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)…
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?”
“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.
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.
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.”
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…