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Archive for the ‘Ethan of Athos’ Category

Join me please in welcome back the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, my loving tribute to the exquisite science fiction series crafted by Lois McMaster Bujold.  This week I finish the last two chapters of Ethan of Athos, the book which doesn’t really feature our usual protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, but does well enough for all of that.  It’s really all denouement, but a satisfactory one, at least.

Chapter Fourteen

Ethan goes to visit Quinn in the Minimum Security detention blocks, passing through security checks without incident but feeling vaguely guilty anyway.  He encounters Captain Arata outside the infirmary, who tells him that Quinn’s managed to settle her fines, and is just waiting for her medical release.  Ethan says he just wants to ask her a question.

“As did I,” sighed Arata. “Several. I trust you will have better luck getting answers. These past few weeks, when I wanted a date, all she wanted to do was trade information under the counter. Now I want information, and what do I get? A date.” He brightened slightly. “We will doubtless talk shop. If I worm any more out of her, maybe I’ll be able to charge our night out to the department.” He nodded at Ethan; an inviting silence fell.

Ethan wishes him luck.  Quinn had concocted a story which managed to fit all the available evidence while omitting any mention of Terrance Cee, or even Okita, claiming the Cetagandans had been trying to capture Quinn to program as a spy against the Dendarii.  The Bharaputrans were in their embassy negotatiating their deportation.  Arata laments pointedly that he can’t use fast-penta without a court order and leaves.  Ethan looks around Quinn’s room and wistfully notes the lack of openable windows.

“How do you feel about windows that open?” he asked Quinn. “Downside, I mean.”

“Paranoid,” she answered promptly. “I keep looking around for things to seal them up with. Aren’t you going to ask how I am?”

Quinn is mostly fine, a little bruised and her dislocated arm in a sling, back in her Dendarii uniform and only a little stiff.  She asks how he feels about women now, and he says about the same as she feels about windows.  She admits she did get used to windows, but she was always a thrill-seeker.  Her first downside experience, though, after a lifetime of dreaming about warm ocean breezes, brought her down into a blizzard.  Ethan sympathizes, and Quinn points out that his ability to empathize with others is a rare and unexpected quality for an Athosian.

Ethan nervously asks Quinn if he may make an unusual, and possibly offensive, request.  He tells her that he’s going to continue his quest for ovarian cultures, probably on Beta Colony, but, in the circumstances, he asks her if she’d like to donate an ovary to Athos herself.  Quinn is quite surprised by the request; Ethan assures her that it’s painless, and Kline Station has all the facilities he needs.  Quinn assures him that she has one to spare, and confesses that she’d been expecting a much different proposition from him.  Quinn asks who could make use of her donation, and Ethan says anyone could; she could have a hundred sons in a year, though of course no daughters.  Quinn muses that her line of work isn’t conducive to parenthood, but that she’d never get to see her sons.  Ethan said he could probably push his influence to sending her a holocube if she wanted, or half-seriously suggests she could impersonate a man and sneak down to the planet herself.

Quinn notes that Ethan is even cheekier than Arata was, especially since he doesn’t over her anything in return.  She wonders if the planet can handle a hundred little Quinns, and Ethan assures her that potential fathers are screened very carefully.  She agrees to the donation.

After the operation Ethan and Quinn meet in a small cafe.  Quinn says the operation was, as promised, quite painless, and there’s not even a scar; Ethan says the culture is taking quite nicely, so in 48 hours or so he’ll be leaving for Beta Colony.  Quinn says she’ll be leaving that night, before any more trouble with the Stationers, or the Cetagandans.  She does reassure Ethan that Millisor had informed his superiors about Helda’s destruction of the cultures before his death, though they will still be looking for Terrence Cee.  She had ample reports for Admiral Naismith, and all that remains is Cee himself, who appears at the cafe himself.

Cee delivers a refrigerated box, containing a tissue sample, and three data discs to Quinn, who laments that Cee isn’t joining the Dendarii after all.  Cee says his choices have opened up, thanks to her, and Quinn reminds her that the offer will remain open.  Quinn says she’s managed to find another recruit, a migrant worker who oddly enough manages to look a lot like Terrence Cee, which should help throw off the Cetagandans’ trail.  Cee isn’t sure where he’s going himself, except away from Cetaganda.  He suggests that Quinn conceal the box, and she says she has a good idea on how to do that.

Quinn arrives at the Cold Storage station with a freezer transport box and asks for her newts, and they needn’t bother thawing them since she’s shipping them frozen.  While they’re waiting, Teki comes in with an urgent disposal, and is a little put out with Quinn for his experienced at the Cetagandans’ hands, though he admits that his girlfriend, at least, was sympathetic about his sufferings.  He pleads with her to tell him what was really going on, and Quinn promises, as soon as it’s declassified; she says goodbye, since she’ll be leaving in a few hours.

Teki notices Ethan and apologizes for what Helda did.  He says he’s been promoted to her post, at least until she returns from medical leave, but Quinn assures him that the “leave” is permanent.  Teki heads off to throw out his canisters; Ethan and Cee follow, curious, while Quinn waits for her newts.  Ethan confirms for Teki what Helda had done with the shipment.  Ethan asks about Teki’s canisters, and Teki tells him that they’re samples of contaminants that have been disposed of, which they’re storing outside the station in case they need them for legal or medical reasons.  Teki bags up the canisters, labels the bag, then passes it to a robot who takes it out through an airlock.  Teki opens up a wall panel so they can watch it take the bag to tether to one of the many projections on the station’s surface.

“It’s like the universe’s biggest closet,” mused Teki. “Our own private storage locker. We really ought to clean house and destroy all the really old stuff that was thrown out there in Year One, but it’s not like we’re running out of room. Still, if I’m going to be an Assimiliation Station head, I could organize something . . . responsibility . . . no more playing around . . .”

The ecotech’s words became a buzzing drone in his ears as Ethan’s attention was riveted on a collection of transparent plastic bags tethered a short way down the grid. Each bag seemed to contain a jumble of little white boxes of a familiar type. He had seen just such a little box readied for Quinn’s donation at a Station biolab that morning. How many boxes? Hard to see, hard to count. More than twenty, surely. More than thirty. He could count the bags that contained them, though; there were nine.

“Thrown out,” he whispered. “Thrown—out?”

Ethan silently points out the bags to Cee, who after a moment begins to swear under his breath.  He tells Ethan that he recognizes the boxes, and can even make out the House Bharaputra labels on them.  Ethan says that Helda must have put them outside without leaving any computer records, “throwing them out” where they’d never be found.  Frozen in the vacuum, Ethan thinks that they should still be good.

“We’ve got to tell Quinn,” Ethan began.

Cee’s hands clamped down over Ethan’s wrists. “No!” he hissed. “She has hers. Janine—those are mine.”

“Or Athos’s.”

“No.” Cee was trembling white, his eyes blazing like blue pinwheels. “Mine.”

“The two,” said Ethan carefully, “need not be mutually exclusive.”

In the loaded silence that followed, Cee’s face flared in an exaltation of hope.

Comments

See, I told you they weren’t gone…  Just a matter of semantics, a minor dialectical difference, which was enough to convince the Cetagandans that they were.  I wouldn’t have been quite so confident that Helda wouldn’t have screwed them up in some other way just to strike a final blow against Athos, but if she was trying to be surreptitious about it she might not have had the opportunity.  Or she might not have thought it necessary, since they were being left unlabelled in a gigantic space storage locker.  It was, admittedly, sheerest chance that Ethan happened to spy them and recognize them for what they were.  If he’d decided to hang around with Quinn, for instance, he wouldn’t have seen a thing.  So while a lot of the other seemingly bizarre plot twists have reasonable explanations once you know everything that’s going on, this one is truly random.  But I’ll forgive the author for it, because it’s such a nice twist that helps out that nice Ethan boy.

We’ve only seen a few glimpses of Arata, and I don’t even really remember him from previous reads, but this time through I’m slightly intrigued about him.  I think that Miles Vorkosigan would have enjoyed meeting him, sort of like Dag Benin, depending of course on the circumstances.  If it had been a Miles adventure, I’m sure Arata would have turned up earlier, but Elli and Ethan spend more time trying to evade the attention of Station Security, or at least Elli does, so we have to wait until most of the way through the book.  Pity.

Chapter Fifteen

As Ethan and Cee approach the surface of Athos in a shuttle, Ethan points out landmarks to his companion.  Cee asks what kind of welcome Ethan is likely to get, and Ethan says his mission was fairly secret, to keep from alarming people, but at least some of the Population Council should be there, as well as Ethan’s father, and possibly Janos as well.  Ethan wonders how Janos will react to meeting Cee, if he’ll be jealous enough to start doing the work to fight to be Ethan’s designated alternate.

Cee regarded his hands meditatively, and glanced up at Ethan. “And will they view you as a hero, or a traitor, in the end?”

Ethan admits that he’s been praying for guidance on the subject.  Ethan’s cargo is strapped to seats near them, rather than being left to the vagaries of the cargo hold; the other passengers, crew members heading for downside leave and the census takers, are keeping their distance.  He did buy some cultures on Beta Colony as well, to keep the Cetagandans off the scent, but they swapped those for the Bharaputran ones and hid the Betan samples in Ethan’s luggage.  He says that somebody had to make the decision, and the Population Council would probably have been unable to make up their minds, but it needs to be all or nothing, or else it would tear the planet apart.  Except, of course, for the “EQ-1” culture he took from Quinn, but he figures it’ll average out in the long run.  Cee points out that he’s hedging his bets with the Betan cultures, but Ethan says that while he couldn’t bring himself to throw them out entirely, he hopes to splice the telepathy gene into them over time as well, once he’s risen to head up a Reproduction Centre, or even farther.

The welcome committee turns out to consist largely of Rep Centre representatives eager for their new cultures, but Dr. Desroche, the Chairman, and Ethan’s father are all there.  Ethan downplays the problems he encountered.  His father comments on his paleness, and Ethan explains that on Kline Station he couldn’t go outside, on Beta Colony everyone lives underground, and they only spent a week on Escobar.

Ethan suddenly notes Janos’s absence and asks his father about it.  Ethan initially fears the worst, a lightflyer crash, but his father explains that Janos went a little wild after Ethan left, and ended up running off to the Outlands to live on the frontier with fewer restrictions.  Ethan is somewhat relieved, and says that it’s probably for the best that Janos find out what he wants before committing himself to parenthood.

He turned to Terrence Cee, his grin escaping control at last. “Here, Dad, I want you to meet someone—I brought us an immigrant. Only one, but altogether a remarkable person. He’s endured much, to make it to refuge here. He’s been a good traveling companion for the last eight months, and a good friend.”

Ethan introduced Cee; they shook hands, the slight galactic, the tall waterman. “Welcome, Terrence,” said Ethan’s father. “A good friend of my son’s is a son to me. Welcome to Athos.”

Emotion broke through Cee’s habitual closed coolness; wonder, and something like awe. “You really mean that . . . Thank you. Thank you, sir.”

That night, on the verandah of Ethan’s father’s house, Ethan tells Cee that the best way to earn the rights to Janine’s children is earn his parental duty credits through public works, done over and above regular employment.  Ethan takes the plunge and says that he makes enough for two himself, especially with the prospect of promotion ahead of him, and once Ethan has his own sons, then he’d love to have Cee has Primary Nurturer, which is a great job for accumulating duty credits.  He admits it’s not an adventurous life compared to Cee’s experiences up to then, but it would be good experience for Cee’s own children, and Ethan would be happy to be Cee’s Designated Alternate as well.

Cee says that after what his adventures have put him through, something quiet sounds just right.  He mentions to Ethan that he was under the impression that the Designated Alternate relationship was kind of like a marriage, and wonders if he would expect sex to be part of it.

“Well . . .” said Ethan. “No, not necessarily. D.A. arrangements can be, and are, entered into by brothers, cousins, fathers, grandfathers—anyone qualified and willing to act as a parent. Parenthood shared between lovers is just the most common variety. But here you are on Athos, after all, for the rest of your life. I thought, perhaps, in time, you might grow accustomed to our ways. Not to rush you or anything, but if you find yourself getting used to the idea, you might, uh, let me know . . .” Ethan trailed off.

“By God the Father,” Cee’s voice was amused, assured. And had Ethan really feared he would surprise the telepath? “I just might.”

Before going to sleep, Ethan takes a moment to think of Elli Quinn and EQ-1, and then of Dr. Cynthia Jane Baruch, his own “mother”, who had been hired to provide her genes to start out Athos.  He whispers her a quiet salute and prepares to face the future.

Comments

So did Cee take himself some tyramine on the shuttle?  Because he seems to be fairly telepathic in this chapter.  I guess it would no longer be that dangerous a substance to buy on Kline Station, although if someone from Cetaganda followed up and found traces of it before Ethan’s ship left…  I guess if Cee were smart, he’d buy it before Elli left with his lookalike so it still wouldn’t be traced back to him.  Or was it just an author goof to toss in some telepathic incidents so Cee could find out that the Athosians were really on the level?  Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for now.

The way Dr. Cynthia Baruch’s name is revealed at the end, I almost expect it to be a reference to something else in the series, the way Miles’s grandmother’s name appears, or “Admiral Naismith” himself.  Of course, it would have to be something long predating the series proper, like a short story farther back in the timeline, or maybe Falling Free or something, but according to the Vorkosigan Companion it isn’t.  The significance of the name is not so much of the name itself, as it is the shift in his attitude toward being able to appreciate women as people, and to think of Baruch as being his mother.  Of course, it’s unlikely that his own attitudes are likely to change much, because even a planet of telepaths won’t be able to find out too much about people they never actually meet…

How is Ethan going to explain all these extra cultures, by the way?  The Betan ones, that is?  Is he just going to insinuate them in quietly, or pretend to receive them as another shipment later on?  How will he explain how he paid for them?  Or maybe he could just explain the matter once the crisis has died down a little, and maybe the Population Council will be grateful that, if they had to pay for two batches of cultures, they actually ended up with two of them in the end.

One hopes that Ethan and Terrence will still be around when the first telepaths begin to come of age, and I suppose they’re young enough that it might happen.  Athos does have some access to galactic medicine, even if it is a bit of frontier world, so lifespans should be in line with at least Barrayar, if not Beta Colony.  And, if you think about, Terrence’s kids will be telepaths as well, since he already carries the gene, so they’ll have two recessives and it’ll be fully expressed.  Their story could be interesting…

Overall Comments

I’m still not sure how I feel about this book.  It has its gripping segments, and a fast-moving plot, once it gets started, but it has a slow beginning, and Ethan isn’t the most capable or resourceful of characters.  Also, the telepathy idea, while intriguing, never feels quite fully formed.  Terrence Cee never makes full use of it, because of the limitations the author put on it, but its impact, even on a remote planet, is likely to be shattering.  And let’s not forget the likelihood that the Cetagandans will, in fact, rediscover it.  As a standalone book, that’s not bad, though it does seem to require a sequel to see where it comes out in the end, but as an adjunct book to a series, it feels like it should eventually come to dominate the plotline unless the author just decides to cop out and ignore it.

Kline Station is a good and well-realized setting, in a way that is usually reserved for planets, space stations being some kind of fragile, utilitarian appendage never gone into in such detail, and seeing Elli Quinn in her native element is a helpful delineator of her character for later books.  She isn’t really a major character in the Miles books for too long, but this book more than hints at how she rose from faceless mercenary.


And that’s it for Ethan of Athos!  When I return in two weeks, it’ll be time to return to Miles in “Labyrinth”.  It looks like I’m going to do that novella in three parts, since it divides fairly well, if not perfectly, into chunks of approximately the right size.  But I will take a week off in between, so see you at the end of July…

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Greetings and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread–on time this week, as I’ve generally defined it, at least–for the next, and penultimate, installment of Ethan of Athos.  While this novel doesn’t directly involve the Vorkosigan Saga’s main protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, he is indirectly involved through his agent Elli Quinn, so it totally counts, according to me, anyway.  This week I cover Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, wherein we discover that last week’s a-little-too-easy climactic confrontation was not the real climax after all, so at least there’s that.

Chapter Twelve

In Quarantine, Rau accompanies his unconscious superior while Ethan is escorted into a meeting with Security personnel, soon joined by Captain Arata.  Though Ethan intends to tell the truth, he finds himself omitting Terrence Cee, the death of Okita and the details of the Cetagandan gene pattern that had “contaminated” the ovarian cultures.  One of the officers points out that Helda did him a favour in saving Athos from that contamination, and Ethan suddenly realizes that they’re afraid he’ll make a stink, which will damage Kline Station’s reputation for the security of their warehouses.  This gives him some leverage, which he begins to make use of.  The charges against him are dropped because of his diplomatic status, and he is assured that Helda will be taking early retirement, and that the two Cetagandans are being deported.

They ask him where the other two Cetagandans are, and Ethan is distressed to realize that Setti is still at large.  He tells them ask Elli Quinn about what happened to Okita, though she’s probably already headed back to the Dendarii, with Cee in tow.  Ethan is free to go, but he asks if he can speak to Millisor before he leaves.  Millisor’s examination is just finished, with no sign of any form of the disease that Quinn had imputed to him, which severely annoys the ecotechs; Arata promises to deal with it.

Ethan enters Millisor’s room, Arata in tow, to find the ghem-lord restrained.  He asks Millisor if he’s convinced now that Athos never had the shipment from Jackson’s Whole; Millisor says he doubts everything, but it does seem unlikely that it was on Athos.  He asks Ethan what he thinks of Terrence Cee, and speculates on whether Cee’s admitted attractiveness was part of his gift.  Ethan says he hasn’t discussed Cee with anyone; Millisor says that Cee must still be on Kline Station.  Ethan says he doesn’t know where Cee is, or Quinn either, for that matter, and wants nothing more to do with them.

Millisor says he admires Quinn, and wonders what her price would be.  Ethan says he doubts any price would be high enough, and explains that she’s obviously in love with her commander.  Millisor wonders, if Ethan is not working with Cee, how he feels about having been Cee’s dupe.  Ethan says all Cee tried to do was immigrate to Athos, and maybe commemorate his wife in the ovarian cultures.  Millisor says it was more than that–the gene-complex was recessive, and had been added to every one of the ovarian cultures, so it would have manifested on Athos two generations later.  Ethan is not slow to see the implications, how the obsolescence of the old cultures would eventually lead to the whole population being bred from the ones Cee had modified until the whole planet carried the telepathy gene.  Only on Athos, so reliant on the cultures and uterine replicators, could this plan have worked, and it explained where Cee’s money had gone on Jackson’s Whole–into splicing the gene-complex into Athos’s cultures.

Millisor tells Ethan that Cee is charming, but only because of his talent, and that he is dangerous, not human, and a virus that must be wiped out.  He asks for Ethan’s help, but Ethan said that Cee didn’t strike him as any worse than Okita, a bored killer, nothing more than a tool for Millisor to use.  Ethan reiterates that he doesn’t know where Cee is, except that he’s not going to Athos, and Millisor regrets that with the shipment he lost a useful tool for locating him.  Ethan leaves, his parting shot being that Millisor’s pitch might have worked on him if he’d tried it when they first met.

Ethan returns to his original hostel room, which he’d hardly had a chance to use, but which still contained all his personal effects.  He thought over his experiences and wondered whether it was day or night, missing Athos.  Restless, he went back out, and began checking into other sources for ovarian cultures; he soon concluded that Quinn had probably been right in recommending Beta Colony.  He planned out a route that went through Escobar, where he could stop over and check them out for economy’s sake.  He is woken from a nap by a call on his comconsole from Terrence Cee.

“Well. I didn’t expect to hear from you again.” Ethan rubbed sleep from his face. “I thought you’d have no further use for the asylum of Athos. You and Quinn both being the practical sort.”

Cee winced, looking distinctly unhappy. “In fact, I’m about to leave,” he said in a dull voice. “I wanted to see you one more time, to—to apologize. Can you meet me in Docking Bay C-8 right away?”

“I suppose,” said Ethan. “Are you off to the Dendarii Mercenaries with Quinn, then?”

“I can’t talk any more now. I’m sorry.” Cee’s image turned to sparkling snow, then emptiness.

Ethan suspects that Quinn was nearby, inhibiting his conversation, and toys with the idea of telling Arata where to find her, but decides that he and Quinn are even and thus quits.  Outside the hostel a dark-skinned man approaches him; Ethan decides he’s the wrong race to be a Cetagandan, thus not Setti, but is still standoffish when the man addresses him by name.  The man offers a message-capsule to him to give to Millisor; Ethan tells him to give it to Kline Station Security instead, but the man tells him to take it anyway, since who knows what fate has in store?  Ethan backs away from him, so the man shrugs and leaves it on a bench instead.  Ethan threatens to turn it in to Security, but the man leaves, unconcerned, and Ethan eventually picks it up, promising to hand it off to Arata at his next opportunity.

The docking bay where he’s to meet Cee is around the other side of the station, so Ethan takes a tube-train.  The docking bay is quiet; Ethan notes one ship docked there, some kind of fast courier, and wonders at Quinn’s expense account.

Terrence Cee, dressed in his green Stationer coveralls, sat wanly on a packing case, alone in the middle of the bay. He looked up as Ethan stepped out of a ramp corridor. “You came quickly, Dr. Urquhart.”

Ethan glanced at the flex tube. “I figured you were catching a scheduled run of some sort. I didn’t realize you’d be traveling in this much style.”

“I thought perhaps you wouldn’t come at all.”

“Because—why? Because I’d found out the whole truth about that shipment?” Ethan shrugged. “I can’t say I approve of what you tried to do. But given the obvious problems your—your race, I guess—would suffer as a minority anywhere else, I think I can understand why.”

A melancholy smile lit Cee’s face, then was gone. “You do? But of course. You would.” He shook his head. “I should have said, I hoped you would not come.”

Cee gestures to where Quinn is moving forward, prodded by a man dressed in a Kline Station Security outfit.  Quinn is minus her jacket, boots, and stunner.  Ethan is initially amused that she’s finally been caught by Security, before he notices that the Security man holds a non-regulation nerve disrupter.  Then he sees Millisor and Rau coming up behind.

Comments

Okay, I guess everything wasn’t evenly wrapped up after all.  And apparently Millisor and Rau didn’t have that much trouble getting out of Quarantine after all; I guess it did turn out that they didn’t have Venusian Crotch Rot or whatever, and if Setti had managed to infiltrate Station Security, then he could probably whisk them out.  That might explain why we’ve seen so little of Setti, if he’s been busy lying low as an ace in the hole for Millisor.

Did anyone else think that Ethan should possibly be a little more suspicious about Cee’s call?  I guess he hasn’t seen as many vid-thrillers as he could have (they must have those, even on Athos–if nothing else, a fair sampling of twentieth-century movies wouldn’t violate their censorship laws to any great degree), or he would have spotted the warning signs–a summons to meet far away (the other side of the station), looking uncomfortable and frequently glancing at someone you can’t see, and not being able to talk for very long.  Ethan does rationalize these for different reasons, but I can’t help but think that Miles, or Quinn, would have spotted the difficulty right away.  (Like that guy on the mining station in The Warrior’s Apprentice whose messages were made of 100% recycled other messages, without a continuity editor…)  Oh, well, Ethan’s relative lack of competency is part of his charm, I suppose.  One hopes that Quinn fell for something a little more sophisticated, like Setti in disguise.

Ethan’s conclusion that the dark-skinned man can’t be Cetagandan is suspect on multiple levels.  First of all, there’s no particular reason to think that entire planets have to all be homogeneous, racially, unless each one is supposed to have been founded by a homogeneous culture and then maintained strict immigration guidelines.  Admittedly, Ethan did read up on Cetaganda earlier, so maybe he’s well-informed here, but then it’s troubling in a different way.  Cetagandan ghem-lords are supposed to be genetically superior (though admittedly I’m not sure if Bujold had arrived at that yet when she was writing Ethan of Athos), so if they’re all white…that’s not a good thing for an author to be asserting.  I don’t remember a lot of dark-skinned Barrayarans either, perhaps barring that Greek minority (and I’m never sure if “dark-skinned” is supposed to mean “swarthy in a Mediterranean way” or “dark as a pure-blooded Central African”), but sometimes people go out of their way to never mention skin colour, even when it’s unrealistic.  If somebody has dark skin, I’m going to notice it, and I’ll use it to describe them (to myself, if nothing else), the same way I would if they had red hair or a big nose, without meaning it to be in any way discriminatory except in the most literal sense of “being able to tell different things apart”, but some people seem to write as if people will stop actually noticing these things except on the most superficial level.  It may stop being something used to prejudge people, but I don’t think it will become something nobody even notices.

Chapter Thirteen

Ethan and Quinn both end up in front of the nerve disrupter, while Rau holds a stunner on Cee.  Quinn whispers to Ethan that they tracked her down through her beeper, and wishes she’d gotten rid of it when she had the chance.

Millisor tells Ethan that he’s glad he could join them, so he can dispose of Ethan and Quinn at the same time, since they know too much.  Millisor tells them that he plans to put Quinn and Ethan in a flex-tube, as if they were having an illicit tryst, but Rau will stun them so they will end up vented into space when the next ship arrives.  Ethan is mortified at the thought that the Population Council might believe this story of his death, and Quinn is similarly concerned about Admiral Naismith.  Cee makes an abortive motion, but Rau holds him at bay; Cee apologizes to Ethan for being forced to lure him to the docking bay.

Quinn confirms Setti’s identity for Ethan, and asks if he thinks he could make it across the docking bay if she jumped him; Ethan regretfully tells her no.  He could make it to the flex tube, but that would be pointless since it doesn’t go anywhere except space.  Ethan thinks of the message capsule and takes it out, telling Quinn about the odd man who gave it to him.  Quinn asks what the man looked like, and then excitedly takes the capsule and enters Millisor’s service number, though she’s not sure about the last few digits.  She tosses it to a suspicious Setti, who automatically catches it, then throws herself and Ethan to the floor.  The capsule starts showing a holomessage, and Quinn goes limp with disappointment just before she and Ethan are flung across the room when the capsule explodes.

Ethan is nearly deafened, and he thinks blinded as well until emergency lights come back on.  He can hear faint sirens and the sound of airseals slamming closed, as air is leaking out of a flex-tube seal and the gravity is a little wobbly.  He glances across the bay to see Cee being tackled by Rau and kicked by Millisor; the Cetagandans begin dragging Cee toward their ship.  Ethan runs after them, somewhat unsteadily, and manages to get ahead of them stand in front of the flex-tube.  Millisor gets out a needler and begins to aim it at Ethan, but Cee breaks free and stands in front of Ethan to shield him.  Millisor is about to shoot anyway when he begins to float upward; Quinn is at the gravity controls.

Millisor’s training comes into play rapidly, though, and he twists to counter his spin, aiming his needler back at Ethan and Cee.  Quinn throws the cover of the control panel at him, but Ethan can see it’s not going to make it in time.  Just before Millisor can fire, though, he is hit by a bright plasma bolt and killed instantly.  Rau lunges for the needler, trying to find the new attacker, but misses and ends up tumbling slowly in midair.  Cee spots the shooter up on a catwalk, and shouts that Rau is his to kill, launching himself after the remaining Cetagandan.  Cee’s impetus pushes Ethan against the wall, where he grabs hold and notices that the air leak seems to be getting stronger.

Quinn turns the gravity back higher; Cee and Rau, grappling, sink back to the floor, while Ethan, realizing how high up on the bulkhead he’s hanging, swiftly climbs down, in case Quinn plans on turning it up any higher.  Rau throws Cee aside and lunges for his flex-tube, but is caught by two plasma bolts from up above.  As Ethan goes to Cee, two figures, one of them the man who gave Ethan the message capsule, swing down from the girders and converge on Quinn, who does not seem happy to see them, trying to flee up the wall.  They yank her back down and subdue her, taking her towards the emergency exit as Stationers begin to emerge to seal the damage.  Cee tells Ethan that they’re Bharaputrans from Jackson’s Whole, and says they have to go rescue her.  They have to wait at the emergency airlock until the Jacksonians have cycled through, and then equalize the pressure before they can reenter the station.  While they wait, Cee tells Ethan how Setti sprung Millisor and Rau, pretending to be escorting them to deportation.

They run through now-deserted corridors, trying to find Quinn and her abductors, and finally manage to follow the sound of her voice to a foyer outside a freight lift-tube.

The man in chocolate-brown silk had Quinn shoved up facing a wall, her arms twisted behind her. Her toes stretched and sought the floor, without success.

“Come on, Commander,” the man in pink was saying, “We haven’t got time for this. Where is it?”

“Wouldn’t dream of keeping you,” she replied in a rather smeary voice, as her face was being squashed sideways into the wall. “Ow! Hadn’t you better run off to your embassy before Security gets here? They’ll be all over the place after that bomb blast.”

Ethan and Cee dash into the room and the man in pink aims his plasma gun at them; Quinn shouts out frantically that they’re all friends.  The Bharaputrans are not happy with Quinn, though, for not coming through on her contract.  Quinn protests that she’s had to take things more slowly and subtly, not having diplomatic immunity and not wanting to be exiled from the station.  They tell her that Baron Bharaputra has given her six months, and now wants his money back.  Quinn says she can give it back, but the credit chit is in her jacket…which is back in the docking bay.  The Jacksonians debate on whether she’s telling the truth, since the docking bay is swarming with Security by now.  Quinn points out that she got paid half in advance, and that she did kill Okita and Setti.  They say they have no evidence of Okita’s body, and she killed Setti with their bomb, but when they hear approaching footsteps decide that she can keep her half.  As “interest”, though, they dislocate her left elbow, and then disappear down the lift tube.

Quinn is relieved when they’ve gone, since she didn’t want them to share too much of their information with Station Security.  She confesses that this was actually her first Intelligence assignment, and she didn’t enjoy it as much as Admiral Naismith told her she would.  She and Ethan agree that they both need doctors, Ethan still being somewhat stunned from the explosion, and she advises Cee to flee before Security arrives.  Cee, unable to express his gratitude, flees up the lift tube.  When Security arrives, they arrest Quinn.

Comments

Now that’s a nice fight for you, with explosive decompression, plasma arcs, low-gravity gymnastics, and hidden spy bombs.  All they’d need would be a bunch more guns and this would be perfect for the Wachowki Brothers.  The only problem, I guess, is that the bad guys all get to have sort of Disney Villain deaths–the Jacksonians kill Millisor and Rau outright, and Setti by proxy, and Okita’s death was admittedly an accident at the time.  Of course, Ethan isn’t a killer, Quinn can do it but can’t afford to leave too many bodies lying around, and…I guess I’m not sure about Cee.  He didn’t mean to kill the Cetagandan scientist, but he seemed to be willing enough to kill Rau with his bare hands.  The Jacksonians were, at least, foreshadowed chapters earlier, though their timing is fortuitous.  Had they just arrived, or were they just lying low until they could find Quinn and the Cetagandans?

I can’t quite work out if Millisor should have floating up off the ground just because of the lighter gravity.  After all, it’s not like negative gravity was pulling him toward the ceiling, he should have stayed in place unless another force acted on him.  There were the air currents from the leak, I suppose, but Millisor was only decreasing in weight, not mass, so it wasn’t like he should waft away in a breeze.  I guess that his leg muscles, which had presumably been bracing him in place, might have overcompensated and inadvertently pushed him off or tipped him to one side, but I don’t know if that would have been enough to throw off his aim like that.  Or it could have been the arm motion as he was raising his gun, but I don’t know if that would do it either.  Someone who was trained enough to hold a bead on someone while spinning through the air should probably have been able to deal with a sudden unexpected gravity decrease, in my opinion.  So maybe we can pretend that Rau was caught off guard and bumped into Millisor and disrupted his aim instead.  (We really need better antigravity, so we can test these things out in practice without sending people into space or into parabolic arcs.)

A couple of times in the chapter I kept thinking that Cee found something out telepathically.  The first was when he identified the Bharaputrans, but then I realized that he’d been on Jackson’s Whole himself and should be able to recognize them.  Especially since they all seem to be of the same race.  (See last chapter’s comments.)  Then he picked out a direction to go when they were chasing after Quinn and her captors, but he admitted to Ethan shortly thereafter that he had no real idea and had just been guessing.  So I suppose he hadn’t been dosed with more tyramine anywhere in there.

I guess I don’t have a good handle on whether Cee actually liked using his powers, whether he would have actively sought out tyramine if he thought the Cetagandans were out of the way.  His distaste for seeing into the brains of his Cetagandan captors might mean that he didn’t like using his ability in general, but I’m not sure if that was conclusive.  He gets so little opportunity on Kline Station, and he only does it the once when he wants to be sure of his allies before putting his trust in them.  Does he yearn for a normal life, or does he yearn to stretch his abilities to their fullest?


Whoo, finished two chapters by Tuesday, so that’s good.  Only two more and the book’s over, and then I have to decide whether to take a full week off before and/or after doing the novella “Labyrinth”.  Right now I’m guessing that since after “Labyrinth” is another novella, “Borders of Infinity”, I’ll do the two of them together as if they were a book (like, say, two-thirds of Borders of Infinity), with a gap before and after, but not between.  (I did a break before “The Mountains of Mourning” but not after, apparently, so there’s that.)  Then I have to figure out how many segments to do “Labyrinth” in, since it doesn’t have chapter breaks.  Guess I’ll do some word counting and see how it breaks up into scenes.  Anyway, until next week, when Dr. Ethan Urquhart receives a couple of pleasant surprises…

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Welcome back, every so slightly belatedly, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I go through the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga a chapter or two at a time, summarize them, share some of the best quotes, and come up with a few insights to share with you.

On some planet, somewhere in the galaxy, this is probably Tuesday, but on this planet it looks like I just got a day behind due to personal reasons that I’m not really going to go into because this isn’t a personal blog.  How will this affect the future of the Reread?  More on that below, but for now, here’s the next two chapters of Ethan of Athos, as we see what hijinks Elli Quinn, Terrence Cee, and Dr. Ethan Urquhart get up to when they’re all working together against Ghem-Colonel Millisor.

Chapter Ten

Ethan shares some of the wine with Terrence, but stops before getting more than a little buzzed.  Cee asks if he’s sure that none of the shipment that arrived on Athos could have been part of the original contents, and Ethan confirms that it was nothing more than trash, and there’s no way that Janine’s cultures could have been in there.  Cee says he saw the original shipment onto the shuttle on Jackson’s Whole; Quinn says that means the switch must have happened on Kline Station, during the two months they were waiting for Ethan’s ship, and hundreds of ships could have left with the crates in that time.  Quinn admits that if she was going to track it down, she’d rather let Millisor do the work and just follow him.  She’d also rather just take a genetic sample directly from Terrence.  Cee says that eventually Millisor’s team will discover his arrival on Kline Station, so he can’t wait that long.  Quinn reminds him that they’ll be wasting time following Teki around.

Cee asks Ethan if they want to recover the shipment, and Ethan says they’ve pretty much written it off as a dead loss.  He’d rather buy a new one than recover the old one but attract a Cetagandan attack on their planet, and would almost feel safer if Millisor just recovered it.  Cee says that he cannot accept the results of the Cetagandans regain the telepath gene, with the possibility to breed new telepaths without so much inconvenient free will.  Quinn points out that Millisor’s mostly interested in keeping the gene out of everyone else’s hands, since the Cetagandans will eventually be able to reconstruct it now that they know it’s possible.  She adds that it might be better if, by that time, there were a race of free telepaths available to oppose them.

Cee asks if Admiral Naismith would be any better, and Ethan suddenly realizes that Cee’s questioning indicates that his telepathic abilities have been activated.  Quinn suggests just giving the gene to all of the governments, giving Millisor apoplexy and keeping Athos from being singled out, but Cee says he doesn’t want to risk creating that many persecuted slave telepath minorities.  Ethan realizes that he’s present at the cusp of a major historical change, and finds the sensation dizzying.

Cee says that he’d rather just kill himself and be done with it, except for his promise to Janine.  He tells Quinn that if she can find Janine’s samples for him, he’ll go along with her.  Quinn points out that her mission is essentially over, and she could satisfy her commander simply by stunning Cee and taking a tissue sample, just for their information.

“What do you want of me?” Cee demanded. Anger edged his voice. “To trust you?”

Her lips thinned. “You don’t trust anybody. You never had to. Yet you demand that others trust you.”

“Oh,” said Cee, looking suddenly enlightened. “That.”

“You breathe one word of that,” she smiled through clenched teeth, “and I’ll arrange an accident for you like Okita never dreamed of.”

“Your Admiral’s personal secrets are of no interest to me,” said Cee stiffly. “They’re hardly relevant to this situation anyway.”

Cee then turns his attention to Ethan, which involuntarily causes Ethan to immediately think of all the sins and secrets that he’d want to keep hidden, including his physical attraction to Terrence.  He wishes he had the chance to really try to sell Cee on the beauty of his world of Athos, to take him sailing on their oceans.  Cee comments that he never saw any oceans during his life on Cetaganda, and Ethan realizes how transparent he’s being.  Cee asks if Ethan can shelter Janine’s genes as well as Cee himself, and Ethan admits that he doesn’t know he’s even going to save himself yet.

Quinn points out that they haven’t found the ovarian samples yet, and none of the parties involved seem to know where they are.  Cee says that anyone who knew what it was would probably covet it, including governments and criminals.  Ethan suggests House Bharaputra, but Quinn points out that any Bharaputrans who knew about them were killed by Millisor’s group, or else Quinn would have been tasked with recovering Millisor and the samples rather than just killing the Cetagandans.  Ethan suggests some random entrepreneur, but Quinn says that’s all they need, to widen the circle of suspects.  She asks Cee if he’s done with his scanning, and Cee says he is, obviously suffering from a major headache.  Quinn goes out to gather more information; Ethan gives Cee some painkillers, and they both try to get some sleep.

Quinn returns a while later, waking Ethan and Cee.  Nothing new from Millisor and Rau, and no information from attempting to pump the warehouse supervisor.  Cee notes the time and says he has to get to work, to maintain his cover identity and continue working toward a ticket off the station.  Quinn says she can take care of the ticket, but Cee says she’ll only offer it in the direction she chooses.  Cee goes off to get ready, and Quinn asks Ethan if he said anything more.  Ethan says they just slept, but he’s been trying to think of a new angle for the shipment, like pursuing where the trash that arrived on Athos might have come from.

They are interrupted by a signal on Quinn’s beeper, on Teki’s emergency code.  Quinn calls back and discovers that it’s Teki’s girlfriend Sara.  She says that Teki never met her for their date last night, and starts to leave an annoyed message with Quinn, but Quinn, alarmed, says she hasn’t heard from Teki either.  She tells Sara that she saw Teki just before his work shift; Sara said she’d been calling around to Teki’s friends, and got Quinn’s number from her father.  Quinn becomes very serious and tells Sara to file a missing persons report for Teki, to use Quinn’s name and talk to Captain Arata directly.

Quinn hangs up and says that Millisor has probably decided to pick up Teki for questioning, which would be bad because he doesn’t know about much except for Elli’s involvement, and this will blow her cover.  Cee says that Millisor must be getting desperate.

“I meant to push Millisor off-balance.” Quinn bit through a fingernail with an audible snap. “But not that far off. I gave them no reason to take Teki. Or I wouldn’t have, if he’d done what I told him and turned around immediately—I knew better than to involve a non-professional. Why didn’t I listen to myself? Poor Teki won’t know what hit him.”

“You didn’t have any such scruples about involving me,” remarked Ethan, miffed.

“You were involved already. And besides, I didn’t use to baby-sit you when you were a toddler. And besides . . .” she paused, shooting him a look strangely akin to the one Cee had just given him, “you underestimate yourself,” she finished.

Quinn starts to leave the room, then stays behind and paces instead.  She wonders why they’ve had him so long; Teki didn’t have a tracer on him, like Ethan did, and his past is well-documented on the station, unlike Ethan’s.  Cee points out that they couldn’t find anything out about Ethan, but if they think he’s involved anyway, then they’ll be less likely to give up on Teki.  Quinn says they’re likely in Millisor’s room, the one she hasn’t been able to bug, and she tries to puzzle out a way to get into it.  She says that Millisor is likely trying to provoke her into acting hastily, and tries to think of what Admiral Naismith would do.

“Never do yourself,” muttered Quinn, “what you can con an expert into doing for you. That’s what he’d say. Tactical judo from the space magician himself.” Her straight back held the dynamism of zen meditation. When she turned her face was radiant with jubilation. “Yes, that’s exactly what he’d do! Sneaky little dwarf, I love you!” She saluted an invisible presence and dove for the comconsole.

Cee and Ethan stand by in puzzlement as Quinn places a call to the Ecobranch Epidemiology Hotline.  She reports a potential disease vector for a particularly nasty new strain of “Varusan Crotch-rot”, which she blushingly confesses to have caught from him herself.  She gives Millisor’s cover identity and provides her real name before signing off, telling Cee and Ethan that she’s just committed a major crime by her false report.  She says that Ecobranch may need some backup against the Cetagandans, so they head off to help.

Comments

See, I told you Teki was the Ivan!  He’s even been taken hostage to fulfill the “dude in distress” role.  Tough luck for him, of course, especially if he’s getting the interrogation that Ethan got, except with less reason…  Except being related to that dangerous provocateuse Elli Quinn, that is.

More of Elli’s crush on Admiral Naismith, with one of those “I love you” outbursts that would have been incredibly awkward if Miles had actually been in the room.  To be offset by “sneaky little dwarf”, to be sure.  Her willingness to implement her plan by not only perjuring herself (sort of) but admitting to sex with a disease-carrier is heroic, to be sure.

I’m going to assume that the secret about Admiral Naismith that Elli is so concerned about Terrence spilling is Naismith’s dual identity as Lord Miles Vorkosigan.  I actually wasn’t sure that Elli was in the loop on that one, but I guess she might have figured it out during the trip back to Beta Colony in The Warrior’s Apprentice, if nothing else.

Both Terrence and Elli seem to be convinced that Ethan is totally underestimating his competence here, and I have to admit, I’m not sure why.  The list of Ethan’s actual achievements so far amount to keeping his head above water, and that with a lot of help from other people.  Maybe he should be getting a medal just for being brave enough to leave his planet when he thought the rest of the galaxy was like Land of the Succubi, but somehow I don’t think Elli, at least, would give him any credit for that one.  Sure, he is a skilled doctor, and he shows a certain amount of determination, but I’m sure he’s convinced that he’s the last hope for his planet’s future; does that make him heroic?  I’m not sure I buy it.

Chapter Eleven

Ethan, Quinn and Cee go down to the corridor outside Millisor’s room; Cee stays by the lift tubes with one stunner, while Ethan and Quinn position themselves where they can keep a watch on Millisor’s door.  Quinn has the other stunner, leaving Ethan armed with nothing more than a medkit.  She tells Ethan that Teki will doubtless be needing a fast-penta antagonist as soon as they can get to him.

They duck into a door niche when two Ecobranch personnel and a Security guard come down the hallway with a sealed passenger pallet.  Ethan is dismayed to see that one of them is Helda; Quinn encourages him to act inconspicuous, drawing him close to cuddle, which of course makes him intensely uncomfortable, but he tries to play along.  Quinn’s beeper goes off, and she checks it to see that it’s Millisor calling, probably having squeezed her number out of Teki to try to pressure her.

Helda buzzes the room and calls “Harman Dal”‘s name, but nobody responds.  She points out to the Security guard that it’s definitely occupied, and with company.  After the third buzz with no response, she tries an override, but it still doesn’t open, which the Security guard notes happily is a fire-safety violation.  Helda, incensed, accesses the fire-control panel and taps in a code which is followed by a muffled roar and cries from within the room.  Quinn explains to Ethan that this is the station version of a sprinkler system–a system to pump all the air out of a room.  They hear pounding on the door from inside, but Quinn whispers that they can’t open it from the inside because of the pressure differential.

Helda reverses the controls and pumps the air back; the door pops open and Millisor and Rau stumble out.  Millisor begins protesting about his diplomatic immunity protecting him against anything short of a major felony, but Helda says that a biocontrol emergency overrides any of the laws that might protect transients.  Rau spots Ethan and Quinn, and points them out to Millisor, who subsides.

The Security man spots the Cetagandans’ hostage inside, tied to a chair, and bleeding.  Quinn steps forward to offer Ethan’s medical assistance, and they enter the room, followed by Helda.  Teki is tied up with wires that have cut into his wrists and ankles, and has a bloody nose and a couple of minor head wounds, but his eyes are bright with fast-penta intoxication.  Helda recognizes Teki and begins to berate him, but Teki says muzzily that he’s off-shift and doesn’t have to put up with her.  The security guard asks if this was a “private act” or not, and Ethan tells him curtly that he was kidnapped, drugged and tortured as he cuts Teki loose.

Helda, closing in, turned her head at the sound of Ethan’s voice and stared at him. “You’re no doctor,” she gasped. “You’re that moron from Docks and Locks again. My department wants a word with you!”

Teki yelped with laughter, causing Ethan to drop the sterile sponge he’d been applying to his ankle. “Joke’s on you, Helda! He really is a doctor.” He leaned toward Ethan, nearly tipping the chair, and confided conspiratorially, “Don’t let on you’re an Athosian, or she’ll pop an artery. She hates Athos.” He nodded happily, then, exhausted, let his head loll sideways again.

Ethan tells her that he is, indeed, a doctor from Athos, and an Ambassador, on a special mission.  Teki warns Ethan not to tell her that, because she’s been irrational about Athos ever since her son snuck off there–at age 32.  Helda asks him if he has an antidote for the truth serum, so they can sort this all out down in quarantine.  Ethan begins to think about how Helda has near-dictatorial powers down there, and shouts for Quinn, who enters, hearing Millisor and Rau with her stunner.

He tells her that the one thing they hadn’t figured out was where whoever-it-was had gotten the material to replace the ovarian cultures destined for Athos.  Very few people would have had access to human, or bovine, ovaries on Kline Station, except maybe someone like Helda who had access to a lot of cadavers, and even they must have run out of time before the shipment was due to leave, hence the frantic cow-part substitutions to try to cover it up.  Helda tells him he’s crazy and repeats that they need to get to Quarantine; Ethan asks about the shrink-wrap that they found as well, and Teki chimes in that they use the shrink-wrapper all the time.

Ethan asks Helda why, and she tells him that she wants to cut those “motherless unnatural bastards” off, until her son came home and found a real woman, and gave her some grandchildren that she’d be allowed to visit…  The Security man is agog at the prospect of arresting an eco-cop.  Millisor is more interested in what she did with the ovarian cultures that had been in the shipment.  Helda says she threw them out, and Millisor becomes livid with rage, lunging at her to be felled by two stunner beams.  Quinn points out Rau as the escaped fugitive from the other day, and suggests they search the room for contraband military equipment.

The Security man and Helda’s fellow eco-cop insist they all go down to Quarantine, which Rau will find much harder to break out of than mere detention cells, and more Security guards show up to back him up.

“Yes, sir?” said one of the new officers.

“Took you long enough,” said the Security man. “Search that one,” he pointed to Rau, “and then you can help us run ’em all to Quarantine. These three are accused of vectoring communicable disease. That one’s been fingered as the jailbreak from C-9. This one’s accused of theft by that one, who appears to be wearing a Station code-uniform to which he is not entitled, and who also claims that one over there was kidnapped. I’ll have a printout as long as I am tall of charges for the one out cold on the floor when he wakes up. Those three are all gonna need first aid—”

Ethan, reminded, slipped up to Teki and pressed the hypospray of fast-penta antagonist into his arm. He felt almost sorry for the young man as his foolish grin was rapidly replaced by the expression of a man with a terminal hangover. The Security team in the meanwhile were shaking all sorts of glittering mysterious objects out of the unresisting Rau.

“—and the pretty lady in the gray outfit who seems to know so much about everybody else’s business I’m holding as a material witness,” the Security man concluded. “Ah—where is she?”

Comments

Final confrontation!  The good guys have defeated the bad guys, and the puzzle of the missing ovarian cultures has finally been solves, so we must be close to the end!  Or so it seems…but there’s still four chapters left, and surely there can’t be that much denouement left, can there?  There must be a few loose plot threads around…like House Bharaputra, or the other Cetagandan guy, Setti.  And I’m not convinced that the ovarian cultures are actually lost forever, but I can’t remember if I have grounds for that optimism or not.  I know that Ethan doesn’t go home empty-handed…  Oh, and Terrence Cee was standing around down by the lift tubes being conveniently absent for this chapter.  I guess if Millisor had come out to find him in the hallway, he’d really have been unable to restrain himself, so it’s probably for the best.

Anyway, it’s a great scene, showing that the station authorities are not entirely powerless after all, if you can get them mobilized in the right direction.  Only Ecobranch seems to have the authority to go in without warrants, though, whereas Security can’t do much unless they find actual evidence, hence the necessity for Elli’s prevarication.  And the reason why making those false claims is a serious crime, of course, because of the monster they unleash.  Looks like she skipped out before she could get charged, but good luck to her getting off the station, since she used her real name and everything.

I barely remembered about Helda from before, but the author took care to have her show up several times, so she became a believable antagonist.  Her motivations have nothing to do with the whole Cetaganda-Terrence Cee plotline at all, except for the coincidental involvement of Athos and the effect her actions had on the various factions.  We don’t really like her, and unlike Ethan I don’t even have that much sympathy for her after we discover the reason she hates Athos.  I mean, her son left, and reading between the lines it was probably because nothing he did, and no woman he dated, was ever good enough for her, and he’s been sufficiently traumatized by it to go to a planet that will keep him from ever having to see her again.  So in return she tries to wreck the future of an entire planet?  I’m not sure she even fully understand the damage she was doing, but on the other hand, she admitted she was willing to keep doing it as long as she had to…to get her son to come back.  I can’t even accuse her of having good intentions, and I can’t even believe that she’d forgive her son if he came back, or stop picking on his girlfriends, or be nicer to him.  She’s not a borderline psychopath like Millisor (or, you know, Bothari), but…well, maybe she is.  She’s definitely lacking in a lot of human empathy, which is probably why she likes being able to lord it over people down in Ecobranch and punish people for whatever minor infractions she could find.  With luck she won’t get to do that anymore…


Also with any luck I’ll be back next week for the next two chapters, and I wouldn’t even rule out getting back to my Tuesday schedule, but I’ll have to see.  This week was a clear sign that I shouldn’t always do it on the last two days, because things happen, and my life is in a bit of flux right now, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get myself to work too far ahead.  If I can’t handle it, I may drop back to one chapter a week for a while.  I’ve been trying to emulate Leigh Butler’s tremendous Wheel of Time rereads, and while she’s kept up a fairly good schedule, even she had to take a week off every once in a while, so be prepared for the occasional gap.  If I’m planning to skip an entire week, I’ll try to post a note to that effect; otherwise I’ll just try to come out with it a day or two late.  I’ll have to play it by ear, but all in all, I’m still enjoying this enough that I’m not likely to just up and quit without a more major personal upheaval than I’ve encountered thus far.

So–hopefully you’ll see two more chapters next week, so we’ll see which, if any, of those loose plot threads, show up to plague our heroes.  As always, if you can’t wait that long, you can always read ahead on your own.

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Another Tuesday has come, and mostly gone, and with it has arrived another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  I shall be summing up and pointing out interesting features of another brace of chapters in one of Lois McMaster Bujold’s books about the Vorkosigans and their friends, in this case Chapters Eight and Nine of Ethan of Athos, which sticks mostly to the “friends” angle with the titular character having to deal, somewhat reluctantly, with the aid of Miles “Admiral Naismith” Vorkosigan’s trusted agent Elli Quinn.  We rejoin them, or at least Ethan, on Kline Station, where he has just made the acquaintance of the elusive fugitive Terrence Cee…

Chapter Eight

After a moment’s surprise, Ethan asks Terrence what he wants from Athos.  Terrence says he’s a refugee and he wants to claim asylum.  Ethan is listed as Athos’s ambassador-at-large, but he admits to Terrence that he’s not really a diplomat, just a doctor.  He notices how tired Cee looks, and asks him if he wants protection from Millisor.

Cee nodded.

“Oh—oh, no. You don’t understand. It’s just me, out here. I don’t have an embassy or anything like that. I mean, real embassies have security guards, soldiers, a whole intelligence corps—”

Cee’s smile twisted. “Does the man who arranged Okita’s last accident really need them?”

While Ethan is stunned speechless, Cee tells him that Millisor has all of Cetaganda’s resources, and sees himself as a “vampire hunter” destroying an abomination, doing the dirty work for the good of all, and to keep his dirty little secrets.  Ethan thinks the conversation is getting off track, and asks Cee what he is, but Cee refuses to say more until he’s granted asylum.  At Ethan’s hesitation, Cee seems to lose hope, talking bitterly about how everyone seems to see him as a vat-grown monstrosity.  He swears vengeance against Captain Rau, in Janine’s name.  Ethan points out that he himself was grown in a vat, and doesn’t think any less of Cee for it.

Cee begins to turn away anyway, and Ethan decides to grant him asylum, as long he tells Ethan what happened to the ovarian cultures.  Cee is surprised that Athos didn’t receive them, and wonders what Millisor did with them; Ethan tells him about the interrogation, which implies that Millisor doesn’t know where they are either.  Cee is bewildered at what would have happened to them, no less than Ethan himself.  Ethan suggests to Cee that they pool their resources and find out; he agrees with Cee that he is also Athos’s senior intelligence agent (only agent whatsoever, in fact).  Cee tells Ethan that he then needs some of the substance tyramine, which he explains helps power his telepathy.  Ethan protests that there’s no such thing as telepathy; Cee says “There is now.”

Ethan is speechless again, until he points out that they should perhaps take their conversation somewhere a little more private.  Cee offers his “safe house”, which Ethan soon realizes just means his own rented room.  Ethan notes that Cee doesn’t seem to be using his powers right then, and Cee says that he doesn’t want to use them again, but supposes he will have to as the price of his asylum.

“I—I don’t know,” answered Ethan honestly. “But if you truly possess such a talent, it would seem a shame not to use it. I mean, one can see the applications right away.”

“Can’t one, though,” muttered Cee bitterly.

“Look at pediatric medicine—what a diagnostic aid for pre-verbal patients! Babies who can’t answer, Where does it hurt? What does it feel like? Or for stroke victims or those paralyzed in accidents who have lost all ability to communicate, trapped in their bodies. God the Father,” Ethan’s enthusiasm mounted, “you could be an absolute savior!”

Cee is surprised, noting that it’s mostly the espionage possibilities that occurs to people first, but he admits that most of the people who’ve talked to him about it were actually spies.  He tells Ethan that he’s an unnatural being, not even human, constructed from a dozen sources, with no mother or father.  Ethan points out that he himself comes from sixteen ancestors, if you go back four generations, and the only difference is how Cee’s “ancestors” were selected.  The test of humanity is not where you came from, but your free will and what you do with it.

Cee strained forward. “What am I to you, then, if not a monster?”

Ethan scratched his chin reflectively. “We all remain children of the Father, however we may otherwise be orphaned. You are my brother, of course.”

“Of course . . . ?” echoed Cee. His legs and arms drew in, making his body a tight ball. Tears leaked between his squeezed eyelids. He scrubbed his face roughly on his trouser knee, smearing the tears’ reflective sheen across his flushed face. “Damn it,” he whispered, “I’m the ultimate weapon, the super agent. I survived it all. How can you make me weep now?” Suddenly savage, he added, “If I find out you’re lying to me, I swear I will kill you.”

Ethan tells Cee that he must be tired, not to mention disturbed from spending so much time looking into Millisor’s mind, which Cee agrees with.  When Ethan asks, Cee tells him he’s nineteen, and Ethan asks for more of Cee’s personal history, as his “immigration officer”.

The Cetagandan scientist Dr. Faz Jahar had stumbled across a mad witch-woman with signs of the talent, and managed to convince a ghem-lord of the potential of the program, so acquired unlimited funding.  After many failures, L-X-1O-Terran-C was the first survivor, but his tests proved unpromising, so Jahar’s funding was somewhat reduced, but he persevered.  J-9-X-Ceta-G, “Janine”, was the only other survivor, and Terrence’s constant companion/sister/lover.  Millisor had odd fantasies about her, and she was never trained as a spy.  Once Terrence reached puberty, his abilities manifested and became undeniable, as long as he had a large enough supply of tyramine, and wasn’t too far away or surrounded by too many other minds.  Janine and Terrence seemed to have different sensitivities, since often one of them could read a mind clearly while the other had difficulties.

Because Terrence could only access conscious thoughts, he was used more for interrogation than surveillance.  He was raised to be a Cetagandan agent, but his perceptions of the thoughts of his keepers, compared with those of the dissidents he was investigating, began to erode his loyalties.  Janine and Terrence began to plan their escape.  They wanted to destroy the laboratory, but bring four of the newly-made children with them.  Dr. Jahar died when he tried to save his notes; the children died when they made too much noise in the escape; Janine was killed by Captain Rau while Terrence was out winning money from spacers at cards to help get them offplanet.  Terrence recites this all dispassionately, but by this point he is unconsciously rocking back and forth.

Terrence was unable to get Janine’s body cryogenically frozen in time to save her life, but he froze her body anyway and set himself to making as much money as he could, to get himself and Janine to Jackson’s Whole in hope of a miracle.  It turned out even Jacksonians couldn’t bring her back to life, but he was offered a clone, even one force-grown to adulthood.  He considered it, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.

After a pause, Ethan asked gently how this connected to the ovarian samples Athos had bought from House Bharaputra.  Terrence tells him that he heard about the shipment to Athos and thought it sounded like a remote enough place for him to hide.  Janine’s remains were cremated and Terrence started on a roundabout route to take him to Kline Station.  When he arrived, five days earlier, he found Millisor had been there for months in his cover identity, and only the distraction caused by Ethan’s interference and Okita’s death had kept them from spotting him.

Ethan asks what Cee had the Jacksonians do to Athos’s order.  When Cee denies anything, Ethan says that it took the Bharaputrans much too long to prepare the order, and that Terrence no longer seems to have all the money he said he’d accumulated.  He asks if Cee had had them create an ovarian culture from Janine’s remains, rather than having her cloned, and eventually Cee admits it.  He says that Janine had loved children, and he wanted to give them to her as a last gift.
Ethan is trying to put the pieces together when the door buzzer goes off.  Neither of them is expecting a visitor; Ethan volunteers to open it while Cee covers him.

“Good evening, Ambassador Urquhart.” Elli Quinn, framed in the aperture, beamed at him. “I heard the Athosian Embassy might be in the market for security guards—soldiers—an intelligence corps. Look no further, Quinn is here, all three in one. I’m offering a special discount on daring rescues to any customer who places his order before midnight. It’s five minutes till,” she added after a moment. “You going to invite me in?”

Comments

As a technical quibble, tyramine is referred to several times as an “amino acid”.  According to Wikipedia, though, it’s not actual an amino acid, being created from the amine acid tyrosine by removing the part of it that makes it an actual acid; as a result, it’s really just an amine.  Not that it makes much of a difference to the story, as far as I can tell, I just thought I’d point that out.  It’s a nice touch, too, having a catalyst required for the telepathy to work, and also has some interesting plot implications which we’ll see in the next chapter.

It turns out that Cee doesn’t know what happened to the ovarian cultures either.  So if Ethan doesn’t, and Cee doesn’t, and Millisor doesn’t, and Quinn doesn’t…well, I’m not convinced that Quinn doesn’t.  I don’t remember myself, actually, from my previous rereads, but I’m going to bet here that she knows something about it.  After all, what happened to the ovarian cultures?  They were swapped and replaced with some vaguely similar materials which, I bet, were approximately, or maybe even exactly, the same mass.  Kind of like what Elli did when she wanted to get rid of Okita’s body…with a certain familiarity, almost as if she’d done such things before.  She did tell Ethan she didn’t do it, though she admitted he had only her word for that…  It’s also possible that something may have gone wrong with the biopolice on Kline Station and she accidentally lost it, I suppose.

Cee’s story definitely mentions only the Cetagandan ghem-lords, not even a hint of haut, so they were still a concept Bujold hadn’t come up with yet, just like Imperial Auditors.  Her later explanation is just that the ghem are the ones that everyone sees, the hauts tending to keep to themselves and the higher echelons of Cetagandan society.  Still, Ethan should have at least heard about them via his earlier vid lessons, or were they lacking in that bit of information?  Retconning can be hard to pull off with overly-vigilant readers, I guess, if you don’t leave yourself enough room to squeeze in your changes…

Ethan’s perspective on the uses of telepathy is, perhaps, inevitable given his profession, but it’s refreshing to see.  Maybe it’s just that telepaths are often seen as persecuted minorities, who have to use every scrap of their power to protect themselves, which often amounts to intelligence work on their own behalf, or at least to try to keep the powers that be from crushing them.  The more practical potential uses of telepathy are more rarely heard about.  Though I do recall Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men doing the occasional bit of psychological treatment of catatonic patients…

Just noticing, with Terrence’s genetic designation ending in “Terran-C”, and Janine’s in “Ceta-G”, does that have something to do with the planetary origin of their genetic components?  They are, as Terrence said, mongrels made from a dozen different samples, but the designation must have picked one of them to be dominant, so maybe the majority of Terrence comes from Earth, while Janine’s came from Cetaganda itself.  Of course, all of their genetics came from Earth if you go back far enough, but if we concede that the Cetagandans may have gone farther from it than most…in the haut, at least.  The basis for the telepathy itself came from a Cetagandan commoner, though, so who knows where it came from originally, and what Dr. Jahar was trying to splice it with…

It’s nice to see that Ethan is so open-minded and unprejudiced about people, regardless of their origins.  As long as they’re not women, of course.

Chapter Nine

Ethan is not happy to see Quinn, but realizes from her words that she must have heard his earlier conversation with Cee.  She tells him the bug was in his credit chit, the one thing he never parted with.  She says he was a wonderful stalking-goat, and admitted that her earlier insults were mostly designed to shift him out of her room.  Ethan perforce lets her in; Cee asks if she’s a friend, and Ethan says “no” as Quinn says “yes”.  Cee is visibly affected by Quinn’s appearance, but he manages to control himself.  Quinn asks Ethan to introduce her, telling him that he would still have been stuck in quarantine if she hadn’t gotten Teki to spring him.  He makes her introduce herself instead.

She gave him a gracious nod and turned to Cee, her studied ease not quite concealing an intent excitement. “My name is Elli Quinn. I hold the rank of Commander in the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet, and the post of a field agent in the Fleet intelligence section. My orders were to observe ghem-Colonel Millisor and his group and discover their mission. Thanks largely to Ambassador Urquhart here, I have finally done so.” Her eyes sparked satisfaction.

Cee’s suspicions return at Elli’s announcement, and he asks who she is working for.  She tells him Admiral Naismith, and then Cee asks who he is working for.  Quinn admits she doesn’t know, because of the nature of mercenary work.  Cee says that her employers could even be the Cetagandans checking up on their own agents.  Quinn says that they wouldn’t be happy with her last report–which Ethan knows is a reference to Okita’s death–and she believes that Admiral Naismith would never work for Cetagandans.

“Mercenaries get rich by taking their contracts from the highest bidder,” said Cee. “They don’t care who.”

“Ah—hm. Not precisely. Mercenaries get rich by winning with the least possible loss. To win, it helps if you can command the best possible people. And the very best do care who. True, there are moral zombies and outright psychos in the business—but not on Admiral Naismith’s staff.”

Quinn begins trying to recruit Cee for the Dendarii, offering him a lieutenantship in Fleet Intelligence.  She tells him that the Dendarii promote based on merit, not arcane class distinctions.  His odd origin will be no barrier, with other vat births, “genetically altered marginal habitat people”, and hermaphrodites already part of the fleet structure.  Ethan points out that Cee asked for Athos’s protection, and Quinn says that a mercenary fleet would be better protection still.  Cee says that they will no doubt wish to debrief him with truth drugs, and Quinn admits that that is standard procedure.

Cee asks Quinn what she’ll do if he turns her down, and she notes that they’re not off Kline station yet, and she may still be able to help with Millisor, in exchange for at least some tidbit of intelligence about the Cetagandans.  Cee asks if his dead body would be good enough, and Quinn says Admiral Naismith wouldn’t like that.  Cee wonders how any of them can know what others are really thinking, any more than he can at the moment.  Quinn says they have to learn who to trust and put faith in; Cee says he will need to be sure, so they need to get him some tyramine.

Ethan is dismayed at the prospect that Cee will learn how pitiful Athos’s protection really is, but he agrees; Quinn goes through the Dendarii secrets in her head, decides that everything is either obsolete, already known to Millisor, or simply personal, and agrees as well.  Cee asks if they have any tyramine on hand, and Quinn says they can just get some from a pharmacy.  Cee says that’s not going to work, and Quinn says that makes sense, finally, of why Millisor has been concentrating on infiltrating the civilian computer system.  He’ll be monitoring the pharmacies for anyone looking to acquire tyramine, and Rau or Setti will check into any alerts.  Quinn thinks she has a way around it, though.

Ethan and Cee sit at the listening post set up in Cee’s hostel room, watching and listening through transmitters in Quinn’s earrings.  She is fishing up briefing Teki on his part in the plan, telling him to abort if he receives no signal, by going back in and acting for tryptophan instead.  Teki asks if this is to do with the guy he sprang from quarantine, or with the Dendarii.  He says that if she’s in love, then Ethan is at least an improvement over “that dwarf”, Admiral Naismith.

“Admiral Naismith,” said Quinn stiffly, “is not a dwarf. He’s nearly five feet tall. And I am not ‘in love’ with him, you low-minded twit; I merely admire his brilliance.” The view jiggled as she bounced on her heels. “Professionally.”

She tells him they’ll have to start soon, or Teki will be late for work; Teki says she has to promise to tell him the whole story later.  He also wonders why she keeps having to say “Nothing can go wrong” if this is such an easy job.  Quinn parts from Teki, window-shopping while keeping him in earshot, and Teki goes into the pharmacy.  Teki places his order, which the pharmacist comments on; when he enters it on the computer, something seems to go wrong, and he grumbles that he’ll have to do it manually.  Cee says this is probably part of Millisor’s trap, adding in a delay so his agent can get there.  Teki sits down to wait as the pharmacist dusts off a book and heads into the back; Elli browses the pharmacy shelves, careful to keep from seeming too interested in Teki.  It doesn’t take long before a new customer enters the pharmacy–Rau.  Rau also keeps an eye on Teki, but doesn’t seem to realize that Elli is involved as well.

When Teki’s order is ready, he pays for it and goes to sit outside; Rau follows and sits nearby.  Elli continues window-shopping until, in frustration, Teki gets up, trying to leave his package behind, but Rau calls his attention to it.  Teki retrieves it, then, unwillingly, returns to the pharmacist.

“Excuse me,” Teki called to the pharmacist. “But is it tyramine or tryptophan that’s the sleep aid?”

“Tryptophan,” said the pharmacist.

“Oh, I’m sorry. It was the tryptophan I wanted.”

There was a slightly murderous silence. Then, “Quite, sir,” said the pharmacist coldly. “Right away.”

Back in the hostel room, Quinn says it wasn’t a total loss; they know Rau is manning Millisor’s listening post, and the Cetagandans will doubtless spend far too much time following Teki around, spreading themselves thinner.  Cee is not happy about the failure to get the tyramine, though.  Quinn tries to come up with a plan to steal it instead, until Ethan asks Cee if it really needs to be purified.  Cee says that’s what they always used, but he doesn’t know.  Ethan makes up an extensive list of food and drink that contains tyramine, which he says Millisor couldn’t possibly be monitoring, though some of it is probably a bit exotic for Kline Station.  Elli goes out shopping and returns two hours later with two large bags.

“It—seems rather a lot,” remarked Ethan.

“You didn’t say how much,” Quinn pointed out. “But he only has to eat and drink until he switches on.” She lined up claret, burgundy, champagne, sherry, and dark and light beer bulbs in a soldierly row. “Or passes out.” Around the liquids in an artistic fan she placed yellow cheese from Escobar, hard white cheese from Sergyar, two kinds of pickled herring, a dozen chocolate bars, sweet and dill pickles. “Or throws up,” she concluded.

The hot fried chicken liver cubes alone were native produce from the Kline Station culture vats. Ethan thought of Okita and gulped. He picked up a few items and blanched at the price tags.

Elli says that some of it was indeed hard to find except in import shops, and wonders how this is going to look on her expense account.  Ethan and Quinn set up the meal, and Cee sits down to eat it, asking if they’re sure this is going to work.

Comments

Teki gets yet another role in the plot.  I guess he wasn’t actually there for his first role, when they had to deal with Helda instead, but he did help Ethan out of quarantine, and now he gets to be…not quite a stalking-horse, I guess, or was he?  He was an innocuous substitute, not really in danger, but designed to test the trap anyway.  I’m suddenly reminded of the other cousinly relationship in the series, Miles and Ivan…  Guess who gets to be Ivan?

Elli was supposedly listening in on Ethan and Cee’s previous conversation, so she should have known how unwilling Cee would be to work as an Intelligence agent, and yet she had to put forth the offer anyway.  From her previous statements, she didn’t know that Terrence Cee was even a person, as opposed to a genetic sample, so she (and Miles) probably didn’t have any information about the telepathy either, but she seems to have adjusted well to the idea.  Still, she sees it through her own filter, as an intelligence agent.

Early hints of the Elli/Miles romance, which doesn’t actually come to fruition until…when, sometime between Brothers In Arms and Mirror Dance?  I know it’s an established fact by Mirror Dance, but I can’t remember if we see its actual genesis.  Guess I’ll have to wait until I get there.  Is it the normal Dendarii employers behind this mission, by the way, which is to say, Barrayaran Imperial Security?  It does seem like the kind of thing ImpSec would be interested in, based on the conversation Miles overheard between Rian and Millisor in Cetaganda, but Quinn doesn’t know, and Miles never brings up the topic in any of the other books, so we may never know for sure.

Bujold does seem to have gotten her information on foods containing tyramine right; at least, it seems to match up with the Wikipedia article.  An amusing solution to their dilemma, if not a very efficient one, given how much food Cee will need to eat to get enough tyramine…


Six more chapters left, three weeks, and I honestly don’t remember exactly how this one works out.  I remember the last chapter, but not the climax, so I guess I’ve got that to look forward to.  And my guesses (if you can call them that, given that I’ve read the book twice before) registered about Ethan’s samples.  Until next week, then…

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Good evening, or morning, or midday, or twilight, or whatever day-segment designation it may be when you read this, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  What is the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, you say?  Or do you just click on the “About” link in the right column?  If that’s not your thing, then let’s just say that it’s a “reread” wherein I “reread” the various “books” in the “Vorkosigan” “Saga” by Lois “McMaster” Bujold and then “summarize” and “comment” on “them”.

After the single-chapter installment last week, I’m now going to cover chapters Six and Seven of Ethan of Athos, which does not actually feature any Vorkosigans directly, but some of the characters know of them, so that’ll have to do.

Chapter Six

After returning the float pallet, Quinn brings Ethan by a roundabout route back to the Transients’ Lounge, to a different hostel.  Quinn relaxes once they’re in their room, and offers him some beer, spiced with vitamins.  Ethan worries about what people will think of them sharing the room, but he risks the bathroom to shave, not wanting to seem to be pretending to be a parent.  He cleans up himself and his clothes and emerges looking and feeling less scruffy.  Quinn is relaxing in a float chair, leaving the bed to Ethan.

She asks him about the biological shipment to Athos, but Ethan insists that she share her information as well.  She tells him that Bharaputra Laboratories spent a lot of time on the shipment, under strict security, before shipping it off in nine freezer containers to Kline Station.  Millisor and his compatriots arrived on Jackson’s Whole about the time the shipment was leaving for Athos and raided the Bharaputra laboratory, vaporizing it behind them, and then killing the wife of one of the geneticists and burning down his house.  They then disappeared until turning up on Kline Station three weeks too late.

Quinn herself then arrived on Jackson’s Whole, asking about Athos, and eventually managed to persuade the Bharaputrans she wasn’t in league with Millisor.  They even ended up hiring her to kill Millisor, which she accepted to keep from having to outrace another assassin.  She asks Ethan about the containers, and he explains about the ovarian cultures.  Quinn says someone obviously intercepted the shipment at some point and replaced it with garbage.  Ethan tells her that Millisor suspects Terrence Cee of being responsible, and Quinn says that whoever it was, they had plenty of opportunity, and the shipment could be almost anywhere by now.

Ethan used the pause to ask, “What is a wife?”

She choked on her beer. For all that she waved it about, Ethan noticed that its level was dropping very slowly. “I keep forgetting about you. . . . Ah, wife. A marriage partner—a man’s female mate. The male partner is called a husband. Marriage takes many forms, but is most commonly a legal, economic, and genetic alliance to produce and raise children. Do you copy?”

“I think so,” he said slowly. “It sounds a little like a designated alternate parent.” He tasted the words. “Husband. On Athos, to husband is a verb meaning to conserve resources. Like stewardship.” Did this imply the male maintained the female during gestation? So, this supposedly organic method had hidden costs that might make a real Rep Center seem cheap, Ethan thought with satisfaction.

Ethan asks if the wife who was killed had any children, and Quinn says she was pregnant, but the geneticist’s other child was left alone.  Quinn turns the conversation to the question of why Athos, and what makes the planet special.  Ethan says all they have is “nothing”, and Quinn wonders if the planet’s isolation is its allure.  Ethan explains to her about the Reproduction Centres and Quinn wonders if there’s some kind of “cuckoo’s egg” scheme, trying to seed some kind of genetic experiments onto the planet.  But they can’t figure out why the Jacksonians would do it, or why the Cetagandans are so interested if it’s not their shipment originally.  Quinn tells him that the Jacksonians will do whatever they’re paid for, so if someone had paid them to slip something into the shipment to Athos, they’d have done it cheerfully.

Quinn admits to Ethan that she’s gotten more involved than she was supposed to, in rescuing him and killing Okita when her orders to merely to observe.

“Will he, ah, be annoyed with you?” Ethan inquired nervously, with a skewed paranoid flash of her admiral sternly ordering her to restore the original balance by sending him to join Okita.

“Naw. He has unprofessional moments himself. Terribly impractical, it’s going to kill him one of these days. Though so far he seems able to make things come out all right by sheer force of will.”

She says she should go back to watching Millisor, and tells him to stay out of sight in the room.  Ethan protests that he needs to be about his mission, and needs his supplies from his original room.  Quinn tells him it’s not safe, and promises to help him with his mission once hers is done.

“Always assuming,” said Ethan, chapped, “that ghem-Colonel Millisor doesn’t outbid House Bharaputra or Admiral Naismith for your services.”

She shrugged on her jacket, a lumpy thing with lots of pockets that seemed to have a deal more swing than accounted for by the weight of the fabric. “You can get one thing straight right now, Athosian. There are some things money can’t buy.”

“What, mercenary?”

She paused at the door, her lips curving up despite her sparking eyes. “Unprofessional moments.”

Ethan spends most of the next day sleeping; on the second day he experiments with leaving the room but doesn’t get further than the hallway, deciding he could use Quinn’s protection for a little longer.  By the next day he’s bored enough to experiment with the comconsole library.

By the end of the next day he was becoming painfully aware of the inadequacy of a cultural education that consisted of two very general galactic histories, a history of Cetaganda, and a fiction holovid titled “Love’s Savage Star” that he had stumbled onto and been too stunned to switch off. Life with women did not just induce strange behavior, it appeared; it induced very strange behavior. How long before the emanations or whatever it was from Commander Quinn would make him start acting like that? Would ripping open her jacket to expose her mammary hypertrophy really cause her to fixate upon him like a newly hatched chick on its mother hen? Or would she carve him to ribbons with her vibra-knife before the hormones or whatever they were cut in?

By the sixth day his patience is running out, and he quizzes Quinn on what Millisor is doing.  Quinn says he’s not doing much–he hasn’t contacted the authorities, and he seems to be settling in to his cover identity.  She’s not sure what he’s waiting for.  The Cetagandans do keep coming back to one corridor near where they disposed of Okita’s remains, as if he had some sort of inorganic tracer.  Millisor is still eating meat, though, unlike Quinn and Ethan, so he probably hasn’t figure out Okita’s fate yet.

Ethan begins to lose his temper, questioning Quinn’s assertion that the station authorities won’t help him.  He suggests just telling Millisor that the shipment he’s chasing didn’t arrive on Athos.  He asks when she’ll let him go, and she tells him he’s free to go at any point; he’s skeptical, because of all she’s told him.  She reminds him that their biggest crime on Kline Station wasn’t killing Okita, but secretly disposing of his body, which he’s as guilty of as she is.  He tells her that the worst they can do is deport him, which would almost qualify as a reward at this point.  She tells him not to come crying back to him for help, and Ethan grabs his few meagre possessions and storms out.

He decides to try to find Millisor and settle things.  He can’t find anyone of that name registered in the Transients’ Lounge, or Rau, or Setti, and realizes that they’re probably using false identities.  He considers buying a ticket off the station, perhaps to Beta Colony, and hoping that the spies will take care of each other in his absence.  Or he could go back to his original room, but Millisor might not give him the chance to talk before killing him.

Wandering in the mall, he spots a couple of men with colourfully-painted faces, deep in conversation.  He’s nearly upon them he recognizes them, and remembers reading about the ghem-lords’ face paint.  Rau recognizes him then, and fires a nerve disruptor bolt at Ethan as he runs away.  He glances back to see that Millisor spoiled the shot, and the two Cetagandans are now arguing.  Ethan heads down a lift tube and tries hard to lose his pursuers.  He succeeds, in an equipment closet back on the stationer side, and soon realizes he is now horribly lost himself.

Comments

The death of the geneticist’s pregnant wife is not a random accident, as you might suspect by this point.  Whatever the Cetagandans are afraid of/worried about, it probably has something to do with those ovaries, and casts the shadow of a fetus…if fetuses cast shadows, that is.  Doesn’t make it any less heinous, but they can justify it to themselves, at least, as a way to keep the horrific genetic monsters from escaping out into the world…

Not sure if Elli actually tried to goad Ethan into goint out as a stalking horse or not.  Could be that she was just actually tired of him and had convinced herself he wasn’t her responsibility any more.  I guess later chapters will probably tell us.

I guess that Ethan had noticed Elli’s “mammary hypertrophy”, or at least realized in theory that it probably existed.  Maybe he was just expecting hers to be like that in “Love’s Savage Star”, which I’m sure would have been a real experience for sheltered Dr. Ethan.  From which he draws most of the wrong conclusions, according to the indoctrination of his Athosian religion or whatever it is.  (I’d also like to say here that “Mammary Hypertrophy” would be a great name for a band.)

Chapter Seven

Ethan huddles in the closet until he’s calmed down, and already regrets walking out on Quinn, ruefully reflecting on his earlier convictions that led him to leave the safety of her hostel room.  But he knows he can’t go crawling back to her, so he has to go to the Kline Station authorities.  Suddenly wondering if Quinn had planted another bug in his clothes, he strips them off and puts on a set of red coveralls and slightly-large boots from the closet.  He promises he’ll return them as soon as he’s cleared everything up with Station Security.

He passes two women in blue coveralls pushing a loaded pallet, afraid to blow his cover by asking them for directions.  Up ahead, two pallets crashes at a cross-corridor, and some birds have escaped from one of the crates.  A woman he recognizes as Helda yells at him to do something with the gravity, before she gives up, runs over to him, and turns a dial behind a wall panel.  The gravity increases as she does so, pulling the birds down to the deck, as well as Ethan, Helda, and the others.  Helda tells Ethan to help her collect the birds before they spread their disease all over the station, and he obliges; only then does she turn the gravity back down and show any concern for the others.

One man, identified by Helda as Teki, has a superficial head wound, bleeding just enough to scare the two teenagers on the other pallet.  Ethan tells the boy to put pressure on the wound and stop the bleeding, since his own hands are contaminated and he shouldn’t do it himself.  Helda calls for decontamination, Station Security, and a medic in that order, and Ethan is relieved that he won’t have to try to find Security for himself.  The decon team arrives, and Helda pulls Ethan off to go through quarantine, though he’s assured that he’ll just need a thorough scrub down and a shot; she takes him away on one of the pallets, with a sealed clear plastic canopy.

“Don’t touch your face,” Helda reminded him absently, glancing back for one last look at the disaster scene. It seemed to be under control now, the decon team having taken charge of her float pallet of birds and reopened the airseal doors.

Ethan displayed his closed fists in token of his understanding.

“You do seem to have grasped sterile technique,” Helda admitted grudgingly, settling back and glowering at him. “For a while there I thought Docks and Locks was now hiring the mentally handicapped.”

Ethan asks what was happening (in monosyllables), and Helda tells him the teenagers were likely joyriding on the pallet, and she’ll have a stern word with their parents.  The birds are impounded cargo from a freighter, but better than cows; she tells the story of a shipment of cattle that all had to be cut up and disposed.  Sometimes they try to sue the station, she says, but they lose.
She becomes suspicious at Ethan’s taciturnity, wondering if he’s sick, but he claims to just have strained his voice.  She then turns the conversation to discussing the disgusting obesity (barely perceptible to Ethan) of some passing stationers, and Ethan is relieved when they finally reach quarantine.

Ethan’s coveralls are taken away, with his ID and credit chit, but returned to him, eventually, after his decontamination shower, with instructions to report to Records on his way out.  He eventually finds it, at the same time as a now-bandaged Teki; Helda and another man are inside.  Helda reprimands Teki for his delay on the phone; Teki protests that he was talking to a relative about a business matter.  The man at the console asks Ethan for his ID card, and Ethan claims he left it at home, in his duty coveralls.  Helda is having none of it, but Teki, grateful for his help with the birds, tells him to just go get it and come back, and spirits him out the door.  He leaves Ethan in another corridor, disappearing back inside before Ethan can ask him for help.

Two hours later he’s still wandering through the stationer areas, wondering why there are so few Security stations to be found on that side as opposed to the Transients’ Lounge.  Finally he manages to find a public area with actual maps and signs, and locates himself, not too far away from his own hostel room or Quinn’s.  Watching cautiously for Cetagandans or Dendarii, he soon finds a security booth with a stationer woman inside.  He asks if she’s on duty, and if she knows about the nerve disrupter attack earlier, but she seems to misinterpret his questions as flirting, though she does tell him they are looking for more witnesses to the shooting.

“It’s the charge. Of course the fellow claims he fired by accident, showing off the weapon to his friend. But the tipster who called in the incident claimed he shot at a man, who ran away. Well, the tipster vanished, and the rest of the so-called witnesses were the usual lot—full of contagious drama, but when you pin ’em down they always turn out to have been facing the other way or zipping their boot or something at the actual moment the disruptor went off.” She sighed. “Now, if it’s proved the fellow with the disruptor was firing at someone, he gets deported, but if it was an accident all we can do is confiscate the illegal weapon, fine him, and let him go. Which we’ll have to do in another twelve hours if this intent-to-harm business can’t be substantiated.”

While Ethan is cheered by the thought of Rau in jail, that would still leave Millisor and Setti on the loose, so he doesn’t feel much safer.

Ethan took a breath. “My name is Urquhart.”

“Mine’s Lara,” said the Security woman.

“That’s nice,” said Ethan automatically. “But—”

“It was my grandmother’s name,” the Security woman confided. “I think family names give such a nice sense of continuity, don’t you? Unless you happen to get stuck with something like Sterilla, which happened to an unfortunate friend of mine. She shortens it to Illa.”

“Uh—that wasn’t exactly what I meant.”

Before he can untangle the thread of conversation, an older woman comes in and tells Lara to stop socializing on duty, they have a call.  Ethan overhears that Rau has escaped–or, rather, “vanished”–from detention.  Lara tells Ethan to look her up when she’s off duty, and the older woman shoos him out of the office so they can lock it up.

Ethan tries then to return to Quinn’s room, but finds it vacant except for a cleaning robot, which says the previous occupant left no forwarding address.  Back to the security booth, which is still locked; he sits down to wait, resolving to turn himself in as soon as possible.  He jumps when a hand falls on his shoulder, belonging to a young blond man, not one of the Cetagandans; the man addresses him by name and says he’s very interested in Athos, introducing himself as Terrence Cee.

Comments

I had to read over the pallet crash scene a few times before I was sure that the two women with the pallet were not involved in the collision ahead of him.  First of all, of course, Ethan passed them, which implied they were going the other way, whereas the collision happened ahead of him.  Not sure why they had to have a pallet too, because that just made their presence confusing.  But then, apparently, I’m easily confused by such things–like when I thought that Aral shot Cordelia back in the first chapter of Shards of Honour

I kept expecting Ethan to clue in about Teki, mentioned by Elli twice back in Chapter Five, where she tells Helda that she’s Teki’s cousin.  So Ethan misses the reference to Teki’s business phone call with family.  Was there anything about Ethan in that call?  Was Elli trying to get Teki to keep track of him, for instance?  After all, Ethan had ditched his clothes, so if she had placed another tracker in them, she’d have lost his trail…  Of course, Ethan was dressed as a stationer, so Teki might not have thought to look for him, but then again, if he and Elli knew where he’d changed his clothes, they might have been able to figure out what he was wearing.  Another thing to see if it comes up later in the book.

Ethan is so hapless most of the time that it’s almost a shock when he’s in a situation where he gets a chance to demonstrate that he’s an actual trained doctor.  So I guess he’s got one skill, at least…

The scene with Lara is hilarious, as Ethan’s attempts to confess or turn himself in or even get some help are derailed by her chatty flirtations and blithe cluelessness.  He does at least get information on what happened with Rau, but it’s not particularly cheering.  Poor guy.

But hey, at the end at least we get to meet the mysterious Terrence Cee!  For some reason I had him in my mind as a tall black guy.  And I’m pretty sure I know why–for reasons that may become clear later I’m mixing him up in my head with the rogue telepath from a first-season Babylon 5 episode (Jason Ironheart in “Mind War”).  I probably just missed the “blond” description last time through, and so my mind had to find some other way to picture him…


So Elli’s explained her side of what happened, and hopefully we’ll get some more information from Terrence Cee in the next chapter, unless the Cetagandans start chasing them again or something…  Not quite halfway through the book, and I don’t remember yet how everything turns out, but the plot has definitely thickened.

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It’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, a loving, thoughtful look back at the works of Lois McMaster Bujold in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week I continue in the slightly extraneous novel Ethan of Athos, which, it turns out, has an odd number of chapters.  This means that at some point I have to do a weekly post with only one chapter instead of two (since the odds of my doing three chapters in a week is apparently quite low), and, apparently that week is this week.  So kick back and let’s take a look at Chapter Five of Ethan of Athos, wherein Dr. Ethan Urquhart and Elli Quinn try to dispose of a dead body on a space station.

Chapter Five

Ethan wakes up when Quinn throws a set of Stationer clothes on top of him.  She says she has an idea to get rid of the body, but she wants to catch the right people on shift, so they have to hurry.  She helps him dress and they leave their refuge with float-pallet and crate in tow.  Ethan is feeling a little bit better, but queasy and far from rested.  Ethan is nervous about being noticed, but Quinn says that in his red coveralls they’ll think he’s a porter in charge of the crate.

They pass through a hydroponic garden full of carrots, which makes Ethan even more nauseous; Quinn picks him a carrot to try to help settle his stomach, but he decides to stick it in a pocket for later.  She takes them through a door marked NO ADMITTANCE (on both sides), and stops in front of another door marked ATMOSPHERE CONTROL.  She tells Ethan to keep his mouth shut or his accent will give the game away.

The room on the other side of the door is surrounded by glass walls with water on the other side, filled with plants and newts.  Quinn tells Ethan that the plants are to convert CO2 to oxygen, and the newts are to keep the plants in check, but then they have to keep the newts in check.  Quinn greets a nearby technician, Dale, and tells him that the Dendarii have never experienced the joys of newt-oriented cuisine.

The tech’s eyes glinted with a humor baffling to Ethan. “What! Can there be a soul in the universe so deprived? No cream of newt soup, either, I suppose?”

“No newt creole,” confided Commander Quinn with mock horror. “No newts ‘n chips.”

“No newt provençal?” chorused the tech. “No newt stew? No newt mousse in aspic? No slither goulash, no newt chowder?”

“Bucket ‘o newts is unknown to them,” confirmed Quinn. “Newt caviar is a delicacy unheard of.”

She asks for some of their excess to take back; he offers three hundred kilos, but she says she can only afford to ship a hundred.  She does offer to dispose of the rest for him, though, or take them down to the Transients’ Lounge if they need them.  They go up to where Drew stuns a batch of newts in the tank, brings them up in a big newt trap, and packs 100 kg of them into three big cartons.  He offers to help them pack their crate, but Quinn says she wants to do it by hand, to pick only the best, and Drew goes back down.

Quinn and Ethan wrestle Okita’s body out of the crate and weigh it, then swap it with an equivalent weight of newts from one of the cartons.  Quinn explains that this will leave them in the end with only a crate full of stunned newts to dispose of, which is less fraught than a dead body.  Ethan asks if they’re going to dump the body back in with the plants, but Quinn says that he’ll see.

On their way out, Quinn tells Drew that she brought the wrong size shipping canister, but she’ll take the newts down to Disposal anyway.  After they leave, a relieved Quinn explains to Ethan that they could have just left the cartons there, but she was afraid that Drew might get an order from the Transients’ Lounge after all and open up the wrong carton…  They sell the newts up there as “frog legs” at a premium price, she adds.  The stationers are sick of the newts, but Biocontrol thinks they work just fine and refuses to diversify them.

Ethan and Quinn begin speculating about what this genetics project Millisor is so worried about might be.  Quinn suggests that maybe the Cetagandans were looking to raise super-soldiers.  Ethan is skeptical, pointing out that even super-soldiers need to be raised from babies, and the costs of child-rearing are quite an economic commitment, which couldn’t possibly be spent on something as non-productive as an army.

Elli Quinn quirked an eyebrow. “How odd. On other worlds, people seem to come in floods, and they’re not necessarily impoverished, either.”

Ethan, diverted, said, “Really? I don’t see how that can be. Why, the labor costs alone of bringing a child to maturity are astronomical. There must be something wrong with your accounting.”

Her eyes screwed up in an expression of sudden ironic insight. “Ah, but on other worlds the labor costs aren’t added in. They’re counted as free.”

Ethan stared. “What an absurd bit of double thinking! Athosians would never sit still for such a hidden labor tax! Don’t the primary nurturers even get social duty credits?”

“I believe,” her voice was edged with a peculiar dryness, “they call it women’s work. And the supply usually exceeds the demand—non-union scabs, as it were, undercutting the market.”

Ethan was increasingly puzzled. “Are not most women combat soldiers, then, like you? Are there men Dendarii?”

She hooted, then lowered her voice as a passer-by stared. “Four-fifths of the Dendarii are men. And of the women, three out of four are techs, not troops. Most military services are skewed that way, except for ones like Barrayar that have no women at all.”

“Oh,” said Ethan. After a disappointed pause he added, “You are an atypical sample, then.” So much for his nascent Rules of Female Behavior. . . .

“Atypical.” She was still a moment, then snorted. “Yeah, that’s me all over.”

Ethan eats his carrot as they enter the ECOBRANCH: RECYCLING area, and arrive at Assimilation Station B.  Inside there is a lab table with what looks like sampling equipment, as well as lot of monitors and a large machine hooked up to pipes.  A technician is doing something between a pair of conduits, and swearing vigorously.  She stands up (nametag reading “Helda”), and Quinn is obviously not pleased to see her there.  Helda is not impressed with Quinn’s excuse of doing an errand for Dale Zeeman, or her claim to be a former stationer herself, cousin of Teki (who she’d obviously hoped to actually be on shift), and rails about ignorant downsiders putting all sorts of trash into the recycling tubes (like her current example, an oxygen cylinder, freshly wrested from the pipes).

Quinn asks if they can get the cartons recycled, but Helda says it’s the wrong time for it, there’s an interment about to start.  Before she can dismiss them, though, the funeral party arrives, and Ethan and Quinn hurriedly sit down on their pallet.  The mourners say a few words, but refuse Helda’s offer to stay for the actual interment.  Once they’re gone, Helda gets down to business, undressing the corpse of an elderly man and extracting all the inorganic replacements parts.  She then puts the body into the large machine which begins to whir.  Quinn explains to Ethan that the body is being broken down to its constituents and returned to the ecosystem.  For bodies, it’s generally set to fertilize the hydroponics, rather than being sent to the protein vats, like the newts would be.  Ethan points out that Okita is going to go in with the newts, and Quinn suggests they turn vegetarian for a month.

Helda turns to find Ethan and Quinn still there, and Quinn explains that she needs to return the float pallet.  With poor grace, Helda reprograms the machine and begins to dump the cartons into it.  The third carton makes an alarming thump, and Helda is about to open the seals and check on it when Ethan, panicked, claims (in as good a stationer accent as he can manage) to have seen a cockroach.  Helda is distracted enough to go examine it, but doesn’t see anything, and Ethan says it was just a flicker in the corner of his eye.  She grumbles about idiots seeing things, but says they should call Infestation Control anyway, idly running the recycling machine one more time.

Quinn congratulates Ethan on his quick thinking, since roaches can be a real problem on space stations, liking to eat the insulation off of wiring.  She checks the time and says they need to get the float pallet and crate back to the cargo hold soon.  She stops and rents a vacuum storage locker for the remaining crate of newts, and she and Ethan lay the newts out in a storage container before sending them off to what Quinn says is storage on the outside of the station.  She says she really will have to send them back to Admiral Naismith when all this is over.  Ethan tells her that they need to have a good talk about what is really going on, and she agrees.

Comments

I’m not 100% convinced about Ethan’s “accent”…mostly because we never hear him comment on the accent of any of the stationers.  Maybe he got used to it on the ship or something, but Elli’s the one who actually raises the issue of accents.  Maybe it’s just that Elli herself talks in flawless Galactic Standard but can switch back to sounds like the born and bred stationer she is, but I never get a sense that she’s switched from one to the other.  It makes perfect sense for Athosians to have an accent, as isolated as they have been, but if so it’s barely noticeable in his word choice, and Bujold doesn’t indicate any differences in pronunciation at any point.  Compare this to the contrast between Barrayarans’ “guttural” vs. Betans’ “flat” vowels, mentioned in The Warrior’s Apprentice, at least, and probably Shards of Honour as well.  A missed opportunity to add a little more flavour, I guess.

This is the chapter that I remember most from my previous reread of the book, and I’m almost surprised in retrospect to find that it’s actually only a chapter, because in memory it seems much larger.  They seemed to take forever wandering around the bowels of the station trying to dispose of the body.  Elli does have a plan, of course, which is admittedly a little fragile because Helda being there instead of Teki almost knocks it off the rails.  Does that mean that Teki wouldn’t have noticed the thump, or would have just let Elli dump them in?  Didn’t Elli consider that the body might not slide out as easily as the newts?  I guess not.

One place (of many) where Bujold does come down on the side of plausibility is on the whole cloning issue.  Both here and elsewhere she acknowledges the reality that clones can’t just be grown to adulthood in vats, but have to be raised from infancy, and that just possibly this might be a teensy bit of work.  Quinn’s comment that “woman’s work” is generally not included in the accounting certainly rings true for today’s society, but is it still so widespread in Galactic society this far in the future?  I can see it on Barrayar, of course, as benighted and backward as it is, but on Kline Station?  Beta Colony?  Maybe I’m just overoptimistic, but it seems that at least some societies may have made some progress in equality, and that perhaps Quinn might have had some experience or at least knowledge of such societies.  Maybe she (or Bujold) just wanted to make a point, I guess…


I’m sure next week I will be back up to speed with a full two chapters, have no fear on that account, so just sit tight until then and try to think of something to do with the sudden bonus of time I’ve bestowed to you with my reduced-size, economy-version Reread Post.  Until then, I remain….

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Fasten your seat belts, set your phasers on stun, and lock up your hermaphrodites, because it’s time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I revisit various books from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, a couple of chapters at a time.  This week we continue through the novel Ethan of Athos, slightly off the main line of the series, lacking the main character, but still related enough for me to include.

Chapter Three

Kline Station is in a system with a dark star and no planets, but half a dozen jump routes are available, so the station accreted over three hundred years.  It was also the point from where Athos’s Founding Fathers had launched their “noble experiment”.  It is currently politically independent, though it has changed hands several times over the years, and has about 100,000 inhabitants.
The crew of the ship that brought Ethan there from Athos had been all male, mostly because it’s a four-month round trip and women aren’t allowed shore leave there.  Ethan was mostly left to himself to acclimate to galactic culture gradually.  He started by reading all of the _Betan Journal_ entries written by women, not wanting to risk the unapproved-by-censors contents of the ship’s library, but even then he could rarely tell the difference from the male authors, or even the occasional hermaphrodite.  He can’t figure out exactly how it is the women, as “uterine replicators with legs”, are supposed to cause sin among men.

Once at Kline Station, he spends a long time in Customs, mostly being checked for microbes, before being admitted into the station proper.  It is unprepossessing at first, a dingy cargo bay with a dozen exits.  The ship’s crew and the custom’s inspectors have vanished, but there is one person in a gray-and-white uniform whom Ethan approaches for help.

“Pardon me, sir,” Ethan began, and halted uncertainly. Hips too wide for the wiry figure, eyes too large and far apart above a small chiseled nose, jaw thin-boned and small, beardless skin fine as an infant’s—it might have been a particularly elegant boy, but . . .

Her laughter pealed like a bell, entirely too loud for the reddening Ethan. “You must be the Athosian,” she chuckled.

Ethan asks for directions, and the woman expresses surprise that nobody’s given him a map, an absolute necessity for a visitor to Kline Station.  She hails a crewman who has appeared from the courier ship as “Dom”, and he comes over, not recognizing her but eager to make her acquaintance.  She (re)introduces herself as Elli Quinn, an old classmate, and explains how she had a facial regeneration done on Beta Colony, purchased for her by Admiral Naismith after she got hit in the head with a plasma beam.  She tells Dom how the Oserans were absorbed by the Dendarii, but says she’s on home leave now.

She adds that he’s let his passenger loose without a map, a remark which makes Dom suspicious of double-entendre, since apparently doing the Athos run makes one the butt of many jokes.  Elli says that explains his neglect, and she offers to take Ethan in hand herself.  Dom leaves, and Ethan almost calls him back, rather than be left alone with a woman.  Elli is amused at his obvious trepidation, saying she’s not going to bite, but Ethan still refuses her offer.  She hands him a holovid project with a map on it, showing him where the Transients’ Lounge is, and wishes him luck.

He does find the Transients’ Lounge with only a few wrong turns.  He tries to ignore the women he sees all around, even the one with a baby.  He stifles his impulse to rescue it from her, and later realizes it may very well have been a female baby anyway.  At the Lounge, it takes half a dozen people and the station computer to figure out an exchange rate for his Athosian pounds to the more readily acceptable Betan dollars, at what seems like an exorbitant rate, so he chooses the cheapest room available, the tiny Economy Cabin.

His instructions from the Population Council had been to give up on trying to recoup the Jackson’s Whole shipment, but instead to look for another supplier, starting from Kline Station, and trying to keep it under budget, while recruiting more colonists, if possible, and not getting into too much trouble.  Later the Chairman had clarified–his mission was to get the cultures and get back, period.  He heads out for a walk, taking a bubble car to the high-end passenger dock and begins walking back to get a look at the brighter side of the station.

Within the soaring transparent walls of Transients’ Lounge rioted a green fecundity of vines, trees in tubs, air ferns, orchids, muted tinkling chimes, bizarre fountains running backward, upside down, spiraling around the dizzy catwalks, lively intricate trickery with the artificial gravity. Ethan paused to stare in fascination for fifteen minutes at one fountain, sheeting water suspended in air, running endlessly in the form of a moebius strip. A breath away, across the transparent barrier, a cold that could turn all to stone in an instant lurked in deathly silence. The artistic contrast was overwhelming, and Ethan was not the only downsider transient who stood transfixed in open wonder.

Ethan also passes theatres, expensive restaurants and hostels, feelie booths, religious arcades (though Athos’s is not represented), and a wedding and a funeral.  Finally he reaches an area consulates and embassies, as well as shipping agents; he quails at the female representative at the Betan embassy, and resolves to avoid Jackson’s Whole’s entirely.  He continues past the cheap rooms and crosses into the stationers’ section.

The smells coming from a cafeteria reminds him that he’s hungry, but once again he can’t face the many women inside, so he keeps walking until he finds a doorway smelling of frying grease and alcohol, and a room inhabited entirely by off-duty male workers.  Remembering his instructions to recruit, he suppresses his shyness and walks up to some of the workers.

“How do you do,” Ethan began politely. “I represent the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization of the Planet Athos. If I may, I’d like to tell you about the pioneering opportunities for settlement still available there—”

The sudden dead silence of his audience was interrupted by a large worker in green coveralls. “Athos? The Planet of the Fags? You on the level?”

Ethan insists that he is, that he’s a doctor looking for reproductive help; this amuses the workers, who make several helpful off-colour suggestions, including going to Beta Colony for a sex-change.  Ethan tells them that not all Athosians are homosexual, that many choose chastity instead, which doesn’t impress them any.  After more coarse comments, Ethan loses him temper and punches one especially crude man, and things turn ugly.  The workers begin beating him up, until a sardonic voice announces the reappearance of Elli Quinn commenting snidely on the six-to-one odds.  Some of the workers get uneasy, noticing Quinn’s uniform, but the crude one goes after her anyway, until she casually zaps him with her stunner.  The workers let Ethan go, and Elli helps him to his feet, telling him she’ll take him back where he belongs.

As Elli leads Ethan away, he keeps thinking of better ways he could have handled the situation, before being distracted by a pair of men in blue-and-green uniforms.  Elli reassures him that they aren’t constables, just Biocontrol, entrusted with the necessary powers to preserve the ecosystem of the station.  She tells him that a station is in a delicate balance, and stations are serious about their safety drills; for instance, frost on a window anywhere outside of a cargo hold should be reported at once.

They return to the Transients’ Lounge, and Ethan notes that Elli seems to be edgier than her conversation indicates.  She offers to take him to supper, but, nervous, he pleads indigestion and flees for a lift tube.  After checking that she hasn’t followed, he recovers on a bench for a few minutes before heading back to his room.

On the promenade, he is approached by a man in a nondescript grey outfit, who addresses him by name before accosting him with a hypospray to the arm.  It takes effect before Ethan can even protest, and he is swiftly bundled away into a bubble car.

Comments

Another Naismith reference, and, of course, the appearance of Elli Quinn to tie things back to the Vorkosigan world.  Elli was a minor character in The Warrior’s Apprentice, though she did gradually acquire more importance in that book, first with her plasma scarring, which necessitated her coming back to Beta Colony, and then her help against the stalking creditor.  Whether Bujold intended her to become a more major character from her introduction, or if it was just chance, it didn’t take long for her to decide, because this is her third book, published right after The Warrior’s Apprentice.  (She doesn’t appear in The Vor Game that I recall, for some reason…)  Her conversation with Dom gives just enough backstory to be relevant for now, without being too infodumpy.

Maybe it’s just the era this was written in, but the homophobia shown by the stationer workers is almost a little extreme.  Not every planet is Beta Colony, I realize, but I wouldn’t have thought that Kline Station would be as backward as, say, Barrayar.  One would think that stationers, conscious of their fragile ecosystem as Elli claims, would be respectful of those who didn’t want to upset the population balance…  But that’s probably just the liberal in me talking, with little or no comprehension of the visceral disgust and hatred that seems to overtake some people with the prospect of homosexuality in others.  Maybe the workers there just felt that live-and-let-live was good enough, but to have some “faggot” intrude on their off-hours and try to recruit them was crossing the line.  I guess I just feel that we have “progressed” socially in the last century or two into a culture of more tolerance and less violence, and that if we’re far enough in the future that a space station orbiting another sun has been around for three hundred years, things should have progressed further.  But I suppose nothing is linear, is it?  Anyway, the forces of fairness would also likely point out that a woman crashing a similar bar on Athos wouldn’t get a much better reception…

Elli’s warning about frost on the windows is almost a little too specific–is that foreshadowing?  I guess we’ll have to wait and see…  I guess I’m not sure off the top of my head why the ecosystem is so important–plants are necessary to keep oxygen cycling going, I guess, and they are in a barren system without a lot of external resources to draw on, but as a major transfer point, one would think that they could get enough supplies through eventually.  But I guess they’re independent right now, and they don’t want to give, say, Jackson’s Whole a hold on them by needing some resource that the Jacksonians could supply.  We do see a lot more of this throughout the book, so I’ll give her a chance to convince me.

Also, to be a little indelicate, let me just mention that, for Ethan to have any chance of mistaking Elli Quinn for a man or boy, I’d have to hazard that either she is not that well-endowed or her uniform is particularly loose in that respect.  Yes, I know, breast size is one of those things that can be hard to describe, at least without making your character sound like a sex maniac for even noticing it in the first place (unless it’s the woman’s most salient feature), and Ethan assuredly doesn’t even know what to look for, but I think he’d notice such a “physical deformity”, at least from some angles, and he’d try to come up with other explanations for it before arriving at the truth.  Since I don’t recall any other descriptions from Miles’s point of view, I’m going to stick with this theory until disproven…if it matters to anyone except me, that is.

Chapter Four

Ethan awakens in a luxurious hotel room, mind moving slowly and euphorically; he notes absently that he’s tied to a chair.  The man who kidnapped him is sitting nearby, and another man emerges from the bathroom, drying his face with a towel.  The man on the chair (Captain Rau) assures the other, Colonel Millisor, that Ethan has been given a full dose.  Ethan sees his clothes and possessions on the bed and realizes that he’s naked.  Rau tells Millisor that Ethan’s map module had a tiny tracer on it, which destroyed itself as soon as he scanned it.  They weren’t able to follow the signal, though, and they think it’s possible he is involved with Terrence Cee.

The leader, the one Ethan’s kidnapper had named Colonel Millisor, grunted again, and approached Ethan to stare into his eyes. “What’s your name?”

“Ethan,” said Ethan sunnily. “What’s yours?”

Millisor ignored this open invitation to sociability. “Your full name. And your rank.”

This struck an old chord, and Ethan barked smartly, “Master Sergeant Ethan CJB-8 Urquhart, Blue Regiment Medical Corps, U-221-767, sir!” He blinked at his interrogator, who had drawn back in startlement. “Retired,” he added after a moment.

Millisor mutters about hating fast-penta.  He asks about Terrence Cee, but Ethan only knows one Terrence, a tech at the Reproduction Centre on Athos, and proceeds to tell his captors about him before they realize it’s a different man and cut him off.  They ask about the cultures from Bharaputra, and Ethan fills them in on the garbage that was in the crate; this confuses them, and they wonder if he’s resisting the fast-penta.  Millisor suggests increasing the dose, in case he’s resisting.  If the samples they’re looking for are on Athos, he says, they will have to try to destroy them before they can be brought to gestation, or else they’ll have to sterilize the entire planet.  They do give him more fast-penta, and he babbles furiously under the interrogation until he becomes ill and passes out.

When he regains consciousness, they try another drug that brings terror instead of euphoria, and continue questioning him about Terrence Cee and the samples.  After that, they move on to pain, and Ethan wishes he knew what they wanted to hear so he could tell them; they desist when he starts to convulse.  Millisor concludes that Cee managed to switch the samples somehow before being sent to Athos, but Rau insists that the clues still point to Athos.

“It may still be Athos. A plan within a plan—within a plan. . . .” Millisor rubbed his neck wearily, looking suddenly much older than Ethan’s first estimate. “The late Dr. Jahar did too good a job. Terrence Cee is everything Jahar promised—except loyal. . . . Well, we’ll get no more out of this one. You sure that wasn’t just a speck of dirt in that circuit board?”

Rau says he’s sure, but admits that Ethan probably isn’t a real agent.  They debate using him as a stalking-horse, but decide he’s useless.  It’s been seven hours, so Millisor says to get Okita to dispose of him.

Okita takes Ethan to a docking bay and up on a catwalk.  He forces Ethan to drink a bulb full of alcohol, not the first such, and says that Ethan may even survive the fall, especially in Kline Station’s light gravity, so he’ll have to break his neck first.  Ethan tries to cling to the mesh floor of the catwalk.  His belongings were all returned to him, even his Betan credit chit, but he doesn’t think bribery will work, or seduction.  He hopes that he’ll survive, to help stave off the horrible fate these men seem to have planned for Athos.

Okita decides that Ethan’s biochemistry is mixed up enough now to hide the traces of the other drugs, so he lifts Ethan up to the railing, placing his neck over it for the break.  The catwalk shakes as a figure (Quinn, of course) appears and shoots Okita with a stunner; Okita falls forward over the railing, to her dismay.  She drops her stunner and tries to grab Okita before he falls, but to no avail.  Ethan asks if he should try to help, but Elli said Okita is definitely dead, and if it’s any consolation, he killed a dozen people on Jackson’s Whole five months earlier as part of a coverup.

She tells Ethan that she’s interested in him because Millisor is interested in him, though she’s not sure why.  She admits that she’s not home on leave, but on assignment from the Dendarii.  Ethan says they thought he was a spy, and Elli apologizes, but reminds him that she did save his life just now, at least until Millisor finds out he’s still alive.  Ethan suggests going to the authorities, but Quinn says they won’t be sufficient protection, and Elli doesn’t want to reveal herself just yet.  Ethan accuses her of trying to use him as a stalking-goat too.

She helps him down to the floor of the bay, where she checks over Okita’s body.  She decides that they need to dispose of Okita’s body, which she tells Ethan is not an easy task on a space station.  The airlocks are all monitored, and anything out in space would be perfectly preserved if it were found later.  Trying to put such a large amount of “protein” down the disposal in pieces would register too much of a blip, plus it’s been tried before.  The ecology police check over the whole station too often for it to be easily hidden anywhere unless they kept moving it.

“I think I have a better idea. Yes. Why not? As long as I’m going to commit a crime, let it be a perfect one. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, as Admiral Naismith would say . . .”

She starts picking up bits of equipment around the bay, while Ethan lies on the floor feeling sorry for himself, a full day on the station, beaten up, interrogated, tortured, and implicated in a murder, without even having had a meal yet.  Elli reassures him that she is, at least, making some progress in her investigation at last, and tells him he just needs a good meal and a week in the hospital; she can, at least get him to a place to rest.  She stuffs Okita’s body into a shipping canister, cleans up the area with a sonic scrubber, gathers up the pieces of her stunner, and puts the canister onto a float pallet.  They will need to get the canister and pallet back to the docking area within eight hours, when the next ship docks there, or they’ll be missed.

Ethan asks her who these men are, anyway, and tells her of their plans for bombing Athos, which is news to Quinn.  She says she hasn’t been able to bug Millisor’s quarters, and asks Ethan about the interrogation.  He tells her consisted of a lot of him screaming, and she apologizes, having thought they’d stick to fast-penta.  She tells Ethan that Millisor works for Cetagandan counter-intelligence, and Rau, Okita, and his other goon, Setti, are his team.

“Cetagandan! Isn’t that planet pretty far from here to be interested in, um,” he glanced at the Stationer woman, “us? This nexus, I mean.”

“Not far enough, evidently.”

“But why, in God the Father’s name, should they want to destroy Athos? Is Cetaganda—controlled by women or something?”

A laugh escaped her. “Hardly. I’d call it a typical male-dominated totalitarian state, only slightly mitigated by their rather artistic cultural peculiarities. No. Millisor is not, per se, interested in either Athos or the Kline Station nexus. He’s chasing—something else. The big secret. The one I was hired to find out.”

She says Millisor was the security chief for a long-range genetic experiment, which was kept secret for twenty-five years.  Dr. Faz Jahar was the scientist in charge, until the lab exploded, killing him, and Millisor and his men had been chasing something around the galaxy for three years, leaving a trail of bodies behind them.

Elli takes them through a door marked “RENOVATION” and into a large chamber full of pillars, which she says is a half-finished reproduction of some Earth monument called “the Elhamburger or something”.  The man who started it currently has his assets tied up in litigation, so the construction is in limbo.  She tells Ethan he can stay with the canister until she gets back.  There are no blankets, but plenty of cushions, which she piles up into a nest for him.  She gives Ethan a candy bar to eat, and tells him to use the canister if he needs a bathroom, since they can’t risk using the plumbing.  She tells him she’ll back in somewhere between one and four hours.

“And now,” she rubbed her hands together briskly, “phase two of the search for the L-X-1O Terran-C.”

“The what?”

“That was the code name of Millisor’s research project. Terran-C for short. Maybe some part of whatever they were working on originated on Earth.”

“But Terrence Cee is a man,” said Ethan. “They kept asking me if I was here to meet him.”

She was utterly still for a moment. “Oh . . . ? How strange. How very strange. I never knew that.” Her eyes were bright as mirrors. Then she was gone.

Comments

Interesting…in the code name there, it’s listed in the book as “L-X-1O” where that’s one-O, not ten.  I always read that as ten.  I suppose it doesn’t make any difference, but now I wonder if that’s canonical, or just a mistake in the ebook conversion…

I’m presuming that it’s the “Alhambra”, not the “Elhamburger”.  It’s a weird thing to turn up on a space station, but I guess if you’re rich, you can waste as much space as you want.  And if this guy turns out to lose his money, then I’m sure they’ll reclaim the space fast enough.  Wonder why Bujold thought to put it in?  Had she just been on vacation in Spain?

I can’t decide if I should be referring to Elli Quinn as “Elli” or “Quinn”; I seem to be doing both, which I hope isn’t too confusing.  I’ve heard several times that authors should try to avoid having characters whose names begin with the same later, which of course “Ethan” and “Elli” do, which may explain why she is usually called “Commander Quinn” in this chapter.  (Was Ethan so attached to his name that she couldn’t change it?  Obviously she couldn’t change Elli’s, but Ethan, as a new character, should have had more freedom…  According to my wife, though, characters get attached to their names and resist having them changed.)

At least we know a little more about the samples that caused Ethan to leave Athos in the first place–they were supposed to contain something mysterious from Terrence Cee, but he must have switched them out to leave a false trail.  Except that the Cetagandans still think that Athos is important to Cee’s plan.

In a little bit of inconsistency, “Cetaganda” is definitely talked about as “a planet” rather than a group of planets united in a common empire.  Maybe that’s just Ethan’s ignorance about the galaxy, but it’s not like Quinn corrects him, so I’m going to guess that Bujold’s vision of Cetaganda wasn’t settled yet.  I don’t know if the description of Cetaganda consisting of multiple planets appeared (in publication) before The Vor Game.  Elli’s description of it being a “male-dominated totalitarian state” doesn’t sound quite accurate either, but I suppose it may look that way from a distance, with a male emperor and the usual outer face of the ghem-lords; Ethan would probably be less reassured if he knew about the haut ladies.

Ethan seems to have overcome his reservations about partnering up with a woman, but admittedly, he’s in trouble, and she seems to be the only one interested in, or capable of, helping him.  Assuming she’s being completely honest with him, and I suspect she’s still holding a few things back, but we, at least, have confidence that she’s on the side of the angels, even if Ethan doesn’t have that much trust yet.  But Millisor and the Cetagandans definitely seem the greater of two evils right now, I’d expect.


So, yay, we have left Athos, met a character we knew from before, acquired some villains and a plot, had some action scenes…  Definitely picked up a lot in this installment.  I don’t know if I can promise non-stop action from here on, but at least we have a team now, and Elli makes a good foil for Ethan, or perhaps vice versa.  Ethan is still more acted upon than acting, but perhaps he’ll become more than a dude-in-distress as the book progresses…  So tune in next week for the next couple of chapters, where we might, conceivably, find out.

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