Archive for October, 2014

The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, leaves are appearing back on the trees…in the Southern Hemisphere, at least.  Possibly.  Somewhere.  Up here in the north, though things are getting colder and deader and darker.  So put some warmth and life and light back into your existence with a fresh new dose of Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  (Note: the Vorkosigan Saga Reread does not actually provide warmth, light, or life.  Some restrictions may apply.  Not for internal use.  The Vorkosigan Saga provided by Lois McMaster Bujold, sold separately, batteries not included.)  For your age, height, weight, and brain mass, we recommend, this week, a single chapter of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, administered visually (or aurally, for those of you with screen readers and stuff).

Chapter Twenty-Two

After Tej recovers from the shock of the explosion, she launches herself back out into the tunnel in search of Rish and Jet, Ivan calling after her.  She goes around two of the kinks in the tunnel, the floor sloping downwards, before she is brought up short finding the tunnel before her flooded; the water level reaches the ceiling ahead.  She’s contemplating trying to go through it when Ivan catches up to her and grabs her arm; instead she tosses her cold light into it, and is dismayed to see how quickly its light becomes invisible in the murky water as it sinks.

Lady Moira joins them, out of breath, and puts on her force field, but Ivan tells her it’ll probably short out in the water and then she’ll drown; reluctantly she concedes that he’s right.  Ivan points out that the water is still rising, and says that they’ll need to return to the lab; Lady Moira says the first-dug sections of tunnel might well have collapsed, though the newer ones should be flexible.  They speculate uncomfortably about Rish and Jet’s possible fate before going silent.

Ivan says that Abelard’s bomb was mostly deteriorated after all, just not enough; it would likely have been intended to blow up the entire city block, and ImpSec HQ with it.  He says he’d looked Abelard up, and he had been an ImpSec man under Negri, but had disappeared during Vordarian’s Pretendership; it’s not clear which side he would have been trying to blow up ImpSec for, since both sides held the building during the conflict.

They reach the lab to find Imola sitting on the floor moaning, Shiv having likely just punched him; they tell him the situation, and Ivan says it’s hard to tell if the waters will reach the lab or not, since it will depend on if there are lower Mycoborer tunnels, and when it stops raining.  Shiv checks the door, and says that Amiri’s cuts should make it possible to put the door back in so that it’ll be held in place by the water pressure.

Ivan says that ImpSec will surely have noticed them by now, and it won’t take them long to find the access in the parking garage.  But they realize that nobody knows they’re actually in there except for Star and Imola’s men; Ivan says that he’s on leave, so they won’t miss him for several days yet.  He grabs wristcoms from Imola and his men, but can’t get a signal through; he grumbles that his own wristcom would probably have been able to manage it.

“Simon will figure it out,” said Tej, trying to inject a note of confidence as she followed him back inside.  “Wouldn’t he?”

“Simon,” said Ivan Xav, rather through his teeth, “for some reason–you might know why, Shiv–is under the impression that you all haven’t even started to tunnel yet.  Let alone arrived at your goal.  All the Arqua suddenly disappearing off the face of Barrayar…might have more than one hypothesis to account it.  In Simon’s twisty mind.”

“And you, too? Without a word?” said Amiri.

“I’ve been kidnapped before,” said Ivan Xav.  “You would be amazed how many memories tonight is bringing back to me.  All of them unpleasant.”

While Tej is trying to decide whether to take Ivan’s hand for reassurance, he takes hers instead.  They return to the topic of Rish and Jet, but can’t come to any more reassuring conclusions.  Ivan asks if they can use the Mycoborer, but Lady Moira says it uses up too much oxygen, and Amiri says that they left it back at the entrance anyway.  They check their inventory of cold lights; most of them only have one or two extras, though Ivan has a couple of dozen, and keeps a few concealed just in case.  Udine concludes that they may have to ration them once their current batch begins to dim.

Pidge asks about water supplies, and Lady Moira says that it’s possible she could a way to filter the water outside into something drinkable; their food supplies, though, are back at the entrance too.  Then there’s the air supplies to be considered, which is fairly generous but not infinite; they consider the logistics of disposting of Imola and his men’s drain on oxygen.  Some suggest getting rid of them now, some balk at it, and Imola cravenly suggests they get rid of his men and keep him alive; Shiv and Udine rule that there will be no killings just yet, despite the temptation.  Ivan points out to him that at least they’re not likely to last long enough to resort to eating each other yet.

They try to take it easy, to conserve their energy and oxygen, poking desultorily through the treasures that were previously so riveting.  They are all alarmed when Pearl pops open a bottle that explodes, spraying a burning liquid over her; Ivan keeps his head and tackles her to the ground and rolls over with her to put out the flames.  Meanwhile, Imola takes advantage of their distraction to toss a bundle of papers onto the fire and run out the door; Ivan grabs an empty bin and smothers the fire with it.

Ivan Xav drew a long breath, and–goodness, he _could_ yell.  “Could you people stop trying to come up with novel ways to kill me for just one hour?  Or maybe the rest of the night?  I would so like that.  Just the rest of the night.  Just sit down.  Just stop doing anything.  Sit down and wait sensibly.  Earth, water, air, fire–you’re running out of elements, here!”

Amiri looked very impressed by this ringing baritone rant.  Grandmama…looked less impressed, if perhaps sympathetic.  Rising from Pearl’s side and helping her up, she observed, “In some Old Earth mythologies there was imagined to be a fifth element–metal, as I recall.”

Ivan Xav said through his teeth, “That was a rhetorical remark, not a bloody suggestion.”

Tej grabs him frantically, assuring herself that he’s alright, and he hugs her back fiercely.  Shiv and Udine come to check on the situation, and Shiv wonders if he should go chase after Imola; Ivan says either he’ll come back on his own, or he’ll drown himself trying to swim to safety.  Shiv compliments Ivan on his quick reactions, and Ivan explains about his service training, and training accidents.  Lady Moira says the stuff was originally some sort of scent, and wasn’t supposed to react like that; she admonishes anyone from opening anything without her checking it first, and Ivan suggests they don’t open anything at all.

Things quiet down, and when Lady Moira goes back downstairs, Ivan and Tej join her; Tej hasn’t seen it yet, and Ivan wanted to bring along some extra light.  When Lady Moira begins looking around, Ivan asks if he can help, but she says she’s just searching for old memories; Ivan and Tej sit down on some crates and snuggle.  Lady Moira announces she’s found some filter, so they can drink, but Ivan points out that then they’ll have to pee, and they joke about peeing into priceless vases and bowls.

“What did you do the last time you were stuck in a hole like this?  To pass the time?”

“It wasn’t a hole like this.  It was a lot darker.  And smaller.  And wetter.  Though air was not an issue.  This is practically a palace, bu comparison.”


“Well.  First there was a lot of screaming.  And pounding on the walls.  And more screaming.”

“I don’t think that would help, here.”

“It didn’t help there, either.  Screaming back at death doesn’t help.  Pounding on the walls until your hands bleed…doesn’t help.”

It was finally Miles who came to help, even if his idea of helping was having them hide right back in that hole again, but he’s kind of not available right now, being offplanet and all.  Tej asked what he did after the pounding and screaming, and Ivan admitted that he started singing old scout songs, the original versions and then the dirty ones, until he ran out, and was still alone.  He says he wishes that she was safe in bed instead of with him, and she says she wishes he wasn’t there either; he admits that it’s not like there’s a limit to wishes, so they might as well wish both of them safe.  But she’s glad to be there to comfort him.

Tentatively, Ivan says he wants to ask her a question, and when Tej asks what it is, he asks her if she’ll stay with him for the rest of his life.  She laughs and points out that it might not be that long, then admits that the last thing she’d planned to ask him for, as part of the bet that she won, was to stay with him when her family left the planet; Ivan is cheered to hear that.  She reflects that while Ivan may seem to good to be true, she’s not going to give him up just because it appeared to come too easily, especially when she seems to be in love with him.  She tells him that what she likes best about him is that he’s nice and makes her laugh, which is a lot, given the circumstances.  They reminisce over how they met, their first conversation, and then how Rish shot him with  stunner, at which they are both struck by Rish’s absence; Tej says she was thinking of his first rule of picking up girls: “she laughs, you live.”

After a while, driven by the call of nature, they head back upstairs, where the Arquas have set up several plastic bins, some for the purposes of filtering drinking water (which they are drinking out of priceless glassware Ivan recognizes as having belonged to Count Pierre Vorrutyer), and some as camp toilets.  Imola has apparently returned, pants soaked, and the water has reached the wall of the bunker; Ivan, Shiv and Amiri put the door slab back in place in time to keep the water from more than trickling in.

Ivan reflects that Shiv is doing a good job of keeping his family under control during the crisis, but he supposes that it’s only to be expected that someone who must have faced Aral Vorkosigan in space combat would be less daunted by their current situation.  Thinking of Uncle Aral reminds him to treat their prisoners well, so they wake up Imola’s men and let them see to their biological needs; he does let Shiv talk him into having them and Imola stunned back to sleep.

Out of boredom, the younger women begin to look through the old clothing stored in the bunker and start playing dress-up in old Cetagandan and Barrayaran court wear; Ivan and Amiri are convinced to model some of the old military uniforms as well.  In this process Pearl dislodges a peice of jewelry which Lady Moira recognizes as an old brooch of hers.  The fading of the cold lights puts a damper on this, and people begin to settle down for sleep; Ivan snuggles with Tej, and suspects that he’s too keyed up to fall asleep, but…

They are awakened by loud vibrations from above, and crack some more cold lights; Ivan says that either they’re being bombed from space, or somebody’s using a grav-lifter to lift a bunch of dirt over their heads.  If it is a grav-lifter, Ivan encourages them to stay out of the middle of the room, against the walls, and possibly even downstairs, though the sound stops before anybody tries that.  It starts and stops several times over the next hour, getting closer, until finally a hole is cut in the ceiling and lifted out and glorious light and fresh air begins to enter the room.  The door slab falls out into the tunnel, from which the water has apparently receded.

A soldier rappels into the room, landing on a pile of boxes and falling over; the bunker’s inhabitants lose no time in making it clear to him that they’re all unarmed.  Another soldier follows, and then, improbably, Byerly Vorrutyer; Ivan steps forward to welcome him.


Oh, yeah, it was raining when they got there, wasn’t it?  So I guess that explains the storm sewer flooding.  Because weather needs to be used properly in books–it can’t just happen, it has to be important somehow.  It can be used to set mood, of course, or to contrast by being ironically sunny when something horrible has just happened.  But it’s always good if a bunch of rain can actually lead to a flood of some sort.

There’s a number of lines of dialogue in this chapter which are, more than likely, assigned more or less randomly to one of the Jewels.  Though maybe there aren’t as many of them in the cavern as I thought–Rish and Jet being missing, and when they’re bedding down Pearl and Emerald are mentioned as “the remaining Jewels”.  Morozov lists six when they’re first introduced, and later we find out that Ruby and Topaz are still on Jackson’s Whole, and yet somehow with only two they still seem completely interchangeable.  Too many characters, not enough time to give them all actual characteristics unless they’re extremely broad.  Too bad, really.

Ivan and Tej do finally get some time together, alone, with her family members nearby but at least subdued enough to not get in their way.  And so finally they reconcile, or at least make it plain that they’re happy to stay together.  They hadn’t really been split apart, but they hadn’t managed to communicate to each other that they wanted to stay together, rather than their original plan.  Looks like Count Falco knew what he was doing after all, didn’t he?

Now they all get to face the consequences of their actions.  After all, presumably this kind of surreptitious tunneling has got to be illegal somehow, some kind of zoning violation or trespassing or something.  Or possibly not; Barrayar isn’t quite as red-tapey as some other galactic worlds, allowing for more human latitude in judgements.  (I’ll bet that Count Falco could have given them their divorce if he’d really wanted to, no matter how the legitimate grounds are specified.)  But maybe finding all this stuff inside the supposedly empty vault will mitigate their situation somewhat.  Whether the Arquas get to keep any of it is unclear, but maybe there is some kind of weird salvage law.

Good thing the tunnel’s not flooded anymore; the water must have flowed down somewhere.  Hopefully Rish and Jet will turn up, because I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind of book where they’d kill off a character like Rish.  Maybe in some kind of noble sacrifice, but that still would probably spoil the mood.  Anyway, with any luck the flooding and the explosion and the tunneling won’t have completely undermined ImpSec HQ or anything.  It would be a shame for such a majestic example of modern architecture to just start sinking into the ground, after all.

It’s possible that, the first time through, I was actually expecting Miles to turn up to rescue them, what with Ivan having invoked his name, but I guess that would have been a little bit lame.  As it is, Ivan still doesn’t contribute anything to their actual rescue, but I guess if Byerly did that would probably be alright; he’s been shoved into the background for a few chapters now.

That felt like the book’s climax right there–well, the climax of the romantic plotline, at least.  Three more chapters, presumably of denouement, and the epilogue.  Well, there is one major event still to occur, but I can’t decide if it’s actually climactic or not.  More in the nature of a punchline, really.  Until next week, then…

Read Full Post »

I am so productive this week!  I knew Wednesday was going to be busy, so I got my blog post done early!  Well, at least the summary part, which is why I’m writing this part right now.  Which, I suppose, should contain the usual information about how this is the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, about Lois McMaster Bujold’s books, and the current one, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is her most recent novel but not latest chronologically.  Up to Chapter Twenty-One this week, in which events come to a head.

Chapter Twenty-One

Ivan realizes that his usual nightmares of being trapped underground had somehow managed to omit a vital component–potential biohazards, and unexploded bombs, though that almost seems redundant; he can’t even blame Miles for getting into this mess, either.  He’s not particularly disappointed to find the vault less empty than Illyan had implied, but he wishes he’d known it was a former Cetagandan bio-lab; they just cut a hole into the wall, too, breaking any containment it may have retained.  He watches Amiri help his grandmother into the vault, and the rest of the Arquas follow; Ivan realizes he can’t hold his breath until Tej comes back out, so he cautiously ducks in after them.

The place is about eighty square meters, though with stairs going down further, and it’s cluttered with all sorts of crates and boxes, stacked all over the place, with only a light coating of dust.  Lady Moira removes her filter mask, as do most of the others, except for Ivan and Amiri; she says they should be able to talk now, at a reasonable volume.  It occurs to Ivan belatedly that he lost his wager with Tej.

Emerald finds a heavy box that rattles encouragingly, but rather than gold, it only contains a bunch of old knives.  Ivan takes a look at them, and realizes that it is, in fact, a complete set of Time-of-Isolation seal daggers, one for each Count; Tej asks him what they’re worth, and Ivan tells her several million marks, before he thinks to downplay their value.  Jet opens another crate of electronics and other things, and even Lady Moira can’t identify them as more than artwork, or perhaps a weapon.  Ivan checks another box and finds paper, which proves to contain correspondence from “Xav” to “Yuri”, almost certainly Prince Xav and Emperor Yuri; he tucks a letter into his jacket when Shiv asks what he found, this time remembering to downplay.  Pearl finds some cases which do prove to contain gold; Ivan tells them that they’re worth more on the collector’s market than their weight in gold, and says they’ll be worth more if sold slowly, so as not to flood the market, and Shiv approves of his advice.

Shiv tells them all that while it’s fun to open their presents, they should move things out first, and examine them later at more leisure in a safer location.  He notices Star there, who should have been guarding the entrance, but wanted to see the vault; he sends her back to the entrance, and sends Jet and Rish to clean up the mess in the tunnel, reminding them all to carry something with them on each trip.  Udine says that they will waste some trips if they carry out things which prove to be worthless; Shiv says that if there’s another level below, they’ll need more than one night to get it all; they can leave some people behind to sort through it during the day.

Lady Moira finds her old biotainer girdle in a cupboard, and puts it back on, delighted that it still fits; she activates it, and it generates a translucent oval force-field.  Ivan is initially alarmed that it might have a detectable electronic signature, but Moira reassures him that it won’t be detectable inside the vault; then he realizes that it reminds him of the haut-lady force bubbles he recalls from Eta Ceta.  Moira said she never approved of the new fashion of attaching them to float chairs, which deprived them of their original purpose in favour of just making them a status symbol.

Udine tells Tej and Ivan to start hauling, and they do, though Ivan starts to wonder if he’s doing the right thing; after all, his goals are not the same as the Arquas’.  Once he’s back at the entrance he might be able to get access to his wristcom, and then he’ll really have to make a decision.  Amiri asks if they should be carrying them all the way or just passing them along, and Shiv says they should be passing them along, once they’re spaced equally.  Amiri steps through, then steps back, with his arms over his head, for some reason; it becomes clear as a stranger steps through with a stunner trained on Amiri.  Pearl is similarly herded back through by two more men with stunners.

Ivan doesn’t think they’re ImpSec, though they are wearing some sort of uniform; he asks Tej, who says she recognizes Ser Imola, the smuggler her father hired to take the goods offplanet.  Shiv chides Imola for his timing, pointing out that it would have been better to move against them tomorrow night, after they’d emptied the vault.  Imola says that this way, he caught them off guard, and they may come back and empty the vault themselves; Shiv, glancing at their weapons and wristcoms, says that they’ll have company if they do that.  Imola greets a seething Udine and asks if she knows what the going rate is for House Prestene members right now; Udine says that 15% of this cargo would easily outweigh that.  Tej tells Ivan that Imola cryo-freezes people to smuggle them off-planet.

Lady Moira steps out unsteadily from the stairwell, and Imola’s goons aren’t sure what to make of her; Amiri tells them that she’s probably not even on House Prestene’s list.  Imola belatedly recognizes her as the Cetagandan mother-in-law, but by then she’s wandered in among them; she activates her force-belt and scatters Imola’s men, pinning Imola himself against the wall.  Ivan launches himself for the man who’s taken his stunner, who tries to shoot Ivan with it and is surprised when nothing comes out, since it’s bio-keyed to Ivan himself.

Ivan pushed himself up, breathing, well, not too hard–it was more the adrenaline than the exertion–to find Tej looking down at him with vast approval.  The metal bar gripped in her hand was redundant to need, but might have proven a very well-chosen accessory to a Vor lady’s evening garb.  He grinned back in sudden exhilaration.  His filter mask had been torn off in the struggle; he didn’t bother to try to reaffix it.

“And you said you were just a desk pilot,” murmured Tej.

“But it’s a Barrayaran desk,” he murmured back, and scrambled to his feet.

Imola’s other man has also been overpowered, and Imola still pinned by the force shield; Lady Moira deactivates the shield and Em and Amiri push him against the wall.  Udine grabs him and asks where her other children are, the ones he should have passed on the way in, playing bad-cop to Shiv’s good-cop (relatively); Imola says they only captured one of them, a tall girl, and that they put her in the van, adding reluctantly that he has four more men set up to take out any stragglers.  This leaves Jet and Rish unaccounted for, and their exit blocked.

“Oh,” said Shiv sadly.  “I imagine all we have to do is sit down and wait a bit.  Ivan Xav’s stepda will be along.  To collect on his bet.”  He added after a tight-jawed moment, “Dammit.  We were so close.”

“Who the hell is Ivan Xav?” said Imola, clearly bewildered by these additions to the play list.  “Or his stepda?”

Ivan hunkered down in front of the man.  “I am,” he told Imola, with false geniality.  “My stepda used to run that big building”–not being quite sure how the lab was turned in relation to ImpSec HQ, or which side the erratic Mycoborer had put them in on, Ivan made his wave vague but generally upward–“full of humourless men whom everybody but you has gone to great pains to not attract.  But that’s all right.  I’m sure you’ll be getting to know them really well, really soon.  And vice versa.”

Imola only seems to grasp that he may have run afoul of ImpSec, and offers a belated alliance to Shiv.  Just then a shockwave blasts through the corridor and knocks Ivan off his feet; Ivan identifies it as Sergeant Abelard’s time bomb going off at last.


One does sometimes forget Ivan’s physical capability, though I always remember his being the first to bring down Vorwhatshisname in the Council of Counts at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Though he does also get to be a hostage in Cetaganda and Brothers In Arms, so there is that to offset it, I guess.  One suspects the Jacksonians are also equipped for a bit of rough-and-tumble, particularly the Jewels, but it’s nice of them to let Ivan take care of a few after all.  After all, Barrayarans have this reputation galactically for being violent warriors, which is not completely unearned…

Kudos also to Lady Moira ghem Estif, badass Cetagandan grandmother extraordinaire, taking out thugs with her “shield bash” attack.  It wasn’t clear that the shields were in any way an offensive weapon; I don’t recall anyone physically encountering one in Cetaganda, the closest being the scene where the one would-be consort was hemmed in and herded along by a bunch of shields.  Maybe these, being the older model, are somewhat different.

So Imola shows up here to be the bad guy, the supposed ally turning on the Arquas, to turn them in for the reward, and maybe pick up the loot for himself too.  It’s a little disappointing to have our only real antagonist here be someone who was just introduced in the previous chapter.  It would have been nice for him to have had more of a presence in the book, a little buildup, foreshadowing of his betrayal, something.  I mean, the mostly nameless Cetagandans trying to kill Admiral Naismith in Brothers In Arms had more buildup.  Or somebody from House Prestene itself would have been good too.  They’re just bogeymen in the shadows, just the ones who put out the bounties so a bunch of interchangeable mooks can pop up from time to time to take potshots at Tej and the rest of the Arquas.  Heck, having the Vormerciers show up would have been better.  I was half expecting it all the way through the book, convinced that they couldn’t have been dealt with so summarily at the beginning.  Just another of the disappointments in this book, alas.

Don’t quite remember what comes next, though I do remember the end result of all this Mycoboring and exploding, so I guess I’ll have to read another chapter and see what happens.  Until next week, then…

Read Full Post »

Good evening and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, is the kind of thing you might be expecting me to say.  You might also expect me to mention how this is devoted to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is a series of books about Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  In fact, you’re probably even expecting me to say something about how I’m currently going through the book Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is mostly concerned with Miles’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril, and how I only did one chapter again, and that we’re only a few chapters from the end, or something.  Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not going to say anything like that, even though it’s all true.

Chapter Twenty

The next morning Tej drives Star and her father into a newer part of Vorbarr Sultana; they drop Star off in front of a pipe-laying firm, but Shiv takes Tej down the street, to meet with a man he knows; he says they’re running short of time, their visa extension not looking promising, and they may need to resort to hiring outsiders for help.  After a couple of blocks they arrive at the office of a storage and shipping firm named “Imola & Kovaks”, where Shiv asks to be announced as “Selby”.  Soon they are ushered into an office where a middle-aged man seems momentarily astonished to see Shiv, and greets him effusively once they are alone, exclaiming that he thought Shiv was dead.

Shiv asks after his friend’s name, and is told Vigo Imola; he introduces Tej to Vigo by name as his daughter, which hasn’t happened before on any of these trips.  She asks where they know each other from, and Shiv tells her that “Vigo” was a liaison officer from their days in the Selby Fleet; those came to an end when they had the contract for defending Komarr from the Barrayarans.  Vigo asks about the news of the Prestene takeover, which Shiv confirms, promising to tell him about it later.  He asks about Vigo’s shipping business, and Vigo admits that they do a bit of less legitimate shipping, if the price is right, and it’s not too risky.  Vigo mentions the possibility of shipping live cargo, though he admits that they generally do it cryofrozen to minimize the risk; there is a legitimate line in shipping tourists back home, and sometimes they take less legitimate frozen deportees offworld as well.

“It was my son-in-law’s idea, to give credit where it’s due.  My daughter married this Barrayaran boy, some years after the annexation.  I wasn’t thrilled at first, but he’s come along.  Junior partner.  He’s the Kovaks.  Our medical contact is his brother.”

“Glad to hear you’re keeping it in the family.  That’s…almost always safer.”  Another brief grimace of a smile.

“Heh, daughters getting married–that’s a crap shoot to make the old days look sensible.  You don’t know what they’ll drag in.  My other one married this Komarran fellow, who is completely useless, but at least lives five jumps away.  You folks’ve got the right idea out in the Whole, Shiv–pre-vetted contracts, money and considerations up front.”

“Oh, well….”  Dada did not follow this up, to Tej’s relief.

Shiv asks about vans and loading crews, for this weekend, with private storage; he proposes that they leave the van in the underground garage overnight and just drive it away in the morning, though he will want someone there to supervise unloading, and they might need two nights.  Tej pictures them bucket-brigading the loot down the tunnel, and supposes they’ll have to leave bulkier items behind.  After they’ve unloaded the stuff, they can arrange offworld shipping later, since he’s not sure precisely where they’ll want it sent yet, but definitely out of the Empire.  They dicker over price, Vigo preferring a flat fee up front and an additional percentage later once they know the value of the items; Shiv isn’t completely happy, but agrees to the deal.

Vigo asks where this garage is, and is dismayed to discover how close it is to ImpSec HQ; Shiv assures him that they are being discreet, and that vehicles are more thoroughly scanned going in than going out.  Vigo still worries about getting involved with anything to do with ImpSec, but Shiv assures him that it’s strictly commercial.  The business tied up, Vigo asks after the rest of the family, Shiv’s wife and her dance troupe; Shiv doesn’t confirm that they’re looking to take their House back, but he doesn’t deny it.

They return to the car and wait for Star to return; Tej notes that her father wasn’t completely straight with Vigo, and asks if he trusts him or not.  Shiv says that there are always limits to trust, and fast-penta makes it less smart to tell someone everything; he reassures her that soon enough they’ll all be back home, though Tej wonders how hard it will be to restore House Cordonah, and how much it will have changed.

He talks about how Tej was made from a mostly unmodified combination of his and Udine’s genes–which Tej already knows, having been called the “control child” often enough; he says he’d wanted to get her a special marriage contract, and then asks her about her relationship with Ivan Xav.  Tej says that she’s happy enough it, and it sounds like Count Falco won’t let her get out of it anyway; Shiv muses that if they don’t realize that Tej accepts it, he can maybe include it as part of a deal with them, and Tej wonders if the prospect will help sway even Simon Illyan.

It was plain that the strange, reserved man wanted some better relations with his stepson than he had yet been able to construct, if only to please his high Vor lady.  And more: Simon liked Ivan Xav in his own right–in his own quietly awkward way–though Ivan Xav didn’t seem to see it.  The late great Captain Illyan had been superb with security, it was said; maybe not so deft with family.  He’d evidently never had one before, in all his long adult life, or was that only…his long adult career?  But surely the man couldn’t be compromising his peculiar Barrayaran honour just to secure his stepson’s marriage.  Simon was a mystery; how could you tell what he was thinking?

She asks if he’s already made a deal with Simon Illyan, and Shiv says it’s more like a bet, which Tej says is worse.  First, he’d bet them that they couldn’t map out the bunker underneath ImpSec’s nose; now they’re in Round Two, the tunneling, which the Mycoborer is helping them get a jump on, and Shiv thinks that they won’t need any more rounds than that.

Tej wonders if Simon thinks that he needs to get Ivan settled so that he can pursue marriage with Lady Alys, and it he thus thinks that sending Ivan offworld would be ideal solution.  After all, with Gregor having his own sons, Ivan isn’t much in need as a spare heir.  Her father says that he wants to give her what she wants, but he doesn’t know what that is yet; she says she doesn’t either.  She reminds herself that she should try to do what’s best to help her clan, especially if it doesn’t do any real harm.

As Star returns and Tej starts driving off, she tells them about Ivan’s plan to get some personal leave and join them; Stars grumbles about it, and Shiv says they’ll just have to occupy him the way they have with Byerly.

On Ivan’s first day off, he manages to invite himself along with Tej, overcoming her evasions, and she gives in and takes him down to the hotel.  Unfortunately, he ends up being maneuvered into becoming a second driver, chauffeuring a set of Arquas which does not include his wife, and meeting Byerly and Emerald for lunch.  Between all the diversions, he doesn’t end meeting up with Tej again until bedtime–when he finds her dressing to go out again.  He fails to lure her into bed, and she tells him she might have to leave if her family’s visa extension doesn’t come through; he reminds her that, as Lady Vorpatril, she doesn’t have to, but this doesn’t seem to reassure her any.

He tells her they need to talk right now, though she continues to pretend she doesn’t know what about; he tells her that he knows about the bunker, and how they mapped it out.  He says that, according to Simon, it was cleared out decades ago; she refuses to believe, insisting that her grandmother would have known, and eventually makes him a bet.  They will check out the bunker, and if it’s empty, she’ll do whatever he wants, and if it’s not, then he’ll do whatever she wants–which would including helping carry things out, and not talking about it to anyone else.  Ivan hesitates, wondering if he’s really willing to bet on Simon Illyan being right, but eventually agrees to the bet.

They drive over to the site, though Tej makes Ivan park several blocks away just to be safe, which nettles him when he discovers their destination is an actual garage; Tej notices that Ser Imola’s van is parked there, as agreed.  She knocks on the utility room door and is pulled in by Star, who is not happy to find Ivan with her; she even says she’d like to stun him, but they want to avoid using energy weapons.  Star says everyone else is already in the tunnel, and they’re not likely to wait for stragglers before going ahead.  Ivan is not happy at the prospect of going into the tunnel.

“Wait, we’re going down there?”



“Most tunnels are underground.  Oh, no, Ivan Xav–I forgot about your claustrophobia thing.  Why didn’t you say something?  I’m sorry!”

“I do not have a claustrophobia thing.  I have a perfectly rational dislike of being locked up in small, dark, wet spaces by people trying to kill me.”

Ivan insists he’ll be okay, and refuses Tej’s offer to let him stay behind and operate the pulley.  They remove all their electronic devices, and shoes, and leave them in the tunnel vestibule; Ivan isn’t happy about it, but he complies, though he does bring extra cold lights with him.  Star gives them filter masks and gloves, explaining that Mycoborer spores might be harmful to their skin or lungs; Ivan complains about them using that kind of thing on Barrayar in the first place.

They move into the tunnel, where Ivan is careful to avoid touching walls as much as possible.  They come across Sgt. Abelard and his backpack, which is still sitting in the tunnel; Ivan inspects it, and recoils from the contents of the backpack.

“I do not have claustrophobia,” he…well, it was still a whisper, but it had a lot of snarl in it.  It seemed he actually did possess emotional range beyond peeved.  “I do, however, have a quite active unexploded bombs phobia.  This could be–anything.  Unstable, for example.  Are you people insane?”

“It can’t be too unstable,” said Star, unsympathetically.  “It didn’t go off when it fell in here, and it didn’t go off when pidge tripped over it and kicked it a bit ago.  I wouldn’t play with it, mind, but it’s not going to do anything spontaneous, I don’t think.”

The pass a water pipe that the tunnel splits around, and Ivan mutters about the proximity of water in the tunnel as well.  Finally they reach a widened area at the end of the tunnel, dead-ended against a wall.  Tej’s parents are not happy to see Ivan either, but Tej promises that he’s with her.  Amiri is attaching a suction cup to the wall where a large oval has been cut, and he and Jet lift it out before tossing in some cold lights.  He peers through and reports that he can see “Marvelous things!”


I almost wish Vigo had turned up a little sooner, because he seems like a bit of a last-minute addition to the cast, considering his importance to the climax in the next chapter.  Even if he’d been mentioned to somebody…  Well, anyway, it looks like Shiv goofed in bringing him in on it, but I suppose his choices were limited, and his time rushed.  I’m not sure if he had a good reason to bring Tej along to the meeting, either, except to give us a viewpoint character at the scene.  But, eh, whatever.

I think one of my biggest problems with the Arquas is the sheer size of the clan.  Too many characters, and most of them introduced in much too close proximity.  Shiv, Udine and Moira get a few scenes, but somehow Star and Pidge are fairly two-dimensional, and I have trouble keeping them straight; Amiri is mostly distinguished by his not wanting to be there; and out of the Jewels (excluding Rish, of course) only Jet gets to have even the rudiments of a distinctive character.  Maybe we do need this number of warm bodies to pull off the heist, but it’s just too many people to keep track of.

They hadn’t cleaned up that backpack yet, with its potential explosives in it?  You’d have thought they’d have wanted to do something with it, at the very least trying to determine if it was still dangerous.  Of course, if it was, they’d want to move it, but it would probably be too risky, whereas if it wasn’t, they wouldn’t really need to do anything to it.  So it just sits there, giving only Ivan (apparently) any heebie-jeebies.  I do like his characterization of his not-claustrophobia, though.  Wonder if he’ll end up trapped in a cramped, dark wet space by people trying to kill him again anytime soon?


You almost got two chapters this week–I read them, at least–but my stamina for actually writing them up failed.  It is getting into the exciting part, anyway.  Five more chapters plus epilogue, in any case, and after that on to the final book, CryoBurn.  (Because, of course, I’m doing them in chronological order, not publication…)

Somebody expressed interest in whatever I may be doing next.  I confess, I’m not really sure what I’m doing after I finish the series, but I expect that it will not, at least for a while, be a reread blog.  This one was fun, at least from time to time, but it’s become more of an effort as time goes on, and I’m not sure I can think of any other series that I know well enough, that haven’t already been done by somebody else, that I can muster the same level of enthusiasm for.  So unless I can get tor.com or somebody to pay me for it, this will probably be it.

Read Full Post »

And if you’ll look to your right, you’ll see a lovely specimen of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  It is, of course, merely a small part of the Vorkosigan Saga itself, based upon a single chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  No, it is mostly about Ivan Vorpatril, but I assure you there are Vorkosigans in it as well.  Would you care to take a closer look?  Go ahead…

Chapter Nineteen

Ivan drives By over to his mother’s apartment, where they find Simon alone, Alys having gone to help host a dinner for the galactic diplomats; Ivan’s just glad that he and Simon weren’t there as “native Barrayaran décor”.  Illyan just says “You two again” and then dismisses the maidservant; he asks what they’re up to, and eventually Ian asks right outwhat he knows about what the Arquas are doing.

Simon’s eyes crinkled, just slightly.  “I can’t guess, Ivan.  What do you two know?”

“That they think there’s something under there, probably Cetagandan and probably dating back to the Occupation, and Shiv and Udine Arqua think it’s valuable enough to fund their attempt to retake their House, which has got to be a high-end hobby.  How the hell they think they can extract whatever it is right under ImpSec’s collective nose, not to mention get it out of the Empire, defeats me.  But I think not you.  Want to give me a clue?”

Simon murmured something under his breath that might have been, But you’re so much more amusing without one; Ivan didn’t ask him to repeat it.

Illyan tries to turn the conversation into a more philosophical one about the nature of knowledge, but Ivan tries hard to keep him on the concrete, complaining that he’s tired and his wife isn’t talking to him anymore.  By straight up asks Illyan if he’s made a deal with Shiv Arqua, and Illyan says that it was really more of a bet–and one he can’t lose.

He then tells them about the Arquas’ goal, a Cetagandan bunker built under the current site of ImpSec.  He says that they knew about it at the time, but it was marked cleared when they excavated the foundation; it’s less clear whether they know about it now, since sometimes records are lost, or knowledge is lost when the people who know it die or retire.  Illyan doesn’t think there’s many people in ImpSec now who were involved the original documents, and while he thinks he was one of them, he doesn’t have any specific memories of it left.  Illyan’s intention was always for the park to be used for the site of the new ImpSec building, and the bunker would be examined more fully in the process of excavating its foundations, but the new building never happened.

Ivan asks if Illyan was really going to let them do all this work searching for an empty vault; Illyan said the stakes didn’t seem high enough to get too heavily involved.  He wanted to see how far they got before ImpSec noticed, as a bit of a test for the current staff.  Ivan pointed out that Illyan was interfering himself, lulling their suspicions when he benignly observed the mapping dance; Illyan says he just wanted to speed things along, and anyway his presence shouldn’t have lulled their suspicions, a flaw he’ll bring to Allegre’s attention.  He says he doesn’t think they’ll be able to overcome the problems with trying to tunnel around the ImpSec HQ building, or digging down from above.  In the event that they do make it all the way to the vault, he hopes to be able to make some sort of longer-term deal with the Arquas with the aim of improving the situation between Barrayar and Jackson’s Whole.

“House Fell has always been dangerous, but determinedly independent.  Morozov believes that House Prestene has strong Cetagandan contacts–and it now controls two out of the five wormholes in a possible first move on a monopoly.  The loss of House Cordonah was originally judged to make little difference on that count, as they were thought to be technically neutral but with personal ties to the Cetagandans through the Baronne.  Having now met Moira ghem Estif, I am…rethinking that.”

Ivan points out that he doesn’t think the Arquas are likely to end up anybody’s puppet; Illyan said they’d settle for an ally, or even a safe house on Jackson’s Whole.  Ivan warns Illyan that he doesn’t think Udine Arqua should be neglected in his evaluation, since he’s seen the two of them together and has the impression that they work together sort of like Aral and Cordelia Vorkosigan; Illyan is interested in this observation.  He notes that Shiv seemed not to notice the fact that Illyan himself had no actual bargaining power on behalf of the Empire.

By asks if this is just a test for a potential ally, and Illyan asks if they noticed one other thing about what he’s told them.  Ivan thinks back, and recalls the wording that the vault was “marked cleared”; Illyan agrees that nobody seems to know now whether it is cleared or not, but he’s asked Duv Galeni to look into it in his spare time.  By asks if he should be reporting this, and Illyan unhelpfully leaves it entirely up to him.  He doesn’t think there’s much urgency, because the Arquas can’t have had much time to line up the kind of supplies he needs, and they’d also have to solve the problem of what to do with the dirt they dig out of the tunnel; they’ll probably need to get their visas extended or they won’t have time to carry the operation through.

Shortly thereafter, Illyan eases them out the door; By says to Ivan that at least he seems to be on top of it, nothing addled about him at all.  Ivan is more worried about what this scenario is likely to do to him and Tej–whether they’ll end up on opposing sides.  By asks Ivan to drop him off at home; on the drive, he starts asking ivan for relationship advice, noting that he’s had a lot of girlfriends, even though Ivan points out that a lot of them were just women he was assigned to escort for social occasions.

“You know,” and somehow, probably because of the damned rain, Ivan’s mouth went off on its own: “I’ve always wondered why nobody ever notices that lots and lots of girlfriends entail lots and lots of breakups.”  Enough to learn all the road signs by heart, yeah.

By’s eyes opened; his brows climbed.  “Huh.  You never seemed to point up that part.”


Most of the trouble seemed to come from angling for a high Vor wedding, even from the married women, and he reflects that he sure doesn’t have that problem with Tej–being married is much more relaxing.  By says that at least he shouldn’t have trouble parting with Tej; Ivan refrains from strangling him long enough to drop him off at his flat.

He spends the next two days trying to catch up with Tej; she gets home very late, and then his shift the next day runs long, so he misses dinner, and Tej is still “out driving”.  The next day he invites her and her family out for dinner, but enough the Arquas show up to derail any plans for a personal conversation, and by the time they get home it doesn’t happen then either, with Rish back sleeping on their couch.  And the next day he oversleeps and has to rush off to work.

Tej, Amiri, Jet and Moira investigate the results of three days of Mycoboring.  The tunnels are not particularly straight, or uniform in width, despite the claims of Carlo from Galactech.  They head into the tunnel with stern admonishments to stay quiet, and wearing fuzzy slippers, which feel odd on the rubbery floor of the tunnel.  The tunnels are mostly wide enough for them all to stand up (except possibly Moira), but sometimes they narrow so they all have to stoop, and they curve wildly and unpredictably, with little side-offshoots from time to time.

Jet points out one spot on the wall of the tunnel to Tej, and she almost screams when she sees a skeletal foot, but she keeps her cool, refusing to give her odd-brother the satisfaction.  He pulls out a knife and begins digging a hole in the wall of the tunnel, saying that if they want to investigate they have to do it now, before the wall hardens; Tej doesn’t see why they have to investigate at all.  After Jet digs through the wall he announces that there’s an open space on the other side, which Tej says is probably another tunnel.  Jet widens the opening and then slithers through, telling Tej she should come see this.

The space beyond the hole looks like part of another tunnel, with some bent timber supports holding it up, but it looked like the rest of it collapsed not too far away.  There’s still a tattered backpack strapped to the skeleton, and a few bits of metal, including ImpSec collar pins and a necklace with what look like nametags on it, reading “Ssgt. Abelard, V.”  As Jet begins to open the backpack, Tej realizes that it must be a bomb; it looks like a gray lumpy mass with wires and electronics connected to it.

Amiri comes to join them, though he complains that Jet should have just left the foot alone.  He examines the body and says it probably died sometime twenty to forty years earlier; he’s dismayed at the sight of the bomb, and Jet’s suggestion that they should try to take a sample of it.  Amiri asks Grandmama if the explosive’s likely to have deteriorated; she says some do, and some become unstable.  Tej votes that they leave it alone for a later trip; they leave the collapsed tunnel, but Amiri wonders where “Abelard” was heading.

When they emerge, Moira is annoyed with them, for having made such a mess, and insists they clean up all the dirt and cover up the hole; she’s not impressed by their finding a dead Barrayaran.  She and Tej leave the boys to the work and head back to the entrance; she explains that the Mycoborers encountered some kind of sewer pipe and split in all directions, so they started a new batch going.  Tej asks her grandmother about the stability of their tunnel; she reassures Tej that a circular pipe is as secure as two arches, though she admits the Mycoborers’ product is far from that regular.

That evening, Tej is back in the apartment, and at the same time as Ivan, even; she wanders around restlessly, peering into Ivan’s drawer of miscellaneous junk, and asking if he has some kind of ID necklace.  Ivan tells her they’re called “dog tags”, though he’s not sure why; he has some, with his black fatigues, which he hasn’t worn in a while.  He adds that they’re generally only worn when going into a dangerous situation, to help with posthumous identification; radio transmitter tags have been suggested, but they don’t want to risk making them detectable by the enemy too.  Tej mentions that she saw one day, claiming that it was on the floor of a parking garage, and shows it to him; Ivan says it’s an old style, and says he could look it up at Ops and see about returning it.  Tej says she might want to keep it, and Ivan says he could give her his old lieutenant’s tags.

Then she asks about old plastic explosives, from twenty years ago or so; Ivan says he did take a course, back at the Academy, and is startled to realize that that was almost twenty years ago.  He encourages her to just call a bomb squad if she sees anything that looks like explosives.

“Is that what you’d do?”

“Of course!  Well, except for that old guerrilla cache Miles and Elena and I found up in the Dendarii Mountains when we were kids.  But we were being very stupid kids, as everyone from Uncle Aral on down explained, very memorably, after the–never mind that now.  Anyway, the point is, people can still find old, dangerous stuff lying around on this planet, and civilians shouldn’t fool with it.”  Untangling himself from this digression, Ivan finally got back to the important question, which was, “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” Tej said airily.

Right.  Avocados probably did shifty better than Tej.  It was most un-Jacksonian of her.

Ivan decides that he’s going to take some personal leave, no matter what ImpSec might think about it, and he tells her he wants to spend more time with her family while they’re on the planet.  Tej says she doesn’t want to interfere with his career, and Ivan insists they can do without him for a few days.  Tej immediately suggests they have sex, which Ivan senses is probably a diversion, but he’s willing to go along with it.

This means she likes me, right? some awkward young Ivan who still lived at the bottom his brain urged, just before the physiologically induced lights-out.

Surly old Ivan could only think, Ivan, you idiot.

And not one Ivan on the whole pathetic committee had yet been able to muster aloud the only question that mattered.  Tej, will you stay?


So now we know what’s up with Shiv Arqua and Simon Illyan, though Illyan does have a few of his facts wrong.  He doesn’t know about the Mycoborers, so he expects them to be somewhat further behind on the tunnel than they are; on the other hand, he seems to be open to the possibility that they will succeed after all.  I find it a little amusing that he’s deliberately staying as neutral as he can with relation to ImpSec, which I imagine would annoy a lot of ImpSec people if they knew.  I imagine they presume him to retain a certain loyalty to his alma mater, after all; some of them may believe him fuddled, but some of them, at least, must know the truth.  He does believe that there’s nothing that can go wrong, though, which may be a little bit naive.

Illyan’s statement about lots of breakups may or may not be true; after all, it seems that a person who dates a lot of different people is perhaps more likely to do so because they’re deliberately trying not to form emotional attachments to any of their dates.  They would be more likely to be the one to break things off and move on to their next conquest.  Of course, maybe I’m just thinking of the TV sitcom caricature of these people, the Barney Stinsons and Joey Tribbianis, just in it for the sex.  Someone who isn’t quite so sociopathic about it could end up getting repeatedly hurt, but I wouldn’t have put Ivan into that category.  I guess, on some level, it did make an impact.  Was it just the “high Vor weddings” he was trying to avoid?  Would he have been okay with any of his previous romances proposing a quickie instant-groats affair?  Not to mention that he did propose to a couple of the Koudelka sisters back in Memory

And in the tunnel, we find a little cavity with a dead soldier and some explosives.  From 20-40 years ago…  Vordarian’s Pretendership falls in that range somewhere, doesn’t it?  Say, about 35 years earlier?  And the tunnel is going from the parking garage on one side of ImpSec HQ to the park on other side?  So that would be about where one might be tunneling if one wanted to blow up ImpSec HQ itself, wouldn’t it?  Anyway, I get the feeling that those explosives and Ssgt. (Staff Sergeant?) Abelard has some relevance to what I remember of the climax…

Which looks like it’s only a couple of chapters away now.  Tej and Ivan are talking to each other again, the Arquas seem to be close to getting what they want, and there’s only half a dozen chapters left.  Yay, things are picking up…

Read Full Post »

Aw, you know how this goes by now, right?  Another chapter of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, in the Vorkosigan Saga, author Lois McMaster Bujold.  Too tired to attempt wit right now, so let’s get right to it.

Chapter Eighteen

Ivan woke the next morning to an empty bed, again, a depopulated flat, and a note on the coffeemaker: ­Gone driving. T.  Which was better than no reassurance at all, but wouldn’t Love, T. have been a better closing salutation?  Not that he had ever ended any note to Tej with Love, I., so far, but then he hadn’t ever gone out and left her just some laconic, uninformative scrawl.

He has instant groats for breakfast, which makes him think of the impromptu wedding on Komarr, which makes him wonder if it’s too early to start drinking.  He calls Tej’s wristcom and leaves her a message, and when she doesn’t call back he walks down to the Arquas’ hotel.  There he is met by Shiv Arqua, who announces him as “Tej’s Barrayaran”, and invites him in for coffee with himself and the Baronne.  He asks after Tej, and Udine tells him that she’s gone out driving with her grandmother and brother Amiri; Ivan is slightly reassured at the less Jacksonian nature of his wife’s companions, but asks why they couldn’t have hired another driver.  Shiv says that Tej wanted to catch up with her favourite brother.

Ivan asks how long they’ll be staying on Barrayar; Udine says it will depend on whether their visas will be getting extended.  Ivan offers his mother’s help in finding a lawyer, only to be informed that Lady Alys has already offered.  He asks if they’d be planning to settle permanently on Barrayar, which is generally taken as a serious commitment; the Arquas are noncommittal, but Shiv says he likes to keep his options open, and has been pleasantly surprised by his experience of Barrayar.

Wondering how close the Arquas are to the end of their resources, Ivan considers who he could ask about it, then decides to try just asking Shiv about it; rather than considering this rude, the Jacksonians seem to consider it a canny question.  Shiv doesn’t really answer the question, though, merely talking about how much easier it is to get things done with a larger stake, and the dangers of consuming too much of one’s venture capital; Udine says their real goal is enough to make a credible attempt to retake their House.

Shiv says he’s not going to willingly go back down to the gutter he pulled himself up from before.  His determination reminds Ivan of Miles, and of General Count Piotr’s influence in shaping him that way; he wonders who wound Shiv and Udine up that way, but decides he’d rather not know.  He asks at what point they’ll just cut their losses and retire somewhere; Shiv reminds him that they do have two of his children hostage.  Ivan concludes that they must think that whatever’s hidden under that park is valuable enough to fund a retaking of House Cordonah.

He asks about Tej, whether she’d necessarily be going back with them; it’d be safer on Barrayar, and he’s grown rather fond of her.  Udine asks if he likes her well enough to leave his family and come with her, rather than asking her to do that for him; Shiv speculates on whether his Barrayaran military training and experience would be enough to make him useful.  Ivan says that he might be willing to go somewhere else with Tej…but probably not Jackson’s Whole.

Ivan said, “Look, I can support a wife here on Barrayar.  And I know my home ground.  On Jackson’s Whole, I’d be, what…destitute and disarmed.  Not to mention out of my depth.”

“As Tej has been, here?” Udine inquired sweetly.

Shiv gave him the eyebrow thing.  “A man should know himself, I suppose,” he said.  “Me, I’ve been face flat, sucking gutter slime, three times in my life, and had to start again each time from scratch.  I’m getting too old to enjoy shoveling that shit anymore, but I can’t say I don’t know how.”

This was not, Ivan sensed, a remark in Ivan’s favour, oblique though it sounded.

Ivan reminds Udine that she left her own home planet to be with Shiv; she points out that the Barrayarans were conquering it at the time, so she had little choice, but Shiv adds that it did turn out well in the end.  Ivan wonders if he dares to ask straight out whether they’re going to take Tej away with them, but doesn’t quite.  He wonders if he can offer them something, in a Jacksonian Deal; his monetary resources are probably insufficient, his blood is only really good on Barrayar, and his personal skills he’s already declined to lend them.

Udine bids him farewell, and he takes the hint, reiterating his desire for Tej to get in touch with him.  Shiv adds, confidentially, that they do have a certain scheme in mind which may give them the wherewithal to depart, obviously implying that they’ll be out of his hair sooner if Ivan doesn’t obstruct them.

Ivan wonders if the right thing might not be to hope–or work–for their deportation, which should get them off the planet soon enough.  Tej, as his wife, would of course have the right to stay.  All he has to do now is convince her that she wants to stay…which would be easier, of course, if he ever got to see her…

Tej pulls the rented groundcar into an underground garage.  Pearl had found it, underneath an innocuous office building across the street from ImpSec HQ, mostly vacant on evenings and weekends; unfortunately it’s on the opposite side from the park, where they’re convinced they’ve found the underground Cetagandan laboratory.  In fact, the ImpSec sub-basements themselves are only a couple of dozen meters from intersecting them, and Tej finds it incomprehensible that nobody noticed the lab when they were digging them.

Pearl leads Tej, Amiri and Moira to a storage room, which seems to be infrequently used; its contents do seem to be encouragingly dusty.  They shift a couple of shelves over to expose a bare patch of concrete floor, then they put on breath masks (apparently stolen from the jumpship they’d taken to Barrayar) while Amiri pours a ring of solvent on the floor to cut through it.  Once it’s done, they lift up the ring of concrete, revealing stones underneath, which Tej, Amiri and Pearl begin prying up, not without grumbling about having to do it by hand.  Amiri comments that he wishes they could have rented or bought a place, rather than using something public, but Pearl insists that it’s better to not have a data trail.

Amiri brings a box over to the hole, which he handles carefully; his grandmother insists that they’re harmless, only eating dirt, and as a trained doctor he should be careful enough to not get dirt on himself.  Tej reads the label on the box which describes them as experimental Mycoborers, patent pending, with stern warnings against removing them from GalacTech Company property; inside are a series of thin, 50-cm long sticks.  Moira decides they should start about eight meters down, since they’re already in a sub-basement, to get to the top level of the laboratory, but be prepared to go down underneath any obstacles they may find in the way; Amiri asks if they should do more than a one-meter diameter, since that might be too narrow to bring much out through, but Moira says that they can always modify it later.

Amiri gingerly trims and prepares one of the mycoborers and starts drilling a hole in the dirt.  Tej complains about the plan that has her spending time looking at engineering and plumbing supplies, but her grandmother insists it’s an essential cover to keep ImpSec from knowing how fast they’re actually progressing.  Pearl asks how they got these Mycoborers anyway; Moira denies having stolen it, but says that she’d renewed her acquaintance with a friend named Carlo who worked at GalacTech and bought them from him.  Amiri finishes his hole, puts the stick of mycoborer down it, then pours some ammonia on it to activate it.

“Nothing’s happening,” said Tej after a minute.

“I thought you said this would work fast,” said Pearl.

“It’s not instantaneous,” chided Grandmama.  “Macrobiological processes seldom are.”  She added after a while, as anything visible continued to not happen, “The Mycoborer was developed as a method of laying pipe without having to dig trenches; the genetic developer hopes it can be trained to build its own custom pipe as it goes, but that seems to lie in the future.  For the moment, they’re happy to have it proceed in a straight route with uniform diameter.”

Tej asks why it doesn’t just keep growing forever, and her grandmother says it’s designed to be choked off by the waste products as the ring grows, and failing that it has a suicide gene triggered by telomere loss, as well as ordinary senescence, and heat sterilization if all else fails.  She mentions offhandedly that it hasn’t technically been tested outside the laboratory yet, which fails to reassure her grandchildren; this was, apparently, part of the deal with Carlo, to give him reports on how it works.  She notes that if it runs into harder substances, like synthetics or igneous rocks, it will run into trouble, so they may have to reroute it then.

They finally begin to see something, which is nothing more than black goo bubbling up from the hole, but it seems to indicate that it’s actually working.  Moira says that it should be completely undetectable, since it won’t generate the kind of vibrations that other digging processes would; they will have to be careful and quiet when they go into the tunnels themselves, of course.  She says they should go for lunch, insisting that it’s safe enough to leave the Mycoborer to work; they move the concrete and shelves back to cover it up.

Ivan prepares a splendid meal waiting for Tej’s return, but unfortunately she’s over two hours late, and Byerly and Rish return with her; Rish and By are arguing about his repeated attempts to plant bugs on her.  Tej apologizes for being late, but evades his questions about what she was doing, and Ivan’s invitation to dinner is countered by Rish telling her to come back to the hotel so she doesn’t have to be interrogated.  Ivan asks Tej when she’ll be back, and she says she doesn’t know; Rish says that she, at least, is going to stay at the hotel.

Ivan is left with By, not impressed at his apparent loss of suavity; By says that he may have overplayed his hand, trying to question her subtly during sex, and now she’s cut him off.  He’s getting increasingly maddened by the Arquas’ efforts to keep him out of the way all the time, and ImpSec apparently has no spare resources; they’re all busy preparing for Gregor and Laisa’s trip to Komarr, plus other conferences and conventions around town, but promise vaguely to give him something in a week or two.  So it’s just him, against a bunch of Arquas who know what he is already, and all of his ploys are failing.

Ivan suggests he maybe talk to Simon, and fills By in on what he’s seen betwen Illyan and Shiv Arqua, and the other bits he’s pieced together.  He concludes that Simon and Shiv might be colluding on something, and it may have something to do with something valuable hidden underneath ImpSec.

“If Simon Illyan is up to something, we shouldn’t bump his elbow,” By declared firmly.

“I’m…not so sure.”

By’s eyes narrowed.  “I thought he was just playing befuddled.”

So, By had spotted that.  Good on By.  “He does do that.  He’s got half of Vorbarr Sultana believing he’s as addled as an egg, and my mother his caretaker.  And the people they report to….  But sometimes he…shorts out, just a little.  You can tell when it’s real, because it’s the only time he tries to hide it.”

He eventually convinces By to go talk to Illyan, but only if Ivan comes with him; Ivan makes him help eat the desiccated supper first, though.


Ivan must be getting desperate.  He’s beginning to be afraid of losing Tej–whether he’s actually admitted he’s in love with her or not–and so he’s driven to things like talking to her parents, and, by the end of the chapter, actually trying to talk to Illyan about what’s going on.  Drifting along with the flow is apparently not being enough, and he’s having trouble winning Tej over because he can’t get a moment alone to talk to her.  Byerly is having similar problems with Rish, which are a little more professional and a little less romantic, but still a little bit.

Meanwhile, the Arquas are actually starting to do something.  I don’t know if their plan is to accomplish the entire heist (if you can call it that, since it’s not clear they’re technically stealing from anyone) before their visas expire, but they’re certainly putting things in motion now.  Plus, they have this time window, apparently, where everyone at ImpSec is busy doing other things.  They can’t have planned that, but I’m sure that they’re aware of it and taking advantage.  I wonder how they did find it out, though–through Simon Illyan, or some other channel?  Surely ImpSec won’t advertise its undermannedness too strongly, but if these are all public events, it might be possible to work it out.

The Mycoborers…untested, autonomous digging organisms (some kind of fungus, I gather, from the name), let loose underneath Vorbarr Sultana?  Yeah, there’s no way that could go wrong.  Especially digging tunnels beneath a big building.  I’m like, Oh, right, that’s how that happens…

Next chapter, next week, Ivan talks to Simon Illyan, and it looks like he even gets to talk to Tej.  Plus, the Arquas may find something unexpected underground.

Read Full Post »