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Posts Tagged ‘Corbeau’

Time is winding down, and eventually, like now, I’m going to have to give up waiting for inspiration to strike and give you another one of those dull and boring introductions.  So here it is.  Welcome to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Again.  Aren’t you glad you came back?  About now is when I hope that Scott Adams is right and nobody reads introductions, because I just have the same stuff to say over again.  Lois McMaster Bujold wrote a bunch of science fiction books in a sort of series, most of them having to do with a guy named Miles Vorkosigan, and I liked them so much I bought the company I read them over and over and then decided to be sneaky and read them over slowly, synopsizing them on a blog for random people on the Internet to read.  And this is it.  Or it will be soon.  Not in short choppy sentences like these ones, I’ll tell you.  I write a big long run-on sentence, and then I splice it to another one with a semicolon.  Want to see?  Well, as it happens I did a couple more chapters of Diplomatic Immunity, one of those Vorkosigan books I was talking about, and I’m going to paste it in below and you can see for yourself.

Chapter Sixteen

Miles imagines that the quaddies will stall as much as they can on the delivery of a pilot, but with the infection in his bloodstream, time is not on his side.  He calls Ekaterin, who turns out to be in the tactics room with Vorpatril, and so is up to date on current events.  He makes sure that she knows the truth about Bel’s situation, and asks her to use her judgement how much to relay to Nicol; Ekaterin says she thinks that Nicol can handle, and deserves, the whole truth.  He proceeds to let her know about the booby trap which has probably led him to be infected too; in the background he can hear Admiral Vorpatril cursing at the news.

He began again. “I’m . . . I’m sorry that . . . I wanted to give you—this wasn’t what I—I never wanted to bring you grief—”

“Miles. Stop that babbling at once.”

“Oh . . . uh, yes?”

Her voice sharpened. “If you die on me out here, I will not be grieved, I will be pissed. This is all very fine, love, but may I point out that you don’t have time to indulge in angst right now. You’re the man who used to rescue hostages for a living. You are not allowed to not get out of this one. So stop worrying about me and start paying attention to what you are doing. Are you listening to me, Miles Vorkosigan? Don’t you dare die! I won’t have it!”

That seemed definitive. Despite everything, he grinned. “Yes, dear,” he sang back meekly, heartened. This woman’s Vor ancestoresses had defended bastions in war, oh, yes.

He bids her farewell, carefully ignoring the anguish underlying her words, and decides he needs to get on with his hostage rescue.  It occurs to him to wonder whether the ba even knows about his former career as Admiral Naismith, or if it just thinks he’s some kind of diplomat, potentially out of his depth.  It doesn’t know which one of them may have fallen prey to its trap, either.  He wanders the infirmary, trying to determine which of the supplies there might be put to a more interesting usage.

He makes that the Clogston is ready to put Bel into a bod-pod in case of a loss of pressure, and shuts their inner door in case the automatic systems don’t cut in.  Clogston says they almost have a second blood filter ready for him, and Miles noncommittally asks them to let him know when it’s ready, though he doesn’t plan to tie himself down to it just yet.  He tries to determine what areas of the ship the ba can monitor from Nav/Com, and what its blind spots are.  If he takes out too many of its internal monitors, is it likely to panic and ram the station?

Miles realizes then that the ba is not acting very much like a professional agent, which would be destroying evidence and either trying to make it to safe or neutral ground, or just surrendering and waiting to be bailed out by their government–or, in extremis, committing suicide.  While it’s an interesting conclusion, it doesn’t help make the ba’s actions any more predictable.

Roic calls Miles on his wristcom channel; he says he’s switched into a work suit, and took the opportunity to put his own wristcom into his helmet.  He says he’s found some a cutter and some other nice tools, if he can get them to where Miles is; Miles tells him to cut his way through the decks to try to avoid cameras on the airseal doors.  Roic cuts his way through to the middle deck, and, by tapping on his ceiling, manages to find a panel close to Miles.  He cuts a hole through it and passes a small work suit through to Miles, who dons it hurriedly, taping his own wristcom into the helmet and setting the suit temperature as low as he can stand, and then jumps down to join Roic.

They sneak down to Solian’s office, where Miles is sure they can access as many of the monitors as the ba can; he checks them quickly and confirms that the ba couldn’t have seen them enter the office.  Miles considers how best to make a surprise attack on the ba, cutting through half a dozen bulkheads not seeming very feasible.  His vision is beginning to blur, and he’s shivering; Roic says that the admiral told him that he’s got the same thing that Thorne had.  He says he should’ve been the one to run the remote controls, or that Miles should have brought Jankowski instead.

Vorpatril interrupts to tell them, indignantly, that the quaddies seem to have caved and sent over a jump pilot; Miles wonders who they found to volunteer, and suspects that the quaddies have some kind of plan.  Vorpatril says that the quaddies cut him out of the loop, while he and Watts were arguing over whose strike team should get to go in.  One of the airlocks begins to activate, and Miles watches the vid as a naked man with pilot implants comes on board–Dmitri Corbeau.  Over the speakers, the ba forces Corbeau to show the contents of his mouth to its camera, and any other places he might be hiding anything; then it tells him to release the pod to drift away, and gives him instructions to go through the doors it opens for him.

Vorpatril wonders why the hell the quaddies sent Corbeau, and suggests he may be trying to desert; Miles considers it unlikely, but he wonders just who holds Corbeau’s loyalties right now.  Miles just spots three figures–Greenlaw and the other two quaddies on the ship–making their escape through one of the other airlocks while the ba’s attention is thus diverted.  Miles approves, meaning that the ship now contains fewer hostages, civilians, and non-Barrayarans.  They’re running out of time to insert a strike force, which should be done before the ship starts to move.

Miles finally manages to get a view of Nav/Com, but with no sound.  He sees the ba inject Corbeau with a hypospray of something, and wonders if it’s a drug, perhaps one with an antidote, one of his diseases, or an inoculation, or just a bluff; he suspects the latter, but it does seem to reduce the likelihood that Corbeau is colluding with the ba.

Over his wrist com, muffled as from a distance, Miles heard a sudden, startling bellow from Admiral Vorpatril: “What? That’s impossible. Have they gone mad? Not now . . .”

After a few more moments passed without further enlightenment, he murmured, “Um, Ekaterin? Are you still there?”

Her breath drew in. “Yes.”

“What’s going on?”

“Admiral Vorpatril was called away by his communications officer. Some sort of priority message from Sector Five headquarters just arrived. It seems to be something very urgent.”

Corbeau and the ba are going through preflight checks; Corbeau seems to be explaining his every move carefully, partly to defuse the ba’s suspicions, but also perhaps to stall.  Vorpatril returns to tell him that he’s been ordered to bring his ships to a rendezvous near Marilac at maximum speed.  Since one of the lesser-known purposes of the Komarran trade fleet escorts is to provide an innocuous way to keep Barrayaran ships deployed through the wormhole nexus, this makes perfect sense–but only in a dire emergency.

Marilac is, of course, a neighbour of the Cetagandan Empire, and Barrayaran fleets mustering there means that they’re intending to offer a threat to the Cetagandans.  Relations with the Cetagandans must have been dropping quite precipitously…and given Gregor’s earlier comment, it may very well have something to do with the Cetagandan ship Gupta and his friends encountered near Rho Ceta.  Miles’s mind works furiously as he wonders if that ship was actually sent to crash into the sun.  It must have been the annual ship sent out from the capital with the year’s crop of haut babies–and the ba who took those babies must be a renegade, not an agent at all.

“The crime isn’t murder,” Miles whispered, his eyes widening. “The crime is kidnapping.”

The murders had come subsequently, in an increasingly panicked cascade, as the ba, with good reason, attempted to bury its trail. Well, Guppy and his friends had surely been planned to die, as eyewitnesses to the fact that one person had not gone down with the rest on the doomed ship. A ship hijacked, if briefly, before its destruction—all the best hijackings were inside jobs, oh, yes. The Cetagandan government must be going insane over this.

“My lord, are you all right—?”

Ekaterin’s voice, in a fierce whisper: “No, don’t interrupt him. He’s thinking. He just makes those funny leaking noises when he’s thinking.”

As far as the Cetagandans could tell, the ship just disappeared on its way to Rho Ceta, and the only sign of what happened to it is Gupta.  And Gupta, unfortunately, led the trail straight to Komarr, to the Barrayaran Empire.  Miles uses the Emperor’s Voice to countermand the admiral’s orders, to Vorpatril’s relief; then, to his consternation, he orders all the records from the past twenty-four hours, and Gupta’s interrogation if possible, sent, on clear channel, to the Imperial Residence on Barrayar, as well as ImpSec HQ on Barrayar, ImpSec Galactic Affairs on Komarr, and to ghem-General Dag Benin on Eta Ceta (with the personal note “by Rian’s hair this one’s real, Dag”).

Vorpatril protests strongly, noting that Miles must have deduced that they’re on the verge of war with the Cetagandans, and asks Ekaterin if he’s started hallucinated or something; Ekaterin tells him that Miles just needs to “unpack” his reasoning a little more.  Miles explains that the ba is a criminal, who hijacked a ship, robbed it of the year’s crop of haut-babies, and disposed of it, resulting in the death of a planetary consort–and then shipped it out on a ship belonging to the Barrayaran Empress’s family, so the Cetagandans must be convinced of the Barrayaran’s complicity.  Only Gupta’s survival has ruined its plans, though Miles isn’t sure yet what those plans are, what, or who, the ba wanted the fetuses for in the first place.

Sealer Greenlaw’s voice breaks into the communication then, reporting that they’re back on board Graf Station.  She urges him to keep Vorpatril from launching any kind of strike force, since it’s been confirmed that the ba has a deadman switch on board to trigger the biohazard on the station.  She says that Corbeau had worked out a code, where he could communicate simple messages by blinking the Idris‘s running lights, and this was the word they got from him.  They’re searching for the bomb, but she doesn’t have high hopes for finding it when they don’t even know precisely what they’re looking for.  Vorpatril informs her that the Lord Auditor has been infected himself; Greenlaw expresses her sympathy, but Miles says he’s not dead yet, just before opening up his faceplate to vomit on the floor.

As Greenlaw and Vorpatril argue back and forth, Miles inspects Nav/Com, and finds a freezer case which must hold the ba’s samples.  He asks Greenlaw if they can signal back to Corbeau at all; Greenlaw confirms that they can, through a navigation buoy, and Miles asks them to tell him to open all the airseal doors in the central nacelle, and if possible kill the security cameras.  Miles then cuts off his voice feed and talks to Roic directly through helmet contact; he says that Greenlaw will never give approval for a strike force, but he thinks the ba will likely set off the bomb before leaving the system even if they cooperate.

He suggests that the two of them head for Nav/Com, where he will arrange a distraction for the ba while Roic jumps it.  Roic’s suit should hold off any weapon fire for long enough, and he assures Roic that the ba will not target Miles himself.  As long as Roic grabs its hands and keeps it from operate the deadman switch, they should be okay.  He spots the video feeds for the central nacelle going dark, and they prepare to move; he can barely hear, in the comlink, Ekaterin trying to reassure Vorpatril that Miles is trying something, and Clogston breaking in to inform them that Miles’s blood filter is ready.

Roic and Miles jog down the nacelle’s corridor, Miles feeling distinctly ill and wondering if he’s liable to have a seizure anytime soon.  The doors open for them just fine, until they reach the door to Nav/Com itself–which proves to have been cut open, not left unlocked, which Miles finds mildly reassuring.  Miles reassures Roic that he’s glad he didn’t bring Jankowksi, then lunges inside as soon as Roic opens the door for him.  He runs for the freezer case and holds it in front of him; as the ba is turning, in surprise and reaction, Miles finds it’s unlocked, and flips it open.  Sampling needles fly into the air and fall to the deck, many of them shattering; the ba moves towards him, hands extended in disbelief, and Roic grabs its wrists and lifts it up into the air.  Miles calls for Vorpatril to send in reinforcements, in biotainer suits, then he opens his faceplate to vomit again, at length.

It’s over. Can I please die now?

Except that it wasn’t over, not nearly. Greenlaw had played for fifty thousand lives. Now it was Miles’s turn to play for fifty million.

Comments

We finally get some more Ekaterin in this chapter, at least remotely.  She gets to bolster Miles’s sagging spirits, as well as helping interpret for him when his mind is racing past the comprehension of lesser mortals.  What would have happened if Vorpatril had concluded that Miles was delirious?  At what point can you safely stop obeying the orders of the Emperor’s Voice?  I suppose at about the time that people stopped obeying Mad Emperor Yuri, or the king that Jaime Lannister killed.  There might be no good choice, if you thought that an Imperial Auditor had defected to the enemy…

But Miles finally figures out most of what’s going on here, what may have been screamingly obvious to some after finding out about the odd departure trajectory of the Cetagandan ship off Rho Ceta.  The motivations of the ba (mostly referred to as such, no longer as Dubauer that much) are still a little obscure, but perhaps we’ll find out more about that later.

Corbeau’s appearance was kind of an “Oh, yeah!” kind of moment.  As in, here’s a somewhat-neglected character, who happens to be a pilot, so of course, who else could the author send in at that point?  It gives him some character redemption, and makes him less of a pouty lovesick screwup.  Roic gets some good action too, first cutting his way back to Miles, and then actually taking down the ba, or at least holding him at bay.

Chapter Seventeen

Two men from Vorpatril’s strike force carry Miles back to the infirmary, almost falling through the hole Roic had cut in the floor, followed by Roic, carrying the ba’s remote trigger, Corbeau, and the ba, bound to a float pallet.  Clogston declares the entire ship a Class Three Biocontamination Zone, so they don’t need to all crowd into the infirmary.  The ba is moved into the second ward, where it will be interrogated about the location of the bomb on Graf Station; since fast-penta is unlikely to work on it, it will probably require Barrayaran-style interrogation techniques, which the quaddies are unlikely to approve of.

Miles asks how Bel is doing, and Clogston says it seems to be delirious, asking for the Admiral; Miles immediately realizes it means Admiral Naismith, a.k.a. him, and hurries to its side.  Bel doesn’t seem to be in great shape, and keeps mumbling about “balla”.

Miles elbowed to the edge of Bel’s bunk to put himself in Bel’s line of sight, staring down at the herm in wild hope. Bel’s head jerked. The eyelids flickered up; the eyes widened. The blue lips tried to move again. Bel licked them, took a long inhalation, and tried once more. “Adm’ral! Portent. ‘S basti’d hid it in the balla. Tol’ me. Sadist’c basti’d.”

“Still going on about Admiral Vorpatril,” Clogston muttered in dismay.

“Not Admiral Vorpatril. Me,” breathed Miles. Did that witty mind still exist, in the bunker of its brain? Bel’s eyes were open, shifting to try to focus on him, as if Miles’s image wavered and blurred in the herm’s sight.

Bel knew a portent. No. Bel was trying to say something important. Bel wrestled death for the possession of its own mouth to try to get the message out. Balla? Ballistic? Balalaika? No—ballet!

Miles confirms that Bel is trying to say that the bomb is in the Minchenko Auditorium, probably hidden in the lights, and Bel adds that the device is likely homemade, so they should check for what Dubauer may have purchased on the station.  Miles relays this information to Sealer Greenlaw, though he notes that the ba could have been planting false information, but this gives her and Venn something to look for.  Miles calms Bel down with reassurances about Nicol and the vid cube of their potential children, and wonders if he’ll look that bad in a few hours.

He finally allows himself to be put on a hospital bed, though he demands a secured comconsole, and to keep his comlink.  He’s hooked up to the blood filter, though he finds the sensation of cold blood re-entering his body intensely unpleasant.  He tells Roic to give the trigger device to the bomb disposal tech when he arrives, then to supervise the ba’s interrogation.  He also tells Roic to make sure some qualified medical personnel go to check on the replicators and see that they’re kept alive and well, which he emphasizes is extremely important.  He wonders if they’ve been given the same infection as he and Bel, but he suspects that that wasn’t quite part of the ba’s instincts.

Roic returns in a few minutes to report that the ba seems to be mostly raving incoherently, and its physical condition is deteriorating as well; Miles says that it must be kept alive, as proof for the Cetagandans, and also asks if he can get any confirmation on the device’s placement in Minchenko Auditorium.  Roic says he’ll also tell the physicians about Miles’s seizures, since Miles hasn’t gotten around to that yet.

Miles’s comconsole arrives and he makes contact with Admiral Vorpatril; he tells the admiral to prepare a fast ship to carry him, Thorne, the ba, Gupta if possible, the thousand replicators, and guards and medical staff.  Ekaterin insists on coming along too, but Miles says she should follow in _Kestrel_ so as to stay out of medical quarantine.  He tells the admiral to start negotiating their passage right away, to Rho Ceta.

Vorpatril’s head jerked back in startlement. “If the orders I received from Sector Five HQ mean what we think, you’ll hardly get passage there. Reception by plasma fire and fusion shells the moment you pop out of the wormhole, would be what I’d expect.”

Unpack, Miles,” Ekaterin’s voice drifted in.

He grinned briefly at the familiar exasperation in her voice. “By the time we arrive there, I will have arranged our clearances with the Cetagandan Empire.” I hope. Or else they were all going to be in more trouble than Miles ever wanted to imagine. “Barrayar is bringing their kidnapped haut babies back to them. On the end of a long stick. I get to be the stick.”

He instructs Vorpatril to begin loading the cargo right away, and they will depart as soon as everybody is aboard.  Ekaterin says she’ll send over his seizure stimulator as soon as she’s back on the Kestrel, and they bid farewell through their holographic images.  Miles tries to fight off unpleasant images of his impending deliquescence and war between two empires, trying to cheer himself up with images of the medtechs trying to deal with a thousand squalling haut infants.

He is woken up from nightmares by a call from Sealer Greenlaw, who tells him, in vast relief, that they found the device in the auditorium.  He would have only had material for the one, based on his purchases, but it was a simple balloon filled with the contaminants, painted to camouflage it, with the remote trigger and another one set to be triggered by high-decibel sound.  Miles says it must have been set up after Gupta’s attack, when it realized that Cetagandans were likely on its trail, though its motivation is unclear–perhaps merely petty revenge.

Miles says they will need to leave soon, and mentions the orders from home, and the tensions with Cetaganda, and his plan to defuse it by bringing the evidence to them.  He notes that the ba, and Gupta, both committed crimes in Barrayaran and Cetagandan space before reaching quaddiespace, so submits that they have prior claim, not to mention that their very presence might be hazardous.  Greenlaw asks about their fines.

“Let . . . on my authority, I am willing to transfer of ownership of the _Idris_ to Graf Station, in lieu of all fines and expenses.” He added prudently, “As is.”

Her eyes sprang wide. She said indignantly, “The ship’s contaminated.”

“Yes. So we can’t take it anywhere anyway. Cleaning it up could be a nice little training exercise for your biocontrol people.” He decided not to mention the holes. “Even with that expense, you’ll come out ahead. I’m afraid the passengers’ insurance will have to eat the value of any of their cargo that can’t be cleared. But I’m really hopeful that most of it will not need to be quarantined. And you can let the rest of the fleet go.”

“And your men in our detention cells?”

“You let one of them out. Are you sorry? Can you not allow Lieutenant Corbeau’s courage to redeem his comrades? That has to be one of the bravest acts I’ve ever witnessed, him walking naked and knowing into horror to save Graf Station.”

Greenlaw points out that Miles himself went after the ba, and Miles admits he’s got a bit of a gift for timing.  He also asks to bring Bel Thorne with him, who he feels responsible for, as part of his “work gang”, in the hopes that the haut women will be able to save him when they get to Cetagandan space.  Greenlaw accedes to his requests, though she reserves the right to levy further charges after they’ve assessed the _Idris_, which the Barrayarans can send someone else to work out.

Miles asks Clogston about Corbeau, and learns that the hypospray was a bluff after all.  Miles asks to see him, and Clogston concedes that Miles and Bel don’t seem to be directly contagious, except possibly through exchange of bodily fluids; Miles tries to shrug off visions of a future where he’s never fully cured, and never able to safely touch his wife again.  Corbeau comes in, and Miles thanks him for his heroic gesture; Corbeau says he did it for Garnet Five and the quaddies, but Miles says that he’ll doubtless get medals from other people if they want to.

Corbeau asks what Miles wants of him, and Miles says that since he’s forced to leave quaddiespace before completing his diplomatic goals, he’d like to leave someone behind as a full Barrayaran consul.  Someone who seems to like quaddies, and is willing to spend a couple of years away from home–someone like Corbeau himself; Miles doesn’t think that Vorpatril would object to having Corbeau taking off his hands.  Corbeau protests that he doesn’t have any training or experience for it, and Miles says that he has managed to make it through pilot training, which shows a certain amount of dedication, and he’ll be able to hire staff to assist him.  After two years, of course, he can muster out and stay in Quaddiespace if he desires.  Corbeau agrees to think about it, at least, and Miles dismisses him, willing to settle for that.

Miles immediately calls Ekaterin, who is about to leave the Prince Xav, and says they’re almost ready to leave Quaddiespace.  He asks her to give Garnet Five a call and pitch the consul idea to her, so that hopefully she can convince Corbeau to accept.  Thinking of Bel, he asks her to ask Nicol if she’d like to come along, perhaps on the Kestrel; the trip is unlikely to be fun for either him or Bel, and even if the haut can cure the infection, there will likely be a long convalescence.

Miles drowses for a while, reluctant to give way fully to sleep in case he never emerges.  First Bel, then himself, are evacuated from the Idris; on his way out, one of the officers confirms that they found Solian’s remains in a supposedly-empty bod-pod, which Miles tells him to bring along as further evidence.

Comments

Here begins the denouement, though things were knotted tightly enough that even this stage of it is still fairly tense.  The problem of the ba’s bio-bomb is settled, starting with Bel’s barely-coherent intelligence and relayed to Greenlaw and the capable quaddies.  We also have to tie up the problems we’re given at the outset, the detained Barrayarans and the diplomatic kerfuffle with the quaddies; I think Greenlaw gives in and accepts Miles’s offer at least partly because she’s tired of arguing with Miles, who has a lot of appealing logic on his side.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a stickler for counting diplomatic coup when there’s a war at stake, and possible involuntary involvement in it.  The literally tainted offer of the Idris is somewhat amusing, but I’m presuming that its original value is more than adequate for the fines that the Brrayarans have run up, however much Greenlaw hedges her bets about it.

Setting up Corbeau as a Barrayaran consul is a little more questionable, given Corbeau’s near-total lack of qualifications for it, whatever Miles says; I guess “likes quaddies”, as well as being a hero, will have to do for now.  At least he’s probably a step up from a part-time worker who handles paperwork for Cetagandans as well as Barrayarans (and she’ll probably still be on call).  One wonders if the position does continue after Corbeau’s mustering-out…

I can’t help but think that Miles having a seizure would be far from a good idea with the parasites in his bloodstream, both of them stressing out his system.  At least the parasites are supposed to stay clear of the brain, but still, it might have some kind of unsalutary effect on his body temperature, if nothing else.  The necessity for keeping track of the seizures must have been a bit of a pain for the author once it was introduced, because it has to come up every once in a while.  One wonders if the Cetagandans could have cured the disorder, but I suppose that even offering it would be considered a bit too much of a temptation for an Imperial Auditor, since it’d be viewed as a bribe, and it may even have been one.  For now he’s just got to live with it.

I’m always a little taken aback when a mention is made of the holographic display of a comconsole.  At some point everyone was certain that holographic displays were going to be the way of the future, but somehow they haven’t managed to manifest yet, except through special effects trickery, and it’s beginning to seem like they’re not going to.  Of course, ten years ago everyone said that picture phones were just never going pan out, too, and now people Skype all the time, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about.  In any case, I keep forgetting whether comconsoles are supposed to display holograms or use screens, or both, or either, depending on the model, and in general I just picture screens unless actually informed otherwise…


Only two chapters left–well, one and an epilogue–which is more denouement than I was guessing at last week.  I have a concert to go to next Wednesday, so with any luck I’ll get it done ahead of time and schedule it to go out a little early, and without luck I’ll finish it up on Thursday or something.  After that will be the usual week off, and then I guess it’ll be time for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which will be interesting, as a book I’ve only read once…

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

Chapter Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d have thought you’d love it.”

“I’d have thought that too.”

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

Chapter Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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


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

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