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…
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.”
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…