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We gotcher Vorkosigan Saga Reread right here!  That’s contents: chapters, Thirteen, from Burn, Cryo-, Bujold, Lois McMaster.  Lessee, topics, topics…bringin’ the dead back to life, letters from the family at home.  Comments?  That’s extra.  You want ’em?  Sure thing.  Sign here, willya?  Thanks.  Have a nice day!

Chapter Thirteen

The next day they drive over to Dr. Seiichiro Leiber’s neighbourhood in the west of Northbridge.  Miles hadn’t found any links between Leiber and Sato in his research, which is probably he didn’t end up getting charged/killed/frozen with the rest of her group.  He’d acquired his Ph.D. at an unremarkable age, scholarship funded by cryocorps, which determined the direction of his research.

Miles tells Johannes to drop him and Raven off at the corner and Roic around the back; it’ll be too conspicuous for the lift van to hang around, so he sends Johannes off to park and get a coffee, listening on their comlinks.  Miles and Raven ring his doorbell, and when Dr. Leiber himself answers, Miles introduces himself and Raven; Leiber recognizes the Durona name, and Miles says they were there for the conference, and hoped to talk to him.  Leiber invites them in, saying that he didn’t make it to the conference; he asks about the N.H.L.L. fiasco, and Raven shares a slightly edited version of his story as a captive.  The two scientists then move into more technical discussions, until Leiber seems at ease.

Miles decided on a direct approach. “I’m actually here this morning on behalf of the next-of-kin of Lisa Sato. I believe you had some dealings with her eighteen months ago, just before her arrest?”

Shock and dismay bloomed unconcealed on Leiber’s face. Well, he was the scientist type, not a con artist, nor, probably, a very good liar. Fine by me.

“How do you know-what makes you think that?” Leiber fumbled, confirming Miles’s judgment.

“Eyewitness testimony.”

“But no one saw-there wasn’t-but Suwabi died.”

Leiber excuses himself to make them some tea, and Miles doesn’t intercept him in time; Raven congratulates Miles on his palpable hit.  Then they hear the back door open, and they check the kitchen to find him gone; Miles notifies Roic, and Roic goes after him, but is unable to catch him before he ducks into a neighbour’s house.  Miles tells Roic to go meet up with Johannes, while he and Raven search his house.  Miles finds little upstairs, and tells Raven they should leave before the police show up, but Raven says that given what he found on the bottom floor, he wouldn’t even have called them.

In the basement, Raven shows him, under an old bedspread, a portable cryochamber, plugged in, running, and occupied.  Miles wonders if this is what they’re looking for, or if it’s just a normal Kibou thing to have a frozen person in your basement.  Raven finds a garage door at one end of the room, explaining how they got it in; the cryochamber doesn’t come with a built-in float pallet, but Miles contacts Johannes and confirms that they stil have one in the back of the van, and tells him and Roic to come around to the back garage.

Raven raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t that theft? Breaking and entering?”

“No, the homeowner let us in. Breaking and exiting, maybe. If it’s theft, I’m guessing it’s the second time around for this item. And while it’s not true that you can’t cheat an honest man, crooked men are less likely to complain to the authorities, afterward. I don’t think Leiber will tell anyone.”

Roic and Johannes arrive and begin loading the cryochamber; Miles goes back upstairs and leaves an unsigned note asking to be contacted at his consulate.  He tells Roic that he’s confident that Leiber will contact them to finish their conversation, but there’s no point in waiting around for him to come back while they’re in his house.  Then they head back to Suze’s, Raven hoping they haven’t just stolen Leiber’s grandmother or something.

As Roic helps move Sato’s body into place for the cryorevival, he remembers back to his medic training back when he became an Armsman, and how he’d practiced emergency cryoprep on a realistic dummy, which is still nothing like the real thing; Lisa Sato doesn’t look like like a corpse, a living person, or a dummy.  Still, hopefully this experience will help him if he ever has to do a real cryoprep.  Miles is sure they have the right woman this time, though he didn’t use the children to identify her this time.

Vorlynkin stops by to tell Miles about a message that came for him; this time he’s left the children with Johannes, though Miles is hopeful that he’ll be able to bring them over soon.  Raven tells the Consul he can come in and watch, if he puts on a mask, and Vorlynkin complies, as Raven begins the revival, inserting oxygenated fluid; Roic thinks that she looks a little like Ekaterin, with carefully preserved long dark hair, and Vorlynkin comments that she looks better than he expected.  Raven says the cryoprep seems to have been first-rate, much better than Lord Vorkosigan was when he came in.

“She looks like something out of a fairy tale.”

“What,” said m’lord, swinging one heel to tap upon a stool leg, “Snow White with just one dwarf?”

Vorlynkin reddened, an I-didn’t-say-that look in his eyes.

M’lord snickered at him. “Now all we need is a prince.”

“So who’s t’ frog?” asked Roic, secretly glad not to be alone in his fanciful impressions.

“Different fairy tale,” m’lord told him kindly. “I hope.”

They begin putting real blood into her, and her skin tone becomes almost lifelike, and finally they finish with the fluids and begin resuscitation; they stimulate her brain with an electrified cap, and she actually begins to breathe, raggedly at first, then more strongly.  Raven checks her peripheral nerves and reflexes, which all seem to be in order, then calls her name; her eyes open briefly, and Miles tells her, reassuringly, that she’s been rescued, her children are safe, and she’ll get to see them soon.  She moans in response, reassuring Raven that both hearing and voice both seem to be working.  Then she slips back into sleep, which Raven says is highly desirable, and they begin moving her to a gurney; Raven says she’ll need some time to rebuild her white cells before she can be moved to the consulate.

Miles asks Vorlynkin why he’s here, and the Consul says he has a sealed message from Barrayar; Miles says they’re pretty much done, and they make ready to return to the consulate, Vorlynkin exclaiming over the extraordinary experience of watching someone brought back to life.  While Miles talks to Raven one last time, Vorlynkin comments to Roic that Lord Vorkosigan isn’t what he expected from an Imperial Auditor; Roic tells him that the Auditors are a varied lot, but the Emperor is good at matching them with the right cases.

Back at the consulate, Miles checks the message, which turns out to be a regular weekly message from Ekaterin and the children, important, to him at least, but not urgent; he eagerly activates it, taking a minute to drink in Ekaterin’s appearance before moving onward.  He wonders at the lack of grey in her hair, considering how much effort she puts in wrangling the four children they’ve had in the last six years, effort which he’d greatly underestimated at the time.

“Greetings, my love,” she said. “We’ve received your latest here with much relief and rejoicing, though fortunately I didn’t tell the children about that first alarming message before the second had overtaken it. I shudder to think what your parents went through during your old career. Though I suppose your father kept his high-Vor upper lip suitably stiff, and your mother, well, I can scarcely imagine. Said tart Betan things, I suppose.”

Actually, he’d dodged those issues during his covert ops days by almost never sending any messages, or updates. It wasn’t as if his father couldn’t have demanded a report on his missions from the head of ImpSec any time he wanted one. Or nerved himself to it, he imagined his mother’s voice remarking tartly.

She brings him up to date on District matters, which reassures him that there aren’t any pressing family matters; he feels guilty for neglecting his District, but there doesn’t seem to be anything too urgent this week.  Then she cuts to a video, filmed by Helen, one of his twins, of his youngest, Taura, ten months old, taking her first steps–or, at least, a strategically restaged set of wobbly almost-first steps–with Helen’s twin Sasha and three-year-old Lizzie looking on.  She returns to tell him that Sasha has decided he now wants to be called Alex, having gone through and discarded a number of other variations on his name; Miles recalls how late Sasha/Alex ended up talking, before they realized that it was just that his sister was doing all the talking for him.  Finally she bids farewell and wishes him home soon; he almost wishes he had left Kibou-daini when he had the chance.

He hopes Leiber shows up soon, and wonders why the man was so alarmed when they showed up, who he thought they represented; unfortunately, they don’t have the manpower to hunt him down right now.  He sends off a requisition to Escobar for an ImpSec team, with a potential need for forensic accountants and lawyers in the near future, though it’ll take at least five days for them to arrive.  He hopes that Lisa Sato regains her voice soon, too, so he can find out what he needs to know from her if not from Leiber.

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So they’ve found this Dr. Leiber, brazen their way in, and then scare him off…but they find Lisa Sato’s body in the basement anyway, and just drag her away.  That’s good, I guess?  The revival goes smoothly this time, too.  So we’re two thirds of the way through, and maybe we’ll finally get to find out what’s _really_ going on.  I suppose it’s the right time for it, but it still feels like they’ve met too little opposition.  The activist guys at the beginning have faded away, the cryocorps themselves haven’t done anything actually threatening, nobody’s been shot or killed or turned up dead, apart from that frozen woman they tried reviving last chapter.  The tension just…isn’t there.

The best part of this chapter is, pretty much, the message from home, a glimpse, finally, at the growing Vorkosigan family–Helen and Aral Alexander/Sasha/Alex, Lizzie (named after Elizabeth Naismith, apparently), and now Taura.  Three girls and only one boy; not sure why they’re not trying to balance it out, keep a spare for their heir, but maybe they’re still not done yet?  A very small slice of life, which makes me want to spend more time back on Barrayar with them, perhaps a little older?  It might be time to advance the years again, put Count Miles on the back burner and see what Alex is like growing up.

I find Dr. Leiber’s highly Japanese first name somewhat incongruous, in an amusing way.  I suppose it’s no worse than having someone with a highly Ukrainian surname and a first name like Bob or Rick or something; still, I’d almost expect “Leiber” to have been assimilated a little into Japanese phonotactics, an extra vowel on the end or something.  I guess they all do seem to speak Galactic Standard, even Jin and Mina…so why the Japanese names at all, then?  Well, whatever.

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So I’m rereading this series, the Vorkosigan Saga?  By Lois McMaster Bujold?  And I’m also, like, writing down the stuff that happens, and then saying things that it makes me think about?  So I’m all the way up to, like, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which doesn’t even really have much for Vorkosigans in it, except in this chapter, which is, like, Chapter Ten, so here it is?

Chapter Ten

Ivan manages to overcome his wife’s distraction in bed that night, and discovers that his experience with bleary-eyed admirals also helps him deal with Tej in the morning.  His mother calls to inform him that she’s having the women out to shop for clothing; Rish expresses concern for safety, but Ivan assures her that his mother gets the best ImpSec guards, mostly as a tribute to Illyan.  Christos and Alys’s personal dresser escorts the women out, promising to teach them Barrayar’s “clothing dialect”.  Ivan is just as happy to be staying at home, where he can merely approve of everything they buy, rather than trying to figure out what they want him to say about outfits they’re trying on.  Left to himself, Ivan starts on his backlog of personal mail, but after half an hour he’s interrupted by a call from Miles.

“Sorry for the interruption”–Miles did not look in the least sorry–“but I must not be behindhand in conveying my thanks for the extremely thoughtful gift you forwarded from Komarr.  Ekaterin actually wondered if she should put flowers in it, next time you came over, but I suggested target practice.  Or passing it along to the twins, which might be an ever faster way to dispose of it.  At which point the light dawned, and she looked very relieved.”

“Hey, it took me half an hour to find that vase!” said Ivan in mock indignation.

“Hidden in the back of the store, was it, lest it frighten away customers?”

Miles also congratulates him on his marriage; he heard about it very quickly, after Alys called him about the rumours coming in.  Ivan says it was an accident, and invites him to read the ImpSec report if he wants all the details.  Miles invites them all over to Vorkosigan House for a Ma Kosti tea; Ivan protests this blatant bribery, and Miles says he’s off to Sergyar soon, and doesn’t want to miss meeting her.  When Ivan is still reluctant, Miles says they are “requested and required” to attend, and Ivan realizes that it’s really Gregor who wants to meet them.

Tej is not best pleased to be heading over to meet the Barrayaran Emperor (and not just because Ivan’s sports car requires Rish to sit on her lap).  Ivan keeps not proving to be as much of a “nobody” as he claimed, and as a result she feels like it’s becoming much harder to hide.  And then there’s the Imperial Auditor, who apparently has the power to execute her if he wants to…  They’re well-dressed for it, at least, having acquired a selection of “casual” Barrayaran clothing, and impressed Lady Alys’s dresser with her colour sense, besides; now Tej wonders if Alys had been forewarned about this little social engagement.

Ivan manages to drive with something approaching caution, and soon they arrive at the walled-in house, where they are admitted after a brief scan.  Ivan helps them out of the car and they are admitted into the huge four-storey house, once the modern force-screen is lowered.  Rish is transfixed by the intricate mosaic on the floor of the entry hall, an almost lifelike depiction of a garden, murmuring to herself at how she could dance on a floor like this.

A call of “Ware escapee!” heralds the arrival of a naked toddler (much to Ivan’s dismay) with an arresting, diminutive figure limping in pursuit.  The toddler stops in wonderment at the sight of Rish, and Ivan reluctantly grabs the child, Sasha, and hands him back to the short man, who reports the capture via his wristcom; a more normal-sized woman appears and collects Sasha, and Ivan introduces them as Lord and Lady Vorkosigan.  Ekaterin welcomes them and tells them about their impending trip to Sergyar–taking the twins, and her son Nikki, to visit the Count and Countess.

Ekaterin heads back up the stairs with Sasha while Miles takes the others to the library, where another man is waiting for them; Ivan greets him as “Sire”, but Gregor says he’s in Count Vorbarra mode right now, to save on hassle.  He welcomes Tej and Rish to Barrayar, in a way that reminds Tej of Ekaterin welcoming them to her house, and they all sit down.  There is a fire on the hearth, which Tej has to remind herself isn’t dangerous here.

Gregor asks about how they met, and the full story comes out–including Rish stunning Ivan, which wasn’t in the ImpSec report.  Miles gets more and more amused, behind his hand, as Tej and Ivan tell the story.  Tej brings up the proposed plan to smuggle them to Escobar on a courier vessel, as she has realized that Gregor is likely one of the people who could make this happen.  He says he might be able to do something for them, and asks where they might be able to meet her brother.  Tej says that Amiri never wanted to get into the house business, and convinced his parents to let him go study on Escobar under an assumed name; she was supposed to meet him if the worst happened, and her sisters were to go to Earth to meet up their Cetagandan grandmother, which is the first Ivan knows that the widow ghem Estif is still alive.  Tej says she’s about 130 years old, but still limber, though her hair has all gone silver.

Ekaterin enters with the formal tea, which is ample and delectable, mostly due, she says, to the effect the Emperor’s presence has in inspiring Ma Kosti; Miles warns Gregor not to try to steal her away.  Miles says that Tej’s grandmother must have been close to his own grandfather’s age, and was actually there for the Cetagandan invasion; he suggests that Tej should talk to the Vorbrettens, and explains the Cetagandan-heritage connection.  Gregor notes that Miles is part Betan, and Ivan as well, because of their Betan great-grandmother.

Miles, returning to the subject of Escobar, asks if the medical clinic Amiri is at wouldn’t happen to be the Durona Group.  Tej and Rish are shocked that they know this already, but Miles says that he was already acquainted with them, and his clone-brother Mark helped get them off Jackson’s Whole.  Tej admits that the Cordonahs had an informal understanding with House Fell, the Duronas’ former home.  Miles says that the family connection to the Durona Group may mean that their identities will have to be protected more carefully if Ivan and Tej go there.  Rish notes suspiciously that Miles knows a lot about Jackson’s Whole, and he admits to having visited there several times in his pre-Auditor career…as a courier, of course.  ImpSec also keeps an eye on the Jacksonian Houses that man the jump points, particularly Fell and Prestene, the latter being the one closest to the Cetagandan Empire.

Tej asks Gregor again about the ride to Escobar, and he says he’ll mention it to Allegre and let him work out the details with Ivan, but he says it won’t override other ImpSec business.  He adds that Ivan’s security detail is aware of the increased risks, and Miles says that it’ll be easier to keep them from being blindsided if Tej and Rish don’t keep secrets from them.  Tej isn’t happy to be putting these strangers at risk by her presence, haunted by the death of her bodyguard on Fell Station, but she supposes that everyone has to suffer the protection of strangers, to some extent.

One of Gregor’s guards alerts him to another upcoming appointment, and Gregor bids farewell to Ivan, Tej and Rish, though he asks Miles to stay for a few words.  Ekaterin escorts them out, and in the entry hall Rish asks her about the mosaic; she says that Miles had encouraged her to make some changes to the house, and his mother had some bad associations to the old tile floor.  This type of mosaic is, she says, a South Continent specialty, and Miles helped her secure the services of a famous artist Ekaterin had always admired.  Ivan noted that pieces of the old floor ended up being sold for a good price as souvenirs.

[Ekaterin] turned to Tej.  “Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan is very close friends with Ivan’s mother, you know.  Cordelia has frequently mentioned to me how much she treasured having a woman friend, when she first came to Barrayar as a bride and a stranger, to show her how to go on here–all those things the men didn’t know.  At least there’s no war on, this time.  Perhaps when Miles and I get back from Sergyar, we can visit again…?”

A heartbreakingly kind offer, Tej thought.  She smiled, but shook her head.  “We don’t expect to be here that long.”

Tej realizes that her initial eagerness to leave Barrayar has been replaced by an inexplicable reluctance, which she admonishes herself to try to shrug off.

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Another retelling of the initial incidents with Tej and Ivan’s meeting, and not particularly summarized in the book, so that Miles and Ivan can have some amusing exchanges…which I didn’t include here.  Since Gregor and Miles surely already knew most of it…what was the point of that?  Are we supposed to focus on the fact that the story seems more amusing now than it did at the time?  Or just enjoy the witty banter?

This whole chapter almost feels like an effort to shoehorn Miles into the book.  It’s true that Miles and Ekaterin would want to meet Tej, and I suppose it’s understandable that Gregor would as well, but somehow this scene doesn’t seem to justify its existence, or at least its length.  The don’t-steal-Ma-Kosti joke is dragged out again.  It all seems a little…precious, somehow.

This book takes place about seven years after _Mirror Dance_, by the end of which the Durona Group has relocated to Escobar.  So I guess that Tej’s brother can’t have been there longer than that.  Is Amiri the only non-Durona-clone person there?  Surely not, or else he’d stick out like a sore thumb.  It seems like a little bit of convenient coincidence, anyway.  I suppose there might be some advantage to sending him offplanet to someplace that will at least be slightly familiar, to live among Jacksonians, and more-or-less known quantities, but by the same token it might make it a more obvious place to look for him.  I hadn’t remembered this little factoid from the first read, but I wasn’t surprised when it turned up, because it seemed almost too obvious.  After all, why invent another Escobaran medical clinic when there was one already there?


Another busy weekend coming up for me, which means definitely only one chapter next week; let’s hope it’s more exciting than this one.  Looks like it’s got Ivan’s birthday party in it, so that should be good.  And will contain more recap for our new characters.  But that’ll be next week, so till then…

 

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Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…  Or would you rather I said something more like “The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!”  Or I could try one of those horrible paraphases, like “Is this a keyboard I see before me, its keys toward my fingers?”  Yeah.  Well.  Anyway, it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which of course leads naturally to the assumption that this post is going to concern itself with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga (hence the name), and in particular (as it says up there in the title) Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  This week I managed to process two whole chapters, mostly because I skipped last week, and I didn’t die or anything.  So this week we will cover Chapters Eight and Nine, which means that it’ll become even harder to figure out the chapters from the “Part” number in the header.  Oh, well.  Onward!

Chapter Eight

Ivan takes Tej and Rish to guest quarters on the military compound, which is kind of like a shabby hotel, and doesn’t seem that secure except perhaps compared to anything else they’d experienced recently.  Ivan and Tej are too exhausted to consider consummating their marriage just yet, so they sleep in separate rooms and fall asleep almost instantly.  When Tej and Rish wake the next morning Ivan is already at work, having left a brief note, but Morozov takes them to brunch in the ImpSec building, with more shrewd questions but still not prying.

That afternoon, their assorted belongings from the apartment are brought to them; Tej does some reading up on Barrayaran history while Rish does some dance exercises.  Finally Ivan shows up and tells them that their shuttle awaits; he’s had a long day at work, with Service Security scrambling to cover their lapse in missing what was happening on the Kanzian.

Tej finds the trip up to orbit liberating, not planning to miss the neither-planet-nor-space-station domes of Komarr.  A short trip through the military space station brings them to Admiral Desplains’s jump-pinnace; Ivan introduces them to the admiral himself, who welcomes them to his ship, the JP-9.  The Admiral thanks Tej and Rish for providing the information they needed to trap the smugglers on the Kanzian, as Ivan had led him to believe, and, apparently, Morozov had substantiated.  Tej is disquieted to learn that Morozov is an interrogator of such skill that he teaches classes in it.

Desplains lets Ivan show them around, and has his batman take their luggage; the admiral promises to try to make up for having kept Ivan and his new wife apart since their wedding.  Ivan gives them the tour, which doesn’t amount to much, since it’s not much bigger than a fast courier, but at least they won’t be getting lost; he also gives them safety information.  Rish asks if they do this often, and Ivan says they regularly carry supercargo, often the admiral’s family, though not on this trip; he tells them that he’s worked with the admiral for three years, since before he was promoted to Chief of Operations.

The batman escorts them to their quarters–Desplains’s own, which the admiral is letting them use on this trip, with his compliments.  Ivan mutters that he must be forgiven, and cautiously tells the women to have their pick of the bedrooms–one with a double bed and one with four bunks.  Rish pulls Tej into the room with the bunks and they discuss what Tej should do.

“All right, I can see how it might be a good deal if he pair-bonds to you.  Maybe not so good if you pair-bond to him.  Don’t lose your head, sweetling.”

Tej tossed her curls.  “It’s only a practice marriage.  So I ought to get in some practice, don’t you think?”

Rish reminds her that there isn’t a squad of bodyguards to rescue her, like with a Jacksonian “allowed suitor”, just Rish herself, and there’s no place to retreat to on this ship.  Tej says there’s no one left but her in charge right now, so she has to take the risk.  She’d rather set up a “basic biological reward-loop” to help guarantee Ivan’s behaviour, and she promises that’s all it will be to her.  Ivan’s been presented to her all but gift-wrapped, so she might as well take advantage of it; Rish wishes her luck.

Tej emerges and informs Ivan that she will be sharing the double bed with him, and he reiterates that she doesn’t have to, but if she does, that’s just fine with him.  He also notes that they’re back on Barrayaran time, with its 26.7-hour day, and hence a much more leisurely evening than Komarr.  He swings her down onto the sofa and says he’s pleased to meet her; she challenges him to say her full name, and he impresses her by reeling it off correctly.

He hesitates and asks her what her real age is, and she says she’s 25, to his relief, though he insists he wouldn’t have minded if she were older; he deflects her questions about whether he’s been with any older women.  He notes that she’s likely had a sheltered life, as daughter of a baron, and asks her if she’s still a virgin; she assures him she is, and with a contraceptive implant, and again he’s relieved, saying that it would be hypocritical of him to insist otherwise with the marriage as ad-hoc as it is.

After a kiss and gentle fondle, she asks him about that first experience; he tells her about an older (by a whole four years) woman, a groom at his cousin’s country estate.  In return she tells him about the sexuality therapists from the Orb on Beta Colony her father had hired for two years for her and her siblings, as well as the Jewels–one of each of the three sexes.  Ivan admits he’s never made it to the Orb, though it seems like most people he knows have; Tej says she enjoyed sex, being similar to dance, all about being in your body, in the moment.

She mentions a couple of allowed suitors as well, and explains the Jacksonian custom, like trying out your prospective spouse before an arranged marriage.  One of them was more interested in House politics than her, and the other one she just didn’t like; her mother said that it may have been a biological reaction, their immune systems being too similar and thus making them smell unappealing to each other.  She undoes his shirt and runs her fingers through his chest hair, just as Rish calls out that she’s done in the shower, so they separate to take care of cleanliness before rendezvousing back at the bed.  Ivan seems oddly restrained, and he explains that it feels different, the prospect of making love to his own wife, however temporary.

“I always kept it light, y’know?” he gasped.

“I can do light,” she said, leaning in.  “My name means light.”

He leaned to meet her.  “So…so illuminate me,” he breathed, and then there was much less talking.

The admiral’s batman brings them breakfast on a trolley–more to get Ivan out of bed, he surmises, than to encourage indolence, and also to report back on who exactly slept where last night.  Ivan feels “chipper”, he decides, and enjoys kissing his wife goodbye, especially since she doesn’t seem to be chatty in the morning; he heads down the hall a few steps to Desplains’s office.  Desplains is already there, since he tends to work longer hours without his family on board, and Ivan considers it part of his duty to keep him from going overboard.  Ivan gets to work triaging the messages that come in over tightbeam, which has increased because of the Kanzian incident, and the news hasn’t even reached Sergyar yet.  Desplains only has to chide him once about his unconscious cheerful whistling.

Before their first jump, Ivan checks on Tej and Rish, providing jump-sickness medication for both of them when they prove susceptible; Rish is pleasantly surprised at how effective it is, since she normally suffers from auditory hallucinations.  At the end of the day Desplains invites Ivan and his female companions to dinner, with fresh food picked up on Komarr and wine from Barrayar.  Tej holds her own quite well, Ivan notes, and supposes that this kind of social situation is probably not that much different from what one might deal with in a Great House environment.  The dinners are repeated on subsequent nights, with other crewmembers brought in to join them from time to time, though the admiral is always careful to leave Ivan and his wife some time in the evening to themselves.

While Ivan is at work, Tej occupies herself reading and watching vids, or playing games with Rish; Rish gets out of the cabin from time to time to work our in the exercise room, where the crewmembers keep any misgivings to themselves and seem to be fairly impressed with her capabilities.  She also finds more fans of Komarran soap operas and gets together with them for any new episodes they manage to download.  At the admiral’s suggestion, Tej spends some time learning about the various other Barrayaran dialects, which, to Ivan’s surprise, she considers more fun than actual work; she does pick them up scarily fast, probably due to her haut genetics.

As they get closer to Barrayar, Ivan notices some “Eyes Only” messages coming in from Guy Allegre, which Desplains tells him seem to be forwarded requests from Ivan’s mother about what’s going on, and then later some from Lady Alys herself.  Desplains says he doesn’t want to get involved in Ivan’s personal affairs, but his mother shouldn’t have to ask him what’s going on with her own son.  He reminds Ivan that Lady Alys works closely with General Allegre with respect to Gregor’s security, not to mention dating a certain former head of ImpSec, so he can conclude she’s fairly well-connected to ImpSec information.  Ivan promises to send her a reassuring note–a note, not a video, which should be easier to keep concise.  He starts by setting the message header to “medium security”, not enough to seem like an emergency.

Dear Mother.

He sat a moment, while lights blinked at him.

I don’t know what ImpSec’s been telling you, but actually, everything’s all right.  I seem to have accidentally got married, but it’s only temporary.  Don’t change the headings on your cards.  I will explain it all to you when we get there.

Love, Ivan.

Then he decides that, if he’s going to tell her everything when they get there, he doesn’t need to tell her anything right now, so he deletes the two sentences in the middle, and then adds a postscript advising her to talk to Byerly Vorrutyer if she wants more information.  He doesn’t expect By to beat them back home, so it seems safe enough to throw him to the wolves.  Satisfied, he sends the message out.

Comments

Tej seems fairly coldblooded about the whole “trying to win Ivan over using sex” thing.  As a Jacksonian, she must certainly have been brought with a pragmatic streak a mile wide, though she’s still no match for Rish in that area, and the Betan influence of her teachers have stripped away any remaining romantic notions she had about it.  While Ivan may be a modern Barrayaran male, he’s still a Barrayaran male, and not as blasé about it as he might pretend, so he’s a bit of an easy mark.  But, still, Tej is going to find herself more ensnared than she expects…

So apparently innate linguistic talent is one of those things added to the haut genome, that can be passed on to their descendants; Ivan also makes an allusion to René Vorbretten’s perfect pitch as another possible haut inheritance.  I always wonder, with abilities like that which seem to be advantageous, but not possessed by anyone, what the downside is.  It’s possible that it’s just not a survival trait–the ability to learn your parent’s language as a child is a necessity, but being able to learn language all through life is a nice-to-have, but you’ll still survive to breed without it.  Same thing with perfect pitch.  If there are genetic downsides, like, say, perfect pitch also leading to sensitive hearing and a quicker chance of going deaf, or something strange, then I guess it’s up to the haut to try to weed out the problematic expressions of the gene while keeping the desirable ones.  Because genetics is hard.

Chapter Nine

Tej is almost surprised to find Vorbarr Sultana looking like a modern city, instead of the bombed-out ruin the history had made her envision for the frequently war-torn city.  It does have awful traffic, though; their auto-cab creeps through it past what Ivan assures them is very famous scenery.  They eventually reach a tall apartment building somewhat reminiscent of the one where Ivan had been staying in Solstice, though with a human security officer in the lobby; Ivan has Tej and Rish registered as official residents.  The apartment itself is also similar to the one from Solstice, roomier but more cluttered with stuff, seeming more lived-in despite a slightly musty smell of disuse; when Rish asks about a bed, Ivan tells her she can sleep on the folding couch.

Ivan has a few days of leave now, and Admiral Desplains had encouraged him to use it to organize his affairs, whatever that meant.  Ivan says he’s anxious to avoid a few people–his mother, his cousin Miles, and Gregor, not to mention Count Falco Vorpatril–but that aside, he asks them what they want to do.  Tej points out that they hardly have any clothes except Komarran ones, which might stand out a little; Rish pointedly reminds him that she will stick out anyway.  Ivan says his mother gets her stuff custom, but he’s sure he can find them someplace, though Komarran fashions are in style now, what with the Empress being Komarran herself.

The door chimes, to Ivan’s startlement, since nobody should even know he’s back yet; Tej tells herself that it can’t be her pursuers yet, either.  It turns out to be Christos, who works for Ivan’s mother, as all but an armsman; he tells Ivan that he knows they’re in there, and tells him at least to check his wristcom messages.  Ivan opens the door to let him in, a big, grey-haired man who, after spotting Tej and Rish, delivers a formal greeting.

“Good afternoon, Lady Vorpatril, Mademoiselle Lapis Lazuli.  I’m Christos, Dowager Lady Vorpatril’s driver.  M’lady has charged me to convey you to a private dinner at her flat.  And also to convey her earnest invitation for said dinner, should it unaccountably”–he cast a knife-flick of a glance at Ivan Xav–“have become lost somewhere on Lord Ivan’s wristcom.”

Ivan protests that they’ve only just gotten off the shuttle; Christos said he brought a book, so he can wait while they get ready, lest they unaccoutably decide to go out without him instead.  Tej asks what they should do, and Ivan admits that they’re trapped, but at least the food will be good; Rish points out that they’ll have to meet her eventually, so they might as well get it out of the way.  Tej is beginning to suspect that Lady Alys is a horrible harridan, so maybe she’ll be cheered up by the news that they are planning to divorce; hopefully she won’t just up and shoot Tej, or poison her, or worse, sell them out to the Prestenes.

They hurriedly clean up, the women dress in the best Komarran outfits they can scrounge, and Ivan in a fresh uniform, and Christos herds them to his groundcar.  Ivan asks if Simon will be there, and Christos confirms he will; after a few minutes Ivan says he’ll have to explain Simon: former head of Imperial Security, until he had a sort of stroke a few years ago and had a medical discharge, after which he took up with Ivan’s mother.  Tej is surprised to hear Ivan talking this way about the same man Morozov had considered “legendary”; Ivan says he hasn’t gotten used to it yet.  Tej says that on Jackson’s Whole it was said he had a cybernetic brain; Ivan explains about the memory chip, and how it broke down, forcing him to readjust, and so his memory isn’t always as good as it should be.  He encourages them to make allowances for it, and Tej realizes with puzzlement that he does seem to have some concern for Simon on his own behalf, not just as his mother’s lover.

They arrive at another tall building, which Ivan says isn’t where he grew up; she only moved into the penthouse suite here fairly recently.  He notes that she owns the whole building…and the old one…and the one where he’s currently living, too; Tej wonders if Alys Vorpatril is some kind of House Minor of her own.  Christos leads them to the lift tube, and then out into an exquisitely decorated room where a man and a woman are sitting; Christos announces them and removes himself discreetly.  Tej studies these two imposing figures–Lady Alys not looking old at all, despite streaks of grey in her hair, and Simon Illyan looking more vaguely affable than the intense figure she remembers from the pictures she’d seen.

Lady Alys cast a look at her son that seemed to say, I’ll deal with you later, and turned to take the startled Tej’s hands in cool, slim fingers.

“Lady Tej,” she said, looking her guest in the eye as if…searching?  “Welcome to my home.  Congratulations on your marriage.  And, I am so very sorry for your late losses.”

The last words floored Tej.  No one had offered her condolences for the slaughter of her family, not one person in all the long months of their erratic flight from the Whole to here.  Granted, the only people who had known who she was were the ones trying to add her to the tally.  But still, but still, but still.  She gulped, breathless and trembling.  Managed a constricted, “Thank you,” blinking back the blur in her eyes.  Ivan Xav looked at her in concern.

Lady Alys greets Rish, ascertaining that she prefers to called that rather than “Lapis Lazuli”, then introduces them both to her “long-time friend” Simon Illyan.  They sit down, Ivan keeping Tej by his side, and are served drinks.  Lady Alys says she has seen some vids of the Jewels’ performances, and asks Rish if she plans to return to her art; Rish says that wouldn’t mesh well with their current need for obscurity.  Illyan asks if she’d consider changing her appearance, and Rish said she’d hate to do it, and her dancing would be just as distinctive anyway.

Tej decides the time is right, and tells Lady Alys that she and Ivan are planning on divorcing soon–as soon as they can talk to Count Falco, adds Ivan.  Lady Alys asks if Ivan is such an awful husband, then, and Tej hurriedly says that he’s perfectly fine and would make a wonderful husband; Lady Alys says that somehow it’s never happened.

Tej said sturdily, “He has so very many good qualities.  He’s brave, he’s kind, he’s smart, he has excellent manners, and he thinks quickly in emergencies.”  When pressed hard enough, anyway.  “Very good-looking, too, of course.”  She probably ought not to add good in bed here; Barrayarans seemed to have funny notions about sex, which she didn’t quite understand yet.  “And, um…”  What was that unusual word Desplains had used?  “Chivalrous, too, which is why he rescued us and brought us here, but really, he owes me nothing.”

Lady Alys says that the marriage oaths state otherwise.  Ivan says he didn’t think she was so eager to become Dowager Lady Vorpatril, and she says she’s been waiting for ten years; if it makes her feel too old, she has Simon to help her with that.  Lady Alys says that if this is a marriage of convenience, they should consider that it should, at least, last long enough for Tej and Rish’s personal situation to be resolved in such a way that they’ll be just as safe as they are now under his protection.  She asks Tej what she wants, and Tej realizes that she had entirely the wrong opinion about Lady Alys Vorpatril.

Tej said they did have a rendezvous they were supposed to go to, not in the Barrayaran Imperium at all, but they were only to go there once they were absolutely certain they’d shaken any pursuit off their trail; rather than lead their pursuers there, they’d rather have died themselves.  Illyan says that they must have been trying to protect someone they thought more important than themselves, and surmises that that would be Tej’s missing brother; at their surprise, Illyan said he’d just read Morozov’s report, so it was all fresh in his mind.  He further postulates that this hiding place was Escobar, or somewhere nearby–Beta Colony, Kibou-daini, or Tau Ceti.

He offers the suggestion that the ladies be sent discreetly to Escobar, on a fast courier, as unlisted supercargo, the way they would insert ImpSec agents on-planet.  Tej, excited, asks if they could really do it; Illyan says that Ivan would have to call in some favours, but it could be done.  Ivan asks if that’s what she really wants; Tej asks Lady Alys what they would owe her for this, and Lady Alys says she’ll think of something.  Ivan asks Illyan for his help, but Illyan says that he’s confident Ivan can pull it off on his own.  Ivan asks if she really wants to leave Barrayar forever, so soon, and Tej admits she’s not sure herself; Lady Alys prudently suggests they have dinner and think it over.

The dinner is quite good, and Rish, far from having to scan for possibly poisons, is able to enjoy an unaccustomed aesthetic experience.  Tej asks how long Illyan’s lived there, and he clarifies that he still maintains his separate residence, though he does spent a lot of time here.  He also notes that ImpSec still checks his mail for bombs, as a courtesy, since he has no shortage of enemies who might want to take a little belated revenge; he encourages them to help him maintain the fiction that he’s more addled than he actually is.

After supper, Lady Alys gives them a tour of the top floor–the lower floor given over to the servants–and then takes them to the rooftop garden, designed, she says, by Lady Ekaterin Vorkosigan.  Tej thanks Lady Alys for making them feel welcome on Barrayar, which certainly wasn’t anywhere she’d ever intended to visit.

Lady Alys smiled into the dark.  “I considered leaving the time and place of your presentation up to Ivan, as a sort of test.  Then I considered all the many ways that scenario could go so wrong, and changed my mind.”

“Hey!” said Ivan Xav, but not very loudly.

“There were two principal possibilities on the table.” Lady Alys turned to face Tej.  Laying out her cards at last?  “First, was that you were an adventuress who had somehow succeeded in entrapping Ivan, and he should be rescued from you as expeditiously as possible.  Maybe.  After I’d found out how you did it, for future reference.  Or possibly he should be allowed to extricate himself from the consequences of his own folly, for a life lesson.  I was having trouble deciding which–”

Another inarticulate noise of protest from her son.

But, she assured Tej, Illyan and Morozov’s assessments made it seem more likely that she was the genuine article, and the marriage just the product of one of Ivan’s haphazard inspirations; still, ImpSec never gives anything a 100% probability, so she wanted to see for herself.  Ivan says, annoyed, that he’s perfectly capable of rescuing people himself.  As they take their leave, Lady Alys tells Tej that Ivan’s birthday is coming up, and they have a little ceremony every year to commemorate it; Ivan, bemused, assures her that he will invite his wife along.

In the car, Tej tells Ivan that his mother was not nearly as bad as he’d been leading her to believe; she’d been perfectly nice, no histrionics at all.  Rish says that Lady Alys reminds her of the Baronne, a little, though not quite as focused; Ivan says that Simon has mellowed her a fair bit.  He’s reminded of how his mother’s condolences had seemed to tear a small hole in Tej’s normal cheerful facade, and asks her if she was close to her mother.  Tej says they didn’t always get along; she admired the Baronne very much, but she’d never felt that Tej was living up to her potential, like her sisters.  Ivan says that reminded him of how he was always unfavourably compared to Miles, and Gregor.

Rish asks if Miles was like a brother to him, and Ivan tries to explain Miles; how the childhood injury made him focus so hard on becoming smart, and turned him into an overachiever.  Tej says that reminds her of her mother, too, who always wanted to make Tej more like her so she could understand her better.  Rish asks when they can meet this Miles; Ivan says he’s an Imperial Auditor, not always around, and his house is full of babies right now, since they just had twins.  Ivan is not that keen on babies, and Tej said she never had much to do with them either; Rish points out that she was the baby-sitter.

Comments

This chapter is definite proof that while Simon Illyan’s memory may not be that good, his mind is sharp enough with the information it has.  Which makes sense–it wasn’t the reasoning centers of his brain that were damaged, except perhaps as a side effect of the chip’s demise or it’s removal, so if he has some data to access, he can draw conclusions based on it just fine.  And obviously he’s still got his other types of memory–procedural, and whatever you call it when you recall information about something rather than exact events.  As in, he might not remember reading a report about Jackson’s Whole, but he surely remembers general information about it, just maybe a bit more vague and nonspecific.

The chapter’s almost all Tej, with just a little Ivan at the end, which makes a sort of sense since it’s mostly about Tej meeting Ivan’s mother, and that scene plays better from her POV.  Also, we get to see Ivan’s unconscious indications that he’s not as bad a person as he sometimes tries to make out.  He says that he’s upset that his mother’s dating, and Simon Illyan of all people, but he shows unmistakable concern for Simon’s welfare.  He’s also not filled with unalloyed happiness at the prospect of Tej leaving for Escobar, presumably to rendezvous with the remains of her family and work on picking up the pieces of her former life.  He’s kind of like…Matrim Cauthon, I guess, from the Wheel of Time–tries to make himself out to be all hard-nosed and pragmatic, and underneath is a softer touch than any of them.

Obviously this Escobar plan doesn’t take Tej out of Ivan’s life just yet, because that wouldn’t be much of a story, would it?


Don’t get your hopes up about two chapters next week–the next two weekends will be quite busy, and I do feel like I’m winding down.  I’m not as gung ho as I was three years ago when I worked on my posts while on vacation, just to keep from having any interruptions.  One chapter should still be within my capabilities, though.

 

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Hello, future readers!  I am sending you this message from the past–a time capsule of sorts, if you will–because prior commitments, also made in the past, will make it impossible, or at least inconvenient, to publish this manually at my usual time, which is to say “as close to my personal deadline as I can possibly manage”.  Soon enough I will catch up with this future, but right now this “past me” writing this.  So let “past me” welcome you back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in which the writings of Lois McMaster Bujold, and specifically those comprising the saga involving Vorkosigans, are dealt with in a certain amount of detail.  This week I deal with the final chapter and epilogue of Diplomatic Immunity, in which certain people continue to survive, receive recognition for their efforts, and execute an alarming transition in their perceived place in the universe.

Chapter Eighteen

Miles wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar place.  There’s no tubes in his nose, and only vague memories of the desperate flight of his convoy, and the messages they heard about the escalating tensions between the two empires.  Ekaterin is bending over his bed, oddly enough, and with no medical mask or anything.  He sits up on one elbow and sees a room filled with obviously Cetagandan decor, including plants and a seascape out the window–almost certainly a simulated one, because he’s pretty sure he’s still on a spaceship.  Miles remembers the horrifying story they’d heard, of a batch of a thousand empty Star Crèche replicators found near Vorbarr Sultana, and asks urgently if they managed to head off the war yet.

Ekaterin pushes him back down on the bed and assures him that the urgent matters have been taken care of–mostly by her, even though strictly speaking Admiral Vorpatril shouldn’t have listened to her.  She kept insisting that Pel and Benin be given Miles’s messages, and once Benin was on the case matters got cleared up quickly.  Benin discovered that the ba had been quietly smuggling those replicators out a few at a time as part of its backup plan.  The Cetagandans have declared the affair an internal matter, and tensions are easing.  She says that without Pel’s name–and “Vorkosigan”–she probably wouldn’t have gotten through.

Miles says that last thing he remembers was four days out from Quaddiespace, and being very cold; Ekaterin says that the blood filter was barely keeping up with the infection, and his metabolism was losing energy.  In desperation, they put Bel and Miles into cold stasis, which put the parasites into hibernation, so they weren’t forced to resort to actual cryofreeze, to Miles’s relief.  She says they’ve been in orbit around Rho Ceta for about a day; Miles can tell she hasn’t been sleeping well.

Ekaterin says that Pel brought in a woman who seems to have cleared all of the parasites out of his system, and Bel’s; right now they’re on Pel’s own Star Crèche ship.  There was some unpleasantness about the Cetagandans refusal to let Roic, Clogston, or any of the Barrayaran men on board the ship, but they eventually settled for allowing Ekaterin and Nicol on.  Miles asks if Gupta was also cleared of any remnants of parasites–he hadn’t been that keen on getting back into Cetagandan hands, but Miles had convinced him of it–and Ekaterin says he’s been treated as well.  In fact, the Cetagandans are intensely interested in how he survived the bioweapon in the first place, but the Barrayarans still have him in their possession for the nonce.

He hesitated, and cleared his throat. “Um . . . I also seem to remember recording some messages. To my parents. And Mark and Ivan. And to little Aral and Helen. I hope you didn’t . . . you didn’t send them off already, did you?”

“I set them aside.”

“Oh, good. I’m afraid I wasn’t very coherent by then.”

“Perhaps not,” she admitted. “But they were very moving, I thought.”

“I put it off too long, I guess. You can erase them now.”

“Never,” she said, quite firmly.

“But I was babbling.”

“Nevertheless, I’m going to save them.” She stroked his hair, and her smile twisted. “Perhaps they can be recycled someday. After all . . . next time, you might not have time.”

Pel enters with another haut woman, undoubtedly her friend who had cured them of the parasites–no force bubbles, so obviously they consider themselves effectively in the heart of the Star Crèche itself.  She greets him and says she was surprised to meet him again, though it was not unwelcome; she assures him that the fetuses in the replicators have been checked and seem to be in good health.

Ekaterin asks Pel’s physician companion about the possible long-term effects of the infection, and she says she there will be some micro-scarring, which may lead to circulatory problems later in life; Miles wonders how this will interact with his existing seizure disorder.  Bel apparently suffered even more severe damage, and its muscles may be permanently damaged, so she recommends it stay in a low-gravity environment as much as possible, which it turns out won’t be that hard.  Miles vows to himself to get Bel a medical discharge from ImpSec and pension.

The physician leaves, and Pel says that Benin would like to talk to Miles; Miles agrees wholeheartedly, and asks about what happened to the ba.  Pel says that the ba has been returned to the Star Crèche, and they’re grateful for Benin’s assistance in dealing with any of its collaborators; Miles senses she doesn’t want to say much more about the ba, but he’s not ready to drop the subject yet.  He asks about the ba’s kidnapping of the child-ship, and Pel admits that the ba seemed to have been planning this for a long time, and poisoned the rest of the ship’s inhabitants before sending it into the sun–which she at least concedes as a fitting funeral pyre.

Miles asks about the bioweapons the ba was carrying; Pel tells him in no uncertain terms that this is not a suitable topic, but Miles persists, saying that they will need assurances that there will be no further contagions on the Idris or Graf Station, and Pel finally grudgingly admits that the rest of the consort’s “supplies” were destroyed by their keeper before the ba could get its hands on them.  Miles suspects that that “keeper” might have been Pel’s physician’s counterpart on the Rho Cetan ship, and files this information away for later.

Pel also refuses to answer Miles’s questions on the ba’s motives, so he happily supplies her with his own theory–that this ba, a genetic sibling of Emperor Fletchir Giaja, was probably involved in the Dowager Empress’s earlier scheme, and saw this as some sort of continuation of the project.  Pel calls this close enough, and informs them that, the Emperor being pleased with them, they will be given the unprecedented honour of being present at the upcoming ceremony when the child-ship delivers the fetuses to the planet.  Miles says he’d rather just understand what was really going on in the ba’s head.

“Bear with me. I don’t think I’ve quite got it, yet. I suspect the haut—and the ba—are not so post-human yet as to be beyond self-deception, all the more subtle for their subtlety. I saw the ba’s face, when I destroyed that freezer case of genetic samples in front of it. Something shattered. Some last, desperate . . . something.” He had slain men’s bodies, and bore the mark, and knew it. He did not think he’d ever before slain a soul, yet left the body breathing, bereft and accusing. I have to understand this.

Pel was clearly not pleased to go on, but she understood the depth of a debt that could not be paid off with such trivialities as medals and ceremonies. “The ba, it seems,” she said slowly, “desired more than Lisbet’s vision. It planned a new empire—with itself as both emperor and empress. It stole the haut children of Rho Ceta not just as a core population for its planned new society, but as . . . mates. Consorts. Aspiring to even more than Fletchir Giaja’s genetic place, which, while part of the goal of haut, does not imagine itself the whole. Hubris,” she sighed. “Madness.”

“In other words,” breathed Miles, “the ba wanted children. In the only way it could . . . conceive.”

Pel admits that the Dowager Empress made a pet of the ba, treated it almost as a child, perhaps unwisely.  Miles can imagine the ba’s thinking, then, wondering why it doesn’t get everything that its half-sibling the Emperor does, coveting it…  Miles asks about the ba’s name, and Pel says that as punishment for its crime, its name will be forgotten and stricken from records.

The next morning, before local dawn, they are brought down to the surface of Rho Ceta in a lift van, to a grassy amphitheatre on a slope across from the planet’s capital city, filled with mourning-white haut-lady bubbles, and less-visible haut men.  Miles contemplates ghem-General Benin, in the van with them, and thinks that Benin’s recent experiences must have been immeasurably more stressful than Miles’s own, with the child-ship’s inexplicable disppearance, and the tantalizing clues leading to Komarr and Barrayar…  He had gladly answered Benin’s questions, but held firm on refusing to give up Gupta to the Cetagandans, and apparently his current esteem on Rho Ceta is enough to earn that much for him.

Nevertheless, Miles wondered where to drop Guppy when this was all over. Housing him in a Barrayaran jail was a useless expense to the Imperium. Turning him loose back on Jackson’s Whole was an invitation for him to return to his old haunts, and employment—no benefit to the neighbors, and a temptation to Cetagandan vengeance. He could think of one other nicely distant place to deposit a person of such speckled background and erratic talents, but was it fair to do that to Admiral Quinn . . . ? Bel had laughed, evilly, at the suggestion, till it had to stop to breathe.

Miles is helped into a floater, his strength not quite up to standing for very long yet, and he wants to husband it for the ceremony proper; Bel, not in any better shape, is in his own floater, accompanied by Nicol.  Benin leads them all up to meet the current Rho Cetan governor–a Degtiar, not one of the ones Miles had met at the Dowager Empress’s funeral–who greets them with a startlingly deep bow and offer of his household’s service.  After a brief conversation with Benin, the shuttle from the child-ship drops down to the amphitheatre, landing not too far from Miles and the others; the waiting Cetagandan haut quiet in anticipation.

Ekaterin and Roic help Miles out of his floater and he stands on his own for the ceremony.  The shuttle opens to disgorge a translucent, empty haut-bubble, in honour of the murdered Consort, followed by more bubbles, lead by Pel.  She stops in front of Benin and enjoins him to convey the Emperor’s thanks to the outlander guests.  Benin gives a thankfully subdued Bel Thorne a prized honour, Warrant of the Celestial House, and the same to Ekaterin.

“My Lord Vorkosigan,” Benin spoke.

Miles stepped forward a trifle apprehensively.

“My Imperial Master, the Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja, reminds me that true delicacy in the giving of gifts considers the tastes of the recipient. He therefore charges me only to convey to you his personal thanks, in his own Breath and Voice.”

First prize, the Cetagandan Order of Merit, and what an embarrassment that medal had been, a decade ago. Second prize, two Cetagandan Orders of Merit? Evidently not. Miles breathed a sigh of relief, only slightly tinged with regret. “Tell your Imperial Master from me that he is entirely welcome.”

“My Imperial Mistress, the Empress the haut Rian Degtiar, Handmaiden of the Star Crèche, also charged me to convey to you her own thanks, in her own Breath and Voice.”

Miles bowed perceptibly lower. “I am at her service in this.”

Pel moves forward and announces to Miles that the Star Crèche is “calling him up”–requesting a sample to be added to the haut gene-banks.  He’s sure that they probably already have a sample of his material from his previous visit–and his current one–but the formal addition is a great honour.  Pel takes a blood sample with skilled fingers, and ritually adds it to a freezer case.  Miles tells Pel that his talents are probably not genetic, but she shushes him gently.

Next the replicators themselves are offloaded by ghem-women and ba servitors, and haut men come forward to accept their new offspring, which Miles knows may will have been engendered without their participation, or probably even their consent; the Governor himself is among them.  The men take the replicators to their haut-mothers, whose bubbles change from white to any of a riotous assortment of colours.  The children will be delivered to their caretakers, and may never meet their parents again.  Miles wonders about these children’s eventual fates, and wonders if, in the future, one of them will turn into Barrayar’s greatest enemy, and the thought unsettles him.  The ceremony over, Miles says that it’s time to go home.

Comments

And so it proves that the ba’s plot was, in some ways, an offshoot of the plot of Cetaganda, the Dowager Empress’s plan to disperse the haut gene bank, although twisted by a somewhat deranged mind.  The ba was apparently pampered and indulged by the Empress, which they seem to regard as the only excuse for its behaviour, which implies they normally keep a much tighter rein on them.  And yet, they use them as prototypes for the haut genome–what do they expect, as the genetic sibling of someone thought suitable of being the Emperor himself?

Good to see Benin and Pel again; Benin must be in essentially the same position as Simon Illyan was, head of security for the Star Crèche vs. head of ImpSec…  And yet, he seems to get along well with Miles, or at least they understand each other well.  And Pel is certainly one of the more daring of the haut-ladies, and understands Miles well enough to accede to his wishes to fill in the gaps in his understanding of the case.  Even though she doubtless realizes that ImpSec will get their hands on all of this information.  Or maybe not; Rian seemed a little unworldly when she talked to Miles in Cetaganda, but then I suppose Pel is older and wiser.

Miles gets yet another layer of health problems here, because that was totally something he needed.  After all, all he had up to now was all that bone fragility from before he was born, and then the aftereffects of his death and cryorevival, including the seizures.  Oh, and I suppose there were those bleeding stomach ulcers, and his weird fast-penta reaction, but those are hardly worth mentioning.  And now he’s got “micro-scarring” in his muscles and blood vessels.  I can’t remember if that ever comes up as a concern in CryoBurn, but I guess I’ll find out in a few months…

Epilogue

They return to Komarr with Bel and Nicol, where Bel is given its final ImpSec debrief.  Miles comes along to try to make sure the herm doesn’t tire itself out unduly, but ends up being dragged off by Ekaterin when his stamina fails first.  Afterwards, Miles invites them, not for the first time, down to see Vorkosigan House, and experience Ma Kosti’s cooking.  Roic is patrolling in a hyperalert state, and Miles makes a mental note that Roic deserves a vacation when they get home.  Nicol says she’d prefer to go somewhere where she’s not going to need armsmen to protect her from the locals, and Ekaterin points out that they’re tired, homesick, and Bel needs to get home and relax.

Bel tells Miles to stick to less dangerous work from now on, since it doubts he’s going to get a third chance.  Miles says that he’s likely to have lots of tedious work at home to keep him busy, like his last job, coming up with new bio-law for Barrayar.  He asks Bel to keep an eye on Corbeau, and Nicol says that she’d heard from Garnet Five that he’s not doing too bad so far; Bel says that they can come visit Quaddiespace again sometime.  They bid Bel and Nicol farewell, and then are drawn to the Kestrel, to take them home, with birth-clocks ticking madly in their heads.  Gregor has invited them to a reception upon their return, but they’ve also heard that the doctors can’t keep their children in the replicators much longer, so first things first.

Miles gets in some practice with a cane instead of a floater during the trip back from Komarr, and his strength is returning slightly, but he’s still not at full strength when they arrive back at Vorkosigan House; he contemplates getting a sword-cane like Koudelka’s.  They enter to be greeted by Cordelia, Aral and Nikki; Miles is disconcerted to find himself looking up into Nikki’s face.  Cordelia relays messages from Beta Colony–Mark’s, awkward but heartfelt, as well as her mother’s.  Ekaterin’s brother Will Vorvayne is recording everything on video.  Aral congratulates Ekaterin on her diplomatic work, and says they can likely find a job for her if she wants, but she says she’s going to have enough work on her hands soon enough.  They wash up quickly and then head to the nursery.

With the addition of the birth team—an obstetrician, two medtechs, and a bio-mechanic—the small chamber overlooking the back garden was as full as it could hold. It seemed as public a birth as those poor monarchs’ wives in the old histories had ever endured, except that Ekaterin had the advantage of being upright, dressed, and dignified. All of the cheerful excitement, none of the blood or pain or fear. Miles decided that he approved.

Miles asks how they do this, and Cordelia says they can just each lift one latch, like they did with him.  They do so on both replicators, Ekaterin luminous with joy, and the obstetrician goes to work.  He takes Aral Alexander out first, and Miles holds his breath until he hears Aral’s first cry, tearing up; Cordelia has to fight to keep her hands to her sides, and Will Vorvayne jockeys around trying take his videos until his sister firmly tells him to stay back.  Ekaterin takes baby Aral while the obstetrician extracts baby Helen; Miles tries to absorb the existence and reality of this tiny baby, the little person which is now his.  Ekaterin hands the baby to Miles, who decides he should sit down first.  Helen Natalia cries much louder than her brother when she comes out.

With two babies to go around, all the people lined up to hold them would have their chances soon enough, Miles decided, accepting Helen Natalia, still making noise, from her grinning mother. They could wait a few more moments. He stared at the two bundles more than filling his lap in a kind of cosmic amazement.

“We did it,” he muttered to Ekaterin, now perching on the chair arm. “Why didn’t anybody stop us? Why aren’t there more regulations about this sort of thing? What fool in their right mind would put me in charge of a baby? Two babies?”

Her brows drew together in quizzical sympathy. “Don’t feel bad. I’m sitting here thinking that eleven years suddenly seems longer that I realized. I don’t remember anything about babies.”

“I’m sure it’ll all come back to you. Like, um, like flying a lightflyer.”

He had been the end point of human evolution. At this moment he abruptly felt more like a missing link. I thought I knew everything. Surely I knew nothing. How had his own life become such a surprise to him, so utterly rearranged? His brain had whirled with a thousand plans for these tiny lives, visions of the future both hopeful and dire, funny and fearful. For a moment, it seemed to come to a full stop. I have no idea who these two people are going to be.

Comments

Tradition holds that a TV series jumps the shark when they add new babies to the plot.  I’m not convinced that’s always true, though I can see some of the logic behind it.  Still, it’s a logical development in many people’s lives–committed relationship to marriage to parenthood is still a dominant sequence of events in Western culture, even if it’s not nearly as universal as it used to be.  It does often signal a transition in life from adventure, having fun, staying out till all hours, going out to movies whenever you want, and feeling the freedom to take stupid risks, in favour of being responsible.  Or maybe that’s just me.

I certainly empathize with Miles’s realization of his change of viewpoint in the last paragraph that I quoted there.  Sometimes parenthood is also a signal that a character is going to move back into the wings, to let their offspring take center stage.  As far as jumping the shark goes…well, I haven’t liked the last three Vorkosigan books as much as I did the four or five before that, but I don’t think I’d blame the babies for that.  Would it help to revitalize the series if we moved further forward, to let Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia, and their siblings, become main characters?  Maybe there’s too much soft-heartedness there.

So much of Miles’s storyline was driven by the awful things that happened before his birth, and with Bujold’s stated maxim of doing the worst possible thing to her characters, it may be that the only way to make his children interesting characters would be to do awful things to Miles himself, or Ekaterin, or Barrayar.  Would I want to read a book where half of the character we’d met on Barrayar get killed off by Cetagandans, or Jacksonians, or Cavilo?  Probably not.  Or one of the children could get kidnapped, and then they have to find him or her…  I don’t know.  I don’t have a good idea where the series should go next, and maybe there aren’t a lot of good stories left to tell about the Vorkosigans that aren’t either insanely dull or horribly painful.  So I’ll trust the author to keep trying, or not, as she wants, and try to judge each book on its own merits.


And on that note, let’s wrap up Diplomatic Immunity.  Not my favourite, though definitely exciting at points, and tying together all sorts of interesting threads from Cetaganda, “Labyrinth”, Mirror Dance, Falling Free, and most of the books in the series, really.  My usual week off, and then I’ll start on Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the first book in the reread that I’ve only read once, so far.  I think I’m going to take it a chapter at a time, at least to start, for a number of reasons, not least of which being that this is another one I only have a print copy of, so I’ll have to hand-type quotes or something, and hold the book open with one hand or weight down the pages…it just seems like it’ll be more work.  I’ll have to see how that turns out…

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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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Spring is springing, the grass is probably going to rise any day now, and maybe next month we’ll even get some leaves on the trees…  In the meantime, I lurk down in the basement (as I do in spring and summer too, I do confess) churning out another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread for you, distilling–or is that diluting?–the works of Lois McMaster Bujold into a more readibly assimilable form.  So let’s keep going through Diplomatic Immunity, as Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan hopes for a break in the investigation of the disappearance of Lieutenant Solian on Graf Station…

Chapter Ten

Miles and Bel make arrangements for a message capsule containing Dubauer’s blood sample to be sent to the Prince Xav without being shot down by quaddie patrol ships, and it manages to reach the Barrayaran ship without incident.  After that’s accomplished, he actually takes time for a quick meal of military rations, still watching video records of the Idris‘s airlocks.  Dubauer had never left the ship until evicted with the rest, but Lieutenant Solian had left five times–the last one while he was off-shift.  Miles examines the last video record of him closely, but doesn’t spot evidence of a nosebleed; Solian looks intent on something, but they’re not sure what.  He’s not recorded on having left again, but his body was not found on the Idris.

Miles wonders where Solian went for forty minutes; Bel said he never crossed through customs, unless he was carried through rolled up in a carpet, and they’d have spotted that too.  He could have gone to any of the other Barrayaran ships, or any of six loading bays, but Brun has already said that Solian didn’t enter any of the other ships either.  Bel admits the loading bays aren’t closely monitored, and often used for games or exercise; Miles wonders if Solian talked to someone else from one of the ships.

After their meal, Bel escorts Miles to where the Komarran ships’ crews are being housed.  After fending off their initial clamouring to be released, Miles gathers the ships’ four medtechs.  He asks about their procedures, and how easy it would be to gain access to the infirmary; all of them state that while they’re in space the infirmary is left accessible all the time, in case of emergency, though some drugs are kept locked up.  In dock, they mostly rely on ship’s security to regulate who comes on board the ship, and two of the medtechs secure it entirely when they’re not there.

He asks about their blood synthesis equipment–they all have some–and the Idris medtech says that he’d certainly have noticed if several liters of blood had been synthesized, from the depleted stores.  Miles explains about how the blood that was found, that matched Solian’s, had been synthesized, and says they’ll have to check their supplies.  The tech from the Rudra recalls an odd-looking passenger who’d asked her about the blood synthesizer.

Miles smiled carefully. “Tell me more about your funny passenger.”

“He’d just signed on to the Rudra here at Graf Station. He said he was worried, if he had any accidents en route, because he couldn’t take standard blood substitutes on account of being so heavily gengineered. Which he was. I mean, I believed him about the blood compatibility problems. That’s why we carry the synthesizers, after all. He had the longest fingers—with webs. He told me he was an amphibian, which I didn’t quite believe, till he showed me his gill slits. His ribs opened out in the most astonishing fashion. He said he has to keep spraying his gills with moisturizer, when he travels, because the air on ships and stations is too dry for him.” She stopped, and swallowed.

Miles, excited but trying to hide it, asks when this was, and is told that it was two days before they were evacuated from the ships, and hence three days after Solian’s disappearance.  She says his name was Firka, and she would definitely recognize him if she saw him; when Miles asks, she says she’d be willing, if not eager, to testify under fast-penta.  Miles and Bel negotiate for the release of the medtechs as expert witnesses, and head over to the Rudra to inspect their synthesizer.  They do indeed find its stores down by four liters, and there’s still some residue that wasn’t cleaned up properly, which Miles eagerly takes a sample of for Prince Xav‘s surgeon.

Miles sends Roic to check the Rudra‘s records of Firka, and Bel off with the medtechs to crosscheck the other ships, while he returns to the Kestrel to send his new sample off to Prince Xav.  He checks on Firka’s current location–he’s staying at one of the hostels provided for the passengers, but has apparently gone out for the evening; Miles asks to be notified when he returns.  He then calls to check on Dubauer, who has also gone out, alone, which Miles finds odd for someone who was so adamant about getting an escort back from the Idris; Miles asks to be notified when it returns, too.

He scans through more vids from the Idris, not spotting anyone who seems to match Firka’s description.  Bel and Roic return, Bel saying that they didn’t find anything on the other ships’ synthesizers, and he’d sent the medtechs back.  Miles muses that now they have to wait–for the analysis of the blood samples, and for the return of Firka and Dubauer.  Bel says it sounds like a good time to sleep, and heads off to his and Nicol’s apartment.  Miles lies down for a nap, not wanting to update Venn until the blood tests are back.  Smolyani has disengaged the Kestrel from the airlock, for safety from the riveter, still at large; Graf Station is not a particularly hard place to hide, apparently.  Though Dubauer as a ba, with Star Crèche cargo, is a much more likely assassination target than the Betan Ker Dubauer; Miles hopes to be able to fast-penta Firka soon, though Dubauer is likely to be immune.

Roic awakens Miles when the surgeon calls him, after a four-hour nap that Miles deems sufficient; Roic has apparently not gone to sleep, and says he has something interesting from the Rudra‘s vids to show Miles.  Miles talks to the surgeon–a Captain Clogston–first; Clogston says the blood from the handkerchief is definitely Cetagandan haut, with some oddnesses that Miles identifies as ba.  Miles tells him to store that sample to send back to ImpSec for storage; the Cetagandans will doubtless be unhappy that a ba genetic sample has escaped, though admittedly it’s almost a century old by this point.  Clogston confirms that the other sample was definitely Solian’s synthesized blood, even the same batch.

After dismissing the surgeon’s call, Miles asks Roic what he found.  Roic found Firka on the Rudra‘s vids, having boarded the ship originally after the first delay for repairs.  He’d stayed in the cabin on the ship, but two of the times he’d left the ship exactly matched up with Solian’s, including Solian’s final forty-minute sojourn.  Roic finds an image of Firka to show him.

The man was tall, with pale unhealthy-looking skin and dark hair shaved close to his skull in a patchy, unflattering fuzz, like lichen on a boulder. Big nose, small ears, a lugubrious expression on his rubbery face—he looked strung out, actually, eyes dark and ringed. Long, skinny arms and legs; a loose tunic or poncho concealed the details of his big upper torso. His hands and feet were especially distinctive, and Miles zoomed in for close-ups. One hand was half-concealed in a cloth glove with the fingertips cut out, which hid the webs from a casual glance, but the other was ungloved and half-raised, and the webs showed distinctly, a dark rose color between the over-long fingers. The feet were concealed in soft boots or buskins, tied at the ankles, but they too were about double the length of a normal foot, though no wider. Could the fellow spread his webbed toes, when in the water, as he spread his webbed fingers, to make a broad flipper?

He recalled Ekaterin’s description of the passenger who had accosted her and Bel on their outing, that first day—he had the longest, narrowest hands and feet. Bel should get a look at this shortly. Miles let the vid run. The fellow had a somewhat shambling gait when he walked, lifting and setting down those almost clownish feet.

Roic says his documentation claims he’s from Aslund, though he’d arrived on a ship from Tau Ceti.  Aslund isn’t exactly a water-world, though, so Miles makes a note to double-check his origin with ImpSec.  Firka had apparently first tried to get a berth on Idris, and settled for Rudra because Idris was full.  Miles tries to determine why Firka might have generated a batch of Solian’s blood like that.  If he’d killed Solian, and used the blood to cover it up, it was a waste of effort, since nobody had come close to solving Solian’s murder/disappearance yet.  Had he been trying to frame someone else?

To cover up a desertion? Might Firka and Solian be collaborating on Solian’s defection? Or . . . when might a desertion not be a desertion? When it was an ImpSec covert ops scam, that’s when. Except that Solian was Service Security, not ImpSec: a guard, not a spy or trained agent. Still . . . a sufficiently bright, loyal, highly motivated, and ambitious officer, finding himself in some complex imbroglio, might not wait for orders from on high to pursue a fast-moving long shot. As Miles had reason to know.

Of course, taking risky chances like that could get such an officer killed. As Miles also had reason to know.

If it hadn’t been for the incident with Corbeau, what would have come of the blood dumping?  It would certainly have reawakened interest in Solian’s disappearance, and delayed the fleet’s departure, much as the Corbeau incident had.  Miles considers briefly whether Garnet Five might not have engineered that incident somehow…

Roic says there’s no clear footage of Firka taking containers of blood off the ship, but he did take various boxes back and forth, so he could have smuggled it out.  Miles double-checks with the hostels, and neither Firka or Dubauer have returned.  Miles calls the security office, and speaks to Teris Three, night-shift supervisor, Chief Venn having also gone to snatch some sleep.  Miles asks for them to detain Firka, for the purposes of fast-penta interrogation, as a material witness.  Teris Three says that they can’t do that without a formal charge, and an adjudicator to authorize the fast-penta.  Miles offers a charge of littering, and illegal disposal of organic matter, which Teris Three agrees is a misdemeanor, at least.  She says they’re undermanned, but she’ll put out a bulletin for him; Miles promises to send her pictures of him.

Miles and Roic inspect Firka’s image, and speculate that his toes might be prehensile enough for him to operate floater controls almost like a quaddie; emptying jugs of blood would be easier than toting a body, too.  If that were so, the initial identification of the riveter as a quaddie is suspect.  He fiddles with Firka’s image, tacking on a blond wig, and tries to decide if it’s a close enough match.

He calls up Bel to try to get a second opinion, and gets a sleepy Nicol.  When Miles asks to talk to Bel, though, Nicol says that he never came home…despite having left six hours earlier.

Comments

Some progress here, finally, as the source of the Solian blood is found, and a possible culprit found.  Firka–as he’s calling himself at this point–appears, and looks to be not only the one who planted the blood, but also the mad riveter.  What’s unknown, as yet, is his connection to Solian and/or Dubauer, both of whom were on the Idris.  And Ekaterin had probably met him already, in that earlier scene that we only got to hear about second-hand.

And now Bel gets to be the damsel in distress, disappearing mysteriously despite a security escort (a story to be told in the next chapter).  All the pieces are still not there, but once we get “Firka”‘s story all will fall into place…

It’s almost not worth mentioning at this point how the medtechs don’t get names.  Though the surgeon on Prince Xav does, at this point.  I suppose not everyone needs to be dealt with as an individual, but sometimes we learn their names anyway.  Well, I suppose Bujold isn’t Robert Jordan, you don’t need to learn everybody’s name.

Chapter Eleven

Miles and Roic arrive at Graf Station Security Post One, in the zero-gee zone, a little after Nicol; the quaddies become noticeably warier at the arrival of the downsiders, but Chief Venn arrives eventually and ushers them inside.  Bel apparently dismissed its quaddie guard at a bubble-car stop near its home, and hasn’t been seen since; Venn says he’s sure there’s a simple explanation.  He offers Miles another liaison officer, and Miles says he’d rather have Bel Thorne, and calls it careless of them to have lost another downsider; he points out that Bel is another possible target of the rogue riveter.  Teris Three says that they have traced the riveter machine, purchased from a supply store near the free fall docks and carried out, but the clerk can’t remember for sure who bought it.

Teris Three also brings up Miles’s request to detain Firka, and Miles explains about tracking down the source of the synthesized blood, and describes Firka’s unusual appearance.  Venn authorizes Teris Three to disseminate Firka’s description–and, at Nicol’s insistence, adds a request to look out for Bel Thorne.  Miles adds a request to take Dubauer into custody–“protective” custory, at least–because of its suspicious current absence, and also its presence at the rivet-gun attack; Venn acquiesces to that as well.  Teris Three leaves, going off shift, and Venn offers to send Nicol home as well, but she says she’d prefer to stay and wait for news, and Miles declares his intention to stay with her.  Venn shifts them out of his office into a private waiting room.

Miles wonders to himself whether Bel had any other ImpSec cases that might relate to his disappearance, but can’t ask Nicol about it since she doesn’t seem to be in the know about Bel’s second job.  Nicol and Roic make small talk while Miles tries to decide what to do next; he’d hoped to have Firka and Dubauer in hand to fast-penta this morning, but they all seem to have disappeared.

Teris Three comes to fetch Miles back to talk to Venn, who is just imploring Sealer Greenlaw to come deal with Miles; Teris Three says that Bel dismissed it escort at the Joint, a main hub in the station, because it had bumped into Garnet Five and went to talk to her.  Venn intimates that perhaps Bel might have been having an affair with her, and Miles refrains from commenting apart from suggesting they call her.  Venn obliges, but gets a recording; Miles suggests they send a trooper to check on her.

Miles returns to update Nicol, who can suggest several innocent reasons Garnet Five might have wanted to talk to Bel, such as trying to get some information about or affecting Corbeau, or just wanting someone to discuss her currently-unpopular paramour with.  Miles points out that wouldn’t account for Bel’s continued absence, and wishes heartily that he had more information.  He decides it’s late enough to call Ekaterin, who claims to have been already awake, updating her on Bel’s disappearance.  She seeks assurance that he’s keeping protection, and Miles offers to send her home on ahead of him, which she refuses to commit to.

Miles is just considering heading out to wander the station in hope of finding something helpful when Garnet Five arrives, demanding to talk to Lord Vorkosigan.  She finds their room and greets Nicol with a hug; she says Bel was gone when she came to, and Miles urges her to tell the story a little more coherently.  Garnet Five says she’d bumped into Bel and asked him about Corbeau, so they went to get some peppermint tea.  Bel became distracted when it saw a quaddie that it suspected of fencing stolen cargo talking to an odd-looking downsider.

“Tall, lanky fellow with webbed hands and long feet, and a big barrel chest? Looks sort of like his mother might have married the Frog Prince, but the kiss didn’t quite work out?” Miles asked.

Garnet Five stared. “Why, yes. Well, I’m not sure about the chest—he was wearing this loose, flippy cape-thing. How did you know?”

“This is about the third time he’s turned up in this case. You might say he’s riveted my attention. But go on, then what?”

Bel sat with its back to them and had Garnet Five report on them; the quaddie spotted Bel and left, and Bel insisted on following Firka when he left too.  Garnet Five stayed with it; Firka doubled back onto the grav side of the station, and then apparently lay in wait for them, spraying some chemical in their faces that knocked them out.  When she woke up, Bel was gone, and she was left inside a recycle bin; she extricated herself, located a patroller, and came straight to the station, so Miles estimates she was out for at least six hours.  He recommends she get a blood sample taken right away in case there’s still traces of the drug in her system, which she agrees to.

When Miles had assured himself that Garnet Five had been taken into competent medical hands, and plenty of them, he turned back to Teris Three.

“It isn’t just my airy theories any more,” he told her. “You have a valid assault charge on this Firka fellow. Can’t you step up the search?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered grimly. “This one’s going out on all the com channels, now. He attacked a quaddie. And he released toxic volatiles into the public air.”

Miles makes a nuisance of himself until Chief Venn agrees to send him, with an escort, back to the scene of Firka’s attack, where there are already CSI quaddies at work, scanning for fingerprints and gathering samples.  Enjoined from poking around while they’re gathering evidence, Miles wanders around, looking for clues or hidden messages or something.  The CSI techs note a suspicious deficiency of evidence, as if it’s already been swept once; Miles manages to convince the patroller to scan the corridor that Bel and Garnet Five came down, checking for more evidence, or unlocked doors, but they don’t find anything too interesting.  Miles tries to picture what Firka would have done with Bel’s unconscious form, which would have to taken out through one of the never-quite-deserted adjoining corridors.

Attracted by the smell of nearby baking, Miles decides it’s a good time for breakfast, so they head into a café.  Miles is enjoying their fresh fruit when the holovid in the corner pipes up with a safety bulletin, complete with pictures of Firka and Bel; the server tells them that it’s been running every fifteen minutes, and summarizes the bits that Miles didn’t catch.  Miles wonders if this will drive Firka to panic, or to turn himself in…  He tries to remind himself of his real mission, to free the fleet, but right now he’s more worried about finding Bel, and he can’t figure out how to parlay this series of events to his advantage.

They return to the security post, with not much news for Nicol, though he’s unable to reassure her about what Firka have wanted Bel for.  They are interrupted by new arrivals.

A pair of husky male quaddies in the orange work shirts and shorts of Docks and Locks managed the two ends of a three-meter length of pipe. Firka occupied the middle.

The unhappy downsider’s wrists and ankles were lashed to the pipe with swathes of electrical tape, bending him in a U, with another rectangle of tape plastered across his mouth, muffling his moans. His eyes were wide, and rolled in panic. Three more quaddies in orange, panting and rumpled, one with a red bruise starting around his eye, bobbed along beside as outriders.

The work crew took aim and floated with their squirming burden through free fall to fetch up with a thump at the reception desk. A quartet of uniformed security quaddies appeared from another portal to gather and stare at this unwilling prize; the desk sergeant hit his intercom, and lowered his voice to speak into it in a rapid undertone.

The spokes-quaddie for the posse bustled forward, a smile of grim satisfaction on his bruised face. “We caught him for you.”

Comments

Lots of investigating in this chapter, and evidence gathered, but not the kind that is immediately obvious–fibers, skin cells, dust samples, whatever.  Understandably frustrating for Miles, and not all that exciting for the reader either, perhaps.  But the assault on Bel and Garnet Five does at last motivate the quaddies to look for Firka, and successfully, as it turns out.  Which is to say, good for them–traditionally these kinds of civilians aren’t too useful in these situations, but looks like this time they managed to pull it off.

I also sympathize with Miles feeling like he’s losing track of his initial goal, because his investigation seems to be leading him in odd directions.  On one level, to free the fleet he needs to bail out the captive Barrayarans, but to convince Admiral Vorpatril to leave he also needs to find Solian, or at least find out what happened to him.  Stumbling on the ba Dubauer wasn’t really related directly to Solian, it was more something that happened because of the lockdown of the ships, but you bet your ass that Dubauer was related to Solian’s disappearance, even if Miles hasn’t found the connection yet.

Like I said, it reminds me of Cetaganda, where Miles was there to investigate the soletta destruction, and ended up drawn into mysterious goings-on in the terraforming department, which led right back to the soletta accident, by way of the Komarran conspirators and their need to finance their scheme.  Stumbling on that was really just luck on Miles’s part, but on Graf Station there are comparatively fewer things going on, so it’s less remarkable that the oddities he finds there are directly connected to his case.  Though I don’t recall right now exactly how, or if, this helps get his ships out of dock…

It’s amusing how they take Firka more seriously now.  After all, they can get him now for contaminating the public air.  Well, Graf Station is like Kline Station–they take their closed system very seriously.


At some point recently, while in bed, I’d come up with some amusing alternate titles for Vorkosigan books, in the form of Miles Vorkosigan and the… or Cordelia Naismith and the…  And she told me to write them down, and I said I’d remember, and…well, they’re gone.  I’ll try to remember some of them and share them next time.  Or feel free to put some in the comments (he said hopefully).

As for Diplomatic Immunity, we’re going to be getting a lot more backstory in the next chapter or two, and find out more about “Firka” and Dubauer and what’s really going on.  So that’ll be fun.  Until next week, then…if I’m not busy with a last-minute push on my taxes.

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Greetings, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the Internet’s favourite reread of the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, as far as I know.  This week I will continue through Diplomatic Immunity, as Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan is called upon to defuse a situation in Quaddiespace, on his honeymoon no less, and finds more than he bargained for.  This week I cover chapters Eight and Nine, wherein the plot does, in fact, definitely begin to thicken, after the unexpected sniper attack that ended our previous chapter…

Chapter Eight

Miles said in a muffled voice, “Bel, will you please get off my head?”

There was a brief pause. Then Bel rolled away and, cautiously, sat up, head hunched into collar. “Sorry,” said Bel gruffly. “Thought for a moment there I was about to lose you. Again.”

Miles examines the floor, covered with gouges; he reaches for a small brass object rolling by, but it’s too hot to touch.  Dubauer has a trickle of blood coming from its face, but seems otherwise unhurt; Miles lends it his handkerchief to staunch the wound.  Miles tries to decide if it’s flattering to have someone trying to kill him, if it means that he’s on the right track.

One of the hostel staff comes over to check on them, and tells them that whoever was firing dropped their weapon over the edge of the balcony when they fled.  Miles and Bel go to examine it, and identify it as an automated hot riveter, obviously much hacked to weaponize it.  It can’t have had much accuracy, but Miles reflects that if a burst of rivets had hit his head, cryo-revival would have been pointless, leaving Ekaterin widowed on her honeymoon…  Seized with fear for his wife, he immediately pages Roic and tells him to guard Ekaterin; he considers ordering them off the station, but decides that Kestrel wouldn’t be safe enough if someone is hunting Vorkosigans.  He gives Roic a brief summary of what happened, but tells the armsman to stay with Ekaterin, since quaddie security is beginning to arrive.

Miles apologizes to Dubauer, saying it can be dangerous to be too close to him.  Dubauer says they must have saved its life, and says it didn’t see anything.  Miles asks for his handkerchief back–Ekaterin made it herself–and Dubauer offers to have it cleaned and returned, but Miles says that his batman can do that, and plucks it out of the herm’s hand.

A quaddie patrolwoman asks them what happened, and Bel gives her a detailed account of the events.  Nobody else proves to have anything more than minor wounds, to Miles’s relief.  The patrolwoman asks for gender and species of the attacker, and nobody is quite sure, though a couple of witnesses aver that it was a quaddie in a float chair.  Miles quietly asks Bel about the riveter; Bel says it wouldn’t raise eyebrows, carrying it around the station, and says it’s locally manufactured.  Miles says they’ll need to ask Venn to find out about its origins, and who bought it.  Miles feels himself on adrenaline high, and also secretly pleased at the prospect of a murderous quaddie to knock Greenlaw off her high horse…if she wasn’t behind the attempt in the first place.

Venn himself arrives with the medics, and asks Miles if he was hit; Miles emphasizes Bel’s role in saving him, and the herm is rapidly acclaimed as a hero.  A patroller returns to tell Venn that they lost the attacker, and there is a lack of consensus among witnesses about its description.  Bel admits it was reminded of a downsider it had seen recently, but that can’t be it; Miles doesn’t have much of a distinctive image either, and wishes one of these people had happened to be filming at the time, but none were.

Dubauer, refusing medical attention, asks to return to its room; Bel apologizes and says it will arrange the visit to the Idris as soon as possible.  The media is beginning to arrive, and Sealer Greenlaw; Miles gives them the same story he had Venn, including Bel’s heroics.

Greenlaw said stiffly, “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, may I convey my profound personal apologies for this untoward incident. I assure you, all of the Union’s resources will be turned to tracking down what I am certain must be an unbalanced individual and danger to us all.”

Danger to us all indeed. “I don’t know what’s going on, here,” said Miles. He let his voice sharpen. “And clearly, neither do you. This is no diplomatic chess game any more. Someone seems to be trying to start a damned war in here. They nearly succeeded.”

Miles theorizes that the attacker’s motive might have been revenge, for someone wounded in the Barrayaran attack, though Greenlaw asserts that none of the wounded had died.  He receives a call from Admiral Vorpatril, asking about the attack, and telling Miles he has the fleet on full alert.  Miles orders him to stand down, and to do nothing without explicit orders; he explains to Greenlaw that, since he’s the Emperor’s Voice, an attack on him is tantamount to an attack on the Emperor himself, hence his allusion to starting a war.

“So on Barrayar, what kind of justice you receive depends on who you are? Interesting. I do not regret to inform you, Lord Vorkosigan, that on Graf Station you will be treated like any other victim—no better, no worse. Oddly enough, this is no loss for you.”

“How salutary for me,” said Miles dryly. “And while you’re proving how unimpressed you are with my Imperial authority, a dangerous killer remains at large. What will it be to lovely, egalitarian Graf Station if he goes for a less personal method of disposing of me next time, such as a large bomb? Trust me—even on Barrayar, we all die the same. Shall we continue this discussion in private?”

Ekaterin arrives then, with Roic, Nicol and Garnet Five, and hugs Miles fiercely in front of the vid cameras, Nicole doing the same with Bel.  Roic tells him that he got the access codes to the _Idris_, but the quaddies wouldn’t let him board; Miles says that that problem may have been solved for them.  Greenlaw ushers them into a meeting room; Ekaterin remarks on Miles’s improved mood, what with someone having shot at him, and Miles admits that he was an adrenaline junkie, but he figured out years ago that he had to kick the habit.

Greenlaw begins by apologizing, and Miles seizes control to say that if this was not just random violence–which Greenlaw denies–then it must be connected to the Solian affair.  Which, he says, has been artificially hampered by a lack of communication between the two sides.  He trusts the quaddies to look for his assailant, and he in turn will do all that is possible to find Solian, hoping that the two will meet in the middle.

She blinked, seeming a little surprised by this turn of discourse. “Possibly . . .”

“Good. Then I want complete and unimpeded access for me, my assistant Armsman Roic, and anyone else I may designate to any and all areas and records pertinent to this search. Starting with the Idris, and starting immediately!”

“We cannot give downsiders license to roam at will over Station secure areas that—”

“Madam Sealer. You are here to promote and protect Union interests, as I am to promote and protect Barrayaran interests. But if there is anything at all about this mess that’s good for either Quaddiespace or the Imperium, it’s not apparent to me! Is it to you?”

Greenlaw turns to Bel then, thanking it for its courage and quick thinking, which Bel modestly downplays.  Ekaterin thanks it as well, and Nicol; Miles agrees, and asks if the herm may keep him company for the remainder of his visit.  Greenlaw and Bel assent, and Greenlaw then allows Miles access to secured areas, under Bel’s supervision.  Miles tries to appear dubious, not wanting to impose on Bel’s time; Bel says it is willing, provided it is paid overtime and freed of regular duties for the interim, and Miles mentally notes that this will put the herm on triple time…

Miles says he wants to start with the Idris, and asks Ekaterin to return to the Prince Xav for her own safety, to which she agrees.  He asks for a Barrayaran personnel shuttle to be allowed to take her out, but Greenlaw refuses, since that’s how Barrayarans invaded the station the last time.  She offers a pod and quaddie pilot, and Miles expresses a similar distrust of unknown quaddies given the recent attack.  Bel breaks the impasse by offering to choose the pilot himself, and Miles contacts Admiral Vorpatril to let him know; the admiral is clearly aware that this is a sign the situation is getting more serious, and asks to be updated at Miles’s earliest convenience.

As they are leaving, Miles considers trajectories from the railing, and wonders if Bel might have been the target; he asks Bel if it has been involved in any indiscreet romantic liaisons.  Dubauer was also there, of course, but Miles can’t think of how the herm might have been able to anger any quaddie quite that much.

Comments

Nobody is able to agree on anything about the attacker except for a couple that say it was probably a quaddie in a float chair.  I’m not sure why Miles seizes on this fact so quickly, except for the fact that he can use it as leverage against Sealer Greenlaw…but even then, he wouldn’t have to believe it himself, which he seems to.  Bel discounts one suspicion about the attacker’s identity because that person was a downsider…rather than try to reconsider whether or not the attacker was a quaddie.  I don’t know, this time through, that seems to bother me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m pretty damn sure that it wasn’t no quaddie.

It’s also a little convenient that Miles ends up with Dubauer’s blood on his handkerchief.  The herm puts up a bit of a fuss about it, but stops short of outright struggle, so I suppose it doesn’t want to show too much reluctance in leaving a blood sample in Miles’s hands.  Maybe it’s just another one of those things that only sticks out on a reread.

Chapter Nine

Bel’s designated quaddie pilot arrives to take Ekaterin away; Miles reminds her to check in with him via wristcom.  Bel calls Dubauer down to the lobby to accompany them to the Idris; they take a shortcut to the loading bay, and Bel gets them past the guards and onto the ship.

The Idris, like its sister ship the Rudra, was of a utilitarian design that dispensed with elegance. It was essentially a bundle of seven huge parallel cylinders: the central-most devoted to personnel, four of the outer six given to freight. The other two nacelles, opposite each other in the outer ring, housed the ship’s Necklin rods that generated the field to fold it through jump points. Normal-space engines behind, mass shield generators in front. The ship rotated around its central axis to bring each outer cylinder to alignment with the stationside freight lock for automated loading or unloading of containers, or hand loading of more delicate goods. The design was not without added safety value, for in the event of a pressurization loss in one or more cylinders, any of the others could serve as a refuge while repairs were made or evacuation effected.

They pass through a freight nacelle, and then into the personnel area.  Roic indicates the way to Solian’s office, while Bel escorts Dubauer to the outer freight section that holds its animals.  Roic admits them to the office, tiny and barely enough for some cabinets and a comconsole; Miles checks out the latter while Roic starts on the cabinets.  There are no personal touches in the office, but then Brun’s investigators already looked through it after Solian’s initial disappearance.  Miles examines Solian’s logs, but finds nothing suspicious in there, nothing that indicates he might have thought someone was trying to kill him.  There are video records of anyone passing through airlocks, but it’ll take time to go through ten days of them, and it will also take a while to look for any records that Solian (if he’d actually deserted) might have deleted.  Miles makes copies, and they move on to Solian’s personal cabin, which proves to be similarly uninformative, nothing personal left except for Solian’s custom pressure suit.  They head back to look over the airlock vid records.

Bel returns after a while, though it says that Dubauer is still busily servicing the replicators, of which there are close to a thousand.  Miles wonders at the extravagance, noting that animals are more often shipped as frozen embryos, like his grandfather did with horses, not developing fetuses; he supposes that this way travel time can also be gestation time.  They check on his cargo–boarded at Komarr, bound for Xerxes, next stop after Graf Station, booked weeks before the fleet departed, but no info on ultimate source before Komarr or destination after Xerxes.  Miles asks Bel if something is bothering him; Bel says there’s something odd about Dubauer, but it can’t say exactly what, and Miles makes a note to check on Dubauer’s coming and goings.

Bel, watching him, remarked, “Greenlaw was secretly impressed with you, by the way.”

“Oh, yeah? She’s certainly managed to keep it a secret from me.”

Bel’s grin sparked. “She told me you appeared very task oriented. That’s a compliment, in Quaddiespace. I didn’t explain to her that you considered getting shot at to be a normal part of your daily routine.”

Miles protests that he’s trying to be more rear-echelon, and getting too old for the front lines, plus he’s about to become a father, and measuring himself against his own father has him a bit daunted.  Dubauer returns, done with its tasks, and asks for an escort back to the hostel, for which purpose Bel is willing to grant one of the quaddie guards.  Dubauer also tells them that if they’re stuck at the station much longer it’ll have to start destroying fetuses grown too large for their containers.  While it does have insurance to cover the financial loss, it would also like to gather tissue samples from the animals to recoup their “proprietary bioengineering”, and facilities to recycle them.  It asks for permission to stay aboard Idris for that purpose, which Bel isn’t sure about.  Miles suggests alternative, like hiring a faster ship, but Dubauer wonders who would pay for such a thing.

When Bel returns from escorting Dubauer out, Miles says he wants to look at the herm’s cargo.  Bel says it can’t help there, since each passenger’s rented cargo space is private to themselves, and even Graf Station hasn’t gotten access to them yet.  Miles says that he’s an Imperial Auditor, the ship is Barrayaran-registered, and owned by the Empress’s family, so he has a perfect right to go wherever he wants; Roic gets Solian’s security overrides and they head off to the freight nacelle.

The racks of replicators are impressive and densely packed.  Miles looks over them, confirming Bel’s estimate of a thousand, and wonders that they’re no larger than regular human uterine replicators.  He doesn’t find any maker’s marks or serial numbers; he brings up the monitor screen on one of them, and is shocked to see a familiar screaming-bird pattern.  When Bel asks him what the problem is, Miles tells him that this is the sign of the Cetagandan Star Crèche, and explains how high up that is, about the haut-ladies and their efforts to perfect their genomes.  Miles checks more closely on the monitor, and confirms that the fetus inside is all too human; they check throughout the room, and every replicator they look at proves to be occupied with a human fetus.

Roic, puzzled, asks what a Betan herm is doing with all this Cetagandan stuff; Miles asks Bel if it really thinks that Dubauer is Betan, and Bel admits it never really came up, but insists that there’s something off.  Miles says that Dubauer has no facial down, like a real herm would, and speculates that Dubauer is not actually a double-sexed Betan hermaphrodite, but a sexless Cetagandan ba; a sample of the haut-ladies’ work, probably closely related, genetically, to Emperor Fletchir Giaja, which may explain why Miles thought it looked familiar.

Miles wonders what this Cetagandan ba would be doing here, with all these Cetagandan fetuses, traveling covertly, and on a Barrayaran ship, no less.  He wonders if the Star Crèche is up to something peculiar, and why Dubauer would be so willing to terminate all the fetuses rather than ask for help.  Bel suggests that perhaps Dubauer is just using this to try to convince the Barrayarans to work harder to get the ships free, but Miles doesn’t buy it.

He tells Bel to lock Idris back down completely, not letting anyone else on board, because he actually thinks it’s time to check with his superiors before proceeding; he recalls with disquiet Gregor’s mention of unrest around Rho Ceta, and can’t help but think it’s related.  Bel protests that it’s going to look funny, after all the work they’ve done to get Dubauer access to the ship; it asks if it should report Dubauer as a possible danger, and suggests that the ba may have, after all, been the target of the rogue riveter.  Miles says that Bel knows about the danger, so technically Graf Station knows; Bel finds this unconvincing, but accedes to Miles’s request to keep this to itself for a little while.

“I want the secured comconsole in the Kestrel. We’ll seal this hold and continue later. Wait. I want to have a look at Dubauer’s cabin, first.”

“Miles, have you ever heard of the concept of a search warrant?”

“Dear Bel, how fussy you have grown in your old age. This is a Barrayaran ship, and I am Gregor’s Voice. I don’t ask for search warrants, I issue them.”

Dubauer’s cabin proves just as unenlightening as Solian’s; Miles makes a mental note to have it, and the cargo hold, searched more forensically, though he’s not sure the Barrayarans are qualified for the task, and he doesn’t want to trust the quaddies with it.  He asks Bel if the Cetagandans have any agents, and Bel says they’d likely be on Union Station; neither Barrayar nor Cetaganda have a full-time consul, just a quaddie lawyer who keeps documents for both of them, and several other polities as well.  Bel calls Venn for an update on the search for the rogue riveter, but there doesn’t seem to have been any progress.

They leave the Idris and head for the Kestrel, arriving without incident.  Miles asks how difficult it would be to get permission from Greenlaw to fast-penta Dubauer; Bel said they’d need to be able to convince a quaddie judge it was necessary, which he doesn’t find likely.  Miles suggests just ambushing Dubauer on the Idris, but Bel thinks it’d be too risky, especially if Dubauer is innocent.

“Dubauer’s not innocent. At the very least, it’s lied about its cargo.”

“Not necessarily. Its manifest just reads, Mammals, genetically altered, assorted. You can’t say they aren’t mammals.”

“Transporting minors for immoral purposes, then. Slave trading. Hell, I’ll think of something.”

Closeted with his secure comconsole, he composes himself, considering how long it’ll be likely to take before his message reaches its destination; they can’t go faster than lightspeed between jump gates, and at the jump gates they are relayed periodically, at the major jump points, by special message ships, or any passing ship on the minor routes.  It’ll take several days, at least, to get a message to Barrayar from here.  He composes it anyway, sending it to Gregor, Guy Allegre, and the ImpSec head on Komarr; he gives details on what he’s found, including a full description of Dubauer and its cargo, and asks for more information on the Cetagandan situation around Rho Ceta.

After he finishes sending it, Ekaterin pages him on the wristcom; on finding that he’s actually at the comconsole, she transfers her call to that so they can see each other.  She asks if he’s eaten yet; of course he hasn’t, and she reminds him to do so before heading out again.  She asks if he turned up anything interesting, and he gives her full details of what he found on the Idris; she’s impressed, saying all she has to share is gossip.  Apparently Solian had once had to duck off a meeting with nosebleed, and she wondered if it was a chronic thing, which would make it easier for someone to get a sample of his blood to duplicate.

Ekaterin says she finds the whole centralized haut breeding thing to be odd, with the necessity for constantly shipping embryos out of the Star Crèche; Miles explains that it’s all coordinated, the haut consorts bringing the embryos out once a year, and Ekaterin wonders who Dubauer is taking those replicators to, and if it will have people to care for them all.  Miles suddenly remembers the handkerchief in his pocket with Dubauer’s blood sample on it, and says he needs to talk to Prince Xav‘s surgeon right away.

Comments

I looked up “Idris” and “Rudra” right now, because I vaguely thought that they were both Hindu deities or something.  Turns out I was half right–Rudra was a Hindu deity, a storm god of some sort, but Idris was a prophet mentioned in the Koran.  I think I was thinking of Indra, rather than Idris, who is another Hindu deity.  Barrayaran warships tend to be named to honour military and political figures (and possibly both)–Prince Serg, Prince Xav, General Vorkraft…  Though the fast courier was Kestrel, of course.  I guess I hadn’t gotten a real impression that Komarr was dominantly Muslim or Hindu, but I guess those cultural groups may have been represented.  Soudha was the only one from Komarr that really struck me as either; Tuomonen was Finnish, and the others seemed fairly scattered ethnically.  But then, few of the planets are that culturally monolithic.  Lairouba sounded somewhat Arabic, Marilac vaguely French, Escobar vaguely Spanish, but Barrayar was canonically Greek/Russian/French/English.  The Jacksonian House Bharaputra, of course, is very Indian-sounding, but not Fell or Ryoval, particularly.  So there’s been some mixing, as one would expect.

Does Miles not have his Auditor’s Seal with him?  Roic has override codes that they use to get into Solian’s office, and onto his computer, and into Dubauer’s cargo bay, but that’s the kind of thing he used the Auditor’s Seal for in the past.  Did he just not take it on his honeymoon?  How unforesightful, if so; but even then, ImpSec could surely have brought it along on the Kestrel.  I don’t recall Miles even thinking of using his…though he does mention it, but only in the context as something he’ll eat if his investigation doesn’t meet up with the quaddies’.  So…would it not do him any good on a Komarran cargo ship?  His statement to Bel that he has the right to issue search warrants would contradict that.  Maybe using Solian’s access codes is just more convenient somehow?  It is for Roic, at least, I suppose.

So yes, now, finally, the real plot has started.  Because, though the ends haven’t quite met up yet, if you were to follow the threads from Solian and the rogue riveter (sorry, I just love that phrase), they would meet at Dubauer in the middle.  (And I can never help but notice that “Dubauer” does have “ba” in the middle, too.)  This plot is hearkening back to that of Cetaganda, of course, with the Star Crèche, the ba, and all that, lest you think that it was going to be based on Falling Free somehow.  (Or The Vor Game–Dubauer is really Cavilo!)


Close to the halfway point, now.  Dubauer’s already been revealed, but I suppose there’s still the rogue riveter, and finding out the rest of what’s really going on, and then trying to solve the problem, and all that.  Five more weeks, with luck, and more short, snappy chapters.

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