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.
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.
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.