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Archive for the ‘Cetaganda’ Category

Chapter Fifteen

Miles watches from the floor as Benin’s squad arrest Naru, Kety and his retainers.  Kety pauses on the way out to congratulate “Lord Vorpatril” on his victory, confusing Ivan, but Miles decides it’s not worth it trying to correct him.  Ivan and Vorreedi come over to check on Miles; upon discovering Miles is only suffering from the shock-stick, Ivan hoists him to his feet and helps keep him upright.

Colonel Vorreedi looked him up and down. “I’ll let the ambassador do the protesting about that.” Vorreedi’s distant expression suggested he thought privately that the fellow with the shock-stick had stopped too soon. “Vorob’yev is going to need all the ammunition he can get. You have created the most extraordinary public incident of his career, I suspect.”

“Oh, Colonel,” sighed Miles. “I predict there’s going to b-be nothing p-public ’bout this incident. Wait ‘n see.”

Vorreedi tells Miles that Ivan has explained everything, and he’s still assimilating it.  Ivan complains about how Miles left him there and went off with no backup, and Miles explains that Ivan ­was his backup, and quite capably, too.  After Ivan awoke, Rian managed to get him in touch with Benin–who strolls over to join the conversation–and clue him in on what was happening.  Benin adds that he was already aware of odd occurrences around the Star Crèche, and so had orbital squads ready; Ivan says there’s three battle cruisers around Kety’s ship.  Ghem-General Chilian has been detained, not arrested, for questioning about his wife’s activities.  Miles glances over to where Pel and Nadina seem to be arranging for the float-chair with the Great Key locked inside to be conveyed directly to the Star Crèche.

Vorreedi asks Miles why he kept the incident secret, even from his own side.  Miles says that by the time he discovered the significance of the Great Key, it was too late.  He admits that he didn’t want to have the investigation taken away from him–he wanted to prove that he wasn’t just a cripple with a cushy job, but was actually capable.

Ghem-Colonel Benin slowly deciphered this outpouring. “You wanted to be a hero?”

“So badly you didn’t even care for which side?” Vorreedi added in some dismay.

Miles points out that he did do Barrayar a good turn in defusing Kety’s plot, even if his own personal survival had still been in jeopardy when the rescuers showed up.  Ivan says he should just sign up for Cetagandan Security then; Miles points out that he wasn’t serving Cetaganda as much as the haut, which Benin admits is a valid point.  Benin tells Miles that, nevertheless, Emperor Fletchir Giaja demands that Benin bring Miles to him immediately.  Ivan and Vorreedi may join him, as long as they remain quiet unless authorized to speak.  As they leave the room, Nadina and Pel murmur their approval of Benin, and agree that they should do something for him.  Miles notices that Benin seems ever so slightly smug about having been able to arrest his superior officer.

Miles ventured, “By the way, if I didn’t say it before, congratulations on cracking your very tricky murder case, General Benin.”

Benin blinked. “Colonel Benin,” he corrected.

“That’s what you think.”

Miles, Ivan and Vorreedi are escorted to a small, enclosed building in the Celestial Garden that even Vorreedi is not familiar with.  They cool their heels in an antechamber for an hour, attended by ghem guards and thus unwilling to talk too openly, after Benin goes off with Pel and Nadina.  When they are admitted into the next room, where they are forced to stand, they find Yenaro there as well, with his own attendant, looking like he hasn’t had a chance to change his clothes since they last saw him, and barely willing to acknowledge their presence.  Benin arrives, dismissing the rest of the guards, followed by Nadina, Pel and Rian, in float-chairs but unshielded, and then Emperor Fletchir Giaja himself.

Emperors per se did not unnerve Miles, though Yenaro swayed on his feet as though he were about to faint, and even Benin moved with the most rigid formality. Emperor Gregor had been raised along with Miles practically as his foster-brother; somewhere in the back of Miles’s mind the term emperor was coupled with such identifiers as somebody to play hide-and-seek with. In this context those hidden assumptions could be a psychosocial land mine. Eight planets, and older than my father, Miles reminded himself, trying to inculcate a proper deference to the illusion of power Imperial panoply sought to create. One chair at the head of the room rose from the floor to receive what Gregor would have sardonically dubbed The Imperial Ass. Miles bit his lip.

Miles restrains his impulse to babble and waits for the Emperor’s questions.  The Emperor asks him to explain his role in the affair; Miles says he was intended to be sacrificial lamb, but refused it.  When the Giaja wants elaboration, Miles glances at Rian for authorization, then tells the whole tale, conveniently also confessing to Vorreedi at the same time.  Miles says that after Ba Lura’s death he was in the position of having to prove a negative, that the Barrayarans had done nothing to the Great Key, so he had to find the real Key.  It was also clear he couldn’t trust Cetagandan Security, with the possible exception of Benin, who looked like he was also being set up as a sacrifice.  He compliments Benin on finding Yenaro before Kety did; Benin says that Yenaro and his carpet did a lot to support Ivan’s story.  Miles adds that Rian also refused her role, of accuser, by being willing to listening to Miles’s story and help him discover the truth, and says she was well-chosen as Handmaiden.

“That is hardly for you to judge, Barrayaran,” drawled the haut Fletchir Giaja, whether in amusement, or dangerously, Miles’s ear could not quite tell.

“Excuse me, but I didn’t exactly volunteer for this mission. I was suckered into it. My judgments have brought us all here, one way or another.”

Giaja looked faintly surprised, even a little nonplused, as if he’d never before had one of his gentle hints thrown back in his face.

The Emperor asks Miles about his encounters with Yenaro, and Miles describes them in detail; even Vorreedi is taken aback by the story of the asterzine carpet bomb.  Miles says that Yenaro was as much of an intended victim as Miles himself, and doesn’t have the nerve to be an actual traitor, which Yenaro doesn’t gainsay; he confirms Miles’s story when asked.  After a pause, Giaja instructs Benin to take Ivan and Vorreedi out and leave Miles and the three haut women.

When the others have left, the three haut women’s aspect changes from meek to confrontational as they move into a circle around the Emperor.  Pel notes Miles swaying on his feet and tells Giaja to provide him with a seat; the Emperor complies.  Giaja then tells the haut women that he hopes they see now why the Emperor is to be the only interface between the haut and the Empire, so that the haut-genome is insulated from the political affairs of the Empire.  Ghem, such as Naru, don’t fully comprehend the purposes of the haut.  Rian says that it was Kety’s treason that shook her faith in the haut the most, and now she thinks they might not be ready for the next step, the “winnowing and reaping” of competition.

Giaja says that the haut still have plenty of space to expand, into the realms of the servitor classes, before they need to expand into new territory.  The others agree that the Constellations haven’t been breeding as much as they should, trying to keep their economic positions, and should perhaps be forced to cross-breed more.  Miles pipes up an opinion about how they should be trying to do better than natural selection; he is stared into silence, and wonders why he has been allowed to witness this conversation at all.

Rian says she will convey Giaja’s veto to the Consorts, but the diversity issue, and the bottleneck of the single Key, need to be dealt with sooner than later.  Giaja asks whose idea it was to spill the Great Key’s contents all over the system, and Pel fingers Miles, who points out that he was hoping to salvage as much of the Key as he could, whether they survived or not.

“The best strategies run on rails like that,” Miles pointed out. “Live or die, you make your goal.” He shut up, as Fletchir Giaja’s stare hinted that perhaps outlander barbarians had better not make comments that could be construed as a slur on his late mother’s abilities, even when those abilities had been pitted against him.

Miles asks what will happen to the conspirators.  Naru will be executed; Kety will be offered retirement due to “ill health”, or else suicide.  The other governors will not be punished, but will find it difficult to obtain good posts in the future.  Vio will also be offered a choice between serving in the Garden as a ba, or else suicide, which they suspect she would prefer.  As for Rian and Miles himself, the Emperor says he will think further.

Benin returns to escort Miles back to his Barrayaran companions, and tells Vorreedi that while they can’t control what the Barrayarans report to their superiors, the Emperor hopes strongly that it won’t become “social gossip”.  The Barrayarans give their sworn words, which satisfied Benin.  In the embassy aircar, Miles wishes they could just go home, but there is one final day of the funeral ceremony, and he should see it through to the end.  Vorreedi has only one more question for him.

“What did you think you were doing, Vorkosigan?”

“I stopped the Cetagandan Empire from breaking up into eight aggressively expanding units. I derailed plans for a war by some of them with Barrayar. I survived an assassination attempt, and helped catch three high-ranking traitors. Admittedly, they weren’t our traitors, but still. Oh. And I solved a murder. That’s enough for one trip, I hope.”

Vorreedi then asks Miles if he’s really a special agent; Miles decides he’s not on the need-to-know list, and says that at least he succeeded like one…

Comments

Miles tries to be impressed by the Cetagandan Emperor, but, as he says, his upbringing is against him.  Despite everything else, he was raised in an Imperial Palace, and while he wants to prove himself outside of that context, he can’t help but feel that the powerful are people just like everyone else.  Even the haut can’t daunt him for long.  It’s amusing how irrepressible he is.

For some reason I remembered the scene between Fletchir Giaja and the haut women as having more than just the three of them, but I suppose the three of them are enough in this case.  We don’t need all nine to be escorted in.  Obviously Giaja is used to haut women, so even three of them isn’t enough to daunt him, since he is freakin’ Emperor, after all, and one presumes the pinnacle of haut development to date.  Also, he does have veto power of them, when they bother to consult him, at least.

The bit about the haut expanding into the space currently occupied by servitors was interesting.  Does that mean that their goal is to have the entire population of the Cetagandan Empire made up of haut?  I can see that being a hard sell, since it will result in a steady decline in the overall grandeur of the haut.  Or maybe there will still be ba to do all the actual dirty work, and if they still want ghem to do things like fight and demonstrate the value of various genes in an arena of competition…  They do plan things for the long term, though, even being as long-lived as they are.

Also amused to hear him paraphrasing Cavilo’s advice about making sure all paths lead to victory, however unimpressed Fletchir Giaja is with it…

Chapter Sixteen

Ivan wakes Miles up the next morning, but Miles doesn’t want to get out of bed.  Ivan says it’s just his “post-mission sulks”, and comments on how attractive the shock-stick mark on the side of his face is.  While he forces Miles to get up, Ivan tells him that Benin is coming to pick him up so he can arrive an hour early for the cremation ceremony.  Miles racks his brain as to what the Cetagandans could have planned for him while Ivan helps him prepare.  Miles wonders if they want to arrest or kill him, and Ivan helpfully points out that they could easily give him some kind of untraceable poison or disease that would kill him months later.

In the lobby they find Mia Maz, who tells them that Vorob’yev will be down soon.  Miles is puzzled at her presence until she tells him that Vorob’yev asked her to marry him and she accepted.  Miles thinks that will solve the embassy’s female staff problem, at least.  She asks Miles about his mother and how she found Barrayaran society; Miles says that egalitarians seem to do fine when they end up as aristocrats.

Just as Vorob’yev appears, Benin arrives, sure enough, with the insignina of Ghem-General.  Vorob’yev asks what’s going on, and Benin says that the Emperor wishes Miles’s presence, but he will be returned.  Vorob’yev reluctantly accedes to the request, and Miles is led out to a large, non-military groundcar.

“May I ask what all this is about, ghem-General?” Miles inquired in turn.

Benin’s expression was almost . . . crocodilian. “I am instructed that explanations must wait until you arrive at the Celestial Garden. It will take only a few minutes of your time, nothing more. I first thought that you would like it, but upon mature reflection, I think you will hate it. Either way, you deserve it.”

“Take care your growing reputation for subtlety doesn’t go to your head, ghem-General,” Miles growled. Benin merely smiled.

Miles is brought to a small audience chamber where Fletchir Giaja sits, in his elaborate mourning robes, with three haut-bubbles in attendance.  A ba servitor brings a box to Benin, who hands it to the Emperor.

“Do you know what this is, Lord Vorkosigan?” Giaja asked.

Miles eyed the medallion of the Order of Merit on its colored ribbon, glittering on a bed of velvet. “Yes, sir. It is a lead weight, suitable for sinking small enemies. Are you going to sew me into a silk sack with it, before you throw me overboard?”

Giaja glanced up at Benin, who responded with a Didn’t I tell you so? shrug.

“Bend your neck, Lord Vorkosigan,” Giaja instructed him firmly. “Unaccustomed as you may be to doing so.”

He does, and Giaja puts the medal on him.  Miles tells the Emperor that he refuses the honour, but the Emperor says that he doesn’t, because of his “passion for recognition”, much like that of a ghem-lord.  Better than being likened to a ba, Miles decides, haut science projects that they are.  He says he won’t be able to wear it at home, and the Emperor says that’s fine, as long as he keeps quiet about how he earned it, apart from classified military reports.  Miles reluctantly agrees, beginning to wonder if these private chats arranged with the Emperor are designed to plant suspicions about him in Barrayaran minds.

Giaja summons him to walk on his left hand, but Miles turns to the haut-bubbles and asks to speak to lady Rian one last time.  Giaja allows it, leaving at his stately pace with one of the haut-bubbles, leaving two others behind.  One disappears to reveal Rian.

She floated closer, and raised one fine hand to touch his left cheek. It was the first time they had touched. But if she asked, Does it hurt?, he swore he’d bite her.

Rian was not a fool. “I have taken much from you,” she spoke quietly, “and given nothing.”

“It’s the haut way, is it not?” Miles said bitterly.

“It is the only way I know.”

She removes a coil of hair from her sleeve and presents it as a gift, the only thing she could think of.  Miles thinks to himself that her hair is one of the few things she truly owns.  He asks her what it symbolizes, and she admits she’s not sure.  He says he’ll keep it for memory, and asks if she’ll remember him.  She says that there is no danger she’ll forget him anytime soon, as he shall soon see.

Miles emerges in Giaja’s train into a dell with the Dowager Empress’s force-sphere-enclosed bier at the centre, surrounded by ghem, haut and delegates.  The Emperor strides right down the centre, past the consorts and remaining governors, Miles extremely conspicuous in his house blacks and Order of Merit, with his visibly bruised face.  The Emperor is probably sending some message to his governors, Miles decides, by granting him this place of honour.  The Barrayarans certainly seem to be confused and suspicious when they see him.  He spots Lord Yenaro, who seems by his garb to have been granted a position at the Celestial Garden–the absolute lowest, but still an honour, intended to keep him in line.

As they arrive at the centre, Miles becomes aware of hunger and grogginess, and tries to distract himself by calculating the total cost of all of the funeral ceremonies.  A force-bubbled Rian and her ba approach, proffering the Empress’s regalia, including the recovered Great Key, to the Emperor.  While Miles is wondering who will end up as empress, Giaja calls Rian back and Miles soon realizes that Rian herself is going to be the new Empress.  Miles isn’t certain how he feels about it, even though he has no idea what kind of actual relationship she and Giaja will actually have, apart from mingling their genomes to produce new Imperial children.  She must have known before the ceremony, and she hadn’t seemed unhappy at the prospect.

Giaja gives the orders, and the force-bubble with the Dowager Empress inside begins to glow with increasing brightness as the contents are incinerated.  Then a hole opens in the force-bubble above them, and another hole in the bier, and white fire shoots up into the sky.  The bubbles close again, the force-dome brightens, and the smaller bubble vanishes without even a mark on the grass.  The Emperor changes out of his white mourning robe into something more colourful, and the procession winds its way back out of the dell.  Giaja bids farewell to Miles and hopes they don’t meet again soon.

Ghem-General Benin, at Miles’s elbow, almost cracked an expression. Laughing? “Come, Lord Vorkosigan. I will escort you back to your delegation. Having given your ambassador my personal word to return you, I must personally—redeem it, as you Barrayarans say. A curious turn of phrase. Do you use it in the sense of a soul in a religion, or an object in a lottery?”

“Mm . . . more in a medical sense. As in the temporary donation of a vital organ.” Hearts and promises, all redeemed here today.

The Barrayarans are waiting for float-cars to take them to another buffet meal, but Miles implores Ivan to leave right away, especially when Ivan points out that all the ghem-ladies will be there.  Vorreedi asks Miles what that was all about, and Miles says it’s “high irony” on the part of the Emperor.  Mia Maz exclaims what a great honour it is, but Vorob’yev says that most Barrayarans will be highly dubious about it.  Miles asks if it can be a military secret; Ivan points out that thousands of people just saw it, and Miles says it’s Ivan’s fault for not bringing him enough coffee to properly wake him up.

Vorreedi’s brows twitched. “Yes . . .” he said. “What did you and the Cetagandans talk about last night, after Lord Vorpatril and I were excluded?”

“Nothing. They never asked me anything more.” Miles grinned blackly. “That’s the beauty of it, of course. Let’s see you prove a negative, Colonel. Just try. I want to watch.”

Back on the courier ship, Miles chews on a ration bar, while Ivan ceremoniously and mournfully disposes of the ghem-lady invitations that had been waiting for him at the embassy, asking why Miles is eating such bland food, wondering if his stomach is acting up again.  Ivan’s gaze falls on the Order of Merit and he offers to dispose of it too, but Miles snatches it away; Ivan says that proves it does mean something to him, and Miles says he bloody well earned it.  He mourns the fact that, if he ever gets into an actual military command, nobody will know about his actual experience, and he’ll have a hell of a time getting their respect.

Miles reflects that the haut-women may have had an easier time conquering Barrayar than the ghem-lords ever did.  Ivan wonders how much longer the haut-lords will actually be human, and Miles asks in return how long the haut-lords will still consider_them_ human.  Miles says that the Cetagandans will remain dangerous until they actually reach their goal, whatever it is, with the ghem kept around to provide variation, like wild seeds kept around just in case even when you have a monoculture.  The best bet is to keep punishing the ghem for their expansionism, and maybe they’ll give up.

Keeping one eye out for sudden moves from his cousin, Miles re-hung his medallion.

“You going to wear that? I dare you.”

“No. Not unless I have a need to be really obnoxious sometime.”

“Ivan.” Miles let his voice grow unexpectedly chill. “Why should the haut Fletchir Giaja decide he needed to be polite to me? Do you really think this is just for my father’s sake?” He ticked the medallion and set it spinning, and locked eyes with his cousin. “It’s not a trivial trinket. Think again about all the things this means. Bribery, sabotage, and real respect, all in one strange packet . . . we’re not done with each other yet, Giaja and I.”

Comments

A bit of an ominous line at the end, there…well, not quite at the end, but still.  Let me just reveal that there hasn’t really been that much more between Miles and Fletchir Giaja.  Miles has intersected with Cetagandans a few more times, but only indirectly (as in Ethan of Athos) or non-adversarially (as in Diplomatic Immunity).  So the next book doesn’t really contain the next phase of Miles’s cat-and-mouse game with the Emperor of Cetaganda.  Though (if you consider Memory, the next book written) it does contain the scene where he needs to be “really obnoxious”…  Can’t wait until we get there, but there’s still another four books or so until then, so you’ll just have to be patient (or, as always, read ahead on your own).

The actual last line is “Miles settled back with slitted eyes, and watched the shining circle spin like planets.”  It keeps making me think that the beginning of the first chapter should have been a sentence that mirrored it, something about watching planets spin like shining circles, except, you know, probably better.  I guess she decided to go for some nice banter between Ivan and Miles instead.  Can’t fault that.

Miles’s last scene with Rian is fairly touching, especially her gift of hair.  We already know how special their hair is, from the scene with Nadina refusing to let them cut it.  Did Rian actually cut out a lock of hair, or did she just pull out a few strands?  Perhaps they were caught in her comb that morning or something.  Assuming they haven’t bred for hair that doesn’t need to be combed, or have split ends, or even come out except on purpose.  (And now I’m picturing Rapunzel as a haut-lady.  Wonder if that’s a popular folk-tale in Cetaganda?)  (And do you say “in Cetaganda”?  You can’t say “on Cetaganda”, since it’s not an actual planet, but is “the Cetagandan Empire” the same as “Cetaganda”?  I suppose it must be, but it still sounds wrong to me.)

Mia Maz is one of those people that should have turned up at some point on Barrayar, unless Vorob’yev has just never come home at the same time as Miles.  Did he not, say, warrant an invitation to Gregor’s wedding in A Civil Campaign?  I realize that we can’t always bring back every single character in later books, but a surprise once in a while could be nice.  Ah, well.  For all I know, she and Vorob’yev split up three years later, or Vorob’yev got assassinated or something.

Overall Comments

I promised I’d do this, didn’t I?  Okay, what was it that I wanted to say again?  (“Take notes”?  What’s that?)

Well, obviously the book takes a nice deep look into Cetagandan culture, or, as I’ve said over and over again, haut culture.  In other books, it was just the ghem military we saw; here we see a little more ghem, the young dissolute idlers, but we see a lot of haut, or least of the women.  Bujold is no stranger to in-depth cultural examinations–the Cordelia books are really showing the view of an outside on Barrayar, for instance, and of course we get to see the quaddies both in Falling Free and later in Diplomatic Immunity–but this book manages to be both that and a murder mystery.

After the last couple of books with the Dendarii, having Miles in his Barrayaran role, and with Ivan as his foil, shakes things up a bit.  Again, taking things in publication order, it’s really Brothers In Arms that’s the first real Ivan-and-Miles-Show, but this is a worthy companion to that one.  And this book was written between Mirror Dance and Memory, both containing large doses of character development on Barrayar, so it’s kind of a departure from those as well.  Anyway, Ivan works well as a counterweight, holding back Miles’s exuberance and impulsiveness, or at least trying to, and pointing out the possible flaws in any plan.  And yet, in a pinch, he will come through–he led the rescue effort in this book, didn’t he?  (I also can’t forget him tackling Vordrozda at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice.)  Also, he makes a good decoy/damsel in distress.  Gregor had this sort of role in The Vor Game, actually, but less cautious and more fey…

I’m still amazed at Vorreedi and Vorob’yev’s forbearance.  Perhaps it’s that Miles and Ivan were actually sort of visiting diplomats, there not because of their military rank but because of their bloodlines, so they weren’t technically under the command of anyone at the embassy…or were they?  Maybe I’m just remembering the idiot on Earth in Brothers In Arms, who I recall as being much less accommodating.


That’s all I can come up with for now, so next I get a week off, and then it’s on to Ethan of Athos, the first book to not actually contain any Vorkosigans.  But it does have Elli Quinn in it (who you may remember from The Warrior’s Apprentice), plus definite plot links to Cetaganda itself, so I decided to include it this time.  The one-year anniversary of this blog will come during the two-week interval, by the way, so that’s something, I suppose.  Until then, keep on reading!  Forward momentum!

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Some weeks seem longer than others, and some shorter, but one thing remains the same–I will be working down to the wire to bring you the next installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread before midnight local time on Tuesday.  This week I cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of Cetaganda, as the plot finally reaches its peak and many questions are finally answered.

Chapter Thirteen

Miles is forced to wait for a day while the consorts retrieve the gene banks, and he frets at the inactivity.  He’s not sure that he wants to give Lord X an extra day, even with the shock of the gene bank recall.  Lord X still needs to frame Barrayar, preferably over Miles’s dead body.  If Miles had handed in the Key on the first day, Barrayar would be trying futilely to prove that they hadn’t tampered with it, and relations would be deteriorating as a result.  None of the other embassies would have fared any better if Lord X had chosen them, either.

Miles returns to plans of the governors’ ships, all approximately the same, and continues trying to guess where the Key might be.  Without Rian’s key to open it–which would allow him to extract all of its data, and possibly copy it and even return the original–he has to try to break in himself, so he’d have it in a cipher lab of some sort, but where precisely that would be…

Vorreedi knocks and enters; Miles pretends he’s just studying up on Cetagandan warships.  Vorreedi tells him that a warrant has been issued for Yenaro’s arrest, on the charge of theft, accused by a ghem-lord.  Miles says that whoever put the ghem-lord up to it is likely their target, the man behind Yenaro as well.  Vorreedi leaves, and Ivan comes in, the added security having put a crimp in his social life, not to mention the actual possibility of another attempt.  When Ivan starts to complain of boredom, Miles chases him out.

The next day they attend the ceremony of Singing Open The Great Gates, which is short on gates but long on singing.  Several hundred ghem are to sing, in an area of the Celestial Garden with interesting acoustical properties.  Miles prepares to endure standing for most of the afternoon.  Hundreds of haut-lady bubbles are visible; Miles and Ivan are accompanied by Vorob’yev, Vorreedi, and Mia Maz.  When the singing starts, it takes Miles’s breath away, and they are mesmerized for half an hour before the singers stop and move on to another compass point in the garden.  The ba shepherd the delegates to a buffet while the chorus prepares to set up at the south gate; the haut-ladies head off in a third direction.

He notes that he’s beginning to get used to the Celestial Garden, and Vorob’yev reminds him of the many deaths that Barrayar owes to the Cetagandans.  Miles agrees, but says that they’ve punished that behaviour sufficiently that it probably won’t be repeated anytime soon.  His instincts tell him the Cetagandans are turning inward, but who knows what they’ll be after ten more generations of genetic experimentation.  Miles waits tensely for a contact from Rian, though painfully aware that Vorreedi is watching him like a hawk.

After the fourth and final performance, Miles is making small talk with Vorreedi, still working out extrication strategies, when he notices a ba talking to Ivan–and not one of Rian’s bald ones.  Ivan heads off with the ba, and Miles immediately takes off after him, out of the buffet pavilion and into a near-maze of shrubbery.  Miles takes a wrong turn, and retraces his steps to see Ivan face to face with a haut-lady with her screen down.  She sprays Ivan in the face with something, catches him as he collapses onto her lap, puts up her force-screen and starts moving away.  Miles takes off in pursuit, but the float-chair easily outdistances him.  He loses it on a major path with several other haut-bubbles, and runs back to Vorreedi.  Vorreedi offers to call Cetagandan Security, but Miles looks for a ba servitor instead.

A ghem-lord guard appears to urges them back to the pavilion; Vorreedi explains about the missing member of their party, and the guard calls it in.  They return to the pavilion, and Miles tells the oldest ba servitor he sees that he needs to speak immediately with Rian Degtiar.  The ba leads him and Vorreedi into a service area, where it makes a coded call on its wrist-com before handing the com to Miles.  Miles asks Rian through his com if she had just sent someone to pick up Ivan; when she denies it, he tells her that’s what he saw, and she realizes what is happening and promises to deal with it.  Vorreedi asks Miles what’s going on; Miles tells him Ivan left with a lady, and he promises that he can deal with it discreetly if Vorreedi trusts him.

Vorreedi took a long, long minute to think this one over, his eye cold on Miles. Vorreedi, Miles reminded himself, was Intelligence, not Counter-intelligence; curiosity, not paranoia, was his driving force. Miles shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and tried to look calm, unworried, merely annoyed. As the silence lengthened, he dared to add, “If you trust nothing else, sir, please trust my competence. That’s all I ask.”

“Discreet, eh?” said Vorreedi. “You’ve made some interesting friends here, Lord Vorkosigan. I’d like to hear a lot more about them.”

“Soon, I hope, sir.”

He knows, though, that once he leaves with Rian’s ba, he might not be back until his mission is concluded.  A ba shows up in an unshielded float-car, waves away a concerned ghem guard, and takes Miles to the Star Crèche.  There, he sees five haut bubbles herding a sixth one toward a back entrance, pushing against its force shield with their own.  Miles follows them inside, where he finds Rian and five consorts, the sixth remaining stubbornly shielded.  Rian urges the bubble’s occupant to surrender and cooperate; when there is no response, she uses a special tool to override the shield with the Empress’s codes.

The float-chair drops to the ground, spilling a paralyzed Ivan onto the floor, but its other occupant, Vio d’Chilian, recovers and puts a knife to Ivan’s throat.  Behind Vio, Pel silently leaves the room, and Miles essays to distract Vio as best he can.  He tells her that Ivan isn’t the one she wants, which confuses her.

But of course. Lord X always used front men, and women, for his legwork, keeping his own hands clean. Miles had been galloping around doing the legwork; therefore, Lord X must have reasoned that Ivan was really in charge. “Agh!” Miles cried. “What did you think? That because he’s taller, and, and cuter, he had to be running this show? It’s the haut way, isn’t it? You—you morons! I’m the brains of this outfit!” He paced the other way, spluttering. “I had you spotted from Day One, don’t you know? But no! Nobody ever takes me seriously!” Ivan’s eyes, the only part of him that apparently still worked, widened at this rant. “So you went and kidnapped the wrong man. You just blew your cover for the sake of grabbing the expendable one!” The haut Pel hadn’t gone for help, he decided. She’d gone to the lav to fix her hair, and was going to take forever in there.

Well, he certainly had the undivided attention of everyone in the loading bay, murderess, victim, haut-cops and all. What next, handsprings? “It’s been like this since we were little kids, y’know? Whenever the two of us were together, they’d always talk to him first, like I was some kind of idiot alien who needed an interpreter—” the haut Pel reappeared silently in the doorway, lifted her hand—Miles’s voice rose to a shout, “Well, I’m sick of it, d’you hear?!”

Vio has just begun to turn when Pel hits her with the stunner.  She nicks Ivan’s throat with the knife before collapsing, but not seriously.  Miles asks about the effect of the stun on Ivan on top of what Vio sprayed him with, but Pel examines Vio’s spray-bottle and pronounces it harmless.  She promises to get him some synergine to help with the effects.

Miles turns to assess Rian, realizing that, as “Handmaiden”, she seems to be acting Empress.  He asks her what she’s found out, and if the gene banks have been returned.  Rian tells him that Vio was in Nadina’s float-chair, which Miles impatiently says obviously points to Ilsum Kety.  She agrees, saying that Kety didn’t return his gene bank, and they suspected something was amiss with “Nadina” ever since Vio arrived pretending to be her.  She suspects that Kety was somehow planning to frame Ivan for Nadina’s disappearance or death.  Miles points out that Vio must have been the one to kill Ba Lura.  Rian says that Vio will face the Star Crèche’s own justice for her crimes.

Miles said uneasily, “She could be an important witness, to clear Barrayar and me of blame in the disappearance of the Great Key. Don’t, um . . . do anything premature, till we know if that’s needed, huh?”

“Oh, we have many questions for her, first.”

“So . . . Kety still has his bank. And the Key. And a warning.” Damn. Whose idiot idea had it been . . . ? Oh. Yes. But you can’t blame Ivan for this one. You thought recalling the gene banks was a great move. And Rian bought it too. Idiocy by committee, the finest kind.

Rian is worried that she’d sent Nadina to her death, but Miles reassures her that she must still be alive, or else framing Ivan wouldn’t work.  He also concludes that Nadina must be able to keep some information from Kety.  He asks Rian if she can, using her overrides, encode the float-chair for anyone to use.  She says it will only work for haut-women, and Miles says that they should give Kety what he wants–a haut-lady and a Barrayaran returning in a haut-bubble.

Comments

Finally, the identity of Lord X is settled for good.  Vio’s moment of rage at the garden party is explained, too.  It’s not Slyke trying to put one over on his cousin, though, as admitted, he did visit the Star Crèche, and he also accepted a copy of the gene bank, so he’s not entirely innocent.

Vio…short for “Violet”, perhaps?  The haut-ladies all seem to have fairly short names; I can’t help but wonder why they don’t have more elaborate ones, to distinguish them from the hoi polloi, but maybe that’s just me.  Dag Benin, of course, has an even shorter first name, so I presume that names don’t get longer as you go down the social classes.  I guess the haut are a small enough social pool that they don’t need to use long names to distinguish from each other.  The “d'” prefix on the surname, which Lady d’Har also used…is that only used for haut-women who are forced to marry down to the ghem?  I guess so, since otherwise they don’t actually marry, according to Mia Maz back in Chapter 8…

Also worth noting that Ivan gets to be the “lady in distress”, and not for the last time, either.  Except that his captrix didn’t realize that he wasn’t the mastermind, so he wasn’t taken as a hostage, strictly, but certainly Miles had to dash off and rescue him.  If Miles is correct, Ivan was taken as a patsy to be framed for the death of haut Nadina, to further inflame relations between Barrayar and Cetaganda…what an utter tool.  Miles’s rant, while intended for a distraction, is nonetheless heartfelt, and I suspect it was almost aimed at Rian as much as it was at Vio.

Chapter Fourteen

Miles calls Vorob’yev and tells him how Ivan is getting a tour of the Star Crèche, and they can’t offend their hostesses by leaving early, so they’ll meet up with him later.  Vorob’yev is not happy with yet another “unplanned excursion”, but he only cautions Miles to keep Ivan from offending any of the haut-ladies.  Miles signs off having gained only an hour or so.  Rian and Pel are re-keying the float chair, and Ivan is still out cold, but looking somewhat better for his dose of synergine.  He tells Rian to contact Benin, or the Emperor, if things go wrong, since he doesn’t trust anyone else in Imperial Security.

Pel has armed herself with Vio’s tricks, sadly not including any energy weapons, since even in a float-chair they couldn’t smuggle those past security scanners.  Miles climbs onto the arm of the chair, Pel puts up the shield, and they leave the dome, with two other haut-ladies heading off in other directions as camouflage.  Miles regrets on some levels that Rian isn’t his companion, but rationally, he admits that he likes Pel’s style and resourcefulness, and thinks that if she weren’t Cetagandan and probably eighty years old…

They meet up with Kety’s party near the south gate, which includes ghem-General Chilian as well as a number of guards and servitors.  Miles wonders if Chilian is in on the plan, or intended to be sacrificed along with Nadina.  Kety invites the haut-bubble into his own vehicle, which is clearly designed to accommodate the bubbles, and the rest, including Chilian, take other cars.

“You’re late. Complications?” Kety inquired cryptically, settling back in his seat. He looked worried and stern, as befit an earnest mourner—or a man riding a particularly hungry and unreliable tiger.

Yeah, and I should have known he was Lord X when I first spotted that fake gray hair, Miles decided. This was one haut-lord who didn’t want to wait for what life might bring him.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” reported Pel. The voice-filter, set to maximum blur, altered her tones into a fair imitation of the haut Vio’s.

“I’m sure, my love. Keep your force-screen up till we’re aboard.”

That clinches it, Miles decides–General Chilian’s days are numbered.  He wonders if Kety or Vio is in charge, or if they’re planning this as equals, which could explain a lot.  Pel turns to talk to Miles, having cut off external sound, about whether they should look for Nadina or the Great Key first.  Pel is in favour of the Key, but Miles wants Nadina, who is an important witness for Barrayar, and who also may know where the Key is.  Pel says she will likely be hidden in a cabin, so as few people know about her as possible.  Miles says that they will probably need to take her back down to the planet to stage the murder, so they should find her fast.  Kety interrupts to ask if her captive is waking up yet, so he can question him, but Pel tells him not yet.

They don’t have much more conversation with Kety until after the orbital shuttle has docked with his ship and they’ve all disembarked.  Chilian goes off without even attempting to talk to his wife, and Kety dismisses his guards and beckons the haut-bubble to follow him.  Miles notes a room down the hall with a single liveried guard posted outside, where he guesses Nadina might be held; Kety entered a different cabin instead, which proves to be vacant.

Kety asks if she’ll need guards, or if she can control her captive chemically.  Pel, dissembling, asks for synergine and fast-penta, and notes they’ll need to do a test for an induced allergy.  Kety asks if he’s liable to wake up before he returns; Pel says she dosed him rather strongly, and Kety warns her not to leave a trace that might show up in an autopsy.

“Let me help you lay him out,” Kety said. “It must be crowded in there.”

“Not for me. I’m using him for a footrest. The float-chair is . . . most comfortable. Let me . . . enjoy the privilege of the haut a little longer, my love.” Pel sighed. “It has been so long. . . .”

Kety promises her that soon she’ll be the most privileged in the galaxy, and leaves to get the drugs.  As soon as he’s gone, Miles checks how many doses of Vio’s spray they have (two, according to Pel) and they head out into the hallway.  Miles climbs onto the back of the float-chair, Pel floats up to the liveried guard, addresses him, lowers her shield and sprays him.  The guard falls onto Pel’s lap, and Miles climbs around to examine the lock.  It needs a palmprint, and Miles tries the guard’s; it works.  He takes the guard’s stunner and they enter the room.

Inside, haut Nadina is stripped down her bodysuit and bound by having her hair clamped to the floor half a meter from the end.  Pel donates a few layers of clothing and they examine the hair-lock.  They can’t pull the hair free, and while, according to Nadina, Vio had the key, Pel doesn’t find it among Vio’s possessions.  Miles suggests cutting the hair off, which scandalizes the women, as haut-women never cut their hair.  He offers to take them both the shuttle and escape, but they refuse to leave without the Key; Nadina does, at least, know its location.  They return to arguing about the hair; Miles finds a vibra-knife on the guard, points to the door to distract them, then cuts Nadina’s hair free.  Nadina is outraged, but Pel looks secretly glad she didn’t have to do it herself.

They all board the float-chair and return to the corridor; the chair, overloaded, moves under protest, as Nadina directs them to the room with the Key.  Miles wonders at the absurdity of sneaking around the ship in a bubble with two old haut-women, but admits it’s better than disguising himself as a ba.  They reach an unmarked door, and after a moment Pel lowers the shield long enough to knock, horrifying Miles.  A man opens the door, scans the bubble, and addresses “haut Vio”.  Pel claims that she’s brought Nadina back to try again, and he lets them in.

There are two other men inside, one of them a ghem-General, not Chilian but Naru, third in command of the Celestial Garden’s security; the others seem to be cipher techs, trying to hack into the Great Key.  There are tangles of wires linking a computer to what appear to be eight Great Keys–the real one and seven copies, or are all eight of them copies?  Miles isn’t quite sure what the plan for the copies is, but he’s sure it’s not for anyone else’s benefit, and certainly not to carry out the Dowager’s plan.  He asks Nadina if she knows which one is real, and she can’t decide.  Pel says that they can find out, and displays the ring with the Great Seal.  Miles is horrified, since that one item would save Kety’s men all the effort of trying to break the encryption on the Key by brute force.

Naru addresses Vio in a contemptuous fashion, and when Pel replies haughtily, he tells her that he looks forward to the day when there are no more haut-bubbles–apparently his motivation for joining in on Kety’s scheme.  Miles pegs him as another equal in the triumvirate, and possibly the most dangerous.  He tells Pel to spray Naru, and he’ll try to bluff the techs with his stunner, even though it’ll set off alarms throughout the ship if he actually fires it.

Pel drops the shield and sprays Naru, but he manages to hold his breath, so Miles is forced to stun Naru and the techs.  Pel begins trying the eight Keys while Miles wonders how long they have before Kety or someone else authorized to enter the room comes to investigate.  Pel is having no luck with the Keys, and Miles realizes that they must all be false, and follows the cables until he finds a box with the real Key hooked up inside it.  Miles urges them to leave, just as Pel confirms the Key is real, and the door slides open.  Miles fires his stunner, and one of Kety’s men falls back; he and Pel leap back into the float-chair and put up the shield as more stunners fire into the room, knocking Nadina to the ground.  Nadina urges them to flee, but Kety’s men are blocking the exit, and then Kety follows his men into the room, locking the door behind him.

Kety asks what’s going on, and Naru, who was only partially stunned, identifies the float-chair’s passengers.  Miles wonders how they got Nadina out of her bubble, and if Kety can do it again.  He asks Pel if the float-chair has communications capacity.  At least they can get the word out, and tell the Cetagandans that Naru’s been compromised.  Kety puts a vibra-knife to Nadina’s throat, and asks Pel to drop the screen and surrender.

Miles, trying to think of a way out, realizes that the Great Key’s value lies in the information stored inside it.  He asks Pel if they can download the information from the Key and send it out through her chair’s communications system.  She protests that they can’t send it back to the Celestial Garden, but Miles says that they can use standard emergency-relay channels, which has easy-to-remember public codes–it’ll resend the signal to every ship and station in range.  Pel sets it up, and is just hooking up the Key as Kety begins to lose his patience.  Pel lowers the shield, she and Miles step out, and then the shield snaps up again a second later.

“That,” said Kety coldly, eyeing the bubble with the Great Key inside, “is annoying. But a temporary inconvenience. Take them.” He jerked his head at his guards, and stepped away from Nadina. “You!” he said in surprise, finding Miles in their grip.

“Me.” Miles’s lips peeled back on a white flash of teeth that had nothing to do with a smile. “Me all along, in fact. From start to finish.”

Kety is about to hit Miles himself, but remembers his fragility, and instructs his guards to use shock-sticks on them instead–amending his instructions to just Miles when they are reluctant to strike haut-women.  Kety asks Nary how long to open it, and Naru estimates half an hour once his techs have recovered.  Just then, Kety receives a message from a subordinate who tells him about a signal being sent out from the ship, some kind of “coded gibberish”, using an Imperial override.  Kety is puzzled, then he realizes what’s happening, and tells Naru to get the bubble down as soon as they can.  Unable to revive the techs even with high doses of synergine, Kety and Naru turn to the work themselves.

Kety and Naru were so absorbed in their task and their irate arguments over the swiftest way to proceed, only Miles noticed when a spot on the door began to glow. Despite his pain, he smiled. A beat later, the whole door burst inward in a spray of melted plastic and metal. Another beat, to wait out anyone’s hair-trigger reflexes.

Ghem-Colonel Benin, impeccably turned out in his blood-red dress uniform and freshly applied face paint, stepped firmly across the threshold. He was unarmed, but the red-clad squad behind him carried an arsenal sufficient to destroy any impediment in their path up to the size of a pocket dreadnought. Kety and Naru froze in mid-lurch; Kety’s liveried retainers suddenly seemed to think better of drawing weapons, opening their hands palm-outward and standing very still. Colonel Vorreedi, equally impeccable in his House blacks, if not quite so cool in expression, stepped in behind Benin. In the corridor beyond, Miles could just glimpse Ivan looming behind the armed men, and shifting anxiously from foot to foot.

“Good evening, haut Kety, ghem-General Naru.” Benin bowed with exquisite courtesy. “By the personal order of Emperor Fletchir Giaja, it is my duty to arrest you both upon the serious charge of treason to the Empire. And,” contemplating Naru especially, Benin’s smile went razor-sharp, “complicity in the murder of the Imperial Servitor the Ba Lura.”

Comments

The climax, and the cavalry, in this one chapter.  Well, I guess Chapter Thirteen had the start of the climax, starting with the abortive kidnapping of Ivan, but this one chapter carries it through.  Pel proves out to be just as quick-thinking as Miles had thought, especially with her impersonation (voice-only) of Vio.  I wonder if Kety had clued in yet that it wasn’t Vio in the bubble he just brought on board, but he’s a haut-lord, he’s smart, he could probably put it together.  Or maybe not–it wasn’t like he asked what they’d done with his “love”, Vio.  Did he come just because of the alarm Miles set off, or had he already noticed “Vio”‘s bubble missing and guessed correctly from there?

The plan with sending out the Key’s data probably didn’t really accomplish its goal, if that goal was to “back up” the Key in everybody’s communications cache, but it did put some time pressure on Kety and Naru, and distract them long enough for the cavalry to arrive.  I presume that the transmission was of the decrypted copy of the data, since Pel had opened it with the ring, or something like that.  One wonders…if they hadn’t brought the Great Seal ring with them, they wouldn’t have been able to pull it off, right?  I wasn’t clear on whether they were just trying to decrypt the contents of the Key, or if they were trying to replicate the procedure that the Seal would use to open it up.  If the former, could they have, in theory, broadcast the Key’s encrypted contents, and then somehow downloaded that into a physical copy of the Key and opened that with the Seal instead?  Or is there a physical component to the Key’s workings that would be difficult to replicate as well?  That would have been a little extra safety precaution for the original creators, at least.  These are people who thought it was better to keep access to the data limited than to back it up in any way, so that might be par for their level of paranoia.

Not sure how I feel about Naru being introduced this late in the book.  I guess he had been alluded to by Miles’s distrust of the Cetagandan Imperial Guard, but for him to be apparently so high up in Kety’s inner circle, I wasn’t quite prepared for that.  The involvement of a haut-lady had been broached already, so Vio was not a big surprise, but Naru…  One really does wonder how good allies Vio and Naru made, since Naru hated the haut-lady privileges and Vio yearned for their return.  If Kety had prevailed, it wouldn’t have been long before he’d had to pick sides among them.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d picked Naru, since I suspect he’s also a little uncomfortable with the secrets of haut women himself.  After all, he suborned their plan to take the Great Key for himself.  I’m not sure I believe his avowals of love for Vio, either.  Still, I suppose he needed an Empress if he was going to be Emperor, and not shake up the existing social structure too much all at once…  It would have been a tricky balancing act, and would probably have been his downfall in the end, but after the new war with Cetaganda, the Barrayarans wouldn’t have found that much consolation.

I don’t recall that Nadina’s hair was originally described as being all that much longer than, say, Rian’s, despite her greater age…so, does that mean, if they never cut it, that by Rian’s age it has already stopped by itself?  Or did Nadina just have it made up in a more elaborate way?  In the text it sounds like Nadina had about 2.5 meters of hair, but Rian’s already “coiled around her feet”, at least when she was sitting…  I expect that, no matter how much their hair length matters to them, they wouldn’t like stepping on it, so they must do something to keep it from being underfoot.


Just the denoument left, pretty much, though there are certainly enough issues to wrap up for that to be worth two whole chapters.  Even if Miles doesn’t have to be debriefed by Simon Illyan.  I should also try to remember to do some closing comments this time, since I have some thoughts on the book as a whole, which hopefully I haven’t already covered in individual chapter comments.  Then, once again, a week off before I head into Ethan of Athos.  Until next week, then, I remain.

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Another week has passed and here we are again, sharing in the wonder that is the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Today we consider Chapters Eleven and Twelve of Cetaganda, the fifth (and a bit) novel chronologically in the story of Miles Vorkosigan (and his friends and family).  In which Miles has a few important interviews, goes over the edge of a building, and is called as a witness, among other things.  Curious?  Read on.

Chapter Eleven

Vorob’yev sends Miles down to Vorreedi’s office in the basement of the embassy.  Vorreedi gives Miles his full attention, which worries Miles because he knows that Vorreedi must be sharp or he wouldn’t be here in Cetaganda.  Vorreedi begins by talking about Miles’s (putative) career of ImpSec courier, and notes that, unlike every other ImpSec courier, Miles reports directly to Simon Illyan, who reports only to Emperor Gregor, an exceptionally short chain of command.  Miles claims that his job is to fetch things for Gregor that are too trivial for real couriers, and that he clearly got this posting through nepotism.

“Hm.” Vorreedi sat back, and rubbed his chin. “Now,” he said distantly, “if you were a covert ops agent here on a mission from God,” meaning Simon Illyan—same thing, from the ImpSec point of view, “you should have arrived with some sort of Render all due assistance order. Then a poor ImpSec local man might know where he stood with you.”

If I don’t get this man under control, he can and will nail my boots to the floor of the embassy, and Lord X will have no impediment at all to his baroque bid for chaos and empire. “Yes, sir,” Miles took a breath, “and so would anyone else who saw it.”

Vorreedi glanced up, startled. “Does ImpSec Command suspect a leak in my communications?”

“Not as far as I know. But as a lowly courier, I can’t ask questions, can I?”

This amuses Vorreedi, as of course Miles has been asking questions nearly constantly.  He asks Miles for proof, and Miles says that if he were a real courier, he would have an implanted allergy to fast-penta.  Because of his rank, that was considered too risky, so therefore he’s clearly unsuited for high-security missions.  Vorreedi finds this convincing, and Miles adds that the full report of his Cetagandan visit will be given to Illyan, and what Illyan tells Vorreedi is up to him.  Miles dares to hint to Vorreedi that he not be hedged around with arbitrary restrictions, or micromanaged, but instead turned loose.  With one rule, perhaps–“Deliver success or pay with your ass”–and no authority, only responsibility.

Miles turns the conversation to Yenaro, who Vorreedi says survived the night, last seen carrying a carpet over his shoulder.  The Cetagandan Police have picked up the assassin who was after him, after receiving an “anonymous” tip, and he had no chance to contact his employer.  Miles contemplates the effect on Lord X of this lack of information–he would probably get twitchy and possibly make a mistake, though Miles wonders if that’s necessarily a good thing.  Vorreedi asks him and Ivan to terminate their contact with Yenaro, which Miles readily agrees to, as he thinks they’ve gotten as much information from Yenaro as they’re likely to.  He tells Vorreedi he’s more interested in whoever built that fountain for Yenaro in the first place.  Vorreedi concludes by telling him that Ghem-Colonel Benin has requested another interview with Miles and Ivan, and is already on his way.  He dismisses Miles to fetch Ivan for the interview.

“I do not see how Lord Vorpatril fits into this. He’s no courier officer. And his records are as transparent as glass.”

“A lot of people are baffled by Ivan, sir. But . . . sometimes, even a genius needs someone who can follow orders.”

Miles hurries to Ivan’s quarters, sure that Vorreedi isn’t going to be able to restrain himself from bugging their rooms for much longer.  He tells Ivan that they’re going to talk to Benin, with Vorreedi present, but quashes Ivan’s hope that they can actually confess yet.  He instead pleads with Ivan to confirm Miles’s version of events.  He wants to give Benin as many “real facts” as he can, to help in tracking down Ba Lura’s murderer, but leave out haut Rian and the Great Key.  He tells Ivan he’s convinced Vorreedi that he’s on a mission from Simon Illyan, which Ivan realizes means that he’s definitely not.  Miles says he would be, if Illyan knew what was happening, and asks Ivan to bring the nerve disrupter.  Ivan tells Miles he’s not shooting his commanding officer.  Miles says that Vorreedi’s not his commanding officer, and anyway he just wants it for evidence, if they ask, but not to volunteer it.  Ivan encourages him to continue not volunteering.  Miles tells him to get moving, and to try to stay cool.

“…I may be completely off-base, and panicking prematurely.”

“I don’t think so. I think you’re panicking post-maturely. In fact, if you were panicking any later it would be practically posthumously. I’ve been panicking for days.”

Ivan reminds him of another chilhood incident, where Miles had him and Elena digging an escape tunnel in the back garden of Vorkosigan House, and the tunnel collapsed on Ivan, trapping him until Bothari dug him out.  Miles suddenly misses Bothari intensely, but suppresses the feeling, since he needs to keep his focus, and his forward momentum.

Miles and Ivan arrive at the conference room for the meeting with Benin to find him there with Vorreedi, but only just sitting down, which Miles hopes means they haven’t had much time to compare notes.  Benin begins by asking Miles about his courier work, which Miles tells him is good because it’s not too physically demanding, gives him a chance to travel, keeps him away from the prejudiced eyes of other Barrayarans, and gives him an official position.  Ivan tells him about working in Operations in the capital, ostensibly wishing for ship duty, but Miles suspects that Ivan likes his settled life and just wishes that Lady Vorpatril was further away.

Benin then asks Miles about his previous encounter with the Ba Lura.  Miles doesn’t deny it, throwing Benin off-balance at first, and presents it as a kind of test of competency for Benin to have unearthed it.  Benin proves to know about the Ba Lura’s visit, though not the specifics of what happened in the Barrayaran pod, nor, unfortunately, where the ba had previously left the station (to deliver the Great Key).  Miles describes the encounter in the pod, omitting the Great Key, of course; he can tell that Vorreedi is getting more and more unhappy about Miles for keeping this from him until now.  Ivan corroborates Miles’s story.  Both Benin and Vorreedi ask Miles why he hadn’t mentioned this story earlier.  Miles replies that the pilot will have reported the event to Illyan, which, he thinks to himself, with a three-day delay in communications, likely won’t result in any orders to interfere with Miles’s self-appointed mission.  He adds that with orders to keep a low profile, he had decided to keep quiet to keep from starting a diplomatic incident, especially one involving a Barrayaran envoy being attacked by an Imperial servant.

On demand, Ivan produces the nerve disrupter as evidence.  Benin and Vorreedi both want to examine it, Benin being surprised that Vorreedi hadn’t seen it before.  Miles tells Benin that he’s welcome to keep it, if he shares with Miles any information he can extract from it.  He asks Benin where Ba Lura visited before the Barrayarans; Benin says a ship off-station, but he can’t be more specific, even if he wanted to.  The three governors moored at that station were, unfortunately, Slyke Giaja, Ilsum Kety and Este Rond, so this doesn’t help Miles narrow down his field.  Miles is ready to let Benin examine his new clue, but Benin asks about Miles’s conversations with Rian.  Miles only tells him to apply to her for more information.  Vorreedi, surprisingly, doesn’t insist on Benin staying, probably wanting to take a turn at Miles himself.  As Benin prepares to leave, Miles asks if he’d taken his advice on getting help from higher up; Benin says he did, and it went better than expected.

Once Benin has gone, Vorreedi tells Miles he’s not a “mushroom”, to be kept in the dark and fed horseshit; Miles tells him to appeal to Illyan for permission to be in the loop.  Otherwise, he sees no other route but to go on as he had been, trying to find some shred of proof.  Vorreedi tells Miles that they will speak again, and leaves.  Miles and Ivan return to Ivan’s room, where Ivan has a new batch of ghem-lady invitations.  As Miles tries to figure out how to get in touch with Rian, Ivan discovers an invitation addressed to both of them, for Lady d’Har’s “garden party”.  Miles says that it’s probably another contact, and they have to accept, even though Ivan doesn’t think it sounds that much fun.  Miles tells him that the ghem-ladies with whom he’s left his “genetic material” may very well start using it as the basis of their next year’s genetic experiments…

Ivan sighs and accepts it, wondering idly to himself why they can’t just confiscate the governors’ copies of the gene banks.  Miles thinks this is brilliant, and asks why he hadn’t thought of this before; Ivan points out that it doesn’t let him play the hero for haut Rian.

Comments

Miles’s meeting with Vorreedi, where he manages to strongly imply that he’s an operative of the highest degree, is fun to read, and you should go do that, since the little I quoted barely does it justice.  It hearkens back to Miles’s improvisational skills from The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Vorreedi has been hanging over Miles’s head as a potential obstacle since he was first mentioned, and at least this allows Miles to, however temporarily, work a little more openly.  His time-window is limited–if Simon Illyan manages to actually contact Vorreedi, the jig is likely up–but then, Miles only has a limited amount of time to solve the problem anyway, so he considers it an acceptable risk.  Even Vorreedi’s discovery that Miles has been concealing information from him isn’t enough to shake his confidence that Miles is truly on an important mission.  Convenient, but I buy it.

The conversation with Ivan has some great lines, too, illustrating again why Ivan makes such a great foil.  As Miles notes, he also does, usually, follow Miles’s orders, however often he points out that it got them into trouble when they were kids.  And he does, sometimes, come up with good ideas, or at least trigger a good idea by stating the obvious.  But he doesn’t really want to be a hero, or take risks; he just wants to keep his head down and live comfortably.  Which makes me wonder even more how he’ll do as the protagonist of the new book this fall…

Chapter Twelve

The garden party turns out to in fact take place in a garden, but on the rooftop of a skyscraper overlooking the glowing dome of the Celestial Garden.  Miles, Ivan and Vorob’yev are wearing their ultra-formal dress blacks, and only admitted because of their rank and the invitation, even Vorreedi not considered worthy to attend.  The occasion of the party is the late return of Ghem-Admiral Har, whose wife is the haut Lady d’Har; the Admiral wears only the Cetagandan Order of Merit, one of the highest honours of the Empire, and his lady, aged but still stunning, welcomes guests outside the protection of her bubble.

Ivan is distressed how high the age of the attendees is skewing; these are the real upper-crust of ghem society, including several haut-lady bubbles.  Miles wonders if Rian is concealed in one of them.  Vorob’yev is impressed with Miles for having secured an invitation.  Miles contemplates where the power lies in Cetagandan society–the ghem-lords have the military might, but the haut-lords control them, somehow, and the haut-ladies, though reclusive, have somehow created the haut themselves.

They walk around the garden, admiring the views, Vorob’yev anticipating making some good high-level contacts.  Around one corner they encounter haut Vio d’Chilian, ghem-General Chilian’s wife, standing alone.  Ivan is starstruck at the sight of his first haut-lady, while Miles finds his resistance to her beauty much heightened.  Vorob’yev warns Ivan from pursuing any married haut-ladies.

Some movement or sound from the Barrayarans must have broken her reverie, for her head turned toward them. For a second, just a second, her astonishing cinnamon eyes seemed copper-metallic with a rage so boundless, Miles’s stomach lurched. Then her expression snapped into a smooth hauteur, as blank as the bubble she lacked, and as armored; the open emotion was gone so fast Miles was not sure the other two men had even seen it. But the look was not for them; it had been on her face even as she’d turned, before she could have identified the Barrayarans, blackly dressed in the shadows.

Ivan rushes forward to introduce himself, and his companions, babbling slightly.  Before he can dig himself too deeply, though, General Chilian himself appears to escort his wife away.  Miles wonders if their presence is part of Lord X’s plan, somehow, if it is Ilsum Kety after all, or if that’s too obvious.  Shortly thereafter, a haut-lady in a bubble appears, asking to speak privately with Miles, for an hour or so–not long enough to go to orbit, Miles thinks.  Vorob’yev is unsure he wishes to let Miles go off alone, but Miles refuses a guard or a com link, and tells them to wait if he’s delayed.

In a private nook, the lady turns off her bubble, revealing a honey-blonde woman who looks fortyish (and is probably more like eighty).  She tells him Rian summoned him, and he can perch on her float-chair for the ride.  Miles asks for confirmation, and she shows him her Star Crèche ring.  He climbs onto the back of her float-chair, and she raises the shield again and begins to move back down the path.  They pass Ivan and Vorob’yev again, who of course have no idea who’s in the force-bubble.  Instead of heading for the lift, though, they head for the edge of the building.  Lady d’Har admits them to a private landing pad; Miles’s escort turns off her bubble’s glow and drops over the edge of the building.  Miles is horrified, but the haut-lady assures him that they can manage a controlled glide, as they arc toward the Celestial Garden.  They touch down a few centimetres above the ground near one of the Garden’s entrances.

“Ah,” she said, in a refreshed tone. “I haven’t done that in years.” She almost cracked a smile, for a moment nearly . . . human.

They pass through the Celestial Garden security effortlessly; when Miles comments on it, she introduces herself as Pel Navarr, Consort of Eta Ceta, and says this is her home.  She takes them through the Garden and to the Star Crèche building Miles had met Rian in before.  They go up one level to a large round chamber, where Miles finds himself facing Rian and seven other haut-women, their cumulative beauty almost overwhelming.  Rian calls him to testify to them, and at Miles’s request introduces him to the other haut-women, who are, as he suspected, the eight satrap consorts.  The haut Nadina, Consort of Sigma Ceta (not of Ilsum Kety himself, Miles notes) is silver-haired, close in age to the late Dowager Empress, Prince Slyke’s and Este Rond’s being younger.

Rian asks Miles to tell the consorts how he came to have to false Great Key.  Miles confirms that she understood his message about aborting the attempt to board Prince Slyke’s ship, and then asks how she can be sure all of the consorts are trustworthy.  The consorts don’t like this, but Rian excuses his ignorance and explains that they have concluded the treason is further down–that the governor with the real Great Key will still need a haut-lady to maintain the genome or else break with all custom, and they suspect he has chosen a new consort.  They don’t have information on who the woman is, so still no lead on the actual governor.

Miles asks about the security system for the force-bubbles, how their owners are authenticated.  Rian tells him, only in general terms, that the control panels of the chairs do a gene-scan, matching several designated genetic markers, to confirm the operator is a haut-lady, and identify the particular one.  Miles asks if it is possibly for two haut-women, perhaps from the same constellation, to match so closely that one could pass for the other.  If not, then they simply need to examine the list of the six haut-women that Colonel Benin has logged as approaching the bier with the opportunity to deposit Ba Lura’s body.  Unfortunately, Rian says that to get access to that kind of genetic data, they would need the Great Key itself.

Miles says that his own investigations seem to point to either Slyke Giaja or Ilsum Kety, with Este Rond a distant third, but none of the consorts have any information that can narrow it down any further.  Miles proceeds to tell the haut-ladies of the events on Eta Ceta since their arrival, Rian showing no sign of wishing him to withhold anything in particular.  He realizes that by spreading the information around, she wishes to make it harder for Lord X to eradicate it completely.

After he finishes his story, he suggests Ivan’s Plan B, the retrieval of the gene banks.  Lord X would be unable to just flee without arousing the suspicions of the military, who could take care of him easily.  At that point they can try to negotiate for the return of the Great Key, or enlist the help of the other governors.  One consort suggests that the governor may threaten to destroy it; haut Nadina says that Ilsum Kety is probably capable of it, if he is the guilty party, and the consort of Slyke’s planet doesn’t deny his capacity either.  Miles says that reconstructing the Great Key is still possibly, but Rian insists that retrieving it is the highest priority.

The consorts lament the possibility that the gene bank distribution be delayed even further, hoping that they could still manage to carry out the Dowager Empress’s plan.  Rian says that she herself had only been distributing the gene banks for backup purposes, and she wonders if the Ba Lura had really carried out its mistress’s plans by absconding with the Great Key, or if it had misunderstood her purpose.

She bowed her head. “I apologize to the Council for my failure.” Her tone of voice made Miles think of inward-turning knives.

“You did your best, dear,” said the haut Nadina kindly. But she added more sternly, “However, you should not have attempted to handle it all alone.”

“It was my charge.”

“A little less emphasis on the my, and a little more emphasis on the charge, next time.”

Miles tried not to squirm at the general applicability of this gentle correction.

The consorts begin to debate whether they need to begin making the haut-lords more controllable, or more aggressive to aid expansion, or whether the ghem can take care of that…  Rian brings the debate to a halt, noting that it will be the new Empress’s decision.  She calls for a vote, and they agree to recall the gene banks.  The banks will be identified as samples from each of the various satrapies, and the governors will be told that they found an error in the copy which must be corrected.  The consorts disperse, leaving Miles, Rian and Pel.  Miles asks if the plan to retrieve the Key is still in effect, but Rian says they must wait until the gene banks are returned, even if that leaves only two days.

Watching her, he searched his heart. The impact of his first mad crush was surely fading, in this drought of response, to be replaced by . . . what? If she had slaked his thirst with the least little drop of affection, he would be hers body and soul right now. In a way he was glad she wasn’t faking anything, depressing as it was to be treated like a ba servitor, his loyalty and obedience assumed. Maybe his proposed disguise as a ba had been suggested by his subconscious for more than practical reasons. Was his back-brain trying to tell him something?

Pel returns through the Celestial Garden; when Miles asks, she says that the plant and animal life in the garden is all ghem work, since the haut work only in the human genome, with ba servitors for field tests.   They return to the Lady d’Har’s rooftop by groundcar and lift, and Pel lets him out in a private nook.  He waits in the garden until Ivan and Vorob’yev find him, exclaiming over his lateness, but he has nothing more he can tell them.

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I forgot it was so late in the book before we met Pel, because she is one of the most memorable characters in the book, a haut lady with a sense of humour and an adventurous spirit.  We will see more of her, though not enough, alas.  I wonder if her dive off the rooftop was calculated to throw watchers off the scent, or if she was taking a shortcut and having some fun.

The consorts’ debate about the future of the haut is interesting, and a little scary.  These women, remember, consider the genetic future of their race something to plan out and fine-tune.  They were all in sympathy with the Dowager Empress’s plan to fragment the Cetagandan Empire.  Are they out of touch with the actual effects this would have on the galaxy, or do they just consider the benefits to outweigh the risks?

There is a mention, too, of potential “aggression” genes making their way into the haut genome by way of the ghem “experiment”.  I recall that the haut genes were supposed to make their way into the ghem genome by means of the haut wives, but I didn’t recall that it was supposed to go the other way.  Do they just sample ghem, or even the lower classes, and monitor them to see if there’s anything worth integrating?  The mention of how the ba are used for field tests is also telling, but perhaps riskier than the haut-ladies admit to themselves.


I do think we’re getting close to the climax here, since, after all, the tension goes up the closer we get to the deadline for the retrieval of the Great Key.  So next week maybe we’ll actually get into it.  There’s only four more chapters left to go, after all…

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Hello, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the reread devoted to the Vorkosigan Saga.  Too obvious?  Well, if you don’t know what the Vorkosigan Saga is, then…this is probably the wrong place to start, you want to go back to the beginning of this blog and read the whole thing through, though preferably you should buy all the original books by Lois McMaster Bujold first, and read them in some order or other.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Okay?  All up to speed?  Good, then let’s move on to Chapters Nine and Ten of Cetaganda, in which we see inside the Star Crèche, almost get blown up, and see the infamous kitten tree.  Intrigued?  Then read on!

Chapter Nine

The ba leads Miles through the Celestial Garden, past such biological wonders as tiny peacocks and spherical cats.  He keeps quiet, certain that he’s being monitored.  When they arrive at an opaque white bubble, the ba leaves, and Miles cautiously makes a general inquiry, since he has no idea if it’s really Rian inside or not.  It is, though, and she formally offers him a short tour, because of his interest in genetic matters.  Miles, who agrees that he is always looking for ways to fix his physical issues, is pleased that she is being circumspect, though disappointed that they can’t pretend to be having a love affair instead.

Shortly they reach a building which Miles soon notices has sealed windows and door-locks, as is proper for a biocontainment facility.  They enter, and Miles finds a fairly functional setup inside, almost deserted because of the funeral ceremonies.  The Star Crèche symbol is prominent.  Without ceremony, Rian deactivates her force bubble and stands up.

Her ebony hair today was bound up in thick loops, tumbling no farther than her waist. Her pure white robes were only calf-length, two simple layers comfortably draped over a white bodysuit that covered her from neck to white-slippered toe. More woman, less icon, and yet . . . Miles had hoped repeated exposure to her beauty might build up an immunity in him to the mind-numbing effect of her. Obviously, he would need more exposure than this. Lots more. Lots and lots and—stop it. Don’t be more of a idiot than you have to be.

She informs Miles that they can talk here, as he sits self-consciously in a chair across from her.  Miles asks if she will get in trouble with Security for bringing him there; she says that all they can do is ask the Emperor to reprimand her.  Miles asks her to be brief, before he gets in trouble with Security himself.  She tells him that she knows who the traitor is now–Slyke Giaja.  He had visited the Star Crèche the day previous and asked to see the Empress’s regalia, which he inspected carefully before he left.  She sees this as evidence that he knows about the substitution.  Miles wonders if he knows they know it’s a decoy, since he didn’t ask for a demonstration.

He speculates on what the traitors’ plan would be, if they would just wait for the funeral to end and see the Key exposed as a fake.  That would suffice to make Cetaganda angry at Barrayar, but if they desire open conflict, they need to make Barrayar angry at Cetaganda as well.  He wonders what story the Ba Lura had intended to give them, and wished they’d found out.

Miles brings up the possibility of one of the consorts being a traitor, but Rian considers this unthinkable, though she has trouble explaining why.  The consorts are haut women, not haut men, and as such not involved in the men’s affairs.  The traitorous governor is not only acting against the Emperor–as might be expected–but against the haut, which cannot be condoned.  Rian tells Miles that the consorts are appointed for life by the Celestial Lady, and he wonders to himself if they can trust any of them or not.  The Empress surely didn’t want her plot to fragment the haut quite this soon, but now her plan is being used to further someone else’s short-term goals.

“I believe your Celestial Lady’s plans have fractured at their weak spot. The emperor protects the haut-women’s control of the haut-genome; in turn you lend him legitimacy. A mutual support in both your interests. The satrap governors have no such motive. You can’t give power away and keep it simultaneously.”

Miles tells Rian that Barrayar doesn’t want Slyke Giaja (or whoever) to succeed, but neither do they want the Empress’s plan to succeed.  He offers his help, but only if she abandons the Empress’s plan.  He proposes to sneak onto Slyke’s ship, retrieve the Great Key and possibly swap it with the decoy.  Then the problem goes away, since none of the governors will want to incriminate themselves.  He suggests posing as the servitor of a consort or ghem-lady with access to Slyke’s ship, since Rian herself rarely leaves the capital.  He briefly considers passing the matter over to Cetagandan Security, but doesn’t think he can count on them not having been penetrated by Slyke’s spies.  Rian asks Miles how he could possibly disguise himself, and Miles suggests he pretend to be a ba, which would be a good disguise precisely because it seems so unthinkable.

They are interrupted then by a comconsole call from a Cetagandan security officer in face paint.  Rian tells the officer, Ghem-Colonel Millisor, that she deliberately made herself unavailable, as it isn’t a good time, as Miles checks that he isn’t in range of the vid pickup.  He eavesdrops shamelessly on the conversation.

“I used the emergency override. I’ve been trying to reach you for some time. My apologies, Haut, for intruding upon your mourning for the Celestial Lady, but she would have been the first to wish it. We have succeeded in tracking the lost L-X-10-Terran-C to Jackson’s Whole. I need the authorization of the Star Crèche to pursue out of the Empire with all due force. I had understood that the recovery of the L-X-10-Terran-C was one of our late Lady’s highest priorities. After the field tests she was considering it as an addition to the haut-genome itself.”

Rian agrees that the matter is important, and uses the Great Seal to give him the authorization he needs.  After she signs off, Miles asks what that was all about, and Rian tells him it is nothing but old haut-genome business.  Miles nonetheless files it away to relay to Simon Illyan when he gets back, because he’s going to need all the help he can get.

He presses Rian for solid details on the plan, telling her they need to set up the meeting ahead of time.  He suggests that she find the woman to get him aboard Slyke’s ship, and send her to meet him at the Bioesthetics Exhibit the next afternoon.  Rian is uneasy at the swift timeline, but Miles points out that they’re not yet certain about Slyke, and they need some slip time in case they need to choose another target.  Miles asks how they can find the Great Key, and Rian says she may be able to find a sensor to detect its old technology.  Miles is happy that they are taking action at last, though he suppresses an impulse to implore her to run away with him.  She, unfortunately, has shown no sign that she even notices his crush on her.

He asks her about Benin, who she hasn’t talked to yet; he tells her the story he’d given to Benin, so it’ll match up with hers.  They also come up with a story for Miles’s current visit, based largely on Slyke Giaja’s, mentioning Miles’s interest in correcting physical disabilities.  He is unable to stop himself from babbling about how his problems are not genetic in origin; he can’t gauge her response.

They exited into a cool and luminous artificial dusk. A few pale stars shone in the apparently boundless dark blue hemisphere above. Sitting in a row on a bench across the entry walk from the Star Crèche were Mia Maz, Ambassador Vorob’yev, and ghem-Colonel Benin, apparently chatting amiably. They all looked up at Miles’s appearance, and Vorob’yev’s and Benin’s smiles, at least, seemed to grow a shade less amiable. Miles almost turned around to flee back inside.

Benin notes that Miles has been given an unusual privilege, and Miles burbles on about how the haut-lady was nice enough to deal with his questions, even if the answers didn’t give him any hope of using Cetagandan techniques to avoid further surgeries.  Neither Benin and Vorob’yev seems quite satisfied with Miles’s account of himself, and Benin ushers them toward the dome exit.  They stop briefly for an arresting performance by luminous frogs tuned to sing in chords before leaving the dome.

Miles and Benin have a little conversation about taxes, and how Cetagandan citizens are taxed less than Barrayarans.  As the air-car departs, Miles thinks of the actual size of the Cetagandan Empire, and wonders if the Great Key will really suffice to change it.

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Miles also seems to be thinking now of how exactly he’s going to account for all this to Simon Illyan when he gets home.  I don’t think we actually get to see that, because Memory was the next book written, and apparently this incident on Eta Ceta wasn’t part of Bujold’s timeline until now, so there are no coy references to it otherwise.  Well, unless you count the conversation with Millisor, which leads to the whole plot of Ethan of Athos, but I don’t believe in that book it ever really came up how Miles had discovered that information.  Since that’s the next book, I guess we’ll be finding out relatively soon…

Miles’s most intimate moment yet with Rian…which is not saying that much.  Just the two of them (and that ba cleaning up in the background), her bubble down, talking about emotionally-charged topics…  Pity she doesn’t slow the slightest interest in him.
At least we now know who the bad guy is!  It’s Slyke Giaja, no doubt about it!  Definitely not that Ilsum Kety guy, or Este Rond, or anyone else.  Good thing that Rian is such a canny detective, able to take all her piece of evidence and put it together.  Shouldn’t be too long now before they have him on the ropes!

Chapter Ten

Miles pleads with Ivan to help him out, because Lord Vorreedi has come with them to the Bioesthetics Exhibit, rather than Mia Maz as Miles had hoped.  He tells Ivan that he may need a distraction so he can make a break for it, possibly telling Vorreedi that Miles is with a lady, or introducing Vorreedi to some of his ghem-lady friends, but Ivan doesn’t think that will work.

“So use your initiative!”

“I don’t have initiative. Ifollow orders, thank you. It’s much safer.”

“Fine. I order you to use your initiative.”

Ivan breathed a bad word, by way of editorial. “I’m going to regret this, I know I am.”

Miles tells Ivan that it wlil be over soon in a few hours, one way or another.  Ivan reminds him of the time, when they were children, that they found an old hovertank in a guerrilla weapons cache and knocked over a barn with it.  Miles protests that the situations are nothing alike.  Vorreedi rejoins them then from talking with the security people, and they enter the hall.

The competition here is for women only; Miles asks if the haut-women compete, but Vorreedi says that no ghem-ladies would ever win in that case.  The first exhibit they see, of coloured fish swimming in patterns, is that of a twelve-year-old girl, and even black orchids and blue roses are routine; another girl tows behind her a tiny unicorn on a leash.  A flowered vine begins to climb up Ivan’s leg, until a ghem-lady rescues him from it and goes off in search of other escapees.

Next they come across a tree covered in fruit with kittens in them.  Ivan tries to rescue one, but when he removes the fruit pod, the kitten dies; Miles shows him how the kitten was joined to the plant, and Vorreedi offers to surreptitiously dispose of it.  Ivan is ready to leave the whole affair, but Miles asks him to stay until he can meet his contact.  From a balcony, they spot Lord Yenaro further down.  Miles notes that his presence could be a coincidence, that this exhibit is right up his alley, but he and Ivan agree it’s probably more than that.  They wait a little longer, and then a middle-aged ghem-lady approaches and flashes Miles a ring with the Star Crèche symbol on it.  She asks him to meet her at the west entrance in half an hour.

Vorreedi returns a few minutes later, and says that they’ve spotted a known professional (professional killer, in this case) on the perimeter, and he’s going to check it out.  Ivan tells him about Yenaro, and Vorreedi dismisses him as a mere annoyance, probably harmless, before leaving to deal with the professional.  Miles is counting down the minutes when they are interrupted by Lady Arvin and Lady Benello, who ooze in on either side of Ivan and each try to woo him into joining them.  Ivan temporizes, unwilling to offend either of them, and Lady Benello begins to turn her attentions to Miles instead.  Miles protests that he has to go soon, but Benello persuades him to come see her sister’s exhibit, at least, and the four of them head down to the lower levels, while Miles wrestles with the question of Rian the unattainable vs. Benello the available.

Lady Arvin turned in at a small circular open space screened by trees in tubs. Their leaves were glossy and jewel-like, but they were merely a frame for the display in the center. The display was a little baffling, artistically. It seemed to consist of three lengths of thick brocade, in subtle hues, spiraling loosely around each other from the top of a man-high pole to trail on the carpet below. The dense circular carpet echoed the greens of the bordering trees, in a complex abstract pattern.

Lord Yenaro is sitting nearby, and tells Lady Benello that her sister, Veda, has stepped away briefly and he agreed to look after it for her.  Benello says that the smell of the fabric, perfume changing to suit the mood of the wearer, is the real point, and tells Yenaro that Veda should really have made it into a dress.  Yenaro invites them to come closer and experience it, and Ivan and Miles sniff dubiously, not quite daring to step closer, wondering where the trap is.

Miles notes an odd, acrid underscent, just as Yenaro comes forward with a pitcher, and suddenly he recognizes it.  He yells to Ivan not to let Yenaro spill it, and Ivan grabs it away from him.  Miles takes the pitcher from Ivan and asks Ivan to smell the carpet, carefully; the ladies are mystified, since the carpet isn’t even part of the exhibit.  Ivan recognizes the carpet’s scent as asterzine, and Miles recognizes the scent from the pitcher as well.  Ivan picks a few threads from the carpet and they drag Yenaro off into a secluded corner.  There, they demonstrate by setting the carpet threads down on the marble floor and telling Yenaro to add a couple of drops from the pitcher; the result is a small explosion.  Miles tells him that the whole carpet would have gone up in a blast big enough to destroy the dome, including the Barrayarans and Yenaro.

Miles tries to persuade Yenaro that whatever trick he thought he was playing on them, “the haut-governor” was trying to use him to dispose of the Barrayarans, and himself.  Yenaro says it was supposed to just give off alcoholic vapours to get them all drunk.  Miles also gets him to confirm that the ‘Autumn Leaves’ sculpture had been deliberate, though it was only supposed to shock, not burn.  They sit Yenaro down, and Miles tells him that this is part of a treason plot against the Cetagandan Emperor, and he’s a pawn, like the Ba Lura, and just as disposable.  Yenaro would have been set up as an incompetent assassin, with a blood-feud between his clan and those of the victims, and bad blood with Barrayar.

Yenaro says he didn’t like them that much, but he really want to kill them.  He’d been promised a post, as Imperial Perfumer, which he thinks he would have been good at.

Miles rose. “Good day, Lord Yenaro, and a better one than you were destined to have, I think. I may have used up a year’s supply this afternoon already, but wish me luck. I have a little date with Prince Slyke now.”

“Good luck,” Yenaro said doubtfully.

Miles paused. “It was Prince Slyke, was it not?”

“No! I was talking about Governor the haut Ilsum Kety!”

Miles tries to reconcile this with Rian’s story.  He can’t decide whether Kety had sent Slyke to the Star Crèche, or Slyke had used Kety to manipulate Yenaro.  Just then, Vorreedi appears around the corner, relieved at having found Miles and Ivan at last.  Miles introduces Yenaro to Vorreedi; Vorreedi tells Yenaro that he just happened to meet up with a man who, apparently, was tasked with making sure Yenaro didn’t leave the dome alive.  When Yenaro doesn’t volunteer any information in response, Vorreedi tells him that he’s got ten minutes until the fast-penta wears off.  Yenaro leaves hastily.

Miles asks Vorreedi if it was true, and Vorreedi confirms it.  He wonders, given Yenaro’s interest in Miles, if it’s more important to Barrayaran interest than it seems, though Miles quickly denies having been so angry at Yenaro to have hired the assassin himself.  He does encourage Vorreedi to try to follow the link to whoever hired the assassin, calling it a hunch.  As they leave the dome, Miles spots his contact-lady, and asks to speak to her; Vorreedi insists on coming along.

“Pardon me, milady. I just wanted to let you know that I will not be able to accept your invitation to visit, uh, this afternoon. Please convey my deepest regrets to your mistress.” Would she, and the haut Rian, interpret this as intended, as Abort, abort abort!? Miles could only pray so. “But if she can arrange instead a visit to the man’s cousin, I think that would be most educational.”

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So maybe it’s not Slyke after all?  Huh!  Well, the first suspect is almost never the correct one, right?  Though Ilsum Kety is really not a big surprise.  A big surprise would have been, I don’t know, the old guy Miles ruled out almost at once.  Though I guess there is still a potential co-conspirator with a float-chair out there.  Anyway, it looks like between Yenaro’s revelation and Miles talking to the ghem-lady he’s decided in favour of Kety over Slyke, or at least wants Rian to consider him as a potential suspect as well, I suppose.  It’s hard to tell exactly what he’s getting at with his circumlocutions.

I guess Vorreedi doesn’t take Miles’s wanderings as a serious issue yet, or he wouldn’t have let him and Ivan unattended so many times.  Is he technically Miles’s superior on this mission?  Let’s hope he ends up better than the ones in The Vor Game.  The assassin is an actual sub-ghem, by the way, though we don’t get to see him, so he still doesn’t count as an actual civilian.

The kitten tree is always one of the most memorable scenes, and images, in the entire book.  I like Miles’s description of Ivan as someone who is just as set on liberating kittens as he is on chasing women, and it reminds me of that scene in A Civil Campaign, with the kitten on the breakfast tray.  I was never quite clear on whether the fruits “just weren’t ripe” yet, if the kittens would eventually be released or not.  Compelling, and a little grotesque.  And very Cetagandan.  On the other hand, I had completely forgotten Yenaro’s final “prank” attempt…

Poor Miles, he could have gotten lucky with Lady Benello, though of course he would have felt guilty about it (for betraying Rian, perhaps?), and it came at a fairly bad time, too.  Probably wouldn’t have worked out any better than the fetish girl on Beta Colony, either.


Into the second half of the book now, only six chapters left, so the action should be speeding up fairly shortly, I think.  So until next week…

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A bit tired tonight, so let me be brief.  I’m going through Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, book by book, two chapters at a time, and right now I’m up to Chapters Seven and Eight of Cetaganda, so let’s get down to it.

Chapter Seven

While Ivan is treated in the infirmary, Miles checks out the list of the eight satrap governors.  They’re all “relatives” of the Emperor and Empress, including two Degtiars.  Each satrap governor holds his office for five years, then either retires or moves to another satrap, to keep any of them from being able to build up a power base.  As such, Miles concludes that the Dowager Empress couldn’t have contacted them longer ago than five years, because otherwise she wouldn’t have known who the governors would be.  Miles tries to figure out how to winnow down the list, wishing for some helpful and discreet Cetagandan security men to help.  He reminds himself that he doesn’t need to solve Ba Lura’s murder, just find the Great Key.  After all, it’s in orbit somewhere, on one of the governor’s ships…

Ivan returns, saying that the poison metabolized rapidly, but they did manage to get a sample.  Vorreedi has returned, and Ivan had a chat with him about Yenaro.  He judges Vorreedi to not be a “booted paranoid”, and urges Miles to come clean to him, or else Ivan will.  Miles shares the salient points of his conversation with Rian.

” . . . so it seems to me,” Miles ran down at last, “that the only way we can certainly prove that Barrayar had nothing to do with it is to find which satrap governor has the real Great Key.” He pointed orbit-ward.

Ivan’s eyes were round, his mouth screwed up in an expression of total dismay. “We? We? Miles, we’ve only been here for two and a half days, how did we get put in charge of the Cetagandan Empire? Isn’t this Cetagandan security’s job?”

Miles says they can’t be trusted to try to exonerate the Barrayarans.  He says he’s thought of three possible leads back to Lord X–Yenaro, Ba Lura’s murder, and political analysis.  Yenaro they can trust ImpSec to work on, but probably not Ba Lura.  As for the third, he tells Ivan that the Barrayarans seemed to be deliberately picked to plant the fake Key on, which could mean either a satrap governor close to Barrayaran space, or one on the other end hoping for a Barrayaran war to divert attention from him.  Ivan and Miles agree that that means either Rho Ceta (next to Komarr) or Mu Ceta (next to Vervain), or Sigma Ceta or Xi Ceta (which is next to Marilac) at the other end of the Empire–four out of eight.  Miles hopes that with all three methods they can eventually narrow it down to just one.

Miles says they should make sure to document all their evidence and conclusions, in case someone else has to follow up on the case, and Ivan says he’s been doing that since the first day.  Miles asks if Ivan hinted to Vorreedi that Yenaro had a high-placed backer, and urges him to do so when Ivan says he hadn’t.

“Why don’t you talk to him?”

“I’m . . . not ready. Not yet, not tonight. I’m still assimilating it all. And technically, he is my ImpSec superior here, or would be, if I were on active duty. I’d like to limit my, um . . .”

“Outright lies to him?” Ivan completed sweetly.

Miles grimaced, but did not deny it. “Look, I have an access in this matter that no other ImpSec officer could, due to my social position. I don’t want to see the opportunity wasted. But it also limits me—I can’t get at the routine legwork, the down-and-dirty details I need. I’m too conspicuous. I have to play to my own strengths, and get others to play to my weaknesses.”

Ivan agrees to talk to Vorreedi, then reminds Miles that Lord X might just as easily be following the leads back to him.

The next morning, Vorob’yev tells Miles he has an unusual visitor–not Rian, as Miles originally hopes, but a Security officer, ghem-Colonel Dag Benin.  Benin is investigating Ba Lura’s death, and apparently Miles’s activities in the rotunda have brought him to Benin’s attention.  Vorob’yev and Vorreedi have decided to let Benin speak to Miles, though the conversation will be monitored.

Ghem-Colonel Benin, waiting for them, rose politely as they entered. He was of no more than middle stature, so probably not over-stocked with haut-genes in his recent ancestry—the haut favored height. He had likely acquired his present post by merit rather than social rank, then, not necessarily a plus from Miles’s point of view. Benin was very trim in the dark red Cetagandan dress uniform that was everyday garb for security staff in the Celestial Garden. He wore, of course, full formal face paint in the Imperial pattern rather than that of his clan, marking his primary allegiance; a white base with intricate black curves and red accents that Miles thought of as the bleeding-zebra look. But by association, it was a pattern that would command instant and profound respect and total, abject cooperation on eight planets. Barrayar, of course, was not one of them.

Benin introduces himself and his purpose.  Miles immediately presses him about whether Ba Lura’s death has been ruled a suicide, or if he may have been stunned elsewhere, which they should be able to test for, brought to the rotunda and killed there.  Benin says that Ba Lura has been cremated, and wonders about Miles’s interest.  Miles says that civil security is in his line of work, exaggerating slightly his modest experience with murder investigations, which piques Benin’s interest.  Benin says that somebody would have seen Ba Lura being carried into the rotunda, but Miles asks if the body happened to have been placed in a spot hidden from the cameras, which Benin confirms.  Miles points out that this means someone familiar with the security arrangements was involved, and asks Benin if anyone highly placed has been trying to quash his investigation.

Benin asks Miles about his conversation with Rian, and Miles claims that she turned out to be interested in him as a genetic curiosity, before Miles told her that his physical issues were not genetic.  Miles turns to the subject to haut-ladies’ bubbles and force-chairs, suggesting that one of those could have been used to bring Ba Lura’s body into the rotunda and conceal it there.  Benin tells Miles that half a dozen haut ladies passed through the chamber, none of them having seen Ba Lura, and Miles says that one of them must be lying.

Miles says that the murderer–they both seem to have concluded that it is likely murder, not suicide–must be highly placed, and with an odd sense of humour.  He says that it may be someone newly come to the capital, and perhaps someone that Ba Lura was blackmailing.  He urges Benin to trace Ba Lura’s movements, which Benin says is in progress.  Miles also suggests that the murder was somewhat rushed, and may have made some hasty decisions.  He thanks Benin for providing him the opportunity to talk shop.  Benin asks Miles if he might be willing to talk under fast-penta, and Miles agrees, with Vorob’yev’s approval (which they both know will not be forthcoming).

As Benin winds the interview down, Miles hopes that he’s managed to point Benin in the direction of the satrap governors.  Miles has also concluded that Benin, somewhat low rank for this investigation, may be intended to be expendable, and urges him to get support from as high up as he can.

“You have good reason to suspect you have a little problem somewhere overhead. But you don’t know where yet. If I were you, I’d go straight to the top. Make personal contact with your Emperor. It’s the only way you can be sure you’ve capped the murderer.”

Did Benin turn pale, beneath his face paint? No way to tell. “That high over—Lord Vorkosigan, I can hardly claim casual acquaintance with my celestial master.”

“This isn’t friendship. It’s business, and it’s his business. If you truly mean to be useful to him, it’s time you began. Emperors are only human.” Well, Emperor Gregor was. The Cetagandan emperor was haut-human. Miles hoped that still counted. “Ba Lura must have been more to him than a piece of the furniture—it served him for over fifty years. Make no accusations, merely request that he protect your investigation from being quashed. Strike first, today, before . . . someone . . . begins to fear your competence.” If you’re going to cover your ass, Benin, by God do it right.

“I will . . . consider your advice.”

After Benin takes his leave, Vorob’yev enters, followed by Ivan, and Vorreedi, at last.  Vorreedi asks Miles if he would like a tour of local police establishments, and Miles demurs, but says that police work would probably been his next choice after the military.  Vorob’yev tells Ivan that he’s received some invitations from several ghem-ladies–Arvin and Benello, from Yenaro’s party, as well as Benello’s married sister.  Ivan refuses to share any of them with Miles, though Miles asks him to find out if any of them have ties to the Celestial Garden.  Ivan tells Miles he’d be happen with Benin, or one of the satrap governors, and Miles admits he hopes to be able to examine the suspects at an official function as soon as he can.

Comments

I’m so glad that all eight of the governors are not serious suspects, because it’s hard enough keeping track of four of them.  I think I’m reaching the point where I remember who Lord X actually is, but I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to be sure.
The appearance of Vorreedi, at last, is a bit of an anticlimax.  By this point Miles has ceased to think of him as the guy who’s going to solve his problems, though I guess I don’t know if he ever did.  Ivan did, I’m sure…  I wonder if Ivan ever reaches a point where he implicitly trusts Miles to be able to solve all these problems he encounters.  Judging from A Civil Campaign, perhaps not.  Miles is, admittedly, a little too eager to get himself in over his head (insert your own height joke here), but he’s also really good at pulling himself out.

Dag Benin is a far more interesting character, still a ghem-lord but more of a rank-and-file officer than we’ve tended to see so far.  He’s quick on picking up on Miles’s competence, despite his being, technically, an adversary.  Miles’s conversation with him is an interesting exercise in trying to impart information without seeming to, while trying to acquire as much as possible.

Chapter Eight

Vorob’yev pulls a whole bunch of strings and gets himself, Miles and Mia Maz invitations to an exclusive poetry tribute to the Dowager Empress.  Ivan is too busy with, and tired from, his various haut-lady invitations to attend.  They are escorted to a grassy dell scattered with box seats overlooking an arrangement of daises and platforms at the bottom; the box seats, Miles discovers as the haut attendees arrive, are intended to accommodate the haut-lady bubbles.  Miles asks if the women will speak, and Maz says they’d had their ceremony already; the haut-lords will speak in increasing order of rank, ending with the satrap governors, whose presence is the real reason Miles wanted to attend.

Miles studies the governors as they arrive.  Mu Ceta’s aged governor, the late Empress’s half-brother, of the Degtiar constellation, had been appointed to reassure the Vervani, but Miles reminds himself that he had still accepted an illicit copy of the gene banks.  Este Rond, from Komarr’s neighbour Rho Ceta, is tall and bullish, and Miles recalls that he’s tireless in his efforts to improve Cetagandan trade, and to improve the status of his junior constellation.  Slyke Giaja, half-brother of the Emperor, is governor of Marilac’s neighbour Xi Ceta, arrogant and dangerous, a distinct possibility.  Ilsum Kety, from Sigma Ceta, is the youngest (only 45), related in some complex fashion to Slyke Giaja.

The governors are each accompanied by a haut-lady bubble, who Maz explains are the consorts, which really means that they are Star Crèche representatives, sending genetic contracts back to the Celestial Garden and supervising the return of the uterine replicators with the contracted fetuses.  Miles realizes that the consorts must have been how the Empress had communicated with the governors, and with some dismay he wonders if they are also suspects, since they do possess their own force bubbles, and one of them could thus have been closely involved with Ba Lura’s murder.

There is a hush as Emperor Fletchir Giaja arrives with his escort, the haut lords all bowing as he makes his way into the dell.  Shortly thereafter the poetry recitations commence, which Miles initially finds fascinating, but soon he becomes conscious of the repetition of themes and begins to tune out, though Maz does try to keep him interested with whispered comments.

Miles meditated on the character of Lord X, trying to match it with one of the eight faces ranged before him. The murderer/traitor was something of a tactical genius. He had been presented with an unanticipated opportunity to gain power, had committed rapidly to an all-out effort, evolved a plan, and struck. How fast? The first satrap governor had arrived in person only ten days before Miles and Ivan had, the last only four days before. Yenaro, the embassy’s ImpSec office had finally reported, had put his sculpture together in just two days from designs delivered from an unknown source, working his minions around the clock. Ba Lura could only have been suborned since its mistress’s death, not quite three weeks ago.

Miles decides that this precipitousness of action, for the time-scale of the haut lifespan, smelled of youth rather than age.  He wonders if Lord X is chafing at his enforced inactivity, and if he’s kept the Great Key nearby or shipped it home already.  Miles finds his mind wandering, and mentally composes a limerick about the Empress and Lord X, and then one about Rian, stifling his impulse to laugh.  Finally he snaps to attention as the first of the governors takes the dais.  The poems are innocuous enough, though in the most challenging forms, according to Maz, and Miles is almost disappointed that Lord X didn’t weave a smug confession into his.  When they are done, the Emperor leaves and the attendees are freed to sample the food.

Miles’s group are allowed into the most exclusive of the gatherings, where the governors themselves are attending, and Maz is avidly taking in as much information as she can.  Governor Este Rond, when he enters, is obliged to greet the Barrayarans.  Miles notes that Rond’s ghem-general is accompanied by a haut-woman, but on foot, with no force bubble but a reserved and forbidding demeanor.  Vorob’yev introduces Miles to Rond, who tries a few veiled verbal sallies at the governor, winning no response.  Miles asks Rond to introduce him to Ilsum Kety, which he is all too happy to do; Miles whispers to him that they know about Yenaro, but Rond is politely baffled by the remark.

Miles notices that Kety’s hair is frosted with grey, though he’s thirty years younger than the Emperor, whose hair is still black, and concludes that he’s trying to assume the dignity of age, since older men seemed to have all the power in Cetagandan society.  Kety is also accompanied by a ghem-general with a haut-wife, an even more striking one, and Miles is thankful that his experiences with Rian have made him slightly less vulnerable to haut-lady charms.  Miles greets the general, Chilian, and his wife, but she pointedly ignores him.

Miles smiled affably at the haut Ilsum Kety. “I understand we have a mutual hobby, governor,” he purred.

“Oh?” said Kety unencouragingly.

“An interest in the Cetagandan Imperial regalia. Such a fascinating set of artifacts, and so evocative of the history and culture of the haut race, don’t you think? And its future.”

Kety stared at him blankly. “I would not regard that as a pastime. Nor a suitable interest for an outlander.”

“It’s a military officer’s duty to know his enemies.”

“I would not know. Those tasks belong to the ghem.”

“Such as your friend Lord Yenaro? A slender reed for you to lean on, governor, I’m afraid you are about to find.”

Kety’s pale brow wrinkled. “Who?”

Miles, frustrated, wishes he could fast-penta everyone in the pavilion.  He asks for an introduction to Slyke Giaja, and Kety willingly sends him over with General Chilian.  Slyke Giaja is not receptive, but Miles sends Chilian with the message “Yenaro is ours”.  Slyke is accompanied by a haut-lady bubble, and Miles recognizes a ghem-lady attendant as the one who’d escorted him from Yenaro’s party.  Chilian delivers the message, but Slyke is unwilling to meet with Miles, and the elderly Mu Cetan governor has already left, so Miles is left to his own devices.  Mia Maz joins him and says she has been enjoying listening in on the conversations, mostly about the poetry; most opinions seem to agree that the highest-ranked men had the best poems.

Miles asks Maz about the haut-ladies, and she tells him that haut ladies married to ghem-lords, and hence without bubbles, are to be treated as if they are still concealed, and never spoken to directly.  Their conversation is interrupted by a ba servant–Rian’s, who had escorted him before–who says his lady needs to meet with him.  Miles tells Maz to make his excuses, and that he may be some time, as he follows the ba out of the pavilion.

Comments

Now the four main-suspect governors are formally introduced to us.  None of them are dead giveaways right off the bat–none of them react to the mention of Yenaro–though the appearance of the ghem-lady from the party is a bit suspicious, isn’t it?  What’s she doing with Slyke Giaja?  Miles’s realization about the consorts’ possible involvement may sound a bit daunting, but let me reassure you that there is definitely a governor involved, so she hasn’t just given us all the information on the prime suspects for nothing.

I’d been pronouncing Rian as “Ree-ann”, but given that Miles, in his limerick, rhymes it with “scion” and “lion”, apparently it’s pronounced like, well, “Ryan”.  It’s fairly rare for an author to give such a direct pronunciation cue, and I wonder if it’s deliberate.  Normally, if they’re really all that concerned that you pronounce their names right, they provide a pronunciation key, or a glossary.  (I still remember the Robert Jordan signing where he led off with examples of how to say the most mispronounced names from the Wheel of Time series.)  I still can’t bring myself to call her “Ryan”, though; generally I believe that pronunciation of unfamiliar names is up to one’s personal taste, but I’ve been known to change my pronunciations from time to time anyway.  Normally it doesn’t come up unless you’re talking out loud about the character or reading the book to somebody else, so it’s not a big deal.


Looks like this book is sixteen chapters, so we’re already at the halfway point.  I did have the sense that things were moving fairly fast, and these chapters are shorter than in some of the other books I’ve done, so it’s not that surprising.  I’d been hoping there was an odd number so I could only do one this week, but no such luck, I guess.  Maybe I should have, since it looks like Chapter Eight flows directly into Chapter Nine, but I guess it can’t be helped now.  Ethan of Athos has only fifteen, so next book, I guess…  Until next week, when I will return.

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Happy 10th of April, everyone, or should I say, April the 10th be with you?  No?  Well, most of you are probably seeing this on the 11th, or later, so never mind.  Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, my attempt to do some justice and attract some well-deserved attention to the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, particularly her science fictional masterwork wherein she follows the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week we continue another couple chapters further into Cetaganda, chronologically earlier than some novels published before it, covering Chapters Five and Six, where the true plot of the book at last emerges.  Or should that be, already?

Chapter Five

Miles and Ivan arrive at Yenaro’s party by groundcar.  They confirm their comlinks are both working, and the driver tells them they have three units of backup nearby just in case, and a medic in a lightflyer forty-five seconds away.  Yenaro’s mansion exhibits clear signs of aristocratic decay, apparently left to Yenaro without the money to keep it up.  Miles notes that the ‘Autumn Leaves’ sculpture was Yenaro’s first, which he finds odd, and he wonders what they’ll find checking into the actual workers who put it together.  Miles, in his fanciest dress blacks, has the Great Key with him, and has had it in his pocket all day, through a tour of the city and a classical dance performance, but so far no contact from Rian.

On one level, Miles was growing extremely sorry he had not taken the local ImpSec subordinates into his confidence on the very first day. But if he had, he would no longer be in charge of this little problem; the decisions would all have been hiked to higher levels, out of his control. The ice is thin. I don’t want anyone heavier than me walking on it just yet.

Yenaro greets them after they enter, and takes them to a shabbily but comfortably decorated room with a dozen other young ghems, more male than female, some of them with daringly unpainted faces.  Incense burning nearby is apparently one of Yenaro’s own blends, incorporating a relaxant.  Miles evinces an interest in seeing Yenaro’s laboratory, Ivan staying behind to strike up an acquaintance with two beautiful ghem-women.  Another ghem-woman asking after a perfume she’d commissioned from Yenaro accompanies them.  The lab is in a different building, across the garden, and Miles sees money spent on the lab rather than on the main house.  The ingredients are all organized, and Yenaro says he can’t bear other people mucking with his system; Miles mentally contrasts this with the “hands are to be hired” attitude toward ‘Autumn Leaves’.  Someone else, who Miles dubs ‘Lord X’, must have supplied the expertise there, and possibly knowledge of Miles’s vulnerabilities as well.

Fact One about Lord X: he had access to Cetagandan Security’s most detailed reports on Barrayarans of military or political significance . . . and their sons. Fact Two: he had a subtle mind. Fact Three . . . there was no fact three. Yet.

They return to find Ivan snuggling with the two women.  Yenaro offers him a special beverage, putting Miles on the alert for poison, but Yenaro and other ghem-lords drink the “zlati ale” as well, and Ivan seems to enjoy his drink.  Ivan shoos Miles away, and Miles turns his efforts to questioning the other ghem-lords, who are eager enough to talk about themselves.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of substance to any of them, locked in place with small horizons until they may happen to inherit something.

Excusing himself from the group, he finds a slightly older woman watching him; she smiles at him, comes forward, and asks if he’d like to walk in the garden with her.  Her smile fades as they leave the house, and she leads him to a gate where a robed ba is waiting to escort him.  Miles pointedly calls in on his comlink to let them know he’s “walking with a lady”.  Miles and the ba cross a ravine onto another neglected estate, over a pond on a footbridge and into a wooded pavilion, where a haut-lady sphere waits.

Haut-lady Rian tells Miles she’s contacted him as promised for her “thing”, and Miles tells her he knows it’s the Great Key.  He takes it out and she asks for it back, but Miles holds on to it, asking for information on how it came to be in his possession in the first place.  He asks why Ba Lura had it on the space station in the first station; it couldn’t have been just theft, since there were surely more valuable artifacts available among the late Empress’s regalia.  He asks Rian if Ba Lura was planning to blackmail her, and if she had it murdered, which Rian hotly denies.  She says that Ba Lura would not have been selling it, so Miles presses her for more information.  Rian says she doesn’t know who Ba Lura would have been bringing it to, and that she and the ba had had a disagreement.

Miles goes back to the beginning, telling the incident of the “man” with the false hair arriving at the airlock, and then of Miles seeing the same face on the dead ba.  Rian tells Miles that she had found it missing that day, but she hadn’t used it for a couple of days before that.  She’d seen Ba Lura the evening before, but could have come and gone at any time after that, and had refused to see her until the next morning.  Then, it had confessed entering the wrong docking bay and losing it to the Barrayarans (after being attacked by six soldiers), and Miles swiftly asks who, in orbit, had been the intended recipient, which Rian refuses to answer.  The Barrayarans had supposedly insulted the Celestial Lady and then tossed the ba out, where it returned home in shame.

Miles asks why the ba, if it were going to kill itself in shame, would have done so publicly, advertising its shame.  Miles reiterates that there weren’t six Barrayaran soldiers, no slurs on the Celestial Lady, and the ba gave up its prize far too easily for such a degree of public shame.  Rian asks for the Key back, but Miles says he still doesn’t understand who is trying to drag Barrayar into this Cetagandan issue, and why.  He wants confirmation of her and her identity–he wants to see her through the force-bubble.  She accedes to his condition, and makes her bubble transparent.

“Oh,” said Miles, in a very small voice.

She sat in a float-chair, clothed from slender neck to ankle in flowing robes of shining white, a dozen shimmering textures lying one atop another. Her hair glinted ebony, masses of it that poured down across her shoulders, past her lap, to coil around her feet. When she stood, it would trail on the floor like a banner. Her enormous eyes were an ice blue of such arctic purity as to make Lady Gelle’s eyes look like mud-puddles. Skin . . . Miles felt he had never seen skin before, just blotched bags people wore around themselves to keep from leaking. This perfect ivory surface . . . his hands ached with the desire to touch it, just once, and die. Her lips were warm, as if roses pulsed with blood. . . .

How old was she? Twenty? Forty? This was a haut-woman. Who could tell? Who could care? Men of the old religion had worshipped on their knees icons far less glorious, in beaten silver and hammered gold. Miles was on his knees now, and could not remember how he’d come to be there.

Miles instantly knows that he has fallen hopelessly in love with this unattainable woman, and without another word he lays the Great Key at her feet.

Comments

I left out most of the somewhat snide remarks Miles had made to himself about Rian up to this point, about how she was probably an “old battleaxe” or some such.  Apparently not, then.  It does seem that a certain amount of the haut (and ghem) genetic development, in the female line, at least, is aimed at  sheer physical beauty, according to standards universal enough that a Barrayaran is ensnared by them.  One wonders why they bother, unless, as Mia Maz might postulate, the ability to inspire devotion in men is just part of their power base.  I’d theorize that haut males would have bred resistance to haut women, except that it’s the women who control the genome, isn’t it?

Looking at the idle rich ghem-lords makes me wonder again about the Cetagandan commoners.  There must be some, right, just like there are many Barrayarans who aren’t Vor.  There must be billions of them, in fact, but we never get to see them.  On this visit, of course, the foreigners are somewhat circumscribed, but one wonders if Vorob’yev or even Mia Maz has any more contact with them.  How do they fit in with the breeding plans of the Empire?  Do the haut and ghem genes ever percolate down to them?  How oppressed are they, anyway?

The mention of Yenaro’s capabilities with his perfumes makes Miles think that he could easily get a position with some corporation.  Sadly, Yenaro probably never will, since “work” is something for the plebes, though he does seem to have a little cottage industry producing perfumes for his peers, at least.  Assuming that they pay for them; it’s not clear that the ghem-lady who is fetching her perfume has paid for it, though maybe she did in advance, or maybe worrying about money is another one of those plebe things.  Of course, perhaps Yenaro is getting money from another, more sinister source…

Chapter Six

Rian picks up the Great Key and inserts a ring worn around her neck into the bird pattern at the end of the seal.  Nothing happens, and she accuses Miles of having tampered with it, since it should have opened.  Miles protests that he had done nothing, and says there are three possibilities–it was broken by someone else, it was reprogrammed, or it was replaced with a duplicate.  Rian’s reaction leads Miles to think the last theory is the most plausible to her.  Miles wonders if this substitute was supposed to have been sent back to Barrayar after being planted with him, but he can’t quite figure it out.

“Milady, talk to me. If it’s a duplicate, it’s obviously a very good duplicate. You now have it, to turn over at the ceremony. So what if it doesn’t work? Who’s going to check the function of some obsolete piece of electronics?”

“The Great Key is not obsolete. We used it every day.”

Miles says they have until the end of the funeral ceremonies, at least, to find the real one, or recreate it from backup.  He can see that Rian is beginning to despair and think that Ba Lura had the right idea.  She says there is no backup of the data on the Great Key, that its indispensability is a matter of control.  Miles asks for an explanation, and Rian tells him that the Great Key contains the index to the Cetagandan gene banks; without it, it would take a generation to physically re-examine each sample and recover the information.

Miles rises to his feet, steeling himself to resist her beauty, and insists that, outlander or no, he’s involved in the problem now.  He tells her she needs an ally, since she seems to be out of her depth, and doesn’t seem to want to involve local security.  He asks he how she thinks he could possibly make matters any worse.  She begins to speak, then stops.   Miles reminds her that if Ba Lura was murdered, it was obviously done by someone with a dark sense of humour to leave the body in the rotunda.

Yes. Look past the surface. See me, not this joke of a body. . . . “And I am the one person on Eta Ceta you know didn’t do it. It’s the only certainty we share, so far. I claim a right to know who’s doing this to us. And the only chance in hell I have to figure out who, is to know exactly why.”

Still she sat silent.

“I already know enough to destroy you,” Miles added earnestly. “Tell me enough to save you!”

Rian tells him that the Dowager Empress disagreed with her son the Emperor about the gene bank.  The Emperor wanted to keep it centralized, under his control, while the Empress wanted it dispersed, and backed up, for safety.  The Emperor prevailed, until the Empress began to reach the end of her life, and she decided to put her plan into action.  She had made eight copies of the gene bank–one for each satrap governor.  The Great Key itself had not been duplicated yet–“control” again–when she died, leaving Rian and Ba Lura as executors of her plan.  They were left without instructions for the duplication, and the original creation of the key had demanded much of the Empire’s resources.  Ba Lura’s only plan was to enlist one of the satrap governors for help, which Rian herself thought too risky.

Miles interrupts to ask what would happen to the empire if each governor had their own copy of the gene bank.  Rian says that each satrap would, in effect, be its own copy of the Cetagandan Empire–the Empire would have divided, like a cell, according to the Empress’s plan.  Miles’s mind boggles at the chaos of war, civil and otherwise, that would erupt in this situation.  He asks if the Emperor would consider her actions treasonous.  Rian replies that she was merely following the Empress’s orders, but the satrap governors have all committed treason, having already received their gene banks.  Each of them has been told he is the only one to have received the bank, to encourage secrecy.

“Do you know—I have to ask this.” I’m just not sure I want to hear the answer. “Do you know to which of the eight satrap governors Ba Lura was trying to take the Great Key for duplication, when it ran into us?”

“No,” she said.

“Ah,” Miles exhaled in pure satisfaction. “Now, now I know why I was set up. And why the ba died.”

Miles says that Ba Lura must have taken the actual Great Key to one of the governors, received the copy in return, and then deliberately planted the copy with the Barrayarans, though perhaps not as it had expected to.  Then the governor arranged for Ba Lura’s death, silencing the only remaining witness, and planning to get a head start on his new gene bank after the funeral is over.  Meanwhile, Barrayar gets the blame for the loss of the Great Key.  Only Miles’s odd actions have kept this plan from coming to fruition.  He asks Rian if she can verify it by examining the key, but she points out that she suspects Barrayar is fully capable of producing this nonfunctional duplicate, so Miles will have to find the real copy to prove his innocence.

“It seems that is just what I must discover, milady, to, to clear my name. To redeem my honor in your eyes.” The intrinsic fascination of an intellectual puzzle had brought him to this interview. He’d thought curiosity was his strongest driving force, till suddenly his whole personality had become engaged. It was like being under—no, like becoming an avalanche. “If I can discover this, will you . . .” what? Look favorably upon his suit? Despise him for an outlander barbarian all the same? “. . . let me see you again?”

He asks Rian if they can set up a better means to communicate.  She offers him a comlink that she uses to communicate with her servitors, but when pressed she admits she doesn’t know how secure it is, and Miles suspects that Cetagandan security would make short work of it.  He tells her to be careful, that whoever killed Ba Lura wouldn’t balk at targeting Rian herself, so she should conceal her possession of the fake Key, since Miles is obviously not following the script.  He asks her to find out more about Ba Lura’s activities over the days before its death, and she tells him she will be in contact.  She opaques her force bubble, and Miles returns to Yenaro’s house.

The party is still going on, some new faces, and many intoxicated by some means or another.  Yenaro asks Miles where he’s been, and Miles tells him about taking a walk with a lady.  Yenaro says that Ivan has been with the two ghem-ladies for a long time, which seems to puzzle him.  Miles accepts a drink from Yenaro, reassessing the ghem-ladies in comparison to haut Rian; they come off much the worse, and Miles hopes this effect on his perception isn’t permanent.  Miles and Yenaro kill time with idle chit-chat until Ivan finally appears from upstairs, descending quickly to rejoin Miles.  He whispers that he thinks he’s been poisoned, though not seriously enough for the medic in the lightflyer, and insists they leave before Yenaro goes upstairs.  He refuses to tell Miles more until they’re in the car.

In the groundcar, Ivan tells Miles that Yenaro seemed to have spiked his drink with an anti-aphrodisiac, probably hoping to humiliate him with the ghem-ladies, and he’s now more willing to believe Miles’s conspiracy theories.  Ivan was forced to invent a tale about how Barrayarans pride themselves on self-control, and must satisfy their ladies before themselves.  It took much time and effort, but Ivan was able to satisfy them and leave them asleep but happy.  Ivan doesn’t want to tell ImpSec, but he does want a medical scan to reassure himself that the effect isn’t permanent.  Miles reassures him that it was probably in the zlati ale, which Yenaro drank himself, so it’ll probably metabolize.  Miles wonders if it’s just Yenaro playing these tricks, or if there’s someone else behind him, like Ba Lura’s murderer.

Ivan asks if Miles has gotten rid of the Great Key, and Miles says he has, but there’s still unfinished business, which is verging from security concerns into diplomatic ones.  Which he’s not sure he trusts to someone in charge of a local ImpSec office.  Still, he doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to continue without backup.

In his room, Miles avoids looking at his body as he strips off his somewhat soiled uniform.  He assures himself that as a Barrayaran Vor, he’s practically a ghem-lord, and it’s not unknown for ghem-lords to be assigned haut wives, for great deeds.  Like saving the Empire–always one of his goals, he just never thought it would be the Cetagandan Empire…  Unfortunately, for the Emperor to reward him, he has to foil the Dowager Empress’s plan, but carrying it out is more likely to help win Rian’s affections.  Either way, he needs to find Lord X, one of eight choices, which don’t seem like good odds.

Comments

The Empress’s plan to fission the Empire does seem more than a little destabilizing, though Rian, at least, doesn’t seem to think that’s her problem.  Not much of a giveaway that Miles’s goal is, in the end, to stop that from happening, because otherwise the expansion of the Cetagandan Empire might have come to dominate the rest of the series.  Spoiler alert–it didn’t.  Maybe it’s just “status quo bias”, but the Barrayarans would probably rather the Cetagandan Empire remained stable.  Unless, of course, it were guaranteed to become weaker in the process, I suppose…  But I don’t think that Gregor, Aral and Illyan are quite that cold-blooded, luckily.

So does Miles turn out to be, after all, the best person to handle this delicate affair?  The only one who wouldn’t have divested themselves of the thing in the first place (as Ivan probably would have), leading to the unprovable assertion “We don’t have it!” when challenged…or sent it back to Barrayar, as Miles suspects the ImpSec types would have?  The only one to risk everything to try to keep someone else’s Empire stable?  Because Miles does believe that honour does apply to enemies as well, something not every Barrayaran would admit.  Bujold does manage to convince us, first that Miles’s curiosity is engaged, and his unwillingness to give up his pet intelligence project, until he sees the greater implications.  Maybe he should trust his fellow countrymen a little more, but I suspect he wouldn’t trust Ungari, or Overholt, with the Key, and certainly not Metzov, and since Vorreedi is an unknown quantity, he’s forced to rely on Ivan, who at least has familial bonds, and a certain amount of friendship, to make him inclinced to help Miles, at least to a point…

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Next week, on the exciting 17th of April, it will doubtless be time, unfortunately, for us to be introduced to eight potential suspects at once.  Oy vey, that’ll be fun to summarize.  I may have to use bullet points or something.  We’ll see if I’ve reached the point (on, what, my fourth or fifth read of the book) where I can actually remember who the bad guy(s) is/are.  I’ll try not to give it away, unless I’m pretty sure I’m wrong…

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Good evening, genties and ladlemen, and anyone else out there who happens to stumble upon this, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where week by week I try, in my small way, to do some justice to the incomparable Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold.  This week we forge ahead in Cetaganda, wherein Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan Vorpatril get embroiled in mysterious doings on a visit to the capital of the Cetagandan Empire on Eta Ceta IV, and, in chapters Three and Four, learn some hopefully interesting information.

Chapter Three

Miles, Ivan and Vorob’yev fly towards the Cetagandan Imperial Residence, also known as The Celestial Garden or just Xanadu.  It’s covered by a gigantic force dome six kilometers across, which Vorob’yev says consumes an entire generating plant all by itself.  The city radiates outward from it.

“The ceremony today is in some measure a dress rehearsal for the final one in a week and a half,” Vorob’yev went on, “since absolutely everyone will be there, ghem-lords, haut-lords, galactics and all. There will likely be organizational delays. As long as they’re not on our part. I spent a week of hard negotiating to get you your official rankings and place in this.”

That place will be among the ghem-lords, but near the front, at least.  They are all wearing their formal house uniforms; Miles normally likes the riding boots that replace his leg braces, but they are uncomfortable on his burns.  After they land, Miles carries the long wooden box with their gift to the Cetagandans.  They are guided expertly into the dome and through the throne; Miles recognizes the Marilacan and Vervani representatives, as well as others from Aslund, Beta Colony and Jackson’s Whole.  He finds the whole experience a bit surreal.  Miles notices some smaller floating spheres across the hall, and realizes those must be haut-ladies in the personal force spheres they always wear in public, transparent from the inside, and proof against anything short of a gravitic imploder lance.

A majordomo approaches them, informing them of their place, and inquiring after their gift.  Miles opens the box to display an old, battered sword which is a sword carried by Emperor Dorca Vorbarra, ancestor of Gregor, during the first Cetagandan War, and the majordomo is impressed in spite of himself.  While they are waiting for things to start, Miles is approached by an old woman(?), completely hairless, who tells him a lady has requested his presence.  Miles follows “ba” away, through corridors and across a garden, and into a small building occupied by a haut-lady sphere; the lady dismisses the servant.

The silence lengthened. Maybe she’d never seen a physically imperfect man before. Miles bowed and waited, trying to look cool and suave, and not stunned and wildly curious.

“So, Lord Vorkosigan,” came the voice again at last. “Here I am.”

“Er . . . quite.” Miles hesitated. “And just who are you, milady, besides a very pretty soap-bubble?”

There was a longer pause, then, “I am the haut Rian Degtiar. Servant of the Celestial Lady, and Handmaiden of the Star Crèche.”

Miles doesn’t know what her title means, but he knows that “The Celestial Lady” was the late Empress haut Lisbet Degtiar, and Rian confirms their relation (though is baffled by Miles’s idle question about Yenaro).  He asks about the hairless servant, and Rian explains about “ba”, the sexless servants bred by the haut, the older ones having been made hairless because of the fashion at the time.

Rian asks Miles why he is at the Celestial Garden, and Miles’s straightforward explanation about the funeral and the gift she dismisses as mockery.  She is astonished by his offer to help, and he concludes that she is under some misapprehension about him, and asks to start their conversation over.  She accuses him of being a thief, and he realizes she is after the wand; she recognizes it from his description.  He tells her he’s willing to bring it back if she can prove it’s hers, in exchange for some information, like perhaps what it is…

Just then he hears music starting, and realizes that the procession is about to begin, and he tells her he has to leave.  She says she will contact him, and wafts away.  By the time Miles has hobbled his way back, the delegations are on their way in, and Ivan and Vorob’yev are dawdling, waiting for him and extremely annoyed.  Miles catches up and promises to tell Ivan later what was going on.  They are supposed to enter the rotunda and leave the gifts in a spiral based on their importance, but before they reach the rotunda the procession grinds to a halt.  It restarts, but diverted off to one side, as there seems to be some commotion in the rotunda itself.

Miles couldn’t stand it. After all, they can’t massacre me here in front of everybody, can they? He jammed the maplewood box at Ivan, and ducked under the elbow of the ghem-officer trying to shoo everyone out the other door. Smiling pleasantly, his hands held open and empty, he slipped between two startled ghem-guards, who were clearly not expecting such a rude and impudent move.

On the other side of the catafalque, in the position reserved for the first gift of the haut-lord of highest status, lay a dead body. Its throat was cut. Quantities of fresh red blood pooled on the shimmering green malachite floor all around, soaking into the gray-and-white palace servitor’s uniform. A thin jeweled knife was clutched rigorously in its outflung right hand. It was exactly the term for the corpse, too. A bald, eyebrowless, man-shaped creature, elderly but not frail . . . Miles recognized their intruder from the personnel pod even without the false hair. His own heart seemed to stop in astonishment.

Somebody’s just raised the stakes in this little game.

A ghem-officer comes to escort Miles out of the room; Miles complies, but asks about the body, and the officer says that it was Ba Lura, the Dowager Empress’s personal servitor of long standing, apparently driven to commit suicide on its mistress’s bier.  Miles rejoins Ivan and Vorob’yev, concluding that the death probably happened while Miles was talking with haut-lady Rian.  Vorob’yev rebukes Miles for his temerity, but is quite interested when Miles shares the identity of the body.

They circle around to the Eastern Pavilion, where the delegations are being seated during the wait.  Miles sees the Vervani and seizes the opportunity to talk with Mia Maz, who is also looking to talk to him.  Miles tells her about the Ba Lura’s body, though he’s already beginning to doubt the official story, and asks her about her “research question”.  He invites her over to the Barrayaran Embassy after the ceremony to tell him about it, and she accepts.

They are fed a bewildering number and variety of tiny hors d’oeuvres, by which point the majordomo had everything reorganized and sent them back towards the rotunda in their proper order.  When Miles lays down his gift, he notes how clean and dry the floor is, and wonders if they had time to scan everything or if the murderer was counting on haste; he wishes he’d been in charge of the investigation.  By the time they emerge, about an hour late, Miles feels like he’s spent an eternity in the bubble, and does not look forward to having his boots removed back at the embassy.

Comments

Ah, there’s the murder.  Or is it a suicide?  It’s a time-honoured genre, isn’t it, the suicide mystery?  No?  Well, maybe it was a murder, then.  Or an “assisted suicide” like they mentioned in the earlier chapters…

Miles really is trying to get in trouble, isn’t he?  Wandering off with a strange ba, and then trying to get a peek at a crime scene?  Oh, well, if he didn’t, there’d be no plot, or less of one.  Still, I feel a lot of sympathy for Ivan when he tries to keep Miles from getting into trouble, though admittedly less of it when he tries to convince Miles to give up on solving the puzzle…  Curious that when Miles crosses through the guards, he thinks only of being shot, not of getting into trouble, or getting his planet in trouble, as one might expect him to be worried about…

First introduction of the haut-ladies and their force bubbles, though of course the haut-ladies themselves had already been mentioned briefly.  They are integral to the plot, as we learn more about their all-but-alien ways, customs, and priorities, not least down there in the next chapter…

How did Rian find out that Miles had the rod, by the way?  Did she receive an actual message from Ba Lura, or someone else, with the information, or did she just trace its movements and conclude that the Barrayarans must have it?  Why Miles in particular, though?  Why didn’t she summon Ivan as well, or just Ivan?  I suppose that if she was so embarrassed about having lost it, she wouldn’t exactly announce her failure to the authorities and get a lot of official help, which would explain why there were no actual arrests or interstellar incidents, at least not right away, but she immediately leapt to the conclusion that Miles knew what he had and, I don’t know, had some kind of ransom demand or something.

Chapter Four

Ivan manages to prise one of Miles’s boots off, then refuses to take the other one off until Miles spills some of his information.  Miles tells Ivan that the dead ba was their mysterious visitor on the space station, and Ivan insists that surely now is time to inform Vorob’yev.  Miles says that for all he knows Ba Lura had dozens of identical clone-siblings, and he offers to let Ivan sit in on his “briefing” with Mia Maz if he keeps quiet.

“All right,” he said at last, “but after we talk to her, we report to ImpSec.”

“Ivan, I am ImpSec,” snapped Miles. “Three years of training and field experience, remember? Do me the honor of grasping that I may just possibly know what I’m doing!” I wish to hell I knew what I was doing. Intuition was nothing but the subconscious processing of subliminal clues, he was fairly sure, but I feel it in my bones made too uncomfortably thin a public defense for his actions. How can you know something before you know it? “Give me a chance.”

After Ivan and Miles change out of their funeral outfits, Mia Maz arrives and Miles has her escorted up to his room, sure that if it were bugged that someone would already have let them know.  She refuses to let them call her “Milady”, Vervain being a democracy, and Miles ponders that, like his mother, she probably doesn’t see any difference in importance between Ba Lura’s body and that the Dowager Empress.  Maz tells them that Ba Lura’s suicide is unprecedented, and precedent is a very strong driver in Cetagandan society.  She also tells them that the haut never clone their servants, considering each to be a work of art, like everything in the Celestial Garden.

Miles asks about the symbol he’d asked her about, keeping mum about where he actually saw it.  Maz says it’s a symbol of the Star Crèche, and not something often seen by outlanders.  The Star Crèche is the haut’s private gene bank, where they keep every haut’s genetic information, and no haut can be born without the Star Crèche’s approval of the genetic combination.  The Dowager Empress has been, as the senior female in the Emperor’s line, in charge of the Star Crèche since his accession.  There hasn’t yet been an announcement of who her successor is to be, since it should fall to the mother of the Emperor’s heir, as yet undesignated; he has until the end of the funeral rites to make the declaration, and until he bestows the seal of the Star Crèche, no further “genomic contracts” can proceed among the haut.  As an interim move, he could give it to one of his maternal aunts.

After a brief interruption for pastries, Ivan asks if these contracts are like marriages.  Maz says that there can be simple one-off contracts for children, which become part of their father’s “constellation”, or clan, and these may happen without any direct input from the genetic parents, being concluded by their elders instead.  There are exclusive contracts, lifetime monopolies, and the mother of an Imperial heir must never have contracted her genome before and must never do so again except by the emperor.  She thus has a chance to become the dowager empress and mistress of the Star Crèche, or at least mother of a satrap governor, so as a result many more hauts have daughters than sons.  Ivan asks about sex, and says that it’s completely separate from reproduction, but still intricately formalized.

Most haut live with their constellation, though some leave home and become reclusive in old age.  Ivan asks about the haut-ladies who marry ghem-lords, and Maz says this is part of how the haut control the ghem.  Having a haut wife is the ultimate coup for a ghem-lord, but one that cannot be refused, and she instantly takes precedence over all other wives, and she never comes with a dowry, so she can act as a financial brake on his ambitions.  Apart from that, nobody’s quite sure how the haut-ladies keep their ghem husbands in line.

Miles asks Maz if she has a picture of the seal of the Star Crèche, which she calls up on the comconsole.

It was a clear cubical block, measuring maybe fifteen centimeters on a side, with the bird-pattern incised in red lines upon its top. Not the mysterious rod. Miles exhaled with relief. The terror that had been riding him ever since Maz had mentioned the seal, that he and Ivan might have accidentally stolen a piece of the Imperial regalia, faded. The rod was some kind of Imperial gizmo, obviously, and would have to be returned—anonymously, by preference—but at least it wasn’t—

Maz called up the next unit of data, “And this object is the Great Key of the Star Crèche, which is handed over along with the seal,” she went on.

Ivan choked on his wine. Miles, faint, leaned on the desk and smiled fixedly at the image of the rod. The original lay some few centimeters under his hand, in the drawer.

Miles asks about the Great Key’s purpose; Maz isn’t sure, but says that since it’s a couple of hundred years old, it may be obsolete or purely ceremonial by this point.  Ivan’s concern over their possession of this object becomes more visible, and Miles hurriedly begins to feign discomfort from his burned legs.  Maz offers to continue the etiquette lesson some other time, and Miles swiftly agrees.  After she leaves, Ivan once again pressures Miles to get rid of the thing, but Miles says he knows how to solve their problem and get it back to its rightful keeper.  He wonders how Ba Lura came to be in possession of the Key, and in their docking bay, with the cameras disabled.  Ivan says it was obviously taking the Key somewhere, and probably killed itself in shame over losing it.  Miles wonders why it hadn’t been better guarded if the Key was that important.

Vorob’yev knocks and enters, asking if their tutorial with Maz was helpful.  He has a scented paper invitation for Miles and Ivan for Lord Yenaro’s party, and he says that their attending would help smooth over the incident with the sculpture, assuming of course that they accept it was an accident.  Miles says they plan to attend.  He asks if Vorreedi is back yet, and Vorob’yev says he’s been held up by complications, but after the ‘Autumn Leaves’ incident they’ll be sending someone to take his place so he can return to Eta Ceta.  He also asks Miles not to dash off like he did in the rotunda; the Cetagandans are too polite to complain, but Vorob’yev is the one who’ll have to deal with their ruffled feelings after Miles leaves.

Ivan wonders how well Miles, and Ivan himself, can be protected against further incidents at Yenaro’s party.  Miles says they’ll just have to take the risk, but he thinks that an outright attempt on his life would be far too much of an insult to the emperor at his mother’s funeral.  Ivan asks if he really thinks that these incidents are all related, and Miles asks if Ivan really thinks they’re all unrelated.  Ivan asks Miles how he’s going to rid of the Key, and Miles says he’s not sure, but there is a lady’s reputation involved.

Comments

Big cultural infodump galore, and I confess I stripped it of most of the colourful dialogue that might have made it more palatable, but it is an interesting setup.  Very heavy on the ­in vitro, consciously the opposite of the Barrayarans, who are so amazingly primitive that they still think body-births are a pretty neat idea.  But now at least we know what the maguffin is…

I can’t help thinking of “haut” as being directly borrowed from the French word, meaning “high”, but I can’t make myself stop pronouncing it as “hot” (or possibly “haught”).  Well, in French there’s a distinct lack of pronounced consonants, so “haut-lord” would sound like “Oh lord”, so I’ll leave it that way for now in case I ever have to say it out loud.  Not sure where “ghem” is supposed to come from, though–the “gh” makes me think of “ghee”, so maybe, um, South Asian?  There’s an Andre Ghem from Brazil, so maybe Portuguese?  Or just random from the writer’s brain, as happens…

Mia Maz’s description tends to paint her as physically attractive, though somewhat older, so it’s never quite clear if she’s supposed to be a romantic interest or not.  Or, you know, just a physically attractive female character interacting in a non-romantic way with our main character, who nonetheless notices and ponders possibilities, the way guys do.  Not that she doesn’t end up with a little romance by the end of the book, but not with Miles or Ivan.  I think that Miles’s declared first lover is still to come, in an earlier-published story (still not clear about what happened on Beta Colony as a teenager, though), so reading in publication order there would be no suspense there.

I can’t help but snort at Miles’s outraged assertion that “he is ImpSec”.  Three years of training and field experience, eh?  Well, move over, Mr. Negri, here comes Miles Vorkosigan!  I can’t remember exactly how much time is supposed to have passed between this book and The Vor Game, but somehow I don’t think it was enough to transform him into Simon Illyan overnight.  Okay, he’s more ImpSec than Ivan, but I suspect that when Vorreedi is finally brought into the loop, he won’t thank Miles for keeping this all to himself…


With all this information, hopefully there will be something more exciting coming up soon.  Like Yenaro’s party?  Or is there another scene yet before that?  I guess you’ll find out next week, unless you read ahead.  Until next week, then, may all your rereads be happy ones!

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