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).
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…