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Archive for November, 2014

Your name: The Vorkosigan Saga Reread

Your quest: To summarize and comment on the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga

One thing most people don’t know about you: Why Miles Vorkosigan is on the planet of Kibou-daini in the first chapter of CryoBurn, the book that we’re starting this week.

When nobody is looking you like to: Wander through subterranean cryocorpse storage facilities; hallucinate angels, insects, and lizards; squat on the rooftops of abandoned buildings and raise animals.

Chapter One

Miles has been on the planet of Kibou-daini for five days, and is currently lost in the “Cryocombs”, with cryo-frozen bodies all around him; he estimates that there’s about a hundred of them every ten meters, and there’s one or two million of them stored under the city.  It’s pitch-dark, but he’s seeing golden flashes in front of his eyes, hallucinating them as angels; he worried more about what he can’t see.  He lost his cane in a scuffle, hours ago now, and the knees of his pants are torn and damp; he escaped through crawlspaces and ducts and utility tunnels to find his way here.

His would-be kidnappers hadn’t roughed him up too badly in the botched snatch, relying instead on a hypospray of sedative to keep their captive under control. Too bad it had been in the same class of sedatives to which Miles was violently allergic-or even, judging by his present symptoms, the identical drug. Expecting a drowsy deadweight, they’d instead found themselves struggling with a maniacal little screaming man. This suggested his snatchers hadn’t known everything about him, a somewhat reassuring thought.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t know anything about them, either.

He’s currently trying to go straight ahead as much as possible, since taking side corridors is how he ended up so horribly lost.  His fingers, used to running over the banks of drawers on either side, encounter something different, which he manages to identify as a door; hoping it’s not just another closet, he manages to open it, rusty as it is.  He drops to all fours and feels around cautiously on the other side, and discovers emergency stairs, going both up and down; he decides to go up, since it feels like “down” could go on forever, though he tries to tell himself that it would have to stop before it hit magma.  He climbs the stairs on all fours as well, testing each step for weight, and avoiding any other exit doors until he reaches the top.

Finally he begins to see a bit of dim light, coming from a window in a door; he pushed it open cautiously, finding himself in an alley at ground level, between his current building, only one storey above ground, and the taller building opposite.  No houses or stores nearby, probably an industrial zone; he judges he’s still in Northbridge a.k.a. Kitahashi, Territorial Prefecture capital, since he can’t have wandered that far, or at least not in a straight line.  He turns right up the alley, his nearly-bare feet almost numb.  He spots a graffiti he’s seen before on the planet, Burn The Dead, and wonders again what it means.

Turning onto the next street, he sees two figures coming towards him, which his addled perceptions tell him are a 6′ butterbug and and a Tau Cetan beaded lizard carrying sacks.  Miles tries to greet them, and the butterbug warns the lizard, Jin, that he looks like a druggie and they should stay clear.

“Hey,” said Miles, annoyed.  “I can’t look nearly as bad to you as you look to me.  Deal with it.”  Perhaps he had wandered into some talking animal story like the ones he’d read, over and over, in the nursery to Sasha and little Hellion.  Except the creatures encountered in such tales were normally furrier, he though.  Why couldn’t his chemically-enhanced neurons have spat out giant kittens?

He put on his most austere diplomat’s tones, and said, “I beg your pardon, but I seem to have lost my way.”  Also my wallet, my wristcom, half my clothes, my bodyguard, and my mind.  And–his hand felt around his neck–his Auditor’s seal-ring on its chain.

His Auditor’s seal wouldn’t have been as useful here as it would be on Barrayar, but at least Roic could use it to track him; he was alive the last time Miles saw him, anyway, before the panicking mob pushed them apart.  He babbles about how he knows that the butterbug image, at least, comes from his own mind, and the pair withdraws a little further.  The butterbug says they should just walk away, but Jin wants to know if they can help him; the butterbug says something about getting findings to the secretaries before dark.  Jin asks Miles where he wants to go, and Miles confesses that he doesn’t know yet.  He had been at a cryonics conference, but he doesn’t dare try to go back until he knows if his enemies will be waiting for him there; after yesterday’s events, he’s not sure he wants to go home just yet, either.

Miles asks humbly if he could at least have some water, since he was probably wandering in the tunnels for at least half a day, probably more.  Jin offers to get him some, before yielding to the efforts of his companion (Yani, and not his parent) to drag him away before the custodian closes up.  Miles slumps down against the wall in exhaustion, shivering in the chill, but telling himself that at least it’s not pitch dark.

He dozes for a while, then awakens when Jin (looking less reptilian than before) returns and offers to take him to his hideout, where he’s got some water bottles.  Miles agrees, struggles to his feet and follows.

Jin thinks the little man is definitely a grown up, from his voice, despite its strange accent, even if he’s no taller than Jin himself; he looks like a habitually cheerful person, too, and his clothes look like they used to be nice.  They reach the ladder and Jin asks the man if he can climb, reassuring him that it’s only three stories to his hideout; the man offers to go last, in case he falls, but Jin says he has to go first so he can raise the ladder after them.  The man balks at the edge, though, apparently unable to see how far down it is over the ledge; Jin tells him that it’s only half a meter, and the man rolls over onto the roof, explaining that he’s a little dizzy.

The man is a little dismayed to see Jin’s chickens on the roof, thinking they’re hallucinations like the angels, until Jin assures him that they’re real.  He leads the man over to his hideout, a makeshift tent made out of tarps and drop cloths, where his other animal friends live–Lucky the three-legged cat, Gyre the falcon, and his caged pet rats.  The man seems a little nervous, and rejects Jin’s offer to hold one of the rats, though he says it’s because he’s still shaky.  He reminds Jin of his offer of water, and accepts Jin’s offer of his only chair; Jin gets him a water bottle, and assures him he can refill it from a tap on the roof.  The custodian had helped him hook it up, and also helped him with his tent.

Jin is curious about the man, his appearance and odd body shape, but he settles for asking him his name.  The man introduces himself as Miles, with a last name that most people on the planet seem to have trouble saying; Jin introduces himself in return, adding that he’s almost twelve.  He asks about Miles’s funny accent, and Miles tells him he’s from Barrayar, which he then explains is an empire of three planets.  Jin is excited to meet a real offworlder, though a little disappointed because that probably means he’ll be leaving as soon as he get in touch with his friends or hotel.

Jin tells Miles that the building was an old cryofacility, but he and several others are sort of hiding out in it.  Miles asks about Yani, and Jin says he’s a revive; his cryocorp thawed him out after a hundred years, like his contract says, but Yani really wanted to stay frozen until they figured out a cure for being old, so now he’s all grumpy about it.
Miles grumbles about his head still being confused, and Jin offers to let him sleep for a while; he asks about bathroom facilities, and Jin admits that he mostly just uses the gutter and rinses it down the drainpipe.  Jin offers Miles some food after his lie-down, and Miles allows that by that time he’ll probably be ready for it.  Jin has another thought about the gutter, that it might be a little dangerous if Miles is dizzy, and offers to tie a rope to his ankle (like he did with the baby chicks) if that’ll help; Miles thinks that’ll be a good idea, and Jin fetches the rope and ties him with it, though Miles is asleep by that time.  Then he heads down to see if he can get some scraps at Ayako’s Cafe.

Comments

Once again, not two chapters.  Sorry about that.  I do have this one in HTML format (from the CD included with the hardcover) so I can’t blame the difficulty of working with the book copy, like it was with Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  As I’ve said before, I don’t like this book as much, but also I’m less familiar with it, so it takes more work for me to figure out what’s happening so I can summarize it properly.

Kibou-daini sounds like it’s somewhat Japanese, culturally.  They have trouble saying “Vorkosigan”, possibly because of its consonant cluster or something (and before all us skilled English speakers get smug, try saying “Tkvarcheli” sometime).  “Jin Sato” (Jin’s full name), Ayako, Yani, Kitahashi, all sound nice and Japanese.  More than Kibou-daini, to my ears, actually, but maybe that’s also good Japanese, or maybe it’s not all Japanese, just this one area?  Oh, and apparently there’s tons of people cryo-frozen, which the title is liable to make one thing is important to the plot of the book.

I’m not really that big of a fan of Jin’s POV, not yet, at least.  Seeing things from a native’s viewpoint, in third person, is great if you don’t mind tons of unexplained references to things that said native already knows about and doesn’t have to explain to oneself.  Often first-person narrators are obliging enough to explain things to the person they’re telling the story to.  For instance, Jin’s story about Yani is full of references that probably go right over Miles’s head, and he isn’t quite self-aware enough to really think that maybe offworlders wouldn’t know everything he’s talking about.  There’s also something about his mother, who’s obviously not around, but he doesn’t tell us about that either.

Of course, Miles starts out so in medias res that we’re left disoriented with how he got there, too.  He starts this story off so isolated; Roic is onplanet somewhere, but they got separated, apparently.  There was a kidnapping attempt or something, with attempted drugging resulting in hallucinations; this must be something from the fast-penta family, I guess, though slightly different.  So it’s good for him to have someone to talk to, and to help him, and maybe a kid is the only one who’d help a stranger like this, but still.  In some ways it makes me think of Steven Brust’s Athyra, except there we get all or most of the book from Savn’s point of view, rather than from Vlad Taltos’s.  (It’s not my favourite Vlad Taltos book, either.)


 

Another chapter next week, or maybe two if things pick up, but don’t get your hopes up.  Oh, it looks like Chapter Two starts with Armsman Roic’s POV, so hopefully we’ll find out more of the backstory.  Because we get at least those three viewpoint characters in this book; I don’t recall any others, but I’d forgotten until a little while ago that we got Roic, either.  Not up to the five from A Civil Campaign, but at least the chapters are shorter…

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It’s been a long time coming, and it may have seemed like it would never get here, what with glaciers and drifting continents overtaking it on all sides.  But this week’s installment of The Vorkosigan Saga Reread finally brings us to the end of Captain’s Vorpatril Alliance, that Lois McMaster Bujold novel which, unlike so many others in the Vorkosigan Saga, doesn’t concern itself directly with Miles Vorkosigan, or even his mother, but instead focuses on perennial sideman Ivan Vorpatril, given a perhaps uncomfortable spotlight for once.  This week I cover the last chapter and the epilogue, as the denouement denoues itself nicely.

Chapter Twenty-Five

With Gregor’s decisions made, things start to move very quickly.  The Cordonahs are, officially, being deported, which isn’t the most prestigious way to be leaving the planet, but since they do want to leave, they accept it.  Lady Alys throws them an excellent farewell luncheon, and then they are escorted to go pack, except for Lady Moira, who is dragged off for a hasty debrief by Duv Galeni; he laments that two hours was not nearly enough for a century’s worth of information, so he plans to send an analyst and one of Professora Vorthys’s history students along with them for the beginning of their trip in the hope of gleaning more information.  A lot of the documents they found are still classified; they’re declassifying as many of them as they can, but there are some facts about the old ghem-junta that, even after a hundred years, they may not want to get out.  Even the declassified ones will be enough to make a number of historians’ careers, though, and the history textbooks may need to be heavily revised.

Vormercier’s yacht will be supplied with a military crew to take them to Komarr, mostly to ensure that they arrive there and not somewhere else; afterwards they can hire their own commercial crew.  Amiri is apparently still planning to go back to Escobar, and a government courier vessel from Komarr will be expediting him there, after which any potential bounty hunters will be problems for Mark and the Duronas.

Tej goes to speak with her mother, who’s busy packing; Lady Alys courteously leaves them alone.  The Baronne asks Tej if she’s packed, and Tej says that she’s going to stay with her husband; Udine reassures her that she doesn’t have to, their earlier insistence that she stay with her husband just being a ploy to keep her safe.  Tej says that she’s already made up her mind, and when her mother objects that it was too quickly, she asks how long it took her to decide she wanted Shiv.  The Baronne then invites her to at least ride along with them for a while, perhaps to Pol; Tej, not sold on the image of being stuffed into a ship with her family, and Byerly, says she’d rather just say her goodbyes here.

The Baronne allows that at least she’ll be safe; they’ll be heading to Fell Station with their war chest, a bare hundred million Betan dollars, which after all the deductions is barely five percent of their find.  Tej assures her mother that they will be able to make do with such reduced resources.  The Baronne asks what she sees in Ivan, and she finds it hard to explain–it’s what he sees in her, and how restful his approach to life is, his waiting-and-seeing.

Later, Ivan and Tej have time for a chat with Rish and Byerly, who tells them how Ser Imola has been swiftly dealt with, not much fight left in him.  By laments having to flee the planet so swiftly, having to pick and choose from his apartment like it’s on fire, leaving strangers to pack things up; apparently his new cover is that he was conspiring with the Arquas and is fleeing with them to keep from getting arrested.

“I’m sure you’ll do well,” Tej tried to reassure him.

“It’s bloody _Jackson’s Whole_.  Where enemies are killed and eaten.”

“We do not!” said Rish indignantly.

Byerly waved this away.  “I speak, of course, metaphorically.”  Though he looked as if he weren’t entirely sure.

“Well, if you get in over your head, just try channeling your great-great-grandfather Bloody Pierre,” advised Ivan Xav.  He added after a moment.  “Or your great-great-grandmother.  For you, either one.”

By cast a sneer at him.

Ivan tells Tej that one of the few people Pierre was supposed to have been afraid of was his wife; By reminds Ivan that Vorrutyer history is notoriously unreliable, and belatedly congratulates Ivan on winning Tej’s affections.

Luxurious groundcars appear to drive them to the shuttleport, thanks to Lady Alys; a pair of men in Vorbarra livery appear with two boxes of the Ninth Satrapy gold coins, as a personal gift from Gregor, which Shiv points out wryly is also precisely 5% of them.  He tells them convey to Gregor that “Baron and Baronne Cordonah are as pleased to accept his memento as he is to bestow it”.  The rest of the money will be transferred digitally later, less this advance.

The Baron comes to say farewell to Tej, commenting on the Barrayaran tradition of “giving away” the bride, though Ivan tells him that they also have been known to have elaborate marriage contracts.  Shiv reiterates the invitation for Tej to join them for a few jumps, and she reiterates her refusal; he tells her she’ll be welcome back at home anytime, and she refrains from pointing out that they don’t have their home back yet.

“Look at it this way, Dada.  You’re coming away from Barrayar with everyone’s freedom, a ride, and a war chest.  Not to mention the covert alliance with The Gregor.  I can’t imagine any House heir alive who could match that bride-price, right now.  It’s princely, more literally than anyone here quite lets on.”  Barrayarans!  “And do you think that you’d have had any of it if I hadn’t married Ivan Xav?”

Shiv shakes Ivan’s hand, and gives him a father’s warning that he better take good care of his daughter; Ivan assures him he will.  After they’ve departed, Ivan asks if offering to kill people was a traditional Jacksonian expression of affection.  Tej reminds him of the story she’d read about his Aunt Cordelia’s gift of Vordarian’s severed head, and Ivan says he’s a more modern Barrayaran than that.

Their meeting the next morning with The Gregor was very short.

“Ylla?” said Ivan Xav in a confounded voice.  “Where the hell is Ylla?”

Comments

You know, it would be a bit easier sometimes if Jacksonian Houses behaved a little more like actual families.  By which I mean–House Cordonah was run by the Arquas.  Shouldn’t that make is House Arqua?  Or shouldn’t their family name be Cordonah?  I realize that we have lots of cases where that doesn’t happen, but those are like when you have an actual political entity, like a country.  You can change from one dynasty to another and not have to rename the country.  But I never got the impression that Jacksonian Houses were tied to geographical areas.  They seemed to have divided the planet on more economic lines, staking out their territory based on their business rather than the land they occupy.  I could be wrong, I suppose, but that’s the impression I always got.  So I guess it’s more like a business trademark, where you don’t want to change the name of your company because your customers would get confused if it was House Stauber trying to sell their weapons rather than House Fell.  But I just want to know–can I call the Arquas Cordonahs, or not?

It’s a nice short chapter to tie off the book, except it really doesn’t.  The Arquas (or Cordonahs) are being hustled off the planet quite quickly, and Tej isn’t really doing her utmost to spend every last second of that time with them, because she’s really looking forward to not being oppressed by their presence.  I mean, she’s happy they’re alive, but she’ll be happier when they’re alive somewhere else, now that she’s found an alternative family in good old Ivan Xav.

So it falls to the epilogue to really resolve matters, to show us the direction things moved in over a slightly longer span of time.  And also to tell us something about this Ylla place.

Epilogue

Ivan is posted as Senior Military Attaché to the Barrayaran consulate on Ylla, though there turns out not to be any other military attachés for him to be senior to, or anyone at all besides the consul, who is somewhat dispirited.  They arrive on the city where the consulate is located during its dreary winter, with Tej heartily jumpsick.  Ivan, used to the much more hectic workflow of Vorbarr Sultana, is able to whip the consulate into shape without much effort, and quickly discovers that it doesn’t really need to be in the capital, as long as it’s near a shuttleport and the comconsole net.  So he moves the entire consulate to someplace much nicer on an equatorial island, hires a clerk, and gets his work down to an average of three mornings a week.  Ylla’s oceans are, unfortunately, unpleasant to swim in, between the irritants in the water and the carnivorous native lifeforms, but they’re nice enough to look at.

A batch of mail arrives one sunny afternoon, and Ivan brings it out to where Tej is sunbathing; his morning’s work is done, where he’s been working on his first annual performance review, toning down the consul’s overly-positive remarks to something less likely to get him transferred to somewhere less salubrious.  Gregor had said that it would probably be at least two years before things blew over enough for him to come home, and they’d also had only a day to pack for their galactic exile.

Ivan’s packet includes a birthday greeting (for his 36th) from Admiral Desplains, who doesn’t seem to be as fond of Ivan’s replacement, but implies that he doesn’t expect Ivan to return to his old post, either.  Tej says that Rish writes that they’re working on repairs to Cordonah Station, Topaz has replacement legs so the Jewels can perform again (they’d been amputated as punishment for helping Tej’s parents escape from Prestene captivity), and Erik has been pronounce cryo-revivable, but there are complications.  Apparently Erik was actually House Prestene’s inside man, so they’re keeping him on ice for a while, mostly as a threat to keep Star and Pidge from fighting too much over the succession; once they’re better entrenched, then maybe they’ll bring him back in a more subordinate position.  Tej notes that she’s happy to be out of family politics.

Rish doesn’t mention anything about Byerly, but Ivan has a letter from him, sent around the same time.  He tends to be a little overly verbose, but Ivan happens upon a mention of the brooch which Lady Moira had picked up in the vault; apparently it actually contained the genetic samples of the Barrayaran population from the Ninth Satrapy.  Ivan isn’t sure what the Barrayarans would make of that, especially since many of their ancestors would be clonable from those samples.  He reads further, and discovers that Lady Moira had offered to sell them back to the Star Crèche, for ten million Betan dollars; a Star Crèche envoy came all the way to Jackson’s Whole to make the pickup, and when she was there, Lady Moira ceremoniously destroyed the brooch, apparently as payback for being culled from the haut a century earlier.

Lady Alys had written to Tej, telling her about the galactic tour they’d been on–also heavily encouraged by Gregor, with Laisa’s help–and have now returned from, without too many unfortunate incidents.  Ivan recalls his last conversation with Gregor, about what had gotten into Illyan.

“I think he was bored, Gregor.”

“Bored!” Gregor jerked to a halt, taken aback.  “I thought he was exhausted.”

“Right after the chip breakdown, sure.”  Profoundly so.  “For a while, everyone–even Mamere and Simon himself–assumed he was some fragile convalescent.  But…quietly–he does everything quietly–he’s grown better.”

“I thank your mother for that, yes.”

Yeah, really.  Ivan shied from trying to imagine the biography of a post-chip-Simon minus Alys, but it might have been a much shorter tale.  “He’s fine when she’s with him.  But she’s been going off to the Residence a lot, lately, leaving him to his own devices.  And then Shiv came along and pushed all his old buttons, and, well, here we all are.”

Ivan suggested that Gregor find some kind of occupation for him in future, not as heavy or full-time as his previous job, but something to give him some variety.  Tej continues that they have dedicated the new ImpSec building, with Illyan cutting the ribbon, though refusing the honour of having it actually named after him; the building is not built near the old site, but somewhere with fewer holes under it.  Next letter is from Aunt Cordelia to Ivan; Tej had met them during their stopover on Sergyar on the way offplanet, and Simon and Alys had stopped there on their way back.  What his mother hadn’t mentioned, though, was their visit to the Orb on Beta Colony.

“They signed up for some sort of one-week deluxe instructional course.  That doesn’t sound too… Role-playing?  Because Mamere thought it might be easy for Simon to get into on account of having done covert ops in his youth.  And the first day was pretty rocky, but once she persuaded Simon to stop treating the mandatory psychological interest survey as a hostile interrogation, things smoothed out…and…”

Mercifully, Cordelia changes the subject at that point to their sailing expedition on the less-toxic seas of Sergyar.  Tej suggests they stop at the Orb when they go back, though of course she doesn’t need any sexual instruction herself.  Ivan asks about the “survey” that had troubled Illyan, and Tej describes it as a sort of brain scan done while they show you images, to determine what kinds of things you like, but also a way of finding potential problem customers.  Of course, this being Beta Colony, those problem customers are still allowed in, just supervised differently; some of them are just disturbed by the things lurking in their brain.

Finally, there is a letter from Miles; he writes that the old ImpSec building was purchased by a Barrayaran investor who turned out to be Mark Vorkosigan, who has not only managed to get the building raised up to its previous level again, but now plans to reopen it as a hotel/restaurant/nightclub, which Miles heartily disapproves of.  He also mentions their decanting another infant, Lady Elizabeth Vorkosigan; as Tej looks at the baby pictures, he contemplates how he’s somehow become an uncle, through no fault of his own, and compares it gingerly to the prospect of eventual fatherhood.  Tej, apparently thinking on similar lines, points out neutrally that one wouldn’t want to drag a uterine replicator, or an infant, through all those wormhole jumps back to Barrayar.

Ivan muses on how he’s four years away from being a twenty-years man, which, he explains to Tej, is when a Barrayaran soldier either takes early retirement or re-ups with an eye to command rank.  Tej asks which he’d prefer, and Ivan says he’s not as keen for high rank as he may have been when he was younger; the consul has suggested he move into the diplomatic corps, which is not an uncommon career path, though it would involve more travel.  Tej decides it might not be so bad, to suffer through wormhole jumps once in a while, if it keeps them from having to spend too much time with their families; Ivan points out that her linguistic talents would certainly come in handy.

In all, in truth, it was a problem for another day, Ivan decided.  When life and chance handed you an afternoon as idyllic as this one promised to be, it seemed profoundly ungrateful not to pay attention.

Ivan ran a toe up Tej’s shin, and began attending.

Comments

So Ivan and Tej got kicked offplanet for a temporary exile, the way his mother and Illyan did, though apparently for a little longer.  Ivan does, at least, get to get some advantage out of his penchant for laziness, at least in the sense that he’s willing to put in a little hard work to make his life easier in the long run.  And the rest is just like the thing where they tell you what happened to the characters after the events of the movie, to some extent.

Illyan and Alys went off for a while, did the Orb thing, and went back home.  Mark bought the old ImpSec HQ with nefarious commercial purposes in mind, while they built a new one somewhere else.  Miles and Ekaterin had another baby.  And Ivan contemplates his future, now that he’s been jolted out of his prior career track; would he have been thinking about it so much if he’d still been sorting snakes for Admiral Desplains (and still single)?

I should probably do some kind of summation of the book.  I was dissatisfied with it my first time through, and my reread hasn’t altered my views all that much.  I rarely managed to maintain a two-chapter-per-week pace, which I managed much better in A Civil Campaign, for heaven’s sake, where the chapters were huge, and mostly that was because I wasn’t that interested.  The book starts off a little slow, picks up for the wedding, slows down when we go back to Barrayar as Tej meets familiar characters and gets presented with recaps of earlier events, and then sinks into a morass of Jacksonian relatives.  Ivan gets lost by the wayside for chapters at a time, until finally he joins them in the vault and actual excitement happens.  The pace still seems jerky, the Arquas and Ser Imola getting brought in too abruptly, the Vormerciers vanishing just as suddenly, the romance progressing and then stopping dead before eventually resuming.

Ivan is just not the same kind of protagonist as Miles, or even Cordelia.  He is reluctant to act, and generally shies away from the plot in most of the books we see him in, unless dragged into it by Byerly or Miles, or kidnapped as a hostage or something.  He’s not a total incompetent in a crisis, but he tries much harder to avoid them, or situations where a crisis might even potentially arise.  So he doesn’t get involved until he has no choice, and it takes a little too long to get him to that point.  While Ivan’s stellar showing in A Civil Campaign made me think that a book with him as the star would be a great idea, in practice it felt more like Dr. Watson getting his own story, or Xander Harris, or some superhero sidekick, or something.


 

Next, of course, is CryoBurn, after my usual week off.  Which I also didn’t like that much, despite its actually having Miles as a protagonist, and maybe I’ll figure that one out too.

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Boy, is today your lucky day!  Depending on when “today” is, of course.  But let’s presume that it’s the day that you’re reading the latest entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread (which is what this is, you know, what with all the discussion of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and all), and you are flabbergasted to discover that, for no particular reason, this entry actually manages to cover two entire chapters!  How unpredecented!  Well, except for that time when I missed a week, a few months ago, and of course almost all of the other entries for all of the books which weren’t Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  But still, I’m impressed with myself for putting in the extra effort this time, and you’re the ones who reap the benefits of it (see below)…

Chapter Twenty-Three

Tej interrupts Ivan and Byerly’s conversation to ask if they’ve found Rish and Jet; By says no, dismayed, though they have found Star.  Tej says Rish and Jet were in the tunnel when the bomb went off.  One of the soldiers sends a little robot probe into the tunnel, and Ivan restrains By from attempting to follow, telling him it’s best to leave the engineers to do it, so they won’t have to be rescued themselves.  By examines the inhabitants of the vault, and asks who the extra three are; Tej tells him about Imola and his guards, who By says ImpSec was already looking for.

By tells them that Ivan and the Arquas seemed to have just vanished, and he didn’t realize at first, when he heard about the explosion near ImpSec, that there might be any relation.  An ImpSec patrol had followed suspect energy signatures into the garage, and found Imola’s goons trying to make off with Star; two of them escaped into the tunnel, there was an exchange of stunner fire, and that, apparently, set off the bomb.  They didn’t find out what was really going on until Star woke up and told them about the people trapped in the tunnel, and then eventually they alerted Illyan and Lady Alys.  Once they determined it wouldn’t be practical to go in through the garage, they brought in the equipment to dig down from above.

Ivan tells the soldiers to treat this as a Class Two Biohazard area, and they pass on the information with well-concealed dismay; Ivan tells the others that he wants to at least discourage casual visitors, given the value of the contents of the vault.  By asks if there’s really a fortune down here, and Ivan shows him enough to convince him, after with By starts talking furiously on his commlink.

The engineer operating the probe looks up and tells them that he found the two missing people, and they’re following “Rover” back now.  Sure enough, a very muddy Rish and Jet stumble into the vault a few minutes later, and Rish plasters herself gratefully over By.  She tells how, when she and Jet saw strangers coming down the tunnel, they ducked into a side branch by the storm drain; when the explosion happened, it deafened them for an hour, and they were trapped by rising water, and then left in the dark by their fading cold lights.    Ivan gives Rish a hug in sympathy for her predicament.  She says their air pocket was just giving out when the water began to drain away, and then the robot probe appeared to guide them out.

Rish and Jet are sent up first for medical examination, and then Imola and his goons under guard, and the Arquas in pairs; Tej stays with Ivan to go up last.  The medevac floater is a little cramped, able to accommodate two people sitting on the stretcher if nobody has to lie down; they rise through the cone-shaped hole dug down to the vault, with engineers trying to stabilize the sides.  When they rise above the ground Ivan sees the dirt they dug out in a huge pile spilling over the sides of the park and blocking streets, but at least it’s stopped raining.  Heavy equipment is parked all over the place, floodlights are still on despite the rising sun, soldiers are everywhere, security vehicles fly overhead.  A combination biohazard/accounting team is preparing to descend into the vault, and a fair quantity of ImpSec personnel are outside watching the spectacle.

As they debark from the floater, Ivan sees an approaching mob consisting of his mother, Simon Illyan, Allegre, and Duv Galeni.  Lady Alys hugs both him and Tej first thing, and Illyan shakes his hands firmly, but with a troubled air, and whispers an apology to Tej.  Allegre asks Ivan if he’s responsibly for it; Ivan says he isn’t, though he recalls uneasily the documents he signed taking responsibility for the Arquas’ actions on the planet when they arrived.  He asks them about Sgt. Abelard and his bomb, showing them the dog tags and telling them about the skeleton they’d found below.

“Is there really a treasure worth millions of marks down there?” Simon demanded next.  Galeni was right at his shoulder, for this one.

“Simon, there were millions in the first crate we opened.  Hundreds of millions down there, at the least guess.”  Ivan turned to Galeni.  “And crates of hundred-year-old documents packed to the ceiling, Barrayaran and Cetagandan.  They’re going to take years to sort.  I found a holograph letter from Prince Xav to Prince Yuri in one of them.”  He pulled the folded letter out of his jacket and handed it across to Duv, who took it; one glance, and his mouth, which had opened to say something–probably about correct document conservation starting with not folding up rare items and stuffing them in one’s pocket–just stayed open.  Ivan had never seen Duv’s eyes go so wide.

Captain Raudsepp has just finished processing Imola and his men, and tells Ivan he’s glad Lady Vorpatril is safe, though he swears he doesn’t know how they got onplanet.  Ivan tells him they’re locals, and fills him in on Imola and his dodgy business in smuggling, including the cryocorpse exporting; he emphasizes probably commendations for bringing him to justice, and happily leaves the case in Raudsepp’s lap, hopefully getting him off of the Arquas’ back.

Tej asks if they’re being arrested, and Allegre says that first priority is to get them to ImpMil for examination, with the biohazard risk; Ivan encourages him to get someone qualified to speak “old-high-medical” to Lady Moira for more information.  Tej’s parents and Byerly come up and encourage “Lady Vorpatril” to stay with her husband, presumably to keep her safe if the rest of them end up in trouble, but Tej chooses to interpret this as endorsement to stay with him period.  Shiv shakes Illyan’s hand and congratulates him on a well-played hand, and Illyan enigmatically tells him they’re not quite done with House Cordonah yet.

Allegre receives a call which apparently is announcing the Emperor’s imminent arrival, which he protests, but is apparently overruled.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, Gregor arrives in a groundcar with an escort of armsmen and ImpSec.  Gregor is genuinely happy to see Ivan and Tej rescued and safe.

His eye fell on Simon, watching this with his mouth gone wry.  “And Simon.  What the hell?”  The Why was I blindsided? look was very clear in the Emperor’s eye, which Ivan could only be grateful was not turned on him.  Yet.

Simon gave him a beleaguered head tilt.  “You know that long lunch appointment I made with you for tomorrow?”

“Yes…?”

“I should have made it for yesterday.”

Gregor then thanks General Allegre for his good work, and goes over to give his personal thanks to Colonel Otto, head of the engineers.  Otto asks Ivan about the Mycoborers that Star mentioned, and Ivan gives him a brief resumé before encouraging him to talk to Lady Moira for more details, and get someone from the Imperial Science Institute qualified to understand what she says.  The Mycoborers do seem to have potential, he notes, but more as a weapon than as a building tool just yet.

A Captain Roux, more mud-spattered than most of the engineers, arrives on a float-bike to speak to Otto; he says they’ve found the storm sewer’s outlet into the river.  It had been blocked up, but recently become unblocked; now what’s coming out is mud, at a prodigious rate of several cubic meters a second.  Allegre asks where that would be coming from, and Otto says they’ll find out soon enough, but right now they have more important things to figure out.

“Guy,” called Gregor, still staring.  “Has ImpSec HQ always been sort of…tilted up on one side?  Or is that an optical illusion?”

Allegre looked around; his gaze grew arrested.

Gregor went on, uncertainly, “I’d not seen it before from his angle of view.  Maybe it’s just more of Dono Vorrutyer’s subtle disproportions devised from his cracked theories on the psychology of architecture.”

Ivan wheeled around as well.  So did everyone else.  Simon, Alys cluching his arm, and Tej came over to Ivan’s side.

Ivan blinked.  He squinted.  Gregor wasn’t wrong; the left side of the ImpSec building did look slightly higher than the right.  Or…the right side lower than the left…?

In the courtyard of the building, cobblestones begin popping out of the ground, and then the front steps crack, twisting the huge bronze doors.  The building seems to be levelling out, but Otto observes that it’s just that both sides are now sinking.  ImpSec men begin to evacuate the building, to Allegre’s dismay; Illyan says that it’s probably those who grew up in earthquake country coming out first.  He tells him to commend the ones who stayed at their post–and promote the ones who were smart enough to leave.

Illyan watches, mesmerized, as the building continues to sink; it’s stable enough that it stays together, but it only takes a few minutes for the first storey to sink beneath the ground, and by the time it begins to slow, the third-storey windows are at ground level.

“Well,” said Gregor, in a choked voice.  “There’s…a surprise.”

A startling cackle broke from Simon’s lips.  He clapped a hand over his mouth, and managed in a more measured voice, “My God, I hope no one has been injured.”  Except then he cackled again, louder.  Lady Alys gripped his arm in worry.

Gregor finally lets his armsmen drag him away from the spectacle, and Lady Alys herds Ivan, Tej and a reluctant Illyan away home.

Comments

The two moments that hold this novel together, the ones that support the plot like tentpoles, are Ivan and Tej’s spur-of-the-moment wedding, and the sinking of ImpSec Headquarters.  Once you get here, it seems like most of the rest of the plot is leading up to it.  “How can I sink ImpSec HQ?” wonders the author.  This leads to the underground vault, which leads naturally to the Cetagandan connection…but it can’t be that direct, Ivan wouldn’t marry a Cetagandan, so let’s bring her in by way of Jackson’s Whole…  The Mycoborer fits into that as well, as the kind of thing a Cetagandan or a Jacksonian might get access to, a tool to loosen the earth just enough.  The bomb is also important, of course, but on a place like Barrayar it’s not that hard to find out lying around somewhere.  So there you have it.

Rish and Jet’s predicament, sadly, didn’t work as well for me.  They were lost and presumed in jeopardy, but there was nothing anyone could do about it, and we didn’t get to see it, just imagine it and then hear the details second-hand later.  If Rish had had any viewpoint scenes, then that would worked a lot better, but it was a little too late in the book to start them, I suppose.  Also, her character had started to fade into the background into the rest of the mass of Jewels and Arquas, after a promising early start.  But Byerly did get to be a little bit heroic, though by now his cover must surely be quite thoroughly blown, because how could they justify a supposed town clown doing something quite that heroic?

Ivan accounts well for himself, being sufficiently on top of things to be able to overwhelm Galeni, Captain Raudsepp, Guy Allegre, and Simon Illyan, which is not too shabby.  An uncharitable person might think that he’d been deliberately withholding information, but he did come into possession of most of it in the last little while; he just happens to be sufficiently respectable (as compared to, say, random Jacksonian in-laws) to be able to tell them all this and be believed.  But that’s the best thing for him to do in this situation, to get his information to the people best able to make use of it.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Despite any efforts ImpSec put forth, the events in Vorbarr Sultana are impossible to conceal–the dramatic rescue, the rumours of treasure and offworlder criminals and outright shenanigans, not to mention the sinking of ImpSec HQ.  The only thing they have managed to keep under wraps is the existence of the Mycoborer, which Ivan says is a good thing, because Barrayarans would likely react badly to the news that some alien fungus has been introduced willy-nilly into their ecosystem–Dismemberment of Mad Emperor Yuri badly.

After their release from ImpMil, the Arquas are moved into an apartment in Lady Alys’s building and kept there under guard and strictly sequestered.  Officially, they are “detained at the Emperor’s pleasure”, the only good point of which is that it keeps them from being summarily deported, yet.  They do receive some requests for media interviews, but the Baronne says that it would likely be a bad idea.

ImpSec HQ is still being evacuated of files and equipment, though Ivan wonders how they’re going to handle the evidence rooms in the lowest levels.  The sinking has slowed, but not yet stopped, the third floor now having disappeared underground.  Simon Illyan does keep his appointment to talk to the Emperor, though when he comes home he remarks on the unaccustomed levels of sarcasm that Gregor indulged himself in.  The contents of the bunker, meanwhile, have surpassed a tally of 1.1 billion marks.

“What,” said Pidge, peering over Ivan Xav’s shoulder, “is an Imperial Court of Inquiry“–she squinted–“most secret?”

“You could think of it as a subpoena,” said Ivan Xav.  “With fangs.  But it would be…be…”

“A charming understatement?” suggested Tej, peering over his other shoulder.

“No,” said Ivan Xav, in a distant tone, “not charming…”

He brings Tej to the Imperial Residence, and Byerly, Illyan and Lady Alys shepherd the rest of them.  The meeting is held in a subterranean lecture hall, in a part of the palace Ivan is unfamiliar with.  Gregor arrives as his staff are setting things up, and soon everyone is seated.

Gregor begins by listing the various jurisdictions involved in the recent events–the Vorbarra District Count’s Court, the Barrayaran Military Service, and the Imperium as a whole; luckily, he is the one in charge of all of them, and so he proposes to bundle them all together into a Star Chamber.  He gives them a chance to decide whether they would prefer this or not; Pidge consults with her parents and grandmother on the matter, and advises them to refuse, giving them the longest time to fight their way through the various courts.  Ivan points out that Gregor is offering them a sizable chunk of his time now, and probably won’t make the time available to them later, and also that he’s wearing civilian clothing rather than military or House garb, which implies he’s likely to offer them a deal of some sort…as long as they don’t annoy him or waste his time.  After further consultation, Shiv announces that they are willing to abide by the Star Chamber’s rulings.

Another group is then admitted–Duv Galeni, Guy Allegre, Colonel Otto, Dr. Vaughn Weddel, and Allegre’s wife Susan, who is also Senior Administrator of the Imperial Science Institute.  After they have been settled, Gregor notes two possible ways of solving a dilemma–starting from the facts, or starting from the desired outcome–and that he will be trying some combination of the two.  He starts by asking Galeni for facts about the bunker being reported “cleared”, and the late Sgt. Abelard.

Galeni comes up to the front, and begins by telling them about Captain Geo Pharos, the ImpSec officer who signed off the inspection of the bunker, and his assistant, Sergeant Vlad Norman.  They were both killed a month after the inspection in a construction accident (which, Galeni notes for Otto’s benefit, resulted in the hanging of the construction boss whose slapdash workmanship had resulted in the mishap).  Galeni says that Norman and Pharos could have simply blown off the inspection entirely, confident that nothing would be found and under severe time pressure, or they could have been purposely trying to conceal the contents of the bunker in hopes of being able to exploit them themselves; he can find no definitive evidence either way.

Moving on to Abelard, Gregor notes that he talked to Aral Vorkosigan, who doesn’t recall ever sending anyone to blow up ImpSec while Vordarian’s men were in control, though he’s not sure that, in the chaos of the Pretendership, he would necessarily have been brought into the loop on such an operation.  Illyan suggests that Negri, despite already being dead, would have been perfectly capable of setting up some kind of posthumous order.  Galeni notes that Abelard’s record was exemplary before the Pretendership, but it’s still possible he might have sided with Vordarian.  He was a senior guard at ImpSec, and wasn’t noted as missing until after the end of the war.  Gregor asks Galeni for his personal feeling, and Galeni says he thinks Abelard was cut off from his fellows and left to find his own way to fight; he suggests finding Abelard’s old colleagues and interviewing them if they really want to find out more about the man.

Gregor then moves on to the bunker itself; he is interrupted by Pidge, who points out that according to Barrayaran law, there is a 10% finder’s fee due to those who find lost items, including historical artifacts confiscated by the government, and she wishes to file such a claim on behalf of House Cordonah.  She points out that without their efforts, the vault may never have been opened and its contents found at all.  Gregor says that he is aware of the precedent, and says they will get back to it.  Galeni says that he has put Professora Vorthys in charge of curating the historical documents from the vault, which have been removed to a secure location.

“Our best guess of the value of the rest of the items inventories and removed so far–as of this morning; I checked on the way here–is”–Galeni cleared his throat, unaccountably dry–“three point nine billion marks.”

Make that accountably dry, Ivan corrected his observation.  Gregor, who had hitched himself up on the edge of the comconsole table, nearly fell off it.  Shiv Arqua rubbed his forehead, his face screwing up like a man suffering from the sharpest twinge of existential pain in history.

“Almost four billion marks, Duv?” choked Gregor.  “Really?”

“So far.  We hope to have cleared the upper floor by the end of the week.  I have absolutely no idea what we’ll find on the lower one.”

“More of the same, as I recall,” murmured Lady ghem Estif.

Galeni notes that most of the contents of the vault are worth a lot more than they were when they were stored, and surely somebody else must have known they were there, but no other Cetagandan entrepreneurs ever came back for them.  Lady Moira says that’s probably because the ghem-lords who owned them were executed on their return to Eta Ceta in defeat.  Galeni tells Lady Moira he’d be gratified to speak to her later, if she can.

Gregor then calls Otto up to try to explain the suddenly subterranean nature of ImpSec HQ.  Otto puts up a three-dimensional display on the comconsole table, showing ImpSec HQ and neighbouring buildings, the nearby terrain, the bunker, and the storm sewer.  He says that Abelard may well have made his tunnel starting from the storm sewer, which may have left a weak point in the pipe.  He adds the Mycoborer tunnels, many of which he postulates having spread out in the area underneath the ImpSec sub-basements, and notes that the tunnel walls end up hard but brittle, weak in tension, and the force of the explosion doubtless caused them to crack.  The storm sewer pipe also blew out, and part of its drainage collapsed, so the water made its way into the tunnels instead, weakening the walls  and increasing the pressure.

When they dug down with the grav-lifters, Otto theorizes, the vibrations may have also helped unclog the storm sewer drain; what came running out would have been mud from the Mycoborer tunnels under ImpSec HQ, and the decrease in pressure would have caused the building to begin to settle into the space that the mud was vacating.  He says that the building shouldn’t sink too much further by this point.  Gregor thanks him for his cogent explanation; Otto says that what he wants to know is what’s going to happen with the Mycoborer remnants that are now washing downstream, and Gregor says that that’s what he brought Dr. Weddell here to answer.

Weddell begins by saying that they haven’t yet found any evidence of live Mycoborer cells downstream from the capital, though they have found remnants of the tunnel wall.  In addition, their tests with live cells in the laboratory indicate that they do not thrive in salt water.  Tej notes to Ivan that Weddell is another former Jacksonian; he says he and Gregor know, but not to mention it to anyone else.

“While I do strongly recommend we continue to monitor, it is my opinion that the Mycoborer is less a hazard than several other biological nightmares you Barrayarans have lived with for years, not excepting this planet’s own native ecosystem.  Preudence yes, panic no.  Add it to the list and go on, I’d say.”

Gregor eyed Weddel.  “Would you, personally, today, drink water taken from the river downstream of Vorbarr Sultana?”  In his present mood Gregor was not above personally testing that very question, Ivan suspected.  On Weddell, that was.  Did he have a liter bottle tucked away behind the podium?

“Yes,” said Weddell, steadily, “if it was first boiled to destroy all the eighteen other lethal pathogens usually present.  Normal local water treatment should protect your subjects.”

Gregor asks Dr. Allegre to check into Weddell’s claims about the water treatment, and she promises to do so.  Then he switches to wider Imperial concerns, pointing out that while Barrayar does not currently have significant interest in Jackson’s Whole, that could change if Cetaganda were to take an interest in the system; he speculates that House Prestene may in fact represent the beginning of some Cetagandan action aimed at a wormhole monopoly.  Shiv notes that that’s been tried before, to no success, but Gregor points out that Prestene has two of the five they’d need, and Baron Fell, traditionally the hardest to overcome, may not be around much longer.  In such a case, Barrayar might find it prudent to have an ally among the Jacksonian houses, and a secret one would be even better.

Gregor offers House Cordonah their ten percent, less expenses.  There was no loss of life, so there won’t be survivors’ pension in the tally, but he would wish to include expenses incurred in the unearthing and investigation of the vault, which Shiv agrees would be reasonably.  He also says they will need a new ImpSec building, which lights up Illyan’s eyes with excitement, and draws Allegre’s interest as well; they would also need to clean up the old building, and put some money aside in case there does prove to be Mycoborer contamination down the line.  He does, however, propose to give House Cordonah a free jumpship, which Byerly immediately realizes means Vormercier’s confiscated yacht; Gregor apologizes in advance for the questionable décor.  He also offers them their own personal ImpSec liaison, and one on the verge of familial ties to the Arquas, in the person of Byerly himself.  Allegre opines that Byerly seemed to be in need of a new challenge, which By protests, but only weakly.

Shiv and Udine retreat to the hallway to confer in semi-private, which they do at length; eventually they return and agree to Gregor’s Deal.  Gregor shakes their hands and wishes them luck.  Shiv asks for one personal favour, which is that he be allowed to personally inform Vigo Imola of the estimated valuation of the bunker’s contents; Gregor allows it.

Armsman in front and secretary trailing, Gregor paused on his way out to deal with whatever next crisis might be crowding his queue.  Because a three-planet empire delivered upset snakes by the basket-load to this man’s office, every damned morning.  Yeah–for all the talk of men coveting the emperor’s throne, Ivan had never yet heard anyone speak of coveting his desk.

“Ivan.”  Gregor’s mouth twisted.  “Captain and Lady Vorpatril.  I want to see you tomorrow.  My secretary will call with your appointment.”

Comments

Why is this the first mention we are getting of Guy Allegre’s wife?  At least, I don’t recall her ever being mentioned before, not in any of the books since Allegre was first introduced (I believe) in Memory.  It’s not clear whether she is the Senior Administrator or merely a Senior Administrator, which may be a significant difference.  This being Barrayar, it’s possible that the odds of a woman rising to being actually in charge of a major Imperial institution, even in something so namby-pamby as science, are fairly low.  It’s actually impressive, though now I wonder if her husband’s influence has helped.  (Or maybe he married her after she rose to that position.  Not impossible.)

It is kind of nice, I suppose, to have a few people brought in who we weren’t already familiar with.  I mean, for our historical experts we have Duv Galeni and Professora Vorthys, who we’re well familiar with by now.  For our scientific expert we have Vaughn Weddell a.k.a. Hugh Canaba, though he is delightful as always on the subject of the Barrayaran ecosystem.  Makes me think he might drink a lot of distilled water.  (Where is Enrique Borgos these days, I wonder?  Still on Barrayar, married to Martya?  I don’t know if we ever find that out…maybe a mention in CryoBurn somewhere…)  Anyway, having Otto there as a bona fide expert but not a personal acquaintance of Miles and Ivan is at least a bit refreshing.  Susan Allegre would be good too if she had anything to do in this scene, which she really doesn’t.

The Cordonahs do get at least a portion of the loot, as part of the deal.  If we take that as, say, eight billion marks total, of which they get 10%, or 800 million…minus however much it costs to build a new ImpSec headquarters, among other things.  How much is real estate and construction on Barrayar?  I don’t have a good feeling for it, but I suppose they should get away with at least half of that 10%.  Which is a far cry from 85%, if Vigo had played straight with them (6.8 billion?), but better than nothing.

I had vaguely heard the term Star Chamber before, so I looked it up on Wikipedia just now.  Apparently, in Tudor and Stuart England, it was a sort of nasty high court that could basically do whatever it wanted, and ended up being used for disposting of people that the Crown just didn’t like.  Luckily, with Gregor, we have an enlightened ruler who would never do that.  I wonder how these people would have fared under one of the less nice emperors of the past?


Two chapters left, or one chapter and an epilogue.  Will that take me one week, or two?  It’s too soon to tell, but if I’m taking Remembrance Day off, I suppose there’s a chance I may spend some of that time working on the next blog post, so I wouldn’t rule it out.  So you just might get lucky again…

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