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A minute passed.  After a minute, another minute passed.  In fact, before you know it, a week had passed, and a minute later, there was a new Vorkosigan Reread post!  It’ll only take a minute, or a few minutes, to read, as I examine, in minute detail, the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week, I spent a few minutes digging into Chapters Six and Seven of Diplomatic Immunity, wherein quaddies dance and drum, and blood turns out to be not what it seems.

Chapter Six

Bel meets them at the Kestrel‘s hatch, dressed in a bright orange and dark blue outfit, based on what seems to be a common quaddie style.  It takes them to a restaurant, on the grav side but dedicated to the use of all three dimensions by the use of tables on top of pillars.  Roic even has a seat above theirs, so he can watch the whole room.  Nicol is waiting for them, and soon gets into easy conversation with Ekaterin.  Dinner conversation in general flows easily, though they steer clear of old war stories.

In a private moment, Nicol congratulates “Admiral Naismith” on his good fortune, and Miles accepts it on Lord Vorkosigan’s behalf.  She says she’s happy to stay at home from now on, but she’s worried about whether Bel will be staying with her, given that it hasn’t yet applied for citizenship.  Miles keeps mum about Bel’s private quandary about divided loyalties.

“I do note, Bel could have found a portmaster’s berth in quite a few places. It traveled a very long way to get one here, instead.”

Nicol’s smile softened. “That’s so.” She added, “Do you know, when Bel arrived at Graf Station, it still had that Betan dollar I’d paid you on Jackson’s Whole tucked in its wallet?”

Miles managed to stop the logical query, Are you sure it was the same one? on his lips before it fell out of his mouth leaving room for his downsider foot. One Betan dollar looked like any other. If Bel had claimed it for the same one, when making Nicol’s reacquaintance, who was Miles to suggest otherwise? Not that much of a spoilsport, for damn sure.

After dinner they take a bubble-car through to the zero-gee side to the Madame Minchenko Memorial Auditorium, where Nicol parts with them to ready for her performance.  The entrance to the auditorium is a regular-sized doorway, not yet crowded because of their early arrival, so Miles is surprised to find out just how large the space on the other side is.  It’s an enormous sphere, with most of one end transparent; the box seats on the surface of the sphere are arranged in hexagons, like honeycomb.

They are ushered to their assigned hex, where Garnet Five is already waiting for them, dressed elegantly except for the inflatable cast on a lower arm; Bel introduces them.  Miles thanks her for getting her admittance to the show, and apologizes right off for the behaviour of his fellow Barrayarans.  Garnet turns the discussion to the fate of Dmitri–Ensign Corbeau–and Miles mentions his several options, stressing the possibility of desertion charges if he persists in requesting asylum.  Garnet points out that his request could very well be accepted, and Miles says that even so, that would effectively result in permanent exile from his homeworld.  If he’s more cautious, he could serve out his time in the military and return to Quaddiespace a free man later.

Garnet stubbornly insists that they want to spend the rest of their lives together; Miles wants to ask how sure they are, though he’s reminded of how quickly he fell for Ekaterin, after all, but he’s not quite sure what kind of attraction is at work between Garnet and Corbeau.  Ekaterin asks about children, and Garnet says that it can all be handled via replicator, and they could decide on quaddie or legged offspring just as they could decide on the sex of the babies; quaddie-downsider relationships are far from unknown, apparently.  At Garnet’s prodding, Bel shows them a holocube of various potential offspring that he and Nicol could have, legged and quaddie, as well as both sexes and herm.  Bel says that they’d want to have a quaddie girl first, assuming of course that he gets around to his citizenship application.

The auditorium has filled up during their conversation, including a few downsiders (some of whom, stranded in midair, have to be towed to their seats by the ushers), but no other Barrayarans visible, and the show is now about to start.

Lights flared, an exuberant fountain of red and orange and gold, and from all sides, the performers flowed in. Thundered in. Quaddie males, athletic and vastly enthusiastic, in skin-fitting ship knits made splendid with glitter. Drumming.

I wasn’t expecting hand drums. Other free fall performances Miles had seen, whether dance or gymnastic, had been eerily silent except for the music and sound effects. Quaddies made their own noise, and still had hands left to play hands-across; the drummers met in the middle, clasped, gripped, exchanged momentum, turned, and doubled back in a shifting pattern. Two dozen men in free fall took up perfect station in the center of the spherical auditorium, their motion so controlled as to permit no sideways drift as the energy of their spins and duckings, twistings and turnings, flowed through their bodies one to another and on around again. The air pulsed with the rhythm of their drumming: drums of all sizes, round, oblong, two-headed; not only played by each holder, but some batted back and forth among them in an eye-and-ear-stunning cross between music and juggling, never missing a beat or a blow. The lights danced. Reflections spattered on the walls, picking out flashes from the boxes of upraised hands, arms, bright cloth, jewelry, entranced faces.

They are shortly joined by a dozen quaddie females with castanets, who add their own notes to the music.  Miles mentally compares the performance to that of a Barrayaran marching band, demonstrating skill and excellence for its own sake.  The piece goes on for twenty minutes before coming to an end in a burst of noise, the two groups leaving again to thunderous applause.  They are replaced by the orchestra, all with acoustic instruments, Ekaterin notes, Nicol with her harp and dulcimer.  The orchestral suite includes a solo dulcimer section for her, and Miles takes note of Bel’s entranced expression, though he’s doubtless heard her play many times.

After the orchestra comes the ballet piece, which Garnet Five tells them comes from a longer work, The Crossing, an epic which tells the story of their travel to Quaddiespace.  This piece is the love duet between Leo Graf and Silver, her usual part, and she hopes that her understudy doesn’t screw it up.  Leo is played by a male quaddie with fake legs, and dances clumsily enough that Miles feels a bit uncomfortable, until Bel assures him that Leo is supposed to “dance like an engineer”; Silver seems to dance well enough to Miles’s eyes, though Garnet is more critical.  Miles realizes that this love story, part of quaddie culture from its beginning, explains why romances with downsiders are so accepted in their society.

During intermission, they discuss quaddie names; Garnet Five explains that quaddies often just have single names, but the more popular ones are distinguished by numbers.  Bel says that Leo Ninety-Nine is the highest number he’s seen, and Garnet says there are eight of her name altogether; Bel says gallantly that she will surely inspire more.

The second half of the show was as impressive as the first. During one of the musical interludes, Nicol had an exquisite harp part. There were two more large group dances, one abstract and mathematical, the other narrative, apparently based on a tragic pressurization disaster of a prior generation. The finale put everyone out in the middle, for a last vigorous, dizzying whirl, with drummers, castanet players, and orchestra combining in musical support that could only be described as massive.

Miles is almost surprised that four hours have passed by the time they leave the auditorium.  They bid farewell to Garnet Five and Bel and Nicol accompany them back to the Kestrel via bubble car.  Miles reflects on how well the quaddie dance shows them to be far from handicapped by their physical differences.  This reminds him to check his brain chemicals before he goes to bed, to see if any seizures are looming.

Comments

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, goes a variously-attributed quote (which, according to http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/11/08/writing-about-music/, goes back to Martin Mull, best known to me as Colonel Mustard in the “Clue” movie), but I think that Bujold does a decent job of writing about dance in this chapter.  It probably helps if you’ve seen a vigorous dance routine that you can liken it to, but the transient nature of dance, that it can only be experienced in the moment, means that I’m willing to cut a lot of slack to an author in trying to describe it.  Giving a general impression, all that most people will retain after the experience, is good enough for me.  Somewhere out there is probably a video of Jeanne Robinson doing her impression of zero-gravity dancing, but you’ll have to find that link yourself.

The meeting and discussion with Garnet Five is the main plot significance in the chapter, brief as it is.  I’m more sympathetic with Miles, in his doubt that Corbeau and Garnet Five’s love is truly strong enough to conquer all.  I guess it’s not like they’re teenagers, but Corbeau sounds a bit young and sheltered for his age.

Chapter Seven

Miles is awakened–in what proves to be early morning, rather than the middle of the night–by Roic, notifying him of a call from Admiral Vorpatril.  Miles throws on his gray jacket and goes to take the admiral’s call; Vorpatril says that his surgeon has just confirmed that Solian’s blood sample was manufactured, and asks Miles how he knew.  He wonders if this makes it more likely that Solian was a deserter, and Miles points out that it doesn’t conclusively prove Solian still alive; Roic brings Miles a cup of coffee, as Vorpatril asks if they should share this information with Chief Venn.  Miles hesitates, but he says the next task is to find the precise piece of equipment that manufactured the fake blood in the first place, and, unfortunately, the quaddie police are better equipped to do that.  Vorpatril protests, but Miles points out that he has no authority on Graf Station except what Greenlaw and Venn allow him.  Miles will have to talk to them, especially now that they know whatever happened with the blood was planned in advance.

Miles grumbles about why nobody picked this up the first time through; Roic asks if it’s a rhetorical question.  He says that what people look for will depend on how often they have to deal with crimes.  Hassadar, which is close to Graf Station’s population, averaged one or two a month, so they had no full-time homicide or forensics people, and for really complicated cases they had to call in people from Vorbarr Sultana, where murders are closer to one a day.  So Chief Venn’s forensics expert is probably just a doctor who they call in once in a while, so it’s no surprise they’d be short of ImpSec standards.

Miles wishes he knew more about Solian, but he can’t find friends or enemies, or any evidence he’d ever been to Quaddiespace before.  He might have gotten to know someone on the Idris, but after ten days he might well have found trouble on the station as well.

He calls Chief Venn, who answers floating in zero-gee, sideways to Miles, and rudely doesn’t align his orientation.  When asked, Chief Venn admits that their last murder was seven years ago, and then three years before that; both murders were committed by downsider transients, and confirmed by fast-penta.  He doesn’t take kindly to Miles’s suggestion that his staff might be less than skilled in murder investigations, until Miles tells him about the manufactured blood.  Miles requests Venn get his staff to find out where the blood was synthesized, and if possible by whom, and Venn agrees, obviously thrown off by this new information.

Venn tells him that Sealer Greenlaw wanted to speak to him, and transfers him to her.  She tells Miles that she’s scheduled him to speak to the stranded passengers from the Komarran fleet that morning; Miles is a little nettled at her making the appointment without running it by him first, but he’s also eager to see a nice batch of potential suspects.

He split the difference between irritation and eagerness by remarking blandly, “Nice of you to let me know. Just what is it that you imagine I will be able to tell them?”

“That, I must leave to you. These people came in with you Barrayarans; they are your responsibility.”

“Madam, if that were so, they would all be on their way already. There can be no responsibility without power. It is the Union authorities who have placed them under this house arrest, and therefore the Union authorities who must free them.”

“When you finish settling the fines, costs, and charges your people have incurred here, we will be only too happy to do so.”

He passes on to her the news about Solian’s blood sample, and she says it looks more like desertion than murder.  Miles challenges her to find a living Solian, then, and she says that Quaddiespace is not totalitarian, privacy and freedom of movement being guaranteed.  Miles says that he still thinks Solian is dead, and if so it’s his responsibility and duty to find justice for him.  He signs off hoping he’s ruined her morning, at least.

He asks Roic if he’s ever done a murder investigation, and Roic says he has done a number of investigations, but not strictly murders.  He charges Roic with tracking Solian’s movements as closely as he can, finding any gaps in time, and finding out anything he can about Solian from the crew of the Idris.  Roic protests that Miles will still need security, and Miles says that he will be with Captain Thorne, at least, which doesn’t completely mollify his armsman.  Miles then heads back to his cabin to get dressed, passing Ekaterin on the way.  He asks if she wants to join him in talking to the passengers.

“A Countess is by law and tradition something of an assistant Count. An Auditor’s wife, however, is not an assistant Auditor,” she said in a firm tone, reminiscent to Miles’s ear of her aunt—Professora Vorthys was herself an Auditor’s spouse of some experience. “Nicol and Garnet Five made arrangements to take me out this morning and show me quaddie horticulture. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stick to my original plan.”

Miles apologizes for this unplanned diversion on their honeymoon, and Ekaterin assures him she’s having a good time, but then she doesn’t have to deal with the difficult people.  She allows that maybe they can have lunch together so he can vent, but only if he also manages to eat at the same time.  He reflects that everyone in Quaddiespace is likely quite lucky that Ekaterin is along to keep him on an even keel.

The crews from the Komarran ships have been kept under house arrest on the station; the passengers were just forced to leave the ships, and are being put up in luxurious hostels, allowed to roam the station, even to leave if they want…but not with their cargoes.  The lobby of the hostel where Miles is to speak to them has a large open space, circled by a second-floor balcony, with a staircase down to the conference level.  Bel guides Miles from there to a meeting room with about eighty galactics.

Galactic traders with a keenly honed sense of the value of their time, and no Barrayaran cultural inhibitions about Imperial Auditors, they unleashed several days of accumulated frustrations upon Miles the moment he stepped to the front and turned to face them. Fourteen languages were handled by nineteen different brands of auto-translators, several of which, Miles decided, must have been purchased at close-out prices from makers going deservedly belly-up. Not that his answers to their barrage of questions were any special tax on the translators—what seemed ninety percent of them came up either, “I don’t know yet,” or “Ask Sealer Greenlaw.” The fourth iteration of this latter litany was finally met with a heartrending wail, in chorus, from the back of the room of, “But Greenlaw said to ask you!”, except for the translation device that came up a beat later with, “Lawn rule sea-hunter inquiring altitude unit!”

Bel points out to Miles the ones who’d tried to bribe him to leave, and then he asks anyone who’d met Lieutenant Solian to stay and talk to him.  One man–or herm–stays to talk to Bel about his cargo.  Miles guesses it to be close to a century in age, for a Betan, with elegant features that remind Miles of something he can’t quite recall.  The herm, who introduces itself as Ker Dubauer, says it is transporting several hundred replicators full of engineered animal fetuses, whose next service is due.  It asks to be allowed to service the replicators, and adds that they will be reaching term soon, and if he doesn’t reach his destination by then, they’ll likely need to be destroyed.  When Miles asks, Dubauer says the animals are mostly sheep and goats, with a few specialties.

Bel leaves to go pass the request to Boss Watts; Miles asks Dubauer, who still seems naggingly familiar, if they’ve ever met, but Dubauer says they have not.  Miles asks him about Solian, but Dubauer says he’d only seen him at a distance, never talked to him; Miles decides not to bother telling him about the fake blood.  Several other passengers have by now lined up with tales of Solian to tell, but none of them prove to be particularly useful; Miles wishes for some fast-penta to use, but the only people the quaddies would let him use it on–the Barrayaran crew–are far from likely suspects.

Miles is effectively done by the time Bel returns to say that it can escort Dubauer aboard the Idris to service his cargo.  Miles is running a little late for lunch, but with luck he might be able to catch up with Ekaterin anyway.  They climb up the stairs to the lobby, and he and Bel, both automatically scanning for any threats.  Thus, they both spot a figure on the balcony lifting an oblong box up to the railing.

Miles had a flashing impression of dark eyes in a milky face beneath a mop of brass-blond curls, staring down intently at him. He and Bel, on either side of Dubauer, reached spontaneously and together for the startled Betan’s arms and flung themselves forward. Bright bursts from the box chattered with a loud, echoing, tapping noise. Blood spattered from Dubauer’s cheek as the herm was yanked along; something like a swarm of angry bees seemed to pass directly over Miles’s head. Then they were, all three, sliding on their stomachs to cover behind the wide marble drums holding the flowers. The bees seemed to follow them; pellets of safety glass exploded in all directions, and chips of marble fountained in a wide spray. A vast vibrato filled the room, shook the air, the thunderous thrumming noise sliced with screams and cries.

Miles, trying to raise his head for a quick glance, was crushed down again by Bel diving over the intervening Betan and landing on him in a smothering clutch. He could only hear the aftermath: more yells, the sudden cessation of the hammering, a heavy clunk. A woman’s voice sobbed and hiccoughed in the startling silence, then was choked down to a spasmodic gulping. His hand jerked at a soft, cool kiss, but it was only a few last shredded leaves and flower petals sifting gently down out of the air to settle all around them.

Comments

I thought that, in Komarr, Miles had learned his lesson about not fast-pentaing everybody in sight.  There, he admits to himself that if he’d gotten out the fast-penta for everyone in the terraforming station, and the Waste Heat Experiment Station, the case would have been closed much sooner.  (And Tien would still be alive, and maybe Ekaterin would have still been married to him…or not, I suppose, because his bribe-taking would have been exposed with all the rest.)  And now he balks at interrogating all of the crew on the Barrayaran ships, just because they’re not high on his suspect list?  I suppose that such a high-handed move would win him few friends among his own military, and while the significant penalties for mistreatment of an Imperial Auditor would probably discourage any outright mutiny, I’m sure it would set off a lot of recalcitrance and foot-dragging whenever he actually asked them for help.  But still…

Dubauer, Dubauer…oh, I remember, he was the guy from Shards of Honour whose brain Bothari fried with the nerve disrupter, that Cordelia and Aral had to shepherd across the Sergyaran landscape.  Since the name turns out to be a pseudonym, one is almost tempted to conjecture that it’s somehow related, but I doubt that “Dubauer” had any way of expecting that Miles Vorkosigan would end up on Graf Station because of its actions.  So it’s just a coincidence…though one with a little clue hidden in the letters, no doubt inadvertently.

Roic’s contribution, in pointing out how inexperienced the quaddies would be with murder investigations, was an interesting one.  Venn was a little smug, perhaps, in pointing out that the two murders that Graf Station had seen in ten years both involved downsiders.  What is Bujold trying to say about quaddie society?  That it’s more peaceful than human?  That legs make you more violent and murderous, or lack of privacy and restricted movement?  Or is it just that Graf Station is too “small-town” and homey?  I remain a little skeptical that this is anything more than a statistical blip.  After all, we just got to see, in the book’s first real action scene (that isn’t hearsay from someone else), that there is violence on Graf Station.  Even if it also seems to involve offworlders…


More short, snappy chapters, that’s what I like.   Plus we’re getting into the real plot for sure, now.  I also note that, since there are nineteen chapters in the book overall, we’re over a third of the way through.  So it’s about time for things to start happening…  Next week, doubtless, even more things will happen!  So, until then…

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Welcome back, named and anonymous readers on the Internet, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week we start a new book, Ethan of Athos, chronologically after Cetaganda though written long before it.  The books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series generally involves Miles Vorkosigan, or at least his mother Cordelia.  Generally.

Ethan of Athos is the second book in the omnibus volume Miles, Mystery & Mayhem, and it includes at most two of the three elements in that title, because there is no Miles in it.  That’s probably one reason why I haven’t reread it nearly as much as I have the rest of the series, because it isn’t technically a Vorkosigan book at all.  There’s no Vorkosigans in it; the closest we get is one of the Dendarii, and a mention of a Naismith.  Last time I reread it, it was better than I remembered it, so I decided to include it in this reread (as opposed to Falling Free, for example).  It’s one of Bujold’s first novels, and yet hardly anything in her later books springs from it; without that reference in Cetaganda years later, it could lift out of the series without a trace.  And it does, unfortunately, have a really slow start, so I’m hoping that I’m recall correctly that it does get better…

Chapter One

Dr. Ethan Urquhart deftly delivers a baby boy from a uterine replicator at Sevarin District Reproduction Centre, where he works, on the planet of Athos; he pronounces the baby perfectly healthy, to the delight of the baby’s waiting father.

On his way to check on one of his more worrisome embryos, he chats with Georos from the night shift.  When he checks on the embryo, CJB-9, he finds that it’s non-viable, not having formed properly.  Georos says that the father is scheduled to come talk to Ethan so they can get permission to terminate, which Ethan is less than thrilled about.

On his morning inspection, Ethan first reprimands one tech for playing raucous modern music instead of more sedate classical works (“the classic hymn ‘God of Our Fathers, Light The Way’ rendered by the United Brethren String Chamber Orchestra”), then another for letting the levels of waste toxins get dangerously close to the maximum allowed before changing the filter.  As such, he almost misses the CJB-9 father when he arrives, and has to dash back up to his office.  The father, Brother Haas, is surprised at Ethan’s youth.

Ethan touched his shaved chin, then became self-conscious of the gesture and put his hand down hastily. If only he had a beard, or even a mustache, people would not be constantly mistaking him for a 20-year-old despite his six-foot frame. Brother Haas was sporting a beard, about a two-week growth, scrubby by comparison to the luxuriant mustache that proclaimed him a long-standing designated alternate parent. Solid citizen. Ethan sighed. “Sit, sit,” he gestured again.

Haas asks what the problem is, for him to come all the way in person; Ethan notes that he came from Crystal Springs, even though there is a closer Reproduction Centre, and Haas said that Sevarin had a CJB stock, which he particularly wanted.  A recent farming accident made him realize that they needed a doctor, and CJB’s tend to make good doctors.  Ethan says that it’s far from a certain correlation, but admits that he himself is a CJB-8.

Ethan tells him that the embryo was non-viable; Haas asks if there’s genetic damage they can repair, but Ethan says that only a few common problems can be fixed that way, if they’re spotted early.  He tells Haas that since the problem was with the ovum, they won’t charge him extra, but they can’t offer CJB anymore.  In fact, nobody can, because this was the last viable CJB culture on the whole planet.  Haas asks why they’ve stopped working, if there was some kind of offworlder sabotage.

“No, no!” Ethan said. Ye gods, what a riot that fabulous rumor could start. “It’s perfectly natural. The first CJB culture was brought by the Founding Fathers when Athos was first settled—it’s almost two hundred years old. Two hundred years of excellent service. It’s just—senescent. Old. Worn out. Used up. Reached the end of its life-cycle, already dozens of times longer than it would have lived in a, ah,” it wasn’t an obscenity, he was a doctor and it was correct medical terminology, “woman.”

He talks Haas into trying a JJY-8 instead, since one of his best medtechs is a JJY-7.  He hopes Haas doesn’t follow his statement to its logical conclusion, since all of the ovarian cultures they have on Athos are descended from those brought by the Founding Fathers, and so they’re all in danger of senescence, and CJB is not the first to disappear.  A distressingly large number of embryos are coming from the shrinking pool of cultures that haven’t begun to have problems yet, and things are only getting worse.  They need a long-term solution for the issue.

Over the next three months, another culture dies, and another one’s egg production is on a severe decline.  One day, the Chief of Staff, Desroches, calls Ethan to inform him that a mail ship has docked at the space station.  Ethan has received some copies of ­The Betan Journal of Reproductive Medicine, but that’s not all.  When he arrives in Desroches’s office, he sees the large refrigerated container from House Bharaputra on Jackson’s Whole, with a new selection of fifty ovarian samples.  Ethan is vastly relieved that they have finally arrived, with nobody having to venture off the planet to try to obtain them.  Desroches assigns him to get the new cultures settled in.

Ethan starts thawing the cultures, though he only planets to do twelve of them at first, enough to fill the support units left vacant by the deterioration of the original cultures; a whole new bank of machines is in the works to contain the rest of them.  While he waits, he takes a look at the Betan journals; his censorship level has risen high enough now that he can, for the first time, read offworld journals uncensored.  Most of the articles have to do with in vivo births, involving actual “women”, and he makes sure to avoid those, but the ones involving uterine replicators or male reproducing apparatus he finds interesting.  One new technique for the replicators he finds intriguing enough to look up at the authors, Kara Burton and Elizabeth Naismith; he is taken aback by their pictures, beardless like young, childless men but showing clear signs of age.  He half-expects insanity to strike him just from seeing the images, as it is supposed to do when you see women in the flesh, but apparently the pictures don’t have the same effect.

He opens up one of the new cultures which has reached the correct temperature.  He is taken aback to find it shrink-wrapped, and raw material rather than an actual culture.  Many of them look odd; when he counts them, there’s only thirty-eight; and some of them are too large, and familiar from his time spent butchering meat in K.P. as cow ovaries.  Once he’s satisfied himself of his conclusions, he bursts into Desroches’s office and gives him the bad news.

Desroches was just donning his coat, the light of home in his eye; he never turned off the holocube until he was done for the day. He stared at Ethan’s wild, disheveled face. “My God, Ethan, what is it?”

“Trash from hysterectomies. Leavings from autopsies, for all I know. A quarter of them are clearly cancerous, half are atrophied, five aren’t even human for God’s sake! And every single one of them is dead.

Comments

Bujold takes a bit of a risk in this book, making our main viewpoint character (the only one for the book, as I recall) someone from a distinctly different culture.  It takes a little while to notice, perhaps, the complete lack of female characters, but discovering that “woman” is a somewhat distasteful term that can only be used clinically is the first sign.  Ethan’s reaction to the pictures, and the stories of the madness that women strike in the hearts of men, reveals just how neurotic the culture is about them.  The author isn’t actively judgemental against the inhabitants of Athos, since everyone is actually fairly well-adjusted as long as women don’t come up, and not too caricatured.  Everyone is perforce gay, or possibly just asexual by Athos standards.  Though sex is evidently not required to produce babies, so it may be optional.  Haas lives in a commune, so pair-bonding for parenting may not be required, as long as somebody will be available to raise the children…

I seem to recall that it becomes clear at some point that the ovarian culture letters are the initials of the original donors (and it makes me wonder if LMB used the initials of friends or fans or just made them up).  The numbers I’m not quite as sure about, but I guess they must do some cloning or copying of the original cultures or something…  Okay, I don’t know, and maybe they go into it more later, but I don’t recall that particularly.

I guess there are a few references to things that turn up again in the series–House Bharaputra on Jackson’s Whole, for instance, as the suppliers of the cultures.  Athos is doubtless standoffish about dealing with offworld women, so maybe they ended up with Jackson’s Whole because the Jacksonians are less picky and willing to meet the Athosians’ doubtless bizarre conditions.  Except that they apparently screwed them up this time…  Oh, and I’m pretty sure that Elizabeth Naismith is Miles’s Betan grandmother, of course.

Chapter Two

Ethan is brought along to an emergency Population Council meeting where they try to decide what to do about the outrageous shipment.  It emerges that they bought from the lowest bidder, but they had promised fifty cultures for each Centre, and the next would only have sent thirty.  They have only four days until the ship leaves again, and there won’t be another for a year.  Some of the representatives grumble that they should have their own ships, and others ask them how many Reproduction Centres they want to trade for them.  One councilor makes the suggestion that they could grow their own ovaries, using female fetuses, not bringing them completely to term…the other councilors, revolted, say they’re not that desperate yet.

The councilors are also worried about the problem of genetic diversity, especially given that they only had three immigrants this year and two the year before…and those tend to be a little “strange”.  They agree that they need to get some new cultures, but this time they will have to send an agent actually offplanet to supervise it.  Desroches says that they need a man with technical know-how and proven integrity, given that he’ll be handling all of their available foreign currency, moral fibre to resist the temptations of the greater galaxy, as well as energy and conviction; he adds that this man should also be unattached, not to leave an overburdened partner behind him.  Belatedly, Ethan realizes that Desroches has been thinking of him the whole time.

After the meeting, Ethan complains that Desroches had set him up, and Desroches admits it, but said he would never have volunteered on his own.  He asks Ethan if he can think of someone better they could have picked, like the fellow with his talk of female fetuses…  Desroches also points out the social credits that this trip will earn Ethan, ten years’ worth, if he returns.  Ethan says it’s his foster-brother and partner who really needs them, but they’re not transferrable.  Desroches says that Ethan’s partner is likeable enough, but totally irresponsible; Ethan tells him to stay out of his private life.  Desroches said at least they didn’t draft him and send him out on military pay.

Desroches drops Ethan back at his house, with four days to prepare for the trip.  Ethan thinks about his foster brother Janos, son of his father’s Designated Alternate, one of five children the two had had.  Ethan had been happy when Janos came to Sevarin to live with him, and hopes to find comfort in his arms, but instead finds the apartment deserted.  Checking the garage, he finds his new lightflyer gone, but according to the locator it’s only a few blocks away.  He decides to walk over and surprise Janos at whatever party he’s doubtless attending.

Instead, he finds emergency tow vehicles trying to extricate his lightflyer out of the upper branches of a tree.  A bystander tells him that one of the two men who’d been inside it when it crashed had been taken to the hospital, and the other, obviously completely intoxicated, had been taken to the police station.  A parks official starts tallying up Ethan’s fine for damage to the tree, and then the lightflyer slides out of the branches.

Five meters per second, thought Ethan with hysterical irrelevancy. Times 25 meters times how many kilograms?

The nose-down impact on the granite cobblestones starred the gleaming red outer shell of the flyer with fracture lines from front to rear. In the sudden silence after the great crunch Ethan could quite clearly hear an elfin tinkle of expensive electronic instrumentation within, coming to rest a little out of phase with the main mass.

Ethan finds Janos at the police station to bail him out.  He asks Janos how they crashed, and Janos tells him how he and his friend Nick were divebombing some birds (on Athos, that meant feral mutant chickens) and hit the tree by accident.  Finding out it was before dark, Ethan asks why Janos wasn’t at work, and it emerged that Janos had failed to get up (Ethan’s fault, for leaving him with only the alarm to wake him), had gotten a talking-to at work which ended up with Janos losing his temper, picking a fight with his boss, and getting fired.  The police let Ethan take Janos home, since the charges have all been settled.

When they get home, Janos admits that the fine came out of his already depleted social duty credits.  Ethan is incensed that Janos can’t manage even the minimal accumulation that would have allowed any regular person to get one parenting credit by now, and Janos’s irresponsibility isn’t a good sign for parenthood anyway.  Janos says he doesn’t care about babies that much anyway, and Ethan is disgusted at his foster-brother’s self-centeredness.  He tells Janos he’s leaving, and explains about the assignment he’s been given to go to Jackson’s Whole.

“Now who doesn’t care?” said Janos angrily. “Off for a year without so much as a by-your-leave. What about me? What am I supposed to do while you’re . . .” Janos’s voice plowed into silence. “Ethan—isn’t Jackson’s Whole a planet? Out there? With—with—them on it?”

Ethan nodded. “I leave in four—no, three days, on the galactic census ship. You can have all my things. I don’t know—what’s going to happen out there.”

Janos’s chiseled face was drained sober. In a small voice he said, “I’ll go clean up.”

Comments

Five metres per second–that’s about half a gee (assuming they mean “metres per second squared”, that is).  I guess most of the Athosians are used to the low gravity, not having known anything else, but I really had forgotten there was anything odd about the gravity…  I guess we’ll see how Ethan reacts to the different gravities when he goes offworld.  (Spoiler alert:  He doesn’t make it to Jackson’s Whole, that I recall.)

There does seem to be an explicitly sexual relationship between Ethan and Janos, which is…well, maybe a little squicky, since they’re foster brothers, but I guess they’re not likely to be “inbreeding”, are they?  One presumes that they keep track of everyone’s “mothers” so that they can keep that from happening, though there’s little reference to it in these first two chapters.  Though it does mention how Ethan and Janos’s parents had a pair of children where each had used the other’s maternal ovarian culture, which makes my head spin a little bit.  Sort of like two men each having a child with the other man’s mother, or sister, or cousin…without any “women” actually being involved, of course.

Janos is a piece of work, isn’t he?  One might hope that being forcibly deprived of his partner like this might shock him to reality somehow, so I guess we’ll have to see if he shows up in the denouement or anything.  I’m not holding my breath, though.

I’m not sure what I think of the female-fetus thing.  Where did the original ovaries come from?  Donated by the original women, somehow?  Given that the founders of Athos may have been just a teensy bit crazy, it’s not impossible that the “donation” was involuntary, but I don’t remember any such skeletons coming out later, so I may just be overdramatizing.  Anyway, the Athosians find the idea distasteful because of the idea of raising female fetuses, I imagine; modern-day North Americans are probably more concerned about the “raising disposable fetuses” issue, which is still considered a bit beyond the pale morally.  Considering that there is demonstrably cloning technology available in later books, it’s likely that somewhere else, probably on Jackson’s Whole, there is somebody with the knowhow to create embryos from two men’s genetic material, but I suppose it’s probably out of Athos’s price range, plus it wouldn’t do much to help their genetic diversity…


Next week things should pick up a bit, as Ethan actually arrives at Kline Station, the setting for most of the rest of the book, and the plot really starts.  It’s possible that we may even see a familiar face–well, not that familiar, since the last time we saw her she didn’t really have a face at all…

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Coming to you a little earlier than usual this week (because I have tickets to see Prince tonight) is another episode of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which, for the uninitiated, is a reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, following the exploits of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, for the most part.  In Part 10 of the reread of The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first proper book of Miles’s adventures, I will be covering chapters Nineteen and Twenty of the book, which takes us almost to the end.

In honour of the occasion, I was going to try to work a whole bunch of Prince song titles into this introduction, but I decided not to go crazy, kill any doves, or incite controversy, so you’re on your own there.

Chapter Nineteen

Miles finds Elena and Baz in the Triumph‘s mess hall and tells them he’s reconsidered, and offers them his blessing on their marriage.  While Elena is initially dubious, Miles promises to follow the forms, with a little ingenuity.  First he takes the role of Baz’s liege-lord, and Baz, taking his cue, asks for his permission to wed.  Miles then takes the role of the Baba, hobbling over to Elena as an arthritic old woman, and play-acting an exchange between Baz’s liege-lord (Miles) and Elena’s ward (also Miles).  Baz and even Elena are duly amused as Miles performs the pantomime, until he finishes, collapses into a chair and pronounces them betrothed.

He suggests that they get married right away, if they can, because he wants to be at the wedding and he’s leaving the next day.  Baz and Elena are shocked; Miles tells them only that he needs to deal with Calhoun, and see Bothari buried.  Baz protests that Miles is needed to run the Dendarii, and Miles promptly appoints Baz the commander, Elena his executive officer and apprentice, and Tung as their chief of staff.  He convinces Baz that he’s capable of doing it, and is deliberately vague on when he will be back.  As a last instruction, he tells Baz to leave Tau Verde and find a better contract, somewhere away from Barrayar.

Next, he seeks out Elena Visconti.  Visconti is resistant to the idea of getting to know Elena, but Miles says that this will be her last opportunity, since soon the short-contract Dendarii will be let off at Dalton Station to make their own way home.  Miles says that surely Elena is innocent of Bothari’s sins, but Visconti says that she brings back the nightmares.  Miles offers to pay her to do some acting, for Elena’s benefit, to give her some good memories; Visconti is repulsed, but admits that Miles does seem to care for Elena, even if she’s with Baz instead.

Miles begins to tell Visconti how Bothari had dreamed of her, making her a wife in his head, which she finds even more disturbing.  Miles gets down on his knee and begs for her forgiveness, in Bothari’s name, for at least a death-offering.

“What do you want from me? What’s a death-offering?”

“Something of yourself, that you burn, for the peace of the soul of the dead. Sometimes you burn it for friends or relatives, sometimes for the souls of slain enemies, so they don’t come back to haunt you. A lock of hair would do.” He ran his hand over a short gap in his own crown. “That wedge represents twenty-two dead Pelians last month.”

Visconti gives in and cuts off a small lock of her hair, which Miles wraps up in a cloth.  He promises not to bother her again, but Visconti tells him that he’ll likely bother her for some time.

Next up is Arde Mayhew; Miles tells him that they are selling the RG-132 for an in-system freighter, and he’ll split the price with Mayhew.  He asks Mayhew about his plans, gently diverting him from coming back to Barrayar as his armsman.  Mayhew doesn’t think much of retraining as a shuttle pilot or tech, being that close to ships without piloting them.  Miles points out that there may still be some unaccounted-for RG-132 freighters out there, possibly with intact Necklin Rods, and he promises that he will authorize Baz to acquire them if they are found.  He inspires Mayhew with the idea of the quest.

“That’s the spirit! Forward momentum.”

Mayhew snorted. “Your forward momentum is going to lead all your followers over a cliff someday.” He paused, beginning to grin. “On the way down, you’ll convince ’em all they can fly.” He stuck his fists in his armpits, and waggled his elbows. “Lead on, my lord. I’m flapping as hard as I can.”

The next day, the departing passengers assemble in the docking bay.  Bothari’s coffin is loaded onto the fast courier, a loan from the Felicians, to the puzzlement of General Halify.  Ivan appears, a little unsteady, remarking favourably on the previous night’s wedding party.  To Ivan’s disappointment, the only woman accompanying them is Elli Quinn, nearly faceless, her head covered with unmarked skin except for mouth, nose-holes, and ear-holes.  Miles has a flask of stomach medicine which he promises the doctor to drink from regularly.

Miles’s hopes to leave quietly are dashed when Elena and Baz appear; Elena thanks him for a gift she never expected to receive–herself.  As Elena releases him from a farewell hug, the crowd of Dendarii come to watch the departure has grown too large to be ignored.  After calls for “Naismith”, he is hoisted on Baz and Elena’s shoulders to make a speech.

“As you can see, I am high because you all have raised me up,” he began, pitching his voice to carry to the last and least. A gratified chuckle ran through them. “You have raised me up on your courage, tenacity, obedience, and other soldierly virtues,” that was it, stroke them, they were eating it up—although surely he owed as much to their confusion, bad-tempered rivalry, greed, ambition, indolence, and gullibility—pass on, pass on—”I can do no less than to raise you up in return. I hereby revoke your provisional status, and declare you a permanent arm of the Dendarii Mercenaries.”

He informs them that Commodore Baz Jesek will be in command, and will not desert them.  As they set Miles down, Baz asks him which Barrayaran house he serves.  Surprised that Elena hasn’t told him already, Miles tells him the livery is brown and silver; Baz is stunned as he works it out in his head.  The last thing he sees before boarding the shuttle is Elena Visconti heading to her daughter’s side.

Ivan express his envy at Miles’s treatment; Miles says he’d like it better if his name were really Naismith.  Ivan continues to try complimenting Miles on what he’s achieved, but Miles says he didn’t want the fleet, and he hates Ivan to think he was “playing soldiers”, wasting days doing nothing while Aral was being ganged up on back on Barrayar.  Ivan asks what he’s going to do when they get home, and Miles says he’s still thinking.

Comments

I guess one reason to send Miles back to Barrayar is to give him the chance to cut loose from the Dendarii, and cut them loose from him.  He grants Baz his independence, makes his peace with Elena marrying Baz, tries to reunite Elena with her mother, and tries to give Mayhew hope again.  If he’d stayed there, he might have been able to put off doing these things, but his deadline, upon learning of his father’s danger, gives him the impetus to clear them all away.

I was tempted to quote more of the Miles baba scene, but you’re just going to have to get your own copy.  I always get it mixed up with Cordelia’s baba scene in Barrayar, and I always remember it being longer than it really is, but it’s still pretty funny.  Miles has the classic “class clown” instincts, to defuse tense situations with humour, or try to, and is less afraid of personal humiliation than many other fates.

In the departure scene, Miles refers to Baz and Elena as “Commodore Jesek” and “Commander Jesek”, and then comments on how confusing that is.  I wonder if that’s why, in later books, Elena is always referred to as “Elena Bothari-Jesek”.  Or did she change her mind for other reasons–for example, coming to terms with her father’s name.  I could see a desire to leave it behind her being part of her desire to marry Baz, but as time goes by she must be able to look past Bothari’s monstrous past and remember the father he was to her.  Same with Visconti, who seems to be at least slightly reconciled to her daughter in later books.  The central issue, of course, is redemption–what kind of crime is too great to be expiated, and what kind of expiation is great enough for a horrific crime?  Miles, as one of the greatest beneficiaries of Bothari’s penance (as well as Aral and Cordelia, of course) is better placed than many to see both sides of the man.

Ivan’s role in this chapter is mostly to be insensitive, to serve as a contrast to Miles’s conscientious and sympathetic nature.  Bit of a pity, but I guess he acts more like a teenager than Miles does, especially given his upbringing, trying to rebel against his mother and her future plans for him.  It takes him a while longer to come into his own, sadly.

Chapter Twenty

Back on Beta Colony, Miles is disguised as a pilot as they approach his grandmother’s underground apartment building.  HIs real identity would have entangled him with both the Betan legal system and the Barrayaran embassy, so he’d rather remain incognito.  Guiding Elli Quinn by voice, he is startled to see Tav Calhoun lying in wait in the lift tube.

Calhoun grabs Miles and asks what happened to his ship; Miles tells him about the damage to the Necklin rods, but offers him the money to pay it off.

 Calhoun’s hold did not slacken. “I wouldn’t touch your money with a hand-tractor!” he growled. “I’ve been given the royal run-around, lied to, followed, had my comconsole tapped, had Barrayaran agents questioning my employees, my girlfriend, her wife—I found out about that damned worthless hot land, by the way, you little mutant—I want blood. You’re going to therapy, because I’m calling Security right now!”

Calhoun heads for the comconsole to log Miles’s citizen’s arrest, as Miles asks Ivan for help.  Calhoun easily dodges Miles, but Elli Quinn trips him up and then throws him across the foyer and puts him in an armlock.  Ivan takes over the hold, asking Elli admiringly how she did that, and Elli mumbles that she used to practice fighting blindfolded.  They drag Calhoun to a janitor’s closet on the second floor, tie him up with wire, and stuff money in his clothing to pay off the ship.

Ivan scratched his head. “Y’know, there’s something backwards about this. . . .”

Calhoun was rolling his eyes and moaning urgently. Miles ungagged him for a moment.

“—plus ten percent!” Calhoun panted.

Grandmother Naismith greets Miles in relief that Captain Dimir had found him.  Miles introduces Elli Quinn as an offworlder in need of help, and Mrs. Naismith expresses willingness to help another of her grandson’s “strays”.  She asks why Miles didn’t go to the embassy first, and where Bothari and Elena are.  Miles tells her that Bothari died and Elena stayed behind, and that because of Barrayaran politics he doesn’t want to approach the embassy just yet.

Mrs. Naismith tells them that the charge against Miles has been changed from Vorloupolous’s Law to treason, attempting to usurp the throne.  She adds that Aral has apparently been trying to goad Vordrozda to the greater charge, which Miles realizes is clever, since he’s not guilty of that one.  Miles says he really only needs to show up to disprove it, though Ivan points out that Vordrozda probably has enough votes sewn up regardless of any evidence.  Miles says he thinks that Ivan is the key to it, especially since Hessman and Vordrozda think Ivan’s dead, though Miles doesn’t quite know how yet.  He says that after the betrayal of Dimir, he doesn’t trust the embassy staff either.

“Miles, your mind is crookeder than your bac—I mean—anyway, are you sure you’re not catching Bothari’s disease?” said Ivan. “You’re making me feel like I’ve got a bull’s-eye painted on my back.”

Miles grinned, feeling bizarrely exhilarated. “Wakes you up, doesn’t it?” It seemed to him he could hear the gates of reason clicking over in his own brain, cascading faster and faster. His voice took on a faraway tone. “You know, if you’re trying to take a roomful of people by surprise, it’s a lot easier to hit your targets if you don’t yell going through the door.”

They dump out the rest of the money they brought, paying Mrs. Naismith back for her investment and appointing her to distribute the rest of the necessary reimbursements.  After giving her the money to pay for Elli’s new face, he has a little left over.

Ivan snickered. “By God, Miles, you’ve made a profit. I think you’re the first Vorkosigan to do so in five generations. Must be that bad Betan blood.”

Miles tells Ivan how his father gave away 275,000 Barrayaran marks when he left the regency, just to avoid having made any money out of the office; they secretly gave most of it to charity.

As they leave, Miles tells his grandmother to wait a day before contacting the Barrayaran Embassy, and also to perhaps check on the closet where they tied up Calhoun.  At the last minute, Miles presses the leftover money into Elli’s hand as a combat bonus.

Comments

A brief chapter, tying up some loose ends from Beta Colony, the highlight of course being the forcible repayment of Tav Calhoun.  There’s very little not to like about that scene, unless of course somehow Calhoun has managed to earn your sympathy.  I also like the unexpected reapparance of the “don’t yell going through the door” rule, one of those things that makes me cackle with glee at the backward reference.  Speaking of which, the 275,000 marks is a bit of a forward reference, since it comes up in the next chapter as well…

Elli Quinn doesn’t get the longest shrift this book–apart from her questions in the meeting back on Auson’s ship, what she mostly manages to do is get her face burned off.  So it’s nice to see her competence in this chapter, under admittedly awful conditions, though also against an admittedly low-caliber opponent.  (Though apparently better than Ivan…)  That’s about the only clue to her prominence in later books, though her starring role in Ethan of Athos is a much bigger indication, especially since Ethan was the next book she wrote…


The big finale to go–okay, I guess it is still a climax–and the epilogue, and that’s it.  Should be worth coming back for…

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Time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, two more chapters of The Warrior’s Apprentice, third book chronologically and first to feature the long-time protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan.  In these chapters, Miles gets off of Barrayar, out of himself, and into a few highly interesting situations, and this is just the beginning…

Chapter Five

At an underground customs port, a Betan customs officer obviously acquainted with Bothari needles him about what weapon he’s tried to smuggle through security this time.  Miles remembers him, Officer Timmons, from previous visits, and greets him more courteously.  Miles and Elena go through the security scanner first.  Miles hopes that Beta will prove more successful than Escobar, where their grave-hunting was fruitless, leaving Elena to conclude that her father had been telling the truth, and Miles to wonder to himself if her mother was actually still alive, and if he should ask his own mother about it.

Bothari’s attempt to pass through the scanner is less successful, and Miles seizes the opportunity to take Elena on a tour of the shuttleport while Bothari works out his security problems.  They browse the shops in the concourse, and Miles buys her ice cream (rather than a big fringed lizard pet, as he tempted to).  Elena talks about the freedom she sees around her, and Miles says it’s not all that it seems.  For instance, she can marry whoever she wants, but she would need a permit to have children.  Slightly uncomfortably he tells her about the Betan requirement for contraception implants, often combined with a hymen-cutting ceremony, and goes on about the various meanings of earrings to convey sexual availability in Betan culture.  Elena covers her ears selfconsciously, and Miles assures her that she can turn down any proposition and nobody will take offense to it.  He remembers his own teenage year on Beta.

He had been fifteen on his year-long school visit to Beta Colony, and he’d found himself for the first time in his life with what looked like unlimited possibilities for sexual intimacy. This illusion had crashed and burned very quickly, as he found the most fascinating girls already taken. The rest seemed about equally divided among good Samaritans, the kinky/curious, hermaphrodites, and boys.

He did not care to be an object of charity, and he found himself too Barrayaran for the last two categories, although Betan enough not to mind them for others. A short affair with a girl from the kinky/curious category was enough. Her fascination with the peculiarities of his body made him, in the end, more self-conscious than the most open revulsion he had experienced on Barrayar, with its fierce prejudice against deformity. Anyway, after finding his sexual parts disappointingly normal, the girl had drifted off.

The affair had ended, for Miles, in a terrifying black depression that had deepened for weeks, culminating at last late one night in the third, and most secret, time the Sergeant had saved his life. He had cut Bothari twice, in their silent struggle for the knife, exerting hysterical strength against the Sergeant’s frightened caution of breaking his bones. The tall man had finally achieved a grip that held him, and held him, until he broke down at last, weeping his self-hatred into the Sergeant’s bloodied breast until exhaustion finally stilled him. The man who’d carried him as a child, before he first walked at age four, then carried him like a child to bed. Bothari treated his own wounds, and never referred to the incident again.

Miles notices four Betans arguing quietly nearby, and begins eavesdropping shamelessly.  It seems that a man named Calhoun, who has salvage rights to an obsolescent ship, is trying to get a pilot named Arde Mayhew out of it, while a Betan security woman, a shuttleport administrator, and another pilot debate what to do about it.  The pilot says that Mayhew is almost obsolete himself because of his outdated implants, and behind on his dues anyway, but he understands Arde’s desire not to leave the last ship he can actually pilot, to go out in a blaze of glory if necessary.  The administrator warns Calhoun that he’ll be charged for any traffic disruption caused by debris if his ship blows up.  Miles, taken by Mayhew’s fellow-desperate-outcast status, begins to hatch a plan, and whispers to Elena to follow his lead.

“Ah, good, Miss Bothari, you’re here,” he said loudly, as if he had just arrived. He gathered her up and marched up to the group.

He knew he confused strangers as to his age. At first glance, his height led them to underestimate it. At second, his face, slightly dark from a tendency to heavy beard growth in spite of close shaving, and prematurely set from long intimacy with pain, led them to overestimate. He’d found he could tip the balance either way at will, by a simple change of mannerisms. He summoned ten generations of warriors to his back, and produced his most austere smile.

“Good afternoon, ladies, gentlemen,” he hailed them. Four stares greeted him, variously nonplused. His urbanity almost crumpled under the onslaught, but he held the line. “I was told one of you could tell me where to find Pilot Officer Arde Mayhew.”

He introduces himself, and says that he has to discharge a debt of honour to Mayhew.  They are dubious, but Miles insists that he can talk Mayhew out of his ship if they can get him up there.  The pilot, Van, admits that they don’t have any better ideas.
Van takes Miles up in a personnel shuttle, trying to persuade Mayhew to let Miles on board.  Mayhew responds belligerently, saying that he won’t let himself be boarded.  Van tries to calm him down, telling him that a Barrayaran Lord Vorkosigan is coming up, leaving Mayhew puzzled, since he doesn’t know any Barrayarans.  They connect to Mayhew’s ship, and Miles crosses over, uneasily in the zero gravity, and finds Mayhew in the Navigation & Communications Room.

Pilot Officer Mayhew?” he called softly, and pulled himself to the door. “My name is Miles Vorkosigan, and I’m looking for—looking for—” What the devil was he looking for? Oh, well. Wing it. “I’m looking for desperate men,” he finished in style.

Mayhew is sitting in the pilot’s chair with a bottle of greenish liquor, a toggle-switched device that is probably set up to blow the ship, and a needler gun.  Miles asks about the gun, and Mayhew says he bought it on Jackson’s Whole and never tried to bring it into Beta Colony, because they’d take it away from him.  Miles asks Mayhew how he got into the situation, and Mayhew offers him a story of bad luck and injustice.  He offers Miles his bottle, and Miles takes it, considers trying to dump it out, but then samples it out of curiosity.

He barely managed not to choke it into free fall, atomized. Thick, green herbal, sweet as syrup—he nearly gagged on the sweetness—perhaps 60% pure ethanol. But what was the rest of it? It burned down his esophagus, making him feel suddenly like an animated display of the digestive system, with all the different parts picked out in colored lights. Respectfully, he wiped the mouthpiece on his sleeve and handed the bottle to its owner, who tucked it back under his arm.

Miles asks Mayhew what he plans to do next, and Mayhew says he doesn’t have any plans.  He rhapsodizes over the joys of piloting, the experiences of hyperspace.  Miles, feeling oddly energizes the drink, upbraids Mayhew for his lack of foresight, not even having tried to make any demands in exchange for the ship.  Mayhew says that this ship, the last one he’d be able to pilot, is the only thing he wants, and he can only keep it as long as he keeps awake.  Miles says that then he needs to buy out the ship, but Mayhew says his finances fell through and Calhoun outbid him.  Miles continues to share the bottle with Mayhew, and soon an idea occurs to him–to buy the ship himself and hire Mayhew to pilot it.

He contacts Calhoun on the comm and offers him some prime Barrayaran real estate in exchange for the ship.  Calhoun is not attracted by the offer, but Miles points out that the alternative is Mayhew blowing up the ship.  Calhoun asks about the land, and Miles describes it as prime farmland, wooded and rainy, and owned absolutely by Miles in his own right, no liens on it or anything.  They negotiate on the price, and process the transaction over the comconsole.

Mayhew is less enthusiastic, since he says that no matter what, whenever he leaves the ship he’ll be taken by the Mental Health Bureau.  Miles comes up with another plan, having Mayhew swear fealty to him as liege lord, which will embroil the whole mess in Barrayaran law and Miles’s diplomatic immunity.  Mayhew isn’t quite sure what he’s getting into, but he decides it’s worth a try; Miles tries to make him understand that it is a serious relationship, with obligations on both sides.  Mayhew wonders if they’ll just take Miles too, but Miles says his own liege lord, Emperor Gregor, wouldn’t take kindly to that.  After the transaction is completed, Van returns to pilot the ship back to Beta.

Van says he didn’t realize Miles was so wealthy, and Miles admits that he really will have to scramble to cover that note, since he really doesn’t want to give up that land to someone like Calhoun.  His great-grandfather had lost a lot of the family fortune speculating in jewels, wiped out by offplanet imports of synthetics, and had to sell off a lot of land near Vorkosigan Surleau, and the remaining land, near Vorkosigan Vashnoi, was destroyed by the Cetagandans and left as a big radioactive crater.  Mayhew suddenly puts the pieces together and asks Miles if that radioactive land is what he just mortgaged to Calhoun; Miles confirms it, to his delight.

Back in the shuttleport, three groups converge on them.  The first is Bothari, ruffled-looking from what must have been a strip-seach, a Betan security man, a tearful Elena, and another Betan citizen with a bruise on his face.  The other two groups are led by the shuttleport administrator and the Betan security woman.  Mayhew goes down on his knees, and Miles commands Bothari to attend as Mayhew swears his oath of fealty to Miles.  The bruised Betan accuses Elena of assaulting him, while the security woman moves to arrest Mayhew.

“I beg your pardon, Officer Brownell,” Miles interrupted her smoothly. “Pilot Officer Mayhew is now my liegeman. As his liege commander, any charges against him must be addressed to me. It will then be my duty to determine their validity and issue the orders for the appropriate punishments. He has no rights but the right to accept challenge in single combat for certain categories of slander which are a bit complicated to go into now—” Obsolete, too, since dueling was outlawed by Imperial edict, but these Betans won’t know the difference—”So unless you happen to be carrying two pairs of swords and are prepared to, say, offer an insult to Pilot Officer Mayhew’s mother, you will simply have to—ah—contain yourself.”

The legality of Mayhew’s arrest as Miles’s vassal looks liable to turn into a morass of untested interplanetary law.  Elena’s assault is referred to the Barrayaran Embassy, which specializes in obfuscating these kinds of charges through endless red tape, satisfying the Betans that they are doing something while keeping the Barrayarans from actually being charged.

“Two hours,” muttered Bothari. “We’ve only been in this bloody place two bloody hours. . . .”

Comments

And now the book really starts to get going.  This is the first great achievement of Miles Vorkosigan, really, talking his way into a spaceship through a mixture of bravado, improvisation and determination.  And a shady radioactive land deal.  And Arde Mayhew is but the first to fall under his sway…  Though I suppose at this point he also has Elena and Bothari in his, um, entourage.

It’s never quite confirmed, by the way, but I am convinced (and perhaps Bujold has confirmed it extratextually) that this is the same Mayhew who gave Cordelia a lift off the planet at the end of Shards of Honour.  That would partially explain the blighting of his career, if it had ever become generally known.  But then, wouldn’t he have had a bit more of a reaction to “Barrayaran”?  Because presumably the news story of war hero Cordelia Naismith running off to marry a Barrayaran would have made a big splash, and the name “Vorkosigan” was one to conjure with…  Well, maybe Mayhew just never connected the dots.

How much experience did Miles have in zero-gee, I wonder?  He makes reference to how zero gravity always made him regret the last thing he ate, so this wasn’t the first time.  He hasn’t gotten to start cadet training, of course, so it couldn’t be that.  Did he get to go to orbiting ships with his father?  Was it during his prior trips to Beta?  Maybe they have some kind of zero-gee fun zone that he got to visit last time.

We don’t get many details on what exactly happened with Elena and the other Betan gentleman, but presumably he made what was, on Beta, a harmless proposition to her, and she, in her Barrayanness, perceived it as improper, rude, and outright horrible, and reacted as she would have had a Barrayaran made made such a proposition.  Which means she was unable to overcome her cultural conditioning long enough to internalize Miles’s earlier advice about just refusing politely.  She wants to escape from Barrayar, but she’s got a long way to go yet.

Chapter Six

Miles arrives at his grandmother Naismith’s apartment with Elena, Bothari and Mayhew, still full of energy while the others are tired.  Mayhew is packed off to sleep in a spare bedroom, while the rest have supper.  Mrs. Naismith is taken with Elena, who is shy at meeting Cordelia’s mother.  Miles wonders if Elena might eventually be willing to see him as a man and not just a Vor.  His grandmother asks him if he can help one of her neighbours–Mr. Hathaway, from the recycling centre–with a problem that seems to require a Barrayaran touch.

Hathaway turns out to have a Barrayaran squatter in the recycling centre, an enclosed, domed area full of assorted junk.  The Barrayaran refuses to go a proper Shelter, and instead insists of burning precious wood for fires.  As they find him, he is cooking a fish, but he pulls out a homemade but sharp knife as they draw near.  Miles and Bothari note the man’s knife stance as that of a trained soldier, Barrayaran indeed.  Hathaway addresses the man as “Baz”, introducing his visitors as Barrayarans after other conversational gambits fail, which gets Baz’s attention immediately.

When Miles steps forward, Baz accuses him of not being Barrayaran; Miles says he’s half-Betan.  He asks Baz if he needs help getting home, which Baz refuses.  Hathaway asks Baz where he got the fish, and Baz tells him it was from a fountain; Hathaway is revolted, saying that’s part of the zoo exhibits, and he can get free food anytime he wants if he just goes to a Shelter and gets himself an identity card.  Miles offers to share Mayhew’s bottle of green liquor with Baz; Baz offers Miles some fish, and after seeing Hathaway’s revulsion at the idea, Miles accepts.  He refuses on Bothari’s behalf, saying he’s on duty; Baz realizes this means he’s a bodyguard, and so Miles is probably Vor.

Miles says that Beta must be a hard place to live homeless in, and Baz agrees; Miles suggests Baz go to the Barrayaran Embassy and see if they can get him a ride home, and Baz refuses, vehemently.  He says he’ll find some work soon, and find somewhere else to ship off to.

The pieces were falling into place. “Baz doesn’t want to register anywhere,” Miles explained to Hathaway, coolly didactic. “Up until now, Baz is something I thought impossible on Beta Colony. He’s a man who isn’t here. He’s passed across the information network without a blip. He never arrived—never passed through Customs, and I’ll bet that was one hell of a neat trick—as far as the computers are concerned, has not eaten, or slept, or purchased—or Registered, or been Carded—and he would rather starve than do so.”

“For pity’s sake, why?” asked Hathaway.

“Deserter,” commented Bothari laconically from above. “I’ve seen the look.”

Baz springs to his feet, accusing Miles of being Service Security, but Miles says he’s “nobody” too, just not as good at it.  Miles correctly guesses that Baz was a Lieutenant, and Baz admits that his defection was “in the heat”, technically.  Miles finds it hard to comprehend why someone would leave the service he wants to badly to get into.  He tells Hathaway that the penalty for this back on Barrayar is quartering–not being given lodging, as Hathaway assumes, but being torn into four pieces.

Baz tells Miles to go away, if he’s not Security, but Miles says that he’s probably drawn attention to Baz just by meeting with him, and feels that this is a disservice.  Baz wonders what Miles has done to get Imperial Security after him, but Miles keeps quiet, not wanting him to know how important Miles really is.  He asks about Baz’s full name (Baz Jesek), skills, and upon discovering he was an engineer on jump ships, asks if he knows about RG freighters.  Miles says he’s getting a crew together to make a run with his ship; Baz says he’s in if it goes somewhere that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Barrayar.

“My lord,” Bothari’s voice was edged with agitation, “you’re not considering harboring this deserter?”

“Well . . .” Miles voice was mild. “Technically, I don’t know he’s a deserter. I’ve merely heard some allegations.”

“He admitted it.”

“Bravado, perhaps. Inverted snobbery.”

Bothari warns him about the fate of Lord Vorloupulous; when Hathaway asks for details, Miles tells him the story.  When Emperor Dorca Vorbarra was centralizing the government, he forbade the Counts to have private armies, so Lord Vorloupulous hired 2000 “cooks”, armed them with butcher’s knives, and send them to attack his enemies.  He was judged to have violated the spirit of the law while keeping its letter, which is what Bothari is warning Miles about, and sentenced to death by exposure.  Luckily for him, the Cetagandans attacked, and Vorbarra suspended his sentence to help fight, and Vorloupolous died in the war.

Miles offers Baz a berth on Mayhew’s ship, if he can keep himself hidden for two more days and then turn up at the shuttleport, telling Baz to call him “Mr. Naismith”.  Miles, Bothari and Hathaway withdraw, and Baz himself ghosts off toward another exit.

Miles became conscious of a profound frown from Sergeant Bothari. He smiled wryly, and kicked over a control casing from some junked industrial robot, lying skeletally athwart a mound of other rubble. “Would you have had me turn him in?” he asked softly. “But you’re Service to the bone, I suppose you would. So would my father, I guess—he’s so all-fired stringent about the law, no matter how ghastly the consequences.”

Bothari grew still. “Not—always, my lord.” He retreated into a suddenly neutral silence.

That night, at his grandmother’s, Miles stays up late, not yet sleepy; Elena comes upon him after a late-night bathroom trip and asks what he’s doing.  He is searching for a cargo on his grandmother’s comconsole, and thinks he’s found one.  It’s a shipment of “agricultural equipment” bound for a country named Felice, on the planet of Tau Verde IV.  It promises to be profitable, which is good, because he’s underestimated the costs of running his ship, and it’s ready to ship immediately.

Elena wonders why it hasn’t been snapped up already, what the catch is.  Miles tells her that Felice is involved in a planetary war, and so the “equipment” is likely weapons, and there’s a mercenary fleet blockading the wormhole.  There’s a man escorting the cargo, another tip-off, and Miles plans to meet with him the next day.

Comments

I’ve always had a soft spot for the story of the charismatic leader who recruits a band of misfits and welds them into a team.  (Not that that’s always enough to guarantee anything, but it’s a good start.)  So Baz Jesek becomes the next of Miles’s intrepid band, with his potentially intriguing and mysterious history and hopes of redemption.

It’s kind of a shame, in a way, that the actual arrival at Miles’s grandmother at the beginning of the chapter is so truncated.  The transition seems a bit awkward, from having dinner (and mooning over Elena) to the introduction of the neighbour and suddenly going with him to meet his mysterious Barrayaran squatter.  It almost would have been better to start the chapter at the recycling centre, and then backfill to fill in what happened with Mrs. Naismith.  After all, visiting her was the ostensible purpose for the trip to Beta Colony, but she kind of gets left by the wayside.  I guess to Miles it was never the real reason for the trip, and with the callousness of the young he just leaves the poor old lady in the lurch.  Inconsiderate clod.

Also, another intriguing hint at Bothari’s own mysterious (to Miles, at least, and anyone who hasn’t read the Cordelia books) past.  Does Miles unwittingly disarm Bothari’s righteous anger at the selfishness of the deserter by reminding him of his father’s own mercy at Bothari’s crimes?  Seems like it.

Finally, we have the only slightly awkward insertion of the entertaining story of Lord Vorloupolous and his 2000 cooks.  I had missed before, I think, that Bothari mentions it not to warn Miles against building up his own private army (which is, of course, Vorloupolous’s real crime), but to warn Miles that Barrayaran law apparently has ample precedent for prosecuting those who violate the spirit of the law while adhering to its letter.  Because, of course, there’s a vey real reason for Bujold to mention the law against private armies early in the book…


Oh boy, it’s really getting good now.  We’re getting to see Miles in his element, improvising in the face of danger and talking people into stuff.  Like his mother, he’s got a bit of the “fountain of honour” thing going for him, or, as he tells Baz Jesek, “a fondness for giving second chances”.  Mainly because he wants a second chance himself, and so he empathizes with them, and wants to help them out in a way he wishes somebody could help him.  There’s also a lot of “not realizing what he’s getting into”, but that may be as much of a teenager thing as a Miles Vorkosigan thing.

Anyway, two more chapters in another week, and that’s when the story really starts.  See you all then…

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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.”

Comments

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.

Comments

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.

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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.

Comments

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.

Comments

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…

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