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This here’s the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, see?  There’s this dame, see, Lois McMaster Bujold?  And she wrote a bunch of books about this guy named Miles Vorkosigan, short guy, but with big parents, see?  So now he’s a big-shot Imperial Auditor and investigating in quaddiespace, see?  So that’s this book, Diplomatic Immunity, and a coupla chapters are comin’ down right now.

Chapter Four

Bel Thorne boards the Kestrel after a short conversation with Boss Watts, which it tells Miles was Watts attempting to send a bodyguard along onto the dangerous Barrayaran ship; Thorne told him that Miles was a diplomat, not a soldier (any more, at least).  Miles tells Smolyani to head over to dock on the other side of Graf Station, and asks him to do it as slowly as possible; Smolyani is scandalized, fast couriers having a reputation to uphold, but Miles says he needs time to talk to Thorne.

He asks Roic and Ekaterin for privacy to talk to Bel in the wardroom, even though they’ll have to stay in their cramped cabins.  There are many angles to be considered, not least of which is the fact that the last time he saw Bel was when he was firing it from the Dendarii Mercenaries for the Jackson’s Whole clone rescue debacle, which makes him wonder if he can really trust it any more.

He led Bel the few steps to the tiny chamber that doubled as the Kestrel‘s wardroom, dining room, and briefing room, shut both its doors, and activated the security cone. A faint hum from the projector on the ceiling and a shimmer in the air surrounding the wardroom’s circular dining/vid conference table assured him it was working. He turned to find Bel watching him, head a little to one side, eyes quizzical, lips quirked. He hesitated a moment. Then, simultaneously, they both burst into laughter. They fell on each other in a hug; Bel pounded him on the back, saying in a tight voice, “Damn, damn, damn, you sawed-off little half-breed maniac . . .”

Bel tells Miles he looks healthy, well-fed, much better than the “skull on a stick” he was after cryo-revival.  Miles asks Bel how it ended up at Graf Station.  Bel says that after twenty-five years with the Oseran/Dendarii Mercenaries, it was a little adrift after being cut loose, but it was probably good to be knocked out of its rut.  It didn’t fit in at home on Beta Colony, so it ended up back working as a spacer, sometimes at ImpSec’s behest, and then eventually ended up in Quaddiespace.

Miles notes that he doesn’t work for ImpSec anymore–it’s almost the other way around; Bel’s a little surprised that “Imperial Auditor” isn’t part of some scam Miles is working on, and is amused at Miles’s “funny accent”, though he tries to explain that it’s his real voice.  Thorne said that the Auditor “Emperor’s Voice” thing sounded weird, and a little gruesome, but whoever gave Miles a job like that must be crazy.  It asks Miles for an explanation, and Miles briefly explains how his seizures lost him his covert ops job, but the Emperor gave him an honest one; though most people call it nepotism, he’s confident he’ll eventually prove them wrong.  Bel feels guilty over apparently having killed Admiral Naismith after all, but Miles assures Bel that he played a big role in that himself.

Bel confirms that it is, in fact, ImpSec’s local agent; Miles had tried hard to keep Bel on ImpSec’s payroll as an informer, to help them feel better about having the herm cut loose and wandering.  He notes that Portmaster is a great job for a spy, and Bel says it got the placement on its own, but ImpSec was pleased enough at it.

“The quaddies like me, too. It seems I’m good at handling all sorts of upset downsiders, without losing my equilibrium. I don’t explain to them that after years of trailing around after you, my definition of an emergency is seriously divergent from theirs.”

Bel says that they really haven’t seen any sign of Lieutenant Solian, and they have been trying.  It’s not impressed with Vorpatril–Miles confirms the distant relationship with Ivan–who still doesn’t believe them.  Thorne tells Miles that the crew and passengers from the Komarran ships have been removed from the ships and are being housed on the station; a lot of the passengers have tried to bribe it to let them take their cargo off the ships and transfer it to some other vessel.  It hasn’t obliged any of them yet, but it thinks that Miles might be interested in knowing about the most desperate ones; the quaddies don’t have any grounds for interrogating any of them, yet…

Bel mentions Ensign Corbeau, who he met before the whole unpleasantness; Miles is highly interested in why he’d be requesting political asylum, and if there’s any connection to Solian.  Bel says that Corbeau just got let loose onto the station like all the rest of the sexually-deprived Barrayaran crew (commenting snidely on the stupidity of sexually-segregated crew in the first place), and went to see the Minchenko Ballet.  It clarifies for Miles that this dance troupe has a long tradition, and is far from “exotic dancing” in the usual sense.  Corbeau ended up falling for a dancer named Garnet Five, who seems to like him too.

Bel was involved in this because of its cohabitation with Nicol, the dulcimer player they rescued from Fell Station so many years ago, who plays for the ballet orchestra.  Bel notes that Nicol certainly remembers “Admiral Naismith” quite well, but vouches for her discretion; however, she is a friend of Garnet Five’s, who is quite upset about what’s going to happen to her boyfriend.  After the rude thugs who were sent to fetch Corbeau from her quarters, she doesn’t trust Barrayaran mercy; Bel had promised Nicol to put in a word for them, and Miles promises to listen, but doesn’t know what else he can do about it yet.

Bel notes that Miles seems to be a big wheel now, and must have a lot of influence with ImpSec and other Barrayarans.  It is enjoying life on Graf Station and hoping to settle there permanently, becoming a citizen…and not wanting to swear a citizenship oath while still secretly working for Barrayar.  It asks Miles to fire it from ImpSec to keep from having to work with divided loyalties.

He blew out his breath. But you’re so valuable to us here! “I . . . don’t know.”

“Don’t know if you have the power? Or don’t know if you want to use it?”

Miles temporized, “This power business has proved a lot stranger than I anticipated. You’d think more power would bring one more freedom, but I’ve found it’s brought me less. Every word that comes out of my mouth has this weight that it never had before, when I was babbling Mad Miles, hustler of the Dendarii. I never had to watch my mass like this. It’s . . . damned uncomfortable, sometimes.”

“I’d have thought you’d love it.”

“I’d have thought that too.”

Roic notifies him that they’ve arrived back at the dock; Miles tells Bel that it should officially meet Ekaterin, at least, before they go back out.  He tells Bel that she and Roic both have full clearance, and he will need to tell them about Bel, so they can trust him.  Bel is a little reluctant to be revealed to more people as an ImpSec agent, but Miles says that he’s already told Ekaterin all about it; in fact, they’d sent Bel a wedding invitation, but it never showed up.  Bel says that it was in the middle of an ImpSec assignment, where it couldn’t just pick up and leave in the middle of it, but it wished him well.  Miles sighed that Elli didn’t show up either, though Taura did, as did Mayhew and the Bothari-Jeseks.  Bel notes that somebody must have worked out Baz Jesek’s old legal difficulties with Barrayar, with the implication that Somebody could do that for it, too…

Miles finally agrees not to mention Bel’s current affiliations, and introduces it to Roic and Ekaterin as a former associate, currently working for the quaddies but still reliable.  Ekaterin greets it warmly, and Miles warns them that, because Bel knew him under another name, they are claiming to have just met, though already becoming friends because of Bel’s talent for charming downsiders.

They leave the ship into the loading bay where Solian’s blood was found, to be greeted by two quaddie Security men, in float chairs because this area is supplied with gravity.  Miles notes the float chairs’ resemblance to flying washtubs, or perhaps Baba Yaga’s flying mortar.  Bel shows them the airlock that was opened, and where the bloodstain was, assuring them that it had seen it itself, a large pool leading into a smear next to the airlock.  Bel shows Miles around the area, and Ekaterin looks around too, clearly reminded of a certain docking bay at Komarr’s jump point station…

They check on where Solian might have been killed, discussing spatter marks and the like.  Miles convinces one of the quaddie guards to lend them a floater, and they try it out, taking turns trying to carry Bel Thorne, playing the part of Lieutenant Solian’s dead body, to the airlock.  Miles doesn’t do well, trying to handle the controls awkwardly while keeping the body from slipping, nor does Ekaterin, and Roic does even worse, being more cramped, despite his extra strength; the quaddie they convince to try manages it handily, but not happily.  Bel tells them that floaters are generally considered public property, though some have their own customized models, and easily available for anyone to borrow.

Miles notes the possibility that some small personal craft could have picked up Solian’s body from the airlock and taken it almost anywhere; Bel estimates that it could have been up to thirty minutes after the lock cycled before the area outside it was too crowded with investigators, so it was possible for a single person to have dumped it and then gone to get their ship to pick it up.  Miles asks Bel for a list of “everything that went out a lock” in that time.  He’s still not certain why whoever it was would have gone to such trouble to get rid of the body but leave the blood…  He decides it’s time to go talk to the Barrayaran detainees instead.

Comments

Once again wondering how much of “Winterfair Gifts” was written by this point–Miles mentions Taura being taken under Alys Vorpatril’s wing, and recalls to himself the extreme stress Ekaterin was under the night before the wedding, but no thoughts about Taura (or Roic) saving Ekaterin’s life or sanity, or their wedding.  So perhaps the author didn’t have that settled in her mind yet.  On the other hand, I can’t remember if anyone in “Winterfair Gifts” mentioned Bel Thorne’s absence to Roic–Elli Quinn’s certainly, but not Bel’s.

The usual pronoun fun with Bel.  It’s hard to write–I still wonder if I absentmindedly left a “him” stuck in there somewhere–and some of the “it” uses must be confusing to read.  In the text, I think the author uses “Bel” a lot more often than one would necessarily use a name, probably for a similar reason.  At least it’s a short name.

Chapter Five

Bel and one of the quaddies escort Miles, Ekaterin and Roic to Graf Station Security Post Three, on the border between zero-gee and full-gee sections of the station; a construction team is working on repairs at the entrance.  Sealer Greenlaw and Chief Venn are waiting for them, and Venn makes sure that Miles is informed of all the repairs necessitated by the Barrayaran assault; Miles acknowledges them, and counters with a discussion of the missing Solian, which stops Venn’s recitation.

Ekaterin tells Miles she’s not that eager to sit in on the interviews with him, if he doesn’t need her to, and says she doubts she’ll be bored waiting; she says she’d hoped for a look around the station.  Miles is torn, not sure whether he’d want Roic with him or with her; Ekaterin says she needs a guide more than a bodyguard on the station anyway, and Bel offers to escort her.  Miles realizes that Bel is really more experienced than Roic, and knows the station better, so he agrees, saying he’ll call when he’s done.

“Maybe you can go shopping.” He waved them off, smiling. “Just don’t haul home any severed heads.” He glanced up to find Venn and Greenlaw both staring at him in some dismay. “Ah—family joke,” he explained weakly. The dismay did not abate.

Venn apologizes for the crowding of the Barrayaran prisoners, three in a cell meant for two; Miles forbears to mention that they sleep more crowded than that on their ship.  Miles starts talking to Brun’s squad commander, who, daunted by Miles’s rank, takes refuge in military jargon, but his story basically matches the quaddie version of events; he talks to a few other men, and their stories agree as well.  Miles tells Greenlaw that she shouldn’t be holding these men prisoner; they were given legal orders, however misguided, and they would have been arrested for not carrying them out, so it’s not fair to arrest them for obeying them; Greenlaw is unconvinced.  Miles notes that the station would be better off if the Barrayarans took the detainees with them when they left, and privately wishes he could leave Brun behind while taking his men.

The two men who’d been sent to retrieve Corbeau are scrupulously honest, but with every word they show themselves deplorably full of Barrayaran anti-mutant prejudice.  Still, they had been convinced, at the time, that Solian had been murdered by a quaddie.  Next, Miles asks if he can talk to Corbeau; Venn says Corbeau was moved to a cell by himself, because of threats by his comrades.

Miles’s first glimpse of Corbeau reveals pilot’s implants, which of course makes him even more valuable to the Service, a black eye, and some faded scars which mark him as a survivor of the Sergyaran worm plague.  Venn introduces Miles as the Imperial Auditor to Corbeau’s alarm, but he stands up and bows respectfully, puzzled when he notices Miles’s height; Venn adds that Miles won’t be allowed to remove Corbeau from their custody just yet, between pending charges and his request for asylum.

Miles tries to put Corbeau at his ease, asking about his upbringing on Sergyar, and confirming that he is the son of of the Viceroy.  He asks Corbeau about Solian; Corbeau tells Miles that he didn’t know him well, but he doesn’t think much of Brun’s suggestion that he deserted, and Miles confirms that they are both aware of Brun’s anti-Komarran prejudices.  Then he turns to asking about why Corbeau hadn’t responded to his recall order; Corbeau says he’d left his wristcom in another room and slept through the beep.

“Did they identify themselves properly, and relay your orders clearly?”

Corbeau paused, his glance at Miles sharpening. “I admit, my lord,” he said slowly, “Sergeant Touchev announcing, ‘All right, mutie-lover, this show’s over,’ did not exactly convey ‘Admiral Vorpatril has ordered all Barrayaran personnel back to their ships’ to my mind. Not right away, anyway. I’d just woken up, you see.”

Corbeau says they didn’t identify themselves, though they were in uniform, but it wasn’t unknown for fleet security members to pick fights on their own time.  Garnet Five tried to defend him, and Corbeau didn’t lose his temper and fight back until after they dumped her out of her float chair.  Miles tries to reassure him, saying that he’s not technically AWOL while he’s under arrest, and as a jump pilot he’d be a loss to the service, so he might still have an opportunity to make things right.

Corbeau says that he doesn’t want to go back to the service.  He’s seen too much of the pervasive prejudices shared by most of his comrades, and he can’t stand it any more.  Miles reminds himself how young Corbeau is, just twenty-three, and how difficult he’d find it to wait; he does point out that while it can be unpleasant for progressive-minded men in the military, without them things won’t ever change.

Corbeau insists that he wants to stay on Graf Station, with Garnet Five, and Miles wonders how much data he’s basing that decision on–in a relationship that’s only weeks old, and not yet starting to miss the open spaces of planetside life.  He tells Corbeau that if he doesn’t withdraw his request for asylum, and the quaddies reject it, then that might make it desertion, though he does say that since this altercation couldn’t possibly be considered a battle, it wouldn’t be the capital charge of “desertion in the heat”.  Still, court martial would be a bad idea; Miles determines that Corbeau wasn’t drunk either, which would have made a time-honoured excuse.  Corbeau still insists that he wants to stay, and Miles says he’ll only have until Solian’s mystery is solved to make his mind one way or the other.

Miles leaves the detention area, telling Venn again that he wants Solian found, and arranges to rendezvous with Ekaterin back at the Kestrel.  She tells him that Bel did a splendid job showing her around, even down into the free-fall section to see traces of the original jumpship, which has been made into a museum.  She even bought a souvenir copy of the jumpship for Nikki’s collection–a little large for their cramped quarters, but Miles assures her that Smolyani will find room for it.

Miles asks about her conversation with Bel, and she says it was mostly about Miles, of course; she’d told Bel the non-classified version of how they met on Komarr, though she’s noticed it sounds a little odd with all those pieces missing.  Bel had also told her about how they first met when it was working for the Oserans–Miles shooting Bel with a stunner, in particular.  She shows him a new outfit, a blue-gray jumpsuit that buttoned at the ankles, fashionable and demure in free-fall.

He asks if they’d encountered any unpleasantness, and Ekaterin tells him about one odd fellow who accosted them, a passenger from the Rudra wanting to find out how soon they were going to be allowed back aboard.  The man seemed a little odd, with a barrel chest and long, narrow hands and feet, perhaps modified genetically or surgically somehow.  Bel assured him that nobody had been let back aboard yet, and quaddies were not pilfering from their cargoes; it told him to talk to Sealer Greenlaw to make an appointment with the Lord Auditor if he wanted more information.

Miles says he should go talk to Greenlaw, but Ekaterin firmly tells him that he needs to take a break.  Bel and Nicol are taking them out for supper, and after that they will be attending the ballet.  Miles isn’t sure how wise it is to be squandering time like that, but Ekaterin assures him that it’ll win him points with the quaddies; Garnet Five managed to get them tickets, and will be attending with them, and Nicol will be performing with the orchestra.  Garnet Five is, apparently, locally famous, and being assaulted by the Barrayarans was a major news story; being seen hobnobbing with her at the ballet will do a lot to smooth things over.  Miles suspects she’ll want to talk about Corbeau’s situation, and hopes he doesn’t end up offending her by being unable to deliver what she wants.  Ekaterin says she’ll be wearing her new outfit, and insists that Miles wear his house uniform, so they can honour the performers by dressing up for them; Mile, trusting her observations of the local culture, acquiesces.

Comments

I’m not sure what the current population of Sergyar is, but I imagine it’s much lower than both Komarr and Barrayar right now, so I suppose it’s not surprising that you don’t see that many of them.  It’s a fairly young colony, so it won’t have much of a cultural identity distinct from Barrayar right now (I imagine it doesn’t see many Komarran colonists, but I suppose I could be wrong); the worm-plague thing provides a nice visual clue, though I can’t help but wonder why Miles hadn’t already read Corbeau’s file before the interview.  The timing must have been wrong, I guess, and it might have seemed a little peripheral to the main issue, though in some ways he was central to the incident which caused the Barrayarans to be detained in the first place.  He also, apparently, makes Miles feel old, since he draws all sorts of conclusions about Corbeau’s behaviour based on his youth…which I can’t really disagree with, for the most part.

When I first read the book, I think I was half expecting Ekaterin to get her own viewpoint chapters, but I guess it didn’t work out that way.  While it might have been nice to see the scene she reports here to Miles through her own eyes–meeting Guppy for the first time, our next lead into the actual main plot–I guess the rest of the book didn’t really justify it, so we just get to stick with Miles’s head, with Ekaterin a little sidelined, as I recall, when the action picks up.  I guess she got two books in there, so she shouldn’t get greedy.


Next chapter doubtless they will be at the ballet…writing about dance is like, I don’t know, singing about architecture?  Well, in any case, that’s for next week, so until then…

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In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, he says that inspiration is like neutrinos.  There are vast numbers of inspiration particles streaming through the cosmos all the time, and only occasionally do they actually interact with solid matter.  In even rarer circumstances is that solid matter living, or sentient.  Which is to say, inspiration can be highly unpredictable.  And, as you may have gathered by now, I was not, in fact, struck with one of these particles while preparing this blog post tonight.  I mean, I’m quoting Terry Pratchett while introducing the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which was not written by Terry Pratchett, but in fact by Lois McMaster Bujold.

This week we carry on through the novel Diplomatic Immunity, and I’m struck by one fact in particular about this book: it has an odd number of chapters.  Or, to put it another way: I only managed to do one chapter this week, I’m afraid.  Sorry about that.  So, without further ado (and there has, as William Shakespeare might have said, been much ado about nothing already), here it is…

Chapter Three

Miles and Ekaterin enjoy the view out the ports at Graf Station proper as _Kestrel_ manoeuvres to dock there. The station’s hidden heart is a small metallic asteroid, and parts of the original jumpship that brought the first quaddies here. They’ve been expanding throughout the asteroids of the system for over two centuries now; most of their habitats remain zero-gee, except for the few that deal with “legged humans”, such as Graf Station, or their “capital”, Union Station. Their government is highly democratic, and Miles hopes that he won’t have to deal with a committee.

Roic hasn’t been offplanet before, and Ekaterin hasn’t been outside the Empire, and Miles is glad he sent them for zero-gee and space training before they left Barrayar; his own experiences in bod pods encouraged him to give them better choices than that. They make sure they’ve all had their antinausea pills, Miles missing the biochip on his vagus nerve that he lost when he got killed on Jackson’s Whole.

“So, Roic. If some quaddies visiting Hassadar made themselves obnoxious enough to win a visit to the Municipal Guard’s gaol, and then a bunch more quaddies popped up and tried to bust them out with military-grade weapons, and shot up the place and torched it and burned some of your comrades, just how would you feel about quaddies at that point?”

“Um . . . not too friendly, m’lord.” Roic paused. “Pretty pissed, actually.”

“That’s what I figured.” Miles sighed. “Ah. Here we go.”

They dock at the station and emerge into the zero-gee environment; Miles knows that that is intended to put them off balance, since a true welcome would doubtless have been in a section with gravity. The large docking bay is cylindrical, and half a dozen quaddies with shouldered weapons are visible at various angles, most of them in Union Militia uniforms. The actual dignitaries are three quaddies and one downsider, who Miles instantly recognizes, to his shock, as Bel Thorne, who he immediately surmises must be ImpSec’s local informant.

The quaddie dignitaries introduce themselves as Senior Sealer Greenlaw, Security Crew Chief Venn, Boss Watts of Graf Station Downsider Relations, and Assistant Portmaster Bel Thorne. Miles ignores Greenlaw’s pointed reference to the “victims” on the station and introduces Ekaterin and Roic; he notes Bel’s own shock at discovering Ekaterin is Miles’s wife, and wonders if this will be awkward, given Bel’s own longtime crush on Miles.

“Portmaster Thorne, ah . . .” Miles felt himself scrambling for firm footing in more ways than one. His voice went brightly inquiring. “Have we met?”

“I don’t believe we’ve ever met, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, no,” returned Bel; Miles hoped his was the only ear that detected the slight emphasis on his Barrayaran name and title in that familiar alto drawl.

“Ah.” Miles hesitated. Throw out a lure, a line, something . . . “My mother was Betan, you know.”

“What a coincidence,” Bel said blandly. “So was mine.”

Bel admits he hasn’t been back to Beta Colony in some time, and Miles says cordially that he’d be happy to share more recent news sometime.
Sealer Greenlaw ushers them towards a conference chamber, and they proceed, Roic a little awkwardly in the zero-gee, but, Miles notes with satisfaction neither he nor Ekaterin requires assistance from their quaddie escort. The conference room itself has a large glass wall facing outside the station, probably intended to daunt downsiders; Miles pointedly goes right up to the window and admires the view. Most of the honour guard has been left outside, though Roic uncomfortably shares a handhold with one of the pair that remain; Ekaterin is inspecting some hydroponic flowers. The room features several arched posts, like flower stems, which seem to provide comlink controls and the like, as well as anchors in the room’s centre.

After refreshments are served, Miles asks about the significance of Greenlaw’s title, and how much authority goes with it; she says she’s like a “minister plenipotentiary for the state department”, and notes that she’s travelled to neighbouring systems, and has been working for her department for forty years. Her “work gang” is the Board of Directors of the union, who are the ones who will approve her decisions; Miles allows himself guarded optimism that she might be flexible.

She asks in turn about what Imperial Auditor, and “Emperor’s Voice” means; he explains that the Voice part is figurative, though it does mean that the Emperor is the only one has to answer to, but as an Auditor his role is mostly to listen. Venn asks if that means he’s in charge of the Barrayaran troops in the area, and Miles allows that it does.

“So are you saying that if you ordered it, those thugs out there would shoot?” said Venn sourly.

Miles managed a slight bow in his direction, not easy in free fall. “Sir, if an Emperor’s Voice so ordered it, they’d shoot themselves.”

This was pure swagger—well, part swagger—but Venn didn’t need to know it. Bel remained straight-faced, somehow, thank whatever gods hovered here, though Miles could almost see the laugh getting choked back. Don’t pop your eardrums, Bel. The Sealer’s white eyebrows took a moment to climb back down to horizontal again.

Miles adds that it’s more important to keep them from shooting, which is what discipline is really for. As such, he plans to listen carefully, and asks what the events looked like from their point of view. Venn says it started when they were called to arrest a couple of Barrayarans who had broken into a quaddie woman’s living quarter and roughed her up, in the course, apparently, of trying to retrieve Ensign Corbeau. Venn says that Corbeau had become “friends” with Garnet Five, a zero-gee ballet dancer, and he was in her quarters at her invitation.

Greenlaw adds that Corbeau had, as soon as he heard of the imminent arrival of an Imperial Auditor, requested political asylum in the Union, which is news to Miles. Miles asks if they’re thinking of granting the request; Watts says that they haven’t ruled it out yet, though Venn doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Miles asks to speak to Corbeau as soon as possible, and Venn says obviously he doesn’t want to talk to Miles. Miles insists that he needs to get as much firsthand information as possible, and asks to speak to the rest of the Barrayaran detainees for the same reason.

“It’s not that complex,” said Venn. “A bunch of armed thugs came charging onto my station, violated customs, stunned dozens of innocent bystanders and a number of Station Security officers attempting to carry out their duties, tried to effect what can only be called a jailbreak, and vandalized property. Charges against them for their crimes—documented on vid!—range from the discharge of illegal weapons to resisting arrest to arson in an inhabited area. It’s a miracle that no one was killed.”

That, unfortunately, has yet to be demonstrated,” Miles countered instantly. “The trouble is that from our point of view, the arrest of Ensign Corbeau was not the beginning of the sequence of events. Admiral Vorpatril had reported a man missing well before that—Lieutenant Solian. According to both your witnesses and ours, a quantity of his blood tantamount to a body part was found on the floor of a Graf Station loading bay. Military loyalty runs two ways—Barrayarans do not abandon our own. Dead or alive, where is the rest of him?”

Venn says that they’ve looked for Solian, but he’s not on Graf Station, and his body isn’t anywhere nearby. Miles asks how easily a downsider could disappear, and Bel speaks up; it says that ship travel is fully controlled, and it would difficult, if not impossible, to pass through customs and immigration without being recorded somehow–and Lieutenant Solian has not shown up anywhere. Bel admits that travel within the system is less regulated, but in most of the area downsiders tend to stick out, and Solian hasn’t been seen there either.

Miles asks about the blood, and Bel says that whoever created that scene most likely came through an external airlock, and left the same way. Venn says that means it was probably their own people who did it, then, bringing their own trouble with them. Miles asks if they could see if; Watts says it’s on the other side of the station, and Miles asks if Bel could show him around, offering him a ride in his own ship, which Bel accepts.

After that, Miles has to wait, somewhat impatiently, while the rest of the formalities play out, including the official presentation of the charges and fines being levied upon Vorpatril and his forces. Miles notes that while he is physically accepting the information, he is holding judgement on actually acceding to the charges, etc., though he promises to review them as soon as he can; the quaddies are not best pleased about this, but Miles is happy not to have committed himself to anything yet. He needed some better handle on these events, and he hopes that Bel can give him one. The meeting over, the guards escort the Barrayarans and Bel back to the Kestrel.

Comments

Bel Thorne showing up was a bit of a surprise, first time I read it, but then I suppose it makes sense, especially since Nicol was his only real attachment that we saw outside of the Dendarii. And as our only quaddie character before this, it would be highly disappointing for her to not actually show up in this book, and so Bel’s appearance is not unexpected. For him to be in a position of authority, as opposed to just some kind of local resident, is a bit more surprising, but I guess he’s got skillz.  It’s nice to have at least one more familiar character, since, being off Barrayar and all, there’s going to be a shortage of the folks who turned up in Memory and A Civil Campaign.

I wonder at what point it occurred to the author that Miles’s handy vagus nerve chip would not have survived the needle grenade attack of the rest of Miles’s internal organs…  I guess he was just taking antinausea meds during any of his zero-gee excursions in the meantime.  It almost seemed a bit of a handwave to say that by the way, Ekaterin and Roic both had zero-gravity training…but I suppose I’ll allow it this time, since it is the kind of thing that Miles might want to do, and enough supporting details are added.  And I don’t believe it’s too convenient to the plot.  And it’s not being introduced during a moment of crisis, if it is, and by this point I’m becoming almost hypersensitive to foreshadowing in these books…


Maybe I’ve blown my single-chapter week a little early, but these chapters are much shorter than A Civil Campaign ones, so with any luck I’ll be able to keep up.  Hoping for not many repeats of today, anyway.  I’ll try hard to get you guys two chapters next week, in any case.

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Good evening, morning, night, or noon, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that weekly feature wherein I devote myself to synopsizing and musing on chapters in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week we begin a new novel, Diplomatic Immunity, wherein the now-married Miles Vorkosigan encounters adventure on the way back from his honeymoon, as the Emperor orders to solve a problem one of their fleets has gotten into on Graf Station, home of the four-armed (and zero-legged) quaddies…

Chapter One

Miles watches video of his sperm fertilizing Ekaterin’s egg, cheering them on, much to Ekaterin’s amusement.  She chides him for looking at “baby pictures”, and burbling on about them as if he’d invented reproduction, just as his mother had warned her he would, and says it’s a good thing they’re on honeymoon, or he’d be fussing around the uterine replicators just as badly.  Miles notes she spent a lot of time studying next to the replicators herself…

They had celebrated their first anniversary by starting their first two children, Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia; Miles is still secretly holding out for twelve children, though he’ll only admit to six, which most women he knows still consider insane, but Ekaterin merely agreed to start with two.

A message light starts blinking, to Miles’s puzzlement; their ship is between wormholes, three jumps out from Earth en route to Tau Ceti, then Escobar, then home.  He’s not expecting anyone to be contacting him right now.  He accepts the message, which proves to be the ship’s captain, telling him that a Barrayaran Imperial courier, the Kestrel, is overtaking them and asking to lock on, with an urgent message for Miles.  This doesn’t bode well, thinks Miles.

The captain’s dark Tau Cetan features vanished, to be replaced after a moment by a man in Barrayaran Imperial undress greens with lieutenant’s tabs and Sector IV pins on his collar. Visions surged through Miles’s mind of the Emperor assassinated, Vorkosigan House burned to the ground with the replicators inside, or, even more hideously likely, his father suffering a fatal stroke—he dreaded the day some stiff-faced messenger would begin by addressing him, Count Vorkosigan, sir?

The lieutenant addresses him merely as Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, and introduces himself as Lieutenant Smolyani; he quickly reassures Miles and Ekaterin that he’s not bringing news of war or death.  There is an urgent request for Miles in an Auditorial capacity, though.  A Komarran trade fleet has apparently been impounded at Graf Station, part of an independent system called the “Union of Free Habitats”, and they are to bring Miles there at all haste.  It seems to be a legal entanglement, not a quarantine; they have a sealed message from Emperor Gregor which should explain further.

Smolyani brings Miles a disk later, and then goes to help Roic deal with the Vorkosigans’ luggage while Miles and Ekaterin watch the message.  Gregor apologizes for interrupting their honeymoon, though he notes they should be on their way home anyway.  Miles happens to physically closest to the mess at Graf Station.  The Komarran fleet, and its Barrayaran escort, put in at Graf Station for a standard resupply stop, but one of the Barrayaran officers disappeared.  The men sent to find and retrieve him encountered trouble with the locals, “shots were fired”, and people on both sides were injured.

Reports, unfortunately, differ as to what’s going on, between the fleet commander, the Komarran cargomasters, and the ImpSec observers.  Barrayarans are being held hostage, or arrested, and the entire fleet is being locked down–with docking fees accruing–until the mess can be resolved.  Gregor notes that the fleet is half owned by the Toscanes–his wife’s family–so he has to satisfy them while still managing to appear impartial.  He requests and requires Miles to resolve the issue, without starting a war or bankrupting his budget, and also to find out who’s telling the truth about the situation; things could get dicey if the fleet commander, an Admiral Eugin Vorpatril, turns out to be lying to them.  And, in the meantime, the Cetagandans seem to be stirred up around Rho Ceta, so he’d prefer Miles to be back home before that turns into anything.

After the message finishes, Miles asks Ekaterin if she wants to come with him; he says she certainly can, if she wants to, and she asks if she’d be anything more than a distraction.  Miles says that she may recall that sometimes people try to obliquely pass him information through her, and he’d love to have her around to bounce ideas off of, or at least vent to.

“D’you think you can stand it? It could get pretty thick. Not to mention boring.”

“You know, you keep claiming your job is boring, Miles, but your eyes have gone all bright.”

He cleared his throat and shrugged unrepentantly.

Ekaterin reminds him that their children are scheduled to be born in about six weeks; their original schedule would have them home in two, but now they’ll be heading in the opposite direction.  Miles does some calculations and says, with the speed of their fast courier, he should have a couple of weeks at Graf Station to clear things up and still make it home in time.  Ekaterin says that however unnecessary she truly is to the replicator birth, she would feel bad missing the birth of her own children; Miles says that if necessary he can send her home on her own, but he would of course also like to be there.

He asks if it’s different for her, having gone through it already, sort of, with Nikki; Ekaterin says Nikki was a body-birth, and she can’t help feel like she’s shortchanging the others somehow by using a replicator.  Miles’s mother is of course strongly in favour of them, and Miles himself owes his life to the replicator; he points out that they’ll have their hands full enough once they’re out of the replicators.  She agrees to come along with Miles, for his sanity, and asks to send a message to Nikki warning him they’ll be late.  He should be well taken care of by both sides of the family, in any case, even Miles’s parents, who were also planning to attend the birth.  Miles notes that Nikki hasn’t sent them much, and Ekaterin asks him if he’s contacted his own mother recently…

They’re forced to leave most of their luggage behind, as well as two armsmen and a maid to accompany them back to Barrayar; they bring Armsman Roic with them, and the bare minimum of luggage.  They sit in the cramped cabin on the fast courier and Miles starts reading through the reports that Gregor had sent him.  He soon realizes that Graf Station is in Quaddiespace, and he explains the quaddies to Ekaterin, their origins and their physical peculiarities.  Barrayarans, with their sensitivity to mutations, will of course be having some trouble adjusting.  He skims over the details of how exactly he had run across them before, but mentions their rescue of Nicol the musician.

Comments

Aral Alexander, as Miles’s firstborn, must of course be following the usual naming rules, paternal and maternal grandfathers, so I guess Ekaterin’s father’s name is Alexander.  Helen Natalia…well, Ekaterin’s Aunt Vorthys is a Helen, so it’s unlikely that her mother is as well, which means that firstborn daughters must have less stringent requirements.  Which makes sense, since girls are so unimportant to the succession, after all.  *rolls eyes*

When I first read this book, before having read “Winterfair Gifts”, I only really knew Roic as the guy from the bug-butter battle at the end of A Civil Campaign, but I guess he wasn’t a total stranger.  I still liked Pym better, but I suppose he can’t go everywhere…  I don’t remember if Roic has any big moments in this book, but it’s not impossible, I suppose…

Chapter Two

Miles dresses in his Vorkosigan House uniform–including the riding boots–and, the cabin in the fast courier having no mirror, lets Ekaterin judge his appearance instead.  He says he’ll come back and change into his civilian suit after he’s talked to the military officers.  She asks what she should wear, and he suggests pants or leggings because of the occasional null-gee sections.

Roic knocks at the door and Miles squeezes out past his wife.  Roic asks hopefully if they’ll be moving onto the flagship now, but Miles says he’d rather stay on the courier, to maintain their autonomy a little longer, though he is aware that Roic, with his greater height, is much less comfortable in the cramped quarters.  Roic says he should have brought a real veteran, like Jankowski, and Miles gathers his civilian background is causing him some discomfort among the military occupants of the ship.

Miles, about to lead off down the short corridor, instead leaned against the wall and folded his arms. “Look, Roic—there’s scarcely a man in the Imperial Service your age or younger who’s faced as much live fire in the Emperor’s employ as you have in the Hassadar Municipal Guard. Don’t let the damned green uniforms spook you. It’s empty swagger. Half of ’em would fall over in a faint if they were asked to take down someone like that murderous lunatic who shot up Hassadar Square.”

“I was already halfway across the plaza, m’lord. It would’ve been like swimming halfway across a river, deciding you couldn’t make it, and turning around to swim back. It was safer to jump him than to turn and run. He’d ‘a had the same amount of time to take aim at me either way.”

“But not the time to take out another dozen or so bystanders. Auto-needler’s a filthy weapon.” Miles brooded briefly.

Miles notes that Roic habitually masks his social discomfort in dull stolidity; he assures Roic that they’ll be impressed by the Barrayaran Armsman’s outfit, with its redolence of the ghost of General Piotr.

Lieutenant Smolyani tells them that they’re ready to transfer to the Prince Xav, and Miles and Roic head to the personnel hatch.  Roic heads through first into the zero-gee flex tube, Miles close behind, and they swing along into the flagship’s roomier bay.  General Vorpatril waits with three other men, one of them a civilian, and all of them doubtless forewarned about Miles’s odd appearance.  Admiral Vorpatril greets him and introduces him to Captain Brun, commander of Fleet Security and leader of the problematic patrol onto Graf Station; Komarran Senior Cargomaster Molino; and Ensign Deslaurier, the fleet legal officer.  Miles expresses surprise at Deslaurier’s rank and youth, and Deslaurier says his chief left the fleet earlier on compassionate leave, and admits this is his first galactic voyage.

Vorpatril leads them to a briefing room, and, once they’re seated, asks how they may serve.  Miles asks the admiral to explain the events from his point of view.  Vorpatril says that they’d planned to dock at Graf Station for five days, and, believing the quaddies to be non-hostile, he granted station leaves.  Miles nods, knowing part of the purpose of escorting the Komarran trade fleets is to give young Barrayaran soldiers experience with galactic cultures, as well as covert intelligence gathering, as well as attempting to lighten the tensions between the Barrayarans and Komarrans.

One of the Komarran ships, Idris, turned out to take longer than expected to repair because of problems with the replacement parts for the jump drive…and then its Barrayaran security liaison officer, Lieutenant Solian, disappeared.  Captain Brun says Solian was in his department, but was fairly new; he didn’t know him well, but he was highly recommended.  Molino adds that he got along well with everyone, and mentions that Solian was also Komarran, which Miles realizes gives his disappearance added wrinkles.

Brun says that Solian simply went off-shift one day and then disappeared, though with no record of leaving the ship; a search of his quarters showed a valise and some personal effects missing, so the working theory was desertion.  Miles asks if he was unhappy, and Brun says he got the usual chaff from both sides, being a Komarran in Imperial service.  Molino says he hadn’t noticed any particular mistreatment from the Komarrans.  Vorpatril says Solian, as a Komarran in the service, was likely hand-picked, and so less likely to desert despite the increased pressures.

They’d contacted the Graf Station authorities, who Brun says were unhelpful, merely saying that they’d seen so sign of him anywhere, and no record of him leaving the station.  Vorpatril says that the repairs on the Idris were finished, but he insisted on staying, not wanting to leave one of his men behind.  Molino protests that it made no sense to tie up the fleet over one man, when they could have left a small team behind to look for Solian; Vorpatril says he had orders not to split the fleet.

“But we haven’t suffered a hijacking attempt in this sector for decades,” argued Molino. Miles felt he was witnessing round n-plus-one of an ongoing debate.

“Not since Barrayar began providing you with free military escorts,” said Vorpatril, with false cordiality. “Odd coincidence, that.” His voice grew firmer. “I don’t leave my men. I swore that at the Escobar debacle, back when I was a milk-faced ensign.” He glanced at Miles. “Under your father’s command, as it happened.”

Uh-oh. This could be trouble. . . . Miles let his brows climb in curiosity. “What was your experience there, sir?”

Vorpatril snorted reminiscently. “I was a junior pilot on a combat drop shuttle, orphaned when our mothership was blown to hell by the Escos in high orbit. I suppose if we’d made it back during the retreat, we’d have been blown up with her, but still. Nowhere to dock, nowhere to run, even the few surviving ships that had an open docking cradle not pausing for us, a couple of hundred men on board including wounded—it was a right nightmare, let me tell you.”

Miles says that he’s sure the Admiral did the best he could, once he was forced to assume command, and Vorpatril concedes that, but says that he spent a year in a prison camp on Escobar, which was not exactly fun.  So he refuses to leave his own men behind without a good reason–better than mere profits.  He thought he was right to stay for Solian…but then there was an odd incident on the station.

An airlock cycled in the cargo bay, next to where the Idris was docked, with no ship to account for it.  When Station Security checked it out, they found a large pool of blood, and signs of something being dragged; the blood turned out to match Solian’s.  There were no footprints, but Vorpatril notes that the quaddies often use personal floaters in areas with gravity.  Brun admits that no body has been found, and they’ve checked any possible trajectory out of that airlock.  Miles notes that a deserter may want to fake his death; Brun protests that there was too much blood for that to be plausible, but Miles points out that putting someone in a cryo-chamber involves withdrawing as much of the patient’s blood as possible.  Brun says it’s a bit of a complicated scenario, and Miles concedes that, but he notes that cryo-revival also involves synthesizing large quantities of blood, which would superficially match the patient’s, but a good examination should be able to spot the difference.  Brun says the quaddies did the check with their scanner, but he believes they have another sample that they could cross-check.

Vorpatril said he honestly believed that Solian had been killed, and Miles says it’s still possible he was.  Vorpatril says that with that prospect, he put the fleet on alert status, cancelling leaves and detaching from the dock.  Molino protests that there had been no explanation; Vorpatril says that as the commander he expected his orders to be obeyed nevertheless, but says there was a “communications breakdown”.  Miles senses a smokescreen coming up…  Vorpatril says that they had sent a two-man patrol to retrieve Ensign Corbeau, who was late reporting in, but the patrol was detained by the quaddies–by Station Security, he admits when Miles presses.  Miles clarifies that Ensign Deslaurier was not consulted, and did not volunteer any advice, before Vorpatril told Brun to send in strike teams–armed with plasma arcs–to try to retrieve his “captive” men.

Miles asks if any of the men had any previous run-ins with Graf Station security, and Brun admits that three men had been arrested for drunk float-chair racing; Deslaurier had paid their fines, bailed them out, and gave his word they’d be confined to quarters.  Miles asks what happened to Brun’s patrol, and he says that shots were exchanged, but the Barrayarans were overpowered and taken captive.

The “swarming” quaddies had included, not unnaturally in Miles’s view, most of the Graf Station professional and volunteer fire brigades. Plasma fire. In a civilian space station. Oh, my aching head.

“So,” said Miles gently, “after we shot up the police station and set the habitat on fire, what did we do for an encore?”

Vorpatril says that since the Komarrans didn’t obey orders to cast off, and were instead locked down by the quaddies, he’d lost the initiative, and the quaddies had gained too many hostages.  After two days in a standoff, they were informed of the Auditor’s impending arrival and told to stand down.  Brun said that they couldn’t have blown up the station anyway, with their ships in dock; Miles points out that that would have been a criminal order, and he and Emperor would flip a coin for which one got to shoot him first.

Miles thanks the Admiral for cooling down, at least; he can’t comment on any effects on their future careers, though he privately swears revenge if they make him miss his children’s birth.  He says his job is to free as many Imperial subjects from the quaddies he can, and ideally leave it so that their trade fleets can ever dock there again in the future.  Vorpatril asks about Lieutenant Solian, and Miles promises to look into his disappearance as well.

“But, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan!” Cargomaster Molino put in urgently. “Graf Station authorities are trying to fine our Komarran vessels for the damage done by Barrayaran troops. It must be made plain to them that the military stands alone in this . . . criminal activity.”

Miles hesitated a long moment. “How fortunate for you, Cargomaster,” he said at last, “that in the event of a genuine attack, the reverse would not be true.” He tapped the table and rose to his feet.

Comments

If we weren’t so tied to Miles’s point of view, it might almost have been more interesting to see these events, rather than just be told about them.  Especially with some different viewpoints in there–Brun’s a little less than entirely free of anti-mutant prejudice, and of course quaddies set that off with alarm bells, despite the fact that they’re really a race to themselves these days…  Not to mention some anti-Komarran prejudice lurking in there too, influence the conclusions that everybody jumps to.  Of course, Molino isn’t much better, trying to disassociate himself from the Barrayarans’ behaviour, and obviously feeling like his fleet doesn’t really need them around…

The setup reminds me, in some ways, of Komarr…if only because the initial problem which draws Lord Auditor Vorkosigan into the affair is only the tip of the iceberg.  The real plot of the book emerges a few chapters in, and the initial concerns take a bit of a back seat by that point.  In this case, it’s mostly Lieutenant Solian’s disappearance that is the real mystery–everything else stems from that, exacerbating poor relations between the Barrayarans, Komarrans and quaddies.

Roic’s civilian background is covered here, and his heroism in Hassadar, though of course not in as much detail as “Winterfair Gifts”, which, apparently, was published a couple of years after the novel…  This is far from the first timeline-jumping that Bujold has done, of course, though I’m not sure whether she had the full events of Miles’s wedding in mind; still, she did refer to it as “that memorable, difficult, mid-winter wedding” in the first chapter, so, if she hadn’t written the novella yet, she had something like that in mind.


Short, snappy chapters, that’s what I like.  So, with any luck, two a week will not be a crippling pace to maintain.  See you back next week…

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