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.
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…