Archive for the ‘Shards of Honour’ Category

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein we conclude the first novel, Shards of Honour.  You might say, “Already?  George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan would be just getting started by now!  We might not even have met all the major characters in the first book!”  Do recall that this book was published back in 1986, when science fiction books over 200 pages were still something they were trying out to see if they were financially viable.  Not to mention that it was a first novel by a virtual unknown.  Not that I’m saying her later books are necessarily sprawling epics, either, but some of them are maybe slightly longer…

Anyway, on to the final chapters of the novel.  Well, actually, one more chapter, and then, oddly enough, a short story.

Chapter Fifteen

Cordelia and Aral are finally preparing for a vacation at Bonsanklar when Prime Minister Vortala arrives.  They come downstairs to find Vortala talking with Aral’s father, and he congratulates them on their wedding.  Vortala says he is bearing a message from the Emperor, and when Aral begins to leave, Vortala says the message is for Aral, not the Count, that he is “requested and required” to attend on the Emperor, and Cordelia as well.  He says the Emperor is dying.

Vorkosigan blew out his breath. “He’s been dying for the last eleven months. Can’t he die a little longer?”

Vortala chuckled. “Five months,” he corrected absently, then frowned speculation at Vorkosigan. “Hm. Well, it has been very convenient for him. He’s flushed more rats out of the wainscotting in the last five months than the past twenty years. You could practically mark the shakedowns in the Ministries by his medical bulletins. One week: condition very grave. Next week: another deputy minister caught out on charges of peculation, or whatever.” He became serious again. “But it’s the real thing, this time. You must see him today. Tomorrow could be too late. Two weeks from now will definitely be too late.”

Vortala says that he plans to offer Aral a position in the upcoming Regency government; Aral can’t think of any that would tempt him, and Vortala says he’ll have to refuse in person.  Cordelia admits to being curious to meet the Emperor, and Aral acquiesces.  As they are changing clothes for the audience, though, Aral says that he’s never come out ahead on any dealings with Emperor Ezar.

At the Imperial Palace they are ushered into Ezar’s chambers, “half hospital, half antique display”, where the paper-white old man is hooked up to machines that keep him alive.  The Emperor greets Aral, and is refreshed by his honesty at telling him how awful he looks.  He tells Cordelia that he’s seen all her Betan records, and Mehta’s bizarre theories, which almost made Captain Negri hire her to generate ideas.

The Emperor talks to Aral about how long Aral has served him, which they date back to the day Aral’s mother was killed.  He asks Aral what he said to Emperor Yuri when they executed him–Aral was given the first cut, but in the end he almost cut Yuri’s throat right away and spared him the suffering that was to come.

“I think he knew by my face I was funking out. He leered at me. ‘Strike, little boy. If you dare while you wear my uniform. My uniform on a child.’ That was all he said. I said, ‘You killed all the children in that room,’ which was fatuous, but it was the best I could come up with at the time, then took my cut out of his stomach. I often wished I’d said—said something else, later. But mostly I wished I’d had the guts to follow my first impulse.”

Ezar turns to the main purpose of the visit.  He asks who should be Regent; Aral immediately offers Vortala, but the Emperor dismisses him as too old.  Princess Kareen, the Emperor says could never deal with the General Staff.  He ridicules Aral’s suggestion of Vordarian, having far too many shortcomings despite his military background.  Aral suggests Quintillan, Minister of the Interior, but Vortala points out that the Council of Counts won’t support anyone who isn’t a Vor.  Aral suggests making him a Vor, which horrifies Vortala and amuses Ezar.

“You can quit wriggling, Aral. You shall not wriggle out of this.

“Allow me to put it in a capsule. What the Regency requires is a man of impeccable rank, no more than middle-aged, with a strong military background. He should be popular with his officers and men, well-known to the public, and above all respected by the General Staff. Ruthless enough to hold near-absolute power in this madhouse for sixteen years, and honest enough to hand over that power at the end of those sixteen years to a boy who will no doubt be an idiot—I was, at that age, and as I recall, so were you—and, oh yes, happily married. Reduces the temptation of becoming bedroom Emperor via the Princess. In short, yourself.”

Aral is horrified at the prospect of stepping into the shoes of Prince Gregor’s father, which puzzles Vortala, not in the know.  Aral says that all of the other candidates that he suggested are better suited than himself.  Ezar reminds him that Aral has a better right to the throne than he does, though Aral protests that’s through his mother, and hence Salic descent.  Ezar says that anyone who claims the right to the throne would have to get rid of Aral anyway, which he knows is harder than it looks; furthermore, he knows for certain that Aral doesn’t want to be Emperor himself.  The best way for him to do that is to keep Gregor alive.

Count Vortala turned to Cordelia. “Lady Vorkosigan. Won’t you lend us your vote? You seem to have come to know him very well. Tell him he’s the man for the job.”

“When we came up here,” said Cordelia slowly, “with this vague talk of a post, I thought I might urge him to take it up. He needs work. He’s made for it. I confess I wasn’t anticipating that offer.” She stared at the Emperor’s embroidered bedspread, caught by its intricate patterns and colors. “But I’ve always thought—tests are a gift. And great tests are a great gift. To fail the test is a misfortune. But to refuse the test is to refuse the gift, and something worse, more irrevocable, than misfortune. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“No,” said Vortala.

“Yes,” said Vorkosigan.

Aral takes Cordelia aside and tells her that Regency would mean they’d be targets, and require constant guarding.  He says that he was more fearless before, when he had no future and nothing to lose.  Cordelia asks if he wants the position, and Aral says he does, but he doesn’t trust himself not to be corrupted.  Finally, Aral acquiesces, and Ezar tells him that he should start assembling his staff right away, starting with Illyan.  Aral suddenly has a great idea of who should be his personal secretary, and Ezar dismisses them, saying that Vortala will handle the details.

After a conference with Vortala, Negri and Illyan, they leave the Imperial Residence with new guards.  Cordelia notes that Aral seems more energized and focused than she’s seen him in a long while.  First, they head to Vorkosigan House, the local residence, where Aral goes up to his often-vacant room.  Cordelia finds a stack of pen-and-ink drawings from when Aral was much younger, including some of his first wife, and of a younger Ges Vorrutyer.  His medals and ribbons are oddly disarranged, with the earlier ones carefully preserved, and the later, more prestigious ones more haphazard.  Finally Aral finds some of his old Lieutenant rank tabs.

Next they go to ImpMil hospital, where they are soon talking to Koudelka’s doctor.  Aral tells the doctor that Koudelka’s being reassigned, to a desk job, and discharged.  They go to see Koudelka himself, and find him preparing for bed.  Aral asks him his plans, and Koudelka admits he’s not sure what he’ll do with himself after the discharge.  Aral gives him his new orders, and his promotion, and Koudelka is surprised and delighted, more so when he realizes that the “Regent-elect” he’ll be working for is Aral.

Cordelia asks to put Koudelka’s collar tabs on, and then Aral says Koudelka can stay at Vorkosigan House that night so they can get an early start in the morning.

Later, lying warm in the darkness in Vorkosigan’s room in the Count’s town house, Cordelia remembered a curiosity. “What did you say to the Emperor, about me?”

He stirred beside her, and pulled the sheet tenderly up over her bare shoulder, tenting them together. “Hm? Oh, that.” He hesitated. “Ezar had been questioning me about you, in our argument about Escobar. Implied that you had affected my nerve, for the worse. I didn’t know then if I’d ever see you again. He wanted to know what I saw in you. I told him . . .” he paused again, and then continued almost shyly, “that you poured out honor like a fountain, all around you.”

“That’s weird. I don’t feel full of honor, or anything else, except maybe confusion.”

“Naturally not. Fountains keep nothing for themselves.”


Pretty nice ending–the “fountain of honour” thing is a great metaphor, and would have almost made a great title, except “Shards of Honour” is still better.  Maybe David Weber can use it sometime.  Of course, there were a number of places where the book could have ended, but this does well enough, I suppose.  When I consider that Barrayar didn’t come out for five years after that, with four Miles Vorkosigan books in between (counting Borders of Infinity), plus Falling Free and Ethan of Athos…  It avoids the usual prequel difficulties quite handily, trust me.  But that’s for next time.

Short Story: “Aftermaths”

Pilot Officer Falco Ferrell looks from his ship at a broken ship in front of him, destroyed in the Barrayaran invasion of Escobar, which they call the “120 Day War”.  He is a new officer, with less than a year of service, and is accompanied on the ship by Medtech Boni, who is in her mid-forties.  Ferrell himself graduated three days too late to actually participate in the war.

Ferrell tells Boni that he is going to start his sweep, scanning for bodies floating in space.  He asks if she wants to stand by, but Boni says the area has been picked over fairly thoroughly.  He asks what minimum mass they should scan for–he suggests 40 kilograms, but she says one kilogram should suffice, for a body part big enough to identify, without being small enough to generate a lot of false positives.  She retires to her cabin to nap.  Their ship is a former courier, refurbished, also too late for the war, and Ferrell is not looking forward to his “garbage” duty.  He nonetheless enjoys piloting, and sets a spiraling search course.

Hours later, Ferrell pages Boni to tell her he’s found something.  She soon arrives on the bridge and activates the tractor beam.  Ferrell comments on the low setting she is using, and Boni says that she likes a delicate touch to keep from damaging the bodies, since they are frozen and very brittle.  She slows down the body’s spin, commenting that spinning too fast can’t be very restful.

His attention was pulled from the thing in the screen, and he stared at her. “They’re dead, lady!”

She smiled slowly as the corpse, bloated from decompression, limbs twisted as though frozen in a strobe-flash of convulsion, was drawn gently toward the cargo bay. “Well, that’s not their fault, is it?—one of our fellows, I see by the uniform.”

“Bleh!” he repeated himself, then gave vent to an embarrassed laugh. “You act like you enjoy it.”

Boni says that she’s been working in Personnel Retrieval and Identification for nine years, and finds it unobjectionable.  She says vacuum work is better than planetary–there is decompression damage, but no decay.  Ferrell asks Boni if they call them “corpse-sicles”; Boni says that some do, but she doesn’t–she just calls them “people”.  She maneuvers the body into the cargo bay and sets the temperature for a slow thaw.

On his next break he pays a visit to the mortuary; Boni is there, but the body is not yet.  They share their first names–Boni’s is “Tersa”, which Ferrell comments is quite common.  She brings the dead man into the mortuary on a float pallet, and slides the body onto the table.  Ferrell tells himself he should leave, but he lingers.  She scans the body’s retinas and then its fingerprints, and identifies the man as Lieutenant Marco Deleo.

Ferrell is unnerved to hear Boni talking to the body, which Boni says she considers a “courtesy”; he says that it’s obscene, recovering these hunks of frozen meat rather than just leaving them in space.  Boni goes through Deleo’s uniform pockets, which she likes, saying that it reminds her of going through a friend’s house.  She notes that Deleo’s pockets contain only one non-regulation item, a vid disc from home.  She packages them up and begins to wash the corpse, which Ferrell doesn’t stay for.

They don’t find another body for a full day; this time it’s a Barrayaran, and Ferrell suggests they throw him back, but Boni says they have an agreement with the Barrayarans.  Boni spends extra effort trying to smooth his contorted facial muscles.  In his pocket is a locket containing a clear liquid, which Boni says is probably a good luck charm, which many Barrayarans carry.  She identifies it as “mother’s tears”, and notes it was given to the man as an ensign.  He also has a pendant with a lock of hair, which Boni says is the mother’s “death lock”, so she is already dead.  She says the oddest charm she found was a tiny skeleton of a fetus.  She puts the Barrayaran back in his uniform, since they seem to like them so much, and identifies him as Commander Aristede Vorkalloner.

After three more days, they are reaching the end of their search pattern, but Boni asks Ferrell to go a little farther out; most of the bodies wouldn’t have gotten this far, but there might be some that had a little extra momentum.  Ferrell doesn’t really want to look for more bodies, but he does want to spend more time piloting, so he accedes.  They do find another body a few hours later, a female officer this time.  Ferrell doesn’t really want to join her for this one, but Boni asks for his company, so he comes along.

After Boni prepares the body, she kisses it, which repulses Ferrell, who calls her a “lesbian necrophiliac”.  Boni then proceeds to dress the body in a wedding dress, which she had brought with her, and decides to put her next to the Barrayaran, since Lieutenant Deleo was married.  Ferrell is beginning to think that Boni has gone crazy.  Suddenly he realizes that Boni hasn’t IDed the woman.  He checks the ID and discovers that the woman is Ensign Sylva Boni, age twenty, the same age as Ferrell himself.  Boni confirms that it’s her daughter, and that she’d asked for this sector on purpose.  Ferrell apologies for his earlier remarks.

They run one more sweep and find another body, this one more grisly than the others.  This time, Ferrell shyly offers to help with the cleaning.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “The dead cannot hurt you. They give you no pain, except that of seeing your own death in their faces. And one can face that, I find.”

Yes, he thought, the good face pain. But the great—they embrace it.


I often forget about this story tacked onto the end of Shards of Honour.  It’s connected to it a little tenuously–by the battle, by the body of Aral Vorkosigan’s second officer, Vorkalloner, and thematically, by its references to motherhood.  It’s self-contained, and as far as I can tell it was actually published three months before Shards itself, which of course is easily close enough for her to have written it afterwards.  Apart from that, it doesn’t feel like there’s much to it.

So next week, definitely starting on Barrayar.  I was initially deceived into thinking that it had an even number of chapters (22), but I forgot about the Author’s Afterword, so there’s actually only 21.  Still more than Shards, though, but by 1991 people had gotten used to bigger books.  I’ll probably try to squeeze another chapter in there…or perhaps I’ll slack off and do a one-week chapter.  Maybe for the week when I’d otherwise be on vacation, for instance.  But that’s not for a little while yet.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reread of Shards of Honour, and I also hope that you were reading along.  Of course, I was only doing two chapters a week, so if you wanted, you might have been managed to read the entire Vorkosigan Saga by this time.

Read Full Post »

Hey there hi there ho there!  It’s time to read more of the adventures of Cap’n Cordelia and her intrepid Barrayaran cohort, Adm’l Aral!  This week we cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of Shards of Honour, which may, conceivably, bring us close to the end of that book.  Remember when all books were that short?  Well, maybe urban fantasy books are these days, but that’s about it…

Chapter Thirteen

The next day, Dr. Mehta starts her first session with Cordelia.  She sets up a box which she says will let her monitor Cordelia just enough to let her know when she thinks a subject is important.  She takes a pill, ostensibly for her allergies, then asks if she may smoke.  Cordelia assents, and Dr. Mehta lights an aromatic cigarette and sets it in an ashtray, though she makes no move to smoke it right away.  She then goes through a series of words, some of which occasion odd responses from Cordelia (like “Seventeen”, which makes her think of the uterine replicators) before she homes in with “Admiral Vorrutyer” and “Admiral Vorkosigan”.

She then begins to talk to Cordelia about Vorkosigan.  She asks Cordelia is he is in Intelligence, and Cordelia says he is not; she mentions “Butcher of Komarr” and Cordelia hotly denies it, though when Dr. Mehra asks why, she admits she has no evidence beyond what Aral told her, but it seemed consistent with his character.  Dr. Mehta asks if Aral never lied to her, and Cordelia admits he did, since she was an enemy officer, but she tries to explain the “word as bond” concept to the doctor.

“So this word of honor business—you believe he never breaks it?”

“Well . . .”

“He does, then.”

“I have seen him do so. But the cost was huge.”

“He breaks it for a price, then.”

“Not for a price. At a cost.”

“I fail to see the distinction.”

“A price is something you get. A cost is something you lose. He lost—much, at Escobar.”

Cordelia sleepily thinks that she should try to change the subject, but Dr. Mehta pursues the Escobar tack.  Cordelia begins to ramble about Aral and his attraction for her as a lady soldier, his patriotism and devotion to his soldiers, the Emperor, Bothari…  Dr. Mehta asks about Prince Serg, and Cordelia suddenly realizes that the “cigarette” smoke is some kind of drug.

Cordelia swept the recorder from the table and fell upon it as it smashed to the floor, beating on it with her good hand, her right hand. “Never talk! No more death! You can’t make me! Blew it—you can’t get away with it, I’m sorry, watchdog, remembers every word, I’m sorry, shot him, please, talk to me, please, let me out, please let me out pleaseletmeout . . .”

Dr. Mehta is intrigued by Cordelia’s idiosyncratic reaction to the drug; she gets out an ampule, but Cordelia kicks it out of her hand and Mehta backs off, clearing away the smoke.  Cordelia says that the smoke was a dirty trick, and Mehta agreed, but it made for a productive session.  She picks up the pieces of her recorder, assuring Cordelia that the recording of the session is undamaged.  She says that there is no longer any doubt that the Barrayarans have done something to Cordelia’s mind.  Cordelia says that she has an aversion to being drugged against her will, and Mehta says that it’s a legitimate method, as long as permission is acquired post facto.

Cordelia says that she no longer wants Dr. Mehta on her case, which Mehta diagnoses as an implanted aversion defense.  She tells Cordelia that, as a military officer, she has no choice about who treats her, and says they’ll meet again tomorrow.

The next day, Cordelia wanders the city and doesn’t return until late at night.  She tries to write a letter to Aral, throwing out her first attempt as too personal and settling on a more neutrally-worded second try.  She writes it on paper and kisses it before sealing it.

The day after that, Mehta calls to cancel their session, but Cordelia thinks this might be a ruse and leaves the apartment anyway.  This time, she is followed by two men, whom she is unable to shake off.  The next afternoon, she stays in the apartment, wondering how she’ll handle Mehta this time.  Mehta arrives on time with Commodore Tailor and a burly medtech.

Tailor says they’ll have to ask her to agree to hospitalization and further treatment, because they think that the Barrayarans have tried to make her an agent.  They’ve examined her letter to Aral, but couldn’t find a hidden message in it, though the letter was destroyed in the process, and thought they should let her try to explain it herself.  Cordelia protests the seizure of the letter, but Tailor says that it falls under “emergency security” even though the war is over.

Cordelia asks what happens if she refuses to commit herself, and Tailor says he’ll have to order her.  She inadvertently mentions Captain Negri, which makes them more suspicious; Mehta says that they think that if she was under Negri’s control, she’d never know it, and that obviously Vorkosigan is her control; Cordelia protests, but is unable to sway them.  She says she can resign, but Mehta says that even as a civilian, they can get permission from her next of kin.  Cordelia realizes her mother has taken a long time preparing the tea, and has probably already given them permission, out of worry.

Tailor says that if they’re wrong, the best way to prove it is to cooperate, but Cordelia thinks again of the lives sacrificed to kill Prince Serg.  Mehta thinks it’s odd for them to conceal the espionage under cover of a love affair, since Cordelia and Aral are such an unlikely romantic pair.  She pretends to accede, hoping for an opportunity, and asks to go shower and pack.  Mehta follows her, hoping they can talk.

“You know you remind me a bit of the late Admiral Vorrutyer. You both want to take me apart, see what makes me tick. Vorrutyer was more like a little kid, though. Had no intention of picking up his mess afterwards.

“You, on the other hand, will take me apart and not even get a giggle out of it. Of course, you fully intend to put the pieces back together afterwards, but from my point of view that scarcely makes any difference. Aral was right about people in green silk rooms. . . .”

Mehta looked puzzled. “You’ve stopped stuttering,” she noted.

“Yes . . .” Cordelia paused before her aquarium, considering it curiously. “So I have. How strange.” Stone smashes scissors. . . .

She wraps a belt around Mehta’s neck, binding her hands with the other one.  She tells Mehta it’s time for some real Barrayaran interrogation techniques.  She asks how many guards there are outside the apartment.  Mehta says none, and Cordelia dunks her face in the aquarium.  After three or four tries, Mehta breaks and tells her there are four, and where they are.  Cordelia then binds and gags her, gets her money and ID cards, and starts the shower for camouflage.

She sneaks out, hoping Tailor and the medtech are occupied in the kitchen.  Tailor is standing in the doorway, drinking coffee; he spots her sneaking past, and after a moment salutes her quietly.  Cordelia returns the salute and slips out.

In the hallway is a journalist and his cameraman; Cordelia spins a tale of government conspiracy, and asks for help in sneaking past the agents.  She takes the camera and the cameraman’s hat and jacket, and walks past with the journalist.  They go to the shuttleport, where she ditches the reporter at the bar and heads off to find a ship leaving.  She collars a port employee and adroitly convinces her that she needs to find a ship leaving for Escobar, strictly hush-hush.  The employee sets her up with a ship, and Cordelia warns her about a couple of journalists, Mehta and Tailor, who may pretend to be government agents and try to find her.

At the ship, Cordelia pretends to have a secret mission to contact the Emperor of Barrayar with an ultimatum, and tells the pilot, Mayhew, that he was selected personally by the president as a man of discretion.

He took her aboard the freighter shuttle, and made her a seat among the last-minute cargo. “You know all the big names in Survey, don’t you, ma’am? Lightner, Parnell . . . Do you suppose you could ever introduce me?”

“I don’t know. But—you will get to meet a lot of the big names from the Expeditionary Force, and Security, when you get back from Escobar. I promise.” Will you ever . . .

“May I ask you a personal question, ma’am?”

“Why not? Everyone else does.”

“Why are you wearing slippers?”

She stared down at her feet. “I’m—sorry, Pilot Officer Mayhew. That’s classified.”


During the second scene with Mehta, and Cordelia’s escape, Bujold does a nice job of repeating the phrases “Scissors cut paper”, “Paper wraps stone”, and “Stone smashes scissors” at appropriate points in Cordelia’s internal monologue.  No way I could have conveyed that without quoting much more than I should, so take my word for it, it’s pretty cool.  Cordelia’s internal free association during the first Mehta scene is pretty good, too.

At least Tailor seemed to be an unwilling participant, letting her sneak past at the end; Mehta was the real slimebucket, unable to conceive that her pet theory might be wrong, and she probably would have refused to be convinced otherwise even if Cordelia told her the whole truth, because it was practically unfalsifiable.  How can you prove that you weren’t actually brainwashed to the point that you don’t remember it in the first place?  In fact, Cordelia’s very escape probably just made her belief stronger.  Cordelia really burned her bridges there, not without some personal cost, and quite frankly I don’t recall ever hearing of her returning to Beta Colony after that.

I don’t know if there’s any confirmation that the pilot Mayhew at the end is the same pilot named Mayhew who turns up in later books, but there’s no reason not to assume that.  Considering how his career is a wee bit blighted the next time we see him…

Chapter Fourteen

Cordelia flies her lightflyer, rented in Vorbarr Sultana, over a lake, and down onto the driveway of the Vorkosigan country estate.  Bothari comes around a corner on his patrol, and Cordelia asks if Aral is in.  Bothari salutes her and says he is.  Cordelia says that he looks better than he did at Escobar, but Bothari says he doesn’t remember much of Escobar, and has since been discharged, now being employed by Aral himself in his personal guard.

She makes her way around the back of house, where Bothari has told her Aral would be, dressed in an unaccustomed dress to blend in on Barrayar.  She comes upon a graveyard, where an older man is planting flowers, evidently Aral’s father the Count.  She introduces herself, and asks where Aral is.  He says that Aral has told him a little about her, and he’s pleasantly surprised to see her there.  He says Aral spends most of his time in a pavilion overlooking the lake.  Cordelia asks delicately if he’s likely to be sober, and the Count admits probably not, since his drinking hours have been creeping up earlier and earlier.

“He has taken this Escobar failure unnecessarily personally, I think. His resignation was not in the least called for.”

She deduced the old Count was not in the Emperor’s confidence on this matter, and thought, it wasn’t its failure that slew his spirit, sir; it was its success. Aloud, she said, “Loyalty to your Emperor was a very great point of honor for him, I know.” Almost its last bastion, and your Emperor chose to flatten it to its foundations in the service of his great need. . . .

She finds Aral in the pavilion, sitting in a chair with his eyes closed, with a gaudy shirt and bare feet.  She watches him sit up and take a drink before speaking.  Once he realizes she isn’t a hallucination, he seems embarrassed to be seen in his current condition.  He explains that he can achieve unconsciousness by lunch if he starts on the brandy after breakfast.  She comments on the shirt, and he explains it was a joke gift from some of his officers, most of whom are now dead.

Cordelia asks about Bothari, and Aral tells her that he got off on the Vorrutyer charge and got an honourable medical discharge.  Aral got his father to hire Bothari, and the uniform and duties give him a certain stability.  Serving under Vorrutyer, he’d been on the verge of schizophrenia.

He asks Cordelia if she can stay, and Cordelia says that she can, that she found when she went home that it had changed, or she had.  She alludes to her trouble, saying that she mailed in her resignation from Escobar.  He is quite pleased that she plans to stay, and promises to give up his suicide by alcohol, and they snuggle in the chair.

A few weeks after their marriage they head to ImpMil Hospital in Vorbarr Sultana, with Bothari as driver and bodyguard.  Bothari asks Aral if she knows, and Cordelia says that she does–they are going to pick up Bothari’s baby girl from one of the uterine replicators.  Cordelia asks Bothari what he’s going to tell her about her mother, and he says he’ll say that they were married, and she died; he doesn’t want her to be known as a bastard.  He has hired a village woman to look after her.  He’s going to name her Elena, after her mother.

Cordelia was surprised into an unguarded remark. “I thought you couldn’t remember Escobar!”

A little time went by, and he said, “You can beat the memory drugs, some, if you know how.”

Vorkosigan raised his eyebrows. Evidently this was new to him, too. “How do you do that, Sergeant?” he asked, carefully neutral.

“Someone I knew once told me . . . You write down what you want to remember, and think about it. Then hide it—the way we used to hide your secret files from Radnov, sir—they never figured it out either. Then first thing when you get back, before your stomach even settles, take it out and look at it. If you can remember one thing on the list, you can usually get the rest, before they come back again. Then do the same thing again. And again. It helps if you have an, an object, too.”

“Did you have, ah, an object?” asked Vorkosigan, clearly fascinated.

“Piece of hair.” He fell silent again for a long time, then volunteered, “She had long black hair. It smelled nice.”

Cordelia notices a flyer that keeps on their tail, and Aral tells her it’s Imperial Security; not everyone is convinced he’s serious about retiring.  He says for a while he liked to flush them out, like flying drunk in the canyons south of the estate.  He admits that he did have one wreck, and Bothari surprised him by saying that there was a second one, which he doesn’t remember, and left him unconscious for a whole day.

Vorkosigan looked startled. “Are you pulling my leg, Sergeant?”

“No, sir. You can go look at the pieces of the flyer. They’re scattered for a kilometer and a half down Dendarii Gorge.”

Vorkosigan cleared his throat, and shrunk down in his seat. “I see.” He was quiet, then added,

“How—unpleasant, to have a blank like that in one’s memory.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed Bothari blandly.

Aral tells Cordelia she’s likely been watched too, with his profile after Escobar.  He’s been made out as some sort of hero, for saving so much in the retreat, though he obviously dwells on those he couldn’t save as well.  They reach Vorbarr Sultana and Cordelia spots a block of burnt-out buildings, which Aral identifies as the former Ministry of Political Education, destroyed in riots.  He says they were actually carefully orchestrated, just enough to decimate the Ministry before the guards swept in and dispersed the rioters.

At ImpMil, they first visit Koudelka, who is slowly receiving prosthetic nerve implants to repair the disrupter damage.  He is happy to see Cordelia, and congratulates the Vorkosigans on their marriage.  His arm is moving repetitively, which the doctors are trying to figure out; he says the worst part is not the pain, but the odd synaesthetic sensations.  A doctor comes in and deactivates the nerves in his arm until they can fix the short.  Aral comments that it’s taking a while, but he’s seeing consistent improvement; Koudelka laments that he’s going to be discharged after all, even after all this trouble.  After a moment, he admits that it’s probably for the best, since he wouldn’t be much good in hand-to-hand combat.  He asks after Ensign Dubauer, and Cordelia tells him that he’s about the same, and his mother looks after him now.

Their next stop is in the research wing.  Aral introduces his wife to the doctor in charge, and Cordelia is firm about accompanying them.

“Good morning, sir,” [the technician] said cheerfully. “Going to watch us hatch this chick today?”

“I wish you’d find some other term for it,” said the doctor.

“Yes, but you can’t call it being born,” he pointed out reasonably. “Technically, they’ve all been born once already. You tell me what it is, then.”

“They call it cracking the bottle at home,” suggested Cordelia helpfully, watching the preparations with interest.

The doctor and technician work on the uterine replicator.  The doctor asks if they have any funding to try to reproduce the machine, but Aral says that once the children are all born, he won’t be involved anymore; he suggests the doctor try to think of a military application.  As they open it up, the doctor expresses his admiration for the surgeons who extracted the placentas in the first place.  He cuts it open and pulls little Elena out, and she begins crying lustily, which disturbs Aral and Bothari, but Cordelia assures them it’s quite normal.  They finish examining the baby and hand her to Cordelia, who demonstrates how to hold her properly and calms her down.  As Aral is invited to examine the replicator, Cordelia gives the baby to Bothari, who isn’t sure the baby looks anything like him; he is cheered by the prospect that she might look like her mother instead.  Aral holds her briefly as well before giving her back to the doctor.

The doctor makes sure of the plan–to release the baby into Aral’s custody instead of the Imperial Orphanage.  They leave Bothari behind to watch over the baby, at his own request, and head out for lunch.  Cordelia says the doctor seemed to have concluded that the baby was hers or Aral’s, or both, which bothers Aral but amuses Cordelia.

“Just wondering what happened to her mother. I’m certain I met her. Long black hair, named Elena, on the flagship—there could only have been one. Incredibly beautiful. I can see how she caught Vorrutyer’s eye. But so young, to deal with that sort of horror . . .”

“Women shouldn’t be in combat,” said Vorkosigan, grimly glum.

“Neither should men, in my opinion. “

Her memories were removed as well, and Cordelia asks why.  Aral tells her that after Vorrutyer finished with her, she was catatonic.  Bothari asked permission to take her into his quarters, which Vorrutyer granted; instead of torturing her further, though, Bothari started living an odd sort of fantasy life with Elena, pretending she was his wife and nursing her back to health.  These were the memories that Bothari would have tried to preserve, he thought.


The whole Bothari situation is a little squicky, isn’t it?  He’s certainly not a particularly sympathetic character, though he does have his moments nonetheless.  Over the next couple of books we’ll see more, not to mention little Elena.  And, what the heck, Koudelka, too.  Not Dubauer, though.

This could almost be another ending, but there’s a little bit more to come as well, in the last chapter.  I seem to recall Bujold having said that she had trouble figuring out where to end the book, but eventually she took off the last few chapters, which ended up as the first few chapters of Barrayar instead.

Notice that we also have more medical personnel with no names.  Again, what’s up with that?  My wife thought that one of the ones in this chapter would be the surgeon from before, who was tasked with bringing the replicators back to Barrayar, but I see no evidence of that.  After all, we have “the doctor” and “the technician”, rather than “the surgeon”, and neither of them seemed to have met Cordelia before.

So, yes, one more chapter, plus the odd little short story “Aftermaths”, and then we can move on to Barrayar.

Read Full Post »

Please find yourself reading this, the sixth part of the reread of the saga of Vorkosigan, by Lois McMaster Bujold.  The coverage of this installment will comprise the eleventh and twelfth chapter of the novel entitled Shards of Honour, the which is the first part of the novel omnibus whose title is Cordelia’s Honour.

And that’s what you get when I try to come up with an interesting introduction.  At least I didn’t use the phrase “weekend of lengthiness”.  And you should see the travesty that resulted when I tried to do an introduction in the form of an old-style text adventure game.  I deleted it, but I may try it again, so be warned.  Okay, so I may not be Leigh Butler, but I can still summarize chapters and then babble about them, so here goes.

Chapter Eleven

After weeks of routine life in the prison camp, Aral comes to talk to Cordelia; she immediately goes to meet him, despite the suspicions of her fellow prisoners.  He asks if he can speak with her, and she steers him off for a walk away from prying eyes and ears, except for Illyan, who still follows Aral.  She notes that he’s been promoted again, and he says he’s mostly just cleaning up the mess.  He apologizes for drugging her, and she says there is literally nothing to forgive.

Aral asks Illyan for privacy to discuss a personal matter; when Illyan is reluctant, he swears on his honour that it’s to do with his marriage proposal.  Illyan agrees to give them time alone.  They walk to the promontory overlooking the crater, where they’d spied on the cache so long ago, and Cordelia comments that it’s not like him to forswear his word, or to lie to her.  Cordelia asks him about the assassination plot, and he doesn’t deny it, merely states that the idea came from Negri and the Emperor, he merely carried it out.

His fingers pulled gently on the grass stems, breaking them off delicately one by one. “He didn’t come out with it directly. First he asked me to take command of the Escobar invasion. He started with a bribe—the viceroyalty of this planet, in fact, when it’s colonized. I turned him down. Then he tried a threat, said he’d throw me to Grishnov, let him have me up for treason, and no Imperial pardon. I told him to go to hell, not in so many words. That was a bad moment, between us. Then he apologized. Called me Lord Vorkosigan. He called me Captain when he wished to be offensive. Then he called in Captain Negri, with a file that didn’t even have a name, and the playacting stopped.

“Reason. Logic. Argument. Evidence. We sat in that green silk room in the Imperial Residence at Vorbarr Sultana one whole mortal week, the Emperor and Negri and I, going over it, while Illyan kicked his heels in the hall, studying the Emperor’s art collection. You are correct in your deduction about Illyan, by the way. He knows nothing about the real purpose of the invasion.

“You saw the Prince, briefly. I may add that you saw him at his best. Vorrutyer may have been his teacher once, but the Prince surpassed him some time ago. But if only he had had some saving notion of political service, I think his father would have forgiven him even his vilest personal vices.

The Prince had already attempted to assassinate his father twice, and the Emperor wanted him taken care of secretly but quickly, because his own life couldn’t be prolonged for much longer.  The Prince’s heir was only four years old, and so the Emperor needed to not only get rid of the Prince, but ensure that Grishnov and his party were out of the picture for the Regency period to follow, as well.  Aral was on the scene to ensure that everybody followed the script, including goading the Prince into being present at the end.  Cordelia surmised that the other agent was the chief surgeon, which Aral confirms.  Vorrutyer hadn’t been intended to die, just to be the scapegoat, and apologize fatally to the Emperor afterwards, but his death did mean that he didn’t get a chance to go down fighting.

Cordelia is sickened that even she and her convoy were part of the Emperor’s plan.  Aral reassures her that the Prince was really that bad, and this way was still better than a civil war.  But the Emperor didn’t want his son to die in shame, and this way he got to have a glorious death in battle.  Aral asks Cordelia if he did the right thing, but she refuses to judge him.  Cordelia discovers that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to the way he does to her.  He asks her again to marry him.

She sighed, and laid her head upon her knees, twisting a grass stem around her fingers. “I love you. You know that, I hope. But I can’t take Barrayar. Barrayar eats its children.”

After the war, Cordelia says that there will be no chance for a Barrayaran to get to Beta Colony for some years, and the “Butcher of Komarr” reputation will weigh against Aral particularly.  Cordelia says she wants to go home and see her family, and try to work out a solution to the problem, but she promises to write him, at least.  Aral says that after the cleanup he plans to go home and get drunk–the Emperor has “used him up” and can’t possibly ask anything more of him.

As they head back down the path, Aral asks if there’s anything else he can do for her, or the camp.  All Cordelia can think of is a marker for Reg Rosemont’s grave, which Aral promises to arrange.

“Wait.” He paused, and she held out a hand to him. His thick fingers engulfed her tapering ones; his skin was warm and dry, and scorched her. “Before we go pick up poor Lieutenant Illyan again . . .”

He took her in his arms, and they kissed, for the first time, for a long time.

“Oh,” she muttered after. “Perhaps that was a mistake. It hurts so much when you stop.”

“Well, let me . . .” His hand stroked her hair gently, then desperately wrapped itself in a shimmering coil; they kissed again.

At this point they are interrupted by Illyan, who reminds Aral of an upcoming meeting.  He asks if he may congratulate Aral on his engagement, and is baffled when Aral says he may not.

The next day, as the prisoners are starting to be shuttled up to the ship to take them home, Aral summons Cordelia again to confirm the details of the grave marker.  Alfredi is even more suspicious of him this time–she doesn’t buy that it took Aral and Cordelia two hours to arrange the grave marker, which had been Cordelia’s story.  Aral is busy in a conference with Illyan and two other officers when she arrives, and indicates the grave marker for her to inspect.  It is a steel slab, solid and built to last, and the information on it is correct.

Just then an Escobaran medtech comes in, despite the protests of the guard outside, demanding that Aral sign a receipt for a delivery.  The medical personnel on the ship have extracted the fetuses from any pregnant female prisoners, and are returning them to the Barrayarans, each in its own uterine replicator, each clearly labelled with the father’s DNA.  Aral is baffled, dumbfounded, and then appalled, asking what he’s supposed to do with them.  The medtech unsympathetic, asks if they thought they were going to leave that decision to the mothers.

He looks to Cordelia for help; she assures him that they’re all in working order, pointing out their green lights.  He orders the chief surgeon to attend him, and signs for them, and the data disc of maintenance instructions.  The fetuses range in age from seven weeks to four months.  Cordelia asks what they normally do with soldier’s by-blows, and Aral says that they are usually aborted.  She points out that, but for Bothari, one of those babies might have been hers and Bothari’s, or Vorrutyer’s.  Aral begs her for advice, and Cordelia says that he should take care of them–he signed for them, after all.  He considers this, and decides that he has thus pledged his word as Vorkosigan, and this sets him back on an even keel.

The surgeon arrives and is struck with cupidity at the sight of the replicators, but Aral and Cordelia are adamant that he can’t just flush the fetuses out, and that Aral has sworn that they will be protected.  The surgeon says that he doesn’t have full facilities to deal with them–that would take the resources of ImpMil, the military facilities on Barrayar.  He examines the complex instructions on the data disc, and says that there’s no way all that could be done in time, and that Aral will have to “eat his word” this time.

Vorkosigan grinned, wolfishly and without humor. “Do you recall what happened to the last man who called me on my word?”

The surgeon’s smile faded into uncertainty.

“These are your orders, then,” Vorkosigan went on, clipped. “In thirty minutes you, personally, will lift off with these—things, for the fast courier. And it will arrive in Vorbarr Sultana in less than a week. You will go to the Imperial Military Hospital and requisition, by whatever means necessary, the men and equipment needed to—complete the project. Get an Imperial order if you have to. Directly, not through channels. I’m sure our friend Negri will put you in touch. See them set up, serviced, and report back to me.”

“We can’t possibly make it in under a week! Not even in the courier!”

“You’ll make it in five days, boosting six points past emergency max the whole way. If the engineer’s been doing his job, the engines won’t blow until you hit eight. Quite safe.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Couer, scramble the courier crew, please. And get their captain on the line, I want to give him his orders personally.”

The surgeon wonders if Cordelia is to blame for this, with her “Betan sentimentality”, and Aral warns him against “Betan insubordination”.  The surgeon says he understands if Aral wants to impress his girlfriend, but he needs to think ahead.  Aral begins to visibly lose his temper, and the surgeon subsides.  Aral says that he will worry about what happens to them after they’re born.  After the surgeon leaves, Cordelia wonders if the replicators will be safe in his custody, but Aral reassures her that he’ll end up taking possession of the whole project.  Just then, Cordelia is informed that the last shuttle is ready to lift, at the same time that an urgent call comes for Aral, so they have to part abruptly and wordlessly.


Why doesn’t this surgeon ever get a name, when so many other more minor characters did?  Also, why was it so obvious to Cordelia that he was the other agent?  Don’t feel like going back to try to puzzle it out–you check it for me and let me know.

The uterine replicator delivery of the bastard fetuses is fiendishly ingenious.  Do they have a lot of rapes on Escobar, or Beta Colony, one wonders?  I suppose this isn’t necessarily a Star Trek-style future where all the bad things people do have been weeded out (except as necessary for the plot of this week’s episode), but one does get the impression that Beta, with its freewheeling sexuality, sees less rape than, say, the modern-day U.S.  I guess I don’t know as much about Escobar, since we don’t spend a lot of time there.  The fact that they were able to do same-day delivery (haw!) on the replicators means that they were ready for/expecting something like this.  They may have even requested the pregnant prisoners to go up on the first shuttle or something, to give them time for the ultra-quick extractions.  I don’t recall at this point whether most replicator fetuses are supposed to be started in vitro or in vivo (except on Athos, where of course they’re 100% vitro), but I suppose if Escobarans still have sex, and they still sometimes get pregnant that way, it should be a common enough procedure for medtechs to be practiced in it.  I think that on previous read-throughs I had missed the quick turnaround on the fetuses, though I suppose it was necessary if Cordelia was to be there to witness the delivery, unless of course there had been two separate shipments of prisoners…but why wouldn’t Cordelia, the hero of Escobar, be on the first shuttle, then?  So, skilled, fast and prepared medtechs.  Maybe they’ve dealt with Barrayarans or other uncivilized races before and were expecting this sort of thing.

Maybe it’s just that it’s the fourth or fifth time through the book for me, but Aral’s revelations about the Emperor’s plan are almost anticlimactic by this point.  It’s probably just that I’m on the lookout for all the clues now, as befits an intrepid rereader and synopsizer.  At least for the stuff I remember from earlier reads.  Maybe one day there’ll be some kind of temporary topical memory suppressant we’ll be able to use so that we can forget having read a book before and reread it for the first time again.  I’m sure somebody on Jackson’s Whole has invented it, or is working on it.

Chapter Twelve

The prisoners are sent home on a converted passenger liner, staffed with a fair number of psych officers.  Cordelia’s reluctance to talk about her experiences is soon noticed, as she avoids the “spontaneous” group therapy sessions.  A woman named Irene, obviously a covert psych officer, keeps trying to involve her in conversation, which Cordelia manages to divert, but after a week of that Cordelia finds herself with a new roommate, Joan Sprague.  Cordelia correctly deduces that Dr. Sprague is Irene’s boss, and makes it clear that she prefers to keep the “therapy” straightforward and out in the open.

Sprague asks Cordelia to try to remember what happened to her on the Barrayaran ship.  Cordelia informs her that she can remember it all too well, and would rather like to stop thinking about it.  She tells Sprague about what happened on the ship, but omitting Aral’s intervention, claiming she merely hid out on the ship until put into the brig.

“So. You don’t remember being tortured or raped by Admiral Vorrutyer, and you don’t remember killing him.”

“I wasn’t. And I didn’t. I thought I made that clear.”

The doctor shook her head sorrowfully. “It’s reported you were taken away from camp twice by the Barrayarans. Do you remember what happened during those times?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Can you describe it?”

She balked. “No.”

She doesn’t want to reveal anything that Aral told her, or that she concluded, about the plot to kill Prince Serg, because if it got back to Barrayar it could destabilize the whole government.  Instead she brings out the story about Rosemont’s grave marker again.  Sprague says her case is like that of another woman, raped by Vorrutyer and covered up by the Barrayarans; Cordelia knows the woman, the dark-haired Escobaran she met before, but says their cases are different.

Sprague brings up the physical evidence of torture–her broken arm, cracked ribs, bruises, and evidence of extreme stress.  Cordelia mentions the gravity failure, but Sprague says that all of the damage didn’t occur at the same time, so that can’t account for it all.  Sprague brings up the possibility of drug therapy to help with her memories, but it would require her voluntary cooperation, which Cordelia is thankful for, since it means she can still refuse.  She can’t get rid of Sprague as her roommate, and she soon begins to suffer from sleep deprivation because she is afraid she’ll say something in her sleep.

She ended the trip far more frayed than she had begun it, floating on the edge of real breakdown, plagued by pounding headaches, insomnia, a mysterious left-hand tremula, and the beginnings of a stutter.

After Escobar, she is conveyed to Beta Colony in a fast courier sent especially for her.  Curious, she checks out some of the Betan news coverage on the trip, and is horrified to find out that Aral is being blamed for the prisoner abuses, his “Butcher of Komarr” reputation weighing against him again.

When she arrives, she waits for a shuttle, delayed by a storm on the planet, and then finds out that she is its sole passenger when it does arrive.  They have bought her a new Expeditionary Force uniform, and they ask her to put hers on; she is amused by the shiny jackboots, which she needs the stewardess to help her into.  She sees a crowd at the shuttleport as they near, and the stewardess says that the President, “Steady Freddy”, is going to make a speech.  Cordelia looks forward to sneaking out unnoticed through the crowd.

As they arrive on the ground, Cordelia worries that there’s going to be some sort of reception for her, which she’s not sure she’s up to handling.   She is greeted by the President’s cabinet Press Secretary, Philip Gould.

She was tumbling fast. “You’re not p-planning some kind of, of d-dog and pony show out there, are you? I r-really just want to go home.”

“Well, the President is planning a speech. And he has a little something for you,” he said soothingly. “In fact, he was hoping he might make several speeches with you, but we can discuss that later. Now, we hardly expect the Heroine of Escobar to suffer from stage fright, but we have prepared some remarks for you. I’ll be with you all the time, and help you with the cues, and the press.” He passed her a hand viewer. “Do try and look surprised, when you first step out of the shuttle.”

“I am surprised.” She scanned the script rapidly. “Th-this is a p-pack of lies!”

He looked worried. “Have you always had that little speech impediment?” he asked cautiously.

“N-no, it’s my souvenir from the Escobaran psych service, and the l-late war. Who came up with this g-garbage, anyway?” The line that particularly caught her eye referred to “the cowardly Admiral Vorkosigan and his pack of ruffians.” “Vorkosigan’s the bravest man I ever met.”

Gould guides her out of the shuttle.  Cordelia says she just wants to see her mother, but Gould says she’s with the President already.  Gould leads her through masses of people and reporters until she sees her mother, collapsing into her arms with relief, though her mother doesn’t seem to understand her stress.  Her brother is also there, and her crew, also in the new uniforms.  She stands on the podium next to Steady Freddy as he makes his speech, segueing into her award.  She asks Gould if this is for the plasma mirror delivery, and Gould tells her that her crew already has that one; this is for her alone, for her killing Admiral Vorrutyer.

When it is her turn, Cordelia starts reading her speech, stammering constantly, but soon departs from the script, declaring that she’s not sure she would have deserved a medal for killing Vorrutyer even if she had done it.  She rips off the medal, telling them that one of Vorrutyer’s own men killed him, and that Aral Vorkosigan wasn’t to blame for the abuse of the prisoners.  Just then they cut off the sound pickup; she throws the medal at Steady Freddy, her arms are grabbed from behind, and when she lashes out with her new jackboots, she accidentally kicks Freddy in the crotch.  She is quickly hustled off the stage, asking please not to be sedated, as the President’s media event collapses around him.

Eventually, in private with her mother and the President’s physician, Cordelia is able to calm down, and apologize for her reaction.  The physician apologizes in return, saying that they hadn’t realized the shape she was in.  They let her go home with her mother, the crowd more subdued on the way out.  There are also crowds at her mother’s building, and outside her apartment, but finally they find themselves in solitude.

Cordelia’s mother tells her how they found about what happened to her, and Cordelia says it was just a rumour started by the Barrayarans themselves.

“What did they do to you?”

“They kept following me around, pestering me with these offers of therapy—they thought the Barrayarans had been messing with my memory. . . . Oh, I see. You mean, what did the Barrayarans do to me. Nothing much. V-vorrutyer might have liked to, but he met with his accident before he’d got half started.” She decided not to disturb her mother with the details.”Something important did happen, though.” She hesitated. “I ran into Aral Vorkosigan again.”

“That horrible man? I wondered, when I heard the name in the news, if it was the same fellow who killed your Lieutenant Rosemont last year.”

“No. Yes. I mean, he didn’t kill Rosemont, one of his people did. But he’s the same one.”

She tells her mother that Aral hid her in his cabin after Vorrutyer’s death; her mother asks if he “did anything” to her, and takes her silence as confirmation.  Cordelia tries to reassure her mother that Aral’s reputation is all wrong, but ends up volunteering the wrong sort of information and doesn’t do her cause much good.  She says that people either “worship him or hate his guts”.

“Well, I don’t hate him. Can’t say as I worship him, either.” She paused a long time, and looked up to meet her mother’s eyes squarely. “But when he’s cut, I bleed.”

A few days later, Cordelia’s commander, Commodore Tailor, visits her with a woman from the Expeditionary Force Medical Service, Dr. Mehta.  Apparently Dr. Sprague’s reports have finally caught up with her; if they had arrived earlier, they might not have subjected her to the media event.  Tailor tells her that the President is still interested in her case, and hopes to recruit her as a spokesman for the government, which Cordelia makes clear she has zero interest in.

Tailor says he wants to get her fit for work again; Cordelia says she just wants her month of leave before she returns to Survey, but Tailor says that she needs to be “medically cleared” first.  Cordelia says that Sprague got off on the wrong track, but she wants to be clear, that if she doesn’t satisfy Dr. Mehta then her Survey career is basically over.  Tailor says that’s a little harsh, but essentially correct, and Cordelia agrees to talk to her.


I couldn’t quote as much dialogue as I wanted here–I’m not sure what is appropriate or allowed, but I’m pretty sure whole pages is over the line.  Read (or reread) the book yourself–it’s classic stuff.  Cordelia’s a bit off-kilter here, and nobody seems to be actually listening to her much anyway, so there’s a lot of misunderstanding.  Between the things that Cordelia can’t tell them, and the mistaken assumptions that they’re starting from in the first place, she can’t communicate with any of the Escobarans or Betans.  Even her mother has trouble crossing the line.  And so Cordelia’s estrangement from her own people begins.

This chapter is interesting, too, because in some books the plot would be over by now.  Cordelia would go home and resume her life, mourning her missed opportunity for love, perhaps.  Or she’d never go home, turning around and deciding to stay with Aral after all.  Or maybe we’d find out that there was some sort of sinister plot back on Beta Colony.  Instead–there’s just the impossibility of understanding.  Beta Colony, with its obsessive concern for mental health and well-being, as the Betans define it (and Escobar, ditto), prove to be just as oppressive, in some circumstances, as the worst Political Officers on Barrayar.  I suppose it’s not actually considered improper to have secrets, but in Cordelia’s situation, having just returned from suspect Barrayaran contamination, it’s not allowed, probably due to the adversarial relationship between the planets.  It’s saddening.

I was trying to remember if we ever did see the man that Cordelia mentioned back in Chapter Three, the former lover who persuaded her to stand down from her promotion.  For a while I was thinking that maybe it was Rosemont, after her mother referred to her as “your Reg Rosemont”, but it doesn’t add up, if Rosemont was only a Lieutenant.  We don’t see any other Betan captains, do we?  I could have sworn we saw the guy somewhere.  I must just be misremembering.  Unless…it’s not Tailor, is it?  No, there would be more awkwardness in that case.

And that’s it for another week.  Only three more chapters, plus the short story “Aftermaths”, and then we’ll be done Shards of Honour and ready for Barrayar.  I can hardly wait.  Except, of course, I don’t get to “wait”, I have to do all the hard work.  And to think I just started to do this as a sneaky way to reread the Vorkosigan series again…

Read Full Post »

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  If you don’t know what’s going on here, then go and click on that “About” link or something.  It’s not that hard to figure out, but if you haven’t read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honour, or Cordelia’s Honour, which it’s the first half of, then maybe you should go and do that first.  I’ll wait.

Today’s installment covers Chapters Nine and Ten of Shards of Honour, in which a plan comes together, some people die and some other people go back to a planet.

Chapter Nine

Cordelia wakes up to Illyan saying that Vorhalas and the Prince are coming.  Aral and Illyan quickly stuff Bothari into the shower, and tell Cordelia to give him another dose of the sedative early in case he starts to wake up and make noise.  They shut Cordelia into the room with Bothari, but leave the door partway open, with Illyan leaning against the frame, as a psychological barrier.  Cordelia doses Bothari, then sits on the toilet, where she can see just a sliver of the room reflected in the mirror.

Vorhalas and Prince Serg arrive.  Vorhalas has the latest updates on the battle on data discs, and he says the Escobarans are on the run.  Aral says that they shouldn’t both leave the ship, that the Prince needs to stay behind to take Vorrutyer’s place.  Serg insists that he will lead his troops on the planet, and nobody will be able to say he’s not a soldier.

“You will,” said Vorkosigan wearily, “sit in that fortified palace that half the engineers are going to be tied up constructing, and party in it, and let your men do your dying for you, until you’ve bought your ground by the sheer weight of the corpses piled on it, because that’s the kind of soldiering your mentor has taught you. And then send bulletins home about your great victory. Maybe you can have the casualty lists declared top secret.”

“Aral, careful,” warned Vorhalas, shocked.

“You go too far,” the Prince snarled. “Especially for a man who will get no closer to the fighting than clinging to the wormhole exit for home. If you want to talk of—undue caution.” His tone clearly made the phrase a euphemism for an uglier term.

Aral tells him that he can hardly be confined to quarters and still accused of cowardice for not being part of the fight.  The Prince tells Aral that there’s no chance that he’ll grab any of the glory for himself.  Aral makes a formal protest, and the Prince says that after his victory Aral and the progressives will be “up against the wall”.  Just then, Bothari starts to snore, which Illyan covers with a coughing fit and a quick duck into the bathroom, where he helps Cordelia roll Bothari onto his side.

When Illyan emerges, the Prince has left, but Vorhalas is still talking to Aral.  Aral urges them to take separate ships, but Vorhalas refuses.  As he’s leaving, he asks Aral if he thinks the Escobarans will counterattack.  Aral says of course they will, and at the worst possible time, just when the Barrayarans are in the middle of debarking their troops.  Vorhalas leaves, not optimistic about the chances that the Prince will listen to reason.

Aral and Illyan are moving Bothari out of the bathroom when Aral notices that he’s not breathing.  He and Cordelia apply CPR while Illyan dashes out for an antidote to the sedative.  After Illyan returns, they manage to get him breathing again.  Aral then goes to enter his protest, which he says will be no good unless it’s filed before Vorhalas leaves.  Illyan asks if they should move the two fugitives elsewhere, but Aral reminds him that it’s quite safe, since Illyan himself removed all the bugs, and it’s got armed guards outside the cabin.  He says he only needs 26 more hours, and Illyan concludes that Aral has something planned.

Aral contacts Commander Venne in the Tactics Room and asks for regular updates to be piped up once the Prince and Vorhalas leave.  He says it’ll be twelve hours until they get to orbit and start landing, and it’ll be a one-hour communication lag each way by then.  Illyan goes to fetch some food.  Aral and Cordelia chat for a while.

“If the Emperor disliked Vorrutyer so, why did he put him in charge?”

“Because he was Grishnov’s man, and widely famous as such, and the Prince’s favorite. Putting all the bad eggs in one basket, so to speak.” He cut himself off with a fist-closing gesture.

“He made me feel like I’d met the ultimate in evil. I don’t think anything will really scare me, after him.”

“Ges Vorrutyer? He was just a little villain. An old-fashioned craftsman, making crimes one-off. The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, or anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in that future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present—they are real.” His voice fell, as he spoke, so that by the end he was almost whispering.

Cordelia observes how keyed up Aral is, and he says it’s just the waiting, and admires how calm she is.  Illyan returns with the food, and Aral sleeps fitfully, checking the tactical situation every hour or so.  Bothari returns to semi-consciousness, and they are afraid to sedate him more.  Illyan leaves to sleep in his own cabin, and Cordelia takes a nap herself; by the time Illyan returns with more food, they are about to receive the first reports from the landing troops.  As they do, Commander Venne contacts them and says they’re getting odd reports, and offers to pipe them directly to him.  Aral agrees, and they begin to hear increasingly harrowing reports of the Escobarans returning their plasma fire, despite their tiny shuttles.  They hear Gottyan’s voice, in charge of his own ship, as he prepares to drop his shields for a shot at maximum power.  Aral wonders out loud how long it will take them to figure it out, as Gottyan’s transmission abruptly cuts out.

Venne asks him to come down to the Tactics Room; when Aral says he’d been specifically confined to quarters, Venne tells Aral that he’s the ranking officer on board now, and the Prince is dead, and Admiral Vorhalas with him.  When Aral hears that, he commands that they immediately adopt his contingency plan for full retreat.  He tells Venne that the Escobarans have “plasma mirror shields”, which they got from the Betans, that reflect plasma bursts back on the attacker, which render the Barrayaran ship’s weapons useless.

Cordelia asks him how he knew about the mirror shields, and Aral tells her that he drugged her while she was asleep and she told him everything.


Aral doesn’t seem to be acting at all suspicious in this chapter, does he?  “Prince Serg, you can’t leave the ship!”  “Shut up, I’ll leave if I want to!”  Just like Cersei trying to get Robert Baratheon into the tourney by forbidding him to go.  Reverse psychology, that’s what it’s called.  Not that Serg seems to need it, he’s off in his own little world where nothing could possibly go wrong.  Also, Aral’s little speech about the “calm men in beautiful green silk rooms” can be read two ways.  It can refer to the men who planned the war…or it can refer to the men who planned on it going wrong.  But that’s next chapter.

Not sure what the point is for Bothari’s cardiac arrest episode.  It doesn’t really impact the plot, so I guess it must be a character thing–that no matter what Bothari is or what he’s done, Aral and Cordelia are still willing to give him mouth-to-mouth rather than have him die.  “The parody of a kiss was horrible, but to shrink from it beneath contempt.”  So I guess it’s really no hard feelings for the abortive rape, then.  Cordelia knows that Bothari was as much a victim as she was.  That’s Cordelia–she can’t help but see other people’s viewpoints.  I expect that if she spent enough time with Vorrutyer or Serg she would have understood and pitied them.  Until they killed her.  (Or maybe not, considering what happens to Vordarian in the next book…)

Chapter Ten

Illyan comes back to move Bothari somewhere else (presumably he’s no longer at risk now that Aral is in full charge), leaving Cordelia alone for twelve hours.  She puzzles at the question of what Aral used to drug her, and then begins to suspect that he didn’t drug her at all, which meant that he knew about the plasma mirrors all along.  And didn’t tell anyone else.  The invasion was, she realizes, intended to fail, to kill Prince Serg, Ges Vorrutyer, and the rest of the “bad eggs”, hiding the deaths among the rest of the casualties.  And if Aral didn’t get the information from her, it must have been through the Emperor himself, which meant he was plotting to kill his own son.  The enormity of the plan staggers her, and she almost hopes that she’s wrong, that Aral just drugged her after all.

Finally Illyan returns to escort her to the brig.  She is placed in a cell with a beautiful, dark-haired Escobaran woman who seems to be almost catatonic, until the Barrayarans come to take the woman away, drugging her when she struggles.  After they bind up Cordelia’s cracked ribs, she is left alone.  After a period of time measured only in ration pack deliveries, the lights begin to flicker. Cordelia floats upwards as the artificial gravity cuts out, then smashes back down when it returns extra strength.  She realizes the ship must be under attack, with the shields drawing energy from other systems.  Then the lights and gravity go out entirely, and she is flung into the darkened cell to float in midair.  Finally she manages to reach a corner, and braces herself in it, until finally the power comes back on, and she finds herself on the ceiling; she crashes to the floor and breaks her left arm.

For three hours she tries to attract anyone’s attention, but nobody comes for her until after they make it through a wormhole jump.  The lieutenant in charge of brig brings a medical corpsman around, who puts her arm in a cast.  Things return to normal, and after a while they go through another wormhole jump.

Illyan finally comes to fetch her, and she asks if Aral was all right after the attack; Illyan assures her he’s fine.  He tells her she’s going to be shuttled to a POW camp onplanet, to be held there until exchanged home.  The war is over; the Barrayarans have retreated, but they blocked the wormhole behind them.

“How the devil do you block a wormhole?”

“In a way, it’s a very old idea. Fireships.”


“Send a ship in, set up a major matter-antimatter explosion at a midpoint between nodes. It sets up a resonance—nothing else can get through for weeks, until it dies down.”

Cordelia whistled. “Clever—why didn’t we think of that? How do you get the pilot out?”

“Maybe that’s why you didn’t think of it. We don’t.”

“God—what a death.” Her vision of it was clear and instant.

“They were volunteers.”

Illyan says they have about a thousand prisoners, compared to over ten thousand Barrayarans left behind on Escobar, so she should be pretty valuable.

In the shuttle, she is accompanied by one of the techs from her own ship, and the dark-haired Escobaran woman.  The tech has been in a cell the whole time and doesn’t know much about what’s going on, and the woman, who was captured two months ago, can’t remember much of what happened on the ship; Cordelia surmises she may have been another of Vorrutyer’s victims.

When the shuttle arrives, Cordelia is pleasantly surprised to find that they are once again on the nameless planet, right next to the underground depot.  They are processed in, and Cordelia and the Escobaran sent to the women’s quarters, which are only sparsely occupied.  The ranking officer, Lieutenant Marsha Alfredi, is relieved to find that Cordelia is higher rank and can take over.  Alfredi says that the guards have been “pigs”, until the previous day, when the worst of the guards were suddenly relieved, and the camp commandant taken out and shot.  Cordelia fills them in on the Barrayarans’ retreat, and the prisoners are surprised but jubilant.  She tells them there’s a new commander, hence the changes, but when she mentions Vorkosigan’s name, the “Butcher of Komarr”‘s reputation has them all worried again.

The other prisoners come over to hear if the rumous of peace are true, and Parnell jumps up on a bunk and says that he heard from a Barrayaran guard that the invasion failed because Cordelia assassinated Vorrutyer.  Cordelia protests that that’s not what happened, but the prisoners are too busy cheering her and carrying her on their shoulders to be interested in details and denials.

The truth was too complicated and ambiguous to appeal to them, and she herself, suppressing everything in it that had to do with Vorkosigan, was unable to make it sound convincing. Her duty seemed drained of meaning, dull and discolored. She longed for home, and her sensible mother and brother, and quiet, and one thought that would connect to another without making a chain of secret horror.


(Chain of Secret Horror would be a great name for a metal band.  Just sayin’.)

So, Cordelia figures out what’s really going on.  I’m not sure whether the whole plot was planned out in full before Aral was brought into it or not; I seem to recall that he became involved after the failed assassination attempt on him, but now I can’t recall for sure where that’s stated.  Now Cordelia’s presented with what I might call “Rorschach’s Choice”.  Basically, when a lot of people die, and you discover that they have been sacrificed against their will for what might nevertheless end up being a net gain, for instance when they, or a similar number of other people, would have died anyway–do you tell people about it, however heinous the loss of life might have been, and thus nullify the thing that might have been gained by their deaths?

Other random, non-plot-related events–Cordelia’s arm getting broken in the artificial gravity glitch.  Unless it affects the plot in the next couple of chapters.  Maybe people start saying, “Oh, that Butcher of Komarr, he even broke her arm, poor thing.”  Seriously, one gets a little tired of the Butcher of Komarr thing.  He’s gotten rid of the abusive guards and shot their commander…but oh, he’s going to be worse, because he’s the Butcher of Komarr!  He could give all of the captives’ children puppies and cotton candy, and everyone would suspect him of secret, hidden cruelty, because he’s the Butcher of Komarr!  Of course, sometimes evil, heartless, and/or amoral characters do thing which have good effects merely to satisfy their whims, or because they despise inefficiency (they’re Lawful Evil rather than Chaotic, you see), but we know Aral’s not like that…  I hope he spent those extra character points he got from his Reputation (12-, Bad) wisely.

Also, we will see the beautiful amnesiac dark-haired Escobaran woman again.  In fact, she was mentioned earlier–as the “other female prisoner” from a few weeks earlier who fell into Vorrutyer’s clutches.  I’m pretty sure it’s the same one, anyway, and Cordelia may even have figured it out.

So we’re now two-thirds of the way through the book, if I recall correctly.  We’re practically into the denouement, except that there’s one more plot twist before the end…well, not a plot twist, per se, but more consequences of the events of the book before we can start to settle down.  Until next week, then…

Read Full Post »

The Vorkosigan Saga Reread returns again today to go through another couple of chapters from Lois McMaster Bujold’s amazing…Vorkosigan Saga. This week we cover two more chapters of Shards of Honour, in which a lot of things happen–one person gets killed, one person goes catatonic, and one person has an eidetic memory.

Chapter Seven

Cordelia–now a Captain in the Betan Expeditionary Force–commands a slow bulk freighter, which is preparing for a wormhole jump. The ship normally goes from Beta Colony to Escobar, but the Barrayaras have been blockading the wormhole for over sixty days. Last she heard, the Escobarans and Barrayarans space fleets were still manoeuvering. She hands the ship over to the pilot, who takes them through the wormhole, in what seems like only a few seconds for her but hours for him.

On the other side of the wormhole they find six Barrayaran ships, two of which are already moving, despite the fact that nothing’s been through the wormhole for a month. The Barrayarans begin to fire plasma; while the Betans’ shields absorb it, they ready the projection device in engineering. The projector creates a sensor image of a dreadnought as if it just came through the wormhole, drawing the Barrayarans’ attention. The projector drains energy from Cordelia’s ship, but the projected dreadnought draws the Barrayarans away from the wormhole. The engineer says they have enough power to keep it up for ten minutes, and Cordelia says they have orders to slag it when they’re done.

Three real Betan freighters, stripped down for cargo and speed, pop through the wormhole and evade the off-station Barrayarans, heading for Escobar, and the fake dreadnought explodes. Cordelia’s ship is now drained, and they drift, their artificial gravity failing. They board a lifeboat, disguised to look like a rock, and leave the ship. Cordelia destroys the projector remotely, and they gradually accelerate away. A warning light comes on, and Cordelia kills the thrust and internal power and adds a little artful tumble. Nonetheless, they are taken in tow by the Barrayarans. They open communications, and Cordelia identifies them as an unarmed lifeboat. The pilot, Parnell, says that he and the others are willing to blow up the shuttle rather than be captured, but Cordelia says that they were handpicked for their ignorance of any real information, and the Barrayarans aren’t all bad.

The Barrayarans pick them up in a fast courier and take them to the flagship, where the Betans are stripped and given shapeless orange pajamas; Cordelia is separated from her men, and brought to Vice-Admiral Vorrutyer, who instantly sparks fear and instant dislike in her. He orders her to identify herself and she complies; he orders the soldiers to strip her, and pronounces her “A little old, but she’ll do.” She dresses again, as slowly as possible, to vex her captors, and is led to a cell, where she is left for about an hour before she summoned before Vorrutyer again.

Vorrutyer’s quarters are large, three cabins’ merged together, and decorated sumptuously. Vorrutyer orders her guards to strap her to the bed and leave her.

She tried to string herself along; maybe he’s only a rapist. It might be possible to handle a simple rapist. Such direct, childlike souls, hardly offensive at all. Even vileness has a relative range. . . .

“I don’t know any military secrets worth a thing,” she fenced. “This isn’t really worth your time.”

“I didn’t think you did,” he replied easily. “Although you will undoubtedly insist on telling me everything you know over the next few weeks. Quite tedious, I’m not in the least interested. If I want your information, my medical staff can have it out of you in a trice.” He sipped his wine. “Although it’s curious you should bring up the subject—perhaps I will send you to sickbay, later today.”

Her stomach knotted. Fool, she shrieked silently at herself, did you just blow a chance of ducking interrogation? But no, it had to be standard operating procedure—he’s just working you over. Subtle. Calm . . .

He drank again. “Do you know, I think I shall enjoy having an older woman for a change. The young ones may look pretty, but they’re too easy. No sport. I can tell already, you’re going to be great sport. A very great fall requires a very great height, to fall from, not so?”

She sighed, and gazed up at the ceiling. “Well, I’m sure it will be educational.” She tried to remember how she’d occupied her mind during sex with her old lover, in the bad times before she’d finally shed him. This might well be no worse. . . .

Vorrutyer gets out a small knife and slices her pajamas away. He deliberately makes a small cut in her thigh, but since it’s in the spot where her nerves were deadened by the nerve disruptor, she doesn’t feel it. Vorrutyer tells her he’s not going to rape her, but he got an idea from an eighteenth-century book about having her raped by a diseased servant. In this case, only mentally diseased, a paranoid schizophrenic who hears voices, one he’s used before. There’s a knock on the door, and Vorrutyer lets in Sergant Bothari.

Her boiling imagination lurched to his body. His body—it was all wrong, somehow, hunched in his black uniform, not like the straight figure she had last seen demanding pride of place from Vorkosigan. Wrong, wrong, terribly wrong. A head taller than Vorrutyer, yet he seemed almost to creep before his master. His spine was coiled with tension as he glowered down at his—torturer? What, she wondered, might a mind molester like Vorrutyer do with the material presented by Bothari? God, Vorrutyer, do you imagine, in your amoral flashy freakiness, in your monstrous vanity, that you control this elemental? And you dare play games with that sullen madness in his eyes? Her thoughts kept time with her racing pulse. There are two victims in this room. There are two victims in this room. There are two . . .

Vorrutyer orders him to rape Cordelia; Cordelia is filled with fear and pity, and tells him, “I believe that the tormented are very close to God. I’m sorry, Sergeant.” Bothari, recognizing her, refuses to carry out the order, calling her “Vorkosigan’s prisoner”. Vorrutyer is surprised, but then recognizes her as “Vorkosigan’s Betan”. This fills him with glee, as he realizes he has a weapon to use on Aral, almost as good as the time he told him about his wife.

“Do you know, you have quite overwhelmed me. The possibilities you present—eighteen years were not too long to wait for so ideal a revenge. A woman soldier. Ha! He probably thought you the ideal solution to our mutual—difficulty. My perfect warrior, my dear hypocrite, Aral. You have much to learn of him, I wager. But do you know, I somehow feel quite certain he hasn’t mentioned me to you.”

“Not by name,” she agreed. “Possibly by category.”

“And what category was that?”

“I believe the term he used was ‘scum of the service.’ “

Vorrutyer tells her that her “puritan lover” Aral was quite a “merry widower”, and counted Vorrutyer himself among his lovers. He reflects out loud on the probable reaction if he were to take a lock of Cordelia’s hair and bring it out casually in front of Aral at some staff meeting. He cuts off a thick strand of her hair, and outlines more plans for torturing Aral with her. After that, he decides he’ll rape her after all.

Bothari has been muttering to himself and pacing around the room, but when Vorrutyer climbs on top of her, Bothari grabs the knife from where Vorrutyer has set it down and cuts Vorrutyer’s throat. Cordelia asks Bothari as politely as she can to unstrap her, and he undoes one buckle, allowing her to free herself from the rest. She searches through Vorrutyer’s cabinets, finding a number of unspeakable torture devices, and eventually finds some black fatigues to put on. Bothari is nearly catatonic, sitting curled up on the floor.

As she considers how to get him out of the cabin and where to hide him, the door opens and there stands Aral, plasma arc in hand.


Wow, a lot happens in this chapter. For one thing, we get to see this “projector” thing that was mentioned in passing in the last chapter. I’m not sure why it was on the Rene Magritte, if they were an exploration ship…or did they know more about the Barrayaran presence on the unnamed planet than Cordelia revealed to us? If not, why would they have it on their ship on a routine mission? Can’t remember if this is resolved later or not.

The transition is quite fast, though, from the ship to the lifeboat to capture to attempted rape. I would never have believed, if you’d asked me two weeks ago, that this was all in one chapter. Perhaps it would have worked better to stretch the timeline out, but maybe Bujold had to cut out something in her final draft so her book wouldn’t be too long for the publisher, and she decided to speed up this bit. The result is, too, that Vorrutyer gets less than a whole chapter onscreen before he gets killed. Which we’re all grateful for, I’m sure. It was enough to make me forgive Bothari for Dubauer and any other earlier crimes. It instantly adds layers to his character, anyway. This chapter plants the seeds for the odd rapport between Cordelia and Bothari.

Also, if people like Vorrutyer can be in high positions in the Barrayaran military, then maybe people are right to believe a lot of bad things about them. There is a partial explanation for that in the next chapter, and the sense that somebody (Aral, at least, in this case) is trying to do something about the problem. And it certainly never seems quite as bad in later books as it does right now, so there must been a major cleanup in there somewhere. A fair bit of venality, and the odd bit of corruption here and there, but not a Vice-Admiral raping prisoners, not even bothering to hide it from his crew.

I left out a lot of the repartee between Vorrutyer and Cordelia, as, for the most part, it consisted of her trying to put on a brave face despite her helplessness, and him trying to scare her even more. It is important from a character point of view, to show that he’s not just a physical sadist, but a little of it carries the flavour, I think.

Chapter Eight

Cordelia tells Aral to come in and close the door; seeing another officer behind him, she merely says that there’s been an accident. Aral tells the officer, a Lieutenant Illyan, to “witness this with the greatest attention”. The two of them go around the room, inspecting the situation.

“Been reading the Marquis again, have you?” he addressed the corpse with a sigh. He turned it over with the toe of his boot, and a little more blood ran out of the meaty slice in its neck. “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” He glanced up at Cordelia. “Which of you should I congratulate?”

She moistened her lips. “I’m not sure. How annoyed is everyone going to be about this?”

Aral tells her the Emperor will be delighted, but privately, and Cordelia tells him that Bothari did the honours, since she was tied up. Aral says he’s reminded of the scene in the engine room on the General Vorkraft–a day late, and a dollar short. Cordelia says that in fact, he came just in time, and Aral says that at least he can rescue his ship from her, if that wasn’t the rescue he was planning.

Examining Bothari, he says that Vorrutyer has almost ruined him again, after Aral had managed to almost make him well. He tries to get Bothari to move, then thinks better of it and asks Cordelia to try instead.

She got down into the line of his sight. “Bothari. Bothari, look at me. You’ve got to get up, and walk a little way.” She took his blood-coated hand, and tried to think of a line of reason, or more likely unreason, that might reach him. She tried a smile. “Look. See? You’re washed in blood. Blood washes away sin, right? You’re going to be all right now. Uh, the bad man is gone, and in a little while the bad voices will go away too. So you come along with me, and I’ll take you where you can rest.”

During this speech he gradually focused on her, and at the end he nodded, and stood. Still holding his hand, she followed Vorkosigan out, Illyan bringing up the rear. She hoped her psychological band-aid would hold; an alarm of any sort might touch him off like a bomb.

Aral’s quarters are just across the corridor, thankfully but surprisingly, and Cordelia asks if he’d been there the whole time. Aral (who is now a Commodore) says that he just got back in a fast courier and had been in conference with Admiral Vorhalas and Prince Serg. A guard told him about Vorrutyer’s newest prisoner, but he didn’t imagine that it would be Cordelia. They enter Aral’s quarters and lock the door. Cordelia expresses surprise that Aral would serve a man like Vorrutyer, and he protests that he serves the Emperor.

Cordelia worries that Aral will ask her about the freighters, but instead he introduces her to Simon Illyan, his “spy”–placed to keep an eye on him for the Emperor by Captain Negri, head of Imperial Security, as part of a compromise with the Ministry of Political Education. Illyan has an eidetic memory biochip.

Aral tries to think about how to present the murder scene. He wants to keep Bothari out of it, since the Prince won’t care that he’s insane. Instead, Cordelia will have to have killed Vorrutyer herself before escaping. He’ll get some sedatives and hide Bothari and Cordelia in his cabin. He and Illyan leave to go officially find the murder scene, leaving Cordelia to stay and keep an eye on Bothari.

She tries to sit Bothari down in a chair, but he soon gets up and paces, muttering to invisible companions. Illyan arrives with some sedatives; Bothari says “Servants of the beast are the beast’s hands. He feeds them on the wife’s blood. Bad servants.” Illyan gives the ampules to Cordelia and slips back out.

She set the bulk of the ampules aside, and approached him with a sunny smile. Its effect was diminished by her eyes, large with fear. Bothari’s eyes were flickering slits. “Commodore Vorkosigan wants you to rest now. He sent some medicine to help you.”

He backed warily before her, and she stopped, cautious of forcing him into a corner. “It’s just a sedative, see?”

“The beast’s drugs made the demons drunk. They sang and shouted. Bad medicine.”

“No, no. This is good medicine. It will make the demons go to sleep,” she promised. This was walking a tightrope in the dark. She tried another tack.

“Come to attention, soldier,” she said sharply. “Inspection.”

Bothari reacts badly to this, grabbing her arm and trying to knock the ampule out of her hand, but Cordelia manages to inject him just before he flings her across the room. She fetches up against the door, and goes limp when Bothari lunges after her, but that doesn’t stop him. He puts a knee to her ribs and his hands around her neck, but soon the sedatives take effect and he collapses, rolling off of her. She tries to lift him onto the bed, then gives up and shoves a pillow under his head.

Finally Aral and Illyan return.

“Well?” said Cordelia. “How did it go?”

“With machine-like precision, like a wormhole jump to hell,” Vorkosigan replied. He turned his hand palm upward in a familiar gesture that caught her heart like a hook.

He clarifies that he’s under arrest for suspicion of conspiracy, and confined to quarters, since the Prince suspects he and Bothari were working together. Cordelia asks for clarification, since this doesn’t sound “just fine” to her, but Illyan reminds Aral that he’s not supposed to incriminate himself. Aral says that he’s done everything the Emperor has asked him to, sacrificed everything, but he will be granted this. Illyan explains that a similar situation with a female prisoner occurred a few weeks earlier, and he persuaded Aral not to intervene, on the condition that he wouldn’t interfere the next time. Aral reassures Illyan that if their two guests are not found, then the Emperor can edit the reports as he wishes, and if they are found, that’ll be the least of their problems. Illyan points out that it won’t take them long to search Aral’s quarters, and Aral urges Illyan to redirect the search elsewhere, perhaps onto ships that may have departed the flagship in the interim, using all of his Imperial influence that he can muster, to give him 48 hours at least.

After Illyan departs, Cordelia apologizes for complicating matters, and Aral says that in fact she has simplified them enormously.

“East is west, up is down, and being falsely arrested for getting your C.O.’s throat cut is a simplification. I must be on Barrayar. I don’t suppose you’d care to explain what’s going on around here?”

“No. But at last I understand why there have been so many madmen in Barrayaran history. They are not its cause, they are its effect.” He sighed, and spoke so low it was almost a whisper. “Oh, Cordelia. You have no idea how much I need one sane clean person near me. You are water in the desert.”

He asks if Cordelia is tired, and she says she’d rather have a shower. Aral notices her leg wound, but Cordelia says she has no nerves there. She asks about a change of clothes, and Aral surprises her by pulling her old Betan Survey fatigues out of a drawer. Cordelia is surprised that he saved her clothes, and Aral says it was all she left except for the shuttle. Cordelia then admits she still has the Barrayaran fatigues she was wearing at home, too.

After her shower, she finds Aral working on his computer. It’s his job to work out contingency plans for a retreat from Escobar, as his punishment for doubting the invasion’s chance of success in the first place. Cordelia asks if he was ever charged with treason, and Aral says that the charges are in abeyance, with everyone being more interested in the invasion. Minister Grishnov, head of Political Security, and Prince Serg expect their power to outweigh the Emperor’s after they conquer Escobar. They even promoted Aral, but put him under Vorrutyer’s command.

Cordelia asks how long he’s known Vorrutyer, and Aral says since school, when he was just a voyeur, but he’s gotten worse since then, with Prince Serg’s influence. She tells him how Bothari fought the sedatives, and Aral says that Vorrutyer liked to drug his captives, and probably Bothari as well. He tells her about Captain Negri, head of Imperial Security, uninterested in a higher rank and utterly loyal to the Emperor.

Cordelia mentions her sore ribs from Bothari’s assault earlier, and Aral examines it, declaring two ribs to be cracked. While he tapes them up, Cordelia asks if he’s ever considered just leaving Barrayar behind and going someplace inconsequential, like Earth. He says he’d thought of looking her up on Beta Colony, but he doesn’t think he has many skills marketable on Beta.

“The only employment I can think of would be as a teacher of martial arts, for sport. Would you marry a judo instructor, dear Captain? But no,” he sighed. “Barrayar is bred in my bones. I cannot shake it, no matter how far I travel. This struggle, God knows, has no honor in it. But exile, for no other motive than ease—that would be to give up all hope of honor. The last defeat, with no seed of future victory in it.”

She thought of the deadly cargo she had convoyed, now safe on Escobar. Compared to all the lives that hung on it, her own and Vorkosigan’s weighed less than a feather. He misread the grief in her face, she thought, for fear.

“It isn’t exactly like waking from the nightmare, to see your face.” He touched it gently, fingertips on the curve of her jaw, thumb laid a moment across her lips, lighter than a kiss. “More like, knowing, while dreaming still, that beyond the dream there is a waking world. I mean to join you in that waking world, someday. You’ll see. You’ll see.” He squeezed her hand and smiled reassuringly.

Bothari stirs, and Aral sends Cordelia to go sleep while he looks after Bothari.


This is another talky chapter, mostly, except when Bothari is conscious. I was tempted to quote much more than I did. So, Simon Illyan’s first appearance, yay! And, I believe the first time Prince Serg is given a name…and a bit of personality, as another scumbag. How bad must he be, to have corrupted Vorrutyer into what he was?

Also interesting to think of the secrets between the two of them, since they are still enemy combatants, sort of–Cordelia and the cargo she helped sneak through to Barrayar, and…well, Aral’s secret plan as well, which we’ll find out more about later. For now, let’s just leave it that he is sacrificing his honour for a higher purpose.

Cordelia seems to be holding up quite well after being nearly raped, twice.  Part of that may just be that her situation is desperate enough that she can’t afford to fall apart, and she’s disciplined enough to hold herself together.  Perhaps she breaks down a bit later.  Still, it’s not like she and Aral jump into bed together or anything.  Of course, Bothari is there, albeit unconscious, and who knows what he’d do if woke up to find them having sex…  It’d probably trigger something nasty, in his present state.  Also, while Vorrutyer’s cabin is likely soundproofed (unless he doesn’t care who hears–he certainly doesn’t seem to care who knows what’s going on), Vorkosigan’s might not be, and so that’d be a bit of a giveaway.

I think that this is about halfway through the book. Looks like it has fifteen chapters, plus the little short story “Aftermaths” that Bujold decided to include with “Shards” for some reason. So…another month or so, and I’ll be done this one and onto Barrayar.

Read Full Post »

Feast your eyes on this attractive new model of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread! Yup, it’s a Volume 3, chapters 5 and 6… How does it handle? Well, it may throw you a few curves you don’t see coming, unless you’ve been down the road before…

Wow, that’s pretty lame. Perhaps I should stop trying to emulate Leigh Butler quite so obviously.

Chapter Five

The next morning, Cordelia finds a guard outside her quarters, and immediately recognized him as the man who shot Dubauer back on the planet, Sergeant Bothari. She asks to go to sickbay, and he merely says, “Yes, ma’am,” and marches off, with her following behind. She wonders whether he was posted guard to keep her inside or to keep others out.

Dubauer is dressed in black fatigues, like she is, and seems to have been treated well, but still isn’t very responsive. She then visits Aral, who is in bed but working busily on a computer interface, in company with a man he introduces as his Second Officer, Lt. Commander Vorkalloner. She and Vorkalloner exchange awkward conversation, until Cordelia asks why they were so anxious to capture all the Betans. Vorkalloner just says “Orders”, and wonders if they were sent here as some sort of punishment. Aral says that nobody was supposed to be hurt, and if it hadn’t been for the mutiny, it would likely have been quite bloodless.

Cordelia counters that she’s not sorry to have messed up their invasion plans, which catches Vorkalloner by surprise. Aral is unsurprised that she figure it out after seeing the cache, though it’s still under debate.

“What invasion?” probed Vorkalloner hopefully.

With luck, none,” answered Vorkosigan, allowing himself to be persuaded to partial frankness. “One of those was enough for a lifetime.” He seemed to look inward on private, unpleasant memories.

Vorkalloner plainly found this a baffling attitude from the Hero of Komarr. “It was a great victory, sir. With very little loss of life.”

“On our side.” Vorkosigan finished typing his report and signed it off, then entered a request for another form and began fencing at it with the light pen.

“That’s the idea, isn’t it?”

“It depends on whether you mean to stay or are just passing through. A very messy political legacy was left at Komarr. Not the sort of thing I care to leave in trust for the next generation. How did we get onto this subject?” He finished the last form.

Cordelia asks who they are planning to invade, and Vorkalloner asks why he hasn’t heard about it. Aral says that the details are classified, and since his demotion even he doesn’t have clearance for them any more; he only confirmed that Cordelia had guessed herself, and he himself was only asked for his opinion, which they didn’t like anyway. Cordelia surmises that that’s why they were sent here for guard duty; Aral obliquely confirms that it was the Emperor himself who asked for his opinion in the first place.

Aral says that the surgeon will be releasing him in the afternoon if he behaves, and asks to speak with her in her quarters to clarify some matters. The surgeon comes in and sends Cordelia and Vorkalloner out. She spends the rest of the morning wandering around the ship, discovering which areas she’s allowed to go into and which ones Bothari will keep her out of with a simple, “No, ma’am.” The limit of what she manages to elicit from Bothari is that he doesn’t like Vorkosigan, or any Vors, and that Cordelia herself is “like a Vor”.

In ther afternoon, she looks at innocuous library vids about Barrayar, and is struck at how hospitable the world is compared to Beta Colony–real oceans, no rebreathers or heat shields required outside, and immensely varied climate and terrain. Aral knocks on her door and enters, in dress uniform for some reason; he leaves Bothari outside, and makes a point of propping the door open a crack to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

She asks him about Barrayar, and he describes summers in the resort town of Bonsanklar, with the high point being the Emperor’s Birthday celebration at Midsummer; he says he’d like to take her there sometime. He tells her that they’re not likely to return to Barrayar that soon, but they won’t keep her prisoner there, and she’ll be free to return home if she wishes.

“If I wish!” She laughed a little, uncertainly, and sat back against her hard pillow. He was watching her face intently. His posture was a fair simulation of a man at his ease, but one boot was tapping unconsciously. His eye fell on it, he frowned, and it stopped. “Why shouldn’t I wish?”

“I thought, perhaps, when we arrive on Barrayar, and you are free, you might consider staying.”

“To visit—where you said, Bonsanklar, and so on? I don’t know how much leave I’ll have, but—sure, I like to see new places. I’d like to see your planet.”

“Not a visit. Permanently. As—as Lady Vorkosigan.” His face brightened with a wry smile. “I’m making a hash of this. I promise, I’ll never think of Betans as cowards again. I swear your customs take more bravery than the most suicidal of our boys’ contests of skill.”

She let her breath trickle out through pursed lips. “You don’t—deal in small change, do you?” She wondered where the phrase about hearts leaping up came from. It felt far more like the bottom dropping out of her stomach. Her consciousness of her own body shot up with a lurch; she was already overwhelmingly conscious of his.

He asks if he’s too sudden; he’s been waiting for days, even since seeing her in the ravine. Cordelia says she’s more confused than offended, which seems to relieve him. He says that he’s thinking that he’s thinking of leaving the military and perhaps seeking a career in politics, to stop the problems at the souce rather than just cleaning up their results. She asks how one starts a political career on Barrayar; he says one can either rise through the ranks–not much of an option for him, since his career is blighted–join the Council of Counts, which he will anyway once his father dies, or Imperial appointment, which is risky if the Emperor falls out with him, or dies.

“My one advantage with him is that he enjoys plain speaking. I don’t know how he acquired the taste for it, because he doesn’t get much of it. Do you know, I think you’d like politics, at least on Barrayar. Maybe because it’s so similar to what we call war, elsewhere.”

There is still the problem of the escape of Cordelia’s ship, which is exactly the problem that Aral’s mission was designed to prevent. The fact that Aral was out of commission at the time might mitigate matters slightly, or the problem might be exacerbated by Aral’s predictions of failure at the outset, resulting in a charge of treason.

Cordelia asks what makes this invasion so different from Komarr, and Aral says that Komarr was vulnerable in an almost textbook fashion–population concentrated in domed cities in a hostile environment, and high-handed behaviour by the rulers, imposing tariffs which made them widely disliked and soft from living off other’s earnings. This invasion, he says, is of Escobar–a major planetary hub, “old, rich, and temperate”, and a neighbour of Beta Colony. Cordelia realizes that if there is a jump from this system to Escobar, that explains why the Barrayarans have tried to keep it secret. All of Escobar’s allies–Beta Colony, Tau Ceti V, and Jackson’s Whole among them–will be drawn in, unless the Barrayarans can conquer it swiftly enough to make it a fait accompli.

Cordelia tells Aral that Beta Colony will be aiding Escobar, with supplies if not more directly, and he says that he would be trying to blockade them. She realizes that her decision will not be easy, and she lies there thinking for a long time after Aral leaves.


I was never sure why Aral suddenly up and proposed right here. Cordelia’s analysis of the matter in Barrayar makes it a little clearer, but right now it seems, to me, a little sudden and out of the blue. If I hadn’t read this book the first time with the foreknowledge that Aral and Cordelia were destined to get together, I imagine I would have been scratching my head. I mean, what would make this guy, with his blighted career and dark past, suddenly fling himself at a woman who is a) his prisoner and b) from a completely culture? Is he just thinking that at least he wouldn’t be screwing up some nice Barrayaran woman? Is this his token symbol of rebellion against Barrayaran culture? Or is he just feeling something that Cordelia isn’t? I’ve been fairly careful to highlight all of the bits where Cordelia seems attracted to him (except maybe the one in this scene where she drools politely over him in his dress uniform), and to me they still don’t add up to much. What little attraction and sympathy she does feel seems more like Stockholm Syndrome than love. At least she doesn’t immediately say “Yes!” and leap into his arms, more like she puts up an “It’s complicated” on Facebook. I’m sure the beauty (in her eyes) of the planet of Barrayar itself is a factor, though.

I’m also not sure why he tells her about Escobar. Sure, she figured out that there was going to be an invasion, but she didn’t have a clue where, without knowing about the Escobar wormhole, so why did he give it away? Of course, he’s not in favour of the invasion, but is he willing enough to risk his career to blurt out secrets to someone from another nation, if not quite an enemy combatant? Maybe he thinks he’s going to be up for treason anyway, so he might as well go whole hog. Except that he doesn’t know that Cordelia’s going to be rescued…or does he? Is that all part of his plan too? No, while he does seem to be planning things in layers later in the book, I didn’t get the sense he was doing so at this point, or that he would be able to predict the actions of Betans that accurately.

Chapter Six

Cordelia spends the next morning reading in her cabin, trying to assimilate her conversation with Aral. She goes through some Barrayaran histories, including one of Emperor Dorca Vorbarra, great-grandfather of Aral and ruler at the end of the Time of Isolation. Someone knocks on her door and she absentmindedly summons them in. She looks up to see two men dressed in Barrayaran fatigues, and only slowly recognizes them as two of her Betan crewmembers, just as an alarm klaxon starts up. Lieutenant Stuben has sacrificed his hair to a buzzcut, and Lieutenant Lai has rolled up sleeves and pantlegs on a too-large uniform.

Cordelia berates them for having disobeyed her orders to flee, and Stuben says that they voted to come back for her, once they found out that it was “The Butcher of Komarr” who had captured her. Cordelia informs them about the Escobar invasion plan, and how they would have ruined the Barrayarans’ chance of surprise if they’d gotten away and reported the planet’s existence; now they’ve jeopardized that. Stuben is astonished that she’s found all that out. She asks where the ship (the Rene Magritte) is now, and how they got in; Stuben says they have no time, but Cordelia insists on hearing the details before she leves her cabin.

Stuben says that the Barrayarans pursued them for two days, the Betans staying just out of range, not even on full power, hoping to circle back. Then the Barrayarans cut off the pursuit and turned around; the Betans followed soon after. They used full thrust this time, then cut everything and sailed past silently. “The projector worked just fine as a muffler,” Stuben adds; Cordelia emphasizes her concern about “the projector” falling into Barrayaran hands. They left the Rene Magritte itself slingshotting around the sun, ready to come back and pick them up. Then they found two Barrayarans–Radnov and Darobey–on the planet while they were looking for Cordelia and Dubauer, and have made common cause with them. Together they hijacked a patrol that was looking for Radnov, stunning all of them except for one who got hit with a nerve disruptor, stole the uniforms and their shuttle, and snuck back onto the General Vorkraft. There, Radnov and Darobey let their co-conspirators out, and have gone to take over the engine room. The deal is that they will disable weapons while the Betans escape in the shuttle.

Cordelia is dismayed at this turn of events, to say the least, and tries to think of some way to salvage matters. She tells Stuben and Lai that Dubauer is in sickbay, and orders them to stay put and learn the ship’s layout while she goes to “check something”. She heads to the bridge, to find Aral, his officers and Bothari listening to Radnov making demands from the engine room. Radnov is demanding the Aral, Gottyan and Vorkalloner give themselves up, or they’ll start letting out the air, and then begins blaring a shipwide message exhorting the Barrayaran soldiers to turn their captain over. After Bothari blasts the speaker to shut the noise down, Aral asks for volunteers to assault the engine room; himself and Bothari, but he rejects Gottyan and Vorkalloner, insisting they need to stay behind to clean up matters. Vorkalloner points out that they’ll be using nerve disruptors, and Bothari insists that he should go first by right, which Aral agrees with.

Cordelia shook her head helplessly, the glimmer of a terrifying idea beginning in the back of her brain. “I—I—I have to withdraw my parole now.”

Vorkosigan looked puzzled, then waved it aside for a more immediate concern. “If I should chance to end up like your Ensign Dubauer—remember my preferences. If you can bring yourself to it, I would like it to be by your hand. I’ll tell Vorkalloner. Can I have your word?”


“You’d better stay in your cabin until this is over.”

He reached out to her shoulder, to touch one curl of red hair resting there, then turned away. Cordelia fled down the corridor, Radnov’s propaganda droning senselessly in her ears. Her plan blossomed furiously in her mind. Her reason yammered protest, like a rider on a runaway horse; you have no duty to these Barrayarans, your duty is to Beta Colony, to Stuben, to the Rene Magritte—your duty is to escape, and warn . . .

Cordelia leaves the bridge, returning to her quarters, cooking up a desperate plan. She tells Lai and Stuben to pick up Dubauer and return to the shuttle, and leave without her if she’s not back by a certain time. She takes Stuben’s stunner and heads off to engineering. A large group of men is assembling for the assault, while Yeoman Nilesa and another man are guarding the entry port. She tells Nilesa that Aral sent her for some last-minute negotiation, as a neutral party, to stall for time. Nilesa opens a hatch to a tube that goes to the next level down and calls down to one of Radnov’s guards that she’s coming down. Nilesa tells them she’s unarmed, even as she prepares both of her stunners. Nilesa tells her that there’ll be two or three guards down there, and she’ll drop down into a niche in the storeroom, walls on three sides.

Cordelia climbs down, and Nilesa closes the hatch. The guard below her tells her to drop, and when she balks, pretending fear, says he’ll catch her. She drops, catching him off-guard for a second, and gets him with her stunner before he can bring his nerve disruptor to bear. She uses his limp body as a shield against the other two guards, taking one out before he can shoot, though the other one gets off a shot that mostly hits the first guard, though she catches the edge of it in her left thigh. She fells him as well, and then leaps up to hide among the conduits near the ceiling. Outside, the other soldiers debate throwing in a grenade before deciding to send Tafas in to check things out.

Tafas advances cautiously, until he looks up and Cordelia catches his eye. She silently mouths at him to close the door, and after a minute he invents a story about a gas leak and closes it. She offers him a chance to get out of this mess, and get forgiveness from Aral, pledging his word. He asks how she can make promises for him and she says she may soon be Lady Vorkosigan. He agrees, and she drops down and gives him the other stunner. Tafas lures a couple of men in to help with the bodies, and he and Cordelia stun them too.

They cross into the engineering bay and around a corner to where the rest of the conspirators are listening to Aral’s preparations for storming the engine room. They are preparing to blow out the air when Cordelia and Tafas hit them with their stunners. She then asks Tafas how she can cut out long-range weapons for at least an hour and a half; she admits this isn’t at Aral’s orders, but then none of it was in the first place. He indicates a panel, and she borrows his plasma arc and disables it. She asks for a couple of minutes’ head start, and advises him to contact them before opening the hatch, since Bothari is in the front. After contemplating leaving some kind of message for Aral, she gives it up and heads back to her entry hatch, getting Nilesa to open it up and telling him she has new terms. She glances down the corridor to where can see Aral’s team trying to break through the bulkheads, and heads off to the shuttle.

Once she arrives, they depart quickly. Stuben is outraged at the Barrayarans for Dubauer’s treatment, and, he imagines, Cordelia’s. Cordelia asks about the Barrayaran hit by disruptor fire on the planet; one of the Betans is wearing his uniform, and they puzzle out the name “Koudelka” from the pocket.

“What were you doing all that time aboard the General?” asked Stuben.

“Paying off a debt. Of honor.”

“All right, be like that. I’ll get the story later.” He was silent, then added with a short nod, “I hope you got the bastard good, whoever he was.”

“Look, Stu—I appreciate all you’ve done. But I’ve really got to be alone for a few minutes.”

“Sure, Captain.” He gave her a look of concern, and moved off muttering, “Damned monsters,” under his breath.

Cordelia leaned her forehead against the cold window, and wept silently for her enemies.


And now we get to see Cordelia Naismith, action hero. Not that she uses anything more powerful than a stunner, but it turns out to be enough. The fact that she’s a woman gives her an advantage against the Barrayarans, and the appearance of Tafas, who we knew from earlier was not quite as firmly on Radnov’s side, was also a stroke of luck. I don’t know if we ever find out what happens to him; if not, we can always pretend that he did get forgiven and rewarded for his efforts. Though, given Aral’s own luck, I’m not convinced. Yeoman Nilesa might have a better chance of getting credit for his actions.

I may have to take back what I said about Betans having an easier time understanding Barrayarans than the other way around. Maybe it’s just Cordelia, because Stuben doesn’t seem to be able to get past his mental stereotype of Barrayarans, and he’s not even the worst of them, as we see later. Maybe it is a certain amount of Stockholm Syndrome, too, but to some extent Stockholm Syndrome has always struck me as a form of “getting to know the enemy as people”. It always drove me nuts, the conclusions they leapt to about “The Butcher of Komarr”. And yet they don’t feel as much sympathy for Koudelka as they do for Dubauer. Admittedly Koudelka’s damage is not as severe as Dubauer’s (as we find out later), or least not as crippling, but they consider it justice for a Barrayaran to shoot another one with a nerve disruptor, but not forone of them to shoot a Betan…

And that brings us to the end of another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. If you liked it, tell your friends and tip your server. Next time, we move into “Part Two” of the book–not labelled as such by the author, but there’s a bit of a time jump, and possibly a hyperspace jump as well. Don’t forget, next Tuesday, same Vor-time, same Vor-blog!

Read Full Post »

Welcome to the second post of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in which I cover Chapters Three and Four of Shards of Honour.    It’s too bad that she doesn’t have chapter titles and icons like Robert Jordan, but I suppose those can be a lot of work, and a pain to try to keep creative without giving away too much, so I’ll live with it in this case.  At least she didn’t go the other extreme, like George R.R. Martin, who doesn’t number his chapters, just lists the viewpoint character, so it’s hard to even identify a particular chapter.  Or Terry Pratchett, who often doesn’t even have chapters (or, I suppose, has only one chapter, with the same title as the book).

Be cautious about reading this if you haven’t read the series before and can’t bear to have the slightest thing given away; I try to avoid plot spoilers, but I will feel few compunctions about mentioning that such-and-such a character, or planet, or whatever, turns up later, or about mentioning cultural or setting notes that may not come up until later books.  You can probably read the series faster than I do, so go out and buy a copy of Cordelia’s Honour and read ahead.  Some of Bujold’s books are available online for free from Baen, but I can’t remember which ones, and it may change, so go and look for yourself.  Anyway.  On to the actual chapters.

Chapter Three

Aral asks Cordelia to talk to him as they walk that morning, to keep his mind off his leg.  They talk about leadership styles, and Cordelia says that if she has to use force, she’s already failed, and she wins mostly through keeping her temper longer than anyone else.  She adds that civilization is mostly for the benefit of women, and mothers, and doesn’t know how she’d cope in a primitive situation.  Aral says she could have handled it, and she’d be a fine “mother of warriors”.  Cordelia doesn’t think much of the “warrior” part, though.

“Save me from that! To pour your life into sons for eighteen or twenty years, and then have the government take them away and waste them cleaning up after some failure of politics—no thanks.”

Aral asks if it would be different if they volunteered to fight, and Cordelia allowed it would be, but that it’s academic, since she has no children in any case.  Aral asks if she’s glad about it, and she replies neutrally, despite it being a painful topic for her.

They cross a stretch of badlands, with some effort, Cordelia helping Dubauer through.  Afterwards they take a break, and Aral examines the festering wound on his leg.  He asks if Cordelia thinks she could drain the wound, but she says she’d be more likely to get it infected.  She thinks that it must be bothering him to have mentioned it, and he takes a precious half-painkiller.

As the continue, Aral talks about his father, a former ground commander and friend of the current Emperor.

Cordelia caught a faint, faraway impression of a cold father whom a young son could never quite please, even with his best efforts, yet who shared with him a bond of underlying loyalty.

Cordelia describes her own family, and asks if Aral remembers his mother.  Aral tells her how she died in Yuri Vorbarra’s Massacre.  Emperor Yuri had become paranoid about his relatives, so he tried to have them all killed, including Aral’s grandfather Prince Xav, Aral’s mother, and Aral himself.  Yuri left Aral’s father alone, but he turned against the Emperor after his wife was killed.  Aral was there, and berates himself for having tried to take out his mother’s assassin with a mere table knife, when there were better knives to hand.  Aral says he was thrown across the room, and stops short of describing the actual murder, though more details have surfaced than he thought he remembered.  Cordelia notices that he seems to be feverish.

Cordelia describes her father’s death, in a shuttle accident, and how they were all blinded by the explosion for days afterward.  Aral parallels this with the deafness after the sonic grenade that killed his mother.

“…I couldn’t hear anything after that for quite some time. As if all sound had gone off the scale of human reception. Total noise, emptier of meaning than silence.”

“Yes . . .” How strange, that he should know exactly what I felt—he says it better, though. . . .

He says the experience, the helplessness, is what made him want to become a soldier, so he’d be better prepared in future.  Cordelia asks him about combat, and he says that space combat is very clean, unless your ship is hit.  Different from murder, like when he killed his Political Officer on Komarr; he saw his own death in the face of the corpse, but he’d had to protect his honour.  He tells Cordelia that anger seems to make her stronger, not weaker like it does him, and Cordelia isn’t sure how to react to the odd compliment.

They see a contrail in the sky, of a shuttle coming down for the cache.  Cordelia wonders if they should try to attract its attention, but Aral says, “My best friends and my deadliest enemies all wear the same uniform. I prefer to make my presence known as selectively as possible.”  He wonders if had Gottyan found his hidden sealed orders, but doubts it, since the Political Officer Radnov hadn’t found them yet.

Cordelia describes the man who shot Dubauer and asks if that was Radnov, but Aral says it was probably Bothari, which would explain matters.  Bothari is odd, hating Aral and having been recently disciplined by him, but unlikely to shoot him in the back; Radnov may have tried to recruit him in any case.  Aral enjoys sparring with him because he doesn’t pull his punches.  Cordelia points out that Bothari nearly killed her, but Aral insists that in his own way, he’s honourable.

The ground rises and vegetation becomes thicker as they approach the mountain, and Cordelia finds the going increasingly difficult for Dubauer, and eventually she berates Aral for the Barrayarans’ choice of weapons.  He agrees that stunners are more civilized, but they’re not threatening enough, and people don’t mind risking getting hit by them.  Cordelia says that she’d rather have a stunner, because she couldn’t even bring herself to fire a nerve disruptor.

As they continue, Aral tries to help with Dubauer, but Dubauer shies away from him, and he gives up.  He pushed himself onward with increasing determination, making Cordelia wonder if he’ll make it to their destination, or leave her to try to pick the right side of Barrayarans without his help.  They reach a waterfall close to sunset, and Aral decides they should stop there, rather than try to push on the cache during the night.  He offers his Barrayaran rations, which Cordelia compares unfavourably to boot leather, and even to the porridge and blue cheese they are by now heartily tired of.

Cordelia offers to take the longer shift on watch, pointing out that Aral is obviously exhausted, and she and Dubauer won’t make it without him.  Aral says she’s not what he expected a female officer to be–less of an “imitation man”, but still professional.  Cordelia says she’s really not that unusual for Beta Colony.

Aral asks about arranged marriages, and Cordelia finds the whole idea bizarre.  Aral says that among his caste on Barrayar, almost all marriages are arranged–not forced, but arranged by parents, and it seems to work.  He finds the Betan concept of just arranging things among yourselves, with no go-betweens, to be awkward, but Cordelia says that lovers can generally work it out.  Aral tells her that in the Time of Isolation, it was considered dishonourable to take a military woman for a lover, which made it a popular topic for fiction if nothing else.  He asks what she had expected being taken prisoner by Barrayarans, and Cordelia says, “Something criminal” (i.e. rape).  Aral doesn’t deny it happens, but considers it a sickness, and only the “scum of the service” would sink to it.

Cordelia tells the story of “a friend of hers”:

“…She was rather—socially inept. Everyone around her seemed to be finding their soul-mates, and the older she grew, the more panicky she got about being left out. Quite pathetically anxious.

“She finally fell in with a man with the most astonishing talent for turning gold into lead. She couldn’t use a word like love, or trust, or honor in his presence without eliciting clever mockery. Pornography was permitted; poetry, never.

“They were, as it happened, of equal rank when the captaincy of their ship fell open. She’d sweated blood for this command, worked her tail off—well, I’m sure you know what it’s like. Commands are few, and everybody wants one. Her lover persuaded her, partly by promise that turned out to be lies, later—children, in fact—to stand down in his favor, and he got the command. Quite the strategist. It ended soon after. Thoroughly dry.

“She had no stomach for another lover, after that. So you see, I think your old Barrayarans may have been on to something, after all. The inept—need rules, for their own protection.”

Aral tells a story of his own “friend”, in an arranged marriage at twenty.  He was often away on duty, and she found herself in a society where it was expected that she take lovers.  The friend arranged duels with her lovers.  He killed the first in a swordfight (Aral makes a slip here which convinces Cordelia that the story is about him, the same way her story was really about her), and the second wouldn’t even fight; Aral’s “friend” killed him anyway in disgust.  The wife, distraught over losing her lovers, killed herself with a plasma arc.  The “friend”, ready to give himself up to justice, found that the authorities believed the two lovers killed each other, and that he was entirely blameless.  Somehow he carried on, though the memories don’t go away.

After Aral goes to sleep, shivering in his fever, Cordelia covers him up with one of Dubauer’s bedrolls.


The chapters that are mostly dialogue are the hardest to summarize.  All I end up doing is paraphrasing the dialogue as reported speech, trying not to copy too many actual phrasings, so you should really read the original instead.  I’ve probably left out a few points about Beta Colony vs. Barrayar that came up in the dialogue, too.  So far, Beta Colony seems to be the more futuristic, while Barrayar is stuck in the past, but of course Barrayar seems to be more acquainted with the virtues of “principle” and “honour”.  It’s telling, in Cordelia’s story, that there doesn’t seem to be any way for her to take reprisal, where a Barrayaran who was betrayed the same way would doubtless do something, albeit probably something rash.

Aral isn’t doing a good job of selling Cordelia on Barrayar, with Yuri’s Massacre, the death of his wife, and even Bothari.  And yes, okay, Bothari was the shooter back in Chapter One with the nerve disruptor.  I just wish Bujold had made it a little clearer, so I wouldn’t have made such a fool of myself missing it the first time.  (All the other times I read it, of course, I continued on to Chapter Three a little quicker, so I figured it out in less time.)  I don’t know if Aral has formed his intentions towards Cordelia by this point, and if he’s intentionally testing her to see how badly she recoils, or if he’s perhaps letting slip more than he means to because of his fever.

I should also perhaps mention that while I consistently refer to him as “Aral”, in the actual text of the book he is pretty much always “Vorkosigan”.  Cordelia doesn’t feel that intimate with him yet, perhaps, but I find “Aral” to be, not to put too fine a point on it, shorter and easier to type, so I’ll continue that way.  I thought about referring to Aral’s father by his name, Pyotr, but there’ll be time enough for that later when the name is actually mentioned.  (There’s also a bad joke somewhere about how Aral must be Prince Caspian’s younger brother…)

Chapter Four

Aral wakes up a couple of hours before dawn and sends Cordelia to get a couple of hours’ sleep; she awakens to find him washed and depilated.  He asks her to help drain the wound on his leg, to hold him until they get to the cache.  Cordelia cuts it open, and they wash it out at the edge of the waterfall.  Afterwards, Aral has trouble walking on the leg, so he uses his last painkiller, plus a precious stimulant pill which he says will give him sixteen hours before he collapses.

They arc around the base of the mountain and examine the cache from an outcrop through a field scope, Dubauer asleep in a sheltered spot.  Aral spots two men–Koudelka, who he can trust, and Darobey, who is one of Radnov’s spies, and then Radnov himself.  Aral anticipates taking Radnov’s superiors to task after the man’s act of outright mutiny.  Then he spots Gottyan himself, armed and in charge.  As they return to shelter, they discover Dubauer missing; they make a quick search, but don’t find him.  Aral convinces Cordelia that by this point it’ll be quicker for him to take his command back and then send out a proper search party.

They sneak up on the cache, Aral not being sure why the shuttle returned and not wanting to just walk in until he does.  They lie down in the grass; Aral gives Cordelia back her stunner and keeps his knife.  When Gottyan passes by, Aral steps out and greets him.  Gottyan pulls out a nerve disruptor in reflex, and doesn’t lower it even when he sees who it is.  Aral asks if he was in on Radnov’s plan; Gottyan says no, but the opportunity for his own command was too good to pass up.  He asks Aral about the sealed orders, but Aral doesn’t tell him.  Gottyan says that Bothari told him what really happened at the camp, which is why they came back, to wait for Vorkosigan to turn up, though Bothari is in solitary confinement, and he hasn’t told anyone else that Aral is still alive.  Aral comments that there’s still time to change his mind; Gottyan doesn’t believe that Aral could forgive him this, though.  Cordelia sees him crying tears for Aral and realizes he’s about to shoot, so she shoots him with the stunner.  It doesn’t knock him out completely, but Aral takes the opportunity to disarm him.  Aral asks Gottyan about the pickets, and he says Koudelka is to the south, Sens to the north; as Aral ties him up, he tells Cordelia that Sens is one of Radnov’s.

They debate whether to believe Gottyan, and eventually decide to go north.  Aral tells Cordelia to fall back and “use her initiative” as he approaches the guard post; he finds Koudelka there, who is honestly happy to see him.

She leaned against a tree, suddenly weak. And just when was it, she asked herself, that you stopped being afraid of him and started being afraid for him? And why is this new fear so much more gut-wrenching than the first? You don’t seem to have come out ahead on the trade, have you?

Aral calls Cordelia out of concealment, which puzzles Koudelka and his companion guard, who thought the Betans had killed him.

“Your funeral was splendid,” said Koudelka. “You should have been there.”

“Next time, perhaps,” Vorkosigan grinned.

“Oh. You know I didn’t mean it that way, sir. Lieutenant Radnov made the best speech.”

“I’m sure. He’d probably been working on it for months.”

Koudelka, a little quicker on the uptake than his companion, said “Oh.” His fellow merely looked puzzled.

Vorkosigan went on. “Permit me to introduce Commander Cordelia Naismith, of the Betan Astronomical Survey. She is . . .” he paused, and Cordelia waited interestedly to hear what status she was to be assigned, “ah . . .”

“Sounds like?” she murmured helpfully.

Vorkosigan closed his lips firmly, pressing a smile out straight. “My prisoner,” he chose finally. “On parole. Except for access to classified areas, she is to be extended every courtesy.”

He asks Koudelka who’s in the landing party, and when Koudelka tells him, he orders the arrest of Radnov, Darobey, Sens, and Tafas.  Koudelka asks if he’s sure about Tafas, and Aral reminds him that there will be a trial, to separate the guilty from the innocent.  They head off toward the entrance to the cache cavern, Aral trying to disguise how much he’s leaning on Cordelia.

In front of the entrance, there’s a cluster of Barrayarans; Cordelia realizes that two of them are hauling Dubauer’s face out of the water.  Aral orders them to release him, and they explain that he was captured, but “refused” to talk, and they were trying to interrogate him.  Aral explains about the disruptor damage, and Cordelia castigates them all as “barbarians, scoundrels, and assassins!”  Aral formally apologizes to her, which Cordelia accepts with poor grace.  Aral orders the ranking officer, Ensign Buffa, to take command, relieves Tafas of his weapon, and tells Buffa to take his prisoners, Dubauer and Cordelia, to the cave and them whatever they require.  He heads off to deal with Gottyan himself, and Cordelia reminds him obliquely to be careful.

Koudelka asks him what happened to Aral, and Cordelia downplays the leg injury, but says he should get medical attention for it as soon as they can get him to slow down.  Koudelka says he’s never seen anyone with as much energy as “the old man”, which puzzles Cordelia as he doesn’t seem old to her, Betan lifespans being longer.

As they go through the tunnels, Cordelia realizes that this is more than just a cache, with extensive tunnels carved by plasma arc, and stuffed with supplies.  She is troubled by the implications.  Koudelka takes them a mess hall and fills in the cook there, Yeoman Nilesa, about Dubauer and Cordelia’s status.  Cordelia asks for anything but oatmeal or blue cheese, and is delighted with the simple but tasty food he brings.  She has soon won Nilesa over, and he even offers to help feed Dubauer.

Aral arrives and makes a similar request for food.  Cordelia asks what happened with Gottyan, and Aral says he gave Gottyan his plasma arc and turned his back, saying he was tired of working with someone who made his shoulder blades itch.  After ten minutes, Gottyan gave it back and they returned to the camp.  Aral and Cordelia both sit tiredly at the table until Koudelka returns to tell them that they collared all of the mutineers except Radnov and Darobey, who got away.  Aral tells him that he will leave them on the planet and they will return to the ship in orbit.

They ride up in the shuttle with the rest of the Barrayarans, including the prisoners.  The soldiers seem to be speculating on what Cordelia and Aral got up to on the planet, which amuses her somewhat.  Aral goes forward as they near orbit, and Cordelia senses him drawing apart, back into his duties.  She anticipates some quiet times with him over the next few months, which she resolves to consider a holiday spent studying Barrayaran culture.

Once they dock with the ship, Koudelka takes them to the sickbay to drop off Dubauer.  Cordelia tells the surgeon about Aral’s leg, and the stimulant pill he took.  She waits around for Aral, who is close to the end of his energy, but still trying to give orders, to get Bothari released from custody and Cordelia given what she needs; they manage to get him to lie down, and the surgeon reassures her that he’ll be all right once it wears off.  Koudelka gets her some clothing from stores, and recharges her stunner, as Aral had ordered, even though she is a prisoner; Cordelia points out that technically she’s merely a detainee, since they’re not at war.  Koudelka takes her to the Visiting Officer’s Quarters.


A bit of an abrupt end for the chapter, really.  A lot of new people, some of which doubtless turn up later in the book, so I’ve been trying not to stint on names, though Koudelka is the only one I remember from later books.  The Political Officer thing seems very Soviet, which was current at the time Bujold was writing, I guess; that whole system seems to be gone in later books, even in The Warrior’s Apprentice, set a generation later, but published the same year…  I think that comes about as a result of events in this book, but I can’t remember.  Aral’s method of winning Gottyan back over is admirable, judging him to have enough honour left not to shoot him in cold blood.  Or maybe he just knew that Aral’s survival was already established, and he couldn’t escape blame for the murder without a lot more deaths.  Don’t remember yet what happens to him, either.

I love the little scene with Aral, Cordelia and Koudelka that I quoted above.  I giggle every time Cordelia says, “Sounds like?”  I also mostly forget the significance of the size of the cache, though I suspect it’s explained in the second half of the book somewhere.  It’s always like this on rereads of a series–I’ll remember the things that carry over into later books, but I’ll often forget about the details and characters that bear on that book’s particular plot.

I just suddenly realized that, for some reason, Ms. Bujold reuses a character name–there’s a Dubauer in Diplomatic Immunity–but in such a way that it’s highly unlikely that there’s any relationship between the two.  Since Dubauer is an assumed name in the later book, it would have to be some kind of cryptic reference to Cordelia’s past that would go right over Miles’s head…so it’s probably not a conscious reuse.  Just struck me, though.

Week Two–so far, so good.  Two chapters seems to be about the right pace; I could potentially manage three, but I like the slightly lower pressure.  And hopefully there are fewer dialogue chapters to come.

Read Full Post »

Hello, and welcome to the first proper entry in my Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in which I cover the first two chapters of Shards of Honour.  (Yes, I intend to use Canadian spellings throughout, but I promise, you’ll hardly notice, unless that sort of thing bothers you.)

These days, Shards is part of an omnibus called Cordelia’s Honour, but Shards of Honour was Lois McMaster Bujold’s first published novel.  I originally read The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first Miles novel, which was published the same year, but it took me three years to get around to trying Shards.  She started off with a bang.

Chapter One

Cordelia Naismith is a Commander from Beta Colony, exploring an idyllic new world with her team botanist, Ensign Dubauer.  There follows a whole page of beautiful nature description before bad-smelling smoke rising from the campground below makes Cordelia wonder what’s going on, just as their shuttle takes off precipitously.  Cordelia pages the camp, but doesn’t get any response.  When they return to the camp, they find tents slagged, equipment smashed, and Lieutenant Rosemont, who had been left in charge of the camp, killed by a weapon called a “nerve disruptor”.

Most of the communications equipment is slagged, but Cordelia and Dubauer manage to pry open a cabinet and find an intact comm link.  They contact their ship, and are informed by Lieutenant Stuben that a Barrayaran patrol appeared, claiming they found the planet first, and one of them began shooting.  They all escaped except for Rosemont, and are now trying to evade the Barrayaran ship.  Cordelia instructs them to try to evade and outrun the Barrayaran ship, since they can’t outgun it, and if necessary go back to Beta Colony and work through political channels.  The Barrayarans are professional soldiers, and the Betans are outclassed, so Cordelia wants to spare her crew.

After Cordelia signs off, a “hatchet-faced” Barrayaran soldier appears and levels a nerve disruptor at them; Dubauer pushes Cordelia out of the way, and she tumbles down a ravine and hits her head.

When she awakens, she finds the Barrayaran standing over her, training her own stunner on her.  After she throws up, he introduced himself as Captain Aral Vorkosigan, commander of the ship General Vorkraft.  Cordelia introduces herself, and asks about Dubauer; Aral says there is nothing she can do for him now, and Cordelia calls him a murderer.  She asks why the Betans were attacked, and Aral says that they were only supposed to taken prisoner, but he himself was hit with a stun beam, though he doubts it was from one of the hapless Betans.  Cordelia lets it slip that the rest of the crew escaped.

Aral asks if she has another comm link, and when she does not, insists on taking her with him to the nearest base, despite her concussion.  He says that it’s 200 kilometres, two days for him but doutless longer with her along.  Cordelia insists on burying her officers before they leave, and Aral eventually acquiesces.  When they reach the spot where she thinks Dubauer’s body should be, it is missing, and Aral tells her that he is still walking around, but is surely brain-dead after the nerve disrupter hit.  She finds Dubauer in the vegetation, having a seizure, and insists they need to get him to medical help.

“You are being unrealistic, Commander Naismith. One does not recover from disruptor injuries.”

“So? You can’t tell the extent of the damage your filthy weapon has done from the outside. He can still see and hear and feel—you can’t demote him to the status of a corpse for your convenience!”

His face seemed a mask. “If you wish,” he said carefully. “I can put him out of his suffering. My combat knife is quite sharp. Used quickly, it would cut his throat almost painlessly. Or should you feel it is your duty as his commander, I’ll lend you the knife and you may use it.”

“Is that what you’d do for one of your men?”

“Certainly. And they’d do the same for me. No man could wish to live on like that.”

She stood and looked at him very steadily. “It must be like living among cannibals, to be a Barrayaran.”

Cordelia asks where he plans to go, and he says there is a supply cache, with medical supplies and communications equipment.  Cordelia pledges her parole and aid, short of endangering her ship, if he will help her get Dubauer there, or else he will have to leave them behind or kill them.  Aral eventually agrees, and Cordelia helps Dubauer to walk.

Cordelia washes Dubauer while Aral searches the camp for any salvageable rations.  He finds two cases of ration packs with labels burned off.  One is instant oatmeal, and one turns out to be blue cheese dressing.  Aral surprises Cordelia by producing a spoon from a Swiss Army Knife.  He finds a small shovel, and sets up a cold light while she starts digging a grave for Rosemont.  After a while, he takes a shift digging, asking Cordelia what they know about the fauna on the planet to gauge how deep the grave needs to be.  Cordelia recalls someone mentioning predators called “fuzzy crabs”.

As Cordelia is mounting a cold light on a pole, they hear noise in the bracken.

The three creatures made a concerted rush into the ring of light. Cordelia caught a glimpse of fast low bodies, entirely too many hairy black legs, four beady black eyes set in neckless faces, and razor-sharp yellow beaks that clacked and hissed. They were the size of pigs.

Between the shovel, the pole, and Aral’s knife, they drive off the “fuzzy crabs” before they can make off with Rosemont’s body, though Aral is wounded in the leg.  He binds the wound and resumes digging, finishing the grave close to midnight.  He suggests they take Rosemont’s clothes for Dubauer, and they finish burying him, Cordelia making a silent prayer at Aral’s urging.  Cordelia beds down next to Dubauer while Aral keeps watch, though he promises to wake her for a shift later.


As you may have guessed, even if you haven’t read this before, Aral Vorkosigan is going to be somewhat important to the series to come, despite his initially unpromising introduction.  Betans and Barrayarans apparently tend to get along like Democrats and Republicans, which makes me think of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver for some reason.

We never get Aral’s point of view, so his motives for taking Cordelia, and perforce Dubauer, along are a little obscure.  He probably feels an odd mixture of responsibility for Cordelia, since she’s the last survivor of his crew (if he doesn’t count Dubauer), mostly due to what his own subordinates have done, and a little bit of contempt for a captive specimen of an incompetent (by Barrayaran standards) enemy.  Not that Betans and Barrayarans are long-standing enemies, but Barrayarans have a bad reputation as violent militarists, and hence savages, by Betan standards, in the wormhole nexus.  Which makes me think of how apparently Lois McMaster Bujold’s first iteration of this story was as Star Trek fanfic, where Aral Vorkosigan would have been a Klingon.  This may have predated Worf and Star Trek: TNG, too, though perhaps not John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection, I’m not sure.

I skimmed over the mention of the wormholes, by the way.  The Betan team have reached this previously unknown planet through a wormhole, which is the only method, in Bujold’s universe, of getting around the speed of light.  The whole of Bujold’s interstellar civilization is joined together by wormholes, and the importance of a star system tends to be directly related to how many wormholes it contains, and where they lead.  Though the wormholes are mostly a convenient plot device, Bujold does not neglect to investigate their implications in the series.  For now, it’s a little while before we even see one.  They do get off the planet in this book, in case you’re wondering.  (I can’t remember if they name the planet this book, or not until later, though.)


Not one but two comments, one from my wife, pointing out that the hatchet-faced man who shot Dubauer is probably Bothari, not Aral Vorkosigan.  Which makes perfect sense, and I probably knew that.  So now I’m going to go back and see if I can figure out how obvious that is, that I missed it.  First, the soldier who shot Dubauer:

A movement in the mottled shade caught her eye. She started to her feet, hand moving toward her stunner. The tall, hatchet-faced Barrayaran soldier in the green and grey splotched camouflage fatigues moved even faster. Dubauer moved faster still, shoving her blindly behind him.

(In case you were wondering, I’m reading this from the CD bundled with the CryoBurn hardcover, so I can just copy and paste directly…which makes this whole thing much easier.)

And then, in the next scene, here’s Aral:

Heavy black boots, sunk in the mud and topped by green and grey splotched camouflage trousers, encased legs spread apart in a patient parade rest. She suppressed a weary whimper. Very gently she laid her head back in the black ooze, and rolled cautiously onto her side for a better view of the Barrayaran officer.

Her stunner! She stared into the little rectangle of its business end, held steadily in a broad and heavy hand. Her eyes searched anxiously for his nerve disruptor. The officer’s belt hung heavy with equipment, but the disruptor holster on his right hip was empty, as was the plasma arc holster on his left.

He was barely taller than herself, but stocky and powerful. Untidy dark hair touched with grey, cold intent grey eyes—in fact, his whole appearance was untidy by the strict Barrayaran military standards. His fatigues were almost as rumpled and muddy and stained with plant juices as her own, and he had a raw contusion across his right cheekbone. Looks like he’s had a rotten day too, she thought muzzily. Then the sparkly black whirlpools expanded and drowned her again.

The first guy has three characteristics: tall, hatchet-faced, and wearing green and grey splotched camouflaged fatigues.  Aral is wearing green and grey splotched camouflaged trousers, and presumably the rest.  He is not described as not having a hatchet face.  So I guess what I needed to pick up on was the phrase “barely taller than herself”, as opposed to “tall”.  Though if Cordelia is herself tall (as I vaguely recall that she is), then someone “barely taller than her” is still “tall”.

Add to this the reference in the first paragraph in the second excerpt to “the Barrayaran officer”, italics mine, and I feel that I could be forgiven for concluding that they are the same person.  She sees “a Barrayaran soldier”, and later wakes up to find “the Barrayaran officer”.  Unless an officer can never be the same as a soldier; I tend to take “soldier” as being a more inclusive category, but I suppose I could be wrong.

The other clue, which I suppose I missed was this:

“What happened to your party?”

Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. “Weren’t you there? I was up on the mountain, assisting my team botanist.” And more urgently, “Have you seen my botanist—my ensign? He pushed me into the ravine when we were ambushed—”

She says “we were ambushed”, not “you ambushed us”.  Which may mean that she can tell, from physical details not vouchsafed directly to us readers, that Aral is not the same person as Hatchet-face.  On the other hand, I’m sure that if Hatchet-face isn’t Aral, she would still conclude that Aral, as a Barrayaran Captain, would likely be Hatchet-face’s superior officer, and so would still be responsible for the ambush, so either way, it should be “you ambushed us”, differing only in whether “you” means Aral himself or “you” means Aral and the soldiers under his command.  And yet she uses the passive voice, perhaps out of some Betan habit of circumlocution and the avoidance of direct blame-assignment…who knows.

Aral also says that he was stunned and found the camp “as she did” when he came to.  I took that to mean that he was stunned during the initial attack that slagged the camp, and then came to around the time Cordelia and Dubauer returned.  But then, Aral’s holsters are empty of plasma arcs and nerve disruptors, and all he has is Cordelia’s stunner, so I suppose that he doesn’t have the nerve disrupter that killed Dubauer.  But perhaps his disruptor merely ran out of charge?  He is shown to have plasma arc power packs in the next chapter, but that doesn’t mean he has some for his nerve disrupter…

Anyway, the point here is that while I am perfectly willing to believe, based on later evidence, that Hatchet-face and Aral are not the same person, I really would have liked Ms. Bujold to have presented us right away with the fact that they are two different people–something that, if this were a movie, we would have been able to figure out in nanoseconds, thanks to the embedded facial recognition software in our brain.  Instead, she provides a selection of maddeningly indirect clues, leaving it ambiguous and confusing until matters are clarified, possibly chapters later when we actually meet Bothari.  *wags finger admonishingly at author*  Oh, well, it was her first novel, I suppose I can cut her some slack.  Eventually.

Chapter Two

Aral, Cordelia and Dubauer make their way down from the mountainside campsite and walk along a stream rather than hack through the dense undergrowth.  Cordelia notes some floating radial native lifeforms, like transparent balloons, floating above the stream.  During a rest break, Cordelia suddenly remembers where she’s heard of Aral Vorkosigan before, and blurts out that he’s the Butcher of Komarr.

“What do you know about Komarr?” His tone added, An ignorant Betan.

“Just what everyone knows. It was a worthless ball of rock your people annexed by military force for command of its wormhole clusters. The ruling senate surrendered on terms, and were murdered immediately after. You commanded the expedition, or . . .” Surely the Vorkosigan of Komarr had been an admiral. “Was it you? I thought you said you didn’t kill prisoners.”

“It was.”

“Did they demote you for it?” she asked, surprised. She had thought that sort of conduct to be Barrayaran standard.

“Not for that. For the sequel.” He seemed reluctant to say more, but he surprised her again by going on. “The sequel was more effectively suppressed. I had given my word—my word, as Vorkosigan—they were to be spared. My Political Officer countermanded my order, and had them killed behind my back. I executed him for it.”

“Good God.”

“I broke his neck with my own hands, on the bridge of my ship. It was a personal matter, you see, touching my honor. I couldn’t order a firing squad—they were all afraid of the Ministry of Political Education.”

Cordelia wonders that he wasn’t hanged, but Aral tells her that a Vorkosigan cannot be just executed, though he did make some enemies.  She asks if one of those enemies shot him, and Aral says that it’s possible, but he doubts it because he’s alive.  Cordelia reflects that Barrayaran politics sound more dangerous than the Betan variety, but Aral says that at least his subordinates don’t argue over his orders.

They make the way down toward the plains, stopping for the night a little above the flatland after Dubauer has a seizure that leaves him weak.  They eat some more oatmeal and blue cheese dressing, than Aral takes the first watch again.  He wakes her in the middle of the night and gives her the stunner, reporting nothing but some loud beast out in the bushes, then goes to sleep.  She contemplates Aral Vorkosigan, one of the old guard of aristocrats on Barrayar, trying to fight off the rising ride of bureaucrats.  Only the aging Emperor Vorbarra seems to keep them from each other’s throats, according to what little she knows of the planet.  She also contemplates the trust that lets him sleep while she has the stunner, but admits that she needs his help with Dubauer.

The next day they reach a river.  While trying to find a ford, they spot some hexapeds basking on a sandbar in the river, and some larger specimens of the transparent balloons.  Some of the balloons alight on the hexapeds’ backs, where they appear to suck blood until the hexapeds dislodge them and slide into the river.  Finally crossing the river just above a small waterfall, Dubauer slips and goes under, pulling Cordelia with him; Aral rescues them before they can be swept too far downstream.

Later, Cordelia disturbs a smaller hexaped, which she suddenly remembers is edible; Aral calls for the stunner and takes the creature down in one shot.

“Oh, good shot!” cried Cordelia ecstatically.

Vorkosigan grinned like a boy over his shoulder at her, and jogged after his prize.

“Oh,” she murmured, stunned herself by the effect of the grin. It had lit his face like the sun for that brief instant. Oh, do that again, she thought; then shook off the thought. Duty. Stick to duty.

Cordelia advises Aral on how to kill it, and they decide to stop for the day early so they can eat it.  Aral notices Dubauer’s absence, and Cordelia backtracks quickly to find Dubauer staring up entranced at a descending vampire bubble.  It settles on his face, but Aral pulls it off before it has sunk more than few tendrils into Dubauer.  Cordelia helps pluck the remnants of the tendrils loose, noticing the creature has left behind a burning acidic coating, and Dubauer is weeping.  Aral washes his hand off in the stream, then gives Dubauer one of his few remaining painkillers.

When it comes to starting the fire, Aral notes that he was supposed to have learned to start a fire with sticks in childhood military camps, but he usually resorted to hotwiring a power pack.  He finds a plasma arc power pack, takes it down to a bend in the river, and then runs back quickly before it explodes.  It leaves behind a hot, glassy crater, which Aral uses to light a torch, but the river quickly fills it in.  They cook the hexaped meat over the fire–well done, as Cordelia tells Aral they hadn’t completed the parasite survey yet–even Dubauer managing to eat some small pieces.

Cordelia is amused to note how primitive Aral looks after only a few days in the bush, unshaven and covered with blood and grease, smelling of sweat, though she feels a wave of physical attraction which she sternly suppresses.  Aral asks about her dedication to Dubauer, if they were in love, but Cordelia says he’s too younger for her, and she just feels responsible.  They talk about their families–Cordelia’s mother and brother are on Beta Colony, but her father died in an accident years earlier; Aral’s father is Count Vorkosigan, and his mother was half Betan.  Cordelia asks for more details, and he tells her that his maternal grandfather was Prince Xav Vorbarra, a diplomat who was posted to Beta Colony as an ambassador.  Xav was a progressive, but the Count is aligned with the military aristocrats; Aral himself claims that he tries to avoid politics, because they tend to be hard on his family.

She wakes up in the middle of the night as Aral puts more wood on the fire, and tells her the carcass of the hexaped is attracting scavengers, the “fuzzy” crabs they saw earlier.  They face them off with torches, and Aral drops a couple with the stunner, but it’s running low on charge.  As the scavengers draw closer, Aral is dismayed to notice some of the balloons hovering overhead, but Cordelia reasons that they must use hydrogen gas to float.  Aral knocks one of the sky, then Cordelia hits it with her torch and it explodes; she continues until the scavengers are fleeing, and then realizes that Aral is patting out bits of her burning hair.  He captures one more of the balloons and wraps it in his shirt, just in case they need it later.  They decide that eating the wildlife is too risky.

In the morning, the balloon creature has died, staining Aral’s shirt badly.  Later, he gets some tiny stinging insect-like creatures in his pants, and Cordelia notices that the wound Aral received from the “fuzzy crab” earlier is looking infected, but there is little they can do about it.  She notices him favouring the leg while walking, but he refuses to take any painkillers until they are closer to their destination.  His leg is swollen the next day, and he cuts himself a walking stick, but insists they can still make in another day or two.  He insists he is one of the fittest men over forty in his command (out of four, he admits), and he has a powerful stimulant he can use later, too.

He tells Cordelia that he suspects his Political Officer, Radnov, of trying a spur-of-the-moment assassination attempt which they could blame on Betans, but whoever was supposed to kill him stunned him and hid him under a bush instead.  And yet whoever it was hasn’t informed Aral’s first officer, Gottyan, that Aral is alive, so he’s not sure what side this person is on.

Aral asks about Cordelia’s ship, and she decides it’s safe to tell him that they’re probably back at Beta Colony by now.  Aral says that Gottyan would probably be back at the planet by now, then, but refuses to tell Cordelia any more, though he says he will try to see that she doesn’t end up in a Barrayaran prison cell.  Cordelia doesn’t know how to deal with this kindness.


The first signs of attraction on Cordelia’s part, and a hint that relationships between Betans and Barrayarans are not foredoomed or anything.  And the first mention that Aral’s descended from a Vorbarra Prince, albeit through the female line, which, as you may imagine, doesn’t count for as much on Barrayar as it might elsewhere.  (Vor is a prefix indicating nobility, so Vorbarra = Vor + Barra, and Barrayar = Barra + -yar.)  This chapter is really as much as we get in this book about the alien fauna, though what there is is interesting enough.  I’ll be happy enough for them to get back to dealing with other people, because trekking-through-the-wilderness stories can get old really fast.

It’s interesting how Aral almost doesn’t dispute Cordelia’s horribly biased account of the Komarr story, not mentioning at first the fact that he didn’t order the deaths himself.  And no mention of the reason that Barrayar attacked Komarr (which was provoked, if perhaps not quite justified, so I suppose it probably cuts no ice in Betan eyes).

Betans and Barrayarans do start out with such dissimilar worldviews, but it seems that it’s easier for a Betan to understand a Barrayaran than the other way around, because part of the Betan way of thinking includes the possibility that others think differently.  (Reminds me of David Brin’s essay “Otherness”, where he says that Americans–or is it First Worlders as a whole?–try to force their worldview on others, even though part of that worldview is “all worldviews are equally valid”.)  On the other hand, some things that Betans regard as basic human rights–such as equality of the sexes, and the sanctity of life–just make Barrayarans look at them funny.

And that’s all for this week.  With luck, I’ll manage another two chapters for next week, and we’ll see how long I can keep up the pace.  Thanks for reading.

Read Full Post »