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Posts Tagged ‘Desplains’

Here are we, all gathered together!  For what purpose?  It is for the celebration of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that thing which is for the readings of the books of Lois McMaster Bujold, and her saga of the Vorkosigans!  You must be thinking, what is these books?  Well, there are books about the Vorkosigans, many such books, and I have read them all, more than once.  Except maybe for one or two, like the current one, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which doesn’t even have that many Vorkosigans in it, though Captain Ivan Xav Vorpatril, so he is called, is a good friend of Vorkosigans from many books.  So here he is, with his new wife, and her relatives, who don’t seem to like him so much, but meanwhile there is another plot starting, with a hidden Maguffin…

Chapter Fifteen

Ivan gets to work somewhat the worse for his shortage of sleep; a clerk at his desk notifies Desplains as soon as he arrives, and Desplains summons him right in.  Desplains has an ImpSec Captain named Raudsepp in his office, and does not seem happy about it; apparently Raudsepp wants to know if he knew, when he approved Ivan’s marriage, the exact nature of Lady Vorpatril’s relatives.  Ivan said that they all thought her family were dead at that point, and were very pleasantly surprised to find out otherwise.  He asks Raudsepp what his interest is, and Raudsepp says that he’d been in charge of Tej’s security, and everything was relatively quiet until the Baron and his family turned up out of nowhere.

Raudsepp’s brows tightened.  “My heatened memo to Galactic Affairs-Komarr crossed in the tightbeam stream with an urgent heads-up from Captain Morozov, warning us of the party’s impending arrival, so it’s good to know that they weren’t entirely asleep out there.  If the alert had arrived six hours ahead of the event instead of six house behind it, it might have helped.  Somewhat.  And so my routine physical security issue has turned into a completely unassessed political security issue.  As I expect my assessment to be requested very soon, it behooves me to make one.”

He asks Ivan why he signed them out of Customs, and Ivan said they looked tired and in need of some rest to recover from jump-lag and bureaucrats.  Ivan says they’re probably here to pick up Tej and Rish, and belatedly realizes that he’s not actually to happy about that prospect–for Tej, at least.  He says that Raudsepp must have the information from Customs and from Zumboti, but Raudsepp says that Ivan’s been involved in the affair for much longer.  Ivan is about to tell him about By, but decides that he needs to check on whether he should be doing that–By’s in Domestic Affairs, and a high-up undercover operative, and someone in Galactic Affairs might not be cleared to know about him.  Raudsepp gives him a comconsole card with instructions to report anything suspicious; Ivan isn’t sure about spying on his in-laws, but Raudsepp reminds him that he did swear responsibility for them.

As a Vor lord.  Not as a military officer.  Different chain of command.  Oh, crap, that sounded just like one of Miles’s arguments, didn’t it.  Ivan knew he was on thin ice if he’d started channeling his cousin.

Raudsepp goes on to recommend that, given Ivan’s high and sensitive position in Ops, under the circumstances he may want to consider taking some personal leave, for a “family emergency”.  Ivan reacts poorly to this slur on his loyalty, and Raudsepp throws the matter to Desplains, who temporizes and dismisses Raudsepp.  After the ImpSec officer leaves, Desplains asks Ivan if he thinks he’s been compromised; when Ivan says he’s not sure, Desplains says he might as well go back to work–after he’s called his mother, at least.  Called her back, that is.
Ivan hurries back to reclaim his desk and calls his mother right away, informing her that he’s had a busy night.  She and Illyan had received Morozov’s communiqué, forwarded by General Allegre, and then got a personal update from Byerly.  Ivan said he had his hands full, and tells her that Tej and Rish seem to be overjoyed to have their family back; his mother reminds him that he should know exactly how that feels from personal experience.

 The panic simmering at the back of his brain seeped out.  In a suddenly smaller voice, he said, “They, uh…seem to have come here with some idea of picking up Tej and Rish.  And taking them away.”

Mamere looked back at him.  “And how do you feel about that, Ivan?”

A rather long silence fell, before he managed, “Very strange.”

Lady Alys’s dark brows quirked.  “Well, that’s something, I suppose.”

She says she’ll have to invite them all to dinner to get acquainted; if they’re all tired right now, they should be awake and ready for food by evening.  She says she’ll send a car, and Ivan points out that it’ll need to be a large one, given the size of the group; she reminds him that she’s planned larger events on shorter notice.  She is including Byerly, too; Ivan asks her not to invite Miles, and she says he’s still on Sergyar in any case.

Ivan tells her about Raudsepp’s visit to his commander, and his concern over whether Domestic Affairs and Galactic Affairs are keeping things from each other.  Simon Illyan pokes his head in to encourage Ivan to talk to Guy Allegre and find out whether there’s a problem or not, though he also applauds Raudsepp for having the guys to face up to an Admiral in the first place.  Lady Alys agrees with Simon’s suggestion, and says she’ll invite Tej and Rish, and Christos will let him know what the plans are for transportation.

Reluctantly, Ivan calls Guy Allegre, who first tells him about a possible opening on the fast courier, then asks if his plans have changed in reference to recent events.  Ivan says that it’s all up in the air, and then tells him about the possible problem with Byerly and Raudsepp, and Illyan’s recommendation; Allegre agrees that Raudsepp should be briefed, and says that Vorrutyer may have been taking too much on lately.  He asks after Illyan, and Ivan says he’s been in good health, though hasn’t really found any new hobbies.  Allegre says that they haven’t been keeping in touch, which is commendable in that Illyan has been kibitzing him at all; his disability has been distancing him anyone who might think to put him to work, somewhat like Count Vorkosigan’s removal to Sergyar.  He even suggests Illyan consider visiting Sergyar at some point, before bidding Ivan farewell.

Rish takes the younger Arquas on a walking tour of the neighbourhood, while Tej goes to gather up her parents and grandmother; they both plan to brief the newcomers about Barrayar as much as possible.  Tej finds the grandmother and parents poring over a city map; her grandmother can’t find whatever it is she’s looking for.  The Baronne asks Tej about the early pickup they’d asked for, and Tej says that Christos will happily drive them through the older parts of the city, someplace he doesn’t get to visit very often despite having had to memorize it as part of his training.

Grandmama says she’s looking for a place called Ladderbeck Close, an old Vor mansion where she worked during the Cetagandan occupation (which Cetagandans call “The Ninth Satrapy”).  She explains to Tej that she was a trained geneticist, though apparently not good enough for the haut to keep, and assigned here as a lab assistant; the Star Crèche had been doing a genetic survey of the planet, interested in the results of the centuries of isolation on the planet’s inhabitants.  They had hoped to find some interesting new mutation, but they only found new diseases, and she muses that the planet should have stayed isolated for longer.  The laboratory was underneath the old mansion, and sealed with biohazard barriers; Tej isn’t clear on why that should have been necessary for a simple library, but apparently the haut Zaia had kept her usual supplies with her.  Their full records had been kept in an orbital facility which would have been sent to burn up in the atmosphere during the withdrawal.

The Baron changes the subject to Ivan, and his “handles”, what motivates him, and hence what they could use to manipulate him.  Tej admits ignorance–his mother is wealthy, and he seems to have all the money he needs, and he doesn’t seem to crave more than makes him personally comfortable.  He asks if Ivan has any business training, running large projects, and Tej says that he does work on military budgets; the Baron says he has a venture in mind which he’d like to keep within the family as much as possible, since his old contacts onworld are not as reliable as he’d hoped.

Tej isn’t sure she likes the sound of this, but it does seem to be perking him up, so she asks about it.  He says that is has to do with Grandmama’s former office, and the potential hidden wealth within; they need to keep the Barrayaran government from hearing about it first, or they’ll take it for themselves.  It includes not only the genetic records, but also a bunch of “trash” the ghem stuffed in at the last minute–records, art collections, gold coins, and who knows what else.  The Baronne said that they know nobody else has found it because of certain objects that would have surfaced by now if they’d been found.

The plan is simple–find the building and buy it if possible, or buy whatever’s built on top of it if it was demolished.  If they can’t buy it, they can try to tunnel in from a neighbouring lot.  Then they can take the contents offworld, preferably to Fell Station, to fence.  Grandmama had recalled the place while they were on Earth, and intends it for a belated wedding gift for her daughter and son-in-law.

“I came to you in nothing but my skin,” murmured the Baronne, with a fond look at her mate.  “And”–she plucked a trifle mournfully at her short fringe–“hair.”

“I remember that,” said her mate, with a fond look back.  “Vividly.  I had very little more myself, at the time.”

“Your wits, at least.”

“Making this cache into test and wedding gift in one, if Shiv can extract it,” said Grandmama.  “Does it occur to you two that you are running your courtship backward?”

They had planned to sneak onto Barrayar, but Tej’s high-profile marriage forced them to arrive more aboveboard, to resume their real identities before they’d managed to top up their war-chest.  Still, it made the whole plan seem more viable, and if this venture succeeds it may prove the key to reclaiming their House.  Assuming they can find Ladderbeck Close.

Ivan rides with his in-laws in his mother’s groundcar on their tour of the older areas of Vorbarr Sultana, starting with a spin past Vorhartung Castle, before they ventured into the caravanserai; Tej’s grandmother approves the improvement in the quality of the area.  Ivan tries to wrap his mind around the fact of this woman being alive when the oldest Barrayaran he knew who was in the Occupation, Count Piotr Vorkosigan, died eighteen years ago.  She peers around with more interest as they near the old edge of the city.

They pull over at a spot where, according to Christos, he had managed to find old references to Ladderbeck Close.  It had apparently gotten leveled during the resistance fighting, and then the property came into Emperor Yuri’s possession.

All three senior Arquas–well, two Arquas and one ghem Estif–were staring wide-eyed out the side of the canopy, craning their necks.

“What,” said the Baronne in a choked voice, “is that great ugly building?”

At least something in Old Vorbarr Sultana architecture had finally riveted their attention, even if it was one of the most notoriously awful buildings in town.  Ivan explained cheerfully, “It’s one of the works of Emperor Yuri Vorbarra’s megalomaniac architect, the infamous Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  He got up five major structures before he was stopped, they say.  Not to be confused with the current count of the same name, by the way.  Dono-the-Architect was as relative of Byerly’s, too, though not a direct ancestor, no doubt to By’s relief.  By can tell you more tales of him over dinner later.  That gigantic eyesore is Cockroach Central itself–and it’s called that by people who work there–ImpSec HQ.  Barrayaran Imperial Security Headquarters.”

A long silence fell in the back of the groundcar.

“I don’t suppose it’s for sale,” said Tej, in a strange, small voice.  “Or rent.”

Ivan laughed.  “Back when Simon Illyan ran it, he said he’d sell it for a Betan dollar, if only he could find a Betan with a dollar, and no taste.  And if only the Council of Counts would build him a new building, which they wouldn’t.  Mamere says he kept a holo of the Investigatif Federal building on Escobar–tall thing, all glass–on the wall of his inner office for a while, the way some men would keep pinups.”

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If the Tej-Ivan romantic plot is moving more slowly now–Ivan becoming more convinced that he doesn’t really want Tej to leave, but Tej mostly overwhelmed by her family and their desire to make use of him somehow–the other plot, the action-comedy-heist-hijinks plot, mostly starts now.  The sunken laboratory under the former Ladderbeck Close is now the Maguffin, the thing that Tej’s family wants, that they have to find and unearth in secret.  Which will, unfortunately, doubtless mostly lead to Tej keeping a bunch of secrets from Ivan, thus disrupting the romantic plotline.

Admittedly, the best part about this whole thing is that it turns out to be underneath ImpSec HQ.  Which, of course, they can’t just tunnel underneath.  It makes me think of some Martin Lawrence movie from a while ago where he hid some loot in someplace that turned into a police station while he was in jail.  So that might be a bit of a challenge to get into.  Maybe Ivan’s experience with certain subterranean areas of the building–like the Evidence Rooms–could help them, if they can convince him.  Or maybe they could convince him to join ImpSec and be their inside man?  Yeah, probably not.

Tej’s parents and grandmother don’t seem quite as objectionable as her siblings; perhaps it’s because they’re not all native Jacksonians.  Shiv Arqua may be, but he’s a little more quixotic than some of the others.  Anyway, I like them better.  Pidge and Star did not make a good first impression on me.  Maybe it’s more their dismissive attitude towards Tej, the way that they consider her selfish for doing anything for herself rather than for the House.  I suppose that’s not a uniquely Jacksonian attitude, if you substitute House with family or whatever other social construct.  But I guess I just find characters less likable when they’re not sympathetic to the main character’s goals, even if their behaviour is entirely consistent.


Another week, another chapter, another post, and next week, no doubt the same.  As our Jacksonian/Cetagandan plotters get to meet the former master of Cockroach Central, Simon Illyan himself…which should be interesting.  At the very least it shouldn’t be the most painful dinner party in the series–that one would be hard to top.  So, until then…

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When the weather outside is frightfully hot, muffy, and smoky, and the basement is beginning to lose the coolness that has made it a haven so far this summer, it’s nice to turn to a world of fiction, especially one where people don’t seem to be hot all the time or anything.  And so, the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as I attempt to lose myself in the works of Lois McMaster Bujold.  This week, in Chapter Seven of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the title character (cousin of the series’s main protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan) doesn’t get much time, yet, to deal with the results of his desperate marriage to fugitive Tej Arqua…but I’m sure it’s coming soon.

Chapter Seven

Tej is having trouble adjusting to the sudden influx of hope in her life, weightless and afloat and now attached to Ivan Xav Vorpatril, who she now realizes must be insane.  His insanity seems to be contagious, though, and the dome cops and the Immigration officers both seem to be legitimately stymied by this marriage ploy; the dome cops are now unable to cast Ivan Xav as a murderer or kidnapper, with the missing woman now married to him.  They retreat from the doorway, leaving only the building manager insisting that someone pay for the repairs; Ivan says that the mess isn’t his fault, but allows the costs to charged to his rental account anyway.  Then Ivan and By hurry the two women out of the apartment.

Outside, Ivan backs By up against a wall for swift conversation in low voices, little of which she hears except for Ivan insisting that By owes him for some past event, and eventually sending him off in another direction as they head for the bubble-car platform.  On the way there, Ivan pulls them into a doorway to conceal them from a Station Security squad that’s just come out of the station, and says he’s not sure if they’re there to rescue him or arrest him.

They make it into a bubble-car without further incident, and only then does Ivan call Admiral Desplains, thankfully being able to leave a message, where he insists that the Komarrans are no longer out to arrest him, and that he’ll meet them at the dock as soon as he takes care of one thing at ImpSec Galactic Affairs; he ends by asking them not to leave without him.  Then he calls and arranges for Captain Morozov to meet them at the lobby; Tej and Rish recognize the name as the Jackson’s Whole specialist Ivan had mentioned earlier.  Ivan describes him as a “top boffin” and says he hopes to leave the women with him there for the day; if nothing else, ImpSec HQ should be pretty resistant to any more hired goons.  Tej isn’t sure what she should tell Morozov, and Ivan says she can tell him whatever she wants, he’s cleared for it.

Tej pleads the call of nature and drags Rish into a bathroom–no other exits, but there are several noisy children there to cover a quiet conversation.  They try to decide if this marriage thing is really legitimate, though everyone does seem to be acting as if it is.  They also discuss how much they can tell this Morozov; Tej would be happy to sic Barrayar on House Prestene, if she didn’t think it just as likely they’d end up allies.  Even Jacksonians are wary of Barrayar, especially after the way House Ryoval was allegedly taken down by a single ImpSec agent.  Tej suggests they tell Morozov everything, in hopes of providing so many details he’s not sure what’s important, not to mention making him unlikely to resort to fast-penta.

“Our story will be that the syndicate is after you as a flashy prize, and me as a baby enemy they want to strangle in the cradle.”  Yes that, had seemed to work for the Byerly person.  And besides, it was true.  “Hold back only anything about where Amiri is.  Anything about Amiri, come to think.  And don’t volunteer anything about Star or Pidge.  Or Grandmama.”

Rish nodded understanding.

They emerge from the bathroom to rejoin an impatient Ivan.  To his relief, Morozov is there to greet them at ImpSec HQ, declaring his honour at meeting Lapis Lazuli, and one of the Arquas; Ivan corrects him, introducing Tej as Lady Vorpatril, as of an hour ago, an official officer’s dependent, and Rish in his hire as a personal assistant.  He adds the possibility that people will be trying to kill them, and asks Morozov to look after them for the day, as long as there’s no fast-penta.

Morozov asks Ivan if his mother knows about the marriage, and Ivan says nobody knows about it yet.  He excuses himself, being overdue to meet with Desplains, who promises to feed them and leads them away to his office.

Ivan pushed through the doors and ran.  He made sure to make it that special bland run that said, I’m late and in a hurry, and not the wild bolt that said, This building I am fleeing is about to explode, because he didn’t want to spread panic.  He had enough panic tamped into his head right now to blow up a battalion.

He does find Desplain and the four Horsemen waiting in the Admiral’s shuttle on the dock, and dashes in, the shuttle starting to move as soon as he’s inside.  He tells the Admiral that instead of inspecting the New Athens they should head for the Kanzian, forestalling the Admiral’s incipient rant; he explains that there’ll be a bunch of stolen equipment aboard it, which they’ll still be frantically trying to hide before their scheduled inspection tomorrow.  He says that he got this information from an ImpSec agent, implying strongly this is what he’s been up to the last few nights, but stresses that they can’t publicize that because there are still agents at risk.  The Admiral and his Horsemen work up a plan before they dock at the orbital station next to the Kanzian.

Tej is disappointed to find Captain Morozov not at all scary, especially when he provides them with food.  They tell him the story of their escape from Jackson’s Whole, the months of sneaking from station to station in the Hegen Hub, and further months of living in Pol, beginning to relax, before their pursuers catch up again and send them fleeing to Komarr with the last of their resources.  Morozov is unexpectedly understanding, and he tells them how he spent some time on Jackson’s Whole as a junior agent, with some amusing anecdotes and some undoubtedly less-amusing gaps; ImpSec requires all of its analysts to get field experience, mostly to allow them to get into the head of those who provide them with their reports.

They finish with the tale of the impromptu wedding, and Morozov is shocked to hear about Ivan’s tossing his wristcom into the fridge.  He explains that Ivan’s boss, Admiral Desplains, is Chief of Operations for the entire Imperial Service, and this makes Ivan a little bit more than the “military clerk” that Tej had pictured him as.  Upon discovering how little Tej knows about Ivan and his cousin Miles–probably due to her having looked him up in a Komarran database–Morozov sets out to enlighten her.

He explains how Ivan’s paternal grandmother was daughter of Prince Xav Vorbarra, son of Emperor Dorca Vorbarra, and how this puts Ivan fairly high up on the list of potential heirs to the Imperial throne…though further down now that Emperor Gregor is married and has sons.  A little higher up is Ivan’s cousin Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan, a notable figure in Vorbarr Sultana these days, but he was stunted at birth, so Ivan would almost certainly have been able to marshal more support–willingly or not–if Gregor had died without an heir.  As a result, Ivan has been trying very hard to steer clear of potential entanglements for most of his life, with the pressure having eased off only relatively recently; Ivan’s mother, protective of her only child, has also been trying to keep him safe rather than see him advanced into a riskier position.  Her position, Morozov explains, is the Emperor’s Social Secretary, which makes her one of the most powerful women on Barrayar.
As Morozov changes the subject to the Jewels and the Cordonahs, Tej wonders if she’s going to meet Ivan’s mother, before or after the divorce…

Admiral Desplains is admirably distracted by the evidence they find on the Kanzian, and, with the aid of the ship’s embarrassed captain, they spend several hours rooting out the perps; the Admiral is acclaimed with near-supernatural powers for having found them, and he basks in it for a while, while Ivan stays in the background and takes scrupulous notes.  On the shuttle back, Desplains is exceedingly happy with Ivan for the day, and expresses his gratitude, which is good, because Ivan needs to take advantage of it.  He asks for a favour–permission to get married, and two passes to Barrayar for dependents…with the marriage backdated to yesterday.  This makes Desplains a little suspicious, and he asks for the full story, which Ivan is willing to provide, though he slants it to blame By (in the guise of the unnamed ImpSec deep cover agent) for it as much as possible.

It’s Komarran midnight when Ivan makes it back to ImpSec HQ, where he finds Morozov, Tej and Rish playing a game; Morozov is just losing.

“What’s the game?”

Great House,” said Tej.  “It’s an old Jacksonian children’s game.  I used to play it when I was a girl, with my sibs and the Jewels, but they always beat the pants off me, unless I cheated.  Though you’re allowed to cheat.”

“Each player starts with a small stake,” Morozov explained, “and the object is to deal with and against each other, till the winner ends up owning the virtual world.  It can be played with only two people, barely, but it’s far more interesting with three or more.  It’s not often that I get a chance to play it with actual Jacksonians.”  He added after a moment, “I’ve lost five rounds straight.  I suspect collusion.”

Ivan thanks him for staying so late, and Morozov says it was an enjoyable day, a nice break from routine.  The two women turn their attention to fighting for first place, and Ivan and Morozov head out to the corridor to talk quietly.  He denies there was any sort of “interrogation”, just friendly conversation and exciting stories; Ivan admits he hasn’t had much of a chance to talk with his new wife yet.  They were fairly mum about the actual Arqua family members, but Morozov says he was able to draw out more information than they realized while they were playing Great House.  He’s come to the conclusion that House Prestene, afraid of a countercoup, are going to keep coming until they can get their hands on as many Arquas as they can, and tells Ivan to be prepared.

“For what, exactly?”

“Small-scale kidnapping teams, mostly likely.  Deploying all sorts of tactics, including deception.  Import teams have greater logistical challenges, but are known quantities to their handlers.  Local hirelings blend better, and know the ground.  Any successful abduction must fall into two halves: seizing the victims–which actually may be the easier part–and their removal beyond the Imperium’s boundaries.”

Somebody kidnaps my wife, and they’ll find the Imperium’s boundaries can stretch a hell of a long way, Ivan found himself thinking with unexpected fierceness.  Wait, no.  This thing with Tej was only a temporary ploy, not a real marriage.  Well, no, it was a real marriage, that is, a legal marriage, that was the whole reason why it had worked. But not permanent.  Nothing to be alarmed about there.

Anyway, it was surely allowable to shoot kidnappers regardless of who they were trying to carry off, right?

Ivan says that they should be safe here at HQ until they ship out, which will be on Admiral Desplain’s jump-pinnace, which should be very safe.  Morozov says that Ivan’s ploy here will have thrown off their pursuers, so it’ll take them a little while to regroup, and in the meantime, Ivan should be able to get more information from his wife.  Ivan is more dubious.

Puzzles.  I hate puzzles.  Ivan liked flowcharts–nice and clear, and you could always tell just where you were and what you should do next, everything laid out neatly.  No ambiguities.  No traps.  Why couldn’t life be more like flowcharts?

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The last comment is the main difference between Ivan and Miles, right there.  Ivan thrives with well-defined tasks, like the sorting of his boss’s email, and even in more chaotic situations where at least the goal is clear and means to achieve that goal is clear.  If people are attacking you, you defend yourself; no problem.  Ivan always resisted Miles’s efforts to complicate matters, not wanting to be drawn into things like the puzzle of the mysterious wand in Cetaganda.  But he did well at the methodical task of searching the ImpSec evidence rooms in Memory.

Ivan’s cavalierly agreeing to pay for the damages to the apartment shows that he doesn’t worry that much about money.  I guess that he and his mother must be fairly well off, not that being High Vor is any guarantee of that.  The narrowing of his family tree probably means inheritance doesn’t have to get shared very far, and though they probably lost some of it, they must have some substantial resources.  A Captain’s wages must be pretty decent, too, I suppose…but I think it’s just not something he’s ever had to worry about, any more than Miles had.  (Except for enough to outfit his mercenary fleet, of course.)

While they lowered the boom on the Kanzian, I didn’t see any mention of the actual Vormerciers, so one imagines they’re still at large, and probably quite annoyed right now.  Not sure who their target would be–if they didn’t blow Byerly’s cover, which I’m not sure about, then it could be Admiral Desplains himself…but it won’t be long before they hear about Ivan’s new offworlder bride, which might make them a wee bit suspicious.  That, and the Prestenes still out there, mean there’s lots of lingering threats for the rest of the book.  Not that that’s what I remember about the plot, of course.  Maybe they’ll end up just there for a little extra spice in the climax, like the Cetagandans in Brothers In Arms.  Guess I’ll have to wait to find out…again.


 

Another week, another chapter, and likely another chapter next week too.  By the way, I see a certain amount of new visitors coming from bar.baen.com, so I presume somebody must have posted something there (not me, I don’t think); welcome!  Hope you enjoy the reread as much as I enjoy doing it–or even more than that…

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Inspiration has fled again, so welcome to the vanilla opening to the weekly post in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  I need to mention that this is a reread blog covering Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and also note that the saga gets its name from the fact that the books are mostly about one Miles Vorkosigan, as well as his friends and family.  I also have to tell you that the current book is Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which mostly concerns itself with Miles’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril, the captain of the title, and Tej the slightly-less-mysterious-after-the-end-of-the-last-chapter as his co-narrator.  I also need to mention that I’m covering just one chapter, the fifth one, this week.  Next week can be covered by the stuff at the end, and now I can head into the actual reready stuff itself.

Chapter Five

Ivan is flabbergasted at Tej’s entire name, and she explains that her father had gotten hold of a book of Old Earth names, and he’d had trouble making up his mind; she has an older sister named Stella Antonio Dolce Ginevra Lucia, who they call Star.  By asks if that means she’s not the heiress of her house, and Tej wonders if she is, by now; Ivan mentions that he’s an only child, and Tej says she knows, explaining how she’d researched him, and asks By what she’d have found if she’d looked him up.  By says he’s just a minor scion of a minor branch, disinherited of nothing much; Ivan adds that he has a younger sister on the South Continent.

Ivan, not too keen on the Jacksonian Deal, points out that there’s no point in them keeping back anything that Morozov could tell them, that would be public knowledge; he wishes now he’d let Morozov tell him more, if he’d been able to pull it off without Morozov wondering why he was so interested.  Tej says that she’s the second youngest, but her oldest brother is likely dead now, and her other brother “got out a long time ago”.

By asked how she escaped, and she explains how her family had long had a system, and did regular drills; when they heard certain code words, they just went and didn’t look back.  Once before they’d made it as far as Fell Station before they received the all-clear and turned back; Rish told her that they’d done it once before then, too, that trip they went on when Tej was only six.  When it was the real thing, Tej and Rish and some of the others got out long before there was anything for them to witness; Star made it out just as the station was being boarded.  Tej says she’d had a real bodyguard, too, but he died as they were escaping from Fell Station, leaving her with just Rish.  Ivan asks Rish if she’s a jeeves, but she refuses to answer without a trade.

Ivan then turns to By, demanding an explanation for his end of things, including names, saying that they can’t call him an idiot if they don’t give him any information.  By reluctantly tells him about Theo Vormercier, who Ivan knows only vaguely; Theo’s expectations were greatly reduced when his uncle the Count remarried and began having children, with the help of the uterine replicator.  (By asks if Ivan’s mother and Simon Illyan have considered using that technology to give Ivan a little half-brother, and Ivan cuts him off and redirects him back to Vormercier.)  Theo, having been living off his expectations, was not happy with this turn of events, and turned to his brother, Roger, a quartermaster in an orbital station over Sergyar.

Together, Roger and Theo began pilfering little things from the stores, first things that were due to be destroyed, and then more and more., as they made contact with offworlder buyers.  When Ivan asks, By says he found this out with the help of alcohol, patience, and a strong stomach.  Roger does the actual stealing, and Theo handles the money, which is filtered inconspicuously onto Komarr and thoroughly laundered before it makes its way back to the Vormerciers and their accomplices.

They’ve been getting into some trouble recently, though, because Theo has apparently been stealing more than his share, and then ran into problems when one of his outgoing shipments got held up.  Ivan surmises that this was from the Kanzian, a ship from Sergyar which was the victim of one of Desplain’s surprise inspections.  Theo’s offworld buyers were unwilling to advance him money against a shipment they never received, but they offered him another way to earn the money instead, by taking care of Tej and Rish.

By has managed to pick up the identity of Theo’s contact on Komarr, but he would love to be able to use the Tej connection to get more information on those further out, in hopes of being able to tighten the net on those in between.  He asks Tej if she thinks it would be House Prestene after them; Tej said it could be anyone after the bounty, which is probably more intended for Rish, because displaying one of the Jewels would be a coup for Prestene, and Tej herself is more of a loose end.  She says she’s not that interested in revenge, and doesn’t want to be Baronne, she just wants to get her family back, as much of them as are still alive.  By asks Rish if she is a jeeves, and Rish finally says that the Jewels’ conditioning was curtailed when the Baronne decided she didn’t want them to suffer if she should die.

“So what kept you from running off?” asked By.

She raised her chin and looked down her nose at him, a neat trick given that she was shorter.  “Didn’t you claim you were disinherited?  What keeps you from betraying your Imperium?”

By opened his hands as if to surrender the point.

Rish says that the Jewels also served as living sculptures, standing in various poses for minutes as a time, until the guests almost ceased to notice them; they had good hearing and memories, and competed for the best tidbits of information at the end of the evening.  Ivan changes the subject to ask about Tej’s name, and what it means–noting that his name is just a form of “John”, and he doesn’t know what that means.

Tej got a strange look on her face, but answered–was the deal still on?–“Akuti, princess, Tejaswini, radiant–or maybe intelligent, I’m not sure which–Jyoti, flame.  or light.”

“Princess Radiant Flame,” Ivan tested this on his tongue.  He’d attempt the other pronunciation later.  Or Princess Bright Light, whichever.  Princess, in either case.  “Sounds like your da thought the world of you, huh?”

Tej swallowed and looked away, as if the far end of the room had suddenly grown riveting.  She answered in a would-be-pedantic quaver, “The geographical origin was supposed to be South Asian.  Star’s was South European, or South American, or south something, anyway.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  We never spent much time on Old Earth history.”

Rish asks about Vorrutyer, and By says that nobody’s quite sure what Vor means, but “Rutyer” is likely a corruption of the Germanic “Rutger”.  When Tej asks, Ivan says that Vorpatril is also unclear–could be English, Greek, or French.  A lot of Barrayaran names are corruptions of their original versions–Serg instead of Sergei, Xav instead of Xavier, etc.  Tej says it makes sense that they mutated over time, and then is surprised at the Barrayarans’ reaction; Ivan says that on Barrayar it’s a deadly insult to imply that someone’s a mutant, or even their name.

By checks his watch and declares he has to be somewhere; he says that Rish and Tej are probably as safe at Ivan’s apartment as anywhere.  Ivan asks how long they’ll have to stay and By says that it’ll probably be a few days before they’re ready to close the net on Theo and his accomplices, at which point Byerly Vorrutyer will need to disappear for a little while for the sake of his cover, and his life.  He adds, to Ivan alone, that if things go wrong, he should take the girls to Morozov.  Ivan doesn’t they’ll be too keen on dealing with ImpSec, but By points out that they can probably get a good deal in exchange for their information.

After By leaves, Rish asks Ivan if he knows he By got into that line of work.  Ivan tells them about the Vorrutyer clan and their reputation for being either antisocial or “vivid”.  He’d turned up in Vorbarr Sultana when he was about twenty, hanging around the fringes of the social scene; Ivan only found out he was ImpSec a little while ago.

Ivan asks about Rish “babysitting” Tej, and Tej said she followed the Jewels around a lot as a kid, and even got them to try to teach her to dance; they had an eclectic dance style formed by combining styles from all over.  She’d wanted to be a real dancer, but when her body developed during puberty, she ended up too top-heavy, not willowy like the best dancers, and by age fifteen she’d given up.  Ivan refrains from commenting on how generous puberty was to her; instead he says that he doesn’t see why she had to stop just because she wasn’t a natural genius, and Tej says that Star had always said she just wanted to be the center of attention.

She’d forgotten to demand a trade.  Watching her vanish into the shadows of the next room, all Ivan could think was:  Actually, y’know…I expect you wanted to dance because you wanted to dance.

Tej dreams that she’s running through space station corridors, trying to catch up with the Jewels, who scatter before her.  Captain Vorpatril beckons her from a side door; he’s in a military uniform/bear suit.  They kiss, very pleasantly, and Tej reminds herself to remember this when she wakes up.  She expresses admiration for his skin, and he peels off his outfit to show her, but the skin pulls away too, revealing his muscles and veins; then his chest burns from a plasma arc, and he turns into Seppe, their courier who died on Fell Station.

She wakes up, in bed next to Rish, glad to be awake, though she does recall the kiss, which, even as a dream, seems to have awakened a certain unaccustomed sensuality in her.  She heard the shower running, which proves to be Ivan getting ready for an early departure for work; he says he’ll try not to be too late, but he can’t promise for sure.  As he’s leaving, she urges him to be careful.

Ivan arrives at work half an hour before his boss is due, right on time; he makes the coffee and settles down to triage Admiral Desplain’s messages.

Ivan had developed a personal metaphor for this first task (after the coffee) of the day.  It was like opening one’s door to find that an overnight delivery service had left a large pile of boxes on one’s porch, all marked “miscellaneous”.  In reality, they were all marked “Urgent!”, but if everything was urgent, in Ivan’s view they might as well all be labeled miscellaneous.

Each box contained one of the following: live, venomous, agitated snakes on the verge of escape; quiescent venomous snakes; nonvenomous garden snakes; dead snakes; or things that looked like snakes but weren’t, such as large, sluggish worms.  It was Ivan’s morning duty to open each box, identify the species, vigor, mood, and fang-count of the writhing things inside, and sort them by genuine urgency.

The venomous, agitated snakes went straight to Desplains.  The garden snakes were arranged in an orderly manner for his later attention.  The dead snakes and the sluggish worms were returned to their senders with a variety of canned notes attached, with the heading From The Office of Admiral Desplains, ranging from patiently explanatory to brief and bitter, depending on how long it seemed to be taking the sender in question to learn to deal with his own damned wildlife.  Ivan had a menu of Displains’s notes, and it was his responsibility–and occasionally pleasures, because every job should have a few perks–to match the note to the recipient.

This morning, of course, contains an “urgent” note from ImpSec Komarr about Ivan’s police interview, and, unfortunately, too few venomous snakes to effectively camouflage it.  After some consideration, Ivan puts the ImpSec note in with the garden snakes, at the bottom of the list; he hopes to maintain his generally calm relationship with his boss as long as possible, and to that end he sneaks in a few trivial, amusing notes to try to keep him in a good mood.

Desplains arrives and asks after the “ophidian census”; Ivan declares them all garden-variety and, when the Admiral asks, mentions that the police interview is one of them.  As he sends the messages on to the Admiral, he reflects that he never wants to be one who has to deal with a box of hissing, poisonous snakes every morning, and considers methods to deal with the threat of such an eventuality.  Assuming that relatives bearing gift pythons don’t end up getting him court-martialed first.

Comments

The ophidian census is definitely the highlight of the chapter as far as interesting description goes.  Most of the first part of the chapter isn’t very quoteworthy.  Characters are exchanging information, information which they legitimately don’t know, and on only the second read I don’t remember most of it either, and it’s necessary, but somehow it’s all “telling not showing”, so it lacks a little bit of interest.  My vague memory of the plot of the book leads me to think that the Vormerciers aren’t relevant for that long–maybe for the next few chapters?–but maybe I’m misremembering incorrectly.

Byerly does have a dangerous job.  He has to perpetually keep suspicions lulled, so that nobody suspects his motives for hanging around them and gathering information, and then keep it from seeming like it’s his fault that anything bad happens, so that he can pull the same trick multiple times.  In A Civil Campaign, for instance, he had to pretend to be working with both sides, and got dragged in by Gregor himself; you’d almost expect that to be a bit too conspicuous, but he’s still working….  As long as his luck holds, at least.  And I can’t remember if that runs out in this book, or in the next chapter.

Tej is also in this chapter, of course.  We find out a little more about her backstory, though mostly filling in gaps, the major revelations having come in the previous chapter.  It may be a little gauche to point out, but it’s possible, after a few minor allusions in the text, that the author may be trying to imply that Tej has large breasts.  Well, I admit, it is something a man will notice, so I suppose it should be pointed out, if it’s necessary for the character.  And obviously it is, since it shaped her adolescence, and seems to affect her interactions with a lot of people.  At least the cover artist doesn’t do anything too crass with it.


 

Next week, one more chapter.  Reaching the end of the six-chapter sample, something’s going to happen, I remember how it ends, but I still don’t quite remember how we get there.  So, next week, then.

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