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Archive for the ‘Barrayar’ Category

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread; in this installment I finish off Barrayar with what turns out to be a single fairly short epilogue.

I’ve known for a while (ever since I discovered that the last “chapter” in Cordelia’s Honour was actually the author’s Afterword) that there were an odd number of chapters, and since I was generally doing two chapters a week, I’d after have to do three chapters in one week (which I confess I didn’t see myself doing) or one week with only one chapter.  I kept that in reserve, in case there was a week when I was going to be just too swamped or listless to do that second chapter.  But there wasn’t, so here it comes at the end of the book…and, apparently in a week where I’m swamped and/or listless, so that works out okay.

It is still quite short, though, but here it is.

Epilogue

Five years later, in Vorkosigan Surleau, Cordelia is searching frantically for Miles, who has gone missing.  Not finding him inside the house, she heads outside, where Aral says he’s not near the house.  Cordelia says he’s probably with Elena; they could be down at the lake, despite being specifically forbidden to swim without an adult, but Aral says they spent three hours doing that earlier, and surely they’re tired by now.  Cordelia had been waiting for Miles to finally learn to walk, but now he’s hyperactive; Aral thinks it’s five years of pent-up motion.  At least he’s stopped chattering so much, and taking things apart.

Up the hill, Bothari is looking in the stables.  They are trying again to reconcile with Count Piotr, now that Miles is finally walking.

“He was civil, last night at dinner,” said Aral, judiciously hopeful.

I was civil, last night at dinner,” Cordelia shrugged. “He as much as accused me of starving your son into dwarfism. Can I help it if the kid would rather play with his food than eat it? I just don’t know about stepping up the growth hormone, Vaagen’s so uncertain about its effect on bone friability.”

A crooked smile stole over Aral’s face. “I did think the dialogue with the peas marching to surround the bread-roll and demand surrender was rather ingenious. You could almost picture them as little soldiers in Imperial greens.”

Bothari emerges to say that he’s found Elena in the hayloft; Miles isn’t with her, but she says he’s somewhere nearby.  Miles had said something earlier about looking at the animals…  Cordelia was hoping that if Miles showed interest in them, Count Piotr might actually start talking to his grandson.  Count Piotr himself appears then, and offers to show them his new filly.  Cordelia is just accepting, on Miles’s behalf, when she sees Bothari looking past her, and turns to see Miles on the back of Count Piotr’s gigantic imported stallion.  While Miles exults in his newfound height and speed, Bothari dithers over trying to stun the horse, and it runs around the corner of the stable.  The adults follow, and they find Miles on the ground, holding his left arm in pain, while the horse grazes nearby.

“You see, Sergeant?” Miles panted. “I can ride, I can.”

Piotr, on his way toward his horse, paused and looked down.

“I didn’t mean to say you weren’t able,” said the sergeant in a driven tone. “I meant you didn’t have permission.”

“Oh.”

Miles confirms that the arm is broken, again, and Bothari expertly splints it with an inflatable plastic sleeve.  Miles admires the horse, and Count Piotr’s attention is caught when Miles refers to it as “the springiest”.  Miles says he’d like to ride and go fast, and Piotr says he’s not very good at it; Miles instantly asks the Count to teach him.  The Count agrees, if his mother gives permission; Cordelia is torn.

Risk, or security? In the few months since Miles had at last acquired a full range of motion, she’d run on panicked overdrive, trying to save him from physical harm; he’d spent the same time near-frantically trying to escape her supervision. Much more of this struggle, and either she’d be insane, or he would.

If she could not keep him safe, perhaps the next best thing was to teach him competence at living dangerously. He was almost undrownable already. His big grey eyes were radiating a desperate, silent plea at her, Let me, let me, let me . . . with enough transmission energy to burn through steel. I would fight the world for you, but I’m damned if I can figure out how to save you from yourself. Go for it, kid.

She agrees, if Bothari can accompany him.  Miles asks if he can have his own horse, and is eventually negotiated down to a pony, though Piotr says he can have a horse if he earns it.  Miles asks if he can start now, and Piotr admits that they start on a lunge line, where he isn’t even allowed to use his arms…

“Want to lay a side-bet, who’s leading who on that lunge line by the end of the week?” Aral murmured in her ear.

“No contest. I must say, the months Miles spent immobilized in that dreadful spinal brace did teach him how to do charm. The most efficient long-term way to control those about you, and thus exert your will. I’m glad he didn’t decide to perfect whining as a strategy. He’s the most willful little monster I’ve ever encountered, but he makes you not notice.”

“I don’t think the Count has a chance,” Aral agreed.

She smiled at the vision, then glanced at him more seriously. “When my father was home on leave one time from the Betan Astronomical Survey, we made model gliders together. Two things were required to get them to fly. First we had to give them a running start. Then we had to let them go.” She sighed. “Learning just when to let go was the hardest part.”

Comments

Miles’s character comes across pretty clearly in this bit, though I’m not quite sure what its purpose is aside from that, except perhaps to establish the reconciliation with Count Piotr that is evident at the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Maybe just to show Cordelia’s “Finding Nemo” moment where she decides that she doesn’t have to overprotect her son anymore, which is a coda to this story of, as Bujold herself says, motherhood.

Is this the end of Cordelia’s story?  Well, it’s the end of her protagonism, at least.  (Protagony?)  The vast majority of what we see from here on is from Miles’s own point of view, up until Komarr, I suppose, where Bujold decides to experiment with multiple-POV, which we’ve had for every story since except Diplomatic Immunity (which reverts to all-Miles) and “Winterfair Gifts”, which is single-character but not Miles-POV.  Don’t worry, Miles is, in general, more fun that Cordelia, I’ve found, or at least more volatile–his highs are higher, his lows dip lower.


So I’ll take a week off, in which I probably won’t end up preparing myself for the beginning of Young Miles/The Warrior’s Apprentice, because I’m a procrastinator that way.  In those two weeks we’ll move forward about a dozen years in time from this epilogue, so it’ll only seem to pass quickly.  Until then, please keep yourself in the fashion to which you are accustomed.

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I summarize and comment on the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in weekly installments of (usually) two chapters, posted on Tuesdays, at least in my time zone–more often in the evenings than in the mornings, admittedly, but technically Tuesday none the less.  This is the penultimate installment of the Barrayar reread, as I cover chapters 19 and 20, winding the plot down from Cordelia’s triumph to a gentle, touching denouement.  There’s even a wedding, for a nice, traditional ending.

But at the start, Cordelia, Drou and Bothari have just escaped from the burning Imperial Residence, with the severed head of soi-disant Emperor Vordarian, former pretender to the throne.

Chapter Nineteen

In Ezar’s cache they find money and fake IDs for Drou, so Cordelia sends Drou out to buy a groundcar.  They will have to pass several checkpoints to leave the capital, but the monorail is worse, and lightflyers likely to be shot down.  Drou buys a fairly cheap car, since Cordelia wants to save money for bribes at the checkpoints.  As they set off, Cordelia can see the black smoke coming from the fire at the Residence.

The first checkpoint is unmanned; the second is harried, and a healthy bribe convinces them to let Drou and her “sick uncle” Bothari pass through.  At the third, they mention the “rumour” of Vordarian’s death and the guard deserts on the spot.  After that, they drive to Vorinnis’s neutral District, and switch to the monorail after the car breaks down.  Once they reach a loyal District, Drou convinces the duty officer at a supply depot near the border to contact Tanery Base, and they send an air shuttle to pick them up.

Once they reach the base, she orders her ImpSec escort to get Vaagen there right away, and they tell her he’s already been summoned.  The security men take their weapons, and Cordelia doesn’t blame them, in their current condition.  Vaagen arrives and examines the replicator, saying nutrient levels are low and waste products high, but still within tolerance.  Aral already set up a lab for Vaagen, just in case, so he has everything he needs to get it back into shape, though he doesn’t know what effect there was on the calcification treatments.  After being relieved of the replicator, Cordelia wants to rest, but she has to tell Aral, first.  She wonders if she’s crippled his credibility among his men.

Koudelka arrives, and he and Drou have a quite non-military reunion.  Kou says that the Vorpatrils are safely bedded down, suffering from exhaustion but little worse.  Drou tells him about Kareen’s fate, and Koudelka says that he’s been ordered to bring them to Aral for the initial debriefing before they talk to anyone else.  He asks about her plastic bag, and the ImpSec men say she wouldn’t let them look at it, and they don’t know if they should let her bring it into the base.  Koudelka takes a peek inside, pales, and says that this is definitely something Aral should see.

“Lieutenant, what should I put on my inventory?” the ImpSec man—whined, Cordelia decided, was what he was doing. “I have to register it, if it’s going in.”

“Let him cover his ass, Kou,” Cordelia sighed.

Kou peeked again, his lips twisting into a very crooked grin. “It’s all right. Put it down as a Winterfair gift for Admiral Vorkosigan. From his wife.”

Drou returns the sword-cane, apologizing for losing the case, and Koudelka immediately makes the connection with the severed head; Cordelia says she’ll go back to Siegling’s and replace the casing.  Koudelka says that Aral is meeting with two Vordarian officers negotating their help with the hostage recovery, but Vordarian’s death will certainly change everything.  Koudelka leads them into a conference chamber.

Cordelia took in the tableau, that paused to look back up at her from around the polished table. Aral was in the center, of course. Illyan and Count Piotr flanked him on either side. Prime Minister Vortala was there, and Kanzian, and some other senior staffers all in formal dress greens. The two double-traitors sat across, with their aides. Clouds of witnesses. She wanted to be alone with Aral, be rid of the whole bloody mob of them. Soon.

Aral’s eyes locked to hers in silent agony. His lips curled in an utterly ironic smile. That was all; and yet her stomach warmed with confidence again, sure of him. No frost. It was going to be all right. They were in step again, and a torrent of words and hard embraces could not have communicated it any better. Embraces would come, though, the grey eyes promised. Her own lips curved up for the first time since—when?

Count Piotr’s hand slapped down hard upon the table. “Good God, woman, where have you been?” he cried furiously.

A morbid lunacy overtook her. She smiled fiercely at him, and held up the bag. “Shopping.”

For a second, the old man nearly believed her; conflicting expressions whiplashed over his face, astonishment, disbelief, then anger as it penetrated he was being mocked.

“Want to see what I bought?” Cordelia continued, still floating. She yanked the bag’s top open, and rolled Vordarian’s head out across the table. Fortunately, it had ceased leaking some hours back. It stopped faceup before him, lips grinning, drying eyes staring.

The reaction is gratifying.  Koudelka lays the sword-stick down next to the head to emphasize its role.  Cordelia says that she paid too much for it, that Kareen is dead.  Aral says that he wishes to be along with his wife.  As Vordarian’s turncoats are leaving, Cordelia tells them she’s tired of their stupid war and they should surrender unconditionally.  Count Piotr says he underestimated her, and she tells him to stay away from her son.  Aral tells Koudelka to take the head away to the morgue until it can be reunited with its body, and that Bothari and Drou should wash, eat and report to him in his quarters.

Alone at least, Cordelia and Aral embrace fiercely, and Cordelia promises never to pull a stunt like that again as long as Aral never makes it necessary again.  He has already heard about Padma Vorpatril, who was the only other survivor of Prince Xav’s descendants.  He says that she’s shocked the Barrayarans, and she says that like Vordarian, they seem to think that Barrayarans have a monopoly on savagery.  Aral asks about the head, and Cordelia says that she wasn’t sure why she was bringing it along, but later realized that it was the only way to convince people that she’d actually done the deed.  She says that Bothari needs help, better than the memory wipe he got from Ezar.  She wonders why he fixates on her, of all people.

Vorkosigan looked very thoughtful. “Bothari . . . does not have a good sense of self. No strong center. When I first met him, at his most ill, his personality was close to separating into multiples. If he were better educated, not so damaged, he would have made an ideal spy, a deep-penetration mole. He’s a chameleon. A mirror. He becomes whatever is required of him. Not a conscious process, I don’t think. Piotr expects a loyal retainer, and Bothari plays the part, deadpan as you please. Vorrutyer wanted a monster, and Bothari became his torturer. And victim. I demanded a good soldier, and he became one for me. You . . .” his voice softened, “you are the only person I know who looks at Bothari and sees a hero. So he becomes one for you. He clings to you because you create him a greater man than he ever dreamed of being.”

Three days later, Aral’s forces retake Vorbarr Sultana, without too great a loss of life, or much resistance except at the Residence and ImpSec headquarters.  The hotel where Elena Bothari and other hostages were being held was liberated without incident, and Aral granted Bothari leave to take her back home.  Evon Vorhalas, who had of course been fighting for Vordarian, was shot by his own men after he refused to consider an offer of amnesty.

One rebel Count declared himself Emperor after hearing of Vordarian’s death, but his own pretendership was brief; in another District, the Count killed himself and an anti-Vor group declared themselves an independent republic.  Aral decided to let the Count’s successor deal with that one himself.

On the fifth day, Gregor was returned to the capital. Vorkosigan and Cordelia together undertook to tell him of the death of Kareen. He cried in bewilderment. When he quieted, he was taken for a ride in a groundcar with a transparent force-screen, reviewing some troops; in fact, the troops were reviewing him, that he might be seen to be alive, finally dispelling Vordarian’s rumors of his death. Cordelia rode with him. His silent shockiness hurt her to the heart, but it was better from her point of view than parading him first and then telling him. If she’d had to endure his repeated queries of when he would see his mother again, all during the ride, she would have broken down herself.

The funeral for Kareen was public, though much less elaborate than it would have been in less chaotic circumstances. Gregor was required to light an offering pyre for the second time in a year. Vorkosigan asked Cordelia to guide Gregor’s hand with the torch. This part of the funeral ceremony seemed almost redundant, after what she’d done to the Residence. Cordelia added a thick lock of her own hair to the pile. Gregor clung close to her.

“Are they going to kill me, too?” he whispered to her. He didn’t sound frightened, just morbidly curious. Father, grandfather, mother, all gone in a year; no wonder he felt targeted, confused though his understanding of death was at his age.

“No,” she said firmly. Her arm tightened around his shoulders. “I won’t let them.” God help her, this baseless assurance actually seemed to console him.

She notices a chance in the Barrayaran nobles’ reaction to her, and she eventually realizes that they are treating her with respect.  It enrages her that a worthy trial like Lady Alys’s childbirth is considered unexceptional, but chopping off a man’s head really made you somebody, and in private she breaks down in Aral’s company.  She asks if he’ll use her newfound “status”, and he says he’ll do whatever it takes to get Gregor to his throne alive and sane.  They are officially granted guardianship of Gregor, and while Prime Minister Vortala emphasizes that this does not Cordelia herself any added power, she is in charge of Gregor’s household and education; she is astonished that Vortala doesn’t realize the power that this does give her.

Comments

So what do they do with the uterine replicator when they’re on the monorail?  Do they keep it wrapped up, a hidden shape probably the size of a small keg, or do they travel with it uncovered, an odd technological device?  The author kinda skims over this bit.  One wonders if Vordarian’s head has started to smell at all–how soon does putrefaction set in?  At the very least it should smell like blood.  I guess they’re traveling through the neutral district at this point, and perhaps people are just trying not to be too curious.

Poor Gregor, he’s got issues, and it takes him a while to work through them–a major plot element in The Vor Game, as I recall.  In later books, though, he seems much the better for any Betan elements that Cordelia managed to sneak into his upbringing.

Aral’s analysis of Bothari is interesting.  (Also: awwww.)  I’ll have to watch, in The Warrior’s Apprentice, to see how Miles’s relationship with him fits into this template.

Chapter Twenty

Aral and Cordelia move into the Imperial Residence, and Drou returns to Gregor’s service.  Kou and Drou plan their wedding for a month after Winterfair.  Alys Vorpatril is distracted from dwelling on Padma’s death and Ivan’s future, and takes Drou under her wing, making her a gift of a holiday cottage and a wedding gown.

Cordelia offered herself as a go-between for the two families. For some reason, Kou and Drou both turned the offer down, hastily, though with profuse thanks. Given the bewildering pitfalls of Barrayaran social custom, Cordelia was just as happy to leave it to the experienced elderly lady the couple did contract.

Aral arranges for the wedding to take place in the Residence, and he is heartened by the different social classes represented in the guest list.  With Alys Vorpatril arranging it, even the most conservative Vor won’t dare to complain, either.  Kou and Drou begin to get overwhelmed by the affair, but the Residence staff are happy to have something interesting to do.

The day and hour came at last. A large circle made of colored groats was laid out on the floor of the Red Room, encompassed by a star with a variable number of points, one for each parent or principal witness to stand at: in this case, four. In Barrayaran custom a couple married themselves, speaking their vows within the circle, requiring neither priest nor magistrate. Practically, a coach, called appropriately enough the Coach, stood outside the circle and read the script for the fainthearted or faint-headed to repeat. This dispensed with the need for higher neural functions such as learning and memory on the part of the stressed couple. Lost motor coordination was supplied by a friend each, who steered them to the circle. It was all very practical, Cordelia decided, as well as splendid.

Drou’s father is surprisingly smaller than Drou herself and her three brothers, all able to be present.  Bothari escorts a visibly nervous Koudelka in, and Lady Alys escorts Drou.  They make their oaths, revealing in the process their despised first names, Clement and Ludmilla, and then Aral breaks the circle of groats to let the new couple out.

At the reception, Cordelia asks Bothari how Elena is doing.  She is crawling, and he hopes that Mistress Hysopi can keep up with her now, but he is happy with the arrangement, so different from his own childhood.  His new meds seem to be doing better for him, too.  He is the first to spot Gregor, having obviously snuck out of bed and creeping toward the buffet.  Cordelia retrieves him before distraught ImpSec staff can.

“How’d he get away?” snarled Illyan to Gregor’s keepers, who stammered out something inaudible about thought he was asleep and never took my eyes off.

“He’s not away,” Cordelia put in tartly. “This is his home. He ought to be at least able to walk about inside, or why do you keep all those bloody useless guards on the walls out there?”

“Droushie, can’t I come to your party?” Gregor asked plaintively, casting around desperately for an authority to outrank Illyan.

Drou looked at Illyan, who looked disapproving. Cordelia broke the deadlock without hesitation. “Yes, you can.”

So, under Cordelia’s supervision, the Emperor danced with the bride, ate three cream cakes, and was carried away to bed satisfied. Fifteen minutes was all he’d wanted, poor kid.

It is the end of winter when Vaagen tells Cordelia that it’s time to take baby Miles out of the replicator.  They all go down to ImpMil the next day, Aral, Cordelia, Count Piotr, and Bothari.  Vaagen’s lab is in a new building, both as part of a promotion and to relieve him of the ghosts attached to the old lab, and there are many observers present.  Vaagen makes a bit of a lecture out of the lead-up, then asks Cordelia and Aral to do the final honours.  Together they open the top of the replicator, and Dr. Ritter, Miles’s new doctor, cuts him out of the placenta.  He cries lustily upon being removed.

The contrast with baby Ivan was overwhelming. Despite the extra weeks of gestation, ten months to Ivan’s nine-and-a-half, Miles was barely half Ivan’s size at birth, and far more wizened and wrinkled. His spine was noticeably deformed, and his legs were drawn up and locked in a tight bend. He was definitely a male heir, though, no question about that. His first cry was thin, weak, nothing at all like Ivan’s angry, hungry bellow. Behind her, she heard Piotr hiss with disappointment.

Dr. Ritter says that the hip sockets are fused as a side effect of the treatments on the skull, and that and the spine will need to be fixed.  One of the other doctors manages to accidentally break one of Miles’s brittle arm bones.  Piotr stamps off, and Aral and Cordelia follow.  Piotr accuses them of having deceived him about the efficacy of the calcium treatments, though Cordelia says she passed on to him all the information that they got.  Piotr says he refuses to be associated with such a “mutant”.

Piotr’s lips curled in a silent snarl. Cheated of a cooperative target, he turned on Aral. “And you, you spineless, skirt-smothered—if your elder brother had lived—” Piotr’s mouth clamped shut abruptly, too late.

Aral’s face drained to a grey hue Cordelia had seen but twice before; both times he’d been a breath and a chance away from committing murder. Piotr had joked about Aral’s famous rages. Only now did Cordelia realize Piotr, though he may have witnessed his son in irritation, had never seen the real thing. Piotr seemed to realize it, too, dimly. His brows lowered; he stared, off-balanced.

Aral’s hands locked to each other, behind his back. Cordelia could see them shake, white-knuckled. His chin lifted, and he spoke in a whisper.

“If my brother had lived, he would have been perfect. You thought so; I thought so; Emperor Yuri thought so, too. So ever after you’ve had to make do with the leftovers from that bloody banquet, the son Mad Yuri’s death squad overlooked. We Vorkosigans, we can make do.” His voice fell still further. “But my firstborn will live. I will not fail him.”

Piotr is taken aback at Aral’s low blow, then his anger then turns to Bothari, and upon Bothari vowing his loyalty to Cordelia, he discharges him into Cordelia’s service and stalks off.  Aral says that Bothari hasn’t really been discharged, but reassigned.  Cordelia decides that he can take up the role of Miles’s bodyguard, which Bothari likes the idea of, since he can see that Miles will have a difficult childhood.  He takes up his post right away, lurking against the wall of the lab.  The doctors hand Miles to his parents at last.

Welcome to Barrayar, son. Here you go: have a world of wealth and poverty, wrenching change and rooted history. Have a birth; have two. Have a name. Miles means “soldier,” but don’t let the power of suggestion overwhelm you. Have a twisted form in a society that loathes and fears the mutations that have been its deepest agony. Have a title, wealth, power, and all the hatred and envy they will draw. Have your body ripped apart and re-arranged. Inherit an array of friends and enemies you never made. Have a grandfather from hell. Endure pain, find joy, and make your own meaning, because the universe certainly isn’t going to supply it. Always be a moving target. Live. Live. Live.

Comments

I welled up so many times reading this chapter, it’s not even funny.  The last paragraph there, Kou and Drou’s wedding, Gregor’s escapade at the reception…  Dammit, Bujold, what’s up with that?  <sniffle>  I guess that the term “moving target” does describe Miles fairly well.

Another bit of plot I always forget is just how Bothari ends up assigned to Miles.  It’s almost a shame that he has spend most of Barrayar working for Count Piotr, who doesn’t seem to particularly appreciate him, and probably just took him on as a favour to his son.  I thought, in fact, that at the end of Shards of Honour Bothari was one of Aral’s guards, but either Ms. Bujold changed her mind and thought it would add some tension to have him one of Piotr’s instead, or she decided that only the Count proper could have armsmen.  She ran the risk there of having it seem a bit contrived having Bothari around with Cordelia, but I guess it worked out okay.

I never could warm to Count Piotr.  In Shards he’s affable enough, but in Barrayar he ends up on the wrong side of his son after the soltoxin incident and never becomes sympathetic again.  It is almost a wonder that he doesn’t cross over to Vordarian’s side, but I’m sure it’s more for personal reasons than ideological ones.


With several hours of TV premieres between this and the next week, I’ll cover just the epilogue next week, and then a week off before heading into The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Or, I suppose, Young Miles, since I use the digital copies to facilitate cutting and pasting.  (Maybe it makes it too easy, since sometimes I seem to go a little overboard…it’s just her lovely prose, I guess.)  Until then…

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, into the ninth installment of Barrayar, the second book in the Vorkosigan series chronologically.  This week, chapters Seventeen and Eighteen bring the whole story to a head.  (Heh.)  No, seriously, this totally encompasses the climax of the book–this is the good stuff, right here.

Chapter Seventeen

They take Lady Alys, Bothari carrying her, to a three-storey building in the caravanserai, against Koudelka’s protests; Cordelia quickly determines that this is the brothel from Bothari and Koudelka’s previous adventure, though Koudelka tells Drou that it’s a historic building turned into “a kind of inn”.  Inside, a woman leads them to a room on the top floor, and at Bothari’s insistence, changes the sheets before he lays Alys down there.  Drou stays with Alys while she sleeps, while Koudelka goes to look for food, and Bothari and Cordelia sit at a table in the hall.

Bothari asks if they have prostitutes on Beta Colony, and Cordelia tells him about their Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapists, government-licensed psychotherapists who do teaching as well as sex.  Bothari says that his mother was a whore, which Cordelia had already guessed, but adds that she used to sell him to her customers.  He ran away at age twelve, and ran with the gangs for four years until he was able to lie his way into the military.  Being a bastard on Barrayar is almost as bad as being a mutant, he says; Cordelia says that on Beta they barely even have a term for it.

When Koudelka returns with food and beer, Cordelia says that they have to change their strategy.  She says that they can’t take Lady Vorpatril with them, and they should get her out of the city before they realize that she’s probably not pregnant any more.  Cordelia needs to go because she’s in charge, Drou knows the way in, and Bothari is their muscle.  That leaves Koudelka to take Alys and Ivan out of the city.  Koudelka protests that it feels like he’s retreating, but Cordelia says that Alys and Ivan need his cleverness to get them out of the city.

Bothari goes to look for discarded clothing for Koudelka’s new role while Koudelka takes food in to Alys and Drou.  Koudelka says that he knows why Drou was so worried about being pregnant.  Cordelia says that things are not right between him and Drou yet, and says she wishes she’d been able to straighten things out between herself and Aral before she left.

She meditated a bit. “What have you tried besides ‘I’m sorry’? How about, ‘How do you feel? Are you all right? Can I help? I love you,’ there’s a classic. Words of one syllable. Mostly questions, now I think on it. Shows an interest in starting a conversation, y’know?”

He smiled sadly. “I don’t think she wants to talk to me anymore.”

Cordelia asks what he would have done if they hadn’t been interrupted by the soltoxin grenade attack.  Koudelka says he’d have arranged for a go-between, who arranges things with the parents, and then he’d just have to show up at the wedding.  But he doesn’t think that her parents would have approved of him, crippled as he is.

 “A go-between. Huh.” She stood up.

“Where are you going?” he asked nervously.

“Between,” she said firmly. She marched down the hall to Lady Vorpatril’s door, and stuck her head in.

Drou is in a brown study, and when Cordelia asks, she says that it’s about the man she killed earlier.  She blames herself and her hesitation for Lord Padma’s death, when Bothari didn’t hesitate.  Cordelia asks her if she really wants to be a monster like Bothari (though he’s her monster, she admits).  She says that no military or police force should be made up entirely of psychopathic killers; there should always be someone to question evil orders.  Cordelia tells Drou she’s going to send Koudelka out with the Vorpatrils, since, bewildering as it is to her, Vordarian will still consider the infant Lord Vorpatril a threat.

Cordelia asks Drou if she still loves Koudelka, even though she now knows most of his flaws, though he does have a promising future ahead of him if they get out of this alive.  Drou says that since she lost her virginity to him, she’s bound to him anyway, but Cordelia points that out that after this raid, she’ll be a hero and have men lining up for her hand.  Drou admits she’s afraid Koudelka will hurt her again; Cordelia says that she and Aral hurt each other, that she hurt him badly by going on this mission against his wishes, but avoiding pain is not a good enough reason to choose not to do something.

“I’m not sure I follow that, Milady. But . . . I have a picture, in my head. Of me and Kou, on a beach, all alone. It’s so warm. And when he looks at me, he sees me, really sees me, and loves me. . . .”

Cordelia pursed her lips. “Yeah . . . that’ll do. Come with me.”

She leads Drou to the sofa at the end of the hall, sitting her down with Koudelka at the other end.  She says that she will translate between the two of them, since they speak different languages.

Kou made an embarrassed negative motion over Cordelia’s head.

“That hand signal means, I’d rather blow up the rest of my life than look like a fool for five minutes. Ignore it,” Cordelia said. “Now, let me see. Who begins?”

There was a short silence. “Did I mention I’m also playing the parts of both your parents? I think I shall begin by being Kou’s Ma. Well, son, and have you met any nice girls yet? You’re almost twenty-six, you know. I saw that vid,” she added in her own voice as Kou choked. “I have her style, eh? And her content. And Kou says, Yes, Ma, there’s this gorgeous girl. Young, tall, smart—and Kou’s Ma says, Tee hee! And hires me, your friendly neighborhood go-between. And I go to your father, Drou, and say, there’s this young man. Imperial lieutenant, personal secretary to the Lord Regent, war hero, slated for the inside track at Imperial HQ—and he says, Say no more! We’ll take him. Tee-hee. And—”

Koudelka protests that her parents will have more to say than that, and Cordelia interprets this as referring to his disability.  She tells him that a wise father, when presented with his daughter’s choice of husband, will just go along and say “Yes, dear,” if he knows what’s good for him.  Her brothers may be harder to convince, but since Drou hasn’t complained to them yet, he has a chance.

“I said I was sorry,” said Kou, sounding stung.

Drou stiffened. “Yes. Repeatedly,” she said coldly.

“And there we come to the heart of the matter,” Cordelia said slowly, seriously. “What Kou actually means, Drou, is that he isn’t a bit sorry. The moment was wonderful, you were wonderful, and he wants to do it again. And again and again, with nobody but you, forever, socially approved and uninterrupted. Is that right, Kou?”

Kou looked stunned. “Well—yes!”

Drou blinked. “But . . . that’s what I wanted you to say!”

“It was?” He peered over Cordelia’s head.

Cordelia points out that they still some time before they have to leave, possibly enough to finish working things out, in words of one syllable.

Comments

Holy crow, Cordelia’s “baba” scene there, as I think of it (though admittedly, the term “baba” is never used in this chapter, and possibly not even in the entire book–I guess I think of it from later books, like A Civil Campaign, or is it only Warrior’s Apprentice?) is so awesome I had to restrain myself from quoting the entire thing.  Not very well, as you can see.  Anyway, looking to the future, I’d have to say that Kou and Drou do have a bright one ahead of them, especially considering the kinds of matches their daughters make for themselves down the line.  Practically one from every estate.  But anyway…  Sometimes it seems that every pair of characters needs a Cordelia to sit down between them and clear up all the misunderstandings, secrets and conflicts between them.  Or maybe that’s just the Wheel of Time books, whose characters have finally, as of Book 13 in the series, began to actually talk and tell each other things.

Something that bothered me when I was reading this, though.  Initially Drou was to stay by Lady Alys’s bedside while she slept, so that she wouldn’t be too disoriented at awakening in a strange place.  (Though how well does Alys know Drou, anyway?  As a former bodyguard to Princess Kareen, given to Cordelia…  At least she would be familiar from the rescue, if nothing else, I suppose.)  Lady Alys seems to be still asleep when Cordelia has her conversation with Drou before fetching her to have the baba scene with Kou…so why are they no longer worried about her waking up to find herself alone in a strange place?  Never crosses either of their minds at that point.  I’ll call it an authorial oversight, though one presumes that Cordelia does take her place there immediately after the end of the chapter.

Also, where do Kou and Drou go off to spend their little bit of personal time?  Do they have to rent a room?  I seem to have missed on all my previous reads the little bit that said that the couch where they were talking was at the end of the hallway, not in another room, so I suspect that couch would still be a little public for them…  They must have rooms with real beds for all of them somewhere.  Do they have much money on them, or is Bothari’s credit good?

Chapter Eighteen

Koudelka, Alys and baby Ivan prepare to leave the brothel just before dawn, dressed in sober and inconspicuous clothes.  Koudelka gives Drou his sword-cane, since it looks far too good quality to match their disguise.  Cordelia asks if there’s any risk of being robbed, and Bothari says that Vordarian’s troops have been conscripting a lot of the normal gang members and having them dig bomb shelters, supposedly to protect against Aral.  They part with few words, Koudelka giving Drou one last salute.

Cordelia, Bothari and Drou head for a tall commercial building, then down to its sub-basement.  Drou breaks into a utility tunnel, well-lit and obviously in use, then opens an access hatch.  Cordelia drops into a storm sewer, cold water to her ankles, and Drou and Bothari follow.  From there, they find a smaller, brick-lined tunnel where they have to shuffle hunched over.  Drou begins to tap on the ceiling, and eventually finds a hatch whose catch she triggers with Koudelka’s sword blade.  They emerge into a darkened chamber which Drou says is the old stables, burned down and levelled decades ago; Ezar planted a garden over top, just north of the Residence proper.  Ezar and Negri planned this escape route between them.

Drou finds a cache of boxes left for Ezar, with clothes, weapons and money, some of the clothes apparently meant for Kareen and Gregor.  Drou and Cordelia put on clean dresses and get stunners; Bothari unpacks his black fatigues and gets a stunner, a plasma arc, and a nerve disrupter.  Cordelia also takes the sword-cane, and Gregor’s shoe, out of their satchel.  Drou then leads them into a narrow passage with a ladder going into an even narrower squeeze between two walls.  Cordelia extinguishes her handlight and Drou opens the panel, which leads into the Emperor’s bedchamber.

It is not empty, though; the bed is occupied by Vordarian, with Kareen huddled into one corner of the mattress.  They retreat back down the ladder, where Drou is crying with disappointment in her former mistress.  Cordelia points out that Kareen didn’t have much of an option, or a power base with which to resist, and her posture in the bed seemed to indicate that she wasn’t a willing partner.  The second exit from the tunnel will be more dangerous, and Cordelia considers turning back, but instead gives them the go-ahead.  This time they exit into Ezar’s private office, still unused, its comconsole disconnected.

Cordelia, conscious of the conspicuousness of wearing the cane like a sword, puts it on a tray and carries it like a servant instead as they leave the room.  They pass a soldier who salutes to Bothari, and Cordelia hopes that his suspicions are allayed by the fact that the two women seem to be under guard.  They climb a flight of stairs to the level where the replicator is being stored.  There is a guard outside; as they pass by, Bothari salutes him, which turns into a punch that knocks his head back against the wall and leaves him unconscious.  Bothari takes his place outside and Drou and Cordelia drag the guard into the room.

The replicator sits on a table in the centre of the room.  Cordelia is about to pick it up when she notices something wrong, and double-checks the readouts.  The replicator is empty…  In desperation, Cordelia checks the serial number, and discovers that it’s not the same one Miles was in.  She discovers a pressure sensor on the table underneath the replicator, no doubt linked to some alarm.  Cordelia decides they’ll have to retreat, and hope to catch Vordarian unawares and squeeze Miles’s replicator’s location out of him.

Just then, there is noise outside in the corridor, and stunner fire, and Bothari ducks inside.  Drou and Bothari are willing to die to protect Cordelia, but she doesn’t see the point, and proposes surrender instead.  They give up their weapons as the guards come inside; one of them finds the shoe in Cordelia’s pocket and sets it on the table.  Cordelia hopes that she will get to see Kareen, however briefly, to seal Vordarian’s fate.  The guards keep them there until Vordarian arrives, with Kareen in tow.

Vordarian exults at the success of his trap, though the guards warn him that they didn’t have the chance to herd them in from the perimeter, they’d just appeared out of nowhere.  Vordarian says they just need to fast-penta Drou to find out how.

“What have you done with my son, Vordarian?”

Vordarian said through his teeth, “An outworlder frill will never gain power on Barrayar by scheming to give a mutant the Imperium. That, I guarantee.”

“Is that the official line, now? I don’t want power. I just object to idiots having power over me.”

Behind Vordarian, Kareen’s lips quirked sadly. Yes, listen to me, Kareen!

Kareen tells them that Vordarian is the Emperor now, if he can keep it, and Vordarian says that he has as good a claim than Aral, and that he will “preserve and protect” the true Barrayar.  Cordelia gives Kareen the shoe, which puzzles Vordarian, who is already planning their interrogations.

“Kareen,” said Cordelia softly, “where is my son?”

“The replicator is on a shelf in the oak wardrobe, in the old Emperor’s bedchamber,” Kareen replied steadily, locking her eyes to Cordelia’s. “Where is mine?”

Cordelia’s heart melted in gratitude for her curse, live pain. “Safe and well, when I last saw him, as long as this pretender,” she jerked her head at Vordarian, “doesn’t find out where. Gregor misses you. He sends his love.” Her words might have been spikes, pounded into Kareen’s body.

That got Vordarian’s attention. “Gregor is at the bottom of a lake, killed in the flyer crash with that traitor Negri,” he said roughly. “The most insidious lie is the one you want to hear. Guard yourself, my lady Kareen. I could not save him, but I will avenge him. I promise you that.”

Kareen points out that the shoe hasn’t been immersed; Vordarian reassures her that she can have another son someday, but Kareen grabs a nerve disrupter and fires at Vordarian.  One guard knocks her arm aside, spoiling her shot, and another reflexively shoots her with his own nerve disrupter; Vordarian seizes a disrupter and shoots him.

The room tilted around her. Cordelia’s hand locked around the hilt of the swordstick and triggered its sheath flying into the head of one guard, then brought the blade smartly down across Vordarian’s weapon-wrist. He screamed, and blood and the nerve disruptor flew wide. Droushnakovi was already diving for the first discarded nerve disruptor. Bothari just took his target out with one lethal hand-blow to the neck. Cordelia slammed the door shut against the guards in the corridor, surging forward. A stunner charge buzzed into the walls, then three blue bolts in rapid succession from Droushnakovi took out the last of Vordarian’s men.

“Grab him,” Cordelia yelled to Bothari. Vordarian, shaking, his left hand clamped around his half-severed right wrist, was in poor condition to resist, though he kicked and shouted. His blood ran the color of Kareen’s robe. Bothari locked Vordarian’s head in a firm grip, nerve disruptor pressed to his skull.

They head back out into the corridor, Vordarian’s guards backing off at the sight of their lord held hostage.  At Bothari’s urging, and over Drou’s protests, Cordelia takes the plasma arc and begins setting fire to the hallway behind them, thinking of it as a funeral pyre for Kareen.  They reach the Emperor’s bedchamber and Cordelia sets the corridor burning in the other direction as well.  Inside the chamber, she finds the uterine replicator where Kareen had said it would be, and confirms that this one is occupied.

Vordarian begins to argue for them to release him, pointing out that his guards will stun them all.  If they let him go, he’ll let them live, even Miles.  He said that he never meant for Evon Vorhalas to damage Vorkosigan’s heir, it was only Aral himself that was too dangerous.

“We’d never proved you were behind Evon Vorhalas,” Cordelia said quietly. “Thank you for the information.”

That shut him up, for a moment. His eyes shifted uneasily to the door, soon to burst inward, ignited by the inferno behind it.

“Dead, I’m no use to you as a hostage,” he said, drawing himself up in dignity.

“You’re no use to me at all, Emperor Vidal,” said Cordelia frankly. “There are at least five thousand casualties in this war so far. Now that Kareen is dead, how long will you keep fighting?”

“Forever,” he snarled whitely. “I will avenge her—avenge them all—”

Wrong answer, Cordelia thought, with a curious light-headed sadness. “Bothari.” He was at her side instantly. “Pick up that sword.” He did so. She set the replicator on the floor and laid her hand briefly atop his, wrapped around the hilt. “Bothari, execute this man for me, please.” Her tone sounded weirdly serene in her own ears, as if she’d just asked Bothari to pass the butter. Murder didn’t really require hysterics.

“Yes, Milady,” Bothari intoned, and lifted the blade. His eyes gleamed with joy.

“What?” yelped Vordarian in astonishment. “You’re a Betan! You can’t do—”

The flashing stroke cut off his words, his head, and his life.

Bothari screams and falls to his knees, dropping the sword; Cordelia realizes he must be reliving the suppressed memory of the murder of Admiral Vorrutyer.  Drou says that the door is getting hot, and they have to leave.  Cordelia finds a drawstring plastic bag, which she puts Vordarian’s head into.  She orders Drou to take the replicator (she picks up the swordstick of her own accord), and coaxes Bothari to his feet and down the ladder after Drou.  She pushes Bothari ahead of her into the cellar, where they pause for a rest.

“Is he all right?” Droushnakovi asked nervously, as Bothari sat down with his head between his knees.

“He has a headache,” said Cordelia. “It may take a while to pass off.”

Droushnakovi asked even more diffidently, “Are you all right, Milady?”

Cordelia couldn’t help it; she laughed. She choked down the hysteria as Drou began to look really scared. “No.”

Comments

Once again, Bujold tries to keep from making her villain too incompetent; he had a plan, if someone tried to break in and go after the replicator, for the guards to stay out of their way and shepherd them towards the fake…but just in case, he also had a pressure sensor underneath it.  And yet, it’s only the fact that somebody went looking for the guard that Bothari knocked out that had them detected.

It’s interesting to see the progression of the chaos after Kareen’s attempt on Vordarian’s life.  I left out some of the details, but essentially, there are four guards who come into the room to hold Cordelia, Bothari and Drou captive.  Then Vordarian and Kareen join them.  Kareen takes one guard’s nerve disrupter and tries to shoot Vordarian; that guard knocks her arm out of the way.  The guard commander shoots Kareen, then throws away his weapon; Vordarian takes a third guard’s disrupter and shoots the commander with it.  Vordarian was in his bedclothes, so he didn’t have his own weapon, and Bothari’s were thrown out of the room when they surrendered.  That leaves only one guard with a nerve disrupter (plus Vordarian), which is when our captives move into action.  Neatly done and plotted.

The cover of at least one edition of the book is an extreme closeup of the scene–two hands, one male, one female, on the curved handle of the sword-cane.  Intriguing, if you don’t know what it means; once it does, it’s evocative of the climactic scene of the book, in this chapter.  And it’s intensely satisfying, as Cordelia finds, disquietingly.  So many books, the good guys continue being good and don’t do anything to do the bad guy except give them to the authorities, or let them get taken care of by other evil people.  The distinction between revenge and justice can be hard to determine, sometimes, especially since revenge is more visceral, possibly hardwired in, if the evolutionary psychologists have anything to say about it.  A lot of socialization is occupied in teaching people the concept that “he started it” is not an excuse for doing something back to him, and still it happens, and it’s oh-so-satisfying when it does.  When revenge and justice happen to intersect, it’s too much to resist.


And that’s it for another installment.  Three more chapters to go in Barrayar, with the TV season starting up.  It’s just possible that I may manage two more for next week, and leave my one-chapter week for the week after, when there’s a whole whack of shows I want to watch.  And then a week off in between books before I start on the first real Miles book, The Warrior’s Apprentice.  We’ll see how well I can keep to a two-chapter schedule after that…

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Previously, on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, we saw Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, wife of Lord Regent Aral Vorkosigan, receive bad news in the form of Captain Vaagen, one of the scientists who was entrusted with the care of the uterine replicator holding her fetus son Miles, while they gave him calcium treatments to try to fix his bones after the damage done by the antidote to the soltoxin Cordelia was exposed to.  Anyway, Vaagen told her that the rebel and self-proclaimed Regent in his own right Vordarian sent men to retrieve the replicator and take it to the Imperial Residence.  What will she do now?

Find out in this installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I promise to have much fewer run-on sentences, though I still try to convey the gist of the action in fewer sentences than the original author…

Chapter Fifteen

Within two minutes of Vorkosigan’s arrival at main portal Security, Captain Vaagen was flat on a float pallet and on his way to the infirmary, with the top trauma doctor on the base being paged for rendezvous. Cordelia reflected bitterly on the nature of chain of command; all truth and reason and urgent need were not enough, apparently, to lend causal power to one outside that chain.

After his treatment, he is pronounced well enough to be questioned further, if briefly, supplying a few more details.  Illyan confirms Vaagen’s information, though he says the agents in the palace thought the device might be a bomb; they don’t know if anyone is working on maintaining it.  Vaagen says the treatments have been interrupted anyway, and there are some details that only Henri knew.  Cordelia says that Betan replicators run on a two-week service cycle.  Vaagen says that nutrients are the bottleneck, and they have about six days before they run out.  Illyan says that the physician in the Residence has been killed, so he wouldn’t be able to service it.  Cordelia is dismayed to realize that Miles might die out of sheer ignorance.

They leave Vaagen’s room, and Aral tells Cordelia that nothing has really changed in their situation.  Cordelia protests that Miles is a prisoner now, no longer hidden, and his life is on a clock.  Aral says he regrets not having sent a raid earlier, ImpMil being easier to break into than the Residence itself.  But he insists that his position is no worse than any of the other men with hostages.  Cordelia says that the position is different, because unlike the other hostages, Miles has only six days left, less the time they spend arguing.  She says she’s never asked him for any special favours, but now she is asking.

Aral says it’s a delicate time, with negotations with the space forces and two of Vordarian’s top commanders; if that works out, then they can rescue all of the prisoners in one raid.  A small raid to recover Miles would likely jeopardize the larger one, whether it succeeded or not.  Cordelia asks for a time estimate, and the best that Aral can offer is ten days.  Cordelia offers to go herself, with two or three men, but Aral violently refuses.  Cordelia asks if he doubts her competency, though she secretly does herself; Aral says that it would drive him crazy, waiting for her return.

“You ask that of me. To wait, unknowing. You ask it every day.”

“You are stronger than I. You are strong beyond reason.”

“Flattering. Not convincing.”

His thought circled hers; she could see it in his knife-keen eyes. “No. No haring off on your own. I forbid it, Cordelia. Flat, absolutely. Put it right out of your mind. I cannot risk you both.”

“You do. In this.”

Cordelia defuses the conversation and leaves without him extracting an oath from her not to go.  Outside, she encounters Count Piotr, who seems less hostile.  She tells Piotr about Vaagen’s arrival, and Piotr laughs at the emptiness of Vordarian threatening Miles, adding that he would be doing House Vorkosigan a service.  Cordelia can’t restrain herself from asking the Count whether he set up Miles’s abduction.

“You dare accuse me—!” His outrage edged into plain rage.

Her rage was shadowing her vision with red. “I know you are an attempted murderer, why not an attempted traitor, too? I can only hope your incompetence holds good.”

His voice was breathy with fury. “Too far!”

“No, old man. Not nearly far enough.”

Piotr tells her that while he would be happy enough to have Vordarian dump out the fetus, he would rather Vordarian not know how worthless his lever is.  He heads off in search of Aral, and Cordelia retreats to her quarters, pacing in agitation.  When Drou asks, she says she doesn’t really believe Piotr is a traitor; she says Aral is right, she can’t risk failure.  Drou quietly reminds Cordelia that she spent three years in security at the Residence, and gets Cordelia’s full attention.  Drou says that, as Kareen’s body servant, she was “the last line of defence”, and knew about five secret escape routes.  Of those, two were known only to her, Negri and Emperor Ezar, and they should be equally usable as secret entrances.

Cordelia found she had to remember to breathe. “Who do you work for, Drou?”

“Captain—” she started to answer, but slowed self-consciously. “Negri. But he’s dead. Commander—Captain Illyan, now, I suppose.”

“Let me rephrase that.” Cordelia opened her eyes at last. “Who did you put your life on the line for?”

“Kareen. And Gregor, of course. They were kind of the same thing.”

“Still are. This mother bets.” She caught Drou’s blue gaze. “And Kareen gave you to me.”

She asks what she could give Drou in return for her assistance, and Drou says she wants to get Kareen out too.  The staff have classified Kareen as “expendable”, but Drou says that she can’t just switch off her loyalty that easily.  Cordelia says that they need someone else, someone who knows the city, and sends for Bothari.  When he arrives, Cordelia sees how much tension is lurking in his body.  He asks her if she’s heard anything about Elena, and Cordelia says that she’s still being kept with other second or third-tier hostages.  He tells her that a man he didn’t know approached him the other day and offered him Elena’s life if he killed Count Piotr.  Bothari thought about it, but didn’t accept because he didn’t think he’d survive to take care of her afterwards.

Cordelia tells Bothari about Miles’s situation, and he says that a lot of the staff talk about Miles as a “non-viable mutant” behind his back.  She asks Bothari who he works for.

“I am oath-sworn Armsman to Count Piotr,” Bothari recited the obvious. He was watching her closely now, a weird smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

“Let me rephrase that. I know the official penalties for an armsman going AWOL are fearsome. But suppose—”

“Milady.” He held up a hand; she paused in mid-breath. “Do you remember, back on the front lawn at Vorkosigan Surleau when we were loading Negri’s body into the lightflyer, when my Lord Regent told me to obey your voice as his own?”

Cordelia’s brows went up. “Yes . . . ?”

“He never countermanded that order.”

“Sergeant,” she breathed at last, “I’d never have guessed you for a barracks-lawyer.”

His smile grew a millimeter tighter. “Your voice is as the voice of the Emperor himself. Technically.”

“Is it, now,” she whispered in delight. Her nails dug into her palms.

They go to the motor pool, Bothari signing out a vehicle, ostensibly for Count Piotr, while Drou and Cordelia hide out of sight.  Their plan is not to head directly for Vorbarr Sultana, but to head into neutral territory first, and then double back.  Bothari gets the vehicle without trouble and parks it so that his passengers can enter without being seen.  Unfortunately, as they are getting in, Koudelka sees them and asks what they’re doing.  Cordelia tries to deflect him with a story of a shopping trip, the security detail having gone ahead, but Koudelka isn’t buying it.  Bothari calls him over to look at something, and then clubs him on the back of his neck; they load his unconscious body into the car and drive off.

Bothari passes through security checkpoints easily, the rear compartment blocked off by a reflective barrier so the passengers can’t be seen, so the guards presume that it’s the Count himself.  They discuss what to do with Koudelka as he regains consciousness; they decide not to ditch him outside, to give them away, and Cordelia decides to risk bringing him along, to try to convince him to help.  Koudelka tries to sway them to return, to keep Vordarian from having another lever against Aral; then he orders Bothari to turn around and drive them back.

A slight pause. “I’m not in the Imperial Service anymore, sir. Retired.”

“Piotr didn’t order this! You’re Count Piotr’s man.”

A longer pause; a lower tone. “No. I am Lady Vorkosigan’s dog.”

“You’re off your meds!”

How such could travel over a purely audio link Cordelia was not sure, but a canine grin hung in the air before them.

“Come on, Kou,” Cordelia coaxed. “Back me. Come for luck. Come for life. Come for the adrenaline rush.”

Droushnakovi leaned over, a sharp smile on her lips, to breathe in Koudelka’s other ear, “Look at it this way, Kou. Who else is ever going to give you a chance at field combat?”

Comments

Excessive quotage, but there is a lot of great dialogue in this chapter, as Cordelia assembles her daring party.  I always forget how Koudelka gets “convinced” to come along.  Interesting how the security system makes a lot of presumptions about, first, the loyalty of Count Piotr, and second, the loyalty of Count Piotr’s armsman.  If Count Piotr had been colluding with Vordarian over the uterine replicator, he at least wouldn’t have had much trouble getting in and out of the compound.  I suppose he’d have needed to contact Vordarian a little more circumspectly, though, given how many spies they have in place.  Anyway, I suppose that the planet does really run on loyalty and oaths, as Cordelia often ponders in near disbelief.

Chapter Sixteen

Koudelka is brought around, almost unwillingly, and by the time they reach the neutral district of Count Vorinnis, he has organized a plan to get them smuggled into Vorbarr Sultana in the back of a produce truck.  When asked, he admits that his father was a grocer, which Cordelia realizes is a sort of secret shame.

Bothari and Koudelka played two recently discharged vets, looking to better their sorry lot, and Cordelia and Drou two countrywomen co-scheming with them. The women were decked in a realistically odd combination of worn mountain dress and upper-class castoffs apparently acquired from some secondhand shop. They managed the right touch of mis-fittedness, of women not wearing originals, by trading garments.

They get out in the city before the market itself, which Koudelka says will have too many soldiers around, as much to steal their own share of the black-market goods as to guard anything.  Cordelia wonders now how Koudelka knows so much about the black market, and if it has anything to do with how his father afforded to get him into the Imperial Military Academy.

Bothari leads the way through the run-down part of town, finding a place marked “Rooms”; the proprietor isn’t eager to open up until he sees there are women in the party.  Koudelka and Drou take first shift with the beds, while Cordelia and Bothari go looking for supplies.  Bothari warns Cordelia not to talk, with her recognizably foreign accent.  He goes to talk to the innkeeper, pretending that they were planning to sell Drou’s virginity to a Vor Lord, but now that’s all screwed up.He says that Koudelka is the brains, but safe to leave with the woman because of his nerve damage, and Cordelia tries to hide her amusement at Bothari’s invention.

Bothari intimates that he’s looking for work to tide them over, and the innkeeper takes the bait.  He says there’s a strange man in a room down the street, who’s only seen buying more food than one man could be eating.  There’ll be reward from Vordarian’s men for “information-leading-to”, he says.  Bothari warns him that if Vordarian loses–and he can smell defeat in the streets–Vorkosigan’s men won’t take kindly to those kind of informers, and the innkeeper says that it’ll be easier for a transient like Bothari to take the risk anyway.  Cordelia whispers to Bothari to try to find out who it is, and Bothari asks for 50% and says wants to get a look at who it is.

When Bothari returns, he says that it’s Lord and Lady Vorpatril hiding out; he didn’t make any contact, though, because he wanted to find out Cordelia’s intentions, if she wanted to risk her mission to help them.  Cordelia asks about the baby, and Bothari says she hasn’t had it yet, even though it’s two weeks overdue.  They decide that the Vorpatrils would be too conspicuous, and if they can discourage the innkeeper, the Vorpatrils might be safe enough until they can get back and tell the others.  Bothari also mentions that he saw on a vid that Vordarian has finally declared himself Emperor.

They are just leaving that evening when the innkeeper sees them and yells at Bothari for making them miss the opportunity.  At Bothari’s coercion, he tells them that someone else has found the fugitives and is picking them up now.  Quickly, Cordelia gets out a stunner and takes out the innkeeper, and the rest get their weapons as well.  They head the few blocks over toward the Vorpatrils’ hideout, finding Security groundcars parked outside.  They hide around the corner, and Bothari sends Drou around to the other side to set up crossfire; Bothari complains about not being able to see what’s going on, and Cordelia says they can pretend to be a couple who just happens to pass, and watching the arrest.

From a shadowed doorway, they can see Padma Vorpatril shoved against one of the cars, battered and grinning with fast-penta.  The still-pregnant Alys Vorpatril is manhandled out of the house as they watch.  The colonel in charge of the guards orders his men back, now that they’ve got what they came for, “the lord and the heir”.  His lieutenant asks how they’re supposed to kill the two of them when the heir isn’t born yet, and urges them to take Alys back to the station; one of the guards urges raping Alys first, which Cordelia realizes arouses Bothari.  The colonel says just to kill them all, at which point Cordelia gives Bothari the same order.  Bothari, Cordelia and Drou between them take out the guards with stunners and nerve disrupters, but not before the lieutenant has killed Padma Vorpatril.  One car begins to drive away, and Koudelka takes it out with a plasma arc.  They grab Alys and drag her away from the scene for several blocks, as they hear sirens behind them.

Suddenly Alys stops short, and Cordelia realizes that she’s in labour; Alys says that her water broke during the fight.  She moves slower and slower between contractions, and finally Bothari goes off and returns to lead them to an abandoned set of rooms off an alleyway.  They consult each other about any knowledge of babies, and eventually Bothari admits that his mother used to do some midwifery.  He asks Cordelia to stay, which Cordelia realizes is intended as a way to keep himself under control.  The labour goes on for a while without progressing much, until Bothari helps push on the baby and his head pops out.

Cordelia caught the head between her hands, and eased the body out with the next contraction. The baby boy coughed twice, sneezed like a kitten in the awed silence, inhaled, grew pinker, and emitted a nerve-shattering wail. Cordelia nearly dropped him.

Bothari swore at the noise. “Give me your swordstick, Kou.”

Lady Vorpatril looked up wildly. “No! Give him back to me, I’ll make him be quiet!”

“Wasn’t what I had in mind,” said Bothari with some dignity. “Though it’s an idea,” he added as the wails went on. He pulled out the plasma arc and heated the sword briefly, on low power. Sterilizing it, Cordelia realized.

Bothari cuts the cord after the placenta comes out, and Cordelia notes how large Ivan is, explaining the difficulty in delivery.

Alys looked at the baby and began crying again, muffled sobs. “Padma said . . . I’d have the best doctors. Padma said . . . there’d be no pain. Padma said he’d stay with me . . . damn you, Padma!” She clutched Padma’s son to her. In an altered tone of mild surprise, she added, “Ow!” Infant mouth had found her breast, and apparently had a grip like a barracuda.

“Good reflexes,” observed Bothari.

Comments

What kind of accent does Cordelia have, anyway?  They always talk about the Barrayarans’ “guttural” accent, which makes me picture something vaguely Germanic, or possibly Russian, so maybe it’s just that she sounds more British or American or something.  Or something different, though there doesn’t seem to be too much drift among “Galactic Standard”, with the exception of Barrayar, which was isolated and still has substantial non-Standard-speaking minorities.  I guess later they describe Miles’s Betan accent as more “flat and nasal”, I think.  For some reason that makes me think of the New York accent, like Joe Pesci or something.

Both Koudelka and Bothari admit to having parents who taught them skills that they’d rather pretend not to have–Koudelka’s father the black-market grocer, and Bothari’s mother, the, um, lady who worked somewhere that resulted in a number of babies being born.  Okay, she was a prostitute, not to put too find a point on it.  (Though admittedly that doesn’t come up in full for a few chapters yet, I think.)  Both of them have managed to rise to work for some of the most powerful men on Barrayar, mostly as a result of their military careers.

It is probably quite lucky that Drou didn’t hear the details of Bothari’s concocted story about selling her virginity.  She still doesn’t like or trust Bothari much, and that would really have set her against him.  One also presumes that Kou and Drou didn’t get up to any hanky-panky when left on their own, with their still-unresolved issues.  I think that those get dealt with pretty soon, though.


And that’s it for another two chapters, as we move toward the climax of the book, and the action begins to ramp up again.  The next two chapters may even do it for the climax; there’s still five more left, and I haven’t yet decided if that will take me two weeks or three.  We’ll see if I can get started earlier than Sunday next week or the week after.  Did I take a week off after the last book?  I think so.  That’ll be nice…

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Welcome back to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I summarize and comment on various works of Lois McMaster Bujold in her saga of the Vorkosigans.  This week, I take you through two more chapters of Barrayar, by some reckonings the second book in the series.  This isn’t exactly the “Good Parts” Version, since quite frankly they’re almost all good parts, or at least they are when you can read Ms. Bujold’s own prose as opposed to my own hamhanded synopses, where I often sacrifice well-crafted prose for whatever I can toss off quickly.

Now let’s get on with it!  I mean it!  (Anybody want a peanut?)

Chapter Thirteen

Hours later, they meet up with Kly and his horse, who says that he narrowly avoided getting taken at a house he was delivering mail to.  Apparently Vordarian’s men are using fast-penta to interrogate everyone they can find in the hills.  He’d sent his niece’s husband to try to fetch them, but found Vordarian’s men already at his house.  He was encouraged, though, when they continued searching.  He offers to put Gregor on his horse, but Bothari says Cordelia needs the rest more, and she discovers that he’s right.  Bothari brings Kly up to date, and Kly particularly appreciates getting the soldiers lost in the cave; Bothari tells him that it was Cordelia’s idea, and Cordelia says she was just trying to use up some of Vordarian’s finite resources.

Kly takes them to his niece Sonia’s house, which he says has already been searched; Vordarian’s men aren’t done enough to recheck yet, and they’re still searching the lake as well.  Bothari’s feet are in awful shape under his boots, and Cordelia and Gregor’s shoes are mostly destroyed.  Exhausted, Cordelia lets herself be fed and put to bed.

The next morning, a ten-year-old boy appears leading Kly’s other horse; Kly says that the boy only knows that the mailman needs his remount, and Cordelia is horrified that they would have used fast-penta on him.  Kly says that they’re desperate to find Gregor, that Vordarian’s whole coup can collapse if he doesn’t.  Kly says he has to keep to his schedule, so that Count Piotr can contact him, and he warns them to stay inside and out of sight.

They spend four days with Sonia and her husband, doing very little.  Cordelia has one bath, and regrets it because the couple, somewhat elderly themselves, have to haul and heat the wood themselves.  The couple are laconic, so conversation amounts to little.  Sonia brings in trickles of outside news, that Hassadar is mostly closed but a few manage to escape, that the lake search has been nearly abandoned, that most of Piotr’s armsmen’s hostages have escaped, and that for some reason Karla Hysopi was taken as well.

Cordelia froze. “Did they take the baby, too?”

“Baby? Donnia didn’t say about a baby. Grandchild, was it?”

Bothari was sitting by the window sharpening his knife on Sonia’s kitchen whetstone. His hand paused in mid-stroke. He looked up to meet Cordelia’s alarmed eyes. Beyond a tightening of his jaw his face did not change expression, yet the sudden increase of tension in his body made Cordelia’s stomach knot. He looked back down at what he was doing, and took a longer, firmer stroke that hissed along the whetstone like water on coals.

“Maybe . . . Kly will know something more, when he comes back,” Cordelia quavered.

“Belike,” said Sonia doubtfully.

When Kly does return, he brings Armsman Esterhazy with him, in hillman disguise.  He tells them that Aral and Piotr want to keep Gregor in the mountains, since Vordarian is apparently beginning to think that Gregor isn’t there at all.  They’ve also given up on finding Cordelia in the caves, and as soon as they finish finding all the lost soldiers, they’ll pull out.  Kly tells Gregor that he’s going to pretend that Esterhazy is his father, and that he has a new name.  Gregor is doubtful when he hears that Cordelia isn’t coming with him, but Kly tells him that there are goats, and he doesn’t complain further.  Esterhazy and Gregor set out the next morning.

Cordelia said anxiously, “Take care of him, Armsman.”

Esterhazy gave her a driven look. “He’s my Emperor, Milady. He holds my oath.”

“He’s also a little boy, Armsman. Emperor is . . . a delusion you all have in your heads. Take care of the Emperor for Piotr, yes, but you take care of Gregor for me, eh?”

Esterhazy met her eyes. His voice softened. “My little boy is four, Milady.”

He did understand, then. Cordelia swallowed relief and grief.

Cordelia asks Kly, while Bothari is out of earshot, about Karla Hysopi.  Kly tells her that they were looking for the baby, and took Mrs. Hysopi when she protested.  He says that Esterhazy told Bothari the night before.

Three more days pass while Kly’s nephew leads Cordelia and Bothari through the mountains, until they reach a man with a rickety lightflyer loaded with maple syrup.  He flies them to a market town, where he barters his syrup for supplies, and then trades Cordelia and Bothari to a groundtruck loaded with cabbages.  Hours later the truck drops them off near a kilometer marker.  Finally, in the night, a lightflyer comes down to pick them up, which proves to contain Kou and Drou.  As they take off, Cordelia notices an escort of military flyers shadowing them.

Cordelia is happy to see them, though she quickly discerns that they have not yet resolved their personal issues.  They tell her that the guard corporal was interrogated with fast-penta and confessed to sabotaging the comconsole, as well as passing information to Vordarian that made the sonic grenade attack possible, though he knew nothing about the soltoxin.  Illyan hasn’t managed to get out the capital yet; Cordelia starts to tell them about Gregor, but Koudelka stops her and says that she’s not supposed to tell anyone except Aral and Piotr about him.  She asks about the baby, and Drou says that they’ve heard nothing one way or the other; he hasn’t been listed on Vordarian’s lists of hostages.

According to Koudelka, the overall situation is that Vordarian has five Counts who are staunch supporters, and about thirty more who may be nothing more than his captives; most of the rest have reaffirmed their allegiance to the Regent.  The space forces, who receive half their supplies from Vordarian’s shuttleports, have refused to commit one way or the other.  He says that Aral’s opinion is that Vordarian lost the moment he let Gregor get away, but he still holds Princess Kareen.

They land at a military base, and are escorted to an underground bunker which makes Cordelia homesick for Beta Colony’s better-decorated tunnels.  She is brought to Aral, and they embrace fiercely.  He tells her to go to sickbay as soon as she can; Bothari wants to report in to the Count, but Aral says the Count is on a diplomatic mission and Bothari should report to him instead.

“Bothari was amazing,” Cordelia confided to Aral. “No—that’s unjust. Bothari was Bothari, and I shouldn’t have been amazed at all. We wouldn’t have made it without him.”

Aral nodded, smiling a little. “I thought he would do for you.”

“He did indeed.”

Aral asks if Cordelia has heard the situation, and she asks for more details.  Aral says that the Vorpatrils have not yet been captured, but haven’t escaped either, so are probably also still hiding out in the capital.  He says that they can get a lot of data from Vordarian’s side, but wonders if their own side is as porous, since everyone seems to have friends and family on the other side.

A man comes looking for Aral, bringing him a Colonel Gerould to report in.  Aral sends Cordelia off with Drou to get whatever she needs.  As she is leaving, she hears Aral berating the Colonel for tying a ribbon to his arm, to help distinguish their man from Vordarian’s; Aral says that Vordarian is the traitor and should be the one to use a different uniform.

At the infirmary, Cordelia has some difficulty making the doctor understand her situation, since they have no access to her medical records.  She tries to explain the placental transfer operation, then gives up.

“I gave birth by surgical section. It did not go well.”

“I see. Five weeks post-partum.” He made a note. “And what is your present complaint?”

I don’t like Barrayar, I want to go home, my father-in-law wants to murder my baby, half my friends are running for their lives, and I can’t get ten minutes alone with my husband, whom you people are consuming before my eyes, my feet hurt, my head hurts, my soul hurts . . . it was all too complicated. The poor man just wanted something to put in his blank, not an essay. “Fatigue,” Cordelia managed at last.

“Ah.” He brightened, and entered this factoid on his report panel. “Post-partum fatigue. This is normal.” He looked up and regarded her earnestly. “Have you considered starting an exercise program, Lady Vorkosigan?”

Comments

So if “fast-penta” is a verb, what is its past tense?  “fast-pentaed”?  “fast-penta’d”?  “fast-penta’ed”?  Yeah, I don’t know either, so I tried to arrange my sentences not to include it.  Doesn’t English have any other verbs ending in “a”, whose past tense is commonly use in writing?  The only ones I could think of offhand were Spanish imports like “rhumba” and “samba”.

Anyway, Cordelia finally manages to return to civilization and familiar characters, and more importantly, find out more about what’s going on, so there’s that.  Bujold went to enough effort that I am convinced that they legitimately managed to escape from Vordarian’s searchers without having to suspend my disbelief too far, I do admit.  Though now I’m wondering about how well Esterhazy and Gregor’s masquerade is going to work if they do get…uh, if someone fast-pentas them.  I guess they can hide somewhere they’ve already searched, but still…

Also, Vordarian did turn out to be behind at least the sonic grenade attack, if not necessarily the soltoxin.  Was he just trying to frame the Cetagandans, or was this deliberate misinformation planted by a suborned ImpSec man?  Or something in between, like laziness and a readiness to believe them the source of all sinister plots?

Apparently, in the last installment, I misidentified the cabin that they were staying at at the end there as Klyeuvi’s niece’s, which in fact it was Klyeuvi’s own shack.  I apologize for the confusion, but at least nobody pointed it out.  I’m going to leave it up for now, though, like my earlier goof about the identity of the guy who shot whatshisname with the nerve disrupter in the first chapters of Shards of Honour.

Another doctor without a name, but since his only role here is to be clueless comic relief, I guess that’s all right.  (In the next chapter it turns out that one of Aral’s major motivations for sending Cordelia to the doctor was to get her cleared for sex.  Heh.)

Chapter Fourteen

Over a rare dinner alone with her husband, Cordelia asks who exactly Vordarian’s troops are.  Aral explains that most of them are soldiers whose commanding officers chose Vordarian’s side, who haven’t mustered the courage to desert their units, which their training makes them unlikely to do in any case.  He says that it’s only treason if they lose anyway, and as long as he and Gregor remain alive, Vordarian cannot win.  Cordelia asks why he doesn’t just bring Gregor out now, and Aral says he wants to woo more of Vordarian’s troops away from him first.  Vordarian doesn’t seem to be making much progress, going for strategic military points rather than trying to win over the minds of the people.  Aral wishes that he could have Kanzian, an experienced space commander who is still unaccounted for.  He says he’s considered moving his base into space, one reason he wanted to hold the shuttleport, but he feels it could be interpreted as a retreat.

Cordelia asks about hostages, thinking about baby Miles; Aral says that Vorbarr Sultana itself is a type of hostage, since Vordarian could threaten to destroy it.  They have discussed the possibility of rescue raids, but the time is not ripe, so they’d rather sacrifice them instead.

“Even Kareen?” All the hostages? Even the tiniest?

“Even Kareen. She is Vor. She understands.”

“The surest proof I am not Vor,” said Cordelia glumly. “I don’t understand any of this . . . stylized madness. I think you should all be in therapy, every last one of you.”

He smiled slightly. “Do you think Beta Colony could be persuaded to send us a battalion of psychiatrists as humanitarian aid? The one you had that last argument with, perhaps?”

Cordelia snorted. Well, Barrayaran history did have a sort of weird dramatic beauty, in the abstract, at a distance. A passion play. It was close-up that the stupidity of it all became more palpable, dissolving like a mosaic into meaningless squares.

Cordelia asks if they are taking hostages themselves, and Aral says they’re not; they need the moral high ground.  Vordarian is neglecting the “plebes” in favour of the upper class, which is the wrong side, numerically.  Both sides have sufficient raw power, but Aral has right and legitimacy on his side, which Vordarian is trying to undermine with rumours that Aral has disposed of Gregor to seek the throne himself.  He admits that Vordarian could still win, if he gets his hands on Aral and Gregor, but it would likely lead to a long era of instability as people try to seize the throne and take petty revenges.

The next few days, Cordelia explores her new surroundings with Drou.  Bothari spends much of his time exercising, having nothing to do until the Count returns, and having trouble sleeping as well.  She tries to keep up with the news reports on the war, but finds them too depressing.

After three days, Illyan arrives with Kanzian.  Cordelia goes to see the debriefing; Illyan has been hiding out in the capital much as Cordelia did in the mountains.  Kanzian seems to be confident that he can talk around some of the space commanders, like Admiral Knollys, who’s been avoiding communications with Aral, once he points out how little chance Vordarian has.

Cordelia asks Illyan if he’s had any news of her baby, but he hasn’t.  Illyan asks in turn about Negri’s death, which Aral confirms; he does say that Gregor is fine, but doesn’t tell Illyan where.  Aral tells Illyan that after sickbay his job is to start taking apart ImpSec and putting it back together, as its new head.  Captain Illyan is daunted by his new duties, but cannot refuse.

After that, the new arrivals at Tanery Base increase in pace, including Prime Minister Vortala, who escaped from Vordarian’s house arrest.  One day Aral summons her to watch a vid that Vordarian has just broadcast, with Kanzian, Vortala, and other staffers present.  It cuts between Vordarian and Princess Kareen, in the Imperial Residence, and the Council of Counts.  The Lord Guardian is reading an obviously prepared statement, though subtly distancing himself from it, denouncing Aral for Gregor’s murder and appointing Vordarian as Regent and Prime Minister, though Vortala spots that he doesn’t have a quorum of the Counts.

Aral wants Cordelia to pay attention to Kareen, though, as Vordarian announces his engagement to the Princess; she remains calm and serene even when displaying the ring.  Aral asks Cordelia if she can tell him anything about Kareen’s state of mind.  Cordelia watches it again and says that she doesn’t look drugged or coerced; likely she is just trying to make the best of her situation.

Cordelia went on, “Vordarian’s been controlling her access to information, surely. She may even be convinced he’s winning. She’s a survivor; she’s survived Serg and Ezar, so far. Maybe she means to survive you and Vordarian both. Maybe the only revenge she thinks she’ll ever get is to live long enough to spit on all your graves.”

One of the staff officers muttered, “But she’s Vor. She should have defied him.”

Cordelia favored him with a glittery grin. “Oh, but you never know what any Barrayaran woman thinks by what she says in front of Barrayaran men. Honesty is not exactly rewarded, you know.”

The staffer gave her an unsettled look. Drou smiled sourly. Vorkosigan blew out his breath. Koudelka blinked.

Cordelia continues to wonder about Kareen later, pondering their similarities, as she turns Gregor’s shoe over in her hands.  She is interrupted by a call from Major Sircoj, a duty officer at the entrance, who says a man who has a conditioned sensitivity to fast-penta, so they can’t interrogate him without killing him, has arrived asking to see her.  Cordelia asks if he’s carrying a large metal object, but Sircoj says he has nothing except his clothes, and says his name is Vaagen.  Cordelia says she will see him, though Sircoj protests that it’s not safe.  She and Drou run down to the portal security, collecting herself before asking to see Major Sircoj.  After some negotiation, Sircoj allows her to talk to Vaagen over the vid.

Cordelia is appalled at Vaagen’s condition, and demands that he get medical treatment; Sircoj says he must be cleared first.  Cordelia sends Drou for Aral and gets Sircoj to put her through.  Eventually someone brings Vaagen to a comconsole.  Vaagen says that he and Henri were trying to keep the replicator safe, hiding out in ImpMil, and for a while nobody seemed to know they were there.  The day before, though, Vordarian’s men came for the replicator, beating Henri to death when he tried to deny them.

“Then they ripped into the lab. Everything, all the treatment records. All Henri’s work on burns, gone. They didn’t have to do that. All gone for nothing!” His voice cracked, hoarse with fury.

“Did they . . . find the replicator? Dump it out?” She could see it; she had seen it over and over, spilling. . . .

“They found it, finally. But then they took it. And then let me go.” He shook his head from side to side.

“Took it,” she repeated stupidly. Why? What sense, to take the technology and not the techs? “And let you go. To run to us, I suppose. To give us the word.”

“You have it, Milady.”

“Where, do you suppose? Where did they take it?”

Vorkosigan’s voice spoke beside her. “The Imperial Residence, most likely. All the best hostages are being kept there. I’ll put Intelligence right on it.” He stood, feet planted, grey-faced. “It seems we’re not the only side turning up the pressure.”

Comments

Now the personal stakes for Cordelia are certainly up another notch.  She’s been living in uncertainty, wondering whether or not Miles was safe, and now it’s been confirmed to her that he’s not.  Up goes the tension again, after a chapter mostly spent defusing it (or diffusing it) by showing Aral’s side going up.  I may have skipped over several references in the text to Aral warning that Vordarian will get more desperate as he begins to realize that he’s losing, so it’s not like this wasn’t foreshadowed.  It certainly falls into Bujold’s normal do-the-worst-thing-you-can-to-your-characters methodology.  And, also, her determination to keep her villains from being stupid.

I can’t decide if Bothari is still supposed to be without his meds at this point.  Can he get more from the base pharmacy, or not?  If they don’t have access to Cordelia’s medical records, I suppose they also don’t have Bothari’s, so maybe they can’t take his word for what his prescription is.  Given his ambivalence towards the meds in the first place, I suppose he might not even have brought them up.  So I suspect he’s off his meds and perhaps becoming less stable as a result.  Not that, with Bothari, that’s necessarily a bad thing, if you know how to point him in the right direction when he loses it.


Down to the wire for another installment, but you get two chapters again, lucky you.  Well, good night, see you next week, I’ll probably kill you in the morning.

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Welcome back for another installment of the adventures of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Barrayar’s only Betan Countess!  This week…Cordelia stumbles on into the wilderness around Vorkosigan Surleau as things get real.

Chapter Eleven

As ImpSec medics try fruitlessly to resuscitate Negri, Koudelka tells Aral that the comconsole was sabotaged, like somebody had just smashed it up.  The guard who had been outside the room, now in custody, tries to finger Drou as the culprit; impatiently Aral orders them both arrested.

Aral orders them to begin evacuating, and warn the people in the nearby village.  Count Piotr asks his son, mildly, if he’s going to Hassadar; Aral says it will be his first gift to Vordarian.  He tells Piotr to take Gregor somewhere, and contact him later to arrange a rendezvous; he doesn’t want to know where they are.  He also asks Piotr to take Cordelia, and Bothari to guard her.  Piotr sends off his Armsman Esterhazy, and another man off to create a false trail with his groundcar.  Aral and Piotr decide to arrange something with Negri’s body and the lightflyer.  As they do, Cordelia asks if anyone but her was surprised.  Aral tells her that they had found out about Vordarian’s conspiracy, but they had still been gathering evidence.  Negri had just called him to get an Imperial warrant to arrest Vordarian, and Vordarian apparently found out about it and moved first, a month earlier than he had been planning.

Cordelia bids a quick but heartfelt farewell to Aral, and gets into the lightflyer with Piotr, Gregor and Bothari.  Bothari flies the ailing vehicle at a low altitude, at Piotr’s direction, over a ridge and along a creek, until Piotr tells him to land.  The Count then tells them all to get rid of any powered items, including weapons, which show up well on scans; Bothari keeps his steel knife.  Esterhazy arrives then with four horses, as Piotr and Aral strap Negri into the lightflyer’s pilot seat and program it to crash into the deepest part of the lake.  Piotr then orders them to mount up.  Bothari gets on his horse easily enough and Piotr sends him off as point-man.

Supposedly-creaky Piotr swung up into his saddle in one fluid motion; Esterhazy handed Gregor up to him, and Piotr held the boy in front of him. Gregor had actually seemed to cheer up at the sight of the horses, Cordelia could not imagine why. Piotr appeared to do nothing at all, but his horse arranged itself neatly ready to start up the trail—telepathy, Cordelia decided wildly. They’ve mutated into telepaths here and never told me . . . or maybe it was the horse that was telepathic.

Cordelia fails on her first attempt to mount, and Esterhazy hurries over to help her, and she admits to never having ridden before, to Count Piotr’s audible disdain for the “useless Betan frill”.  She manages to get aboard, and clings for dear life as they canter off, Piotr taking her horse’s reins.

They ride to a vantage point overlooking the lake, where Bothari is waiting; he helps Cordelia dismount, and she gasps for breath.  Flyers are beginning to arrive at the house they left behind, and as soldiers disembark, Cordelia wonders how they’ll tell the good guys from the bad guys, when they wear the same uniform.  Esterhazy says that he let all the horses loose to try to muddy their trail, though Piotr says half of them will still just hang around waiting to be fed.  More soldiers head into the village, where Esterhazy says they’ll be looking for hostages from the armsmen’s families.  Piotr says they need to get under cover before the air search.  He heads off into the brush as Bothari and Esterhazy help Cordelia back onto her horse.  They walk more slowly, for the horses’ sake.

They rode among trees and scrub, along a ravine, over a ridge, the horses’ hooves scraping over stone. Her ears strained for the whine of flyers overhead. When one came, Bothari led her on a wild and head-spinning slide down into a ravine, where they dismounted and cowered under a rock ledge for minutes, until the whine faded. Getting back out of the ravine was even more difficult. They had to lead the horses up, Bothari practically seeming to hoist his along the precarious scrubby slope.

They ride into the night, until close to midnight, when they reach a clearing.  Cordelia sits exhausted with Gregor on her lap; Bothari splits a ration-bar, their only food, between them, and Gregor goes to sleep.  Cordelia wonders where Aral is, and asks Piotr if he’d be in Hassadar.  Piotr says he’d have gone there, but only to disperse his garrison, trying to throw them off Gregor’s trail.  With luck, Vordarian will try to hold Hassadar, which has little strategic value, but will drain off his troops.  Also, by holding Count Vorkosigan’s seat, Vordarian may give some of the other Counts reason to worry about him.  Aral will be heading for Tanery Base Shuttleport to try to make contact with the spacebound troops.

Piotr says that Vordarian has been moving quickly; when he was up at Vorbarr Sultana that morning, he didn’t see any signs of trouble.  The capital itself won’t be that great of an advantage to Vordarian, because the real battle is to win over the people.  Even though he holds ImpMil, many people will have fled their posts, and a lot of those that remain will be secretly working to sabotage one side or the other.  Cordelia asks about the Vorpatrils, and Piotr tells her that Padma and the unborn child are in definite danger, as other descendants of Prince Xav.

Cordelia worries that their own heat, and that of the horses, will show up once they start scanning the hills, but Piotr says that there are plenty of other people living in these hills, even if Cordelia hasn’t seen them.  Still, he has a few ideas, and they’ll probably split up soon to confuse things even more.

They start moving again before dawn, heading up a long slope.  They stop in a hollow with a stream, where Piotr and Esterhazy go to try to find help.  Gregor tries to feed some of the native Barrayaran plants to the horses, but they won’t eat them, and Cordelia warns him not to try himself.  Esterhazy returns and takes them over a pass to where Piotr waits with another man wearing a Postal Service uniform.  He gives them some rations, and Piotr tells Bothari to go with “The Major” and take Cordelia and Gregor with him.  Piotr takes some gum-leaf, a mild stimulant, and heads off with Esterhazy back down the trail.

Comments

Another traveling chapter, like some of those near the beginning of Shards of Honour.  A little more urgency, at least at the beginning, but it’s hard to maintain that tension when you’re moving through the wilderness at low speed, without the enemy visibly in hot pursuit on your trail.  So this is where the action flags slightly.  Cordelia’s humorous (and undoubtedly quite realistic) trepidation and lack of skill with the horses also breaks the tension a bit.

It’s nice to see Aral and his father, at each other’s throats, exchanging barbed words and disowning each other not too long ago, putting all that aside and working together when it’s the Emperor’s life at stake.  They know when higher duty takes over.

Chapter Twelve

The Major, who introduces himself as Amor Klyeuvi, or “Kly”, tells Cordelia that he’s the Imperial Mail for the area.  He’s done it for eighteen years, and has two more, if he doesn’t get phased out by lightflyers, before he can retire with 60 years Imperial service, as a “triple-twenty-years man”; he spent forty years in the Imperial Rangers, starting during the Cetagandan War.  He tells Cordelia and Bothari that they’ll stick out, Bothari in his livery, and Cordelia in Aral’s fatigue shirt, but he’ll see what he can do.  Cordelia asks to try some of his gum-leaf, once she convinces him that she’s “not a real lady”.

Kly regarded her with bemusement. “So what are you, off-worlder not-a-lady?”

“I was an astrocartographer. Then a Survey captain. Then a soldier, then a POW, then a refugee. And then I was a wife, and then I was a mother. I don’t know what I’m going to be next,” she answered honestly, around the gum-leaf. Pray not widow.

Kly is puzzled about “mother”, and she tells him that her baby was born prematurely and is at ImpMil hospital; Kly assures her that the hospital should be safe.  They ride up the road, Kly making periodic side trips to deliver mail.  He returns from one with some replacement clothes, which they put on, hiding the revealing ones; Gregor, they remove his mismatched shoe and cover him with a men’s shirt.  They continue over the pass; some of Kly’s message recipients come to meet them, and some messages Kly delivers orally.  Kly promises to take them to his sister’s place, where they can sleep, but Bothari’s horse goes lame and he has to walk, and it takes hours longer before they cross another ridge into a concealed vale and into a tiny shack.  Cordelia curls up with Gregor under a blanket and is asleep in minutes.

Cordelia wakes up to find Gregor awake as well.  The shack has only one room, with a kettle over the embers of a wood fire.  Footsteps outside prove to be Bothari’s, and he tells them there is breakfast.  Cordelia takes Gregor to the outhouse, then back to the shack for tea and groats, and then Cordelia tells Bothari to get some sleep.  She also asks if Kly had any plans in case they had to hide before he got back, and Bothari mentions a nearby cave network whose entrance Kly had shown him, which they used to use when fighting the Cetagandans.  Cordelia sits and listens in case she hears any vehicles coming closer; they can see the lake far below them, and aren’t really that far away.  After checking on the horses, Cordelia asks Gregor what happened back in the capital.

“The soldiers came. The colonel told Mama and me to come with him. One of our liveried men came in. The colonel shot him.”

“Stunner, or nerve disruptor?”

“Nerve disruptor. Blue fire. He fell down. They took us to the Marble Courtyard. They had aircars. Then Captain Negri ran in, with some men. A soldier grabbed me, and Mama grabbed me back, and that’s what happened to my shoe. It came off in her hand. I should have . . . fastened it tighter, in the morning. Then Captain Negri shot the soldier who was carrying me, and some soldiers shot Captain Negri—”

“Plasma arc? Is that when he got that horrible burn?” Cordelia asked. She tried to keep her tone very calm.

Gregor nodded mutely. “Some soldiers took Mama, those other ones, not Negri’s ones. Captain Negri picked me up and ran. We went through the tunnels, under the Residence, and came out in a garage. We went in the lightflyer. They shot at us. Captain Negri kept telling me to shut up, to be quiet. We flew and flew, and he kept yelling at me to be quiet, but I was. And then we landed by the lake.” Gregor was trembling again.

Cordelia reassures Gregor that his mother will be okay, while her mind flashes on a vision of soldiers finding the uterine replicator and dashing little Miles on the floor.

When Kly hasn’t returned by suppertime, Cordelia asks Bothari to show her the cave.  He gets a chemical cold-light and takes them to the opening, which is quite wide, as is the entrance cavern, which shows clear signs of previous occupancy, and has several exits leading out.  Cordelia wonders if they should try to hide in the cave network, but decides it’s too risky.  However, she decides they should stay there overnight, and leave signs to make any pursuers who find the cave think that they have gone into the caves.  Bothari brings up their horses and tethers them outside.  Cordelia leaves the fatigue shirt in a niche, and drops a cold-light deeper into the caves, then sends Bothari to find a real bolt-hole to hide in.  After Bothari returns, they sleep.

When Cordelia awakens, Bothari says that he’s finding it hard to sleep without his medication, which helps suppress his dreams.  After a cold breakfast, Cordelia is resting when Bothari says it’s time to move.  As they leave the cave, Cordelia sees a lightflyer landing outside Kly’s sister’s shack, and soldiers emerging to kick the door open.  Her horse tries to follow her and she shoos it back.  Bothari leads them up to his hidey-hole, a narrow horizontal crack almost impossible to see into, where they watch the cave entrance through simple unpowered binoculars.  They take turns watching as the cave entrance is discovered, and by nightfall dozens of men have disappeared into it.

They slip out and head back down the slope.  Bothari stops at one point near a vent, where they can hear voices.

“Goddammit, I know we went left back at that third turn.”

“That wasn’t the third turn, that was the fourth.”

“We re-crossed the stream.”

“It wasn’t the same friggin’ stream, sabaki!”

“Merde. Perdu!”

“Lieutenant, you’re an idiot!”

“Corporal, you’re out of line!”

“This cold light’s not going to last the hour. See, it’s fading.”

“Well, don’t shake it up, you moron, when it glows brighter it goes faster.”

“Give me that—!”

Bothari salutes Cordelia and later wishes that they’d had a grenade to drop down there, which would have had them shooting each other for days.

Comments

That cave sequence is priceless.  I’m glad Cordelia didn’t decide to go into the caves, first because she correctly surmises that it’s too dangerous, and second because extended cave sequences can get tedious, like extended mountain-climbing sequences.  But luring the enemy into it, that’s awesome.  Still, the book still feels like it’s close to dissipating the tension from Chapter Ten.  Maybe that’s just because it’s a reread and I know what’s going to happen, and I’m looking forward to stuff that’s still several chapters ahead.

Gregor doesn’t get up to much, apart from telling Cordelia his story.  I guess growing up as he did, he’s probably used to being quiet and staying out of the way and doing what he’s told, and his recent experiences have probably left him a little shell-shocked, but he’s very obedient and very quiet.  Convenient for the characters, and the author, but is it realistic?  Not sure.


And that’s it for this week; still managed to do two chapters, so far so good.  It’ll probably be the first few weeks of fall TV season when I’ll start to fall behind, as I try to keep up with all the interesting-sounding shows until I decide to give up on them, or the networks do.  (No space opera on TV these days, but I guess we’ll make do.)

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Getting down to the wire, but after spending most of last week in British Columbia and last weekend in Calgary, I luckily have this week off to staycate.  Or at least hang around the house without having to go to work, if “staycating” implies too much local tourism.

This week I cover chapters Nine and Ten of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar, the second book, chronologically, in her Vorkosigan series.  This is where the book really begins to pick up, but more on that afterward.

Chapter Nine

Cordelia awakens around midday the next day to find Count Piotr sitting by her bedside.  He gives her some water and gives Cordelia his condolences.  Cordelia says there is still hope, though Piotr doesn’t think much of Vaagen, and he worries that the placental transfer is too risky a procedure, compared to an abortion.  He says the damage is likely to be too severe for Vaagen to be able to fix, and because this is a future Count Vorkosigan, it’s inconceivable that it should be deformed.  Cordelia points out at Counts Vorkosigan have met a number of horrible fates over the centuries, and at the moment the House consists of only Piotr and Aral.  Piotr says that they’ve never been mutants, and though Cordelia points out that the damage is not genetic, he says that he doesn’t want anyone to think it’s a mutant.  Cordelia doesn’t understand why they should worry what ignorant proles–or ignorant Vors–think.  Piotr protests that with this new process the baby’ll be a lab rat, and Cordelia says that he can serve his planet already.  She admits that the transfer may fail, which seems to relieve Count Piotr somewhat, and then Aral interrupts them; Cordelia wonders how much he overheard.

After his father leaves, Cordelia asks Aral about the investigation, and he tells her that there is an officer missing from the armory where Evon Vorhalas got the soltoxin, which opens the question of other conspirators.  He tells Cordelia that he should be the one to deal with his father, and he’ll support her decision.  He tells her that his fertility has probably been severely damaged by the soltoxin, so this may be their only chance.  Cordelia says that they can clone offspring galore from the tiniest of cell fragments, even if they’re both dead, but Aral says it would have to be offworld, or on a greatly changed Barrayar.

Cordelia goes in for the operation with Captain Vaagen, Dr. Henri, and the surgeon, Dr. Ritter.  She soon pegs him as an old friend of Vaagen’s, a little nervous, especially after a number of more experienced men had turned down the job.  Vaagen had explained that Vor lords are notoriously unforgiving of medical mistakes.  They apply a medical stun to her lower body, and Ritter hesitates to start until Vaagen reminds him that bone deterioration is already under way.  Ritter gathers himself and makes the first incision.

A placental transfer was vastly more demanding than a straightforward cesarian section. The fragile placenta must be chemically and hormonally persuaded to release from the blood-vessel-enriched uterus, without damaging too many of its multitude of tiny villi, then floated free from the uterine wall in a running bath of highly oxygenated nutrient solution. The replicator sponge then had to be slipped into place between the placenta and the uterine wall, and the placenta’s villi at least partially induced to re-interdigitate on its new matrix, before the whole mess could be lifted from the living body of the mother and placed in the replicator. The more advanced the pregnancy, the more difficult the transfer.

The umbilical cord between placenta and infant was monitored, and extra oxygen injected by hypospray as needed. On Beta Colony, a nifty little device would do this; here, an anxious tech hovered.

The nutrient bath is running, and the replicator is being moved into place, when Cordelia begins to feel cold, and the nutrient fluid begins to flow red, and Ritter demands that something be clamped.  Cordelia catches a glimpse of the fetus inside the placenta, and Ritter tells Vaagen to take it now if he wants it; then she passes out, the last thing she hears being Ritter swearing.
She floats in delirium, only knowing that she can’t breathe properly, clawing at her throat until they tie down her hands.  Eventually she wakes to find Aral over her.

“Sh. You’ve been very, very sick. You had a violent hemorrhage during the placental transfer. Your heart stopped twice.” He moistened his lips and went on. “The trauma, on top of the poisoning, flared into soltoxin pneumonia. You had a very bad day yesterday, but you’re over the worst, off the respirator.”

He says she’s been out for three days.  Cordelia asks about the baby, and Aral says that the transfer went more or less successful, with only minor placental damage, and the calcium treatments are beginning.

Cordelia continues her recovery over the next few days, as is Aral, but he is kept busy, setting up a makeshift office in his hospital room, with Koudelka working there as well.  Dr. Henri takes her over to the laboratory in a float chair to examine the replicator, and assure her that most signs are encouraging, though there is concern about the baby’s hearing because of the small ear bones.  Still, Cordelia is reassured that her child is in trained hands.

The next day, Vaagen comes to see her, saying that Count Piotr had been to visit his new grandson.  Initially seeming to just show interest in the process, he later turned to attempting to bribe and threaten Dr. Henri into destroying “the mutation”.  Cordelia goes to fetch Aral, who hears Vaagen’s story as well, and promises to deal with it.  Aral contacts the security chief at the hospital and Simon Illyan, and revokes his father’s security access to Vaagen’s building; it requires an Imperial order to countermand Count Piotr’s prior security, which Aral gives in his capacity as Regent.  He authorizes them to use any force up to stunner fire to keep him out.

Aral says he can see both sides of the issue, his father’s and Cordelia’s, but he says that his father is the past, and Cordelia is the future.  Cordelia suggests that they try to speed their recovery by heading out to Vorkosigan Surleau, where there will be fewer interruptions, and Aral says they should take Count Piotr with them, to get him further away from the hospital.

Comments

The operation is one of the most science-fictional things to happen in the book, a futuristic technical procedure described in fair detail.  I’m not sure if current medical technology is up to this level yet, or if this is just an extrapolation on somebody’s part, but it seemed plausible to me.  What I liked best about it is the reference to “medical stun”, though.  It’s ingenious–if you have a weapon that will instantly paralyze someone, knock them unconscious, etc., without lasting damage, then it’s a perfect anesthetic as well.  It might require a more delicate touch, of course–for instance, in this particular operation, would the stun be too dangerous for a developing fetus?  Would they need to aim it precisely to keep from affecting it, while still keeping her from feeling the incision?  Or maybe it just suffices to hit the spinal cord and block out the nerve signals at that point.  Anyway, pretty cool.

It’s interesting how Bujold cuts down their options, too.  Aral’s infertility because of the soltoxin damage, and Barrayar’s resistance to the use of cloning technologies which are probably routine in the rest of the galaxy (at least, we do see them on other planets in later books), mean that they can’t have other children; this is their only chance.  I do wonder if Count Piotr, convinced of Aral’s infertility, would consider cloning to be the lesser evil.  So their only choice is to hang all of their hopes on the baby (still destined to be named Piotr Miles, at this point) having its bone development restored enough to be functional by Vaagen’s experimental method.  Thus, their son is destined to have to fight against Barrayaran prejudices and his own physical limitations in his future life.  Just like she planned it…

Count Piotr’s behaviour is somewhat reprehensible, by our viewpoint, but let’s take a moment to think about this.  Your average Barrayaran Vor is quite conservative and right-wing, with your average Betan as left-wing and liberal.  And yet there’s that little twist where infanticide is part of the Barrayaran way of life, because of the history of mutation in their past, so your average Barrayaran isn’t exactly “pro-life”.  Is the mutation rate just because of their wars with the Cetagandans after the Time of Isolation, and the radiation left behind from that?  Can’t remember right now.  I thought it would go farther back than that, but I do have some trouble figuring out sometimes how long various stages of Barrayaran history lasted.  How long was the Time of Isolation?  How long ago did it end?  I’m sure the answers are in the books, and the Vorkosigan Companion, if I could just remember them.  So let me check the Companion, since it’s conveniently available on my computer…  It says that the Time of Isolation lasted for “several hundred years”, and the custom of infanticide took root back then.  The planet was rediscovered “more than a hundred years” ago–is that compared to Miles’s life, or Cordelia’s–and the Cetagandan invasions are recent enough for Count Piotr to have fought in them.  So I guess that it’s just natural mutation that the mothers of Barrayar was guarding against, though the Cetagandan nuclear weapons can’t have helped.

Chapter Ten

Three weeks after the soltoxin attack, Cordelia awakens in Vorkosigan Surleau, finally feeling fully rested, no longer having to wear oxygen tubes; Aral seems to be already up.  Drou checks and, finding Cordelia awake, comes in with a tray of food.  Cordelia finds herself truly hungry for the first time since the attack.  She notices that Drou seems to be trying to conceal some kind of guilty feeling.  Cordelia tells Drou that Vaagen has reported some possible progress on little Piotr Miles’s recalcification.
Drou asks Cordelia how she knew she was pregnant.  Cordelia tells her that she first had her contraceptive implant removed, when she and Aral decided to try to start their family.

“Made me feel very wicked; at home I couldn’t have had it taken out without buying a license.”

“Really?” Drou listened with openmouthed fascination.

“Yes, it’s a Betan legal requirement. You have to qualify for a parent’s license first. I’ve had my implant since I was fourteen. I had a menstrual period once then, I remember. We turn them off till they’re needed. I got my implant, and my hymen cut, and my ears pierced, and had my coming-out party. . . .”

Drou hopes that she didn’t start having sex right away, and Cordelia says she didn’t, remembering how awkward she was, and still is.  She and Aral began trying right away, and they conceived even before she could menstruate again.  Drou asks a few more questions, and Cordelia asks if there’s some personal interest.  She draws Drou out, and Drou describes how, the night of the soltoxin attack, she was up late and found Koudelka in the library.  He kissed her, and they “screwed”, as Cordelia phrases it.  Drou seems surprised at Cordelia’s approval.  Afterwards, she saw a movement in the back garden, and heard the grenade; she feels guilty for having allowed the attack to get through, though Cordelia tells her that she was off-duty at the time anyway.  She offers Drou one of her remaining pregnancy tests, and Drou goes to try it, returning with the news that she isn’t pregnant after all.

“I can’t tell if you’re glad or sorry. Believe me, if you want to have a baby, you’d do much better to wait a couple years till they get a bit more medical technology on-line around here.” Though the organic method had been fascinating, for a time. . . .

“I don’t want . . . I want . . . I don’t know . . . Kou’s hardly spoken to me since that night. I didn’t want to be pregnant, it would destroy me, and yet I thought maybe he would, would . . . be as excited and happy about it as he was about the sex, maybe. Maybe he’d come back and—oh, things were going so well, and now they’re so spoiled!” Her hands were clenched, face white, teeth gritted.

Cry, so I can breathe, girl. But Droushnakovi regained her self-control. “I’m sorry, Milady. I didn’t mean to spill all this stupidity on you.”

Now, Drou says, Koudelka hides when he sees her coming.  Cordelia gets dressed, wearing her old survey trousers on a whim; they’re a little loose on her, even.

Aral comes in, pleased to find Cordelia and Drou both there; he has an odd light in his eyes.  Koudelka follows him, and Aral says that Koudelka seems to want to make a confession.

“Drou—Miss Droushnakovi—I came to turn myself in. And to apologize. No, that sounds trivial, and believe me, I don’t think it trivial. You deserve more than apology, I owe you expiation. Whatever you want. But I’m sorry, so sorry I raped you.”

Droushnakovi’s mouth fell open for a full three seconds, then shut so hard Cordelia could hear her teeth snap. “What?!”

Koudelka flinched, but never looked up. “Sorry . . . sorry,” he mumbled.

“You. Think. You. What?!” gasped Droushnakovi, horrified and outraged. “You think you could—oh!” She stood rigid now, hands clenched, breathing fast. “Kou, you oaf! You idiot! You moron! You-you-you—” Her words sputtered off. Her whole body was shaking. Cordelia watched in utter fascination. Aral rubbed his lips thoughtfully.

Drou then kicks Koudelka sword-stick out from under him, slams him into the wall, and asks him how he thought he could lay a hand on her without her permission.  Aral admonishes her mildly to be gentle with his secretary, and Drou stalks out.  Cordelia asks if this is still about the night of the soltoxin attack, and Koudelka describes it from his point of view; upon finding himself aroused, he couldn’t hold himself back.  Cordelia says she was acting odd around him because she was afraid of being pregnant, not afraid of him.  Aral and Koudelka are still puzzled, and Cordelia explains that Drou is angry not just because Koudelka insulted her fighting prowess, but because he revealed that he hasn’t even been paying attention to Drou herself, who was giving him what she perceived as a great gift.

Koudelka’s head swiveled toward the door. “Are you saying I should run after her?”

“Crawl, actually, if I were you,” recommended Aral. “Crawl fast. Slither under her door, go belly-up, let her stomp on you till she gets it out of her system. Then apologize some more. You may yet save the situation.” Aral’s eyes were openly alight with amusement now.

“What do you call that? Total surrender?” said Kou indignantly.

“No. I’d call it winning.” His voice grew a shade cooler. “I’ve seen the war between men and women descend to scorched-earth heroics. Pyres of pride. You don’t want to go down that road. I guarantee it.”

Koudelka, well and truly rebuked, still turns the other way when he leaves the room.

At lunch, Cordelia notices the Count’s absence.  Aral thinks he is in the stables, but the housekeeper says that he went off in the groundcar earlier.  Aral goes and checks, and returns to say that his father has, in fact, been to ImpMil, was denied access to the baby, and left.

The Count returns a few hours later, and accuses Aral of having set a trap to humiliate him in public.  Aral said that he wouldn’t have found the trap if he hadn’t chosen that path.  Count Piotr then accuses Cordelia of shirking her duty to guard the genome, but Aral says that infanticide is no longer the only answer.  The Count accuses Aral of inability to control his wife, and being more loyal to her than to his father and liege-lord.

“Yes, the present setup is a little peculiar. As a count’s heir, my hands are between yours, but as your Regent, your hands are between mine. Oath-stalemate. In the old days we could have broken the deadlock with a nice little war.” He grinned back, or at least bared his teeth. Cordelia’s mind gyrated, One day only: The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object. Tickets, five marks.

Koudelka interjects to inform them that the comconsole is down again; Aral tells him to get a guard to help him look at it, and call for a tech if need be.  Koudelka flees the tense room.

Count Piotr threatens to disinherit his grandson; Aral says that he can only disinherit Aral himself, which would require an Imperial order…which he is inclined to grant.  The Count enjoins him to think of the example they’re setting, how it could lead to a society burdened by millions of dysfunctionals; Aral says his reasoning is specious.  Finally the Count says that he can’t persuade them to stop, but he can keep them from naming it after him.  Cordelia and Aral readily agree to name the baby “Miles Naismith Vorkosigan” instead.  As a last effort, Count Piotr orders them out of his house–both houses, Vorkosigan Surleau and Vorkosigan House–and to return his “rents and revenues”.  Aral says that Illyan had been trying to persuade him to move into the Imperial Residence anyway, and now he has a good reason, plus it will be more affordable on his reduced income.

Cordelia sees a lightflyer in the sky, which is flying oddly, and proves to be trailing smoke.  It is coming at the house, and she wonders if it’s filled with bombs; Aral notes that it has ImpSec markings.  It lands shakily on the front lawn, and is so damaged that Cordelia wonders that it’s flyable at all.  Piotr sees that the pilot is Negri, and they rush outside.  The guards open the canopy and find Negri badly wounded and burned; in the passenger seat is Emperor Gregor, in play-clothes with one shoe, weeping in terror.  Koudelka and Drou appear, and Gregor runs to Drou for help.

Aral asks Negri what happened.

Negri reached up and grabbed his jacket with his working right hand. “He’s trying for a coup—in the capital. His troops took ImpSec, took the comm center—why didn’t you respond? HQ surrounded, infiltrated—bad fighting now at the Imperial Residence. We were on to him—about to arrest—he panicked. Struck too soon. I think he has Kareen—”

Piotr demanded, “Who has, Negri, who?”

“Vordarian.”

Aral nodded grimly. “Yes . . .”

“You—take the boy,” gasped Negri. “He’s almost on top of us . . .” His shivers oscillated into convulsions, his eyes rolling back whitely. His breath stuttered in resonant chokes. His brown eyes refocused in sudden intensity. “Tell Ezar—” The convulsions took him again, racking his thick body. Then they stopped. All stop. He was no longer breathing.

Comments

I’d say this was the best chapter in the book, if I wasn’t pretty sure there was more to come.  First, a turning point in the Kou & Drou plotline, or at least the revelation of the turning point that happened two chapters ago but was only hinted at.  Then, the confrontation with Count Piotr over the baby, which I could barely do justice to, as Aral deflects all of his father’s arguments.  And then, just as they are reaching the point of no return, the book’s biggest plot finally bursts out of the sky, with the dying Negri bringing Gregor and news of Vordarian’s coup and imminent pursuit.  Can Aral and his father work together for the Empire?  Can they save the child Emperor?  The malfunctioning comconsole now looks sinister–do they have spies in their own house?

One could say, I suppose, that up to this point the book was a bit dull.  A bit of intrigue, a bit of culture clash, a minor-character romance.  The assassination attempt, and the soltoxin grenade, do ratchet up the tension somewhat, but the first is attributed to a somewhat nebulous enemy, and the second seems to have a straightforward explanation and tie itself off.  The damage to the baby…well, that’s just a baby.  Babies may make good drama, but still not much for action.  Then boom, we have a coup attempt, and a possible civil war.  Now we’re gonna get to the action!  Note that I’m not saying that I had this thought myself on first read, but on summing up, it’s been mostly buildup until now.  Now the wave has crested and things are kicked up to the next level.  Awesome!


Next week…well, the tension may stay high, but the action does recede a little bit.  And I promise that I will try to get it out on time.

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