, and it’s much safer there.

Ivan asks why they’re trying to sonic-map what’s under the ground, when surely ImpSec knows what’s there already.  Illyan says that you’d think so, but the underlayer of old Vorbarr Sultana is more complicated that most people realize.  Ivan asks why nobody in ImpSec has picked up on what they’re doing, and Illyan says that the sticks are passive collectors, biologically based somehow.  Ivan asks Illyan if he’s in on it, and Illyan says he isn’t, not exactly; he says this isn’t any worse than the men who wander around the park with metal detectors sometimes.  He evades Ivan’s queries on what will happen if the Arquas actually find something.

As noon arrives, ImpSec employees begin to trickle out to eat their lunch, watching the Arquas curiously; Star gathers up the coloured rods and the others confer, before doing an energetic dance to a version of a traditional Barrayaran mazurka.  The gathered ImpSec men applaud when they’re done, and the dancers bow to them, and especially in Illyan’s direction; Illyan gets up to go.  Ivan asks if he’s brought this to General Allegre, or Gregor; Illyan says he hasn’t, and reminds Ivan that Gregor’s usual approach is to wait and see what happens.

Tej comes over to ask Illyan what he thought of the performance; Illyan tells Ivan to take her out to lunch, but Tej pleads chauffeuring duties and disappears with her family again.

Comments

It’s mentioned a few times that we’re getting close to Winterfair, but I don’t remember if there’s a particular Winterfair-oriented scene or not, a celebration at Lady Alys’s, or if it’s the backdrop for the entire climax.  ImpSec HQ can’t shut down that much for the holiday, but maybe there are fewer of the less-essential people about, and a lot of the others may be more concerned with security for the Winterfair Ball or something.

So Amiri’s into biology, genetics, medicine, whatever the Duronas are into; Pidge is a lawyer, and Star’s interests are more military?  Or do I have those two mixed up?  (I’ve already forgotten their real names.)  The Jewels don’t have much for independent personalities yet, apart from Rish, and possibly Jet.  And Tej doesn’t really seem to have a thing, unless it’s languages, I suppose, or the ability to drive on Barrayar, or at least so her family seems to think.  I envy Tej’s linguistic abilities, by the way; I’d love to be able to learn languages that quickly.  But, alas, I have a shortage of haut, or even ghem, blood.

I keep going back and forth on whether I should be calling him “Simon” or “Illyan”.  Perhaps, after this post, I should make it a habit to use “Simon” whenever he’s in a long scene with Ivan, to avoid the same-letter-name problem.  Hopefully I’m not confusing too many of you using different names for the same people (a.k.a. the “burly detective syndrome”).


Next week.  Another chapter.  Pretty sure, anyway.

 

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Good evening, or morning, or noon, or dusk, or locked-in-a-metal-box-with-no-sunlight; it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that spot on your dial for the relentless and impenetrable charming and witty summarization and commentary on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is, in many ways, a saga about the Vorkosigans.  One of the ways in which it’s not a saga about the Vorkosigans is the way in which the book I’m in the middle of, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, is about a Vorpatril instead of a Vorkosigan, but he’s a Vorpatril with close ties to the Vorkosigans, so I suppose that’s all right.  This week I trudge through Chapter Sixteen, which has one of those tedious dinner parties in it.

Chapter Sixteen

In the lift tube up to Mamere’s apartment, Tej tells Ivan that she hasn’t managed to tell them about Simon yet; Ivan wonders what they were talking about all that time, but it’s too late by now.  The doors open for them, and Tej steps forward to introduce her family to Alys and Simon Illyan, though she just refers to him as her “stepfather-in-law, Imperial Service, retired”.  The Baron, at least, seems startled by his name, but shakes his hand heartily and refers to his memory chip; Illyan tells that how it was removed upon his retirement.  On their way inside, Illyan confides to Ivan that he was touched at being referred to as a “stepfather”; it’s not that he really wants to be married to Lady Alys, but he’s getting tired of being introduced as an “um”.

Tej’s ancestors are reunited with her siblings, and Byerly as well, who Ivan notes always seems somewhat diffident around Illyan, though he twits Ivan about the sheer quantity of his new in-laws.  Illyan seems to be taking charge of Baron Shiv Arqua, Lady Alys of the Baronne Udine and her mother, both of them covertly watching the “youngsters”.  Ivan tries to figure out the dynamic among the Jewels and the Baron’s full children, which doesn’t seem to fit into the “acknowledged bastards” status they’d have on Barrayar.

He overhears part of the conversation between Illyan and Shiv, the Baron talking about how Prestene’s takeover must have been an inside job, that a trusted subordinate must have betrayed them.  Illyan commiserates, saying that’s how his memory chip was sabotaged, explaining that his retirement was forced by its removal, not the other way around.

The dining room is opened, and they are all seated, Ivan unfortunately separated from his wife, between Star and the Baroness; Ivan quickly discerns that Ma Kosti has been appropriated as cook for the evening.  Lady Alys begins by asking Lady Moira ghem Estif about her stay on Earth, Ivan being urged to volunteer comments on his own visit there, though of course leaving out the inappropriately exciting parts.  Lady Moira had apparently mostly spent her time there doing genetics work, rather than just being a retiree.

Star, who’s a bit tipsy, asks if her mother’s conception was planned by her Constellation, but Lady Moira says that ghem-haut breeding is not nearly as tightly controlled, in hopes of serendipity.  She was never romantically attached to her husband, but she was able to do a small part in helping replace the son that he lost–a story unfamiliar to most of those present.  Apparently the General’s son had a Barrayaran lover, and they were together in Vorkosigan Vashnoi when it was destroyed, though they didn’t find that out until after they’d already retreated to Komarr.  They’d stayed on Komarr because of the General’s acquisition of a number of voting shares, but Lady Moira herself had never become a citizen, and in fact still doesn’t have any citizenship of her own.

The conversation then breaks up into a female side (mostly concerned with various types of breeding technology) and a male side (more military-focused), with Ivan somewhat separated from the latter, as much as he wishes to hear the one-upmanship contest between Illyan and the Baron.  Dessert is Ma Kosti’s trademark maple bug-butter ambrosia, which Ivan declines to mention to anyone present.  Afterwards, Illyan invites Shiv into his study, a rare honour, accompanied by a rare Vorkosigan brandy; he shoos Ivan out, despite Ivan’s desire to work something out with his father-in-law.  Byerly asks after the two men shortly thereafter, and Ivan indicates the study; he asks By if he thinks that Shiv is trying to pull some hustle on Illyan.

By shrugged.  “Well, of course.  Arqua has to be hustling every possibility he sees, right about now.  Trying to get support for his House in exile, in the interest of making it not in exile.  It was less clear”–By hestitated–“why Simon seemed to be hustling him back.  Even more subtly, note.  Unless it was just habit, I suppose.”

“That’s a disturbing thought.  The two of them, hustling each other.”

“Yeah.  It was…rather like watching two women trying to make each other pregnant.”

Ivan asks By if Rish has outed him yet, and By admits he doesn’t know.  He hadn’t planned, when he revealed his real job to Rish, that the two of them should come to Barrayar.  He asks Ivan to find out, and Ivan complains that he hasn’t even had a chance to talk to his wife.  They are interrupted by Pidge joining them, complimenting Ivan on his mother’s hospitality, and also turning the topic to Simon Illyan, noting his non-Vor name and asking why he’s only a captain.  Ivan explains about how Illyan’s predecessor never took a rank about captain either, though the current head, Guy Allegre, was already a general before he was appointed.

Ivan notes that Illyan did rate a vice-admiral’s pay, though; Pidge asks how much that is, exactly, and Ivan declines to tell her.  She then asks about Illyan’s personal wealth, and is surprised when they don’t know; By notes that Illyan lived a fairly frugal lifestyle and didn’t seem to have any vices to fritter away his money on.  Ivan recalls to himself a revelation shared with Illyan when they were drunk a couple of years earlier.

Through a progression of subject that were soon a blur in Ivan’s mind, they had somehow got on to just what Illyan did and did not recall or miss from his memory chip, at which point Ivan had learned just where the largest and most arcane pornography collection on Barrayar had been secreted…

It’s not as if I acquired most of it on purpose, Illyan had protested.  But the damned chip didn’t allow me to delete anything, whether I picked it up inadvertently or in a moment of bad mood or bad judgement or bad company, and then I was stuck with it forever.  Or in the line of work, oh, God, those were the worst.  Do you have any idea how many truly appalling surveillance vids I had to review in forty years…?

There were some things, Ivan reflected, that no man should know about another, not even or perhaps especially his um-stepfather.

Pidge insists that Illyan’s career must have lent itself to some sort of “personal acquisition”, especially for a man as clever as him.  Ivan realizes that she has a point, but he still believes that Illyan didn’t have time for any vices; his passion was ImpSec, and his drug was adrenaline.  He has to admit, though, that he doesn’t know whether or not it bothers Illyan that Mamere is so much richer than him, whether he’s satisfied with his retirement pay.

Ivan doesn’t get a chance to talk with Tej before the party breaks up–Simon and Shiv emerging from the office at last, seeming to have come to some understanding, and Alys, Moira, and Udine having ascended to using each other’s first names.  Illyan expresses to Tej a certain admiration for her father and his turn for salesmanship.

Tej has been trying to avoid Ivan all evening, with her thoughts whirling around buried Cetagandan treasure, though she’s relieved that her father seems to have come off well enough in his initial meeting with Simon Illyan, despite her failing to brief him about Illyan earlier.  As they prepare for bed, she keeps chat to a minimum, and makes it clear she’s too exhausted for any bedplay.  Ivan gets up to ask Rish if she’s spilled the beans about Byerly yet; she says she hasn’t, except of course to her family.

Ivan asks Tej if she thinks her father is trying to suborn Illyan; she quarrels with his choice of words, insisting that “suborn” implies something treasonous or evil, and her father would never do that.  Ivan says that’s good, because anyway Illyan’s loyalty has been tested enough times that he wouldn’t fall for something like that anyway.  Ivan asks her what’s going on, and she tells him she can’t tell him until she knows whether he’s in it with the rest of them or not; privately she thinks that he’s likely to want to claim the whole treasure for Barrayar anyway.  Ivan says that married couples shouldn’t keep secrets; Tej says he keeps secrets from her all the time, as part of his job, and Ivan says that’s different.  Tej says that he does talk in his sleep sometimes, though.

“I talk in my sleep?  About classified…”

“It’s kind of hard to tell.”  Tej composed her mouth into Ivan Xav’s accent and cadences, and recited, “‘Don’t eat that avocado, Admiral, it’s gone blue.  The blue ones have shifty eyes.'”

Returning to the previous subject, Ivan says there’s no need to keep it from him if it’s benign; Tej, in her exhaustion, let’s slip that there’s a thing that they’re looking for, and Ivan realizes it must be something to help reclaim their House.  He doesn’t have a problem with that, but it concerns him that it’s something they’re looking for on Barrayar; Tej refuses to “play fast-penta” with him any more, though Ivan mentions that it’s actually a kind of party game, “Fast-penta or dare”.

“Barrayarans are strange.”

“Yes,” Ivan Xav agreed with a pensive sigh, then seemed to belatedly decide this might be considered a slur on his homeworld and revised it hastily, “No! Not as strange as Jacksonians, anyway.  Or Cetagandans.”

Tej says that it’s not just the House, it’s also Erik and Topaz, prisoners of Prestene, Erik maybe even unrevivably dead.  Ivan wonders that they want to try to retrieve them, then, if Topaz is just a Jewel, not really one of Shiv’s children at all, but Tej said that he never seemed to make that distinction with them, treating them all as his own.  Tej asks about Ivan’s own relationship with Illyan, and Ivan says that it happened so late in his life that he hardly knows how to think of his as any kind of father figure.  He stutters through a list of classified incidents that he can’t tell her about, before she gets annoyed and shuts him up.

Comments

What is it about the dinner party chapters that they never end up being as much fun as I think they should?  This isn’t as bad as the disastrous one in A Civil Campaign, though at least that one served as a solid transition point to advance the plot.  I guess this one does start the thing that goes on between Shiv Arqua and Simon Illyan, the nebulous thing that I’m not sure is ever precisely cleared up.  (Probably it is, I just can’t recall right now if it comes out at the end or not.)  And, as you can tell, it just doesn’t seem to be very quotable.

I also don’t recall if Lady Moira’s tale of her stepson’s death in Vorkosigan Vashnoi is relevant to anything, or just illustrative in some way.  It has enough space dedicated to it that it seems like it should be relevant.  Do we find out exactly who the stepson’s lover was, for instance?  Does it had something to do with the finding of the Cetagandan cache?  Something else I don’t remember.

I’m never quite sure how homophobic Barrayaran society is supposed to be.  We don’t get that many gay characters, and the societal expectations do tend to be highly heteronormative.  Aral did have his affair with Ges Vorrutyer, which Vordarian tries to use to disrupt his marriage, so one gets the impression that it is at least frowned upon.  (Not by Cordelia, of course.)  And then there’s Byerly Vorrutyer, too.  Maybe it’s just that queer-bashing is mostly pre-empted in lout society by mutie-bashing.  (Though maybe they consider it just another form of mutation…)

And, finally, at the end of the chapter we get the start of the real rift between Ivan and Tej.  Which I suppose is inevitable in your standard romance plotline–they have to have the misunderstanding so they can reconcile later.  And it does make sense in the context of the treasure-heist plot that is going to be taking over the second half of the book.  But it is, none the less, somewhat frustrating, and another part of why I don’t like this book as much.


I checked ahead, and there are twenty-five chapters in the book, plus an epilogue, so probably no more than, say, ten weeks left in the book.  More than halfway, which is almost a little surprising.  But that means I’m on the downward slope, I suppose.  Another chapter next week, probably…

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Here are we, all gathered together!  For what purpose?  It is for the celebration of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that thing which is for the readings of the books of Lois McMaster Bujold, and her saga of the Vorkosigans!  You must be thinking, what is these books?  Well, there are books about the Vorkosigans, many such books, and I have read them all, more than once.  Except maybe for one or two, like the current one, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which doesn’t even have that many Vorkosigans in it, though Captain Ivan Xav Vorpatril, so he is called, is a good friend of Vorkosigans from many books.  So here he is, with his new wife, and her relatives, who don’t seem to like him so much, but meanwhile there is another plot starting, with a hidden Maguffin…

Chapter Fifteen

Ivan gets to work somewhat the worse for his shortage of sleep; a clerk at his desk notifies Desplains as soon as he arrives, and Desplains summons him right in.  Desplains has an ImpSec Captain named Raudsepp in his office, and does not seem happy about it; apparently Raudsepp wants to know if he knew, when he approved Ivan’s marriage, the exact nature of Lady Vorpatril’s relatives.  Ivan said that they all thought her family were dead at that point, and were very pleasantly surprised to find out otherwise.  He asks Raudsepp what his interest is, and Raudsepp says that he’d been in charge of Tej’s security, and everything was relatively quiet until the Baron and his family turned up out of nowhere.

Raudsepp’s brows tightened.  “My heatened memo to Galactic Affairs-Komarr crossed in the tightbeam stream with an urgent heads-up from Captain Morozov, warning us of the party’s impending arrival, so it’s good to know that they weren’t entirely asleep out there.  If the alert had arrived six hours ahead of the event instead of six house behind it, it might have helped.  Somewhat.  And so my routine physical security issue has turned into a completely unassessed political security issue.  As I expect my assessment to be requested very soon, it behooves me to make one.”

He asks Ivan why he signed them out of Customs, and Ivan said they looked tired and in need of some rest to recover from jump-lag and bureaucrats.  Ivan says they’re probably here to pick up Tej and Rish, and belatedly realizes that he’s not actually to happy about that prospect–for Tej, at least.  He says that Raudsepp must have the information from Customs and from Zumboti, but Raudsepp says that Ivan’s been involved in the affair for much longer.  Ivan is about to tell him about By, but decides that he needs to check on whether he should be doing that–By’s in Domestic Affairs, and a high-up undercover operative, and someone in Galactic Affairs might not be cleared to know about him.  Raudsepp gives him a comconsole card with instructions to report anything suspicious; Ivan isn’t sure about spying on his in-laws, but Raudsepp reminds him that he did swear responsibility for them.

As a Vor lord.  Not as a military officer.  Different chain of command.  Oh, crap, that sounded just like one of Miles’s arguments, didn’t it.  Ivan knew he was on thin ice if he’d started channeling his cousin.

Raudsepp goes on to recommend that, given Ivan’s high and sensitive position in Ops, under the circumstances he may want to consider taking some personal leave, for a “family emergency”.  Ivan reacts poorly to this slur on his loyalty, and Raudsepp throws the matter to Desplains, who temporizes and dismisses Raudsepp.  After the ImpSec officer leaves, Desplains asks Ivan if he thinks he’s been compromised; when Ivan says he’s not sure, Desplains says he might as well go back to work–after he’s called his mother, at least.  Called her back, that is.
Ivan hurries back to reclaim his desk and calls his mother right away, informing her that he’s had a busy night.  She and Illyan had received Morozov’s communiqué, forwarded by General Allegre, and then got a personal update from Byerly.  Ivan said he had his hands full, and tells her that Tej and Rish seem to be overjoyed to have their family back; his mother reminds him that he should know exactly how that feels from personal experience.

 The panic simmering at the back of his brain seeped out.  In a suddenly smaller voice, he said, “They, uh…seem to have come here with some idea of picking up Tej and Rish.  And taking them away.”

Mamere looked back at him.  “And how do you feel about that, Ivan?”

A rather long silence fell, before he managed, “Very strange.”

Lady Alys’s dark brows quirked.  “Well, that’s something, I suppose.”

She says she’ll have to invite them all to dinner to get acquainted; if they’re all tired right now, they should be awake and ready for food by evening.  She says she’ll send a car, and Ivan points out that it’ll need to be a large one, given the size of the group; she reminds him that she’s planned larger events on shorter notice.  She is including Byerly, too; Ivan asks her not to invite Miles, and she says he’s still on Sergyar in any case.

Ivan tells her about Raudsepp’s visit to his commander, and his concern over whether Domestic Affairs and Galactic Affairs are keeping things from each other.  Simon Illyan pokes his head in to encourage Ivan to talk to Guy Allegre and find out whether there’s a problem or not, though he also applauds Raudsepp for having the guys to face up to an Admiral in the first place.  Lady Alys agrees with Simon’s suggestion, and says she’ll invite Tej and Rish, and Christos will let him know what the plans are for transportation.

Reluctantly, Ivan calls Guy Allegre, who first tells him about a possible opening on the fast courier, then asks if his plans have changed in reference to recent events.  Ivan says that it’s all up in the air, and then tells him about the possible problem with Byerly and Raudsepp, and Illyan’s recommendation; Allegre agrees that Raudsepp should be briefed, and says that Vorrutyer may have been taking too much on lately.  He asks after Illyan, and Ivan says he’s been in good health, though hasn’t really found any new hobbies.  Allegre says that they haven’t been keeping in touch, which is commendable in that Illyan has been kibitzing him at all; his disability has been distancing him anyone who might think to put him to work, somewhat like Count Vorkosigan’s removal to Sergyar.  He even suggests Illyan consider visiting Sergyar at some point, before bidding Ivan farewell.

Rish takes the younger Arquas on a walking tour of the neighbourhood, while Tej goes to gather up her parents and grandmother; they both plan to brief the newcomers about Barrayar as much as possible.  Tej finds the grandmother and parents poring over a city map; her grandmother can’t find whatever it is she’s looking for.  The Baronne asks Tej about the early pickup they’d asked for, and Tej says that Christos will happily drive them through the older parts of the city, someplace he doesn’t get to visit very often despite having had to memorize it as part of his training.

Grandmama says she’s looking for a place called Ladderbeck Close, an old Vor mansion where she worked during the Cetagandan occupation (which Cetagandans call “The Ninth Satrapy”).  She explains to Tej that she was a trained geneticist, though apparently not good enough for the haut to keep, and assigned here as a lab assistant; the Star Crèche had been doing a genetic survey of the planet, interested in the results of the centuries of isolation on the planet’s inhabitants.  They had hoped to find some interesting new mutation, but they only found new diseases, and she muses that the planet should have stayed isolated for longer.  The laboratory was underneath the old mansion, and sealed with biohazard barriers; Tej isn’t clear on why that should have been necessary for a simple library, but apparently the haut Zaia had kept her usual supplies with her.  Their full records had been kept in an orbital facility which would have been sent to burn up in the atmosphere during the withdrawal.

The Baron changes the subject to Ivan, and his “handles”, what motivates him, and hence what they could use to manipulate him.  Tej admits ignorance–his mother is wealthy, and he seems to have all the money he needs, and he doesn’t seem to crave more than makes him personally comfortable.  He asks if Ivan has any business training, running large projects, and Tej says that he does work on military budgets; the Baron says he has a venture in mind which he’d like to keep within the family as much as possible, since his old contacts onworld are not as reliable as he’d hoped.

Tej isn’t sure she likes the sound of this, but it does seem to be perking him up, so she asks about it.  He says that is has to do with Grandmama’s former office, and the potential hidden wealth within; they need to keep the Barrayaran government from hearing about it first, or they’ll take it for themselves.  It includes not only the genetic records, but also a bunch of “trash” the ghem stuffed in at the last minute–records, art collections, gold coins, and who knows what else.  The Baronne said that they know nobody else has found it because of certain objects that would have surfaced by now if they’d been found.

The plan is simple–find the building and buy it if possible, or buy whatever’s built on top of it if it was demolished.  If they can’t buy it, they can try to tunnel in from a neighbouring lot.  Then they can take the contents offworld, preferably to Fell Station, to fence.  Grandmama had recalled the place while they were on Earth, and intends it for a belated wedding gift for her daughter and son-in-law.

“I came to you in nothing but my skin,” murmured the Baronne, with a fond look at her mate.  “And”–she plucked a trifle mournfully at her short fringe–“hair.”

“I remember that,” said her mate, with a fond look back.  “Vividly.  I had very little more myself, at the time.”

“Your wits, at least.”

“Making this cache into test and wedding gift in one, if Shiv can extract it,” said Grandmama.  “Does it occur to you two that you are running your courtship backward?”

They had planned to sneak onto Barrayar, but Tej’s high-profile marriage forced them to arrive more aboveboard, to resume their real identities before they’d managed to top up their war-chest.  Still, it made the whole plan seem more viable, and if this venture succeeds it may prove the key to reclaiming their House.  Assuming they can find Ladderbeck Close.

Ivan rides with his in-laws in his mother’s groundcar on their tour of the older areas of Vorbarr Sultana, starting with a spin past Vorhartung Castle, before they ventured into the caravanserai; Tej’s grandmother approves the improvement in the quality of the area.  Ivan tries to wrap his mind around the fact of this woman being alive when the oldest Barrayaran he knew who was in the Occupation, Count Piotr Vorkosigan, died eighteen years ago.  She peers around with more interest as they near the old edge of the city.

They pull over at a spot where, according to Christos, he had managed to find old references to Ladderbeck Close.  It had apparently gotten leveled during the resistance fighting, and then the property came into Emperor Yuri’s possession.

All three senior Arquas–well, two Arquas and one ghem Estif–were staring wide-eyed out the side of the canopy, craning their necks.

“What,” said the Baronne in a choked voice, “is that great ugly building?”

At least something in Old Vorbarr Sultana architecture had finally riveted their attention, even if it was one of the most notoriously awful buildings in town.  Ivan explained cheerfully, “It’s one of the works of Emperor Yuri Vorbarra’s megalomaniac architect, the infamous Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  He got up five major structures before he was stopped, they say.  Not to be confused with the current count of the same name, by the way.  Dono-the-Architect was as relative of Byerly’s, too, though not a direct ancestor, no doubt to By’s relief.  By can tell you more tales of him over dinner later.  That gigantic eyesore is Cockroach Central itself–and it’s called that by people who work there–ImpSec HQ.  Barrayaran Imperial Security Headquarters.”

A long silence fell in the back of the groundcar.

“I don’t suppose it’s for sale,” said Tej, in a strange, small voice.  “Or rent.”

Ivan laughed.  “Back when Simon Illyan ran it, he said he’d sell it for a Betan dollar, if only he could find a Betan with a dollar, and no taste.  And if only the Council of Counts would build him a new building, which they wouldn’t.  Mamere says he kept a holo of the Investigatif Federal building on Escobar–tall thing, all glass–on the wall of his inner office for a while, the way some men would keep pinups.”

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If the Tej-Ivan romantic plot is moving more slowly now–Ivan becoming more convinced that he doesn’t really want Tej to leave, but Tej mostly overwhelmed by her family and their desire to make use of him somehow–the other plot, the action-comedy-heist-hijinks plot, mostly starts now.  The sunken laboratory under the former Ladderbeck Close is now the Maguffin, the thing that Tej’s family wants, that they have to find and unearth in secret.  Which will, unfortunately, doubtless mostly lead to Tej keeping a bunch of secrets from Ivan, thus disrupting the romantic plotline.

Admittedly, the best part about this whole thing is that it turns out to be underneath ImpSec HQ.  Which, of course, they can’t just tunnel underneath.  It makes me think of some Martin Lawrence movie from a while ago where he hid some loot in someplace that turned into a police station while he was in jail.  So that might be a bit of a challenge to get into.  Maybe Ivan’s experience with certain subterranean areas of the building–like the Evidence Rooms–could help them, if they can convince him.  Or maybe they could convince him to join ImpSec and be their inside man?  Yeah, probably not.

Tej’s parents and grandmother don’t seem quite as objectionable as her siblings; perhaps it’s because they’re not all native Jacksonians.  Shiv Arqua may be, but he’s a little more quixotic than some of the others.  Anyway, I like them better.  Pidge and Star did not make a good first impression on me.  Maybe it’s more their dismissive attitude towards Tej, the way that they consider her selfish for doing anything for herself rather than for the House.  I suppose that’s not a uniquely Jacksonian attitude, if you substitute House with family or whatever other social construct.  But I guess I just find characters less likable when they’re not sympathetic to the main character’s goals, even if their behaviour is entirely consistent.


Another week, another chapter, another post, and next week, no doubt the same.  As our Jacksonian/Cetagandan plotters get to meet the former master of Cockroach Central, Simon Illyan himself…which should be interesting.  At the very least it shouldn’t be the most painful dinner party in the series–that one would be hard to top.  So, until then…

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Can you keep a secret?  It’s well known than three people can keep a secret, if two are dead, though perhaps this is less obvious than it seems, because sometimes secrets will come out anyway.  Even if all three are dead, because there is, after all, Google.  It’s no secret, then, that tonight I am posting another entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that special series of blog posts dedicated to review and appreciation of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, featuring the exploits of a certain Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week we continue on into Chapter Fourteen of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, where Miles has only a small role, since we’re focusing on his cousin Ivan Vorpatril and his current, temporary(?) wife, Tej, whose Jacksonian family has unexpectedly turned up mostly alive…

Chapter Fourteen

As they are escorted into the waiting room, Ivan notes that the room is guarded, and they’ve been sequestered from other travelers; not yet officially detained, but that area isn’t too far away, which he refrains from mentioning to Tej and Rish.  Mahon, the Customs & Immigration officer, gets them past the guards, and Tej hurries towards her family; Mahon notes quietly to Ivan that the names these people were travelling under didn’t match any of the names that Tej referred to them by.  ImpSec Lieutenant Zumboti, who has accompanied them as well, loosens his stunner in its holster just in case.

Nobody in the room seems to unlimbering weapons; Tej’s father barely makes it to his feet before she tackle-hugs him, and Ivan has to turn away from the naked emotion on his face.  Rish somersaults to the feet of the Baronne before being raised up for a hug as well.  After that, the rest of the family mob closes in.  Ivan tries to identify Tej’s other family members; he picks out the sisters, Pidge and Star, both with red-brown skin, Pidge with matching hair and Star with dark hair.  The Jewels are mostly easier to identify, being colour-coded; the two young men left over turned out to be Amiri and Onyx.  Onyx’s skin is dark like the Baron’s, but patchy in places, apparently because of a disguise implanted on Escobar; Tej hugs olive-skinned Amiri, who rejoices over having found her alive, since they heard nothing about them for months.  Tej then bows to her Cetagandan grandmother, whose hair seems to have been cut alarmingly short.

Mahon asks Ivan if these are really all his relatives, and Ivan is forced to admit that they are, in fact, his in-laws.  He notes that not all of the family are there–Erik, Topaz and Ruby are missing.  He senses a certain edginess under their mood and wonders if it’s related to the missing family members.  Tej pulls Ivan over to introduce to her parents and grandmother.

In a voice gone breathless and shy, Tej said, “Dada, Baronne, Grandmother–this is my Barrayaran husband, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril.”  As if she had several other husbands of various planetary origins tucked away somewhere…?  “He’s not a lord of anything, though.”

None of them seem that happy to meet Ivan; the Baron said they’d heard of him from Lily Durona, but it didn’t make much sense.  Tej says that the wedding did get them out of trouble, and she’ll explain later.  Ivan, sensing that the Baron isn’t too happy with him, greets them politely, even remembering the proper address to a Cetagandan haut-lady.  He asks how he can help them, and the Baron says that they should find out.

He calls Pidge (a.k.a. Sophia Arqua) over and introduces her to Mahon as their lawyer; she admits that while she’s practiced law elsewhere, she’s not fully qualified for Barrayaran law, but she’s studied up on it quickly in the last couple of weeks.  She says the question seems to be whether they are representatives of House Cordonah, and thus due diplomatic courtesy, or Houseless refugees, and thus due assistance.  Mahon isn’t sure about this, but all Lieutenant Zumboti says is that he doesn’t see them as a threat to the Imperium, so it’s not really his place to interfere; Ivan thinks this is pretty disingenuous of him.  Mahon mutters about only having two hours left in his shift, but allows himself to be led off by Pidge to work things out.

The Baron asks about Rish’s companion, and Rish introduces Byerly to them as her “um, friend”; they’re none too sure about him either, being a Vor, and a natural birth, but Rish vouches for his friendliness.

Tej asks about the newsvids she saw, which claimed to have shown their bodies, but the Baronne said those were fakes, and ended up making it harder for the Prestenes to announce their escape.  Rish asks about the missing members; the Baronne says that Ruby is under Baron Fell’s protection, but Topaz is still hostage, and Erik is dead, and it’s unknown if he’s cryo-revivable or not.  Rish asked if they’d gotten out after Star’s group, but the Baronne said they were held hostage for weeks before their escape.  Tej asks about her grandmother’s hair, and Lady ghem Estif said she sold it, on Earth, at auction, for a considerable sum.

“That was a pretty amazing sacrifice, for a haut woman,” Ivan offered, this seeming a less fraught topic.  “I once met some of the ladies of the Star Crèche itself, on Eta Ceta, some years ago.  Their never-cut hair was a major status-marker.”

Lady ghem Estif’s expression went rather opaqie.  “It is long,” she stated, “since I left the Star Crèche.”  She hesitated, looking at Ivan more sharply.  “Do the Consorts speak with Outlanders, now?”

“It was a special, um, event.  What was your clan, that is, your haut constellation of origin, before you married the ghem general?”

“Rond.”  Lady ghem Estif delivered the flat monosyllable without emotion.  The Rond were one of the mid-grade Cetagandan Constellations, though that was like saying “one of the mid-grade billionaires”.  But she regarded Ivan with the faintest new spark of…less disapproval.  As though he might be trainable, with the right program of exercises and rewards.

Mahon returns with an offer that, if Ivan will pledge for them as a relative, he can take custody of them as asylum applicants, with a two-week limited visa while their case is reviewed.  He mentions with disapproval the obvious falsities of most of the identification they’d provided, but he does admit their mitigating circumstances; he does, at least, have forms for this contingency.  They will also have to post a bond, for all nine of them, with a potential group discount; Ivan, sensing he’s not going to get out of this on time for work, calls to let them know he’ll be late.  A mere three and a half hours later, the process is completed, Ivan has sworn to be responsible for a number of things he privately things he has no control over, with the Jacksonians watching the process in interest.  Then they leave the shuttleport in a rented ground-van into morning rush hour.

Ivan takes them to a hotel, a utilitarian place not far from Ivan’s apartment, then says he has to go to work; he leaves Tej with the admonition to “not let them do anything”, and she says they’d probably like to just sleep.  Rish manages to part with By as well, and a few minutes later picks a bug from under her collar, tells it “Nice try” and ditches it.  Their rooms all adjoin onto a central lounge, and after depositing their luggage they all sit down to listen to Tej and Rish’s tale.

None of them are that impressed by Tej’s marriage to Ivan, even as a ploy, critiquing it severely, saying she should have held out for more; her father isn’t pleased that she turned down to many suitors just to end up with a Barrayaran (though, she admits, he never tried to push her towards anyone she didn’t like).  The Baronne asks if she knew of his high-level connections, and Tej admits she didn’t know until afterwards.  The Baronne is very interested in his proximity to the throne (or, as Tej corrects her, “camp stool”), but Rish says that apparently Ivan’s claim is tenuous, and Tej’s grandmother discourages them from trying to pursue it.

“Still, he’s in their military,” said Star.  “He can’t be totally clueless, in a crunch.  Maybe we could use him in our Security.  Our new Security, when we set it up.”

“Or in Administration,” said Pidge.  “You say he’s a kind of secretary?”

“Or in Hospitality,” said Jet, with a snigger.  “How well does he strip?”

Tej glowered at him.

The Baronne dismisses his career as make-work to keep him out of trouble, though Tej insists that he works hard, and his boss says he has a talent for spotting hidden political stakes (or was it snakes?).  The Baronne wonders about the Deal that Desplains made to get this “princeling” in his charge, which must have been a social coup for him; she asks if Tej has thought of the best way to exploit her relationship with Ivan.

Tej tells her about the plan to smuggle them out to Escobar; Star says she’d prefer to take out the bounty hunters more directly, as she’d dealt with those that House Prestene had sicced on her.  Tej tries to explain the divorce matter which had delayed their departure; her father tells her not to worry about it when they leave, though if she prefers they could certainly kill Ivan for her, a suggestion that Tej hotly protests.  Star wonders why Ivan didn’t just let the hunters kill her, if he was so eager for a divorce; Tej feels helpless to explain it to them, though she tries to tell them that Barrayar is a more complicated world than they think, a sentiment that only her grandmother seems to agree with.

Star grumbles about having had to leave their weapons behind, and offers to go scrounge up a new arsenal, which Tej tries to discourage her from, mindful of Ivan’s admonition.  Rish notes that ImpSec is likely keeping watch on them, and can protect them more ably right now; the Baron agrees and encourages them all to get some sleep.  Tej and Rish bid her parents farewell again, making plans to get together for supper, before they head back to Ivan’s flat.

In the hallway, Pidge grumbles to them that this detour has been costly and time-consuming, and Tej isn’t doing her part in their efforts to retake the House; she should be making a genetic alliance for them.  Tej protests that her father would never make her do that, and Pidge says that they don’t have as many options any more, and she should just suck it up and do it anyway.  Tej bids her farewell uncomfortably; she was so happy just a little while ago to see her family again, but now she’s unhappy again.

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The ending of Chapter Thirteen made me keep reading halfway into this chapter, through the reunion with the family.  The second half of the chapter, though, I found somewhat unpleasant, and did not make me at all fond of any of Tej’s family, particular her sisters.  It’s also like, boom, here’s another ten-odd characters introduced all at once; we had some background on them before, admittedly, but now they’re all actually here, and of course they probably all want to talk (except Tej’s brother, who doesn’t seem to say much, nor do the Jewels), but that’s a nightmare for a reader.

I know that one can go through all sorts of personal changes, but fall back into the old patterns when you’re back with people who knew you before, because it’s easier that way.  Tej has become markedly less Jacksonian through her married life, mainly because she’s living in a much less Jacksonian place, a place where people are sometimes kind without expecting something in return, which is apparently an alien concept on Jackson’s Whole.  Which is probably why the purest Jacksonians are so intensely unlikeable.  Which must make Tej a bit of a white sheep in her family, the spoiled baby who didn’t have to learn the hard “truths” about the way the world works.  Her biggest ally right now seems to be her grandmother, the former haut who has a little more experience of non-Jacksonian worlds than the others, and she can’t be expected to be too sympathetic to the Barrayaran way of doing things.

By the end of the chapter I was heartily rooting for Tej to just go tell her family to stuff it and leave her on Barrayar.  She hasn’t reconciled herself to staying married to Ivan quite yet, but she’s certainly feeling distanced from her family; still, she’s just gotten them back, so she’s not ready to break ties with them.  Now she gets to be stuck between two worlds, growing more and more miserable due to her lack of actually telling either Ivan or her family what’s wrong.  Not sure if Rish is nearly as conflicted, probably just a little, since she was more Jacksonian than Tej in the first place; By is perhaps a little more Jacksonian than Ivan, so she’s not pulled quite so far off-center.


I’m sure I’ll do another chapter next week, no reason not to…and still not feeling the pull to go faster than that.  Don’t all reread blogs do that as time goes on?  I mean, Leigh Butler’s Read of Ice and Fire has certainly slowed down, right?  So it’s okay for me to do it too.  So, next week then.

 

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