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Welcome back, every so slightly belatedly, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I go through the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga a chapter or two at a time, summarize them, share some of the best quotes, and come up with a few insights to share with you.

On some planet, somewhere in the galaxy, this is probably Tuesday, but on this planet it looks like I just got a day behind due to personal reasons that I’m not really going to go into because this isn’t a personal blog.  How will this affect the future of the Reread?  More on that below, but for now, here’s the next two chapters of Ethan of Athos, as we see what hijinks Elli Quinn, Terrence Cee, and Dr. Ethan Urquhart get up to when they’re all working together against Ghem-Colonel Millisor.

Chapter Ten

Ethan shares some of the wine with Terrence, but stops before getting more than a little buzzed.  Cee asks if he’s sure that none of the shipment that arrived on Athos could have been part of the original contents, and Ethan confirms that it was nothing more than trash, and there’s no way that Janine’s cultures could have been in there.  Cee says he saw the original shipment onto the shuttle on Jackson’s Whole; Quinn says that means the switch must have happened on Kline Station, during the two months they were waiting for Ethan’s ship, and hundreds of ships could have left with the crates in that time.  Quinn admits that if she was going to track it down, she’d rather let Millisor do the work and just follow him.  She’d also rather just take a genetic sample directly from Terrence.  Cee says that eventually Millisor’s team will discover his arrival on Kline Station, so he can’t wait that long.  Quinn reminds him that they’ll be wasting time following Teki around.

Cee asks Ethan if they want to recover the shipment, and Ethan says they’ve pretty much written it off as a dead loss.  He’d rather buy a new one than recover the old one but attract a Cetagandan attack on their planet, and would almost feel safer if Millisor just recovered it.  Cee says that he cannot accept the results of the Cetagandans regain the telepath gene, with the possibility to breed new telepaths without so much inconvenient free will.  Quinn points out that Millisor’s mostly interested in keeping the gene out of everyone else’s hands, since the Cetagandans will eventually be able to reconstruct it now that they know it’s possible.  She adds that it might be better if, by that time, there were a race of free telepaths available to oppose them.

Cee asks if Admiral Naismith would be any better, and Ethan suddenly realizes that Cee’s questioning indicates that his telepathic abilities have been activated.  Quinn suggests just giving the gene to all of the governments, giving Millisor apoplexy and keeping Athos from being singled out, but Cee says he doesn’t want to risk creating that many persecuted slave telepath minorities.  Ethan realizes that he’s present at the cusp of a major historical change, and finds the sensation dizzying.

Cee says that he’d rather just kill himself and be done with it, except for his promise to Janine.  He tells Quinn that if she can find Janine’s samples for him, he’ll go along with her.  Quinn points out that her mission is essentially over, and she could satisfy her commander simply by stunning Cee and taking a tissue sample, just for their information.

“What do you want of me?” Cee demanded. Anger edged his voice. “To trust you?”

Her lips thinned. “You don’t trust anybody. You never had to. Yet you demand that others trust you.”

“Oh,” said Cee, looking suddenly enlightened. “That.”

“You breathe one word of that,” she smiled through clenched teeth, “and I’ll arrange an accident for you like Okita never dreamed of.”

“Your Admiral’s personal secrets are of no interest to me,” said Cee stiffly. “They’re hardly relevant to this situation anyway.”

Cee then turns his attention to Ethan, which involuntarily causes Ethan to immediately think of all the sins and secrets that he’d want to keep hidden, including his physical attraction to Terrence.  He wishes he had the chance to really try to sell Cee on the beauty of his world of Athos, to take him sailing on their oceans.  Cee comments that he never saw any oceans during his life on Cetaganda, and Ethan realizes how transparent he’s being.  Cee asks if Ethan can shelter Janine’s genes as well as Cee himself, and Ethan admits that he doesn’t know he’s even going to save himself yet.

Quinn points out that they haven’t found the ovarian samples yet, and none of the parties involved seem to know where they are.  Cee says that anyone who knew what it was would probably covet it, including governments and criminals.  Ethan suggests House Bharaputra, but Quinn points out that any Bharaputrans who knew about them were killed by Millisor’s group, or else Quinn would have been tasked with recovering Millisor and the samples rather than just killing the Cetagandans.  Ethan suggests some random entrepreneur, but Quinn says that’s all they need, to widen the circle of suspects.  She asks Cee if he’s done with his scanning, and Cee says he is, obviously suffering from a major headache.  Quinn goes out to gather more information; Ethan gives Cee some painkillers, and they both try to get some sleep.

Quinn returns a while later, waking Ethan and Cee.  Nothing new from Millisor and Rau, and no information from attempting to pump the warehouse supervisor.  Cee notes the time and says he has to get to work, to maintain his cover identity and continue working toward a ticket off the station.  Quinn says she can take care of the ticket, but Cee says she’ll only offer it in the direction she chooses.  Cee goes off to get ready, and Quinn asks Ethan if he said anything more.  Ethan says they just slept, but he’s been trying to think of a new angle for the shipment, like pursuing where the trash that arrived on Athos might have come from.

They are interrupted by a signal on Quinn’s beeper, on Teki’s emergency code.  Quinn calls back and discovers that it’s Teki’s girlfriend Sara.  She says that Teki never met her for their date last night, and starts to leave an annoyed message with Quinn, but Quinn, alarmed, says she hasn’t heard from Teki either.  She tells Sara that she saw Teki just before his work shift; Sara said she’d been calling around to Teki’s friends, and got Quinn’s number from her father.  Quinn becomes very serious and tells Sara to file a missing persons report for Teki, to use Quinn’s name and talk to Captain Arata directly.

Quinn hangs up and says that Millisor has probably decided to pick up Teki for questioning, which would be bad because he doesn’t know about much except for Elli’s involvement, and this will blow her cover.  Cee says that Millisor must be getting desperate.

“I meant to push Millisor off-balance.” Quinn bit through a fingernail with an audible snap. “But not that far off. I gave them no reason to take Teki. Or I wouldn’t have, if he’d done what I told him and turned around immediately—I knew better than to involve a non-professional. Why didn’t I listen to myself? Poor Teki won’t know what hit him.”

“You didn’t have any such scruples about involving me,” remarked Ethan, miffed.

“You were involved already. And besides, I didn’t use to baby-sit you when you were a toddler. And besides . . .” she paused, shooting him a look strangely akin to the one Cee had just given him, “you underestimate yourself,” she finished.

Quinn starts to leave the room, then stays behind and paces instead.  She wonders why they’ve had him so long; Teki didn’t have a tracer on him, like Ethan did, and his past is well-documented on the station, unlike Ethan’s.  Cee points out that they couldn’t find anything out about Ethan, but if they think he’s involved anyway, then they’ll be less likely to give up on Teki.  Quinn says they’re likely in Millisor’s room, the one she hasn’t been able to bug, and she tries to puzzle out a way to get into it.  She says that Millisor is likely trying to provoke her into acting hastily, and tries to think of what Admiral Naismith would do.

“Never do yourself,” muttered Quinn, “what you can con an expert into doing for you. That’s what he’d say. Tactical judo from the space magician himself.” Her straight back held the dynamism of zen meditation. When she turned her face was radiant with jubilation. “Yes, that’s exactly what he’d do! Sneaky little dwarf, I love you!” She saluted an invisible presence and dove for the comconsole.

Cee and Ethan stand by in puzzlement as Quinn places a call to the Ecobranch Epidemiology Hotline.  She reports a potential disease vector for a particularly nasty new strain of “Varusan Crotch-rot”, which she blushingly confesses to have caught from him herself.  She gives Millisor’s cover identity and provides her real name before signing off, telling Cee and Ethan that she’s just committed a major crime by her false report.  She says that Ecobranch may need some backup against the Cetagandans, so they head off to help.

Comments

See, I told you Teki was the Ivan!  He’s even been taken hostage to fulfill the “dude in distress” role.  Tough luck for him, of course, especially if he’s getting the interrogation that Ethan got, except with less reason…  Except being related to that dangerous provocateuse Elli Quinn, that is.

More of Elli’s crush on Admiral Naismith, with one of those “I love you” outbursts that would have been incredibly awkward if Miles had actually been in the room.  To be offset by “sneaky little dwarf”, to be sure.  Her willingness to implement her plan by not only perjuring herself (sort of) but admitting to sex with a disease-carrier is heroic, to be sure.

I’m going to assume that the secret about Admiral Naismith that Elli is so concerned about Terrence spilling is Naismith’s dual identity as Lord Miles Vorkosigan.  I actually wasn’t sure that Elli was in the loop on that one, but I guess she might have figured it out during the trip back to Beta Colony in The Warrior’s Apprentice, if nothing else.

Both Terrence and Elli seem to be convinced that Ethan is totally underestimating his competence here, and I have to admit, I’m not sure why.  The list of Ethan’s actual achievements so far amount to keeping his head above water, and that with a lot of help from other people.  Maybe he should be getting a medal just for being brave enough to leave his planet when he thought the rest of the galaxy was like Land of the Succubi, but somehow I don’t think Elli, at least, would give him any credit for that one.  Sure, he is a skilled doctor, and he shows a certain amount of determination, but I’m sure he’s convinced that he’s the last hope for his planet’s future; does that make him heroic?  I’m not sure I buy it.

Chapter Eleven

Ethan, Quinn and Cee go down to the corridor outside Millisor’s room; Cee stays by the lift tubes with one stunner, while Ethan and Quinn position themselves where they can keep a watch on Millisor’s door.  Quinn has the other stunner, leaving Ethan armed with nothing more than a medkit.  She tells Ethan that Teki will doubtless be needing a fast-penta antagonist as soon as they can get to him.

They duck into a door niche when two Ecobranch personnel and a Security guard come down the hallway with a sealed passenger pallet.  Ethan is dismayed to see that one of them is Helda; Quinn encourages him to act inconspicuous, drawing him close to cuddle, which of course makes him intensely uncomfortable, but he tries to play along.  Quinn’s beeper goes off, and she checks it to see that it’s Millisor calling, probably having squeezed her number out of Teki to try to pressure her.

Helda buzzes the room and calls “Harman Dal”‘s name, but nobody responds.  She points out to the Security guard that it’s definitely occupied, and with company.  After the third buzz with no response, she tries an override, but it still doesn’t open, which the Security guard notes happily is a fire-safety violation.  Helda, incensed, accesses the fire-control panel and taps in a code which is followed by a muffled roar and cries from within the room.  Quinn explains to Ethan that this is the station version of a sprinkler system–a system to pump all the air out of a room.  They hear pounding on the door from inside, but Quinn whispers that they can’t open it from the inside because of the pressure differential.

Helda reverses the controls and pumps the air back; the door pops open and Millisor and Rau stumble out.  Millisor begins protesting about his diplomatic immunity protecting him against anything short of a major felony, but Helda says that a biocontrol emergency overrides any of the laws that might protect transients.  Rau spots Ethan and Quinn, and points them out to Millisor, who subsides.

The Security man spots the Cetagandans’ hostage inside, tied to a chair, and bleeding.  Quinn steps forward to offer Ethan’s medical assistance, and they enter the room, followed by Helda.  Teki is tied up with wires that have cut into his wrists and ankles, and has a bloody nose and a couple of minor head wounds, but his eyes are bright with fast-penta intoxication.  Helda recognizes Teki and begins to berate him, but Teki says muzzily that he’s off-shift and doesn’t have to put up with her.  The security guard asks if this was a “private act” or not, and Ethan tells him curtly that he was kidnapped, drugged and tortured as he cuts Teki loose.

Helda, closing in, turned her head at the sound of Ethan’s voice and stared at him. “You’re no doctor,” she gasped. “You’re that moron from Docks and Locks again. My department wants a word with you!”

Teki yelped with laughter, causing Ethan to drop the sterile sponge he’d been applying to his ankle. “Joke’s on you, Helda! He really is a doctor.” He leaned toward Ethan, nearly tipping the chair, and confided conspiratorially, “Don’t let on you’re an Athosian, or she’ll pop an artery. She hates Athos.” He nodded happily, then, exhausted, let his head loll sideways again.

Ethan tells her that he is, indeed, a doctor from Athos, and an Ambassador, on a special mission.  Teki warns Ethan not to tell her that, because she’s been irrational about Athos ever since her son snuck off there–at age 32.  Helda asks him if he has an antidote for the truth serum, so they can sort this all out down in quarantine.  Ethan begins to think about how Helda has near-dictatorial powers down there, and shouts for Quinn, who enters, hearing Millisor and Rau with her stunner.

He tells her that the one thing they hadn’t figured out was where whoever-it-was had gotten the material to replace the ovarian cultures destined for Athos.  Very few people would have had access to human, or bovine, ovaries on Kline Station, except maybe someone like Helda who had access to a lot of cadavers, and even they must have run out of time before the shipment was due to leave, hence the frantic cow-part substitutions to try to cover it up.  Helda tells him he’s crazy and repeats that they need to get to Quarantine; Ethan asks about the shrink-wrap that they found as well, and Teki chimes in that they use the shrink-wrapper all the time.

Ethan asks Helda why, and she tells him that she wants to cut those “motherless unnatural bastards” off, until her son came home and found a real woman, and gave her some grandchildren that she’d be allowed to visit…  The Security man is agog at the prospect of arresting an eco-cop.  Millisor is more interested in what she did with the ovarian cultures that had been in the shipment.  Helda says she threw them out, and Millisor becomes livid with rage, lunging at her to be felled by two stunner beams.  Quinn points out Rau as the escaped fugitive from the other day, and suggests they search the room for contraband military equipment.

The Security man and Helda’s fellow eco-cop insist they all go down to Quarantine, which Rau will find much harder to break out of than mere detention cells, and more Security guards show up to back him up.

“Yes, sir?” said one of the new officers.

“Took you long enough,” said the Security man. “Search that one,” he pointed to Rau, “and then you can help us run ’em all to Quarantine. These three are accused of vectoring communicable disease. That one’s been fingered as the jailbreak from C-9. This one’s accused of theft by that one, who appears to be wearing a Station code-uniform to which he is not entitled, and who also claims that one over there was kidnapped. I’ll have a printout as long as I am tall of charges for the one out cold on the floor when he wakes up. Those three are all gonna need first aid—”

Ethan, reminded, slipped up to Teki and pressed the hypospray of fast-penta antagonist into his arm. He felt almost sorry for the young man as his foolish grin was rapidly replaced by the expression of a man with a terminal hangover. The Security team in the meanwhile were shaking all sorts of glittering mysterious objects out of the unresisting Rau.

“—and the pretty lady in the gray outfit who seems to know so much about everybody else’s business I’m holding as a material witness,” the Security man concluded. “Ah—where is she?”

Comments

Final confrontation!  The good guys have defeated the bad guys, and the puzzle of the missing ovarian cultures has finally been solves, so we must be close to the end!  Or so it seems…but there’s still four chapters left, and surely there can’t be that much denouement left, can there?  There must be a few loose plot threads around…like House Bharaputra, or the other Cetagandan guy, Setti.  And I’m not convinced that the ovarian cultures are actually lost forever, but I can’t remember if I have grounds for that optimism or not.  I know that Ethan doesn’t go home empty-handed…  Oh, and Terrence Cee was standing around down by the lift tubes being conveniently absent for this chapter.  I guess if Millisor had come out to find him in the hallway, he’d really have been unable to restrain himself, so it’s probably for the best.

Anyway, it’s a great scene, showing that the station authorities are not entirely powerless after all, if you can get them mobilized in the right direction.  Only Ecobranch seems to have the authority to go in without warrants, though, whereas Security can’t do much unless they find actual evidence, hence the necessity for Elli’s prevarication.  And the reason why making those false claims is a serious crime, of course, because of the monster they unleash.  Looks like she skipped out before she could get charged, but good luck to her getting off the station, since she used her real name and everything.

I barely remembered about Helda from before, but the author took care to have her show up several times, so she became a believable antagonist.  Her motivations have nothing to do with the whole Cetaganda-Terrence Cee plotline at all, except for the coincidental involvement of Athos and the effect her actions had on the various factions.  We don’t really like her, and unlike Ethan I don’t even have that much sympathy for her after we discover the reason she hates Athos.  I mean, her son left, and reading between the lines it was probably because nothing he did, and no woman he dated, was ever good enough for her, and he’s been sufficiently traumatized by it to go to a planet that will keep him from ever having to see her again.  So in return she tries to wreck the future of an entire planet?  I’m not sure she even fully understand the damage she was doing, but on the other hand, she admitted she was willing to keep doing it as long as she had to…to get her son to come back.  I can’t even accuse her of having good intentions, and I can’t even believe that she’d forgive her son if he came back, or stop picking on his girlfriends, or be nicer to him.  She’s not a borderline psychopath like Millisor (or, you know, Bothari), but…well, maybe she is.  She’s definitely lacking in a lot of human empathy, which is probably why she likes being able to lord it over people down in Ecobranch and punish people for whatever minor infractions she could find.  With luck she won’t get to do that anymore…


Also with any luck I’ll be back next week for the next two chapters, and I wouldn’t even rule out getting back to my Tuesday schedule, but I’ll have to see.  This week was a clear sign that I shouldn’t always do it on the last two days, because things happen, and my life is in a bit of flux right now, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get myself to work too far ahead.  If I can’t handle it, I may drop back to one chapter a week for a while.  I’ve been trying to emulate Leigh Butler’s tremendous Wheel of Time rereads, and while she’s kept up a fairly good schedule, even she had to take a week off every once in a while, so be prepared for the occasional gap.  If I’m planning to skip an entire week, I’ll try to post a note to that effect; otherwise I’ll just try to come out with it a day or two late.  I’ll have to play it by ear, but all in all, I’m still enjoying this enough that I’m not likely to just up and quit without a more major personal upheaval than I’ve encountered thus far.

So–hopefully you’ll see two more chapters next week, so we’ll see which, if any, of those loose plot threads, show up to plague our heroes.  As always, if you can’t wait that long, you can always read ahead on your own.

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Good evening, or morning, or midday, or twilight, or whatever day-segment designation it may be when you read this, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  What is the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, you say?  Or do you just click on the “About” link in the right column?  If that’s not your thing, then let’s just say that it’s a “reread” wherein I “reread” the various “books” in the “Vorkosigan” “Saga” by Lois “McMaster” Bujold and then “summarize” and “comment” on “them”.

After the single-chapter installment last week, I’m now going to cover chapters Six and Seven of Ethan of Athos, which does not actually feature any Vorkosigans directly, but some of the characters know of them, so that’ll have to do.

Chapter Six

After returning the float pallet, Quinn brings Ethan by a roundabout route back to the Transients’ Lounge, to a different hostel.  Quinn relaxes once they’re in their room, and offers him some beer, spiced with vitamins.  Ethan worries about what people will think of them sharing the room, but he risks the bathroom to shave, not wanting to seem to be pretending to be a parent.  He cleans up himself and his clothes and emerges looking and feeling less scruffy.  Quinn is relaxing in a float chair, leaving the bed to Ethan.

She asks him about the biological shipment to Athos, but Ethan insists that she share her information as well.  She tells him that Bharaputra Laboratories spent a lot of time on the shipment, under strict security, before shipping it off in nine freezer containers to Kline Station.  Millisor and his compatriots arrived on Jackson’s Whole about the time the shipment was leaving for Athos and raided the Bharaputra laboratory, vaporizing it behind them, and then killing the wife of one of the geneticists and burning down his house.  They then disappeared until turning up on Kline Station three weeks too late.

Quinn herself then arrived on Jackson’s Whole, asking about Athos, and eventually managed to persuade the Bharaputrans she wasn’t in league with Millisor.  They even ended up hiring her to kill Millisor, which she accepted to keep from having to outrace another assassin.  She asks Ethan about the containers, and he explains about the ovarian cultures.  Quinn says someone obviously intercepted the shipment at some point and replaced it with garbage.  Ethan tells her that Millisor suspects Terrence Cee of being responsible, and Quinn says that whoever it was, they had plenty of opportunity, and the shipment could be almost anywhere by now.

Ethan used the pause to ask, “What is a wife?”

She choked on her beer. For all that she waved it about, Ethan noticed that its level was dropping very slowly. “I keep forgetting about you. . . . Ah, wife. A marriage partner—a man’s female mate. The male partner is called a husband. Marriage takes many forms, but is most commonly a legal, economic, and genetic alliance to produce and raise children. Do you copy?”

“I think so,” he said slowly. “It sounds a little like a designated alternate parent.” He tasted the words. “Husband. On Athos, to husband is a verb meaning to conserve resources. Like stewardship.” Did this imply the male maintained the female during gestation? So, this supposedly organic method had hidden costs that might make a real Rep Center seem cheap, Ethan thought with satisfaction.

Ethan asks if the wife who was killed had any children, and Quinn says she was pregnant, but the geneticist’s other child was left alone.  Quinn turns the conversation to the question of why Athos, and what makes the planet special.  Ethan says all they have is “nothing”, and Quinn wonders if the planet’s isolation is its allure.  Ethan explains to her about the Reproduction Centres and Quinn wonders if there’s some kind of “cuckoo’s egg” scheme, trying to seed some kind of genetic experiments onto the planet.  But they can’t figure out why the Jacksonians would do it, or why the Cetagandans are so interested if it’s not their shipment originally.  Quinn tells him that the Jacksonians will do whatever they’re paid for, so if someone had paid them to slip something into the shipment to Athos, they’d have done it cheerfully.

Quinn admits to Ethan that she’s gotten more involved than she was supposed to, in rescuing him and killing Okita when her orders to merely to observe.

“Will he, ah, be annoyed with you?” Ethan inquired nervously, with a skewed paranoid flash of her admiral sternly ordering her to restore the original balance by sending him to join Okita.

“Naw. He has unprofessional moments himself. Terribly impractical, it’s going to kill him one of these days. Though so far he seems able to make things come out all right by sheer force of will.”

She says she should go back to watching Millisor, and tells him to stay out of sight in the room.  Ethan protests that he needs to be about his mission, and needs his supplies from his original room.  Quinn tells him it’s not safe, and promises to help him with his mission once hers is done.

“Always assuming,” said Ethan, chapped, “that ghem-Colonel Millisor doesn’t outbid House Bharaputra or Admiral Naismith for your services.”

She shrugged on her jacket, a lumpy thing with lots of pockets that seemed to have a deal more swing than accounted for by the weight of the fabric. “You can get one thing straight right now, Athosian. There are some things money can’t buy.”

“What, mercenary?”

She paused at the door, her lips curving up despite her sparking eyes. “Unprofessional moments.”

Ethan spends most of the next day sleeping; on the second day he experiments with leaving the room but doesn’t get further than the hallway, deciding he could use Quinn’s protection for a little longer.  By the next day he’s bored enough to experiment with the comconsole library.

By the end of the next day he was becoming painfully aware of the inadequacy of a cultural education that consisted of two very general galactic histories, a history of Cetaganda, and a fiction holovid titled “Love’s Savage Star” that he had stumbled onto and been too stunned to switch off. Life with women did not just induce strange behavior, it appeared; it induced very strange behavior. How long before the emanations or whatever it was from Commander Quinn would make him start acting like that? Would ripping open her jacket to expose her mammary hypertrophy really cause her to fixate upon him like a newly hatched chick on its mother hen? Or would she carve him to ribbons with her vibra-knife before the hormones or whatever they were cut in?

By the sixth day his patience is running out, and he quizzes Quinn on what Millisor is doing.  Quinn says he’s not doing much–he hasn’t contacted the authorities, and he seems to be settling in to his cover identity.  She’s not sure what he’s waiting for.  The Cetagandans do keep coming back to one corridor near where they disposed of Okita’s remains, as if he had some sort of inorganic tracer.  Millisor is still eating meat, though, unlike Quinn and Ethan, so he probably hasn’t figure out Okita’s fate yet.

Ethan begins to lose his temper, questioning Quinn’s assertion that the station authorities won’t help him.  He suggests just telling Millisor that the shipment he’s chasing didn’t arrive on Athos.  He asks when she’ll let him go, and she tells him he’s free to go at any point; he’s skeptical, because of all she’s told him.  She reminds him that their biggest crime on Kline Station wasn’t killing Okita, but secretly disposing of his body, which he’s as guilty of as she is.  He tells her that the worst they can do is deport him, which would almost qualify as a reward at this point.  She tells him not to come crying back to him for help, and Ethan grabs his few meagre possessions and storms out.

He decides to try to find Millisor and settle things.  He can’t find anyone of that name registered in the Transients’ Lounge, or Rau, or Setti, and realizes that they’re probably using false identities.  He considers buying a ticket off the station, perhaps to Beta Colony, and hoping that the spies will take care of each other in his absence.  Or he could go back to his original room, but Millisor might not give him the chance to talk before killing him.

Wandering in the mall, he spots a couple of men with colourfully-painted faces, deep in conversation.  He’s nearly upon them he recognizes them, and remembers reading about the ghem-lords’ face paint.  Rau recognizes him then, and fires a nerve disruptor bolt at Ethan as he runs away.  He glances back to see that Millisor spoiled the shot, and the two Cetagandans are now arguing.  Ethan heads down a lift tube and tries hard to lose his pursuers.  He succeeds, in an equipment closet back on the stationer side, and soon realizes he is now horribly lost himself.

Comments

The death of the geneticist’s pregnant wife is not a random accident, as you might suspect by this point.  Whatever the Cetagandans are afraid of/worried about, it probably has something to do with those ovaries, and casts the shadow of a fetus…if fetuses cast shadows, that is.  Doesn’t make it any less heinous, but they can justify it to themselves, at least, as a way to keep the horrific genetic monsters from escaping out into the world…

Not sure if Elli actually tried to goad Ethan into goint out as a stalking horse or not.  Could be that she was just actually tired of him and had convinced herself he wasn’t her responsibility any more.  I guess later chapters will probably tell us.

I guess that Ethan had noticed Elli’s “mammary hypertrophy”, or at least realized in theory that it probably existed.  Maybe he was just expecting hers to be like that in “Love’s Savage Star”, which I’m sure would have been a real experience for sheltered Dr. Ethan.  From which he draws most of the wrong conclusions, according to the indoctrination of his Athosian religion or whatever it is.  (I’d also like to say here that “Mammary Hypertrophy” would be a great name for a band.)

Chapter Seven

Ethan huddles in the closet until he’s calmed down, and already regrets walking out on Quinn, ruefully reflecting on his earlier convictions that led him to leave the safety of her hostel room.  But he knows he can’t go crawling back to her, so he has to go to the Kline Station authorities.  Suddenly wondering if Quinn had planted another bug in his clothes, he strips them off and puts on a set of red coveralls and slightly-large boots from the closet.  He promises he’ll return them as soon as he’s cleared everything up with Station Security.

He passes two women in blue coveralls pushing a loaded pallet, afraid to blow his cover by asking them for directions.  Up ahead, two pallets crashes at a cross-corridor, and some birds have escaped from one of the crates.  A woman he recognizes as Helda yells at him to do something with the gravity, before she gives up, runs over to him, and turns a dial behind a wall panel.  The gravity increases as she does so, pulling the birds down to the deck, as well as Ethan, Helda, and the others.  Helda tells Ethan to help her collect the birds before they spread their disease all over the station, and he obliges; only then does she turn the gravity back down and show any concern for the others.

One man, identified by Helda as Teki, has a superficial head wound, bleeding just enough to scare the two teenagers on the other pallet.  Ethan tells the boy to put pressure on the wound and stop the bleeding, since his own hands are contaminated and he shouldn’t do it himself.  Helda calls for decontamination, Station Security, and a medic in that order, and Ethan is relieved that he won’t have to try to find Security for himself.  The decon team arrives, and Helda pulls Ethan off to go through quarantine, though he’s assured that he’ll just need a thorough scrub down and a shot; she takes him away on one of the pallets, with a sealed clear plastic canopy.

“Don’t touch your face,” Helda reminded him absently, glancing back for one last look at the disaster scene. It seemed to be under control now, the decon team having taken charge of her float pallet of birds and reopened the airseal doors.

Ethan displayed his closed fists in token of his understanding.

“You do seem to have grasped sterile technique,” Helda admitted grudgingly, settling back and glowering at him. “For a while there I thought Docks and Locks was now hiring the mentally handicapped.”

Ethan asks what was happening (in monosyllables), and Helda tells him the teenagers were likely joyriding on the pallet, and she’ll have a stern word with their parents.  The birds are impounded cargo from a freighter, but better than cows; she tells the story of a shipment of cattle that all had to be cut up and disposed.  Sometimes they try to sue the station, she says, but they lose.
She becomes suspicious at Ethan’s taciturnity, wondering if he’s sick, but he claims to just have strained his voice.  She then turns the conversation to discussing the disgusting obesity (barely perceptible to Ethan) of some passing stationers, and Ethan is relieved when they finally reach quarantine.

Ethan’s coveralls are taken away, with his ID and credit chit, but returned to him, eventually, after his decontamination shower, with instructions to report to Records on his way out.  He eventually finds it, at the same time as a now-bandaged Teki; Helda and another man are inside.  Helda reprimands Teki for his delay on the phone; Teki protests that he was talking to a relative about a business matter.  The man at the console asks Ethan for his ID card, and Ethan claims he left it at home, in his duty coveralls.  Helda is having none of it, but Teki, grateful for his help with the birds, tells him to just go get it and come back, and spirits him out the door.  He leaves Ethan in another corridor, disappearing back inside before Ethan can ask him for help.

Two hours later he’s still wandering through the stationer areas, wondering why there are so few Security stations to be found on that side as opposed to the Transients’ Lounge.  Finally he manages to find a public area with actual maps and signs, and locates himself, not too far away from his own hostel room or Quinn’s.  Watching cautiously for Cetagandans or Dendarii, he soon finds a security booth with a stationer woman inside.  He asks if she’s on duty, and if she knows about the nerve disrupter attack earlier, but she seems to misinterpret his questions as flirting, though she does tell him they are looking for more witnesses to the shooting.

“It’s the charge. Of course the fellow claims he fired by accident, showing off the weapon to his friend. But the tipster who called in the incident claimed he shot at a man, who ran away. Well, the tipster vanished, and the rest of the so-called witnesses were the usual lot—full of contagious drama, but when you pin ’em down they always turn out to have been facing the other way or zipping their boot or something at the actual moment the disruptor went off.” She sighed. “Now, if it’s proved the fellow with the disruptor was firing at someone, he gets deported, but if it was an accident all we can do is confiscate the illegal weapon, fine him, and let him go. Which we’ll have to do in another twelve hours if this intent-to-harm business can’t be substantiated.”

While Ethan is cheered by the thought of Rau in jail, that would still leave Millisor and Setti on the loose, so he doesn’t feel much safer.

Ethan took a breath. “My name is Urquhart.”

“Mine’s Lara,” said the Security woman.

“That’s nice,” said Ethan automatically. “But—”

“It was my grandmother’s name,” the Security woman confided. “I think family names give such a nice sense of continuity, don’t you? Unless you happen to get stuck with something like Sterilla, which happened to an unfortunate friend of mine. She shortens it to Illa.”

“Uh—that wasn’t exactly what I meant.”

Before he can untangle the thread of conversation, an older woman comes in and tells Lara to stop socializing on duty, they have a call.  Ethan overhears that Rau has escaped–or, rather, “vanished”–from detention.  Lara tells Ethan to look her up when she’s off duty, and the older woman shoos him out of the office so they can lock it up.

Ethan tries then to return to Quinn’s room, but finds it vacant except for a cleaning robot, which says the previous occupant left no forwarding address.  Back to the security booth, which is still locked; he sits down to wait, resolving to turn himself in as soon as possible.  He jumps when a hand falls on his shoulder, belonging to a young blond man, not one of the Cetagandans; the man addresses him by name and says he’s very interested in Athos, introducing himself as Terrence Cee.

Comments

I had to read over the pallet crash scene a few times before I was sure that the two women with the pallet were not involved in the collision ahead of him.  First of all, of course, Ethan passed them, which implied they were going the other way, whereas the collision happened ahead of him.  Not sure why they had to have a pallet too, because that just made their presence confusing.  But then, apparently, I’m easily confused by such things–like when I thought that Aral shot Cordelia back in the first chapter of Shards of Honour

I kept expecting Ethan to clue in about Teki, mentioned by Elli twice back in Chapter Five, where she tells Helda that she’s Teki’s cousin.  So Ethan misses the reference to Teki’s business phone call with family.  Was there anything about Ethan in that call?  Was Elli trying to get Teki to keep track of him, for instance?  After all, Ethan had ditched his clothes, so if she had placed another tracker in them, she’d have lost his trail…  Of course, Ethan was dressed as a stationer, so Teki might not have thought to look for him, but then again, if he and Elli knew where he’d changed his clothes, they might have been able to figure out what he was wearing.  Another thing to see if it comes up later in the book.

Ethan is so hapless most of the time that it’s almost a shock when he’s in a situation where he gets a chance to demonstrate that he’s an actual trained doctor.  So I guess he’s got one skill, at least…

The scene with Lara is hilarious, as Ethan’s attempts to confess or turn himself in or even get some help are derailed by her chatty flirtations and blithe cluelessness.  He does at least get information on what happened with Rau, but it’s not particularly cheering.  Poor guy.

But hey, at the end at least we get to meet the mysterious Terrence Cee!  For some reason I had him in my mind as a tall black guy.  And I’m pretty sure I know why–for reasons that may become clear later I’m mixing him up in my head with the rogue telepath from a first-season Babylon 5 episode (Jason Ironheart in “Mind War”).  I probably just missed the “blond” description last time through, and so my mind had to find some other way to picture him…


So Elli’s explained her side of what happened, and hopefully we’ll get some more information from Terrence Cee in the next chapter, unless the Cetagandans start chasing them again or something…  Not quite halfway through the book, and I don’t remember yet how everything turns out, but the plot has definitely thickened.

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